Monsanto claims to have warned about pest resistance in 2015

By Times Of India on 26 Jan 2018 | read
NAGPUR: US biotech giant Monsanto has written to union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh that they had flagged the bollworm developing resistance to Bt seed in 2015. It claims even seed makers were warned, and advised to spread awareness about practices to be followed by farmers to prevent losses. The claim is significant in view of the company's dispute with domestic seed makers over the pink bollworm attack on cotton crop in Maharashtra.
The National Seed Association of India (NSAI), which represents seed makers, says Monsanto's letter about the warning in 2015 is a confession that its technology has failed. In that case, it should stop charging a technology fee from seed makers, which is eventually passed on to farmers.

Monsanto, however, maintains that the technology is still effective against American bollworm, which is the primary targeted pest. Pink bollworm, which has hit the crops, is a secondary pest.

The company has developed the genetically modified Bt cotton seeds. The mass production is done under a licence agreement by several domestic seed companies, which pay a fee per bag to the multinational. The Bt seeds are supposed to be resistant to bollworm. Monsanto operates in India through its local arm — Mayhco Monsanto Biotech Limited (MMBL).

NSAI had earlier written to the ministry as well as MMBL, threatening that the industry may not make fresh Bt seeds. In response, MMBL has shot off a letter to the minister saying, "The Genetic Engineering and Appraisal Committee (GEAC) of the government was informed about high level of tolerance to Cry2Ab protein as early as September 2015." Even the sub-licensee seed companies were provided specific guidance in February 2016 and March 2017 to undertake farmer advisories on right practices to prevent losses. In a meeting with Indian Council for Agriculture Research (ICAR), to which NSAI was an invitee too, it was decided to continue using the technology along with right practices, the letter says.

"The seed companies were urged to print on the packets that any non-adherence to the product usage guidelines can hamper performance of the seed," says the MMBL letter.

On this, NSAI maintained that the very claim by MMBL that it had warned about resistance in 2015 clarifies that Bt cotton is no longer effective against pink bollworm. In that case, it should not charge any fee for the technology from seed makers.

NSAI director general Kalyan Goswami told TOI, "Monsanto has accepted our concern in 2015 regarding pink bollworm developing resistance to BG II, but has continued to charge the trait fee, which is illegal. In spite of Monsanto's confession about failure of the technology, Maharashtra government has penalized seed suppliers. Seed companies are being unjustly targeted and being held responsible for pink bollworm attack in Maharashtra."

The state government is collecting claims from farmers on losses due to pink bollworm attack, and the figures will be put up before the seed companies for compensation. So far, over 12 lakh claims have been collected.

On NSAI's stance on trait fee, MMBL has maintained that it is a bilateral issue between individual seed makers and MMBL. NSAI, as an association, is not a signatory to any agreement and should not have any say in the matter, it said.


Pink bollworm attack has taken a major toll of state's cotton crop

State government is collecting claims from farmers on losses

Companies that sold genetically modified Bt cotton seeds may be penalized for losses

Seed companies use technology provided by US giant Monsanto

They claim Monsanto needs to be penalized as its technology failed

Companies under National Seed Association of India (NSAI) have threatened to stop making Bt seeds

Monsanto wrote to agriculture minister saying it had warned about pest resistance to Bt seeds in 2015

NSAI says this is a confession that Monsanto's technology has failed