Is Bt cotton ‘terrific’ Sir Richard? Or a failing costly, weed and pest infested monoculture?

sirrichardrobertsSir Richard John Roberts is an  English  biochemist  and molecular biologist living in America. Though his expertise is in medical research, the Times of India reports that he has expressed great admiration for BT cotton grown in India, describing it as “terrific”. Addressing the media after a lecture at Amity University on Wednesday evening, Roberts said that green outfits must admit that they were wrong in “spreading lies” around the issue.

Roberts is a part of a global campaign, “Support Precision Agriculture”. He called upon farmers and religious leaders to form a ‘grand movement’ to support the GM cause.

He is said to have ‘launched a tirade’ against Greenpeace, which has been running anti-GM crops campaigns, saying that it was interested only in raising funds which they were getting from the campaign – and has Monsanto no interest in profits?

A few of the problems recorded on our database: 1998 – 2017

1998

gm-coverOn 2.12.98 the Times of India reported that the farmers’ organisation Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) said it would file cases against Monsanto India & Maycho, the Central & State governments, under the Union Seed Act for allowing Monsanto to conduct field trials of cotton in the country.

See the references given in Science, Agriculture and the Politics of Policy: The Case of Biotechnology By Ian Scoones, cover right. 

2001

In July 2001 a national convention on biotechnology organised by the Andhra Pradesh Coalition For Diversity, Deccan Development Society in Hyderabad, was addressed by Devinder Sharma who was one of the first to record the development of resistance to the chemicals used on Bt cotton to control the American bollworm.

2002

In 2002 Ashish Kothari of Kalpavriksh wrote letters to chief ministers of four states to stay the introduction of the crop till its safety is established. In the letters he attached a Xinhua news report, of which we have a copy, citing a study by the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences, under the Chinese Government’s State Environment Protection Administration.

The study had the following major conclusions:

1. In Bt Cotton fields compared to conventional cotton, there was a marked decrease in the diversity of insects, and a higher incidence of pests;

2. In Bt Cotton fields, there was a decline in the population of the natural enemies of the bollworm (the major pest that Bt Cotton is supposed to safeguard the crop against);

3. In Bt Cotton fields, populations of pests other than bollworm (above left) had increased, and some would likely become major problems for the cotton, against which Bt Cotton may have no resistance;

4. Bollworm was likely to develop resistance to Bt Cotton within 8-10 years of beginning the planting, thereby affecting the long-term sustainability of the production process.  

In the following years these problems have persisted and become greater

2005

The Hindu Businessline reported that the Andhra Pradesh Government had decided to move the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) against Mahyco-Monsanto Biotechnology Company on the “exorbitant” royalty being collected by it for Bt cotton. The State Agriculture Minister, Mr N. Raghuveera Reddy explained that, in the last three years, cotton farmers in Andhra Pradesh bought Bt seeds worth Rs. 130 crore. “Of this, Rs.78 crore went to Monsanto (as royalty),” he said. “The seed grower gets less than Rs. 250 for 750 gm. The farmer is asked to pay Rs. 1,850 for 450 gm. This is not reasonable. Royalty should be calculated in a scientific manner”.

The Business Standard reported that the Nagpur-based Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) found Bt cotton becomes ineffective in its resistance to bollworms after 110 days.

2008

Eureka Alert, a one-stop science news distribution service, recorded the University of Arizona’s report of the first documented case of weed resistance in biotech cotton in America.

resistant-weeds3

Source: Ian Heap, director of the International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds, based in Corvallis, Oregon.

2013

The May issue of Nature recorded that glyphosate-resistant weeds have now been found in 18 countries worldwide, with significant impacts in Brazil, Australia, Argentina and Paraguay. Since the late 1990s, US farmers had widely adopted GM cotton engineered to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate, which is marketed as Roundup by Monsanto in St Louis, Missouri. The herbicide–crop combination worked spectacularly well — until it didn’t. In 2004, herbicide-resistant amaranth was found in one county in Georgia; by 2011, it had spread to 76. “It got to the point where some farmers were losing half their cotton fields to the weed,” says Holder. Twenty-four glyphosate-resistant weed species have been identified since Roundup-tolerant crops were introduced in 1996.

2015

The Hindu newspaper reported KRRS’s request for the State government to ensure that Bt cotton companies pay compensation to farmers whose crops were destroyed by corn earworm across the State.

2016

In June the Times of India published news that the Nagpur-based Central Institute of Cotton Research had reported a ‘major dip’ in the demand for genetically modified Bt cotton seeds that kharif season and a sharp increase in use of local varieties of cotton seeds instead of Bt in the northern states: 72,280 hectares of indigenous varieties of cotton were being grown in northern states, against about 3,000 hectares last year.

bollworm2

The Deccan Chronicle reported that the pink bollworm has been cited in thousands of hectares of cotton crop in Guntur and some parts of Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh. The state government also decided to issue notices to the seed companies ‘as per Seed Act 1966’. Bt cotton crops in Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Karnataka also had bollworm attacks. Maharashtra and Karnataka also issued notices to the seed manufacturing companies.

The International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) in its 75th plenary meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan, demanded that the country revert to traditional varieties of cotton and conventional methods of insect control to improve crop productivity (Dawn newspaper)

“Bt cotton is a total failure in Pakistan as it has created new bugs and insects which were never seen in the past. First the government imposed a ban on the introduction of Bt cotton in Pakistan in 2005, but later allowed it after different interests, including seed companies in connivance with agriculture ministries and departments, launched the propaganda that Bt cotton will control all worms except the Army worm and sucking pests”, said Ali Muhammad of Lodhran district, who has been growing cotton since 1980s.

Endnote:

Ashish Kothari said: “Please note that many of these fears that environmentalists have been raising, were dismissed by the corporate sector and by some scientists as being speculative and unwarranted. These fears can no longer be dismissed so lightly, we hope”.

In September 2016, The Hindustan Times reported that there are potential conflicts of interest: most of the scientists who serve as regulators are developing GM crops and several officials who sit on India’s biotech regulator, which is preparing to take a decision on genetically modified mustard, are also associated with global organisations that lobby for GM crops.

 

 

 

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