The Maharashtra government has asked the Centre to check the veracity of claims by companies regarding Pink Bollworm control. Senior government officials said the objective with which BT cotton was brought to the country has not been fulfilled and the Bollgard-II technology has developed resistance to Pink Bollworm insect pests.
Vikas Patil, director of agriculture (Inspection & Quality Control), Maharashtra, told FE that the farmer was already in distress and can ill-afford to buy seeds if Pink Bollworm strikes the crop. “There have been several complaints from farmers that the seeds have developed resistance to Pink Bollworm and therefore the government has urged the Centre to offer guidance in this area. The claim by seed companies of the Bollgard II technology is effective against Pink Bollworm needs to be checked by the government,” he said.
According to Patil, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee which comes under the Department of Environment and Forests usually checks for the veracity of such claims by seed companies and therefore the Centre should look into the issue. Senior agriculture officials also pointed out that the former director of the Central Institute for Cotton Research ( CICR), Nagpur Dr KR Kranthi had already presented a paper on this subject. CICR had earlier confirmed that Bt cotton incorporating Monsanto’s proprietary Bollgard-II technology has developed susceptibility to Pink Bollworm insect pests. This reported susceptibility had apparently led the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion to serve notice to Mahyco Monsanto Biotech India Ltd (MMB) — the licensing arm of the US life sciences giant — calling upon it to explain why the patent for the technology should not be revoked. Bollgard-II technology, which involves introduction of Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab genes from Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil bacterium, into cotton plants, is claimed to confer resistance against three insect pests: American bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera), pink bollworm and spotted bollworm (Earias vittella.)
Kranthi had said that CICR’s surveys had pointed to the damage to the cotton crop from Pink Bollworm attacks as “particularly severe” in Gujarat with an estimated 9% yield loss. Though the infestation of the pest was noticed in a few pockets of Gujarat in 2014, it was found to have spread to wider areas in 2015. Monsanto had originally introduced the Bollgard technology based on a single Cry1Ac gene.
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Top industry officials pointed out that although the Maharashtra government has written to the Centre on this issue, the Centre has not given a response yet. “The process is tedious and lengthy and years are needed for collection of scientific data for submitting tangible evidence. It takes years to conduct lab tests, field tests and scientific backing ,” officials said. MG Shembekar, vice president, National Seeds Association of India ( NSAI) said that during a normal season, around 4.5 crore packs are needed for the season and around 1.5 crore to 1.6 crore packs are required in Maharashtra. However, this time there could be a 10-15% rise in acreage which means that more than 4.5 crore packs would be required for sowing across the country and 1.6 to 1.65 crore packs may be required for Maharashtra, he said.