Monsanto lobbies with US lawmakers on Indian regulatory issues

Facing roadblocks in India over sale of its genetically modified products, global seeds giant Monsanto is engaging in hectic lobbying with US lawmakers to seek their support for its interest in the fast-growing Indian market.

Monsanto lobbies with US lawmakers on Indian regulatory issues

Washington/New Delhi: Facing roadblocks in India over sale of its genetically modified products, global seeds giant Monsanto is engaging in hectic lobbying with US lawmakers to seek their support for its interest in the fast-growing Indian market.

The company's registered lobbyist Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld has disclosed having being paid more than Rs 1 crore (USD 150,000) by Monsanto since the last quarter of 2015 for lobbying for "issues relating to the regulation of biotechnology products in India", along with a couple of other specific issues.

As per the disclosures made by the lobbying firm, it lobbied on behalf of Monsanto Company on India-specific issues in the US Senate, the US House of Representatives, the Department of State, the Department of Commerce and the US Trade Representative (USTR) during the second quarter of 2016.

Its latest disclosure report for Monsanto for the quarter ended June 30 also shows that the "income relating to lobbying activities for this reporting period" was USD 50,000.

Similar amounts have been disclosed for each of the two previous quarters -- January-March period of 2016 and October-December period of 2015, taking the total amount to USD 150,000.

While lobbying is legally permitted in the US subject to detailed disclosure about the issues and offices covered and the money spent, a major controversy had broken out earlier after retail behemoth Walmart was found to be lobbying with American lawmakers on retail FDI in India.

Besides issues relating to regulations in India, Monsanto's lobbyists have also disclosed having lobbied on a few other issues in these quarters.

These include issues relating to US regulatory approval of agricultural products and those relating to biotech approvals in China and also the Defend Trade Secrets Act of the US.

As per the lobbying disclosure records, Monsanto had engaged in lobbying activities relating to India-specific issues earlier also between 2007 and 2010 -- directly or through registered lobbyists -- but the disclosed lobbying issue of "India Trade" during those periods was generic in nature and not specifically about "regulation of biotechnology products in India".

When contacted, Monsanto said the lobbying firm helps present the company's perspective on a variety of domestic US and international matters.

"Like other companies and organisations in the US, Monsanto undertakes efforts to participate constructively in the policy making processes and provide our input for legislation and policy decision making," a company spokesperson said.

Monsanto has been facing problems on multiple fronts in India, including an anti-trust probe ordered by the Competition Commission of India. It is also facing opposition from local seeds companies, farmer bodies and also by certain sections associated with the ruling BJP.

Amid protests against allowing genetically modified mustard in the country, the government has now decided to conduct a public consultation on recommendations made by a panel on bio-safety aspects of commercial cultivation of such crops.

Cultivation of genetically modified cotton was first

permitted in India way back in 2002, incidentally with the approval for Monsanto's single gene Bollgard I technology.

Monsanto claims that its Bollgard cotton technologies have transformed India from a net importer in 2002 to becoming the second largest producer of cotton globally.

The technology has helped farmers increase cotton yields from 302 kg per hectare lint in 2002-03 to 552 kg per hectare lint in 2013-14, thereby generating additional farm income, it said in a recent statement.

Monsanto maintains it is committed to Indian agriculture and plans to bring innovative research in corn seeds, vegetable seeds and crop protection chemistries.

Last week, it had to withdraw application seeking approval for its next generation genetically modified (GM) cotton seeds in India because of regulatory uncertainties.

"Our decision to suspend this introduction in India is an outcome of the uncertainty in the business and regulatory environment, which includes the regulation of trait fees and introduction of the draft compulsory licensing guidelines," Monsanto said.

It, however, maintained that the decision has no impact on its current cotton portfolio being sold in India.

In March, Monsanto had warned of re-evaluating its presence in India and holding back new technology if the government cuts trait fee of Bt cotton seeds drastically through "arbitrary and potentially destructive" interventions.

But the government went ahead and capped royalty for the new GM traits at 10 per cent of the maximum sale price of BT cotton seeds for the first five years.

In May, the government withdrew a notification capping royalty for new genetically modified (GM) traits amid opposition from crop biotech industry.

Monsanto sells cotton seeds in India via Mahyco Monsanto Biotech Ltd (MMBL), a joint venture with Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds. MMBL has sub-licensed Bt cotton seed technology since 2002 to various domestic seed companies.

Ten major domestic and global seed firms, including Monsanto, Bayer and Dow, have also formed a body to protest against the government's move to tighten regulation on genetically modified (GM) crops.

The newly set up Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII) wants the government to allow the market to determine the prices of GM seeds, rather than any regulatory mechanism. It is a splinter group of long-existing National Seed Association of India.

With industry pressure building up, the government last week said it will undertake an "elaborate" multi-stakeholders' consultation to finalise the notification capping royalty for new genetically modified traits and licensing guidelines on Bt cotton seed.

In May, the Union agriculture ministry had temporarily withdrawn the notification capping new GM traits as well as new licensing format for Bt cotton seeds. The same was then put as a draft for public comments amid opposition from the crop biotech industry.