Agri Business

Seed makers worry over illegal Bt cotton usage

KV Kurmanath Hyderabad | Updated on February 26, 2021

Bt-3, the third generation bio-technology product gives the cotton plant ability to withstand herbicide sprays   -  S_HARPALSINGH

Fear unauthorised Bt-3 cultivation may increase 10-15% during next kharif season

Fears over farmers cultivating unauthorised and illegal genetically-modified cottonseed called Bollgard-III or ‘Bt-3’, haunts the seed industry and farmers leaders as cottonseed units gear up for the Kharif season starting June.

Industry sources said that the illegal seeds could comprise 10-15 per cent of the total cottonseed area in the country during the next kharif. “It was a bit lower last year but on good demand, they might swarm the market with huge volumes,” a top executive of a seed company, on the condition of anonymity, told Business Line.

BG-III, the third generation bio-technology product that protects the cotton crop from the weed menace, has not received permission from the regulator Genetic Appraisal Engineering Committee (GEAC).

Banned in five States

The technology gives the plant ability to withstand herbicide sprays. When sprayed, the herbicide (glyphosate that is banned in Maharashtra, Punjab, Kerala, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh on reports that it causes cancer) kills the weed but not the crop, which has the built-in protection.

The seed industry, which is buoyant over the upcoming season, laments that the trend in sales of illegal seeds.

“Yes, it is growing. It’s not good for oganised players like us. We made several representations to the Centre. But there is no headway in arresting the growth of illegal seeds,” said M Prabharaka Rao, Chairman and Managing Director of Nuziveedu Seeds Limited.

“Gujarat and Gadwal area in Telangana are the hotbeds of illegal Bt cottonseed production. They grow it in small chunks here and there. It is very difficult to track them,” said a cottonseed company executive.

The illicit seed traders use clever methods to dodge any scrutiny. They pack the seed in small bags to avoid attention while transporting. They don’t transport the seed bags in big trucks.

“Why, they even use popular brands of top seed players in packing to mislead the farmers. The unsuspecting farmers think that they are buying genuine seeds. We are losing heavily here,” he said.

The industry, which sold 4.5 crore packets (of 450 gm each) last year, has an inventory of about 1.3 crore packets carried over from last year.

Rain damage

“There may be shortage for some promising new hybrids due to the damage caused by rains in October, 2020. Overall, despite the losses in seed production due to the rains, there will be enough stocks for the upcoming season,” said Prabhakara Rao, who is also the President of National Seeds Association of India (NSAI).

The Telangana Rythu Sangham expects that the illegal Bt-3 seeds could cover an area of 7-8 lakh acres in the upcoming season in Telangana as against about 5 lakh acres last year. “The police seized 20,000 quintals of such seed last year and slapped about 210 cases. But the real culprits are not being caught,” said S Malla Reddy of Telangana Rythu Sangham.

Farmers in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra claimed it lowers cultivation costs, particularly labour charges for removing the weeds. They are also demanding that they get access to the latest crop technology.

The seed industry and farmers are concerned over the fact that no new genetically-modified seed has been approved by the GEAC since 2006. The problem cropped up after the Supreme Court announced a moratorium on commercial release of Bt brinjal in 2009. Though the moratorium got over in 2019, no new variety has been approved by GEAC yet.

Before commericial release, field trials of the genetically modified crops have to be done. For this, the Centre has asked the seed companies to get the State government’s approval. But this is proving to be a tricky issue, particulary with States that could go to polls within two years.

Published on February 26, 2021

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