Daily News Archive

GM Crops Under Fire after Cotton Venture Fails
(from November 13, 2002)

India opened its doors to genetically modified (GM) crops in March this year and is in a difficult position now. Farmers discovered the augmented plant cannot resist pests after all. Activists demand an inquiry while India is having second thoughts about an ambitious foray into a modified foodstuff, GM mustard. According to the Bangkok Post, last week a government panel postponed decisions on GM mustard, which if approved would have become the first genetically modified food crop in India.

The approval of Bt cotton had strong economic justification. India is the world's third largest cotton grower having the largest area under cotton cultivation, but it yields less than half the world average per hectare. One reason for low productivity is the loss due to pest attacks. By inserting genes from a bacteria - bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) - into cotton seeds, Monsanto has developed new varieties that are claimed to be resistant to bollworm attacks. Bt cotton was approved so that it could enhance productivity.

But farmers who have grown Bt cotton in central India have found that the crop is not resistant to pests and they have been advised by the seed company to spray insecticides. The government's Department of Biotechnology and other government agencies have not offered any explanation for this reported failure of India's first GM crop. But environmental groups have demanded an inquiry into the failure and asked the department to withdraw the approval given to Monsanto.

Despite adverse reports on Bt cotton, the department met last week to consider approval of a genetically modified variety of mustard developed by an Indian company called Pro-Agro Seeds.

The new GM mustard variety with five foreign genes in it, including one from tobacco, might pose risks for human health and the environment. In the absence of detailed scientific evaluation in India, GM mustard can be dangerous. In fact, the committee has deferred a decision because of lack of health-related data. In addition, it is feared the use of herbicide-tolerant GM mustard will increase the use of herbicides, thus increasing the amount of toxic residues in food products.

To learn more about genetically engineered foods, visit Beyond Pesticides Genetic Engineering project page.

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