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Home > Business > Business Headline > Report

Seed experts allay fears over use of Bt cotton

Fakir Chand in Bangalore | June 10, 2003 09:37 IST

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India and GM crops

The International Seed Federation has allayed fears over the use of Bt cotton by Indian farmers, claiming yields in the US and Europe have proved that its genetically modified seeds were productive and pest-resistant, particularly bollworms.

Experts attending the ongoing five-day World Seed Congress in Bangalore told on Monday that the failure of Bollgard Thallium cotton crop in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, was due to drought and lack of moisture in the soil at the harvesting time during fiscal year 2002-03.

"Though we have no official feedback about the loss to farmers for using Bt cotton seeds from the company (Mahyco-Monsanto), it is too early to write it off as independent studies and results elsewhere have confirmed their benefits over native seeds, which have been prone to pests and insects," declared International Seed Federation president Christopher Ahrens.

As against sowing Bt cotton seeds in 100,000 acres last year after the Indian government approved its use by Indian farmers in select states, plans are afoot to expand the coverage by 10 times (1 million acres) this year in southern and western states, an Indian seed industry official disclosed.

Refuting the claims of environmental organisations that Bt cotton was not suitable to Indian conditions, experts said it was up to the farmers to decide whether to use the GM seeds or not as they were the best judge.

"The seed industry does not believe in forcing farmers to go for the genetically modified variety unless they were convinced of its benefits.

"As adaptation to such seeds take time involving field trials and case studies, one crop failure due to climatic changes does not give the correct picture," International Seed Federation secretary general Bernard Le Buanee asserted.

Referring to the ongoing controversy over the increasing use of GM seeds and foods in the sub-continent, Buanee said similar debates were raised over the years in the US and Europe when Bt cotton was first introduced.

"But excellent yields in the subsequent years in terms of quality and productivity have convinced farmers of their use. As a result, about 80 per cent of the farmers in the US and 40-45 per cent of farmers in Europe have switched over to Bt cotton and genetic engineering for cash crops," Buanee claimed.

World Seed Congress chairman Manmohan Attavar said biotechnology was only a modern tool to aid traditional farmers in increasing their yields and reduce costs in controlling pests and plant diseases.

"The government has approved the use of Bt cotton only after extensive field trails have yielded positive results. We hope a good monsoon this year will prove the advantage of GM seeds and farmers will reap a good harvest," Attavar added.

Last week, two non-governmental organisations in Andhra Pradesh have found that use of Bt cotton in Warangal district last year had led to crop failure and loss to small and marginal farmers.

Being a cotton-growing area, about 200 farmers in 21 villages of the district had sown Bt cotton supplied by Mahyco-Monsanto in 1500 acres on a commercial scale for the first time.

But studies conducted by the two NGOs have revealed that non-Bt farmers reaped a profitable harvest, where as Bt farmers incurred losses due to lower yields.

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