23 June, 2021

Sowing Disaster's Seeds

The Bt-cotton technology can go the DDT way—resistant bollworms. It's effect on other insects and crops isn't known either.

Sowing Disaster's Seeds
When the first-ever genetically engineered crop variety was given approval in India a few weeks ago, it raised a predictable storm. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved three genetically modified (GM) varieties of Bt cotton belonging to Mahyco-Monsanto with certain conditions. First, Bt cotton will have to be grown with an insect refuge of 20 per cent non-Bt cotton. The farmer has to set aside about 20 per cent of his acreage for non-Bt cotton so that the bollworm pest can feed partly on non-poisonous, normal cotton and remain susceptible to the Bt toxin. Otherwise, like mosquitoes which developed resistance to DDT, the bollworm will quickly become immune to Bt toxin and the crop will fail. The mandatory 20 per cent refuge places these varieties out of the small farmer's reach. The GEAC acknowledges this and says the varieties are not recommended for them.

The GEAC's second condition is that Mahyco-Monsanto will monitor its own variety to assess possible negative impact on the environment; like the development of resistance in the bollworm, and its...

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