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Indian state to inspect cultivation of Monsanto's unapproved GM cotton

By Mayank Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI, Oct 6 (Reuters) - A top Indian cotton-producing
state has ordered an inspection of fields planted with an
unapproved variety of genetically modified seeds developed by
Monsanto, which is fighting to retain its market in the
world's biggest grower of the fibre.

Farmers in Andhra Pradesh have planted 15 percent of the
cotton area in the state with Bollgard II Roundup Ready Flex
(RRF), prompting the local government on Friday to form a panel
of officials to "inspect the fields of farmers growing RRF".

The order, issued by senior Andhra Pradesh official B.
Rajasekhar, did not say how the farmers accessed the unapproved
variety of genetically modified (GM) cotton. Calls to his office
went unanswered.

"It's a matter of grave concern that some seed companies,
while suppressing their real intent of profiteering, are
attempting to illegally incorporate unauthorised and unapproved
herbicide-tolerant technologies into their seeds," a Monsanto
spokesman said.

"Commercial release of GM technologies in India without the
requisite regulatory approvals may not only pose tremendous
risks for the country’s farmers, it may also be in violation of
applicable laws of the land."

The spokesman did not identify the local companies.

Bollgard II RRF is a proprietary technology owned by
Monsanto, the world's biggest seed maker, which last year
withdrew its application seeking approval from the regulator,
Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), for this
variety.

The withdrawal was seen as a major escalation in a
long-running dispute between the Indian government and Monsanto,
which is also locked in a bitter battle with Andhra
Pradesh-based Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd.

Monsanto applied for GEAC approval of Bollgard II RRF, known
for its herbicide-tolerant properties, in 2007. When the U.S.
company withdrew the application last year, it was in the final
stages of a lengthy process that included years of field trials.

The illegal sale of the seeds violates India's environmental
protection rules, said C.D. Mayee, president of the South Asia
Biotech Centre, a not-for-profit scientific society.

Mayee, a former government scientist, estimated that 3.5
million packets of such seeds were sold this season.

"Over the years, we have kept the regulators and key
stakeholders apprised of the illegal usage of unapproved
technology," the Monsanto spokesman said.

"Even as late as August 2017, we have sought their
intervention on the gross misuse of patented and regulated
technologies which may pose numerous other challenges to India’s
cotton ecosystem."

A spokesman for the federal environment ministry was not
immediately available for comment.

New Delhi approved the first GM cotton seed trait in 2003
and an upgraded variety in 2006, helping transform India into
the world's top producer and second-largest exporter of the
fibre.

(Editing by Krishna N. Das and Dale Hudson)

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