BJP, Shiv Sena MPs all packed for Monsanto-sponsored US junket

Ahead of the elections in Maharashtra, a group of MPs from the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena are off for a week-long junket to the United States on a study tour sponsored by global GM seed giant Monsanto.

Monsanto is the biggest purveyor of genetically modified foods in India; but the MPs seem to see no conflict of interest in accepting the company's hospitality.

According to a Monsanto spokesperson, the trip will cost the company an estimated $6,000 (Rs3.64 lakh) per head for travel, food and accommodation.

And this comes three weeks after the BJP-dominated government at the centre cancelled field trials for 15 genetically modified crops.

The group departs on Saturday. The MPs are scheduled to attend a 'Farm Progress Show' in Iowa, then visit the Monsanto headquarters in St Louis, Missouri.

On 29 July, environment and forests minister Prakash Javadekar overruled the recommendations of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) on allowing field trials of Monsanto seeds.

He also put a halt to the field trials of 15 GM crops, including brinjal and rice, after protests from farmers and activists.

The Monsanto spokesperson said that the trip bore no relation to the ruling party's decision to put GM crop trials on hold.

The 'Farm Progress Show' is a three-day event that has been held in Iowa since 1953 and attracts thousands of farmers and delegates every year.

"We will visit their plant to see the latest technology related to the agriculture sector," Shiv Sena MP from Buldhana, Maharashtra Prataprao Ganapatrao Jadhav, said in an interview.

BJP MP from Aligarh Satish Gautam opted out of the visit. Gautam said the BJP President Amit Shah asked all the party MPs in Uttar Pradesh to prepare for the by-elections to a dozen Assembly seats in the state. "There will be a by-election to the Noida Assembly seat and I have decided to devote my time to election work," he said.

Monsanto said invites had been sent to "18 to 20 people". MPs were invited ''on the basis of their interest in the use of technology in agriculture''.