Wednesday, May 23, 2018 | Last Update : 10:33 PM IST
On the anniversary of Quit India, August 9, 1998, we launched the “Monsanto Quit India” campaign.
On the anniversary of Quit India, August 9, 1998, we launched the “Monsanto Quit India” campaign. Monsanto had illegally introduced its Bt cotton seeds in the country without approval from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) in violation of and with complete disregard for our biosafety laws.
For a genetically modified organism (GMO) to be legal in India, its import needs to be approved by the GEAC — Monsanto did not have approval when it imported its Bt cotton seed in 1995. Open field trials also need to be approved by the GEAC — Monsanto did not have GEAC approval for the trials it carried out in 1998.
We sued Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Private Limited (MMB), the joint venture company Monsanto created to enter the Indian market, for its illegal trials in the Supreme Court of India and Monsanto was unable to sell Bt cotton seeds commercially until April 2002.
By the time Monsanto received commercial approval, it had locked 28 Indian seed companies into licensing agreements, restricting their sales to Monsanto’s Bt cotton seeds (marketed as Bollgard) only, stifling “innovation” and “competition” — words the company otherwise loves to throw around. These Indian seed companies have had no “choice” in what they sell and at what price, and our cotton farmers have had no choice in what they pay. The skewed market also provided Monsanto’s PR machinery the opportunity to falsely project its monopoly in the cotton sector as farmers “choosing” Bt cotton, when in fact all alternatives were actively being destroyed.
In the US, where Monsanto has a patent on biotechnology, it signs contracts directly with farmers. It could not sign agreements with Indian farmers on royalties due to the lack of intellectual property rights (IPR). To sell Bollgard seeds, Monsanto signed contracts with Indian companies that had built a relationship of trust with farmers over decades, and used these Indian companies to collect royalties from small farmers. The royalties were built into high seed prices. It is this unjust and illegal collection of royalties from farmers that has been challenged by state governments repeatedly, and now by the Central government.
Since 2002, Monsanto has collected royalty from Indian farmers — 80 per cent of the Rs 1,600 price of each 450 gram packet of Bollgard I Bt cotton seed. On May 10, 2006, the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC), following a complaint filed by the government of Andhra Pradesh against MMB for overpricing genetically modified Bt cotton seeds, directed MMB to reduce the trait value it was unfairly charging the farmers of Andhra Pradesh — nine times more than the farmers in the United States. On May 29, 2006, Andhra Pradesh’s commissioner for agriculture fixed the price of Bt cotton seeds at Rs 750 for a 450-gram packet, and directed MMB and its sub-licensees to comply with its order. Monsanto challenged the Andhra Pradesh government and the MRTPC’s decision in the Supreme Court as “illegal and arbitrary”. To Monsanto’s dismay, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and now Maharashtra as well followed Andhra Pradesh’s lead and asked MMB to reduce the price of Bt cotton seed.
MMB said the royalty it charged (admitting it charged royalty without a patent) reflected its research and development costs for Bt cotton. Since Bollgard I was already failing, Monsanto used its failure to introduce Bollgard II, side-stepping the price control measures imposed by the MRTPC on Bollgard I, continuing its monopoly unregulated, charging whatever it wanted for seeds that have consistently failed (stagnant yield, increased pesticide use and the boll-worm’s resistance to their patented Bt technology), without any accountability.
Monsanto charged $900 million from Indian farmers for failed technology. A refund is surely in order.
On March 8, 2016, the Government of India ordered Monsanto to reduce Bt cotton seed prices by 74 per cent. Monsanto’s immediate response was to threaten to quit India, confirming that the company can only operate by exploiting farmers and subverting laws and regulations. They cannot respect the law or farmers’ rights.
All corporations and businesses should operate according to the laws of a sovereign nation, not violate, manipulate, twist or subvert them. Monsanto’s current threat of quitting India is based on the assumption that violating India’s laws is their right.
Minister of state for agriculture and food processing, Sanjeev Balyan, in response to Monsanto’s threat, stated, “It’s now upon Monsanto to decide whether they want to accept this rate or not If they don’t find it feasible, then they are free to take a call. The greed (of charging) a premium has to end... We’re not scared if Monsanto leaves the country, because our team of scientists are working to develop (an) indigenous variety of (GM) seeds.”
The main reason corporations like Monsanto push GMOs like Bt cotton on us is to make super profits through the collection of royalties. This is the arrangement that fell apart because Bt cotton has failed in controlling pests, and Bt cotton yields are falling every year, increasing the use of fertilisers and pesticides as farmers struggle to maintain output. Bt cotton was advertised by Monsanto as a crop that would make huge profits for farmers because it would reduce their input costs by slashing their pesticide use and be a boon for the environment. Monsanto’s technology is failing across the world. Early adopters, like Burkina Faso, are abandoning Monsanto’s seeds.
Monsanto has extorted super profits from Indian farmers and seed companies illegally. The pirated funds need to be returned to India, India’s seed companies and, most importantly, to India’s farmers. India can be a world leader by protecting its farmers and food from situations like these by supporting organic agriculture and banning GMOs, which only exist for the extraction of royalties.
The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust