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Bt cotton fails to reap profit

26 March 2010 17,181 views 2 Comments

Secondary pest problems could become a major threat in countries where Bt cotton has been widely planted.

Seven years after Bt cotton was approved for commercial plantation in China, cotton growers are now using 18 to 20 times the pesticidal sprays they used to initially, to control the attack of secondary pests. This only validates my long-standing approach on the issue of GM plant. With the cost of seed being three times high (in India, it is five times more than the price of normal cotton seed), Chinese farmers have been incurring losses. Bt cotton bubble has busted, and that too in a country which was promoted as a successful model for the world’s first genetically-modified plant.

Bt cotton, shorthand for the Bacillus thuringiensis gene, is inserted into the seeds to produce toxins. But these toxins are lethal only to leaf-eating bollworms. After seven years, populations of other insects — such as mirids — have increased so much that farmers are now having to spray their crops up to 20 times a growing season.

The Bt cotton debacle was on the cards. If the latest reports of the cotton farming in China are any indication, the cutting-edge technology is being promoted unabated at the cost of the gulible farmers. A study by the Cornell University and the Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy has found that Bt cotton farmers have to spray as much as the conventional farmers and are incurring net losses.

Bt cotton was blindly promoted at a time when simple, cost-effective, and sustainable technologies were available to fight the pest menace. Still more, there is no such GM crop that increases productivity. Many of these crops, GM soyabean for instance, have found to be reducing crop yields.

GM food technology is a tragic reflection of how science and nature have been made subservient to the corporate interests. Scientific research is rigged, alarming evidence of health dangers are covered up, and intense political pressure silences the sane voice of the dissidents. Distortions, omissions, cover-ups and bribes are used to promote an unhealthy and risky technology, and that too with the ‘pious’ intention of increasing productivity and thereby eradicating hunger.

The overt and covert machinations to push unhealthy and risky GM foods had actually begun a decade ago. The United States had found a simple way to force the third world countries into submission. The US Senate passed a Bill, “the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003” (HR 1298), which in a diplomatic way (calling it as ‘sense of Congress’) links financial aid for combating HIV/AIDS with GM food acceptance. Meanwhile, ministers, judges, bureaucrats, scientists and journalists are routinely taken to the US to learn about the ‘virtues’ of the GM technology.

Bt brinjal is the world’s first genetically altered food crop ready to be released in its centre of origin– India. At the same time, it is also a field test for ascertaining the impact on human health. So far, the global industry has been ad nausum repeating that GM crops have brought no ill-effects on Americans, who have been eating it unknowingly for a decade or so. This is, however, not true. Average, middle-aged, white Americans are much sicker than their counterparts in England, new research shows. This is despite the fact that US healthcare spending per person being more than double of what Britain spends. The inference is clear.

Americans are also more prone to diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, lung disease and cancer. Earlier, in 1980s, nearly 100 Americans were killed and more than 5,000 fell sick from a disease called ‘Eosinophillia-Myalgia Syndrome (EMS) which was traced to a genetically engineered brand of GM soya (L-tryptophan) produced by a Japanese firm Showa Denko. In UK, a study found that soya allergies skyrocketed by 50 percent after GM soyabean were imported to the country. In fact, public awareness about the GM food harms is now becoming global. The risks include triggering unexpected food allergies, creating toxins in food, or hastening the spread of antibiotic-resistant disease.

Russian Academy of Sciences reported that mortality rate for new-born rats is six times higher when the mother rat was fed on a diet of modified soya. Italian researchers have found out that GM soya affected the liver and pancreas of mice. Even seed giant Monsanto’s own studies have shown that some rats fed on GM maize had smaller kidneys and variations in the composition of their blood, while the rats fed on normal maize were healthy. So much so that Australia had to abandon a decade-long attempt to develop modified peas when an official study found it caused lung damage.

Bt brinjal is not the only GM food crop on the horizon. Scientists are getting ready with a list of 20-odd foods that have been genetically altered — rice, mustard, cabbage, cauliflower, tomato, potato and soyabean to name a few. The GM food industry is virtually on the path to treat India as a testing laboratory with a chequered history of Bt cotton marked by pest resistance and farmers’ suicides.

–Devinder Sharma

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2 Comments »

  • vipul somani said:

    Dear Editor,
    the article is indeed an excellent piece of work. Through out the country people are experiencing similar results. In our study in three districts of North Maharashtra namely Dhule, Jalgaon and Nandurbar we have noticed that the yield of Bt cotton is reducing, number of spray is increasing, cost of cultivation is also increasing. As a result the area under Bt cultivation has gone down.
    Vipul Somani

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