No to GMOs, Quton warned

Tinashe Makichi and Jeffrey Gogo
Quton Zimbabwe has been ordered to adhere to the requirements of the Seed Services Laboratory Institute after GMO concerns were raised following the purchase of its 60 percent stake by Maharash Hybrid Seed Company of India.
Seed services laboratory institute is a special department under the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development and has been tasked to oversee hybrid seed production. The Competitions and Tariffs Commission made it a condition that Quton should adhere to the demands of the Institute within the Ministry before approving the deal.

This is because Monsanto Company, the world’s biggest producer of genetically modified seed, pesticides and herbicides, owns 26 percent of Mahyco via Monsanto India Ltd, its 72 percent-owned subsidiary.

The two jointly own Mahyco Monsanto Biotechnology Ltd (MMB) on a 50 /50 basis. MMB develops and markets genetically modified seed. It was the first firm in India to sell GM cotton on a commercial basis since 2002.

The 113-year-old Monsanto Company was among the first companies in the world to genetically modify a plant cell in 1983 and the first to undertake field trials of such crops in 1987, according to Wikipedia, the know-it-all online dictionary.  Today, Mahyco Monsanto

Biotechnology holds patents to the cotton variety Bollguard, its foremost Bucillus Thuringiensis or Bt cotton seed, collecting royalties from 28 Indian seed makers to whom it has sold its technology.

In an interview with The Herald Business yesterday, Quton Zimbabwe managing director Mr Edward Mhandu confirmed the approval of the acquisition of the stake and said the company will adhere to the statutory instruments that regulate the entry of GMOs in the country.
Quton is the only cotton planting seed company in Zimbabwe and its main role is breeding, processing and marketing cotton seed to largely smallholder sectors in the SADC region.

Quton has three varieties introgressed with Bollguard II, a Monsanto patented variety that continues to fail in India.  One of these varieties, DP486, is currently in second-year confined trials at Bunda College near Lilongwe, says a recent study by think tank, the Zimbabwe Economic Policy and Research Unit.

In 2004, Quton successfully tested GM cotton under the supervision of the National Biotechnology Authority at Cotton Training Centre in Kadoma. With exports already going into Mozambique, Malawi and Swaziland, Quton provides to Mahyco a strategic gateway to penetrating the SADC region.

The company has made headway in incorporating genetically modified herbicide-tolerant and insect pest resistant varieties and has been awarded a seven-year exclusive multiplication agreement in Tanzania.

“Quton will continue to adhere to the statutory instruments which guide our operations as a seed breeding company. We are guided by the National Bio-technology Act and we have no problem with that,” said Mr Mhandu.

“We are going to adhere with the policy of the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development.”
Listed seed manufacturer Seed Co Ltd sold a sizeable stake in its wholly-owned cotton seed developer, Quton, and the deal recently received its approval from CTC subject to conditions.

CTC assistant director competitions Mr Benjamin Chinhengo said the Quton deal was approved but conditions were set to make sure that the concerns of GMOs that were raised were to be addressed.

He said the approval was as a result of the analysis that came out on the issue of GMOs and a conclusion was made which led to the setting of those conditions.

“We directed Quton to adhere and comply with the requirements of the Seed Services Laboratory Institute which is a specialised department that deals with GMOs and that approval of the deal was based on that condition.

“CTC decided to green light for the deal to go through since we decided not to make a decision based on GMOs when we already have an institution in the country that has the capacity to work on that,” said Mr Chinhengo.

Mahyco is expected to bring expertise on cotton seed development in the country.

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