HT BT Conundrum
In the year 2019, some farmers associations in Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra symbolically sowed the banned HT BT cotton and Brinjal seeds. Now reports are coming out that motivated agents are duping farmers and trying to sabotage the legal cottonseed business by challenging illegal trade of 300Cr.
HT cotton is the 3rd generation cottonseed developed by Monsanto (now Bayer) with Round-up (Glyphosate-based) tolerant traits. In 2008 trait developer Monsanto with the help of its Indian Partner Mahyco imported the GM - Bollgord 2 with glyphosate trait called Roundup Ready Flex. Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) gave Mahyco approval for a field trial of Bollgord 2 in Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Within three months of approval, GEAC confirms that traits had escaped into the environment. Hence GEAC banns use of HT BT cotton.
After that various cases reported, in various states like Gujrat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Haryana, Maharashtra, the cultivation of illegal HT BT cotton. In 2017, SABC (South Asian Biotechnology centre) confirms with a report of Central Institute of Cotton Research of which 9 hybrids it tested 6 are positive for HT.
The illegal hybrids have a brand name like Samaj Jay Weed Gaurd, Samrat Weed Guards, Isreal Weedgaurd, iBoll 5 etc.
The extent of HT seed in India:-
Field Inspection and Scientific Evaluation Committee (FISEC) formed by PMO in 2018 and it gave its report stated that 15℅ of the area in key cotton-producing states like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujrat. Total cotton Seed business in India up to 2500-3000 crore and illegal HT business is significantly increasing in recent years (300-400 crore).
There is a 40% of production cost on labor for intercultural operations. So HT BT cotton will solve the problem of weeds and labor and cut down the production cost. India has become the largest producer and exporter after allowing BT cotton technology. Various Farmer organization demanded new age technology that is HT BT cotton.
Various environmental activist and organizations promoting organic cultivation opposing HT BT cotton. Such seeds will cause more diseases among humans and animals apart from causing damage to the environment and biodiversity said by such activist. Scientist having a different opinion on genetically modified crops.
It will lead to use of glyphosate heavily in field. Usage of glyphosate also has been banned in various countries. In USA Bayer is heavily penalized by court due to hazardous effect of Round-up.
Technology and bio-safety questions aside, Indian laws are paramount, and any transgression sets a very bad precedent. Illegal supply and cultivation of banned traits is a serious offence. Unapproved seeds may harm the interest of farmers as there is no binding on such companies in cases of crop failure and seed quality. Various countries in the world using GM crops legally. Govt can have scientific field trials and continuous research in GM crops that can bring newer technology to the farmers. Till then govt need to track and stop the illegal selling and cultivation of HT BT cotton. It's not just drowning government revenue but also rising concern regarding IPR and challenging sovereign law. India should, of course, embrace new technologies, but not if it is channeled through illegal means.
- Vinay Dhawale