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India Bt Cotton Fails But Monsanto PR Propaganda Campaign Continues

>From <gaia@gaianet.org>
June 9, 2004

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

After the disaster of Bt cotton in India in 2002-2003, Monsanto desperately
needed a good result for their crop this year 2003-2004.

Now, two conflicting reports about the results of Bt cotton have come out.
One, paid for by Monsanto, claims that yields have gone up, pesticide use
has gone down, and farmer profits have increased dramatically. The other
report, commissioned by the Andhra Pradesh Coalition in Defence of
Diversity, shows the complete opposite. Bt cotton has had barely any impact
on yield, has only allowed for a small reduction in the use of pesticides,
and yet the seed costs so much that farmers are even worse off than before.

The two reports differ widely in their conclusions, however where the APCIDD
report used thorough and reliable methodology, the Monsanto report appears
to have been carried out by a marketing agency making questionnaire phone
calls.

The Monsanto hype has unfortunately spread across India, however, where
there are reports of an illegal market in Bt cotton seeds.

India¹s GM regulatory process also appears to be opening up, as a new
variety of Bt cotton gains approval, and the Task Force on Application of
Biotechnology in Agriculture makes its recommendations to the Ministry of
Agriculture. These recommendations show a shockingly poor understanding of
the risks involved in gene transfer and cross-pollination. The report is
also shocking in its recommendations for overseeing and regulatory
processes.

Best wishes,

Teresa

***************************
1. Performance of Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh 2003-2004
Press Release from Andhra Pradesh Coalition in Defence of Diversity,
India.
Date: 30 April 2004
2. Performance of Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh 2003-2004
Results of A Study by A.P. Coalition in Defence of Diversity, by M.A.
Qayum and Kiran Sakkhari
3. Comment
GM WATCH daily. Date: 1 May 2004
http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3405
4. States Directed To Prevent Sales Of Unapproved Seeds
Article from Financial Express, India. Date: 16 May 2004
Ashok B Sharma
http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=59332
5. Swaminathan Panel Recommendations on Biotechnology Flawed and Dangerous
Press Release from Greenpeace India. Date: 6 May 2004

http://www.greenpeaceindia.org/recentnewsdetails.php?Newstype=subnews&rnid=2
27
6. Bt Cotton, Again
Article from Frontline 21 (10), India. Date: 8 May 2004
Asha Krishnakumar
http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl2110/stories/20040521001408100.htm


*******************************

1. Performance of Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh 2003-2004

Press Release from Andhra Pradesh Coalition in Defence of Diversity, India.
Date: 30 April 2004


Two years have passed since Bt Cotton cultivation was permitted in Andhra
Pradesh. Nothing much has changed in its performance except for the hype
by Mahyco Monsanto, the company which produces Bt cotton seeds in India.

This year weather gods were very benign to Warangal District in Andhra
Pradesh which is the largest grower of Bt cotton in AP as well as in
other cotton districts of AP. Rains occurred just at the right intervals
in right quantities throughout the cotton cultivation period. This was
what the Gods ordered for cotton. But in spite of this extraordinarily
benevolent rain regime, Bt cotton's performance did not live up to even a
fraction of the promises made by the industry.

As a matter of fact, the industry continuously makes several tall claims
to promote Bt Cotton. Three of the most important claims are:
- Cultivation of Bt cotton will reduce pesticide use considerably
- Cultivation costs will come down significantly
- Profits for farmers will increase

On all three counts Bt Cotton failed in Andhra Pradesh for the second
consecutive time. This is evident in this season long study for 2003-2004
taken up on behalf of the AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity by Mr
Abdul Qayum and Mr Kiran Sakkhari, two agricultural scientists.

The study conducted in three districts of AP viz. Adilabad, Warangal and
Kurnool had a sizeable sample of nearly 164 farmers. They were studied
almost on a day to day basis throughout the cotton cultivation period,
from the date of sowing to the date of harvesting. In Warangal District
the sample size was nearly 10% of all the farmers who cultivated Bt
cotton in the district. Therefore what the study says bears a great
significance to the entire Bt cotton phenomenon.

The number of very interesting results point out to the fact that Bt
cotton has once again let down small and marginal farmers in the dryland
districts of Warangal, Adilabad and Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh. The facts are
:
- In comparison to non-Bt hybrids, pesticide use has not drastically come
down in Bt cultivation
- Costs of cultivating Bt cotton is higher compared to non Bt cultivation
- The Bt Cotton yields were barely 2% higher compared to non Bt cotton
- Having paid higher price for Bt seeds and investing more money on its
cultivation, farmers in fact earned more profits through cultivation of
non Bt cotton than through Bt Cotton

For us in the AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity, a matter of great
concern is the hype built up around Bt cotton by the industry which
directly contrasts with the findings of this painstaking year round study.

We would like to particularly mention the Monsanto AC Nielsen study which
is making rounds all over the world, without being challenged. The study
paints an extremely rosy picture for Bt cotton in India, whereas the
field realities are completely different. Take two or three findings of
the Monsanto study and compare them with this study:

State Andhra Pradesh
*Bollworm Pesticide Reduction
[Monsanto Study] 58% [APCIDD Study] 14%
[Monsanto Study] 1856 Rs. [APCIDD Study] 321 Rs.

*Yield Increase
[Monsanto Study] 24% [APCIDD Study] 2%
[Monsanto Study] 1.98 qu/ac [APCIDD Study] 0.09 qu/ac

*Increase in Net Profit
[Monsanto Study] 92% [APCIDD Study](-) 9%
[Monsanto Study] 5138 Rs/ac [APCIDD Study](-)750

[the above table has been reformatted for text]

[GENET/HM: the Monsanto Study has been posted on GENET-news on 2 Apr 2004:
http://www.genet-info.org/genet/2004/Apr/msg00015.html]


This clearly points out how far from truth are the claims made by the
study conducted by a marketing agency, which contacted farmers through
questionnaires just once after their crop period. The APCIDD study which
worked with farmers continuously, contacting them every 15 days and
therefore always close to the realities of the situation, brings out the
truth which counters the hollow claims of the industry.


False claims

The industry has claimed four times more than the actual reduction in
pesticide use, 12 times more yield and 100 times more profit than the
actual. If left unchallenged, the industry which is losing ground in the
rest of the world [including China] will completely overrun our
agriculture and decimate farming as we know it.

Last when the results of our study for 2002-2003 came out and unmasked
the disaster that Bt cotton had brought upon the farmers of Warangal,
there was a great outcry by the media which made the government sit up
and take notice of the tragedy it had let loose on the farmers. It made
the government institute its own survey which clearly came out with the
finding that cost of cultivation for Bt was more and net returns were too
low in comparison with non-Bt.

Later the then Minister for Agriculture Mr Shobhanadrishwara Rao made a
public statement asking farmers to stay away from cultivation of Bt
Cotton. But within a month or so the government went back on its
statement and without an iota of remorse invited Monsanto to sell its Bt
cotton seeds from the government outlets.

The result is that farmers who paid 3.5 times higher price for Bt seeds
today suffer a loss of 9% compared to the farmers who cultivated non Bt
cotton.

Will the government accountable to this loss? Will it ask the industry to
compensate the farmers this loss?

And what about the ever deepening ecological crisis? As our scientists
point out, who will pay for the ecological costs: the constant induction
into soils, airs and water of the built in poison in Bt plants?

Erosion of Regulatory Authority

Over the last two years, farmers merrily mixed Bt and Non Bt cotton when
they took them to the market. Thus cotton seeds which are the source for
edible oil and cattle feed have been contaminated with Bt. How will it
affect human health, both by consuming cotton oil and milk from the
cattle which have eaten Bt feed? Who is monitoring this? Why have the
regulatory authorities totally abdicated their responsibility?

The profit hungry industry is not happy even with this sleeping
authority. The latest moves from the powerful industrial lobby in India
has been instrumental in a process that might completely dismantle the
Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the Ministry of Environment and
Forests and hand over the control to an industry dominated committee in
the name of a fast track approval.

As a consequence we are completely handing over the control over our
agriculture, health, environment and our well being itself into the hands
of an irresponsible industry which knows very little beyond its balance
sheet.

This will be a tragedy of monumental proportions.

We sincerely request our media friends to start a media investigation
into a process that will herald unspeakable harm to our health and
ecological security


**************************************

2. Performance of Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh 2003-2004

Results of A Study by A.P. Coalition in Defence of Diversity, by M.A.
Qayum and Kiran Sakkhari

In Kharif 2002, around 1200 farmers cultivated Bt cotton in Warangal
district alone. More than 90% of them cultivated Bt MECH-162 cotton
hybrid, which was marketed by Mahyco-Monsanto. A season long study
conducted by AP Coalition in Defense of Diversity in 2002-03 showed that
the cotton hybrid MECH-162 failed miserably on the farmers' fields in
Warangal district. This study and other studies which endorsed these
results forced Mahyco-Monsanto to replace MECH - 162 with MECH-12.

As a sequel to its earlier research in 2002, the AP Coalition in Defense
of Diversity decided to enlarge its study for Kharif 2003 to three
cotton-growing districts viz., Warangal, Adilabad and Kurnool covering 28
villages with a sample size of 164 farmers. The season long study
systematically collected field data from farmers using structured
interview schedules which recorded each and every farmer's income and
expenditure patterns with regard to cultivation of cotton, both Bt and
Non-Bt. This was done at fortnightly intervals right from sowing of the
cotton crop till it was harvested. The data collection was helped by 11
NGOs working in these districts.

Besides the written interview schedule, video documentation was also done
with eight farmers from three villages at monthly intervals. In addition,
monthly meetings were held in Warangal to collect the data sheets from
data writers and to identify the villages to be visited by scientists
every month. All the data was collated and analysed to arrive at the
following results.

- Bt seeds costed 230% more than Non Bt hybrids
- Total investments for Bt was 8% higher than for cultivation of non-Bt
cotton
- The reduction in pesticide consumption by Bt farmers was just 12%
- Net profits from Bt was 9% less compared to profits from Non Bt hybrids
- The Benefit cost ratio was in favour of Non Bt hybrids
- For small and medium category of farmers, the yield difference between
Bt and non-Bt was marginal

The study clearly showed that, even though the over all yields were
marginally more for Bt cotton, the overall Benefit cost ratio is still in
favour of Non Bt hybrids. This was caused by the higher investments
incurred for the cultivation of Bt cotton hybrids which was 8% more than
the investment for Non Bt hybrids. In addition, the results clearly show
that, for small and medium farmers Bt is not a viable proposition as the
net profit from Bt was 9% less than Non Bt hybrids.

The study underlines the argument that Genetically Altered crops need
more investment per unit area than their non GM counter parts while the
net profits are higher for non-Gm crops. This is a worldwide phenomenon.
Therefore, in a country like India, where majority of the farmers are
small and medium, while looking for GM options, we need to explore a
policy that takes a long term perspective on the sustainability of
different options available.

Over and above all this, there is a definite impending danger of major
Lepidopteran pests- such as American Boll worm, Spotted Bollworm and Pink
bollworm developing faster resistance to the delta-endotoxin, which will
be catastrophic to the other alternate host crops like redgram, sorghum,
maize, sunflower, groundnut and beans besides cotton. This will be highly
disastrous for farmers who grow crops like pigeonpea and above-mentioned
crops for their food and other needs.


*******************************

3. Comment

GM WATCH daily. Date: 1 May 2004
http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3405


Here is an important and detailed study by agricultural scientists of GM
cotton farming in Andhra Pradesh. It helps nail Monsanto's latest lies
over Bt cotton cultivation in India.

In the first year of GM cotton production in India Monsanto's Bt cotton
performed extraordinarily badly. A series of studies showed that in
economic terms, Bt cotton had proven a total failure and had left farmers
in debt. Even in the face of such evidence and with angry farmers
demanding compensation for their losses, Monsanto claimed GM cotton
growing in India had been a big success and that any indications
otherwise were down to the very dry weather.
http://www.mindfully.org/GE/2003/India-Bt-Cotton-Failure8feb03.htm

However, in the second year of production, as PV Satheesh notes in the
press release (item 1) introducing the results of the new study by the AP
Coalition in Defense of Diversity (APCIDD), the weather was very benign
with plenty of rain at the right times, creating exceptionally favourable
conditions for cotton cultivation.

Monsanto has again produced its own study. This, needless to say, claims
big increases in yield, huge reductions in pesticide use, and big profits
for Bt farmers. However, Monsanto's study was conducted by a marketing
agency, which contacted farmers through questionnaires just once. By
contrast,the new APCIDD study, by Dr Abdul Qayoom, former Joint Director
of Agriculture in Andhra Pradesh, and Mr Sakkari Kiran of the
Permaculture Institute of India, worked with farmers continuously,
contacting them every 15 days. It shows Monsanto's Bt cotton was in
reality once again economically outperformed by non-GM cotton.

Indeed, the new APCIDD study shows the full extent of Monsanto's hype.
Monsanto has claimed four times more than the actual reduction in
pesticide use, 12 times more yield and 100 times more profit!

The results of the study show, in particular, that even in such a
favourable year the actual reduction in pesticide consumption by Bt
farmers and the marginal improvement in yield, were not enough to offset
the fact that Bt seeds cost 230% more than Non-Bt hybrids. This means the
total investments for Bt were 8% higher than for the cultivation of non-
Bt cotton, while net profits from Bt were 9% lower than profits from Non-
Bt hybrids. In other words, the benefit/cost ratio was clearly in favour
of Non-Bt hybrids.

PV Satheesh asks whether the Indian Government, which ultimately ignored
all the previous warnings and the clear evidence as to what happened in
the previous year, will now compensate the many farmers who cannot afford
to suffer these losses.

In fact, as Satheesh notes, the Indian Government, far from offering any
redress to farmers or punishing the company which has used such
misleading hype to promote this technology, appears to be gearing itself
up to allowing "the powerful industrial lobby in India" to "completely
dismantle the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the Ministry of
Environment and Forests and hand over the control to an industry
dominated committee in the name of a fast track approval."

No wonder Devinder Sharma has been amongst those recently warning that,
at a time that much of the world is moving firmly in the opposite
direction, India is in danger of becoming the industry's GM dustbin.

******************************

4. States Directed To Prevent Sales Of Unapproved Seeds

Article from Financial Express, India. Date: 16 May 2004
Ashok B Sharma
http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=59332

NEW DELHI, MAY 16: The Union agriculture ministry, on being aware of the
illegal sales of unapproved Bt cotton seeds, has directed the state
governments concerned to strictly enforce the provisions of Seeds Control
Order, 1983, to deal with the situation.

The environment ministry of the Central government has constituted a
committee to institute a monitoring verification mechanism to assess the
performance of approved Bt cotton seeds. The government is also aware of
the deliberate mixing of Bt cotton seeds with non-Bt ones after harvest,
which are ultimately being used as poultry and animal feed. The MS
Swaminathan panel on bio-technology has already called for an assessment
of its impact on milk and meat of animals and birds, which have consumed
transgenic feed.

The illegal sale of unapproved Bt cotton has spread to Punjab, Haryana
and Rajasthan, where sowing of cotton in the current season has begun.
The MS Swaminathan panel in its report on application of bio-technology
in agriculture has noted "highlighted by mushrooming of illegal varieties
of Bt cotton seeds in Gujarat, which is reported to have spread to Andhra
Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab as well."

It is not yet clear about the sources of the unapproved Bt cotton seeds.
There are reports on the sale of unapproved Bt cotton allegedly produced
by Nav Bharat Seeds. Some farmers also doubt the leakeage of Bt cotton
seeds of Mahyco-Monsanto, which was developed for cultivation in North-
India and was rejected last year, as it was found susceptible to the
dangerous leaf curl virus. However, the sources in Mahyco-Monsanto
Biotech Company and in the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and
Industry (Ficci) said: "Such reports are baseless."

No Bt cotton seeds have yet been approved for commercial cultivation in
north India, including Punjab.

The leaders of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) said that this craze of Bt
cotton among farmers in north India is due to the hype generated by
Mahyco Monsanto Biotech Company that its cultivation reduces bollworm
attack by 58 per cent, increases yield by 24 per cent and results in a
net profit of Rs 7,276 per acre.

BKU leader Jagmohan told FE: "Influenced by the large scale publicity
about the success of Bt cotton, the farmers are not even hesitant to pay
Rs 400 to Rs 500 for a purported pack of 400 gm of Bt cotton seeds.

They hardly get, what they are paying for, as most of the packing is done
in the neighbouring Haryana with some unspecified varieties of seeds. The
demand for illegal Bt cotton seeds has also spread to Rajasthan."

He further said: "In some cases, sowing of cotton with such varieties
cost the growers Rs 2000 an acre, but the agriculture department
officials turned a Nelson eye to this unscrupulous sale, and in most
cases, they are hand in glove with the fly-by-night operators."

The Union government in letters to the state governments has requested
"to ensure that dealers should claim on the label for quality of seeds
with regard to the presence and absence of Bt gene in cotton to be sold
in the market under section 13(1)(a) and (c) of the Seeds Control Order,
1983. As to verify the presence of Bt gene in cotton, the government of
India (GoI) notified the laboratory of Central Institute for Cotton
Research (CICR) at Nagpur as central seed testing laboratory for the
purpose stated above. Government of India is also providing funds to
train the officials, who are working in the laboratory to verify the
presence or absence of Bt gene in cotton."

The monitoring committee of the Union environment ministry has
recommended -- "for verification of Bt cotton seed production, the company
should inform the agriculture department of the concerned state regarding
the location, area and estimated quantity of seed production. The
quantity of seed produced should be further verified at the processing
plant by the seed inspector."

The committee further said that the company should provide details of all
its seed dealers and advance notices of delivery to the agriculture
departments of the concerned state. Out of the total distribution, 0.1
per cent should be checked on random sample basis.

For evaluating the performance of Bt cotton, the committee suggested
monitoring of 10 per cent of the total Bt cotton fields on a random
sample basis as per guidelines developed by CICR. The period of field
assessment in each state should be decided taking into consideration the
varying agro-climatic conditions and also be classified into irrigated,
unirrigated and drought prone areas. Bt cotton fields should be monitored
three times - during flowering stage, square formation stage, and at the
time first plucking. Details of pest incidence, number of sprays of
pesticides till 50 per cent of boll bursting stage, yield, agronomic
practices should also be assessed.

***************************************


5. Swaminathan Panel Recommendations on Biotechnology Flawed and Dangerous

Press Release from Greenpeace India. Date: 6 May 2004
http://www.greenpeaceindia.org/recentnewsdetails.php?Newstype=subnews&rnid=2
27

6 May, 2004, Bangalore: Criticizing the sweeping recommendations of the
'Task Force on Application of Biotechnology in Agriculture', Greenpeace
today stated that the report assumes that genetically engineered crops
are the way forward for Indian agriculture, ignoring the fact that the
debate on GMOs as the 'future' of agriculture continues to be a heated
one, both domestically and internationally, because of the long-term
economic and environmental risks.

The 28-page report, prepared by a task-force led by Mr. M.S.
Swaminathan, submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture is problematic on
at least three counts: Firstly, it suggests a dangerous non-scientific
approach to regulating gene constructs. Secondly, it threatens India's
native varieties and valuable exports such as organic and basmati rice -
the report fails to recognize that co-existence between genetically
engineered and non-engineered plants is impossible.

Third, and most importantly, the report fails to recognize that
biotechnology is essentially unregulatable. "The Navbharat illegal Bt
cotton scandal is a clear demonstration of the fundamental inability of
the government to regulate GMOs," says Dr. Ashesh Tayal, scientific
advisor for Greenpeace India. "Moreover, it is a devastating example of
how impossible it is to recall GMOs once they are released into the
environment."

The task force proposes a dangerous non-scientific approach to
biotechnology regulation when it proposes to regulate only the gene
construct, rather than the various crop varieties that receive the gene.
They propose that once a gene construct is approved, it can be used in
any other crop plant, from maize to brinjal, without further evaluation.
Even in the very pro-biotechnology United States scientists recognize
that new genes function differently in different species and
environments, that their impacts may vary drastically & that they must be
regulated on a case-by-case basis. With this proposal, the task force
revealed its true pro-biotechnology colors - its main aim is clearly to
strip away regulation of biotechnology, rather than improve it.

The task force's most dangerous conclusions revolve around the assumption
that co-existence is possible between genetically engineered crops and
traditional varieties and organic agriculture. Swaminathan and his
colleagues propose to protect basmati rice from genetic engineering at
the same time that they encourage the genetic engineering of other rice
varieties.

However, experiences from the rest of the world clearly show that
coexistence is impossible. Organic rapeseed growers in Western Canada
have sued Monsanto because they can no longer produce an organic crop,
due to constant threat of contamination. Traditional varieties of maize
in isolated mountain valleys in Mexico have become contaminated with US
GMO maize. "Co-existence is not only impossible," says Dr. Doreen
Stabinsky of Greenpeace International, "but by pretending it is possible,
the task force threatens sectors of great importance to India - its
basmati rice exports and its organic agricultural sector. This is a
foolish and short-sighted report."

Additionally, the panel recommends that the Ministry of Agriculture
(which is also producing GMOs), be appointed the regulating body for all
GMOs! The panel is also startling in its suggestion of using the Atomic
Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) as the optimal model on which the new
Agricultural Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (ABRA) should be
structured - considering that the AERB is widely recognized as suffering
the most notorious lack of transparency and accountability.

The Report of the Task force on Application of Bio Technology in
Agriculture may be downloaded from here:
http://greenpeaceindia.org/uploaded/documents/document_123.doc

For further information, please contact:
Dr. Ashesh Tayal, Scientific Advisor Greenpeace India: +91 98455 35404
atayal@dialb.greenpeace.org
Dr. Doreen Stabinsky, Greenpeace International, in Bangalore on 6th May:
080 - 51154861 doreen.stabinsky@dialb.greenpeace.org
Namrata Chowdhary, Media Officer, Greenpeace India: +91 98108 50092


************************************


6. Bt Cotton, Again

Article from Frontline 21 (10), India. Date: 8 May 2004
Asha Krishnakumar
http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl2110/stories/20040521001408100.htm

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee approves a fourth Bt cotton
variety for commercial cultivation even as crops raised earlier using
other varieties have been disappointing. THE Genetic Engineering Approval
Committee (GEAC), India's regulatory authority for transgenic products,
has approved yet another transgenic Bt cotton, RCH 2, for commercial
cultivation in the central and southern parts of the country.

Developed by Rassi Seeds, a sub-licensee of the American multinational
Monsanto, RCH 2 is the fourth Bt cotton seed variety to be released for
commercial cultivation. The varieties Bt Mech 12, Bt Mech 162 and Bt Mech
184, all developed by Monsanto in collaboration with the Maharashtra
Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco), its Indian partner, were approved by the
GEAC in March 2002.

Said GEAC Chairperson Bina Chotray: "We have given conditional approval
for the commercial cultivation of the Bt cotton seed RCH 2 in Madhya
Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu for three
years. As in the case of the other three varieties of Bt cotton approved
earlier, the performance of RCH 2 will be reviewed within three years for
further any extension of the approval."

On April 22, the GEAC, which functions under the Ministry of Environment
and Forests, approved large-scale field trials and production of seeds of
12 varieties of Bt cotton hybrids developed by Raasi Seeds, Ankur Seeds,
(another sub-licensee of Monsanto, and Mahyco). These Bt cotton hybrids
contain the Bt cry 1 ac gene developed by Monsanto.

Raasi Seeds has been allowed to conduct trials of RCH 118 Bt and RCH 559
Bt in Central India, RCH 368 Bt in South India and RCH 317 Bt in North
India. Ankur Seeds has been allowed to conduct trials of Ankur 651 Bt and
Ankur 2534 Bt in North India and Ankur 651 Bt and Ankur 09 Bt in Central
India. Mahyco has been given the go-ahead for trials of MRC 6301 Bt and
MRC 6160 Bt in Central India and MRC 6301 Bt and MRC 6322 Bt in South India.

The three Bt cotton varieties approved in March 2002 are grown in
Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Andhra
Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. But in the first year of commercial cultivation,
2002-03, reports from different parts of the country indicated a "failed"
or "unsatisfactory" harvest of the first round of commercial transgenic
Bt cotton crop. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture asked
the Centre to re-evaluate the economic viability of Bt cotton. Meanwhile,
the GEAC rejected the use of the Mech 915 Bt cotton seed in Punjab,
Haryana and Rajasthan.

The 55,000 farmers who sowed cotton seed on over 42,000 hectares across
the country last year were an unhappy lot. This was corroborated by
studies conducted by the governments of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat,
Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, as also by independent agencies.
Following widespread complaints of failure of Bt cotton in Madhya Pradesh
early last year, the GEAC commissioned a seven-member team of scientists
to evaluate the performance of the crop. The study showed that Bt cotton
failed in Madhya Pradesh "due to wilting and large-scale drying of the
crop at the peak bolling stage, accompanied by leaf-dropping and
shedding, as also forced bursting of immaculate bolls". According to the
study, non-Bt plants performed much better.

A six-member panel set up by the Gujarat government under S.K. Sangami
Joint Director, Agriculture (Oilseeds), to evaluate the performance of Bt
cotton in the State said that "it is unfit for cultivation and should be
banned in the State".

The Andhra Pradesh government set up a team under Dr. Abdul Qayoom,
former Joint Director of Agriculture, to evaluate the performance of Bt
cotton after Agriculture Minister Vadde Sobhandreswara Rao announced in
the Assembly that "the overall information is that farmers have not
experienced positive and encouraging results" and hence they had to be
compensated. The study showed that "Bt cotton has totally failed" as crop
yields were lower than those in the case of non-Bt cotton, besides the
staple being shorter and of lower weight. In several villages in Andhra
Pradesh, the majority of farmers reported Bt cotton yields of 15 quintals
a hectare against 35 quintals a hectare of common hybrid varieties. (The
company has said that it will compensate farmers only for the failure of
the seeds to germinate and for the absence of the genetic purity
promised, and not for yield losses.)

Transgenic Bollgard cotton seeds, which are easy to identify thanks to
their blue colour.

In Karnataka, studies by Greenpeace India showed that not only were Bt
yields lower than yields in the case of other hybrid varieties, but input
costs were much higher and crop quality quite poor. A Bt cotton
evaluation study carried out in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh by Gene
Campaign, a Delhi-based agricultural policy think tank, reported complete
failure of the crop in both the States. The study showed that 60 per cent
of the farmers did not recover costs.

A study conducted in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and
Karnataka by the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology,
a Delhi-based non-governmental organisation (NGO), yielded similar results.

According to the study, not only did the Bt seed not protect the plant
from bollworm attack, but the plant was subject to a 250-300 per cent
increase in attacks by non-target pests such as Jassids. Bt plants also
fell prey to a fungal disease, fusarium. Apart from low yield, the fibre
harvested was very short and fetched poor prices. Compared to non-Bt
varieties, Bt seeds are more expensive and the Bt crop needs more
fertilizers and water. The study concluded that Bt cotton was not suited
for Indian conditions.

Despite the abysmal record of Bt cotton last year, the Union government
has gone ahead and approved the commercial cultivation of the fourth Bt
cotton variety, RCH 2.