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India Says No To Bt Cotton

By Ashok B Sharma

25 April, 2003

The Indian government's regulatory authority, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), unanimously rejected the proposal for commercial cultivation in north India of a new variety of Bt cotton developed by Mahyco Seed Company in collaboration with Monsanto. It called for more field trials for genetically modified (GM) mustard seeds developed by ProAgro in collaboration with Aventis & PGS.

The 36th meeting of the GEAC presided over by its chairperson Sushma Choudhary on Friday deliberated for over two and half hours and came to the conclusion that "cultivation of the new Bt cotton, Mech 915 in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and western Uttar Pradesh should not be allowed as this variety is highly sensitive to the leaf curl virus. Leaf curl virus is common in the regions bordering Pakistan. It affects the yield of cotton and can affect other crops in the region as it is easily carried by white flies".

The local varieties of cotton grown in region are resistant to leaf curl virus as compared to Bt Cotton, Mech 915. It has been assessed that Mech 915 is sensitive to leaf curl virus by 56 per cent on an average and by 92 per cent in certain cases.

Regarding GM mustard seeds developed by ProAgro in collaboration with Aventis & PGS, the panel was of the view that that the results of the field trials conducted so far under the supervision of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (Icar) in four locations of the country were not conclusive. Further field trials under Icar supervisions are necessary "to assess the agronomic superiority, if any, effects of crossability and pollen transfer and resistance to herbicides." The panel was also of the view that as mustard seeds and leaves were used in food there was a need to assess the possible health hazards, if any, in the GM mustard seeds.

The GEAC chairperson, Sushma Choudhary speaking to the media admitted that the performance of Bt cotton cultivation in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat was discussed in the meeting. She said that there were reports from some state governments and agencies that Bt cotton had not performed well in some areas. When questioned as to whether the GEAC would withdraw its conditional approval for commercial cultivation in these states, she said, "More time should be given to assess the performance of Bt cotton in the regions where it has been approved. One season's performance is not enough."