Hybrid seed companies body National Seed Association of India (NSAI) has urged the Union agriculture ministry to advise the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) not to insist on a no-objection certificate (NOC) from technology providers like Monsanto for commercial release of Bt cotton seeds every season.
The seed companies have suggested that the GEAC could give approval for commercial release of Bt cotton seeds if it is satisfied with the results of testing done by public-sector labs to ascertain the elements present in such seeds. In 2006, the GEAC had made an NOC from trait providers mandatory for marketing of Bt cotton seeds.
The seed companies’ move comes even as the agriculture ministry, faced with sharp criticism from biotech companies like Monsanto, withdrew a controversial order capping the trait value or royalty charged by them on new genetically modified (GM) traits, besides declaring null and void all existing licence agreements between the trait providers and seed producers.
“The stipulation of NOC from the technology provider from the applicant seed company for approval and commercialisation of Bt cotton hybrids under the event base approval mechanism by the subcommittee of GEAC is leading to monopoly of cotton seed market by technology provider Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (MMBL) who are able to use the stipulation and insist seed companies to sign licence agreements with one-sided clause,” KB Goswami, executive director, NSAI stated in a recent communication to JS Sandhu, DDG (crop sciences), Indian Council for Agricultural Research.
However, industry sources said that in the absence of an NOC and letter of consent from technology provider like MMBL, a joint venture between Monsanto and Maharashtra-based Mahyco, the seed companies can make wrong claims about presence of technology or trait in Bt cotton seeds and mislead farmers. This could eventually dent the credibility of GM technology.
The NSAI communication also stated that if an NOC from MMBL is a must, it would lead to collection of excessive royalty (trait value) by the firm.
Last year, the retail price of widely-used Bollgard II variety cotton seeds was `930 per 450 gm packet with the trait value component of `163. The agriculture ministry in its December 7, 2015, price control order reduced the seed price to `800 and the trait value to `42 (exclusive of taxes). The new price is said to be non-remunerative to trait providers like MMBL.
About 90% of the country’s cotton area of 11.8 million hectares (in the 2015-16 season) is under Bt cover. Domestic cotton production has risen manifold since the introduction of Bt seeds — from 13.6 million bales in 2002-03 to a projected 30.5 million bales in 2015-16.