India farmers risk arrest for sowing unapproved Monsanto cotton seeds

A farm worker sprays pesticides on genetically modified cotton crops in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. The federal environment ministry said last year planting the genetically modified seeds violated the Environment Protection Act, and farmers who did so were risking potential jail terms. (Reuters)
Updated 12 June 2018

India farmers risk arrest for sowing unapproved Monsanto cotton seeds

MUMBAI: Many Indian farmers are openly sowing an unapproved variety of genetically modified (GM) cotton seeds developed by Monsanto, as the government sits on the sidelines for fear of antagonizing a big voting bloc ahead of an election next year.
India approved the first GM cotton seed trait in 2002 and an upgraded variety in 2006, helping transform the country into the world’s top producer and second-largest exporter of the fiber. But newer traits are not available after Monsanto in 2016 withdrew an application seeking approval for the latest variety due to a royalty dispute with the government.
The herbicide-tolerant variety, lab-altered to help farmers save costs on weed management, has, however, seeped into the country’s farms since then. Authorities say they are still investigating how that happened.
“I will only use these seeds or nothing at all,” said Rambhau Shinde, a farmer who has been cultivating cotton for nearly four decades in the western state of Maharashtra.
The federal environment ministry said last year planting the seeds violated the Environment Protection Act, and farmers who did so were risking potential jail terms. But many farmers are desperate to boost their incomes after poor yields over the past few years and are willing to ignore the warnings.
A government official in New Delhi, who deals with matters related to GM crops, said it was difficult to keep farmers away from something that they saw benefit in.
“If you don’t allow them to plant legally, illegal planting will happen,” the official said, requesting anonymity, adding that Monsanto had yet to reapply for an approval to sell its latest variety of GM cotton in India.
A Monsanto India spokesman said the company was confident that the government would prosecute those involved in the illegal trade of the unapproved seeds.
Except for GM cotton, India has not approved any other transgenic crop on concerns over their safety, and large foreign companies have been increasingly unhappy at what they say is the infringement of their intellectual property by widespread planting of unapproved seeds.
Farmers say they prefer Monsanto’s herbicide-tolerant Roundup Ready Flex (RRF) strain of cotton seeds as they can cut input costs by as much as 10,000 rupees ($150) an acre compared with other varieties.
Cotton growers are also getting support from farmers’ unions, who are already at loggerheads with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government amid a fall in prices of many agricultural commodities.
Without new varieties of seeds, they fear being outplayed by other major cotton producers and exporters such as the United States, Brazil and Australia, said Anil Ghanwat, the president of a farmers’ organization in Maharashtra.
“The government is asking us to carry a sword to fight the enemy with AK-56 rifles,” said Ghanwat, who has urged farmers to sow the unapproved GM seed. “We will protect them if government authorities try to destroy the crop or harass them with legal cases.”
Last year, just before cotton harvesting, authorities found plantations of unapproved seeds in key producing states such as Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west and Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in the south.
In February, authorities in Telangana told two local companies that cotton seeds they sold to farmers may have contained traces of Monsanto’s RRF strain, though the companies denied that.
This year various states have formed inspection teams to curb the sale of such seeds, though farmers have built a parallel network to distribute them without getting caught, said M.S. Gholap, director at Maharashtra’s agriculture department.
The seeds were being produced secretly, mainly in Gujarat and Telangana, and then smuggled to other states, Gholap said.
Maharashtra has seized unapproved seeds worth 12 million rupees ($178,000) in the past two months, enough to cultivate 10,000 hectares, said Gholap.
Farmers are paying as much as a 30 percent premium for the unapproved seeds in Maharashtra and Gujarat compared with seeds of older strains.
The proliferation of unapproved seeds could force the government to grant approval to the new seed technology, as happened in 2002 when New Delhi legalized planting of the Bt Cotton GM strain, said C D Mayee, head of South Asia Biotechnology Center, a New Delhi-based non-profit organization.
The strong demand for the illegal seeds has alarmed some federal government officials.
“Once farmers realize laws are toothless, then they could cultivate GM soybean, corn and other crops,” said one official, who asked not to be identified. “It would have serious impact on our biodiversity.”

3 ministers may break with British PM over Brexit

Updated 48 min 21 sec ago

3 ministers may break with British PM over Brexit

  • The ministers have said they will side with opposition parties to stop Britain leaving without a divorce deal
  • Comments seen as a warning to hard-line Brexit faction in Conservative Party

LONDON: Three senior British Cabinet ministers suggested on Saturday they may break with Prime Minister Theresa May and back amendments to delay Brexit unless a deal is agreed to in the next week.

Their comments represent a serious Cabinet split ahead of a key week in Parliament and are seen as a warning to the hard-line Brexit faction in the Conservative Party.

The ministers indicated in a Daily Mail article published on Saturday that they will back plans to delay Brexit if lawmakers vote down May’s plan for a new deal with the EU.

Business Minister Greg Clark, Work and Pensions Minister Amber Rudd, and Justice Minister David Gauke signalled in the newspaper column that they will side with rebels and opposition parties next week to stop Britain leaving without a divorce deal on March 29 if necessary, adding their weight to calls for May to rule out a no-deal departure.

May is struggling against the clock to get a deal with Brussels on Britain’s exit from the world’s largest trading bloc that will pass parliamentary muster. 

She planned to meet Donald Tusk on the sidelines of an EU-League of Arab States summit on Sunday, but EU diplomats are not expecting any imminent breakthrough.

In the column headlined “If we don’t get a deal next week we must delay Brexit,” Clark, Rudd and Gauke wrote that a no-deal exit was a risk to business, security and British territorial unity, and accused some Parliament colleagues of complacency.

“Far from Brexit resulting in a newly independent United Kingdom stepping boldly into the wider world, crashing out on March 29 would see us poorer, less secure and potentially splitting up,” they said, referring to the threat of a new bid for Scottish independence.

“Our economy will be damaged severely both in the short and the long term. Costs will increase, businesses that rely on just-in-time supply chains will be severely disrupted and investment will be discouraged,” they wrote.

The ministers called on members of the European Research Group, formed by Conservative pro-Brexit lawmakers, to back the government’s deal in Parliament or risk seeing Brexit delayed.

Both May’s Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party are formally committed to delivering Brexit. In recent days Labour has appeared to soften its stance on a second referendum, although May has ruled such an option out.

Lawmakers from both parties, however, are deeply split over how or even whether Britain will leave, and no majority has so far emerged in Parliament for any comprehensive Brexit strategy.

May has promised that if she does not bring a revised deal back by Feb. 27, Parliament will have an opportunity to vote on the next steps. Some lawmakers are expected to use that to try to wrest control of the process from the government.