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Thursday, 20 July, 2000, 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK
India to test GM cotton
Cotton pickers
Mahyco will now undertake field trials
By Jyotsna Singh in Delhi

India's environment ministry has for the first time cleared the testing of genetically-modified cotton.

However, environmental campaigners say they will organise protests against the trials, which they say are illegal and unscientific.

A Bombay-based seed company, Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco), has been permitted to begin planting a form of pest-resistant cotton.

The cotton contains a special gene which makes it resistant to the common bollworm pest, which inflicts heavy damage on the crop.

The American bio-technology firm, Monsanto, owns the rights to the modified gene found in the seeds.

Mahyco will now undertake field trials over 85 hectares of land.

The seeds will not be used for commercial sales.

Protest campaign

Small-scale trials of genetically modified crops began in India in 1998 and have met with stiff resistance from environmental campaigners and several non-governmental organisations.

Environmental activist Vandana Shiva, who has been at the forefront of the protests, says the trials are illegal and unscientific.

Ms Shiva says a court case is continuing against the trials.

She accused the government of ignoring public opposition and illegally allowing the trials to go ahead.

She says several non-governmental organisations will organise a series of public debates on the issue in the southern city of Bangalore in September, as part of a programme to mobilise support for the anti-GM campaign.

But the government has defended its decision by saying it sympathises with public concern about genetically modified crops and food, but that it also recognizes the significance of genetic engineering.

The government says it has set the highest safety standards in the trials to ensure environmental protection.

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See also:

05 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Rice code boosts GM prospects
18 Jul 99 | Sci/Tech
GM wheat 'could aid Third World'
01 Jun 99 | South Asia
Row over hybrid crops
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