The government’s contention that once a plant variety is created out of a patented technology the patent loses relevance militated against innovation and investment in agriculture research, noted scientist Deepak Pental said. He had led the team of Delhi University scientists that developed the high-yielding genetically modified (GM) mustard variety DMH 11; the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) recently recommended commercial release of the variety and a final call remains to be taken by the Union environment ministry. “This variety — DMH11 — can be further multiplied and improved upon by both government and private seed companies. When a private firm makes investment in research, the patent has to rest with it. Why should one invest in research if the patent is not available?” he said. Currently, Pental holds the patent for DMH11 mustard variety. In an affidavit filed in the Delhi High Court in a case between GM firm Monsanto and one of its licensees Nuziveedu Seeds, the government had stated that that the patent was irrelevant once a plant variety was created — the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Right (PPVFR) Act would now apply, not the Patents Act. The government affidavit was not admitted by the Delhi High Court on technical grounds, and is likely to be resubmitted shortly. After a Nuziveedu applied for intellectual property protection under the PPVFR Act, it needed to show what it had created belonged to it — this was done by getting a no objection certificate (NOC) from Monsanto.
This then gave Monsanto a hold over Nuziveedu or any seed company since, after developing one variety with Monsanto’s gene, it would keep developing new ones — and an NOC would be required for each one of these. Several seed firms have been arguing against the need for an NOC. A GEAC official told FE: ‘The GEAC recommended the commercial release of GM mustard. The developer has submitted a commercialisation strategy and is yet to formalise the same in view of their limited resources for scaling up. This commercialisation strategy would be done in consultation with DBT (department of biotechnology) and ministry of agriculture as this technology was funded by the government of India.”
During field trials, DMH11 has showed yield of 20% to 30% more than existing varieties. The research was carried out through funding from National Dairy Development Board and the DBT. DMH11 was the third GM crop after Bt cotton and Bt brinjal to be recommended for commercial release by the regulator. While Bt cotton has been cultivated in the country since 2002, Bt brinjal, the first GM food crop okayed by the GEAC, never hit the fields as an indefinite moratorium was imposed on its commercial release in early 2010 by then environment minister Jairam Ramesh.
With the GEAC giving its nod, the new environment minister Harsh Vardhan would now have to take a final call on the commercial release of the GM mustard seed as earlier environment minister Anil Madhav Dave passed away recently.