Hyped Desi Cotton has Monsanto gene!

India’s claim of having developed its own Bt cotton (genetically modified) variety has taken an embarrassing turn with an RTI inquiry by two scientists revealing how the University of Agriculture Sciences (UAS) at Dharwad went ahead — brushing aside all precautions — to produce an indigenous variety working on a gene originally patented by Monsanto.

Finding this out, in 2009, the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) had even decided to stop the sale of Bikaneri Narma Bt Cotton — touted as an “completely indigenous Bt variety” — and halt its sale in the domestic market. Bikaneri Narma was released for farmers as BN Bt by Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) in 2009. It was called an indigenous Bt “variety” — as distinct from the Monsanto hybrid where farmers have to buy fresh seeds each season. Farmers could re-use BN Bt for many years.

Yesterday, at a special ICAR meeting, a decision was reportedly taken to stop production of Bn Bt. When contacted, ICAR’s DDG S K Dutta, who stopped commercial sale of Bn Bt in 2009, declined to comment.

Records obtained by scientists Mansoor and Surendra under RTI and accessed by The Indian Express, show that elements of Monsanto’s Cry1Ac gene was detected in the BN Bt varieties developed by UAS. A probe has been ordered by the Karnataka government and by the vice-chancellor of UAS.

It was in 2005 that UAS’s principal scientist I S Kategari had claimed to have successfully introduced the gene in Bikaneri Narma, claiming that it was the “truncated” Cry1Ac gene. Records show that at a meeting on May 21, 2008, ICAR deputy director-general P L Gautam said that the presence of elements of Monsanto’s gene wasn’t an issue and cleared its commercialisation. Incidentally, Ananda Kumar, of the New Delhi-based National Research Centre for Plant Biotechnology, had said that there could have been contamination with elements of the Monsanto gene but added that his tests had not found any presence of these elements.

Vivek Deshpande Posted online: Thu Dec 29 2011, 01:23 hrs

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