The National Seed Association of India (NSAI) has come out in strong defence of seed companies stating that the Pink Bollworm (PBW) incidence in BT cotton is due to the insect developing resistance to the protein produced by the BT Cotton plants. The Association has approached Bijay Kumar, principal secretary (agriculture) Maharashtra and SP Singh, commissioner of agriculture to direct officials regulating seed quality and registering complaints of farmers to register complaints based on the roles and responsibilities of seed companies and trait developers. In a letter submitted to the principal secretary of Maharashtra, Kalyani Goswami, executive director, NSAI pointed out that in light of widespread damage due to Pink Bollworm in cotton, there are several complaints by farmers. Based on such complaints, cases are being booked by the police as well as the agricultural department against seed dealers and seed companies in Maharashtra. The association has submitted that more than 300 BT Cotton hybrids which are being sold in Maharashtra by various companies under the provisions of Seeds Act, 1966, (Control Order), 1983, Environment Protection Act and Cotton Seeds Price ( Control) Order 2015 ( CSPCO).
According to him, BT Cotton traits expressed by single gene or two genes are approved by GEAC on event based approval mechanism (EBAM) under the provisions of Environment (Protection) Act (EPA). After a trait is approved for biosafety, the breeders use the trait developing several new hybrids which are again approved either by GEAC from 2017 by the Union ministry of agriculture. The seed companies are responsible for maintaining gene purity, he said. Goswami said that there are unfounded allegations that refugia seeds are of bad quality. However, the central government notified that the minimum quality standards for refugia seeds as per which they shall have a maximum of 5% with the BT gene. The seed inspectors collect and analyse thousands of seed samples to assess the seed quality and initiate suitable action against any seed lots and their seed producers if their quality standards are not up to the minimum prescribed levels. Based on the data, only a small percentage of seed lots tested may be found to not having the minimum standards for which in any case the concerned company is responsible. Therefore the damage of PBW or the development of resistance cannot be attributed to the seed quality, he said.
The PBW incidence in cotton is due to the insect developing resistance to the protein produced by BT Cotton plants. The subject was also discussed in the meeting that was called by the ministry of agriculture last month. Goswami pointed out that Maharashtra Agriculture Commissioner SP Singh also attended the meeting where it was informed by CICR that the development of resistance by PBW happens due to the natural ability of the insect and the farmers have to take various steps to control the PBW like monitoring the PNW incidence with Phermone traps and undertaking chemical interventions as and when the appearance of insect crosses the economic threshold level. He added that if the seed lot does not have the minimum gene purity , there cannot be any further responsibility on the seed company with reference to the efficacy of the BT trait. The BT Cotton seeds prices are regulated by the ministry of agriculture, under CSPCO, 2015.
As per Clause 5 of the order, the trait value towards the BT cotton trait developed by the trait developer and the seed value towards the efforts of the seed company are for hybrid development, seed production, marketing and distribution are clearly mentioned, Goswami said. The seed company collects the Minimum Support Price (MSP) from the farmer and pays the trait value to the trait developer. As per the price order for the financial year 2017-18, the trait value for the single gene traits is nil for two gene trait is Rs 49 per pack. The responsibility towards the performance of the trait shall therefore be on the trait developer whereas the responsibility of the seed quality remains with the seed company, he maintained.