August 6, 2010


Mahyco to create India's first GM wheat


Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co., (Mahyco) seeks to develop the country's first gene-modified wheat and rice in the next three to five years to help secure food supplies for the nation's 1.2 billion people.


The Indian company backed by Monsanto Co., is working on various traits of genetically altered grains that can withstand drought and salinity, Usha Barwale Zehr, the chief technology officer at Mahyco, said yesterday.


Wheat has jumped to the highest level in almost two years as Russia said it will ban grain exports because of the country's worst drought in at least a half century.


"The biggest challenge facing us going forward would be drought and salinity, which affects food productivity. We have projects aimed at improving tolerance," said Bharat Char, the head of biotechnology research at Mahyco.


Global food costs reached records in 2008 as some exporters halted shipments amid a shortage. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon warned last year the food-price crisis of 2008 will be repeated unless governments act. Prime Minister Singh said on February 1 that there's a "false sense of security" that food supplies are no longer a concern for the second-biggest producer of wheat, rice and sugar.


While the US and Canada have grown genetically modified crops like corn and soybeans for years, resistance remains strong in Europe, where some nations rejected the use of crops changed to increase resistance to drought, pests or specific herbicides. China approved strains of gene-modified rice and corn last year and said mass output will be allowed after trial planting and public acceptance of the crops.


"Having a GM product in wheat and rice will highlight the bio-safety process and issues, which have been raised with BT brinjal. As we look to bring rice and wheat, it's very critical that we go ahead with BT brinjal and show that our systems are as good as anywhere else in the world," Barwale added.


Monsanto India Ltd.'s shares rose as much as 3.5% to 1,935 rupees, the highest intraday level in six months. Mahyco, whose shares are not publicly traded, is 26% owned by St. Louis-based Monsanto.