Even as the debate over genetic modification of crops rages, agri-business major Monsanto has sought permission from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) for new field trials across the country.
“We continue to seek permission for trials of cotton and corn crops. The GEAC has just started working and they’ve had their first meeting. We hope they meet regularly and grant those permissions”, said Gyanendra Shukla, CEO India Region, Monsanto Holdings.
In an interaction with Express, Shukla said the company will conduct field trials of Bt cotton and Bt corn varieties.
“We’d like to test the technology in all the nine cotton-growing states. We want to test corn in Karnataka, which is the largest corn-producing state in the country”, said Shukla, adding that no Bt trials are on in the state at this point in time.
According to the Indian GMO Research Information System, Monsanto was allowed to conduct field trials (with new genes) of insect-resistant corn and herbicide-tolerant maize last year.
Shukla allayed fears that GM crop trials lead to loss of genetic diversity.
“All the questions are right, but assumptions are wrong. Biodiversity is always preserved in the wild. It is more important for us than anybody else. Every new seed adds to the biodiversity, but we are mixing biodiversity in a farm against where it should be preserved.”
Shukla said Monsanto is still hopeful that science will prevail at the end of the day.
“Our objective is to fast-track development of seeds suitable for different climates. In the process, if there is a Bt tool, then we think it has to be a part of it. In fact, there’s a lot of Bt research happening outside Monsanto. Government institutions are carrying out research on almost every crop. There is a lot of state spending on Bt, because scientists are smart and they know they have to feed 1.6 billion people”.
Monsanto, which holds 15 per cent market share in the seeds business, has not changed its research trajectory significantly following an outcry over GM crops.
“We believe it is a very good technology that tries to help farmers control pests better. Perhaps, as a country, we were not ready for it. This debate has to be seen in the context of farmers’ problems and their choices. May be our society is not mature to have a conversation on this”, he said.
Shukla questioned the credibility of those opposing GM technology.
“A lot of credible scientists have said good things about this, but they are not the ones talking all the time as they believe in facts and stop there. A very small number of people are raising the debate. Are they the right people and is the debate happening in the right forums? We have to check their credentials”.
On concerns over ownership of seeds leading to monopoly, Shukla clarified that Monsanto’s role ended at a certain level.
“We don’t own the seeds. We only develop varieties. Farmers have the right to harvest the way they want. The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001, legally allows farmers to save seeds”.