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Failed Promises: The Rise and Fall of GM Cotton in India

GM in India

GM cotton was first introduced to India in 2002 by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Ltd which is a joint venture between Mahyco Seeds and Monsanto India. The company sub-licenses the GM technology to 49 Indian seed firms. Backed by an aggressive advertising campaign involving everything from dancing girls to celebrity endorsement, Bt cotton became the dominant force in Indian cotton production. About 90% of the India’s cotton area of 11.8 million hectares is GM.

Such market domination became a big threat to the non-GM and organic cotton seed market, making it harder and harder for farmers to source local varieties of non-GM seed, thus cutting their choices and threatening seed sovereignty in the country.

In 2012, Textile Exchange – a global non-pro t organization that works to make the textile industry more sustainable - put out a call to action and established a multi-stakeholder roundtable to try to address the problems faced by farmers as supply of non-GM, and particularly organic seed became scarcer. At that time GM was considered one of the biggest threats to the future of sustainable organic cotton in the country and elsewhere.

However, just five years later, the story is very different. As this report demonstrates, the tide has turned on GM, the false promises from the industry are proving to be a disaster for Indian farmers and GM looks set to all but disappear from the country, almost as quickly as it arrived.

What is GM cotton?

Developed by Monsanto, genetically modified cotton, often referred to as Bt cotton, is created by inserting one or more genes from strains of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) into a cotton plant. Bt produces toxins which act as an insecticide. Essentially, rather than using insecticide sprays, the plants themselves become the insecticide, as they are engineered to produce toxins in every part of the plant to defend against insect attacks. In the United States, Bt cotton plants are themselves registered as pesticides.

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