Bt cotton introduced in haste - expert (21/12/2005)

Bt cotton has been hyped as a panacea in the Punjab but Dr Myron Zalucki, an entomologist from the University of Queensland who was recently at Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), warns against being taken in by such hype. Items 2 and 3 cast further light on the hyping and the reality of Bt cotton in the Punjab.

1.Bt cotton in India has been introduced in haste, says Aussie expert
Amrita Chaudhry

Ludhiana, December 20: THE introduction of Bt cotton in India has been a hasty step.

This was stated by Dr Myron Zalucki, a noted entomologist from the University of Queensland, Australia, who was recently at Punjab Agricultural University.

Explaining this, Dr Zalucki said, "India, especially Punjab, should have done their share of instenive research and other alternative ways of saving cotton crop before allowing Bt cotton. We had introduced Bt cotton back home in the nineties after almost a decade of research."

Talking about the role of Bt cotton, Dr Zalucki said, "I am surpised that the crop is being touted as a panacea while it is just a technique and nothing more." About the claim of leading agriculture policy framers and PAU [Punjab Agricultural University - see items 2 & 3 below] experts that BT cotton had led to a drastic reduction in pesticide load almost by 40 per cent, Dr Zalucki said, "This can be true for the first year alone. In successive years, American bollworm will develop immunity to the Bt toxin. Moreover, while Bt cotton is an answer to this pest, we still need pesticides for other pests, like Jassids. I have been told that Jassid attack on cotton has increased in Punjab. So we can safely say that Bt cotton can just be a stopgap arrangement which has its share of pitfalls like health hazards and more importantly this seed is evry expensive which a small farmer cannot afford."

Commenting on alternative techniques, he said, "Organic cotton can be an alternative provided the farmer is ready to bear a lesser yield. But he should realise that as his input cost in case of organic cotton is low, his profits will be good no matter how much less the yield. But then what the cotton growers and scientists should work for is to increase the population of friendly insects in their field, like spiders. This is the only answer. We do not need pesticides or Bt cotton kind of techniques and the other thing is that this bollworm will come no matter and it will not go away by spraying poison but by managing one's crop."

The entomologist also called upon the scientific faternity "to always be sceptic and never let complacency come in. We must keep researching." Interestingly, Dr Zalucki, who was one of the key speakers at the First Insect Congress organised recently at PAU, made viwepoints and suggestions which are in direct contrast with the ones promoted by PAU. Unlike Dr Zalucki, PAU considers that Bt cotton has been introduced late in Punjab.

2.Bt Cotton In Punjab: Lesson In Effective PR Exercise
CounterCurrents, 01 April, 2005
By Jatinder Preet

The story of official approval to hybrid varieties of transgenic Bt cotton using Monsanto's Bt cotton technology is a lesson in effective Public Relations exercise. The sleek PR machinery of the U.S. chemical giant Monsanto aided by spineless and misinformed media and the state collusion assured India officially joined the GM community on March 26,2002, when it was first given the green signal for the commercial cultivation of genetically engineered crops. However, it was a small victory the company with a massive belly. Only 6 states had approval for the commercial release of Bt Cotton. The "lucrative" states of Punjab and Haryana along with Rajasthan were yet to be conquered. Thus began a media blitzkrieg.

While the farmers were committing suicide all along the cotton belt what caught the headlines far more was write ups inspired by Monsanto's PR machine. The stories of Bt failure were generally glossed over with far less exceptions.

The apparent technical nature of the debate and general indifference coupled with falling standards of media integrity made it easier for the company to slip in its claims that were yet to be proved right.

...Monsanto-India's PR person Ranjana Smetacek was all over the state [of Punjab] without setting foot here. A story appeared in Times of India with a Ludhiana dateline. Resembling a company handout, it quoted Ms Smetacek extensively to drive home the presumed Bt advantage. It's another matter that nobody in Ludhiana's media community, including two correspondents of TOI (the story was without byline) had any clue who she was. It's a mystery how only the TOI's Ludhiana correspondents got to talk to her.

A similar story was published in The Tribune on February 11 this year. It claimed without citing the source of information that 'in India the area under Bollgard (Bt) cotton increased by estimated 400 per cent to reach 500,000 hectares in 2004' to drive home the point that - the northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan were still awaiting approval?. The rest of the story listed why Bt should be allowed. It did not need any expert to tell that. Monsanto India Ltd. and Ranjana Smetacek sufficed.

Bathinda was the favourite hunting ground for the PR people of Monsanto. Most of the media people stationed there complied with unthinkingly reproducing in their papers what was supplied to them.

A story appeared in The Indian Express from Bathinda on November 8,2001, that begin with 'There is a variety of cotton that can fight off bollworm, has no apparent side-effects and has cleared trials. It goes by the name of Bt Cotton, and the Government doesn't want it. '

'Punjab cries for Bt Cotton', K.S. Chawla had declared as early as November 17, 2003 in The Tribune. 'Bt cotton is not being released in the Punjab circle, comprising Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, while the cotton growers of these states are hankering after it', it claimed.

On November 21 last year K.S. Chawla again wrote, 'Punjab Agricultural University scientists have sought early official release of Bt cotton varieties. ' The story that followed quoted only Dr G.S.Chahal, Additional Director Research, Punjab Agricultural University, known for his vociferous support for Bt.

In a story published on May 15, 2003, K.S. Chawla quoted the vice chancellor of PAU as cautioning cotton growers in Punjab against 'propaganda of unscrupulous seed traders who may sell spurious seed under the name of Bt. Cotton'.

On August 12, 2003 he returned to quote Dr Chahal 'regarding the possibilities of the adverse effects of cotton cultivation due to whathe called 'delayed recommendation of Bt cotton in Punjab'.'

April 23,2003, Chawla had already announced 'the tested varieties would be released for general cultivation in Punjab from next year'.

The list goes on.

3.Even Bt cotton needs pesticide spray
Tribune News Service
Ludhiana, July 6 2005

Dr S.S.Gill, Director Extension Education, Punjab Agricultural University, today said Bt cotton was not a zero spray crop. The sucking pests, jassids and white fly, which are major pests on non-Bt cotton, damage the Bt cotton hybrids equally. In addition to these, thrips and aphids may also damage the St and non-Bt cotton crop.

All the six Bt cotton hybrids are as susceptible to the foliage-feeding pests like tobacco caterpillar, leaf folder, black and green semi-loopers as non-Bt cotton. Dr Gill said farmers should consider that Bt cotton also requires sprays. He advised them to follow the MU recommendations to save their crop from the attack of these harmful pests.

Addressing farmers, Dr G.S. Chahal, Dean, College of Agriculture, said Bt hybrids provide effective control of American, spotted and pink bollworms for a period of 100-140 days depending upon the various factors. Dr Chahal advised the farmers to follow the recommendations made by PAU scientists.

Dr G.S. Deol, Head, Department of Entomology, said that six hybrids of Bt cotton (MRC 6301, MRC 6304, Rasi 134, Rasi 311, Ankur 651 and Ankur 2534) were approved for cultivation in Punjab.

These 131 hybrids are equally susceptible to all the pests except the bollworms as non St hybrids/varieties. He advised the farmers to monitor the incidence of different insect pests and take appropriate control measure as recommended by the MU.

The incidence of sucking and foliage feeding pests can be more on Bt cotton not due to the fact that these hybrids are more susceptible to these pests but the sprays usually done for the control of bol on non St varieties/hybrids take care of these pests and does not allow the pests damage to cross the economic injury level.

He added that the decline in number of sprays against bollworms on Bt hybrids might result in the build up of population of sucking pests and foliage feeding pests beyond economic threshold level during flowering phase. Farmers should monitor the build up of boliworm complex on at hybrids and take effective measures.

The lack of effective measures may result in the development of resistance in bollworms particularly the American bollworms. He advised the farmers to take advice from the KVKIFASS or Head Department of Entomology for the management of insect pests on the Bt cotton.

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