The illegal cultivation of herbicide-tolerant (HT) cotton has become a major issue. In his guest column on October 7 in this newspaper—“Maharashtra tells GEAC not to shirk responsibility” (https://goo.gl/YTDKju)—the editor of www.smartindianagriculture.com Vivian Fernandes had argued that the planting of illegal HT cotton points to governance failure at the environment ministry. Now, Amita Prasad, chairperson of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), says the information related to cultivation of HT cotton was brought to the notice of GEAC very recently. In an interview with Fernandes, she adds that as soon as GEAC received this information, it acted immediately. Excerpts:
Is this the first time that the cultivation of HT cotton been brought to the notice of GEAC?
Yes, information related to the cultivation of HT cotton was brought to the notice of GEAC very recently.
What does GEAC propose to do? Will it order the destruction of such cotton as it did in 2001 when illegal Bt cotton was being grown before it was approved?
As soon as GEAC received such information, it acted immediately and requested the ministry of agriculture, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and state governments to take appropriate action and investigate the matter further.
In South Asia Biotechnology Centre’s representation to GEAC, a report of tests conducted by the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) has been appended. This report of February 2017 says that CICR found six of nine hybrids testing positive for Round-up Ready Flex (RRF), which is Monsanto’s HT gene. Has CICR brought its findings to the notice of GEAC?
No, till date GEAC has not received any such official report from ICAR-CICR, Nagpur.
The representation also has a report of a Telangana government laboratory, which found that one of the samples lifted—of a variety called Kamadhenu—tested positive for RRF. An agriculture department official of Telangana said they had held two meetings on the issue chaired by the Principal Secretary, Agriculture. In those meetings, it was decided to test leaf samples of HT cotton and send a report to the central government. Has GEAC been informed of these developments and, if so, what action has it taken or recommended?
No, GEAC has not received any such official communication and GEAC has no information of such meetings or developments.