GM seed companies back in action in Maharashtra

Field trials of genetically modified crops are expected to restart in Maharashtra after a committee which submitted its report to the state government did not see any problems with such testing of GM seeds.

Seed company Mahyco-Monsanto got a fresh lease of life after a committee set up under nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar recommended that the field trials of GM crops be restarted.

In fact, Mahyco, Monsanto and BASF have been conducting field trials of rice, corn, brinjal and chickpea in farms controlled by state agriculture universities.

Mahyco had, in March this year, signed a memorandum of understanding with North Maharashtra University (NMU) for undertaking collaborative research activities.

Mahyco and NMU have committed to sharing testing and analytical services, transferring technology by mutual discussion and agreement, utilisation of land under possession of NMU for trials, and collaborative research.

However, with the state agriculture department withdrawing permission for field trials, some of these trials have been abandoned, say reports.

Several NGOs, including RSS-affiliated Swadeshi Jagran Manch, had raised several technical issues against GM crops, including fears of cross-pollination between GM and non-GM crops.

Scientists associated with the Kakodkar panel aver that all issues associated with GM seed trials have been addressed.

Besides, they say, such field trials are regulated so as not to create any problems.

However, with the government yet to give clearance to mass field trials, industry sources say they expect the rabi season to be used to test seeds. State government officials say final clearance for the trials could be given after Diwali.

With prices of pulses skyrocketing, seed companies are now focusing on high-yielding pulse varieties.

Mahyco, through its group company Sungro, is reported to be developing a GM chickpea (chana) that can increase yields by 2025 per cent.

The company is reported to have developed the seeds through a public-private partnership with Assam Agricultural University.

Mahyco is also working on a salt-tolerant variety of rice in the coastal Konkan region of Maharashtra.

NGOs, however, are not convinced. They say the trials should not be allowed as there is a need for more clarity, especially from the toxicity perspective.

The Kakodkar committee has not cleared the technical and environmental issues raised by the NGOs.

Moreover, some experts on the committee have a conflict of interest and there is a need to form a national commission which will look at all the aspects of GM crops, they say.