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Monsanto says GM corn trial in final stage in India

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Monsanto's MON.N Indian subsidiary expects to submit final trial results for its genetically modified (GM) corn to lawmakers within a year for the government to then decide on a commercial launch, the company's country head said on Friday.

Logan Huff, Soy Plant Specialist Lead, examines corn plants in the Monsanto research facility in Chesterfield, Missouri, July 28, 2014. REUTERS/Tom Gannam/Files

India does not currently allow the growing of GM food crops but the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, keen to improve farms’ productivity, has encouraged open field trials after a five-year de facto ban.

"We are close to the final stage in corn," Shilpa Divekar Nirula, chief executive of Monsanto India MNSN.NS, told Reuters.

“We finished the trial in last kharif (June-October) in Maharashtra state; that is harvested and completed.”

Nirula said the company will take up to a year to collate and submit the data after finishing trials that began about six years ago.

The resulting corn will be insect- and herbicide-tolerant, helping raise yields by 15-20 percent, she said. The current average corn yield in India is 2-2.25 tonnes per hectare, compared with 10 tonnes in the top producer United States.

The final-stage corn trials are the closest Monsanto has come to launching GM food in India after popularising transgenic cotton that now accounts for 95 percent of the fibre’s cultivation in the country.

From being a net importer, India has since the launch of the GM cotton in 2002 become the world’s second-largest producer and exporter of the fibre.

Monsanto India’s shares have risen by 150 percent in the past year compared with a 37 percent rise in the BSE Sensex. It had net revenues of 5.8 billion rupees ($93 million) last fiscal year.

Despite poor monsoon rains reducing overall area under cultivation, the company’s revenue is likely to be flat or slightly better in the current year ending March 31 due to good sales of GM cotton that typically needs less water, Nirula said.

But the company faces opposition from local and international activists that fear the U.S. company could monopolise the seed market in the country where small and marginal farmers make up most of the total farming population.

Nirula said Monsanto had been in the country long enough to be considered an Indian company but it needed to educate farmers and raise general awareness to counter concerns that GM crops are not safe.

“There is an opportunity for us to step out and show our face, she said.

“The more we are out there to answer questions or clarify certain things, I think (the perception) will change.”

($1 = 61.80 rupees)

Editing by Liisa Tuhkanen/Greg Mahlich