GENTECH archive


Reply to Cremate Monsanto, archive 448

Questions below:

>Date: Thu, 26 Nov 1998 17:48:27 +0530
>Subject: Cremate Monsanto!!
>Dear friends,
>Monsanto's field trials in Karnataka will be reduced to ashes, starting on
>Saturday. ....... On Saturday
>the 28th of November, at midday, thousands of farmers will occupy and burn
>down the three fields in front of the cameras, in an open, announced
>action of civil disobedience.

Rick askes:
Is it true that in fact the KRRS destroyed only one trial with only 50-60

>Dear friends,
>........ Monsanto is testing a hybrid
>cotton seed that has been genetically engineered to produce the Bacillus
>thuringiensis (Bt) enzyme. The permission granted by the federal
>government in Delhi pertains the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andrah
>Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.....
>Monsanto has formed a joint venture with Mahyco (a 30 years old seed
>company) to carry out these field trials. According to the media, Monsanto
>now owns 26 percent of Mahyco.

Rick asks: Doesn't that mean that 74% of the company is Indian owned, and
that Indians will suffer most from destruction of trials already approved
by the government?

More importantly, as has been discussed in detail before on this server,
and as described further toward the end of this message, Bt cotton can
control key insect pests and significantly reduce insecticide use.  What's
the latest count on the number of farmers who have killed themselves
because insecticide resistance in cotton bollworms prevented them from
growing a crop that paid off their debts?  Dozens?  Hundreds?  How many
more farmers and their families have suffered unintentional inseciticide
poisoning from the high levels sprayed?  Indian scientists have asked me to
help them obtain Bt cotton for use in India (which I could not do) solely
because of these human tragedies.  Where do they count in Nanjundaswamy's

>More from Nanjundaswamy:
>'This is a terminator of biodiversity, terminator of food security.....'
> (Prof. Nanjundaswamy, quoted in The Times of India, Bangalore edition,
>page 5, 20th November)

For the record, the following is a note passed along by a friend in
government.  From the note, it appears that Prof. Nanjundaswamy was aware
that the terminator technology was in fact only a concept.  It also appears
that he started this campaign against Bt cotton while still trying to find
evidence that Bt cotton is harmful, and as my colleague's reply
illustrates, contrary to some advice that Bt cotton was not harmful.

>Date:  Wed, 25 Nov 1998 12:03:15 +0100
>Subject: Urgent information request
>Dear friends,
>As you probalby know, there is a very heated debate about Monsanto
>going on
>in India since the 16th of November, when a newspaper announced that
>trials with Bt cotton have been going on since four (??) months in
>different states. The latest news is that the Central Rural Development
>Minister has invited Monsanto to leave the country (before KRRS kicks
>out). In the next few hours we will send a selection of quotations from
>newspaper and television coverage of this issue to a large amount of
>addresses, but before that we have a special and urgent request for you.
>Until now, most news coverage of this affaire has concentrated on the
>Terminator Technology, since it has already been on the headlines of
>press a few months ago (a public debate which finally resulted in the
>announcement of banning the technology by the Indian government) and
>it is much more spectacular and mediatic than Bt cotton. But this
>concentration of the reporting on TT means that the media is not
>the problems originated by Bt cotton (and by modern biotechnology in
>general), thus making it very easy for Monsanto to reject the criticism
>the ground that TT is not being used in the field trials, and to get
>with their claim that TT is 'only a concept'.
>We hence want to shift the attention of the media to Bt and to
>biotechnology in general, and will stop for a while using TT as an
>of the destructive potential of Monsanto. For this, we are putting
>a factsheet about the impact of Bt (especially Bt cotton but also Bt
>and other applications of the technology), and we need your help.
>Please send us as soon as possible any information about:
>* the development of new varieties of Bt resistant pests due to the
>commecial use of Bt cotton (we have heard something about a new bug
>discovered if we remember right in Australia, do you have any specific
>* the effect of Bt crops on benigne insects and on the environment at
>* the potential effect of Bt cotton on the composition of the soil and
>* the health hazards posed by Bt food crops, like Bt corn
>* reports or testimonies (also subjective ones) of farmers having
>due to the introduction of Bt crops
>* opinions? of scientists about Bt cotton and other Bt crops
>* any further information you might have come accross on Bt crops
>If possible, send us also references on scientific journals on all these
>issues. However, if you do not have these references at hand but have
>information on your head, please send it as soon as possible, and if
>possible send the references later.
>On Wednesday morning there will be a press conference on this matter
>Prof. Nanjundaswamy and Vijay Jawandia, president of Maharashtra Farmers
>Association); hence it would be very useful to have as much information
>possible by Tuesday evening.
>Friendly greetings,
>Prof. Nanjundaswamy and Sergio Oceransky

What follows next is my colleague's reply on the specifics of Bt.
Thu, 26 Nov 1998

Dear Prof. Swamy,

There is NO evidence of Bt resistance arising in field populations in
response to the use of a Bt crop. All current examples of Bt resistant
pests (eg. Plutella) are due to the excessive use of Bt sprays. There is no
evidence of Bt resistance in field populations of Helicoverpa armigera,
Helicoverpa punctigera or other cotton pests in Australia. Selection of Bt
resistance in laboratory strains of some pests shows the potential for
resistance to occur and why pre-emptive resistance management strategies
are so important. The risk of resistance does not outway the potential
benfits of bt cotton in reduced pesticide use.

>* the effect of Bt crops on benigne insects and on the environment at

In Australia we have seen no signfiicant impacts of Bt cotton on the
populations of most beneficial species nor other non-target insects which
occur in cotton fields. This research has involved large scale field
studies where populations of all insects in a field are monitored. The only
impacts we have seen are on some of the specialist parasites of Helicoverpa
larvae which cannot find many hosts in Bt cotton fields. However, these
impacts are minor compared to the impact of synthetic pesticides on
beneficial species.

>* the potential effect of Bt cotton on the composition of the soil and
>its microorganisms

We have seen no impact on decomposer species in leaf litter in Bt cotton
fields. Studies are underway now to examine microorganisms. No major
differences are readily apparent. Bt breaks down reasonably rapidly in
decomposing plant material.

>* the health hazards posed by Bt food crops, like Bt corn

Which health hazards have been demonstrated for any Bt crop?

>* reports or testimonies (also subjective ones) of farmers having
>due to the introduction of Bt crops
>* opinions? of scientists about Bt cotton and other Bt crops

As a senior scientist involved in seeking sustainable IPM systems for
cotton production in Australia I view transgenic Bt cotton as a significant
advance which provide a platform for us to build better IPM systems. Bt
cotton does not give perfect control, but its commercial use has
dramatically reduced the use of some pesticides on cotton and allowed us
for the first time to realistically begin using predators and parasites as
part of an integrated pest management system. Bt resistance is the only
major concern we can see and so great effort has been required to develop
and implement management strategies to avoid resistance developing.

Whether Bt crops are appropriate for Indian farmers is not for me to say,
but any such decisions must be made on the basis of science, not rhetoric
or emotion.