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2-Plants: Indian field trials demonstrate Bt-cotton benefits



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                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Genetically modified cotton crops produced greater yields and
        reduced pesticide use in India
SOURCE: Center for Development Research, Germany, Press Release No. 2
        http://www.zef.de/press.htm
DATE:   Feb 6, 2003

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


Genetically modified cotton crops produced greater yields and reduced
pesticide use in India

Bonn - Cotton crops in India that were genetically modified to resist
insects produced dramatically increased yields and significantly reduced
pesticide use compared with non-bioengineered crops, according to the
results of farm trials reported by researchers at the Center for
Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn and at the University of
California, Berkeley.

The study, published Friday, Feb. 7, in the journal Science, holds
particular promise for small-scale, low income farmers in developing
nations, said the researchers. These farmers, especially those in
tropical regions, regularly risk large, pest-related crop losses because
they cannot afford to use the pesticides available to larger farms.

"Many critics have questioned whether genetically modified crops would be
economically and environmentally beneficial to farmers in developing
countries," said Matin Qaim, assistant professor of agricultural and
development economics at the University of Bonn's Center for Development
Research (ZEF) and the study's lead author. "Our research indicates that
transgenic crops should be a viable option. This is the first paper to
show such a substantial increase in yield for bioengineered crops."

The researchers reported the results of field trials conducted on 157
farms in three major cotton-producing states in India during the seven-
month cotton season that began in June 2001. The field trials were
initiated by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco), which has been
studying Bt hybrids in India since 1997.

The farm sites contained three adjacent plots that measured 646 square
meters each. One plot was planted with cotton bioengineered with a gene
from the insecticidal bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), the second
with the same hybrid of cotton but without the Bt gene, and the third
with a cotton hybrid traditionally grown in the local area.

The Bt cotton, produced by the Monsanto Company and Mahyco, is resistant
to the three species of bollworm that plague crops in India. Prior
studies in India show that crop damages from bollworm attacks average 50
to 60 percent.

In the study the researchers found that average yields for Bt cotton were
a remarkable 80 percent greater than their non-Bt counterparts, and 87
percent greater than the local cotton hybrids. In addition, the Bt cotton
crops were sprayed against bollworms three times less often than both the
non-Bt and local cotton crops.

For the sucking insects - such as aphids, jassids and whitefly - that Bt
does not protect against, there were no significant differences in
pesticide applications among the three types of crops.

"We are reporting on cotton, but the results are easily transferable to
food crops since the type of pest damage they would sustain would be the
same," said David Zilberman, UC Berkeley professor of agricultural and
resource economics and co-author of the study. "With populations in
developing countries growing exponentially, and available farmland
stagnating, there is an urgent need to find ways to increase crop yields
on the land that is available."

While transgenic crops have been shown to reduce the use of certain
chemical pesticides, they have not been known to substantially increase
crop yields in the countries where they have been grown. For example, the
yield gains of insect-resistant cotton crops in the United States and
China average less than 10 percent. Bioengineered corn and soybeans have
even less impressive gains, and in some cases, the yield effects are negative.

Why the difference in India? The answer seems to be that the region
suffers from a significantly higher pressure of crop-destroying pests,
and that there has not been a widespread adoption of chemical pesticides
in India to control crop damage. Transgenic crops would likely have
greater potential to increase yields in such regions, said the authors.

"The large scale applications of genetically modified crops in the United
States or China are not truly representative of what would happen if the
crops were grown in the small farm sectors of poor countries in tropical
and subtropical climates," said Qaim. "The results we see in India are
much more representative of what would happen if transgenic crops were
used in sub-Saharan Africa or Southeast Asia."

For the majority of developing nations, the high cost of pesticides makes
them too risky an investment for small, non-commercial farmers, the
authors argued. In addition, chemical pesticides are much more harmful to
farmers' health and the environment, and require a significant amount of
technical knowledge to be used properly, they said.

"Understanding how to use pesticides properly is difficult, but replacing
the type of seed used is easy and thus more desirable," Zilberman added.
"The bottom line is, biotechnology has the potential to positively impact
the lives of small, poor farmers in developing nations. It would be a
shame if anti-GMO (genetically modified organisms) fears kept important
technology away from those who stand to benefit the most from it."


NOTE:
Matin Qaim can be reached at ZEF in Bonn, Germany (# 49) 228-73-1872 or +
(# 49) 228-73-1861, or e-mail mqaim@uni-bonn.de.
To reach David Zilberman, call (# 510) 642-6570 or e-mail
zilberman@are.berkeley.edu.

Contact: 
Alma van der Veen, ZEF Public Relations, Walter-Flex-Str. 3, 53113 Bonn.
Tel: +49 228 / 73-18 46 Fax: +49 228 / 73-5097 E-Mail: presse.zef@uni-bonn.de



                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  GM crops boost yields more in poor countries
SOURCE: The New Scientist, UK, by Shaoni Bhattacharya
        http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99993364
DATE:   Feb 6, 2003

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


GM crops boost yields more in poor countries

Field trials in India suggest that genetically modified crops have far
greater benefits in developing countries, than the developed countries
for which they were designed.

The farm trials of cotton genetically modified to produce a bacterial
toxin produced increases in yield of up to 80 per cent, compared with
non-GM counterparts. This is much greater than the improvement seen in
developed countries where yields are boosted by less than 10 per cent,
say the researchers.

While many groups have opposed GM crops, others argue there is a moral
case for introducing GM technology to developing countries, to help
tackle poverty and hunger.

Matin Qaim, at University of Bonn, Germany, led the new study and says it
is the first to show such striking yield effects. He says this counters
criticism that GM crops are not useful in the developing world because
they only reduce pesticide use, not improve yield. "You could even argue
that the results would be more impressive for food crops," he told New
Scientist.

This is because cotton is a cash crop, allowing the current growers of
the non-GM varieties to purchase pesticides. But for subsistence farmers
who cannot afford any pesticides, the switch to a pest-resistant GM crop
could give even bigger yield increases. Pest pressures are also greater
in the tropics than more temperate regions, he adds.

However, environmentalists argue that GM technology is flawed and that
any short-term improvements in yield will be lost because the pests will
develop resistance.

Bumper year

"Bt cotton", developed by Monsanto, contains a gene from the common soil
bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis . This results in the production of a
toxin that kills bollworms - a major cotton pest in India. The GM cotton
was finally given the commercial go-ahead by the Indian government in
March 2002.

In trials from 1998 to 2001, Qaim and colleague David Zilberman, of the
University of California, Berkeley, found that Bt cotton produced an
average yield advantage of 60 per cent over non-GM cotton.

The GM variety had a bumper year in 2001, as levels of bollworms in India
were especially high. Yields for the Bt strain were 80 per cent higher
than the non-Bt strain and 87 per cent higher than a popular local hybrid.

GM technology also cut pesticide use, with GM crops sprayed three times
less often than the non-GM varieties. The field trials were carried out
nearly 400 farms across seven Indian states.

Sustainable development?

"It's not surprising. It will perform better - but can it be sustained?"
says Suman Sahai, president of the Gene Campaign in New Delhi, India.

She says that Indian farmers would not create the "refuges" of non-GM
crops in GM fields that are necessary to ensure pests do not evolve
resistance. The Indian government requires 20 per cent of Bt cotton
fields to be set aside for non-GM strains.

But with many farmers owning fields as small as a hectare, they will not
be willing to give up the extra yield. "Compliance will be a problem,"
she told New Scientist.

Journal reference: Science (vol 299, p 900)