Monsanto’s decision to withdraw Bollgard-II Roundup Ready Flex (RRF) has shocked the cottonseed industry. The firm has confirmed that it has filed an application with regulator GEAC seeking to withdraw the technology, which offers a third layer of technology in the form of a herbicide.
Though the application was filed in July, the news surfaced only on Wednesday, the last date for stakeholders to file their opinions on the draft notification that seeks to revamp the way seed technology licensing and pricing happens.
While withdrawing the gazette in May this year, the government left it open for feedback from stakeholders.
The company, in fact, had hinted at such a withdrawal in March, protesting against the efforts to regulate the seed price and royalty fee. Top executives from 10 cottonseed companies, who back Monsanto’s views, are meeting in Delhi on Friday to rally around Monsanto.
“It (Monsanto) is trying to bring pressure on the government,” said a top executive at a seed company, on condition of anonymity.
Roundup Ready Flex is a new technology being developed by some global agri-biotech firms to make it easy for cotton farmers to tackle weed.
How it works The technology gives genetic-level protection to the plant to withstand herbicide, leaving the weed (which has no such protection) to succumb to herbicide sprays. The criticism against this technology is that it could result in the evolution of a weed that is resistant to the technology.
While admitting its intent to withdraw the proposal to introduce the new technology in India, Monsanto blamed it on the uncertainty in the business and regulatory environment. “The regulation includes the regulation of trait fees and introduction of the draft compulsory licensing guidelines,” a company spokesperson said in a statement on Thursday.
The company, however, said that it has no plans to withdraw any products from its existing portfolio. “This decision has no impact on our current cotton portfolio being sold in India,” the statement said.
About 50 seed companies get the Bollgard-II technology from Monsanto through its joint venture Mahyco Monsanto Biotech Limited (MMBL).
The issue of seed pricing and the royalty fee component have been a bone of contention ever since the technology was introduced over 13 years ago.
Some State governments, farmers, seed companies and Monsanto have engaged in animated legal battles over the past decade on the issues of pricing and royalty fee.
Ram Koundinya, an agricultural policy expert, feels that the government move to regulate prices could have prompted the firm to withdraw the herbicide tolerant technology.
“If the government decides to go ahead with the provisions of the notification, it will have a serious impact on future technologies. No firm would like to bring in such technologies in the agriculture sector,” he said.
The alternatives The seed industry, however, sees no problem if the company withdraws the technology. “Weed is not a major problem. Farmers have been able to tackle this issue with local resources. A chunk of the friendly weed is even used as food,” the seed company executive said.
Meanwhile, the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) is growing 21 cotton varieties in 15 locations across the country with first-generation Bt technology. “The first-generation technology is still effective against the American bollworm. Our product will be ready for commercial use by farmers,” CICR Director Keshav Kranti told BusinessLine .
A consortium of private seed firms is also working on a technology that it had shelved over a decade ago.