NEW DELHI: Amid pressure from the RSS-linked organization Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) that has been opposed to field trials of GM crops in India, the BJP on Friday asked its three party MPs not to visit US on the Monsanto-sponsored “farm progress show”.
Monsanto, world leader in developing genetically modified seeds, had invited these MPs along with two from Shiv Sena and one each from SAD and TRS to visit Iowa for the annual outdoor agricultural equipment exhibition in the US. Both Shiv Sena and SAD are NDA allies.
Though Monsanto has, so far, not got any communication from these MPs for cancellation of their August 24-30 visit, sources in the BJP said that the party had asked its MPs not to visit for the event.
The party is learnt to have told them to cancel the visit after the SJM national co-convenor Ashwani Mahajan, through a tweet, sought clarification from the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the visit of these MPs on such a trip when the government has to take a final call on the issue of field trials of GM crops. It all, incidentally, happened amid strong indication that the government will allow field trials of GM crops.
A farmer protesting against GM crops in New Delhi.
Although the BJP has, so far, not formally reacted on the issue, the RSS central executive member Ram Madhav tweeted, “No BJP MP will be a part of the delegation sponsored by Monsanto”.
The BJP MPs who were invited to visit US included Om Prakash Yadav (Siwan), Bhola Singh (Bulandshahr) and Satish Gautam (Aligarh). The Shiv Sena MPs who have consented to visit included Prataprao Ganapatrao Jadhav (Buldhana) and Krupal Balaji Tumane (Ramtek).
The ‘Farm Progress Show’ (FPS) is a three-day annual industry event held in the US since 1953, involving several international agricultural stakeholders. Reacting to the development, Monsanto spokesperson said, “The event is primarily organized by ‘Farm Progress’, a publisher of over 22 agricultural and ranching magazines in collaboration with various other organizations”.
The company said it routinely invites multistakeholder delegations comprising legislators from many countries including Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Philippines, China, India, Pakistan and the UK for the visit in line with industry practice.
“Monsanto has followed all the prescribed rules and regulations, as well as internationally mandated norms in engaging with stakeholders in this regard. We have been assured by the invited guests that on their part they have got necessary approvals from relevant authorities,” said the spokesperson.
The trip has, however, angered the SJM which has been opposing GM crops for years. It has already requested the government not to give its nod to the decision of the central biotech regulator — Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) — that had last month approved field trials of 13 varieties of genetically engineered crops including rice, brinjal, chickpea, mustard and cotton.
Field trial is an important step before commercial release of any crop. Biosafety aspects of any transgenic variety of crops can be assessed properly only after field trials. India has, so far, released only transgenic variety (Bt) of cotton for commercial cultivation.
Once government takes its call, seed companies including Monsanto and agricultural institutions will be able to go ahead with ‘confined’ field trials “under strict safeguards” after taking ‘no objection certificates’ from the state governments concerned.
According to Monsanto, the FPS is the oldest and largest outdoor agricultural equipment exhibition in the United States. The show hosts around 600 exhibitors and is attended by over 150,000 farmers, agribusinesses, manufacturers, suppliers, media and policymakers from over 20 countries.
“The FPS is an opportunity to witness innovations in farm automation, crop nutrition, agronomic practices, field demonstrations and livestock handling, in addition to rural empowerment programs”, said the company spokesperson.