February 28, 2024


The business lovers

Activists demand crackdown on companies selling illegal seeds

With sales of illegal HT (herbicide tolerant) Bt cotton seeds assuming alarming proportions, the Coalition for GM Free India has asked the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) to take stern action against seed companies selling the illegal seeds. It also wants the GEAC to crack down on the supply chains aiding the illegal seed business.

In a letter to GEAC Chairperson Uma Devi, the Coalition alleged that companies permitted to sell particular kinds of authorised genetically modified cottonseeds were found to be selling unauthorised and illegal HT Bt cotton also.

Citing news reports, it alleged that a top seed company, which was authorised by the GEAC to sell GM seeds, was selling unauthorised and illegal HT Bt cotton seeds in Maharashtra.

“Reports indicate that a few samples (sold by the company) were detected with a herbicide tolerant gene in testing by the Maharashtra agriculture department,” the Coalition said.

The FISEC (Field Inspection and Scientific Evaluation Committee) set up by the Department of Biotechnology concluded that the illegal hybrids collected from the field could be grouped into two major sub-groups, indicating a very narrow genetic base. This reflects a organised breeding activity by a couple of companies.

There has been no concrete action taken by any agency, including GEAC, against the offenders, it said.

The Coalition also found fault with the regulator for not uploading the report on its website. “It is unclear why this is not a public document, which can be used by alert civil society organisations to help regulators perform their duties diligently,” it pointed out.

The Coalition is an umbrella organisation comprising scientists and non-governmental organisations that oppose the GM organisms.

“We have been saying for a long time now that it is easy enough to curb and stop the illegal spread of HT cotton cultivation in India if the Government regulators crack down on the seed supply systems, starting from hybrid cotton seed production areas of the country,” it said.

It pointed out that hybrid cotton seed production takes place in just a handful of districts.

“Starting with random checking in the seed production plots through rapid (strip) tests, followed by drawing samples in ginning and seed processing units, it is easy to locate lots that are creating and selling HT cotton seeds,” it argued.

“We demand that GEAC put into action the long-pending crackdown on the illegal HT cotton seed supply systems in the country. We also demand cancellation of authorisations and licences given to seed companies if they are found to be selling illegal HT seeds.

“We would like to remind GEAC and all its implementation arms for regulation of gene technologies that this is the time when seed processing would begin after harvest, and this is the time to take action,” it said.