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Pink bollworm: India seed companies want to revert to Monsanto’s old techqrcode

Jan. 8, 2018

Forward Favorites Print Jan. 8, 2018
In the wake of the pink bollworm crisis, National Seed Association of India (NSAI) has written to the union agriculture ministry that the industry wants to go back to BG-I — the original version of Bt seeds introduced by the US seed giant Monsanto.

Though developed by Monsanto, BG-1 variety is not patented. By reverting to it, Indian seed companies will no longer have to pay any fee to Monsanto, which introduced genetically modified cotton seeds in the country. At the same time, NSAI also wants to hike the prices of BG-I seeds so that it covers the cost of production for manufacturers.

Monsanto entered the Indian market in 2002 with BG-1 variety of the genetically modified seeds. Monsanto's seeds are sold through domestic manufacturers, who are charged a fee of Rs49 per bag. From 2006, Monsanto introduced Bollgard-II variety, which has two genes with traits of resistance against the bollworm.

The NSAI says BG-II was introduced with one extra gene, Cry2Ab, which is supposed to have resistance against pink bollworm. But the gene has failed. So, it rather makes business sense to revert to BG-I. It has a single gene Cry1Ac, which is still effective against American bollworm, another major pest attacking cotton. The seed can be made without paying any technology fee to Monsanto. Due to the failure against pink bollworm, there is practically no difference between BG-I and BG-II.

"The fee paid to Monsanto is ultimately taken from the farmers. After the technology failed, there is no difference between BG-I and BG-II. I strongly feel that the company should stop claiming any further technology fee for BG-II from farmers," said Kalyani Goswami, director general of NSAI.

If BG-1 is used, there will be no need to pay the trait fee as it is a non-patented technology and still effective against American bollworm, said Goswami.

The NSAI letter also says that the government's earlier move to reduce the price of single gene seeds to Rs635 per bag has discouraged further development of such seeds, which can be suitable under current situation. The production cost for both single and double gene seeds is the same. The association wants to hike the rate to Rs800 per bag, bringing the price of BG-II and BG-I at par.

Vijay Jawandhia, a farm activist who has been batting for opening up production of non-patented BG-I seeds, says instead the farmers should get straight line varieties. "The seed companies are making hybrid varieties. Such seeds cannot be reused from the crop itself. A straight line variety has stabilized gene, and can be reused from the crop. This does away with the need of buying fresh bags of seed every year. Even in the US only straight line variety is used, so why should farmers in India get hybrid seeds," said Jawandhia.

On the prices, he said they should come down since the seed companies will no longer have to pay anything to Monsanto.

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