Another Biotech Disaster: Roundup Ready Cotton Fails
Pesticide Action Network
October 7, 1997
Problems with Herbicide Tolerant Cotton in U.S.
According to a report by the Center for Ethics and Toxics,
farmers throughout the mid-south region of the U.S. began
experiencing problems with Roundup Ready cotton in August
1997 as cotton bolls began falling off the genetically
engineered plants. The failing cotton plants contained an
inserted gene that should make the plants able to withstand
two seasonal applications of Roundup herbicide (Monsanto's
brand name for the herbicide glyphosate). The Center for
Ethics and Toxics is a California-based, non-profit
Roundup Ready cotton was grown commercially in the U.S for
the first time this year. In early spring, approximately
600,000 acres of the bioengineered crop, created by Monsanto,
were sown across the cotton belt. This equals about 2.3% of the
14 million acres of cotton planted nationwide.
Approximately three quarters of the way through the growing
season, some cotton bolls became misshapen after the second
Roundup application and began to fall off the plants.
These failings reportedly occurred in the states of
Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana. In August,
Robert McCarty of the Bureau of Plant Industry in Mississippi
stated, "We are receiving complaints from farmers everyday."
According to McCarty, the complaints were all identical: the
bolls become deformed and subsequently fall off the plant.
Bill Robertson, a cotton specialist in Arkansas claims that
farmers in his state had similar problems. "We call the
malformation 'parrot beaked,' because the bolls look like the
beaks of parrots, then they fall off of the plant before they
are mature," Robertson said. The first reports of the crop
failure estimated that between 4,000 - 5,000 acres were
affected, although according to McCarty, there were at least
20,000 affected acres in Mississippi alone. "Now that is a
lot of acreage, economically speaking. Some farmers are
losing $1 million due to this problem," he said.
According to Karen Marshall of Monsanto, "There are a number
of environmental factors that can put stress on cotton
plants." But the failures do not appear to be occurring in
all cotton varieties, just those that are genetically
engineered to withstand Roundup. Sunny Jeter, a marketing
representative for Monsanto, insisted that the failure was
only occurring in a very small portion of the Roundup Ready
cotton crops. She emphasized that Monsanto is being very
proactive in getting information to farmers about the
problem. However, Tommy McDaniel, a State of Mississippi
agricultural specialist stated that "Monsanto is not talking
to anyone and they are not saying what is causing the
The failure is occurring in Roundup Ready Paymaster varieties
#1244, #1215, #1330, and #1220. These same varieties without
the Roundup Ready gene were used in the two previous years
without any apparent problems.
Researchers at the Center for Ethics and Toxics stated, "We
tried to speak to a Monsanto scientist to ask why crop
failures are occurring and were told that the information is
not available. The U.S. government does not require this type
of reporting, leaving the public and the farming community
alike in the dark about the true cause of the problem."
According to the Center, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's
Director of Biotechnology and Scientific Services admitted he
was "totally unaware of the problem."
"We think this result underscores our concern that mass
planting of transgenic crops are at the least premature,"
said Britt Bailey from the Center for Ethics and Toxics. "We
are left with disturbing questions as transgenic crops go
into mass production. How much are we willing to jeopardize
the evolutionary future of food crops? How much uncertainty
is generated by transgenic creation of new plants?"
Source: "Genetically Engineered Cotton in Jeopardy," by Marc
Lappe and Britt Bailey, Center for Ethics and Toxics,
September 10, 1997.
Contact: Center for Ethics and Toxics, Box 673, 39175 S.
Highway 1, Gualala, CA 95445; phone (707) 884-1700; fax (707)
884-1846; email firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.cetos.org.