In a major escalation in a long-running dispute between New Delhi and the world’s biggest seed maker, Monsanto Co has withdrawn an application seeking approval for its next generation of genetically modified cotton seeds in India.
Strong objections to a government proposal that would force Monsanto to share its technology with local seed companies were raised in a letter sent by Monsanto’s local partner in India, the conglomerate’s biggest market outside the Americas.
The company is also set to lose tens of millions of dollars in revenue every year due to a potential row with the Indian government over how much it can charge for its genetically modified cotton seeds.
Monsanto’s efforts to introduce its new seed, called Bollgard II Roundup Ready Flex technology, could be set back for years and lead to further losses by the unprecedented decision to pull the application which has not previously been reported.
As the government undermines Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to make the country look more attractive to foreign investors, it will also ratchet up pressure on the Indian government.
Indian cotton farmers could also be hurt in the process. Weeds, which sap the cotton crop of vital nutrients and depress yields, are kept at bay by the new seed variety.
A Monsanto spokesman declined to comment on the withdrawal. A spokesman for the environment ministry which considered the application before it, was not available for comment.
A government proposal, mooted in May, that would require Monsanto to share its proprietary technology, was singled out in the letter, dated July 5, and sent by Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co Ltd (Mahyco), Monsanto’s technology partner in India. The government temporarily withdrew the order and decided to seek feedback from stakeholders after protests by Monsanto and other global seed companies.
The proposal “alarmed us and raised serious concerns about the protection of intellectual property rights,” Mahyco said in the letter.
Data and other material submitted by it as part of the application to the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the regulator, were also asked to be returned by Mahyco. A government official said that the regulator has done that.
By approving Monsanto’s single gene Bollgard I technology, India first allowed GM cotton cultivation in 2002.
India was helped become the world’s top producer and second-largest exporter of the fibre as output jumped fourfold after New Delhi approved the double gene Bollgard II in 2006. Potentially pushing up crop yields at a time when some farmers have said the existing variety was losing its effectiveness, the Bollgard II Roundup Ready Flex would have been the first technological breakthrough since the launch of Bollgard II.
Experts say that like as all technology that have a limited shelf life, Bollgard II, introduced in 2006, is slowly becoming vulnerable to bollworms. Still, Monsanto earned royalties of 6.5 billion Indian rupees ($97 million) from the sale of more than 41 million GM cotton seed packets last year. Sometime in 2007, application for the approval of the new GM seed was made by Mahyco to the GEAC. After years of field trials, the application was in the final stages of a tedious and time-consuming process.
It would seek to revive the application for Bollgard II Roundup Ready Flex “at a suitable time”, Mahyco said in its letter to the GEAC.
(Adapted from Reuters)