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SCIENCE & PLANTS: Indian cotton breeders fear backlash due to overdependence on Bt cotton





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TITLE:   COTTON BREEDERS FEAR GM BACKLASH

SOURCE:  The Financial Express, India

AUTHOR:  Sandip Das

URL:     http://www.financialexpress.com/news/Cotton-breeders-fear-GM-backlash/818723/

DATE:    18.07.2011

SUMMARY: "Since the introduction of genetically modified cotton crop, which accounts more than 90% in the total area under cotton in the country, there has been a fear of genetic erosion and loss of biodiversity, a group of reputed cotton breeders have expressed. [...] ?Research on cotton gene has gone backward by more than 10 years as scientists have simply stopped working on the genetic mechanism of controlling bolwarm pests,? SS Patil, senior Cotton Breeder, University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad (Karnataka) told FE. He said due to overdependence on GM crop farmers have lost their traditional knowledge on seed production."

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COTTON BREEDERS FEAR GM BACKLASH

New Delhi: Since the introduction of genetically modified (GM) cotton crop, which accounts more than 90% in the total area under cotton in the country, there has been a fear of genetic erosion and loss of biodiversity, a group of reputed cotton breeders have expressed. 

While acknowledging the fact that after introduction of GM cotton seeds in 2002 the country?s production increased to 32.5 million bales (one bale = 170 kg) during 2010-11, from 13.6 million bales during 2002-03 which pushed India to the second position in world cotton production after China, scientists working the reviving the traditional varieties have expressed concern that since the market for non-GM seed has become completely eroded, there is a lack of interest by private companies to further invest in the sector. 

?Research on cotton gene has gone backward by more than 10 years as scientists have simply stopped working on the genetic mechanism of controlling bolwarm pests,? SS Patil, senior Cotton Breeder, University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad (Karnataka) told FE. He said due to overdependence on GM crop farmers have lost their traditional knowledge on seed production. 

Recently, many reputed cotton scientists at a national workshop on ?disappearing non-GM cotton? held at Dharwad University, supported by Central Institute for Cotton Research, Nagpur, bioRe India, various organic cotton groups and representatives from the textile and the seed industry had stated ?the global market for organic cotton is threatened by erosion of conventional varieties by GM cotton?. They also expressed that voracious use of GM seeds amplified the risk of physical and genetic contamination of organic cotton with GM cotton. 

The Bt cotton variety was developed by Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co (Mahyco) in collaboration with US multinational Monsanto by using a gene?Cry1AC ?derived from soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis which resist cotton pest or pink bollworm attack on the cotton crop. 

However refuting the contention of scientists, Usha Barwale Zehr, chief technology officer, Mahyco said, ?Pests would still evolve whether there is GM crop or not?. She said the public sector research institution should invest more in maintaining genetic and bio-diversity as private sector does not have matching resources. 

?Private sector is not interested in niche or speciality markets as long as the conservation of genetic resources has no direct financial benefit. It is therefore seen as a social responsibility to maintain and utilise the genetic diversity to be prepared to the unpredictable climatic change,? Dionys Forster, Agronomist, International Division, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, Switzerland said. ?We need intensive research on developing varieties for organic and low-input conditions and combined efforts to re-establish the seed value chain for non-GM cotton?, Dionys said. 

Last year in a report submitted to environment ministry, KR Kranthi of the Central Institute for Cotton Research had cautioned about the likely failure of Bt cotton. ?Farmers are not following the recommended ?refugia?. With about 90% area under Bt cotton, bollworms can develop resistance soon. The concern needs to be addressed on priority before it is too late,? the report had stated. 

Bt-cotton is grown in 11 countries worldwide and more than 10 million ha (90%) is under GM cotton. India also has become the largest organic cotton producer worldwide with 80% of the total global production.