Denotify Bt cotton seed that is no longer pest-resistant: State to Centre

By Times Of India on 26 Oct 2017 | read
MUMBAI: In the wake of pesticide-related deaths of farm workers in Vidarbha, the state government has written to the Centre asking it to denotify the Bt cotton seed strain Bollgard II (BG II), pointing out that it was no longer resistant to the pink bollworm pest. This is the second letter the state has sent to the Centre this year on the failed pest resistance of the genetically modified seed.

The Union agriculture ministry had invited state officials for a consultation on this issue on Wednesday .

"We have written to the Centre to denotify BG II from the Bt cotton category due to loss of its efficacy against the pink bollworm," said state agriculture secretary Bijay Kumar. The state has suggested the seed be downgraded to a hybrid, which will lead to a drop in its price."If BG II is denotified, it may result in a reduction in price from the present around Rs800 a packet to Rs400 a packet. Farmers can use the money saved in meeting the additional cost of plant protection," said Kumar.

Maharashtra is among the leading cotton producers in the country , cultivating 41lakh hectares. As much as 98% of the crop is grown from Bt cotton seeds with BG II technology. The seeds are meant to be resistant to the American and pink bollworm, thereby reducing the use of pesticides.

But the seed's resistance to the pink bollworm has been dropping for a while, leading to a rise in use of pesticides. Last year, a report by Central Institute of Cotton Research confirmed the seed was susceptible to the pink bollworm. This year, Vidarbha saw a major infestation of the pink bollworm, leading to a rise in pesticide spraying.

"Farmers opt for BG II seed thinking crops will be protected from pink bollworm, but they need to be aware this is no longer the case," said agriculture minister Pandurang Fundkar.

The BG II technology was developed by the global seed giant Monsanto and marketed in India through the joint venture firm Mahyco Monsanto Biotech India Ltd, which licenses the technology to Indian seed companies. BG II was launched in 2006.

A Monsanto India spokesperson said, "The recommendation to denotify transgenic seeds and treat them as conventional seeds seems incredulous and may be in violation of applicable laws including the Environment Protection Act 1986."

He claimed that while Bt cotton is planted in over 90% of Maharashtra's cotton acreage, "incidents of pink bollworm infestation have been reported in limited pockets of the state." He also said that Bollgard (r) technologies "continue to substantially fulfill its intended function of controlling a majority of lepidopteran pests including the American Bollworm which is the primary pest, providing farmers with great benefits."

The spokesperson said resistance management in pests was the joint responsibility of all the stakeholders including farmers, seed companies, technology providers, trade, end user industry , regulatory bodies, state agricultural universities and government departments.