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Bt cotton Experiment a Failure

16 April, 2003.

Gene Campaign today presented the data on India's very first GM crop, Bt cotton, which had received conditional approval for commercial cultivation in March 2002. The data collected from 100 farmers selected from 16 villages in Warangal in Andhra Pradesh and Yavatmal in Maharashtra were presented in a discussion with NGOs, experts and the media.

Gene Campaign, which showed a video film about the interviews with farmers, presented data clearly showing that Bt cotton had failed. Bt cotton was not resistant to the bollworm and farmers sprayed about the same amount of pesticides on both, thus showing no great saving in pesticide, as claimed by Monsanto, the owner of the variety.

Field data also show that the Bt cotton plant is weak and that the boll size is small, The length of the cotton fibre is shorter than in non Bt cotton, so the yield is less and the quality poor. Angry cotton farmers are vowing that they will not grow Bt cotton again.

Cotton traders are not lifting Bt cotton, preferring instead the successful non Bt varieties like Brahma and Banny . They pay a better rate for non Bt cotton so far farmers are surreptiously mixing Bt cotton with non Bt to sell their Bt cotton harvest.

What is clear is that the economics of Bt cotton simply does not work. Input costs are almost Rs. 1000/ acre higher than for non Bt cotton. The seed alone costs 4 times as much as good varieties of non Bt cotton. Savings on pesticides are merely Rs.217/ acre while seed is Rs. 1200/acre more expensive. The failure of Bt cotton is bitter and widespread. Sixty percent of Bt farmers were unable to recover their costs and actually were in the red to the tune of Rs. 80/per acre. Non-Bt cotton farmers did better in all categories of farm types, low, medium and high yielders.

What is shocking is that GM crop cultivation has been sanctioned and allowed to continue in states even though the mandated regulatory authorities have not been set up, No state Level Committee or District Level Committee is set up in either Andhra Pradesh or Maharashtra. This is in blatant violation of the Rules for the regulation of GM organisms which comes under the Environmental Protection Act, 1989.

Gene Campaign has demanded an investigation into this act of criminal negligence which has endangered the fundamental rights of every citizen to a healthy life and safe environment guaranteed under the Constitution of India. The GEAC, India's top level authority for approving GM crops has some answering to do.

* Why did the GEAC grant approval to Mahyco- Monsanto's Bt 162, Bt 184, when these are well known as poor to modest performing varieties ?

* Why was approval given to Bt 12,Bt 162, Bt 184 when other better Bt cotton varieties are in the pipeline ?

* How did the GEAC grant approval for cultivating a GM crop when the mandated Regulatory Committees to oversee performance and safety are not even constituted ?

* Gene Campaign has charged the GEAC with criminal negligence in another context. The Campaign has been demanding that the field trial data of the Monsanto Bt cotton be made available to the public. The GEAC has consistently refused to do so. Had this been done, there is a strong chance that the poor performance would have been detected early and farmers would have been spared this debacle and loss .

* Gene Campaign demands that the government ensure that Monsanto is made to pay compensation to those farmers who have suffered losses on account of Bt cotton. Law mandates this. Section 39 (2) of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act, 2001, requires breeder to pay compensation if his variety fails to perform as claimed.

[Field data on Bt and non-Bt cotton performance can be requested from genecamp@vsnl.com ]