After Bt cotton... Monsanto to plant soyabean
Hindu Business Lin
NEW DELHI, May 1
AFTER obtaining approval for conducting large-scale field trials of its controversial Bt or `Bollgard' cotton, Monsanto is now seeking to introduce its equally high-profile `Roundup-resistant' transgenic soyabean into the country.
According to highly-placed sources in the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the US-based life sciences major has already been granted permission to import certain lines of its genetically-engineered soyabean for testing under controlled laboratory-level conditions.
Monsanto had originally sought the approval of the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) under the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) to import 23 lines. After an initial screening of the company's application, the RCGM gave an in-principle nod, subject to the lines receiving the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources' (NBPGR) quarantine clearance.
The NBPGR is understood to have completed the quarantine tests and it has approved the import of a few of the 23 lines, while rejecting the case for the other lines that were found to harbour certain exotic pathogens.
``Monsanto has been allowed to import the lines for testing under controlled glasshouse/greenhouse environment'', the sources told Business Line.
Monsanto is now required to subject the Roundup-resistant soyabean varieties to the Government's mandated three-tier evaluation and bio-safety risk assessment mechanism for genetically modified organisms. These provide for setting up of an Institution-specific Biosafety Committee by the indenter (Monsanto) for carrying out controlled condition tests.
Once this is done, Monsanto will have to go again to the RCGM - a technical body comprising experts from ICAR, DBT, etc - which would monitor limited field trials of the company's transgenic soyabean varieties.
Based on the data obtained and the recommendations of the RCGM, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under the Ministry of Environment will give the company permission to undertake large-scale field trials in various agro-climatic regions of the country. Parallely, the ICAR, too, would subject these varieties to its All-India Coordinated Trials, the sources added.
Roundup-ready soyabean is essentially a variety that has been genetically modified to resist Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. `Post-emergence' herbicides such as Roundup, also known as glyphosate, work by killing all the plants of the field of application - both weeds and crop. What Monsanto has done is to genetically engineer a soyabean line that makes the crop plants per se resistant to its Roundup herbicide and confine the chemical's potent action to just the weeds.
In the process, the company derives two sources of revenue from the farmer - one through the genetically-engineered seeds and the other through its Roundup herbicide. The sources pointed out that in the US - where more than half of the soyabean area is under Monsanto's Roundup-resistant variety - herbicide applications per acre have fallen by nine per cent, but overall herbicide volumes have increased by 14 per cent because acreages have expanded as well.
Monsanto currently has a 26 per cent stake in Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco), with which it also operates a 50:50 joint venture Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Pvt Ltd. Mahyco, in July 2000, was given permission to conduct large-scale field trials of its transgenic cotton derived from Monsanto's patented `Bollgard' germplasm.
The genetically-engineered cotton, incorporating genes from the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), was claimed to confer `in-built- resistance to the dreaded insect pest, Helicoverpa armigera or American bollworm. Mahyco's transgenic cotton was obtained by back-crossing Monsanto's `Cocker-310' variety in the US (bearing the Bt `cry1Ac' gene) into the former's own hybrid lines such as Mahyco 4 and 11.
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