Friday, March 4, 2011

Will Mahyco Finally Get its Comeuppance?

Suman Sahai

The GEAC has decided to issue a show cause notice to the Mahyco seed company for defying its directions and going ahead with using a seed for which it did not have regulatory approval. The Mahyco seed company had approached the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) at its meeting on 12 January, 2011 for permission to produce seed of genetically engineered cotton containing a herbicide tolerant gene. This non Bt cotton was to be used as the refuge crop for when BG II-RR Flex cotton was finally approved for cultivation. Currently it is in trials. BG II-RR Flex refers to Bollgard II, a cotton hybrid that carries two Bt genes as well as a gene conferring tolerance to Roundup Ready which is a herbicide.

Mahyco had also applied to GEAC in September 2010 for permission to produce the same seed and had been turned down on the grounds that the cotton they wanted to use had not cleared the regulatory process. Therefore according to the Rules of 1989 which govern bio-technology , Mahyco could not be given permission to produce the seed of the unapproved cotton. But did
Mahyco accept the GEAC ruling and desist from using the unapproved HT cotton seed? No it did not.

It went ahead, cocking a snook at the GEAC, and made seed of the unapproved non-Bt RR-Flex-Cotton ( containing the HT gene) and is using it to plant the refuge crop in the trials of its double Bt, single HT cotton hybrid . A 20 percent ‘refuge crop’ of non Bt cotton is required by the Rules of 1989, to be planted along with Bt cotton so that the invading bollworm has a non toxic cotton to feed on, to delay the build up of resistance to the toxic Bt cotton. The Mahyco company is merrily using the unapproved cotton as the refuge planting in the trials of its new double Bt, single HT cotton hybrid even after GEAC had denied it permission! So why is Mahyco breaking the law to plant the unapproved herbicide tolerant cotton as the refuge for its double Bt, single HT cotton hybrid ? Because it slyly admits what we have been pointing out all along, that planting a herbicide tolerant crop, like the new Bt-HT cotton, and using the matched herbicide (Roundup Ready) during its cultivation will destroy all the
neighboring crops and the adjoining biodiversity. This will happen when the herbicide lands on them when fields of the HT crops are being sprayed. Since the other crops and the biodiversity do not contain the herbicide tolerant gene, they will die when the Roundup Ready hits them.
HT crops can only be cultivated if all the other crops in the region are also HT (an impossibility),
otherwise they will be destroyed when they catch the Roundup Ready spray drifting in the wind or get sprayed inadvertently. That is why in several articles and in the submissions I have made to policy bodies, I have argued that the herbicide tolerant genetic trait must not be permitted for use in India. First because it will displace agriculture labor (weeding provides wage labor), second, because it will destroy all the surrounding biodiversity that rural communities use as food, fodder, medicinal plants etc. and third because of what Mahyco-Monsanto now themselves admit, that Roundup Ready sprays will destroy all the other Non HT crops in the neighborhood.
The Director of the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) in Nagpur acknowledges this problem inherent in HT crops, and agrees that the refuge for the Bt-HT cotton must be planted with HT cotton during commercial cultivation, otherwise the refuge will be killed off by Roundup Ready spray drifts. The CICR director however does not propose a strategy for how other crops and biodiversity should be protected when Mahyco’s new Bt-HT cotton is planted commercially and Roundup Ready is widely used in the fields.

Because Mahyco has blatantly defied the directions of the GEAC- not to use the HT cotton seed until it gets regulatory approval - the regulators have decided to issue a ‘Show Cause’ notice to the company, seeking explanation on why penal action should not be initiated against it, for
violation of the ‘Rules of 1989. It will be interesting to see how this story unfolds. Will the GEAC really follow through and take action against Mahyco for its defiant stand and blatant violations? Or will Mahyco walk home free as it has always done in the past?

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