The National Seed Association of India (NSAI), in January 2018, threatened to stop selling the cotton seeds developed with Bollgard-II (BG-II) technology if the Monsanto firms involved in introduction of the technology did not confirm its effectiveness (it has proved ineffective in preventing infestation by the pink bollworm).
The development came as a result of widespread resistance developed by pink bollworm to Bollgard-II, the second-generation genetically modified cotton seed technology. Pink bollworm, which showed signs of resistance, turned virulent in the kharif season, and led to extensive damage to cotton crops in many states. Due to the intense resistance, farmers in Telangana were told to remove the plants after the second pink (of cotton bolls) so that the fields would be free of pink bollworm for the next season.
The association wants the firms, US biotech major, Monsanto, and Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Private Limited (MMBL),which licenses Monsanto’s GM cotton technologies to seed firms in India,to own up responsibility for this and compensate farmers.
NSAI also expressed its intention to go back to the single gene (CryIAC) GM seed, which has no royalty fee, and can control other bollworms like American and spotted bollworms.
Response MMBL has denied allegations levied against it, and blamed non-adherence to recommendations on Insect Resistance Management (IRM) practices for the development of the resistance. However, NSAI has stated that as per clause 5 of Cotton Seeds Price (Control) Order issued by the Government of India, the trait value towards the Bt cotton trait developed by the trait developer and the seed value towards the efforts of the seed company for hybrid development, seed production, marketing and distribution are clearly mentioned. The responsibility towards the performance of the trait shall, therefore, be on the trait developer, whereas the responsibility for the seed quality remains with the seed company.
Earlier In August 2017, Union Minister of State for Agriculture Parshottam Rupala informed Lok Sabha that there was a sporadic incidence of pink bollworm damage in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. Maharashtra government had already directed seed firms to pay a compensation of Rs 36.83 lakh to farmers.
In October, the Maharashtra government has requested the Centre to de-notify the BG II strain on the grounds that it had lost its resistance to pink bollworm.
In December 2017, an FIR was registered against the American Monsanto Company, in Yavatmal district of Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region after cotton farmers reported big losses because of pink bollworm infestation. The company, which sells genetically engineered seeds, had sold its products to farmers claiming and advertising that its BT cotton seeds were immune to the wily worm that eats cotton balls. However, farmers, who had bought the BT cotton seeds hoping for high seeds, complained about losses due to pink bollworm. Large-scale pink bollworm infestation had ruined their crop.
The Firms Mahyco Monsanto Biotech Pvt. Ltd. (MMBL) is a 50:50 joint venture between Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co. (Mahyco), one of India’s major producers of seed that is active in Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines and Bangladesh as well, and Monsanto Holdings Pvt. Ltd.—a 100 percent wholly-owned subsidiary of Monsanto Company. Monsanto Company is an American multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation that is the leading producer of genetically engineered (GE) seed globally.
MMBL has sub-licensed the Bollard and Bollgard II technologies to around 42 Indian seed companies each of whom has introduced the Bollgardtechnologies into their own germplasm. Indian farmers have a choice of over 800 Bt cotton hybrid seeds.
Bollgard Bt cotton (single-gene technology) is India’s first biotech crop technology approved for commercialisation in India in 2002. Bollgard II(double-gene technology)was approved in mid-2006 by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the Indian regulatory body for biotech crops.
Bollgardcotton is said to provide in-built protection for cotton against destructive American bollworm,Heliothis Armigera infestations. It contains an insecticidal protein from a naturally occurring soil microorganism, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Bollgard II technology contains a superior double-gene technology – Cry1Ac and Cry 2Ab – which provides protection against bollworms and Spodoptera caterpillar, leading to better boll retention, maximum yield, lower pesticides costs, and protection against insect resistance. They are touted to be environmentally friendly way of controlling bollworms in cotton.