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Mahyco claims innocence, alleges violation by Dharwad University
The National Biodiversity Authority of India (NBA) says it may initiate legal action against Mahyco, a partner of biotech giant Monsanto, and their collaborators for accessing and using local brinjal (eggplant) varieties to develop the genetically modified (GM) or Bt Brinjal without the prior approval of the authorities.
The decision was taken at NBA’s meeting held on June 20, the minutes of which were made public on August 11. The document says: “A background note besides legal opinion on Bt brinjal on the alleged violation by the M/s Mahyco, M/s Monsanto and their collaborators for accessing and using the local brinjal varieties for development of Bt brinjal without prior approval of the competent authorities was discussed and it was decided that the NBA may proceed legally against M/s Mahyco, M/s Monsanto, and all others concerned to take the issue to its logical conclusion.”
The NBA decision is in response to a complaint filed by the Bangalore-based non-profit Environment Support Group (ESG) before the Karnataka Biodiversity Board (KBB) on February 15 this year. KBB in its report submitted to NBA on May 28 says “six local varieties for development of Bt Brinjal” have been accessed in Karnataka by M/s Mahyco, Monsanto and their collaborators “without prior approval from State Biodiversity Board/National Biodiversity Authority”. The Board had sought “further action” by NBA on the ESG’s complaint.
Bt Brinjal is the first GM food crop developed in India. It was developed under a public private partnership (PPP) between Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (Coimbatore), University of Agricultural Sciences (Dharwad) and Mahyco, spearheaded by Cornell University of the US. Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh had, however, imposed a two-year moratorium on commercial release of Bt Brinjal in February 2011.
Talking to Down to Earth, Suryakant Mishra, spokesman for Mahyco, said: “We have already stated that the company has not violated any provisions of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. Subsequently, state board had sought further information in a letter dated April 6, 2011 in pursuance of directions by the NBA. The letter informed Mahyco that there has been a violation by UAS, Dharwad, in using six local varieties of brinjal. It sought information on the agreements between UAS, Dharwad, which was provided by Mahyco.”
Monsanto for its part said that reports suggesting that the Bt brinjal had been produced by it were untrue. It pointed out that it had been indigenously developed by Mahyco in collaboration with public sector institutions. The Cry1Ac gene had been accessed from Monsanto which holds a 26 percent stake in Mahyco.
There were no details of the response of TNAU to the charges made by Leo F. Saldanha of ESG. However, “the University of Dharwad has claimed in its letter dated May 17 2011 that it has secured all permissions from various government departments, but did not produce any evidence of clearance under the Biodiversity Act,” he said.
ESG’s complaint specifically charged these agencies for criminally accessing at least 10 varieties of brinjal in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu without seeking any nod or informed consent from the National Biodiversity Authority, State Biodiversity Boards and applicable Local Biodiversity Management Committees as required. Such a rigorous process of appraisal is mandatory to protect loss of biodiversity due to misuse or overuse, theft of biodiversity and to secure biodiversity from contamination when transgenic is involved, said Saldanha.
In addition, the law mandates that when biodiversity is to be accessed in any manner for commercial, research and other uses, local communities who have protected local varieties and cultivators for generations must be consulted and if they agree, benefits must accrue to them as per internationally applicable Access and Benefit Sharing Protocol, Saldanha added.
According to National Biodiversity Rules, prior approval/consent is required from the local competent authorities like the state biodiversity board or panchayats before using an indigenous plant variety or germplasm.