Junking GEAC norm on tech certification a bad idea
If the government wants to avoid embarrassment similar to what it faced just weeks ago—when it tried to regulate the royalty technology providers charge licensees, before being forced to considerably dilute its stand—it should reject the request seed companies have made to the agriculture ministry, to advise the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) to scrap the need for GM technology providers to certify replication by licensees. A handful of seed companies, which had taken on Bt cotton pioneer Monsanto, would have been the obvious beneficiaries had the earlier government order on royalty regulation been enforced. Thwarted, they now want to strong-arm Monsanto into ceding most of its control on the anti-bollworm GM technology it developed with Bt cotton. They have contended that the mandatory certification by trait providers should make way for GEAC certifying the technology in their seeds based on the results of testing done by public-sector labs to ascertain the presence and efficacy of the genetic modification. Once Monsanto no longer needs to certify their seeds, their logic probably is, it will be easier for them to stop paying it royalty.
Apart from the fact that a trait provider is best placed to certify a technology, there are other reasons to stick to the 2006-GEAC norm. For one, as we saw in the case of Maggi noodles, many laboratories that did the tests got different results—imagine what this will do to the seeds. More important, since a Monsanto’s credibility depends on the quality of the final product, apart from certifying the existence of the trait, it will also rigorously monitor the quality of the seed companies using its technology. If this is done away with, however, Monsanto’s quality control will no longer be available. Also, if there is some problem that develops later, the technology supplier can well wash its hands off this, claiming the seed never had its trait in the first place. And in a country with such a forceful anti-GM lobby, this could end up undermining the adoption of GM technology itself. In the process, India, which needs increased GM adoption if it is to increase its agricultural productivity in the face of climate-change challenges, could well become a warning for other economies in their attitude towards protecting intellectual property.