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Expansion of GMOs: Monsanto gains competition as Indian scientist develops GM cotton

Genetic engineering

(NaturalNews) A scientist from India is about to give Monsanto a run for its money. A team of researchers, led by Deepak Pental, has been working for 10 years on a genetically modified mustard variety, which was recently granted approval by a government committee that determined the product is safe for "food/feed and environment," according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The approval means the crop could become the country's first genetically modified organism, potentially creating competition for Monsanto, which maintains a strong foothold in India.

"The government has taken the right path and experts have looked at all the data," Pental told Reuters in a recent interview. "Our scientists have the capability to do more, but you will have to strengthen research further, educate people."

Delhi University scientists work diligently to develop GM crops that can compete with Monsanto

The researchers, studying out of Delhi University, said they are now working to develop a GM cotton variety that could compete with Monsanto's Bt Cotton, which has been linked to 84 percent of suicides among Indian farmers.

The suicide epidemic began in the country's cotton belt after the pink bollworm developed a resistance to Monsanto's Bt Cotton, threatening the livelihood of some 5 million farmers.

Second to the United States, India is Monsanto's largest market as GM cotton seed sales earned the biotech giant a whopping $97 million last year. But Monsanto has faced resistance amid government proposals that would require it to share its technology with local seed companies.

"The company is also at loggerheads with India over how much it can charge for its genetically modified cotton seeds, costing it tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue every year," Reuters reported.

As a result, Monsanto recently withdrew its application to introduce its next generation of GM cotton seeds, Bollgard II Roundup Ready Flex technology, leading to further financial losses.

The tension, as well as India's tiring dependence on food imports, explains why the nation is working hard to develop its own technology.

Politicians, citizens express wariness over new GMOs

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nationalist government is expected to issue a decision regarding its approval on the commercial launch of Pental's high-yielding mustard, as well as plans to develop other GMOs in an effort to reduce the nation's dependence on multinational seed companies.

While many Indians would love to see Monsanto exit the country once and for all, they are far from embracing any new GMOs – Monsanto made or not. Widespread awareness regarding GMOs has generated justifiable fears, including that the crops may cause sickness and stifle biodiversity.

Aware that many GM crops have failed to live up to their promised traits, experts are now questioning whether more genetically altered crops are the answer to India's quest for independence.

Threats made by Monsanto to pull its services out of India led Pental to offer his support to the government in the form of research and development. He agreed to "approach the state-run Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) to pass on a laboratory-tested GM cotton variety his team has developed over the past decade."

The recently developed cotton variety is similar to Monsanto's, but is more resistant to pests, according to Pental, who also introduced a separate variety to the ICAR last year. Further research has yet to be conducted.





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