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6-Regulation: Monitoring the illegal Bt cotton crop in Pakistan

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Monitoring the illegal Bt cotton crop
SOURCE: The Dawn, Pakistan, by Shaukat Ali Bhambhro
DATE:   5 Jul 2004

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Monitoring the illegal Bt cotton crop

Following the introduction of Bt cotton in India, reportedly through
illegal and secret trials initially during 1990's, here in Pakistan fears
had been expressed by some quarters that like other items, seeds of Bt
cotton may be smuggled into the country.

Unfortunately, these fears have proved true. In the year 2001-02,
cultivation of Bt cotton was undertaken illegally both in the lower and
upper Sindh probably with the seeds smuggled from India.

In the absence of any bio-safety laws, it was obligatory upon the two
main bodies working under the federal ministry of food, agriculture and
livestock (MINFAL) to take notice of the issue.

Unfortunately neither the Federal Seed Certification Department nor the
Federal Plant Protection Department probed the matter. I would be proper
here to mention that under the Seed Act, 1976, cultivation of any
unapproved variety is not allowed.

Similarly, under Plant Quarantine Rules, 1967 no body is allowed to
import any plant or plant materials including seeds without the import
permit of the DPP. The apathy of both the departments concerned may be
termed as almost criminal in view of the fact that cotton is the most
important cash crop of Pakistan.

Regarding the performance of Bt cotton it would be pertinent to mention
that two years observations of this transgenic variety, under the
climatic conditions of upper Sindh, indicated that performance of Bt
cotton was very much erratic.

Under no rain and hot and dry weather conditions it was found highly
susceptible to Jassid and CLCV disease, whereas under heavy monsoon rain
of 2003 it was found susceptible also to armyworm.

Besides, cultivation with mixture of Bt cotton and non-Bt cottonseeds was
found harbouring more bollworms problem as compared to cultivation
undertaken with pure non-Bt cotton seeds.

This very demerit of Bt cotton bears especial significance in view of the
fact that mixing in seeds, fertilizers, pesticides etc is a common
feature and should have to be taken note of while making any policy to
this effect.

One most haunting aspect of Bt cotton cultivation may be that seed
produced with Bt and non-Bt cotton will ultimately be used as poultry and
animal feed besides its use in the edible oil preparation.

Moreover, the impact on milk and meat of animals and birds that will
consume transgenic feed is not known to us. No doubt, Agriculture
Extension, (Sindh) as well as MINFAL have been found advising growers not
to undertake Bt cotton cultivation as it may lead to serious ecological
consequences and even crop loss but reality on the ground was that their
advice or warning gone unheeded by the farmers in Sindh.

As a matter of fact, craze of Bt cotton is due to the hype generated by
seed mafia that its cultivation reduces the bollworm attack. According to
an the Financial Express (India) (June 11), the Union tourism minister,
Renuka Chaudhary hit out hard at unnecessary hype generated about the
performance of Bt cotton. Ms Chaudhary said: "In Andhra Pradesh, both Bt
cotton and non Bt cotton have equally performed well in 03 season.

At times it is difficult to differentiate between the two". Reportedly in
India last year Mahyco-Monsanto had applied to the Genetic Engineering
Approval Committee [GEAEJ for approval of a Bt cotton variety in north
India, but this variety was rejected as it was found susceptible to the
dangerous leaf curl virus.

However, this year Bt cotton varieties developed by a local Rasi Seeds
have been granted permission for large-scale field trials in north India.
In spite of the fact that in India large-scale cultivation as well as
trials of Bt cotton variety were developed locally, it is also a fact
that its performance has remained a matter of debate.

On May 12, 2003 the above-mentioned newspaper reported: "convener of
Andhra Pradesh Coalition in Defence of Diversity [APCIDD], P.V Satheesh
has said that contrary to the claims of Monsanto, Bt cotton has failed in
the state.

The farmer who cultivated Bt cotton yielded 9 per cent less profit as
compared to those who cultivated non-Bt cotton. This is dangerous. Cotton
seeds are used in animal and poultry feeds.

Milk and poultry products derived from animals and birds which have
consumed Bt feed may invite serious health hazards in humans". Moreover,
according to the "Irish Independent" (18 June, 2004): "The Irish cattle
and sheep Farmer/s Association has become the first farm organization to
demand that Ireland become G M free.

It called upon the Government to adopt a policy to keep genetically
modified organisms out of the Ireland and use this as a part of a
strategy to develop and market the green image of Irish food produce.

This will give Ireland a marketing edge over EU countries that may take a
different approach to G M The ICSA said survey clearly showed that the
majority of E U consumer were strongly opposed to the use of G M
organisms, whether as part of the human diet or in feed for animal ".
Here in Pakistan, the government has been found adopting a policy of wait
and see.

Supporters of the technology argue that useful traits such as higher
vitamin content can help solve nutritional disease in developing
countries. They claim using herbicide and insecticide resistant crops
would reduce the need for chemical sprays.

Where as its opponents say that too little is known about this new
technology and urge a precautionary approach to it. They argue there
could be hidden health impact and modified plants grown in the open could
spread herbicide- resistant genes into weeds, making them impossible to clear.

Suggestion: There is no denying the fact that violating Pakistan Seed Act
of 1976 and Plant Quarantine Rules of 1967 cultivation of Bt cotton [GM]
has been in practice for the last three years in the province of Sindh.

Since giving a free hand to this transgenic cotton variety may be
perilous in the long run for the very agriculture of our country, it is
suggested that a committee of highly competent cotton scientists be
formed to monitor the performance of illegal Bt cotton crop as well as
its ecological impacts on bio diversity during the current cotton season
both in lower and upper Sindh regions.

If the committee finds that the Bt cotton may have a good potential in
the country then Government may allow its cultivation with the Bt seeds
developed in our own research centre in the country.


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