August 3, 2018 / 10:45 AM / 13 days ago

Exclusive: DowDuPont 'defers' field trials to seek sale of GM corn seed in India

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - DowDuPont Inc (DWDP.N) has told India it is putting off trials needed for approval to sell a genetically modified variety of corn, taking a cue from U.S. rival Monsanto that has also pulled a similar application due to intellectual property concerns.

FILE PHOTO: A farmer removes weeds from her corn field in Kolkata, India, February 28, 2016. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

In a letter addressed to India’s environment ministry reviewed by Reuters, the Indian arm of DowDuPont said it had obtained permission to conduct trials growing a small crop of the corn in the northern state of Punjab but would like to “defer the undertaking”.

It did not give a reason for its decision.

“This is to confirm that we have deferred the Biosafety Research Level-I confined field trials with transgenic maize planned during the season of kharif 2018,” a DowDuPont spokeswoman told Reuters in an email, referring to the summer planting season. “The company remains committed to advancing agricultural productivity in India.”

She declined to give details. The decision to put off trials is not public.

Monsanto, now a unit of Bayer AG (BAYGn.DE), in 2016 withdrew an application seeking approval for its next generation of GM cotton seeds stung by a series of unfavorable government decisions.

Monsanto’s transgenic cotton seeds has revolutionized the cotton industry in India, but the government has yet to allow the sale of GM food due to concerns over human and soil safety.

But the trials of most GM crops are allowed, and DowDuPont’s trial for its insecticide-resistant and herbicide-tolerant GM corn was in advanced stages of a lengthy and time-consuming process that often takes more than a decade.

DowDuPont is a leading supplier of hybrid corns in India, Asia’s second-largest grower of the grain after China.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

“It’s all about widespread infringement of intellectual property issues in agriculture,” said C.D. Mayee, president of the South Asia Biotechnology Center, a not-for-profit scientific society.

Mayee, also a top former government scientist said: “The companies with cutting edge technologies are worried about the ways they can protect their intellectual properties and innovations.”

Apart from worries related to intellectual property rights, India’s indecision on GM food crops is another reason behind the decision of Dow DuPont, industry officials said.

Permitting GM crops is a big call for India, a country that spends tens of billions of dollars in importing food, as dated technologies, poor yields, shrinking farms and unreliable weather patterns afflict the country of 1.3 billion people.

In 2016 a government panel cleared commercial use of what would be India's first GM food crop, but politicians still have to give final approvals. (reut.rs/2AyE3nj)

Most biotechnology companies are scaling back investments in India, said Ram Kaundinya of the Federation of Seed Industries of India, an industry body formed by the local units of foreign companies such as Monsanto, Bayer, DowDuPont and Syngenta.

“The decision of DowDuPont is just the latest example of biotechnology companies curtailing their products and investment in India ,” Kaundinya said, adding a recent court order barring Monsanto from claiming patents on its GM cotton seeds have worried many companies.

Monsanto has appealed the decision of the Delhi High Court.

Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj and Neha Dasgupta; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and David Evans

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