GENTECH archive


Re: re cotton, archives 1125

Devinder Sharma replies:

I don't think anybody who is on the gentech list will not vote for
saving lives over principles. But the fact is that not many of us have
our research projects sponsored by private companies, including
biotechnology seed companies. And so we do not have to speak for these

It was sometimes in 1945 that the TIME magazine had a cover story,
titled something like this " I love DDT". Thirty years later the
chemical was banned by many industrialised countries and today no one
wants to talk about it. Why should we repeat the mistake again. After
all, the negative impact of transgenics will appear on the horizon much
quicker than what happened with DDT. And in the case of DDT, it was a
chemical molecule, in case of transgenic it is a living gene. Why invite
a 'biological treadmill' when there is no desperate cry for it anywhere
in the world ?

Let us get back to the cotton story. In India, the average landholding
size is 0.2 hectares. Not all farmers in a given area can afford to use
Bt-resistant cotton seed or use Bt sprays. With such small holdings and
with the kind of diversity in cotton varieties prevalent within a given
area, Bt-resistance is only going to invite problems. Resistance will
appear in the bollworms much faster than anywhere else in the world. And
so will be the gene flow.

Indian farmers, including cotton growers are already under huge debt.
And let us not forget, agriculture in India operates to quite an extent
on the principles of demand and supply. Unlike in Australia and the
west, where farm prices go up substantially with every harvest (thanks
to the massive subsidies being pumped in the farm sector), Indian
farmers receive no such financial cushion. Prices slump drastically when
the cotton harvest is bumper and vice versa. So it is wrong to expect
the Indian farmers to get out of the debt trap by using Bt-resistant
crops. Mercifully, Bt-resistat crops are still in the field trials and
have not reached the farmers !

There was a time when every economist worth the name would swear by the
Tiger economies of the Southeast Asian countries. Now, none of them want
to even acknowledge the fact that they were strong supporters of the
Asian tigers. I see a great similarity in the ongoing debate on genetic
engineering. Agricultural scientists too are behaving like the
neo-classic economists, and therein lies a grave danger. It is time we
began to see reasoning and also learn from our past mistakes. Merely
repeating what we did with DDT is only going to exacerbate the crisis
and thereby put food security at terrible risk.

I too am for saving the lives of poor farmers in the Third World. But I
am certainly against promoting the financial interests of the biotech
companies. We certainly cannot allow half a dozen executives sitting in
a board room to take profit-oriented decisions in the name of farmers
and the civil society. And then walk away with the profits while the
rest of the world gets busy with the clean-up act !

Rick Roush wrote:

> >wytze wrote:
> >From what I understood about the suicide among Indian farmers it was caused
> >because they started to grow cotton in places that were not fit for cotton.
> >Unfortunately this phenomena seems to be not limited to western countries....
> Rick replies:
> Which only begs the question, where do you think is the right place to grow cotton? It has severe pest problems nearly everywhere that it is grown, and those few places where it does not have problems (such as the High Plains of Texas and the Central Valley of California) are not enough to supply the world's needs (not to mention the needs of the landowners for a profitable crop).
> Some of you will have received a message from Devinder Sharma about the cotton story. I see nothing in that message (also discussed below) about growing the cotton in the wrong place.
> >Wytze continued:
> >... In that case, Bt-cotton is no solution.
> Rick asks:
> Just what do you think the solution might be? Allow me to add that I doubt that anyone on this server has spent even 1% of the time and money that I have on this problem, not to mention the time of hundreds of colleagues smarter than me. Before any of you give me some more manure about "alternative organic methods" (outside the two regions mentioned above) or selecting the right place to grow the cotton, I'd ask you to actually try it, with your own time and money, before you lecture me. I've paid my dues over 25 years.
> >Wytze continued:
> > I am not sure that Bt-crops
> >eliminate the use of chemical input. From what I understood still other
> >pesticides are being applied on these crops.
> Rick replies:
> Bt cotton will not eliminate all insecticide use on cotton. It can greatly reduce it, and has by 60-90% in the US and Australia.
> >Wytze continued:
> >The fact that after three years of
> >Bt crops no resistance has shown up is not such a great achievement (if it is
> >true, because i heard other rumours) If in 27 years this can still be said
> >about the Bt crops, their performance would start to approach the performance
> >of Bt sprays.
> Rick replies:
> If Bt cotton lasts even four years, it will outlast the performance of Bt sprays on crucifer (eg., cabbage and broccoli) crops in many subtropical areas of the world, where resistance has evolved in several areas with 4 years of use of sprays (eg., reference cited below). It appears that the only reason that Bt sprays have have lasted as long as they have is that they are used by so few farmers, accounting for less than 1% of the total insecticide use. Now, we could reserve Bt for those elite farmers selling pricey organic food to relatively rich folk like yourselves, or we could use them to help protect the health of farm workers in a much wider range of circumstances.
> See: TABASHNIK, B. E., CUSHING, N. L., FINSON, N. & JOHNSON, M. W. (1990) Field development of resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis in diamondback moth (Lepidoptera: Plutellidae). Journal of Economic Entomology 83, 1671-1676.
> Oh, and the rumours are just that, and like many rumours published on the internet, they are wrong; there is no evidence for resistance in the field to Bt cotton. Further, I have identified tactics targetted to last for 30 years, and have already sent citations for the scientific papers describing this to you, Wytze. These tactics are already being put in place by that bad old multinational industry some of you like to complain about.
> Finally, some of you have seen a message from Devinder Sharma. I'd like to comment only on a few points:
> Although the bollworm mentioned in his report has been called the American bollworm in India, the species in question (Helicoverpa armigera) has nothing to do with America and is not found there. I have yet to figure out why it is called the American bollworm. The insect is fairly large, with larvae exceeding 3 cm in length.
> As Sharma noted, a major issue in India is fake insecticides, and secondary insect pest of cotton, such as Spodoptera and whiteflies, are a major problem in the face of heavy insecticide use. The solution is to encourage natural enemies, which are the first knocked off by the insecticides. However, natural enemies alone are insufficient to reliably produce a profitable cotton crop in Australia or Mississippi (where in each of which I have worked on cotton for several years) and by all accounts I get, not in India either. Bt transgenic cotton has NOT failed in the US (there were only complaints (justified) from a few growers who has been led to believe that it would solve all of their problems in the first year of use of Bt cotton), the simplest evidence for which is that the amount sold continues to increase.
> Bt cotton is not the whole answer for India; nothing would be. The only possible downside to Bt cotton is resistance to Bt in the pests. And what would this mean to Indian cotton growers? They don't use Bt sprays now (if they did, and had not already caused resistance, they would have no problems now). The reason they don't use Bt is that it is too expensive for the level of control provided on cotton.
> However, even if resistance to Bt cotton occurs as fast as it has to Bt sprays on cabbages, Bt cotton can at least over the short term reduce farm debt (as it has in the US, with financial benefits to grower being twice those to Monsanto, according to an Auburn University study) and give landowners some breathing room to consider other solutions. It can also help to reduce farm worker and farm family exposure to pesticides; even a five year reduction would help. Further, the reduction in pesticide use would give natural enemies a chance to build up again, and ease the transition toward less use of chemical controls.
> IPM has been a big success throughout much of the world, including that on rice in Indonesia, which was largely organised by one of my friends from student days, Peter Kenmore. However, even with IPM programs, cotton continues to require heavier pesticide use than rice to be profitable.
> Bt cotton could be part of a viable IPM solution, with less insecticide use, and soon. Or we can stand on philosophical principles, write inspired articles to offer incomplete solutions that have been suggested and gone unheeded for 10-20 years, and continue to watch people die.
> I am willing to expose myself to the criticisms of Wytze and Sharma, and vote for saving lives over principles.
> Rick