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2-Plants: Bt cotton: Future imperfect

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                                  PART I
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TITLE:  Sowing The Seeds Of Controversy
SOURCE: The Financial Express-Commodity Watch, India, by Ashok B Sharma
DATE:   Apr 13, 2003

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Sowing The Seeds Of Controversy

One season of harvest of Bt cotton in India is over, except in Tamil Nadu
where the harvesting is yet to be completed. Conflicting reports and
claims over the performance of Bt cotton in the country are pouring in,
enough to create a sense of confusion.

The sole proprietor of 'approved' Bt cotton seeds in India is Mahyo
Monsanto Biotech (MMB) India Ltd. MMB, on January 20 claimed "the in-
built protection against bollworm in the Bt cotton seed resulted in yield
increasing by 30 per cent." It also said that the first ever transgenic
crop planted in India in kharif (summer) 2002 reported 65 to 70 per cent
reduction in pesticide use and an increase in farmer's income of about Rs
7,000 per acre. Nearly 55,000 cotton farmers have benefitted. This view
of MMB, however, has been contested by some farmers' organisations, NGOs
and the associated scientists.

Another controversy in the game was raised with the publication in the
US- based Science journal of in February 7, 2003 of an article entitled
'Yield Effects Of Genetically Modified Crops In Developing Countries' co-
authored by Dr Matin Qaim, Center for Development Research, University of
Bonn and Prof David Zilberman, department of agriculture and resource
economics in the University of California. The study was based on results
of the field trials conducted by Mahyco and Monsanto in 2001 (before the
approval) in 157 locations covering 25 districts in three major cotton
producing states of the country. It said that average yields of Bt
hybrids exceeded those of non-Bt hybrids and popular check controls (non-
Bt local varieties) by 80 per cent and 87 per cent respectively. The data
for the study was provided by the concerned seed company.

Well there is nothing wrong in using the data given by any company for
study. MMB had gathered field data on commercial cultivation and harvest
in 2002 by January 2003. This situation raises a doubt as to why the co-
authors did not wait for the fresh data for the 2002 season before
getting it published on Feb 7, 2003? Had they to get their analysis of
2001 field trial data published, then why did they not try to get it
published before the start of the sowing season, ie. June 2002 ? This
could have helped the farmers to plan their cultivation in a better way.

The observations of Dr Qaim and Prof Zilbberman are, however, different
from the evaluation of Bt cotton hybrids done by the Central Institute
for Cotton Research (CICR) on behalf of the Indian Council of
Agricultural Research.

Incidently both the studies are based on the results of 2001 field trials
before the final approval for commercial cultivation. The CICR report
states "the Bt cotton hybrids registered increased seed cotton yield over
their non-bt counterparts and check hybrids. The increase in yield over
non-Bt counterparts, zonal check and local check varieties was of the
order of 61 per cent, 47 per cent and 15 per cent respectively in the
central zone. However, in the south zone, the Bt cotton hybrids have
recorded more than 100 per cent increased seed yield over their
counterpart non-Bt hybrids, zonal and national check hybrids."

The increase in yield percentage given by Dr Matin, Prof Zilberman and
the CICR study, however, does not match with the increase in yield
percentage recorded by MMB for the 2002. MMB stated an average increase
in yield by only 30 per cent. But MMB clarifies by saying "the new wilt
phenomenon localised within some districts was a result of drought and
unusual weather conditions this year - excess rainfall over a brief
period, followed by very high temperatures of as much as 40 degrees
celsius. But this cannot be an excuse. The best proven technology is that
which works well also under the worst conditions.

Earlier in December, 2002 Dr Sudarshan Iyengar, director of Gujarat
Institute of Development Research (GIDR), Ahemedabad and Dr N Lalitha,
assistant professor of GIDR wrote in the prestigious Indian Journal of
Agricultural Economics published by Indian Society of Agricultural
Economics, Mumbai castigating the regulatory authority in the country for
unnecessarily rushing the approval of Mech 12, Mech 162 and Mech 184 Bt
cotton hybrid seeds developed by Mahyco in collaboration with Monsanto.

The NGOs and some farmers' organisations in the country has claimed that
studies conducted by them with the help of scientists and economists at
various places show that the Bt cotton has failed to give the desired
results. Hypes are being raised about the prospects of Bt cotton seeds
and the poor farmer in the country is now in a sea of confusion. He does
not know where to go!

                                  PART II
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        Panel Meet To Decide On Cultivation In N India
SOURCE: The Financial Express-Commodity Watch, India, by Ashok B Sharma
DATE:   Apr 13, 2003

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Panel Meet To Decide On Cultivation In N India

New Delhi, April 13: The Indian government's genetic engineering approval
committee (GEAC) is likely to meet soon to take a decision on whether to
approve the cultivation of Bt cotton seeds for the coming kharif (summer)
season in the northern regions of the country namely Haryana, Punjab and
western Uttar Pradesh. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR)
which conducted field trials through its Central Institute for Cotton
Research (CICR) has already submitted its report.

Several experts feel that the GEAC may face hurdles in giving green
signal for the cultivation of Bt cotton in the northern region, given the
conflicting reports about the performance of Bt cotton crop in the
southern states in the last season. Previously, GEAC was unable to
approve the genetically modified (GM) mustard seeds, developed by ProAgro
in collaboration with Aventis & PGS, due to stiff opposition from within
its members. GEAC, therefore, has asked for opinions from different
Central government ministries on the issue of GM mustard seeds. Some
experts feel that the GEAC may approve Bt cotton cultivation in the
northern region as it has allowed the conditional cultivation of this
crop in the southern part of the country. This may thus be just a
political issue - not to deny any region of the country in cultivation of
Bt cotton.

Though Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (MMB) India Ltd, the sole proprietor of Bt
cotton seeds in the country, has claimed that the yields have increased
by an average of 30 per cent in the last season in the southern states,
pesticide use has declined by 65 to 70 per cent and the farmers have
earned an extra income of Rs 7,000 per acre, several farmers'
organisations, NGOs and scientists have refuted this claim. Recently, Dr
Suman Sahai, convenor of Gene Campaign has written to Union agriculture
minister Ajit Singh stating that the Bt cotton crop has failed in Andhra
Pradesh and Maharashtra in the last season and the MMB India Ltd should
be made to pay adequate compensation under Indian law to those farmers
who have recorded crop losses. She said that under section 39 (2) of the
Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act, 2001, compensation
to farmers can be paid by the seed company if the seeds sold failed to
realise the expected potential as claimed.

Though Union environment minister TR Baalu told the Upper House of
Parliament on December 13, 2002 that the performance of Bt cotton has
been satisfactory, the Andhra Pradesh agriculture minister said on the
floor of the state assembly that if it is proved that farmers have
suffered losses due to Bt cotton, then they should be adequately compensated.

Dr Aseesh Tayal, a scientist with the Greenpeace India said that his
organisation had conducted a survey in Raichur, Haveri and Dharwad
districts of Karnataka and has found that the average yield of Bt cotton
was in no way better than the non-Bt hybrid cotton. The average yield per
acre in quintals for Bt cotton was 5.55 in Raichur, 3.76 in Haveri and
5.3 in Dharwad as against 6.94 for non-Bt hybrid in Raichur, 2.37 for
non-Bt hybrid in Haveri and 5.0 for non-Bt hybrid in Dharwad.

The labour and input costs for farmers who have sown Bt cotton was much
higher which ate into the net income. An average of nine sprays of
pesticides were used in case of Bt cotton as against 15 sprays over non-
Bt hybrids. Similar was the case in certain districts of Andhra Pradesh
where Greenpeace India conducted their study, he said.

A study conducted by agriculture scientists, Dr Abdul Qayoom, former
joint director of agriculture in Andhra Pradesh and Mr Sakkari Kiran of
Premaculture Institute of India in 11 villages of Warangal district in
Andhra Pradesh proved that Bt cotton has totally failed, said Mr PV
Satheesh, convenor of Andhra Pradesh Coalition in Defence of Diversity.
Mr Satheesh said that the yields of Bt cotton and non-Bt hybrids were
almost the same at four to five quintals per acre. But non-Bt plants had
a life of two to three months more and are expected to yield another 3 to
4 quintals. Therefore, non-Bt cotton produce at least 30 per cent more
cotton. The pesticide use has shown a marginal difference.

                                  PART III
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        Tamil Nadu Unsure Of Yield, Says Year Not Ideal For Crop Assessment
SOURCE: The Financial Express-Commodity Watch, India, by Joseph Vackayil
DATE:   Apr 13, 2003

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Tamil Nadu Unsure Of Yield, Says Year Not Ideal For Crop Assessment

Chennai, April 13: Tamil Nadu is facing one of the worst droughts in the
recent history, impacting its agriculture very badly. Cotton area has
come down drastically to below one lakh hectares. The cultivation of Bt
cotton also was undertaken only on half of the originally planned area.
Against an allocation of over 14,000 kits (a combination of Bt 650 gm of
Bt hybrid and 120 gm of non-Bt seeds for an acre), only 724 kits were
distributed in the 13 cotton growing districts in the state.

Once the cotton is ready, only after 3-4 pickings, by April-end, one can
make an assessment of the crop and efficacy of Bt seeds, sources in the
state agriculture department said. Agriculture scientists told FE, "This
is not an ideal year to make a critical study of any new variety for
yield or pest resistance. Drought and water scarcity have affected yield
considerably. Severe dry weather has also restricted the incidence of pest."

Bt Cotton:
- Damage to bolls is minimised and the number of chemical sprays needed
to control bollworms are reduced. There are no adverse impact on other
insects and non-target faunae.
- Bt cotton is safe to other organisms like birds, fish, animals and
humans. Food, feed and environment characteristics of Bt Cotton are same
as any other cotton hybrid. Scientists say that there is no difference in
allergic potential between Bt and non-Bt cotton.
- Bt cotton seeds fits into the integrated pest management regime.
- Out-crossing of Bt cotton with native cultivars is limited "as pollen
travel is shy."
- Fibre quality, lint yield and other qualities of Bt and Non-Bt are not

Some Fears
- Will the Bt gene control all the identified varities of bollworms like
American, spotted, pink etc.
- Will the refuge rows around Bt cotton plants serve to prevent
resistance development as the moths of the bollworms may not fly out to
those rows and may limit themselves to the Bt plot.
- Bt cotton may have a 'dilution effect'. As the plant grows its toxic
effect on target pests appearing later in crop stages may not be adeqate
to keep them under check.
- Bt cotton will need chemical control of other pests attacking the plant
in the early stages. There will also be need for one or two sprays for
bollworm control.
- The risk of emerging unexpected and unplanned 'surprises' from the new
- Perpetual dependence of farmers on seed producing companies for seeds
which would tend to be much higher than the initial offer of Rs 1,600 an acre.

"This reduction is manifest throughout the country and the impact of Bt
gene on bollworms cannot be realistically and effectively assessed this
year," he added.

The Central government had cleared three varieties of Monsanto Mahyco Bt
cotton seeds, (MECH 162, 184 for southern cotton zone and MECH 12 for
Central zones), for propagation for three years from 2002.

"We will have to wait for the next season for making an impact
assessment," they said. Agriculture experts say that one has to
understand that Bt cotton hybrid is useful only in controlling pests of
the insect family called lepidopteran. The general impression is that the
seed is effective and useful in controlling all pests.

One should also know how the Bt gene acts on the bollworms, they added.
The Bt cotton hybrid is genetically implanted with a gene derived from a
universally found soil bacteria called Bascillus thuringiensis (Bt).
Cotton plants from these Bt gene implanted seeds are capable of resisting
damage from cotton bollworms. When the larvae of these insects attack the
bolls the Bt protein in the gene of the plant sticks to their gut and
destroys it. They would not be able to feed on the bolls.

The Bt hybrid does not control sucking pests which usually appear in the
stages of the cotton plant. Chemicals have to be sprayed or smeared on
the stem to control those pests. Even in the later stage, pest control
measures have to be taken to protect the plant, flower and bolls from
various other pests. The question now is, should the farmers go for the
costly Bt seeds (Rs 1,600 for an acre) or for the usual hybrid variety.
Experts say that there is no straight answer to this question as this is
an important innovation with apparent utility and this may lead to
progress as any useful innovation can. A decision has to be taken after
careful analysis of the perceived advantages and disadvantages of the Bt

                                  PART IV
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        Survey Shows Lower Bt Cotton Yield Against Normal Variety In AP
SOURCE: The Financial Express-Commodity Watch, India, by K V V V Charya
DATE:   Apr 13, 2003

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Survey Shows Lower Bt Cotton Yield Against Normal Variety In AP

Hyderabad, April 13: Genetically modified Bt cottonseed has left a mixed
taste in Andhra Pradesh. In the first year of its sowing, the Bt cotton
has given yields of between two and six quintals per acre in the state,
as against the common hybrid varieties yields of two to 14 quintals per
acre. A contrast the Andhra farmer could not comprehend.

As per the state government survey, the cotton yield was lower in the
areas where the Bt cottonseed was sowed as against the other normal
cotton areas. The normal cotton variety could produce 10 to 15 quintals;
the Bt cotton variety is reported ranging between two and four quintals only.

That apart, Bt variety has shorter staple size, which realises Rs 100
less than the medium staple produced under normal hybrid variety. Besides
the Bt variety also weighs less thus inflicting a serious financial loss
to the farmer.

Though the farmer could save on the spray of pesticides, the yield is
below the average in the case of normal varieties. Andhra Pradesh has 25
lakh acres under normal cotton cultivation during the year 2002-2003,
while the area under Bt cotton is only 8200 acres.

The seed companies argue that they have not promised higher yield but
only security against failure of germination and genetic purity. They
also say that no complaint has been received by the government against
any of the seed company.

"The entire publicity is waged against the seed companies by the
competitors and the pesticide companies," they said. Assuring the
agitating members in the state assembly, the agricultural minister V
Shobanadeeswar Rao said that the state government is exploring all
possibilities to see that the cotton farmers are not put to distress. The
Andhra Pradesh government has entered an memorandum of understanding
(MoU) with about 40 seed companies engaged in the state including Mahyco
making them offer compensation to the farmers against failure of
germination and genetic purity only not for loss of yield. Only about
10,000 packets, each containing 450 gm of Bt cottonseed along with 150 gs
of hybrid variety were sold at Rs 1,650 per packet.

The seed companies have also supplied audio cassettes along with the
packet explaining the 'total cotton crop management'.

According to the committee of scientists from ANGRAU, who submitted a
report on the performance of the Bt cotton to the state government, feel
that there is not much difference in the yield between the normal hybrid
and the Bt variety. As there is no attack of bollworm in the state due to
severe drought and low moisture content, it enabled the common hybrid
variety to give higher yields over the Bt cotton.

There is no relevance of having the Bt cottonseed if there is no pest
attack, the scientists felt. While the non-Bt variety could give yield of
two to 14 quintals per acre, the Bt variety give between six and 15
quintals, they opined. Thus it would be advisable to offer pest
resistance gene to some of the known hybrid varieties, enabling the
farmer to reduce the cost on anti-pest spraying.