Farmers in India are planting unapproved genetically modified cotton seed to boost profits as government officials reluctantly investigate how growers obtained the seeds developed by Monsanto. Farmers are using the seeds after poor yields the past few years cut incomes, risking potential jail terms if caught.
India first approved the GM cotton seeds trait in 2002 and an upgraded variety in 2006, transforming the nation into the world’s top producer and second-largest exporter of the fiber. These newer seeds are not commercially available after Monsanto in 2016 withdrew its application seeking their approval because of a royalty dispute with the India government.
Monsanto India spokesman told Reuters that the company was confident the government would prosecute those involved in the illegal trade of the unapproved seeds, which can cut input costs by as much as $150 an acre compared with other varieties. Farmers are paying as much as a 30% premium for the unapproved seeds that are beginning secretly grown across India.
Cotton growers are getting support from farm groups that have been confronting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for failing to support agricultural commodity prices. The government may refrain from actively investigating the illegal trade in the herbicide-tolerant seeds for fear of antagonizing the powerful farm voting block ahead of elections next year. Except for cotton, India has not approved any other GM crops on concerns about safety.