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Date:

February 24, 2003

Subject:

Indian Bt Cotton Debate - Follow up

 

Today in AgBioView Special (February 25, 2003): Indian Bt Cotton Debate -
Follow up and Reader Responses

* India Debates Results of Its First Transgenic Cotton Crop
* The Great Cotton Debate - Klaus Ammann
* More On Bt Cotton in India - TC Jain
* On Bt Cotton in India - Chandra Prakash
* One Swallow Does Not Make The Summer -
* Intelligent Public Discourse - David Tribe
* More by Kameswara Rao On Mahyco Varieties
* Comment by Bob MacGregor


Note From the Moderator

Dear Friends: Following comments from Klaus Ammann, TC Jain, Chandra
Prakash, Kameshwar Rao , David Tribe, and Bob MacGregor relate to the Bt
cotton debate that I had posted on Feb 21 ("Bt Cotton in India - How
Successful Is It?"). Also posted right below is a story from 'Nature' on
the issue.

- CS Prakash


-----

India Debates Results of Its First Transgenic Cotton Crop

- K.S. Jayaraman, Nature, vol. 421, p 681 (2003), Feb 13, 2003

New Delhi - India has just collected its first commercial harvest of
transgenic cotton. But even as the last bolls were being picked, arguments
were beginning over the crop's success.

About 50,000 farmers planted transgenic cotton in India last year, after
the government licensed commercial use of the crop in March. The plants
carry a gene for producing a toxin from the bacterium Bacillus
thuringiensis (Bt), making them resistant to the bollworm caterpillars
that ruin up to half the crop each year.

Assessments are being muddied by the lack of a large-scale, independent
survey. The season was hailed as a success by the company that sells the
seeds, Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (MMB) --a joint venture between Maharashtra
Hybrid Seed Company in Jalna and Monsanto in St Louis, Missouri. Yields
were up and pesticide use down, the firm claims. Environmental groups, on
the other hand, report the opposite effects.

An analysis of the field trials that preceded the licensing indicates that
transgenic cotton may benefit Indian agriculture, however. Agricultural
economists Matin Qaim of the University of Bonn in Germany and David
Zilberman of the University of California, Berkeley, examined controlled
trials of Bt cotton grown in 157 farms across three Indian states. Their
results, published last week (M. Qaim and D. Zilberman, Science 299,
900902; 2003), show that transgenic varieties gave 80% higher yields and
allowed farmers to cut pesticide use by 70% compared with normal cotton.
"The farmers were very positive," says Qaim.

Bt cotton reduces total cost when there is a heavy bollworm infestation,
says Ebrahimali Abubacker Siddiq, former deputy director of crop science
at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, and chair of the committee
that monitored the trials and the commercial planting. But he points out
that the government's analysis of the 2001 trial puts the increase in
yield at 2060%. "Claiming increased yields of 80% will raise farmers'
expectations," he cautions.

A number of issues remain to be resolved, warn researchers, including the
possibility that bollworms may develop resistance to the insecticide
produced by the plants. The government requires farmers using Bt cotton to
grow ordinary cotton on 20% of their land to delay the spread of
resistance. But Devinder Sharma of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food
Security, an environmental group based in New Delhi, says that many
farmers failed to comply with this condition.

Absence of a mechanism to assess long-term effects is another problem,
adds Siddiq. "Hardly anything is known about how long the leftover biomass
of transgenic crops would remain in the soil and what kind of
environmental impact it would have," he says.

Such issues are being studied by groups on all sides of the debate, while
state governments and agricultural researchers push to introduce more
transgenic crops to India. Insect-resistant varieties of rice, chickpea
and a pulse called pigeon pea are awaiting large-scale trials. The
department of agriculture in Andhra Pradesh is hoping to introduce
insect-resistant varieties of sorghum and peanuts within two years. In
December the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences endorsed the
introduction of salt-tolerant rice, now undergoing trials.

Additional reporting by John Whitfield, London.

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

The Great Cotton Debate

- Klaus Ammann

Dear friends,

This is an important debate on the benefits of transgenic cotton, started
by a Science article authored by Matin Quim and David Zilbermann, a first
comment by Shantu Shantaram and all the follow up comments. I read with
growing interest the debate on AgBioView, the great discussion network of
my friend Prakash.

I think, the biotech promotion community has to go through such a debate
about the scientific arguments, and it can afford it. It is even an
absolute necessity to do this.

And this debate shows the genuine driving force behind the people
promoting this technology: it is all about the science, when yield and
biosafety are discussed - which does by all means not say, that other,
non-scientific issues are not equally important (see my final citation).

A pro-community which does not go through a thorough scrutiny of
scientific argumentation when debating the benefits, does not deserve
credibility. Only then we can blame GM opponents of not keeping to
science, when we ourself respect the often tedious procedure of scientific
data screening.

Overall: the debate on the lacking benefits in transgenic cotton is lost
for the opponents.

let me end with Swaminathan (my guru in the true sense of the word):
"Genomics, proteomics and Nanotechnology can provide uncommon
opportunities for a sustainable human future rooted in the principles of
ecology, gender and social equity only if we apply a strong ethical pull
to the technological push."

First the recent (and present) debate and then some background
documentation, as usual.

Klaus

++++++
The Science paper February 7, 2003
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/20030207-Cotton-Debate-Quaim-Zilberman-Bt-Cotton.pdf


The Nature paper February 7, 2003: I have taken out the unexplained and
unmotivated citation "I have found a drastic failure of transgenic Bt
cotton Afsar Jafri RFSTE, Delhi, from Vandana Shivas kitchen", which again
- as Nature always does, is given in a 'neutral' context, instead of
naming it what it really is: bullsh... (I doubt whether this was inserted
by the author himself).
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/20030207-Cotton-Debate-Whitfield-Nature.pdf


Padma's article in the Asian Times, full of misinterpretations, February
19, 2003
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/20030219-Cotton-Debate-Padma.pdf

The start of the cotton debate in AgBioView with Shantu Shantaram and
Prakash February 20 or earlier, 2003
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/20030220-Cotton-Debate-Shantaram-Prakash.pdf


Answer of Quaim to Shantaram February 20, 2003
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/20030220-Cotton-Debate-Quaim-Answer.pdf


Answer of Smetacec (Mahyco Monsanto Biotech) February 21, 2003
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/20030220-Cotton-Debate-Smetacek.pdf

Answer of Rick Roush to Shantaram February 21, 2003
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/20030221-Cotton-Debate-Roush.pdf

Final words of Shantu Shantaram February 23, 2003, more later
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/20030223-Cotton-Debate-Shantaram-final.pdf


Comment of Kameswara Rao February 23. 2003 (See below....CSP)
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/20030223-Cotton-Debate-Rao.pdf

and some background information: Australia material:
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/Australia-1CottonReportpp1-14.pdf
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/Australia-2CottonReportpp15-56.pdf
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/Australia-3CottonReport57-76.pdf
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/Australia-4CottonReport77-104.pdf
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/Australia-5CottonReport105-136.pdf
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/Australia-Annual-Operating-Plan_2000-2001.pdf
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/Australia-Annual-Operating-Plan_2002-2003.pdf
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/Australia-Dryland_Cotton_Prod3.pdf
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/Australia-IngardBook_Print2000-01.pdf
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/Australia-Spotlight-Cotton.pdf
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/Australia-Strategic_Plan-1998-2003.pdf



Study from the USA
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/Carpenter-Gianessi-Cotton-Beltwide20000108.pdf


Study from China including health benefits
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/Impact-China-Prey-200105.pdf

The ominous Greenpeace study and a selection of its numerous comments
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/China-Greenpeace-XUEdayuan.pdf

and a selection of comments from AgBioView and www.bio-scope.org

Op-ed Oliver Rautenberg in www.bio-scope.org
http://www.bio-scope.org/disp_doc.cfm?id=91957B2D2FE44CEDBD0FBC96812043B1

Backgrounder by Kameswara Rao in www.bio-scope.org
http://www.bio-scope.org/disp_doc.cfm?id=8F9AD04C256A4D36949ACF7CFE6B1629

Rejection of Wu, author cited in Greenpeace report:
http://www.bio-scope.org/disp_doc.cfm?id=3211937321D94F178894763F6730ED25

Comment of Shantu Shantaram in AgBioView and www.bio-scope.org
http://www.bio-scope.org/disp_doc.cfm?id=F9CDC6A07B1E46AB80E04CD61AA7AF0E

Comment of Chinese Scientists Jia and Peng in AgBioView and
www.bio-scope.org
http://www.bio-scope.org/disp_doc.cfm?id=0C188125AA414102AC73A69093350C5B

Comment of Wayne Parrot in www.bio-scope.org
http://www.bio-scope.org/disp_doc.cfm?id=AAC4E4CD97B44C4FAFE6DD1F92139804

Comment of Gathmann and Bartsch in www.bio-scope.org
http://www.bio-scope.org/disp_doc.cfm?id=E88D642B724F455BB1548498AB6D0EA8

And a German comment from Rufener Al Mazyad - Ammann
http://www.novo-magazin.de/60/novo6034b.htm

The controversy about the WWF-Backgrounder on cotton
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/WWF-Cotton-Background-March-20000726.pdf
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/WWF-Cotton-Background-Update-20000914.pdf


The comment from Carpenter-Gianessi
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/WWF-Cotton-Carpenter-Rebuttal-20000925.pdf


The regulatory facts (USA)
http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/biopesticides/

The decisive lines:
"After a thorough review process, EPA determined that there is reasonable
certainty that Bt cotton will not pose unreasonable risks to human health
or to the environment. In order to reduce the possibility of insects
developing resistance to Bt, the amended registration requires that some
acres be set aside where non-Bt cotton will be grown to serve as a
'refuge.' "

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

More On Bt Cotton in India

From Chandra Prakash, India (No Relation to CS!)

Dear Dr. C. S. Prakash: Let me tell you that I admire your efforts in
creating the excellence of AgBioView. I read it regularly every morning. I
am submitting below the opinion of Dr. T.C. Jain (with his approval) for
publication in AgBioView on Bt Cotton. With Best Regards. -- Sincerely
yours, Chandra Prakash

----------
On Bt Cotton in India

Comments of Dr. T.C. Jain , an Indian Agronomist with
extensive past
experience in The World Bank and Indian Council of Agricultural Research,
New Delhi:

I am sorry to say that we are fighting to find a scientific basis in an
unscientific manner. I have gone through all the comments and I realized
there are two basic issues:

1. Compilation of data and their reliability, and
2. Interpretation

Most critics as well as supporters have agreed that we should not question
the reliability of the data and I fully endorse it. But we have to
understand and appreciate the methodology used and the source. I have
serious reservations on the data collected through questionnaire and
especially from the farmers in India. Secondly the data pertains to a very
specific year 2001 when the pest attack was severe and the yield reduction
in cotton was quite heavy.

In my opinion the whole controversy will disappear if the interpretation
of these results is concluded as " During heavy infestation of pest in
India during the year 2001 the data collected through survey indicated 80
% increase in yield through use of Bt cotton over existing varieties
rather than sweeping statement like "Bt cotton can give 80% higher yield
in India". At least I will accept it and every one should accept it.

But the most interesting part is interpretation. Here is a case of 80%; I
would give you the example that it can be as high as 500% when the cotton
fails to yield any thing due to severe attack of pest. Bt cotton is not a
variety for higher yield but a safe variety against borer attack which is
a serious pest in most parts of the country and have almost regular
occurrence. since the variety is a safe guard against pest, it might have
no effect on yield of cotton if there is no incidence of pest and might
increase it manifolds under severe attack and as such will not only be
different from place to place but even from year to year at the same
place.

To illustrate what I have said, I would like to give you an interesting
example of our discussion at an International Institute of repute. The
scientists based on the survey results interpreted that there was no
difference in yield of the crop whether the pesticide was used or not
used. I fully endorse the data collected but the interpretation was
completely out of place. Because those farmers who used the pesticides
were required to use it to protect the crop and those who did not had no
serious problem. When I asked, can you tell me what would have happened to
the yield of the farmer's field that used the pesticide and would have not
used? There was no information. This is how often we misinterpret our
results particularly those compiled through some type of questionnaires?

=====

Comments of Chandra Prakash; , January 23, 2003

Dear Dr. Jain:

I thank you for sharing your opinion with me. I wish to make three points
which you are in a much better position to evaluate as an Agronomist and
with your extensive prior experience in World Bank in New Delhi and Indian
Council of Agricultural Research.

First is that why all this should be shrouded with secrecy: in the present
day and time, all the raw data can be put on an easily accessible web
site? Our AIBA committee report which analyzed the sluggish growth of
Indian Biotechnology had written in this context "Confidentiality Breeds
Corruption". However the regulatory bodies such as Genetic Engineering
Approval Committee (GEAC) and Research Committee on Genetic Manipulation
(RCGM) actions of the past speak otherwise.

Second, the dissemination of technology can be retarded but not stopped
because technology spreads by diffusion. A view of Dr. Jeffrey Sachs,
Director of Centre for International Development at Harvard University
(Note from CSP Dr. Sachs is now at Columbia University's Earth Institute)
which I heard sitting in the audience made in the context of Biotechnology
in BIO 2000 in Boston in the inaugural address. Bt cotton means only
partial protection from the infestation of American bollworm. There is no
doubt that Bt cotton grown by Navbharat seeds and Monsanto-Mahyco has made
that point. Consequence is lesser use of harmful chemical pesticides and
resultant higher yields from lesser damage to the crop. This increase in
yield definitely has to be judged in view of the severity of bollworm pest
infestation but is a secondary issue other than proof of the technology.

Third, I find your comments most appropriate to appear in Agbioview and I
wish to forward them to Dr. C. S. Prakash of Tuskegee University and Dr.
Jeffrey Sachs of Harvard University and request your specific permission
and also to disclose your personal email address since that seems to be a
standard practice of Agbioview.

With Best Regards, Chandra Prakash

====
Final Response from Dr. Jain to Dr. Chandra Prakash

Dear Dr. (Chandra) Prakash:

Thanks for your quick response. As regards your two concerns, I fully
agree with these. It is the suspicion and secrecy in the scientific field
that is keeping this country two decades behind other developed/developing
countries. It is because of this reason that our efforts in complimenting
public and private sector have not succeeded.

As you are aware, this is an issue close to my heart and I am ready to go
to any extent to achieve this objective. Second point regarding
dissemination of scientific and even general knowledge has to be
encouraged. The only precaution required is appropriate interpretation of
the experiences/results to restrict the misuse of the
information/knowledge. I have no objection if you like to share my views
with any Scientist/organization.

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

One Swallow Does Not Make The Summer -- Bt Cotton in India

- C. Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education,
Bangalore, India; E-mail: krao@vsnl.com; krao@fbae.org

A large number of people in India are praying for the success of Bt
cotton, not necessarily out of love for this crop, but because the failure
of Bt cotton will close the doors for other GE crops. We would like the
path of Golden Rice into India to be smoother than it has been for Bt
cotton and GE Mustard. We all would be very happy if rational, convincing
and non-provocative articles that explain the merits of GE technology, and
the risks based on scientific data, appear in different contexts.
Unfortunately, some of the articles that have come up in recent times have
done much damage to prospects of GE crops in India and elsewhere. Since
the case in point is Bt cotton, I confine my response to this crop.

A. Matin Qaim and David Zilberman, Science (February 7, 2003).

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), Government of India,
have given approval for commercial cultivation of Bt cotton for three
years. The prospects of the Bt cotton crop for this first year have been
largely affected by drought in many parts of India and the yields are not
what were expected to be. In addition to drought, we also have the problem
of clandestine or adulterated or spurious Bt cotton, in some parts of
India. We did nothing to stem this menace. Farmers are still picking
cotton in the irrigated fields. A number of NGOs are anxiously picking up
anything and everything to show Bt cotton in bad light.

It is only fair to wait till the end of the three-year period to declare
Bt cotton as a success or failure. In the meanwhile, it is certainly
reasonable to assess the prospects, in a non-judgemental way, using the
commercial results and certainly not field trial data, which have served
their purpose in gaining the approval of the GEAC. If we wait till the end
of the three-year period, the farmers themselves will come out with their
assessment of the benefits of Bt cotton. If the farmer is not convinced,
no amount of effort through articles in Science and Nature or the whole
world body of crop biotechnologists and governments can make the farmer
adopt this technology.

As per the unpublished data of Mahyco (Ref. 16 in the paper), over the
four-year period from 1998 to 2001, Bt cotton varieties showed an average
yield advantage of 60 per cent. How then, 80 per cent (which Ms Ranjana
Smetacek puts as the upper end of the spectrum than an average) or higher
yield advantage is realisable?

Three different varieties of Bt cotton, MECH 9, MECH 12 and MECH 162, were
approved for cultivation in different parts of the country. Table 1 in the
paper in Science seems to represent averaged data for all the Bt cotton
varieties. We need to know the difference in the performance of the three
Bt varieties and their isogenic counterparts, although each is meant for a
different region in the country. Why did not the authors pool up all the
four years' trial data, but chose only that of 2001?

The yield of the popular check variety is lower than that of the isogenic
non-Bt variety (Table 1). Different varieties of non-Mahyco cotton are
popular in different states. It is too unrealistic to pool all data and
declare that Mahyco's Bt variety is the King and its isogenic non-Bt
variety is the Prince in Waiting. An inescapable impression is that the
'popular' check varieties that are poorer than the isogenic non-Bt
varieties were chosen for comparison. I am not sure of other Mahyco
varieties of cotton, but in my experience MECH 162 is distinctly poorer
than two locally grown varieties Brahma and that of Indo-American Hybrid
Seeds, which I have seen in the Ranibennur area of the Karnataka State.
There are much better varieties of cotton in other countries.

The authors of the Science paper wrote, "we maintain that the limited
experience with GM crops so far is insufficient to make broad
generalisations about their impacts" (p 900). The Indian experience is
insignificant compared to the global experience with GE crops. It is
difficult to understand how the miniscule of the Indian field trial data
dramatically change the situation to justify generalisations for all the
developing counties and for all the GE crops.

The authors thanked Mahyco for making the field trial records available
(Reference 30). In his response to Drs Shantharam and Prakash, Dr Qaim
wrote "We have used the company field-trial records about pest infestation
levels, such as larval counts per plant. ** These were collected during
weekly trial visits by local company agronomists, and we received the
complete bundle of handwritten field records, not just aggregated summary
statistics". A number of people/agencies requested the GEAC to make such
trial data public and to place all relevant data on the website of the
Ministry or Mahyco/Monsanto. Dr Richard Roush also supports this view. By
demanding this, Dr Shantharam and I are not joining the green bandwagon,
but are only trying to make the regulatory process in India transparent
and convincing, in order to gain public confidence.

We do not blame Monsanto for not making the data public as the data were
generated by and were in possession of Mahyco. So far as I know, Mahyco's
response was a deafening silence. The Chairman of the GEAC maintained that
the data are confidential. At the time of GE mustard issue, he said that
field trial data (for all GE crops in India) would be made public only if
all the members of the GEAC agree, probably knowing fully well that the
GEAC meetings would neither be in full attendance nor unanimous in
decision making. I am surprised, even offended, that data considered
confidential for Indian workers were so freely available elsewhere.

Dr Qaim wrote in his response to Drs Shantharam and Prakash, that the
analysis of the authors is completely independent from that of Mahyco or
Monsanto. What did Mahyco's analysis show? Convincing data weaken the
anti-GE lobby. If Mahyco is confident, why the fear in making the data
public, when it was asked for? Since the technology came from the west,
should the data also follow the same route?

Dr Qaim wrote that "when pest-related yield losses are 50% of the genetic
yield potential, and suddenly you would be able to control this pest
damage, then- taking the actually achieved yield as the reference- the
yield increase would be 100%". Yes, this is theoretically possible only if
the bollworm is the sole pest and it is controlled 100 per cent by the GE
cotton variety. Dr Qaim's statement also means that the difference in the
levels of yield realisation will fall year after year, with shifting base
level, in relation to reduced pest pressure resulting from the continued
use of the GE variety.

A number of early data at different stages on GE crops have shown that
there would always be a short fall, up to a third, between the yield
values of small-field trials and realisation in the much larger commercial
cultivation. Even if the field trial data show 80 per cent yield gain,
this cannot not be fully realised, particularly when there are other pests
to contend with. Dr Devinder Sharma expressed similarly with reference to
non-GE rice.

The statement that "The yield gains are largely due to the Bt gene itself"
is unacceptable, since this gene has nothing to do with yield. Heterosis
was never known to be the function of a single gene.

Considering the basis and type of data used, the opinion of the authors
that the results on cotton "are easily transferable to food crops since
the type of pest damage they would sustain would be the same" is a little
farfetched.

I feel that the authors have over-reached at a time when the Editors of
Science misplaced their scissors. The net result is panic among
biotechnologists, for the harm the premature pronouncements would cause to
the introduction of GE technology into the developing countries.
Nevertheless, Dr Qaim's statement that, "our Science paper is not a
substitute for a careful analysis of broader Bt cotton impacts in India in
commercial agriculture", is a saving grace.


B. Ms T V Padma, Asia Times, February 19, 2003

When very few in India, even among the scientists, access Science, Ms
Padma reports of the 'civil society groups' being taken aback by the
article in Science, 'at a time when ground realities speak of massive
failures (of Bt cotton)'. So far as the 2002-03 cotton season is
concerned, there is a failure of the cotton crop in general, but is it
really massive failure of Bt cotton? Even if true, did any one analyse the
causes and in the first place what was the source of the seed, and what
were the cultural practices?

I wonder what would be the response of Ms Padma to the yield and economic
data and the opinion of several agricultural experts, posted by Ms Ranjana
Smetacek on AgBioView, which are diametrically opposite of what Ms Padma
recorded.

I do not know if Ms Padma had ever visited a Bt cotton field, but in my
field experience Bt cotton is doing fine and is very promising, not
withstanding the hue and cry of the so called civil society groups to the
contrary. I have full faith that Bt cotton will prove beneficial in the
long run, irrespective of the current hiccups.

Ms Padma and Dr Devinder Sharma are right in distinguishing between
virtual increase in yield due to the genetic potential of a crop variety
and the realisation of increased yield due to protection from loss.

Journalists, bureaucrats and Dr Vandana Shiva know every thing under the
sun, but even they should, once in a while, learn of some scientific facts
and ground realities before writing articles, taking decisions or
pronouncing verdicts.

One should understand that Bt cotton technology is meant to control only
the bollworms, which cause the maximum damage to the commercial product
that is cotton. As an additional precautionary measure, one to three
pesticide sprayings are recommended, even on Bt cotton. There are other
pests, particularly sucking pests, occurring on Bt plants, to contend
with. These require adequate pesticide application for control. On the
whole, the amount of pesticide application is drastically reduced,
resulting in a substantial reduction in financial inputs. This also
results in reduced chemical pollution of the soil, reduced health risk to
the farm labour and reduced exposure of the non-target insect populations
to lethal chemicals.

If Bt cotton succumbed to pests as claimed by Ms Padma, Dr Devinder Sharma
and Dr Vandana Shiva, which are the pests responsible for it and what kind
and quantity of pesticides were sprayed and at what stage? If the farmer
thought that Bt cotton variety does not need any pesticide spraying at
all, it is the failure of agencies that are expected to guide the farmer
and not that of Bt cotton. Was there adequate amount of water?

Virtual increase in yield, susceptibility or tolerance/resistance to
drought, or fungal diseases has nothing to do with Bt technology. It is
absurd to suggest that Bt gene induces susceptibility to drought and
fungal diseases.

The GEAC has noted that Bt technology is only a part of Integrated Pest
Management for cotton, and we should not look much beyond this position.

The GEAC recommended 20 per cent or five rows of non-Bt cotton as a
refuge. The purpose of the refuge (or refugium or border) is to delay the
rate at which the bollworm develops resistance to the Bt protein. The
second purpose is to serve as a pollen sink, reducing the reach of cotton
pollen, thus curtailing chances of gene flow to the other non-Bt cotton
plants. Cotton plant has only one non-native wild relative in India,
Gossypium stocksii, which grows in the northern part of Gujarat, where
cotton is not cultivated. There is no chance of Bt cotton inter-crossing
with its wild relative. It is a biological absurdity to suggest that Bt
cotton will inter-cross with any and every species growing in the
vicinity.

The inferior quality of the varieties used to develop Bt varieties is
certainly a debatable issue. There are several non-Bt varieties showing
higher yields than the Bt isogenics. But weakness of the plant or stalk
breaking is not due to Bt genes. Unfavourable market forces and higher
cultivation costs, incurred out of ignorance or panic, cannot be the
burden of Bt technology

C. Dr Devinder Sharma, AgBioIndia, February 14, 2003

Dr Devinder Sharma would not miss, for anything in this world, the broad
side provided by Qaim and Zilberman. The World Bank Team Dr Sharma
mentioned have actually visited India but the author pair did not.

I do not agree with Dr Sharma in that the field trial data become suspect
simply because they were provided by the product generators. Even if the
Government of India had instituted a mechanism for evaluating field trial
data, the people involved would be suspected of collusion, by one side or
the other. We need to trust some one somewhere. But if it is implied that
only Greenpeace, Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology,
Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security and Gene Campaign are the only
one to be trusted in this country, it is absurd. I am grateful to these
bodies, for their verbal and written pronouncements, that tell us what
they think of science and technology. Otherwise, mischief will spread
silently, like water under the mat.

With the World Bank Team Dr Sharma mentioned, there was a language
problem. In the absence of such a difficulty, if the same farmers gave two
different and opposing versions on the performance of Bt cotton to the
scientific team and the NGOs, it is the farmers to be blamed and not Bt
technology or the companies that are behind it. Such farmers can plant
non-Bt cotton and say that it is Bt cotton that has ruined them or they
can plant Bt cotton and say that it is non-Bt cotton that has fared better
than the Bt cotton in the neighbouring field. And money makes many things.
I am beginning to feel that such things are happening or even made to
happen. In such a situation, even Dr Fred Perlak would not know the
difference between Bt and non-Bt plants. Obviously, many of us are not
honest.

The reason for not including the field trial data of the year 2000 by Qaim
and Zilberman is obvious, incorrect correct cropping practice. It is not
the responsibility of the authors, if some one did not read the paper
properly and mistook field trial data for actual commercial data of
2002-2003.

Dr Sharma's contention that cotton hybrids require more water than pure
lines and that Bt cotton is thirstier than all is strange and requires
rigorous scientific confirmation. Dr Sharma made a very serious charge
that the ICAR has jumped regulations to 'complete' field trials for
Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan and only the ICAR and the GEAC can answer
this.

If Bt cotton varieties of both Mahyco and Rasi Seeds are under trial in
the three northern states, it is certainly welcome and this should be
extended to the southern states as well. May the best variety gain the
confidence of the farmers and the public.

It is unbelievable that cotton farmers in Manasa, Punjab, have achieved
very high yields by organic farming, without fertilisers and pesticides!
They would probably gain much more by growing Bt varieties organically.
What is the logic behind considering that organic farming and GE
technology are mutually incompatible?

D. My points

a) Farmers should be educated on how to grow cotton on scientific lines.
Cotton is being grown on soils that are patently unsuitable. Irrigation
will certainly give a better crop. The cotton field on a Mahyco farm near
Ranibennur was a pleasant sight. If farmers were educated to grow cotton
on such scientific lines, the yields would be much higher. In fact the
difference in the culture practices of scientific farming and farmer
farming is responsible for the disparities in yield data between the two.

b) Supervision after the sale of the Bt cottonseed is grossly inadequate.
The regulation on refuge was not strictly followed. I have seen only three
rows of refuge in some fields and in one case no refuge at all. When
questioned, the smiling farmer said that all the cotton fields surrounding
his Bt cotton are non-Bt and so they serve as the refuge!

c) The Indian Regulatory process requires formation of State Level and
District Level bodies, without which growing GE crops becomes illegal. How
many states have formed these boards and how many of them have actually
permitted growing Bt cotton? I gather only 12 states have state level
committees, but what about the other states and what about District Level
bodies?

d) The Indian Regulatory system requires a thorough reform. The regulatory
process should be rational, uniform, transparent and expedient.
The GEAC showed different attitudes for Bt cotton and GE mustard, in an
identical situation. All information is shrouded in a cloak of official
secrecy. The GEAC does not seem to have competent scientific staff to
prepare briefs and advice. The scientific members of the GEAC are usually
too busy even to attend its meetings. The GEAC should make all relevant
test/trial data public and hold public hearings before taking decisions on
the introduction of GE products.

e) Farmers are very unhappy at the loss they suffer on account of cotton
refuge. The FBAE suggested a non-cotton refuge. The American bollworm
being polyphagous on about 90 crops, crops like red gram, sunflower,
maize, chillies, sunn hemp, etc., can be used for refuge. Since the damage
bollworm causes to the commercial product of these crops is not as
extensive as on cotton, the farmers would get some economic returns
without affecting the scientific purpose of a refuge. At the European
Commission conference on Sustainable Agriculture for Developing Countries
held at Brussels (January 30, 31, 2003), Dr Jim Peacock, Chief of CSIRO
Plant Industry, Australia, told me that they also have been using
non-cotton refuge. We did nothing in India in this regard. Would someone
with the required facilities undertake to assess the possibilities of
using non-cotton refuge?

f) There were reports from the US, that lower levels of pesticide
application have encouraged predators of the sucking pests and reduced
their density. Heavy pesticide loads in the cotton fields earlier
discouraged the predators. Dr Jim Peacock confirms this for Australia,
(though not for the white fly, which is a minor pest on Australian
cotton), and that this has also reduced the pesticide levels required to
control the sucking pests. We need to gather data on this aspect in the
remaining two years of Bt cotton probation.

*********

Intelligent Public Discourse

- David Tribe (University of Melbourne, Australia);
detribe@optushome.com.au:

Dear friends: Here some pretty enthusiastic debate about an important
topic. I'm happy to acknowledge my pride in the energy and civility of my
scientific friends CS Prakash and Rick Roush in intelligent public
discourse

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

Mahyco cotton

- From: Kameshwar Rao

I have been saying all along that MECH 162 (I do not know of other
varieties) is inferior to non-Mahyco cotton varieties grown in India, for
example Brahma and that of the Indo-American Hybrid Seeds, in Karnataka.
An educated farmer, who is also a graduate in agriculture, gave me the
comparison:

MECH 162: staple length <24 mm; boll weight <4.2 g
Other varieties: staple length: >30 mm; boll weight >6.0 g

These averaged values need not be taken as absolute, but only as pointers
to the ground situation.

I am beginning to believe that Mahyco pushed a variety it found difficult
to sell otherwise.Bt genes are a value addition to this poor performer. If
the base variety were to be better, the yield would have been much
higher.

Another problem I found with MECH 162 is that there segregation in the
carpel number (four or five), which has an influence on the quantum of
yield.

In the end it looks that the choice of Mahyco varieties has done some
damage to the image of Bt cotton. Some people (including Shantharam)
argued with me that it is the corporate right of the product generating
company to choose the variety to incorporate the event. To me it looks
unethical to deliberately choose a poor performer and that there must be
some mechanism that ensures the choice of good performers to incorporate
events. Fault lies with Monsanto for not doing their ground work on the
varietal performance.

The following unnamed commentator just makes this point by saying that
farmers do not like the basic Mahyco varieties.

KR


>>I spent 2 weeks in India and 1 week in China recently reviewing
>>project on insecticide resistance management in cotton. One of the issues
>>that we looked at was the expansion of Bt cotton. I was interested to
>>read the latest Agbioview on this topic. The formally undocumented
situation
>>on the ground in India is interesting.
>
>>The MAYHCO Bt cotton is apparently not well-liked agronomically by
farmers,
>>although adoption is going ahead due to its pest resistance. In contrast,
>>the illegal Bt cotton that was introduced to India in 2000, is spreading
>>quickly in northern India. there must
>>have been more than 100,000 ha of illegal Bt cotton planted in India in
>>2002. It might be worthwhile to contact Keshav about the informal
>>developments for Bt cotton in India.
>
>>Bt cotton is spreading rapidly in China - in two provinces - Shandong and
>>Hebei - it comprises close to 100% of the cotton grown.
>
>
**********************************************

From: "Bob MacGregor"
Re: AGBIOVIEW SPECIAL: Bt Cotton in India - How Successful Is It?


When the next Indian cotton planting season rolls around, I would like to
see how many of the farmers that grew Bt cotton this year decide to plant
it again next. This will be a REAL test of how successful the crop is and
will be a better evaluation of how accurately Monsanto/Mahyco vs.
Greenpeace have reported the performance of Bt cotton this year.

These seeds are labelled, after all; let the farmers decide what works for
them!


- BOB