Indian Farmers Disrupt Monsanto Lab

NEW DELHI--The charged debate over the use of genetically modified organisms in India took a violent turn yesterday when about 50 farmers ransacked a greenhouse belonging to Monsanto India.

It was the first attack on the 5-year-old research facility, housed on the campus of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. Ironically, just last month Monsanto had opened up a new, larger laboratory in another part of town. Even so, company officials said that the raid has set back by several months its work on gene expression in cotton, corn, and rice. Monsanto is the only firm allowed to sell genetically modified Bt cotton seeds in India.

The farmers, who uprooted plants and pelted stones at the building after jumping a security fence, belong to the Karnataka State Farmers Association. In 1998 the group burnt experimental fields planted with Monsanto's Bt cotton as part of its campaign to stop the introduction of genetically modified crops. "We timed the attack [for] those attending the WTO in Cancun," says a spokesperson, referring to the World Trade Organization conference taking place this week in Mexico.

Police have charged 29 farmers with rioting, and Monsanto has asked the Indian government for increased protection. "We are seriously concerned about the safety of our people and assets," says company spokesperson Ranjana Smetacek. Two workers were injured in the attack, which was covered by local media tipped off to the event.

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The Monsanto research center