Monsanto's GM cotton "resounding failure" says another official report (9/9/2003)

The official report of the Govt. of the State of Andhra Pradesh, India, on the performance of genetically modified Bt cotton in the season 2002, "shows that in North Telengana, net income from Bt varieties was five times less than the yield from local non-Bt varieties. In Southern Telengana, the income from Monsanto's Bt crop was nearly 7 times less than what was obtained from the indigenous non-Bt cotton varieties, demonstrating the resounding failure of the Monsanto variety."

This ties in with a series of other studies on the first year of commercial cultivation of Monsanto's GM cotton in India by government committees and non-governmental organisations which have also supported the claims of farmers that Bt cotton had inferior yields, did not perform well in the matter of pest-resistance, etc.. A six-member panel set up by the State of Gujarat government concluded Bt cotton was simply "unfit for cultivation and should be banned".
Bt cotton, official report of the Govt. of Andhra Pradesh

Gene Campaign today released the official report of the Govt. of Andhra Pradesh, on the performance of Bt cotton in the Kharif season 2002.  There has been much controversy about the performance of Monsanto's Bt cotton varieties. Gene Campaign's field study (Kharif-2002) in AP and Maharashtra has clearly shown that the Monsanto Bt cotton has performed very poorly. Several reports in the media (Frontline, Outlook, Businessworld) have also reported the same. Yet Monsanto continues to repeat that their Bt cotton has done well. In this light it is important to see what the AP govt. report has to say.

The results of the AP report are in fact, very similar to that reported by Gene Campaign, said Dr. Suman Sahai, Director of Gene Campaign.

*Both studies report that Monsanto's Bt cotton has consistently done worse compared to local non-Bt hybrids.

*Both studies have reported that the Monsanto cotton plant type is weaker and less vigorous compared to indigenous cotton varieties.

*The cost of cultivation reported in both studies, is higher for Bt cotton compared to indigenous non-Bt hybrids and

*the net incomes are lower in the Monsanto variety, compared to the indigenous varieties.

Both the AP govt. and the Gene Campaign studies report that Monsanto's Bt cotton has

*smaller boll size,
*shorter fibre length,
*poorer cotton quality leading to low market demand and

*lower yield, leading to an overall loss of income for those farmers who have cultivated the Monsanto cotton.

*The AP report shows that in North Telengana, net income from Bt varieties was five times less than the yield from local non-Bt varieties.

*In Southern Telengana, the income from Monsanto's Bt crop was nearly 7 times less than what was obtained from the indigenous non-Bt cotton, varieties, demonstrating the resounding failure of the Monsanto variety.

The Gene Campaign AP study in Warangal district has shown that when net income is broken up according to quality of the fields, Bt cotton shows consistently poorer performance in all field types, than its non-Bt counterpart. The Gene Campaign study shows that 60% of the farmers, who planted the Monsanto cotton, were unable to recover their investment and incurred a net loss.

The AP study reports that the majority of the farmers (over 75%) do not intend to plant the Monsanto variety again. In the Gene Campaign study, 98% farmers said they did not wish to plant the Monsanto cotton again. Sources in the seed industry in AP have informed Gene Campaign that Monsanto is doing loud propaganda about its seed sale being high for Kharif 2003 but this is not the truth. The off take of the Monsanto seed is poor because farmers are refusing to buy it, going instead for local hybrids which have performed far better than the Monsanto Bt seed.

Gene Campaign said the reasons why the Monsanto cotton failed are pretty clear. It is well known that Mahyco-Monsanto's cotton varieties, MECH 162 and MECH 184, which were transformed to Bt 162 and Bt 184, are poor performers, giving modest yields. A higher yielding variety would give a better Bt cotton.
With the substantially higher cost of seeds, the economics of the Bt crop is not favourable for the farmer. The seed is about 5 times more expensive but the savings on pesticide are modest, and do not make up for the large expense incurred on seed. Tilting the balance further is the fact that Bt cotton must be grown with a refuge, necessary for resistance management. This is recommended as 20 % of the cultivated area by the GEAC. "Wasting" 20 % of the land on managing resistance makes the Bt cotton even more nonviable, especially for small farmers.

A further problem appears to be the vulnerability of Bt cotton to pink bollworm, which is becoming a significant cotton pest in India. If this continues, the Bt strategy for cotton is likely to fail because the Bt endotoxin protects only against the green bollworm and not against the pink bollworm. Farmers will have to continue pesticide sprays to control the pink bollworm,

Dr. Suman Sahai said that the GEAC must answer why and how it released the Monsanto cotton when it was known to be a poor variety and far superior Indian varieties are in the pipeline. The GEAC has to be held accountable for the failure of Bt cotton as much as the company providing the seed. Why did it keep the field trial data of Bt cotton secret (this would have exposed the poor performance at an early stage) when there were so many demands to examine this data?

We need to know from the GEAC how approval for commercial cultivation in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra was granted when no State and District level committee was set up, as required by the rules set up under the Environmental Protection Act. The GEAC must also fix responsibility for the failed cotton crop and make Monsanto compensate those farmers who have suffered losses. This is required under the Indian law, the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Rights Act 2001, said Dr. Sahai.

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