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Andhra Pradesh, a leading Indian cotton-producing state has ordered an inspection of fields, planted with an unapproved variety of genetically modified (GM) seeds developed by Monsanto, which is fighting to retain its market in the world's biggest cotton grower country, news agency Reuters reported.
The cotton cultivators in the state have planted 15% of the cotton area in the state with Bollgard II Roundup Ready Flex (RRF), prompting the AP government on Friday to form a panel of officials to "inspect the fields of farmers growing RRF".
"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 reportedly said to the news agency.
Without naming the local companies who are licensed by Monsanto to produce its GM cotton seeds, the spokesperson 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."
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.
Monsanto applied for GEAC approval of Bollgard II RRF, known for its herbicide-tolerant properties, in 2007. When the company withdrew the application last year, it was in the final stages of a lengthy process that included years of field trials.
India had 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 cotton exporter. Prior to the introduction of GM cotton, India was one of the leading importers of cotton.