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FSII Urges Government to Restrict Sale of HTBt Cottonseed

It was claimed that the sale of illegal HTBt seeds has increased dramatically in recent years, and that illegal HTBt seeds are being grown in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh.

Shivam Dwivedi
Cotton Bales
Cotton Bales

The Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII) has urged the Union and State governments to crack down on illegal seed producers who are selling unapproved HTBt (herbicide-tolerant Bt cottonseeds) in various states. The association claimed that the sale of illegal seeds has reached epidemic proportions, claiming that farmers must have spent Rs 500 crore last year on the packets, which cost a whopping Rs 1,500 each.

"We demand that portable kits be made available to agricultural field officers in order for them to test cottonseed production areas and destroy crops where HTBt is found," the statement said.

According to the association, which represents research-based seed companies with aggregate seed sales of more than 5,000 crores, the widespread sale of illegal HTBt cottonseeds is causing losses for seed companies, the government, and to the farmers.

According to the FSII, approximately 90 lakh packets (450 gm each) of cottonseed will flood the market this year, accounting for nearly 20% of the country's 120 lakh hectares of cotton area.

It was claimed that the sale of illegal HTBt seeds has increased dramatically in recent years, and that illegal HTBt seeds are being grown in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh.

"In 2020, approximately 30 lakh packets of illegal HTBt cotton were sold." This increased to 75 lakh packets in 2021, and it is expected to cross the 90-lakh mark this Kharif," FSII Director-General Ram Kaundinya said.

"The success of Bt cotton has given farmers hope that they will adopt the next technology, HTBt cotton." Farmers in India have been unable to legally adopt HTBt cotton because regulatory approvals are pending, he said in a statement on Tuesday. He claims that farmer organizations have been illegally growing it across the country for the past three years.

"Because of the presence of herbicide trait and the trait to control pink bollworm, as claimed by the illegal operators on their packs, this illegal HTBt cotton marketed under several brand names is sold for nearly 1,500 per packet." "This is significantly higher than the government-set price," he explained.

Farmers purchasing illegal seeds, according to Shivendra Bajaj, Executive Director of FSII, were putting themselves at risk because there was no accountability.

"The government is losing revenue from tax collection, which is endangering the entire legal cotton seed market in the country." Once it enters the market, it is extremely difficult to control. "It has to be contained in the production fields, ginning factories, and warehouses," he explained.

Over the last four years, Indian cotton growers have been cultivating HTBt cottonseed, which is illegal because the Centre has not authorized it for commercial sale. They have been growing the illegal seeds despite government warnings because they are looking for cotton varieties that will help them combat insect and pest threats such as pink bollworm. Currently, field trials of genetically modified crops must be approved by the states before they can be considered for commercial sale. This, in particular, has stymied any progress on the GM crop front.

Ram Kaundinya, Director General, Federation of Seed Industry for India said, “The success of Bt Cotton has raised hope for farmers in India to adopt the next technology - HtBt Cotton. Since regulatory approvals for HtBt cotton are pending, farmers in India have not been able to legally adopt it. From past three years, farmer organisations have been illegally growing it across India. In 2020, 30 lakh packets of illegal HtBt cotton were sold and in 2021, 75 lakh packets and this year it is expected to reach 90 lakh packets covering 20 per cent of the 120 lakh hectares of cotton area in India. Other than Maharashtra, Gujarat, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are the major states where illegal HtBt seeds are grown. Due to the presence of herbicide trait and the trait to control pink bollworm as claimed by the illegal operators on their packs, this illegal HTBT cotton marketed under several brand names is sold for almost 1500 rupees per packet which is much higher than the price fixed by the government. Last year the farmers have paid more than INR 500 crores extra money to the illegal operators. This menace can be controlled only in the seed production fields. We demand portable kits be made available with agricultural field officers to test cotton seed production areas and destroy crops where HtBt is found.”

Dr Shivendra Bajaj, Executive Director, Federation of Seed Industry of India said, “Farmers are at risk with these illegal cotton seed sale as he is paying high price and there is no accountability of the quality of seed, either physical quality or trait quality of the seed. Furthermore, there is no redressal mechanism for quality complaints to the agriculture department because the operators from whom the farmers purchased the seeds are not known. Since the illegal seeds are using unknown and unapproved traits in them it can contaminate regular seed production thereby putting legitimate seed growers to heavy losses. The government is losing revenue in terms of tax collection and it is threatening the entire legal cotton seed market in the country. It is very difficult to control once it is supplied to the market. It must be contained in the production fields, ginning factories and warehouses before the supplies to the market.”

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