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Date:

March 20, 2007

Subject:

AgBioView Special: Five Years of Bt Cotton In India - BioSpectrum

 

AgBioView Special: Five Years of Bt Cotton In India - BioSpectrum - From AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org

More at http://biospectrumindia.com/

* India beats China in Bt cotton cultivation
* Safety Aspects and Benefits of Bt Cotton
* Regulatory Regime for GM Products in India
* Bt Cotton is Better, Feel Dharwad Farmers
* Punjab's Bt Cotton Cultivators Are Optimistic
* Bt cotton....technology has been beneficial to farmers
* Interview with Clive James

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India Beats China in Bt Cotton Cultivation

- Rolly Dureha, Ch. Srinivas Rao and Narayan Kulkarni. BioSpectrum (India), March 2007, http://biospectrumindia.com/content/CoverStory/10703071.asp

For the first time, India grew more Bt cotton (3.8 million hectares) than China (3.5 million hectares) and moved up the world ranking by two places to number five in the world of biotech crops, overtaking both China and Paraguay.

Cotton cultivation in India covers an area of approximately 9 million hectares, representing about one quarter of the global area of 35 hectares under cotton. Cotton is cultivated by four million small farmers and involves many more in the processing, textile manufacture and trade. However, the average yield of cotton, 440 kg/ha, is far below the world average of 677 kg/ha and the production is only about 16 percent (4.13 million tons) of the world production of 26.19 million tons.

The main losses in cotton production are due to its susceptibility to about 162 species of insect pests and a number of diseases. Among the insects, cotton bollworms are the most serious pests of cotton in India causing annual losses of at least $300 million. It is estimated that insecticides worth $660 million are used annually on all crops in India of which more than half are used on cotton. For example, in 2001, the cost of 21,500 metric tons of insecticides used on cotton was worth $340 million. Further, among the cotton bollworm complex, the American Bollworm or the Helicoverpa armigera is the most destructive pest and has developed resistance against most of the recommended insecticides. This has forced the farmers to apply as many as 10-16 insecticide sprays on the crop.

The Genesis

In this scenario, incorporating insect resistance has been an important objective in the cotton improvement efforts. In 2002, after extensive testing, Bt cotton was introduced for commercial cultivation in the country for a period of three years, till March 2005. Bt cotton is a variety of cotton genetically modified to contain a gene (cry1Ac) of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which is foreign to its genome and is a naturally occurring soil bacterium used to control Lepidopteran insects because of a toxin it produces. Splicing this gene within the genetic structure of cotton makes the cotton plant poisonous to the boll weevil, the notorious cotton pest. The US-registered multinational corporation, Monsanto, first developed Bt cotton and three genetically modified cotton hybrids (Bt Mech 12, Bt Mech 162 and Bt Mech 184) developed by Monsanto in collaboration with its Indian partner Mahyco were released for commercial cultivation in central and southern India in 2002.

India approximately grew 50,000 hectares of officially approved Bt cotton hybrids for the first time in 2002, and doubled its Bt cotton area to approximately 1,00,000 hectares in 2003. During April 2004, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the regulatory authority for transgenic crops in India, approved RCH 2 Bt developed by Rasi Seeds for commercial cultivation in central and southern parts of India. With this, RCH 2 Bt became the fourth transgenic cotton crop to be approved for commercial cultivation. This resulted in an increase of the total Bt cotton area in the country by fourfold in 2004 to reach half a million hectares.

In addition, during 2004, GEAC approved 12 Bt cotton varieties in the country for large-scale field trials and seed production: RCH 118 Bt and RCH 559 Bt in central India, RCH 368 Bt in south India and RCH 317 Bt in north India by Rasi seed; Ankur 651 Bt and Ankur 2534 Bt in north India, Ankur 651 Bt and Ankur 09 Bt in central India by Ankur seeds; and MRC 6301 Bt, MRC 6160 Bt in central India and MRC 6301 Bt and MRC 6322 Bt in South India by Mahyco.

The players

Presently the 62 approved hybrids are being marketed by the following seed companies from India:

All the Bt cotton hybrids developed by these three companies contained Bt cry 1 Ac gene developed by the US seed multinational, Monsanto. While Mahyco has been Monsanto's partner in India, Rasi Seeds and Ankur Seeds are sub-licensees of Monsanto.

Increasing the spread

In April 2005, the GEAC approved six new Bt cotton hybrids for commercial cultivation in northern India. In May 2005, post reviewing the performance of the three Bt cotton hybrids commercialized by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (MMB) during the period 2002-2005, the GEAC renewed permission for MMB to market MECH-12 Bt, MECH-162 Bt and MECH-184 Bt in the central zone (Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra) for another two years. It approved cultivation of MECH-162 Bt and MECH-184 Bt in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, but not of MECH-12 Bt. In addition, for central India, five new hybrids were approved for commercial cultivation - RCH-144 Bt and RCH-118 (of Rasi Seeds), MRC-6301 Bt (Mahyco) and Ankur-681 and Ankur-09 (Ankur Seeds). For the south, Mahyco's MRC-6322 Bt and MRC-6918 Bt and Raasi's RCH-20 Bt and RCH-368 Bt were approved. In 2005, the area under Bt cotton in India continued to climb reaching 1.3 million hectares, an increase of 160 percent over 2004.

The GEAC also approved 20 large-scale field trials for different types of Bt cotton in south and central India. Significantly these trials included the testing of three different "events" via the JKCH-1947 of JK Agri Seeds (Containing cry1Ac event 1 developed by the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur), NECH-6R Bt of Nath Seeds (containing fusion genes cry1Ab/cry1Ac from China) and 02-50 VIP of Syngenta Seeds in north India.

Current scenario

According to latest survey findings of The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), in 2006, the record increase in adoption continued with almost a tripling of area of Bt cotton to 3.8 million hectares. In 2006, this tripling in area was the highest year-on-year growth for any country in the world. Notably, India's Bt cotton area in 2006 (3.8 million hectares) exceeded for the first time with that of China (3.5 million hectares), the third largest cotton producer in the world. Of the 6.3 million hectares of hybrid cotton in India in 2006, which represented 70 percent of all the cotton area in India, 60 percent or 3.8 million hectares was Bt cotton-a remarkably high proportion in a fairly short period of five years. Of the 3.8 million hectares of hybrid Bt cotton grown in India in 2006, 34 percent was under irrigation and the 66 percent rainfed.

A total of 62 Bt cotton hybrids were approved for planting in 2006 compared with 20 in 2005 and four in 2004. The major states growing Bt cotton in 2006, listed in order of hectarage, are Mashrashtra (1.840 million hectares representing almost half, 48 percent of all Bt cotton in India in 2006) followed by Andhra Pradesh (830,000 hectares or 22 percent), Gujarat (4,70,000 hectares or 12 percent), Madhya Pradesh (3,10,000 hectares or 8 percent), and 2,15,000 hectares (6 percent) in the northern zone and the balance in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and other states.

Events and Bt cotton hybrids

The number of events as well as the number of Bt cotton hybrids and companies marketing approved hybrids increased from one event and 20 hybrids in 2005 to four events and 62 hybrids in 2006. This has provided a wider choice to the farmers in the different regions of the country.

In 2006, a total of four events, of which three were new in 2006, were approved for incorporation in a total of 62 hybrids offered for sale. The first event known as Bollgard-I (BG-1), featuring the cry1Ac gene was developed by Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco), sourced from Monsanto, and approved for sale for the sixth consecutive year in a total of 48 hybrids for use in the different regions (north, central and south) in the country.

The second event, Bollgard-II (BG-II with event MON 15985) also developed by Mahyco and sourced by Monsanto, which featured the stacked genes cry1Ac and cry2Ab, was approved for sale for the first time in a total of seven hybrids for use in the central and south regions.

The third event, known as Event 1 was developed by JK Seeds featuring the cry1 Ac gene, sourced from IIT Kharagpur, India and approved for sale for the first time in a total of four hybrids for use in the north, central and south regions.

The fourth and the last event, the GFM event, was developed by Nath Seeds, sourced from China, featured the fused genes cry1Ab and cry1Ac and approved for sale for the first time in a total of three hybrids, one in each of the three regions of the country.

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Safety Aspects and Benefits of Bt Cotton

- Dr TM Manjunath, BioSpectrum (India), March 2007. Full article at http://biospectrumindia.com/content/GuestColumn/10703074.asp

Bt being a new technology, several technical aspects are not clear to many. This article makes an attempt to provie scientific information on Bt and Bt cotton.

Bt cotton, developed by Mahyco-Monsanto, is the first agribiotech product approved by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of Govt of India in March 2002 for commercial cultivation in India. This approval was preceded by comprehensive biosafety studies and more than 500 field trials were carried out for six-seven years as per the direction of the regulatory authorities to demonstrate its safety and benefits. Even so, those who are opposed to this technology have raised several issues regarding its safety, creating doubts and confusion in the minds of farmers and the general public alike. Also, being a new technology, several technical aspects are not clear to many stake holders.

What is Bt ?

Bt is the popular abbreviation for Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium commonly found in soil with ubiquitous distribution. Its insecticidal property was discovered in Japan way back in 1901. More than 90 varieties or sub-species of B. thuringiensis have been described so far. A unique feature of Bt is that each variety possesses a distinct gene encoding an insecticidal protein that can affect only a narrow range of insects belonging to a particular group. Thus, there are Bt proteins that can affect certain larvae of only Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies), Coleoptera (beetles), Hemiptera (bugs), Diptera (flies) and so on. A particular Bt protein active on one group of insects generally does not affect other insects or other organisms.

What are Bt crops?

Depending upon the type of pests to be controlled, the relevant Bt gene is isolated, studied, modified to be more like a plant gene and introduced into the desired plant by genetic engineering. Such a gene becomes stably integrated in the plant genome and becomes an inheritable trait. The technology is made available to the farmers in the seeds itself and therefore no special skills are required to adopt it. Such transgenic crops containing the Bt genes are called Bt crops.

How does Bt act?

Bt-proteins require certain specific conditions for them to be active against the insect. In the first place, the Bt protein has to be ingested by the susceptible insects as it has no contact effects. In the case of Bt cotton, this happens when the larvae feed on plant tissues. The protein requires an alkaline gut with a suitable pH (9.5 and above) for its activation. There should be specific receptors in the insect mid-gut epithelial cells for protein-binding before it can kill the insect. All these conditions are available only in the susceptible insects and therefore they succumb when they feed on Bt plants. The mortality of bollworms that feed on Bt cotton is one such example.



Bt cotton is safe

Bt cotton is a thoroughly researched biotech product that has undergone all the tests pertaining to bio-safety and agronomic performances as prescribed by the concerned regulatory authorities in each country including India. Its safety to non-target organisms including animals and humans as also to environment has been demonstrated through comprehensive
scientific studies.

During all these years of its continuous cultivation on million of hectares, there is no proven scientific evidence that Bt cotton has caused any negative impact related bio-safety, cross pollination or pest resistance anywhere in the world.

The major benefits from Bt cotton include effective control of bollworms leading to significant yield increase, drastic reduction in chemical sprays and substantial increase in net profit to farmers. Efforts should be made to sustain these social, economic and environmental benefits.

----------------------

Dr TM Manjunath is the Former director of Monsanto Research Center.

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Regulatory Regime for GM Products in India

- RK Sinha, BioSpectrum (India), March 2007, http://biospectrumindia.com/content/GuestColumn/10703075.asp

The regulatory systems developed indigenously have worked successfully till date, and have not been faulted so far by any credible scientific community

The first green revolution saved us from the precarious situation of 'ship to mouth existence'. We attained self sufficiency in foodgrain production. The situation, however, is changing dramatically. From 170 million hectares of arable land, the availability may well be around 100 million ha by 2020 in view of the need for the increasing population as well as for greater afforestation and environmental preservation activities. The number of farmers available for agriculture will also reduce to less than 50 percent.

Thus, in the backdrop of a declining per capita availability of arable land due to ever rising population, very low productivity levels, heavy losses due to biotic (pests, pathogens and weeds) and abiotic (drought and salinity) stresses, high storage and transportation losses, and large scale nutrient deficiencies in undernourished children and expectant mothers, we have to look around for measures to increase productivity in agricultural sector through research and newer production technologies. We have to produce more from less. Therefore, we, as a nation, must adopt appropriate technologies in Indian agriculture. And, in the matter of selection of appropriate technologies, we must go in for the technologies that enable us to achieve what we want without in any way harming the environment, the health of human beings and animals.

It is in this context that agricultural biotechnology becomes very relevant. It is an important weapon for crop yield improvement, reduction in chemicals and pesticides usage, improving food and storage quality, in providing effective resistance to pests and pathogens, and has the potential for tolerance to drought and saline conditions. In effect, it is the panacea for the various adverse agricultural conditions present in India.

There are, however, certain risks associated with this technology, as with any new technology. These risks, when handled in a cautious and scientific manner, can be either eliminated or minimized to levels that are not harmful. Hence the need for a regulatory regime.

It is a tribute to the sagacity and wisdom of the government and its scientists that, much before the first testing for the GM products could be thought of, they put in position a regulatory mechanism by promulgating a set of rules governing hazardous Microorganisms/Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells in 1989 (Rules 1989) under the EPA. In 1990, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) came out with a set of guidelines as required under the Rules 1989. These were revised in 1994 and 1998. The 1998 guidelines on transgenic crops, provides a set of toxicity and allergenicity parameters for evaluation of safety of the transgenic seeds, vegetables, leaves etc for the health of human beings and animals. Some toxicity protocols were also added, which include, feeding studies on lactating cows, fish and chicken. The protocols provided in the guidelines, would comprehensively indicate whether the transgenic product have any toxic potential for human and animal health. The 1998 guidelines also added genetic data on comparative economic advantage of a modified plant. It thus made the regulatory framework not only environmentally safe but economically viable also.

These guidelines are based on current scientific information and on experience gained in different countries across the world.

The stringent regulatory systems put in place are science based and transparent. The guidelines cover all eventualities and the entire spectrum of activities including deliberate and unintended/accidental release into the environment of organisms, plants, animals and products derived from rDNA techniques. There are strict protocols for risk assessment and risk management in the event of a crisis. The two main principles involved in ensuring environment safety, 'the polluter must pay' and 'precautionary principle', are embedded in these guidelines and protocols.

As a measure of abundant caution, even though a crop is commercially approved in another country, it must go through the rigorous trials and testing in India as per the established protocols before it is introduced into the environment.

The impact of GMOs on the environment, soil, plant, animal and human life, have all been studied and will be studied in future in case of other events as per the existing protocols, before approving the introduction of a particular event into the environment.

The systems developed indigenously have worked successfully till date, and have not been faulted so far by any credible scientific community. This is certainly a matter of utmost satisfaction for the Indian scientific community.

The apex regulators for transgenics, GEAC and DBT, have also evolved with the rich experience that they have gained over the years. They are now more mature and confident of the subject matter, despite its uncertainties. Before any decision is taken, a rigorous cost-benefit analysis is always done to ensure that the decisions are in the overall interests of the Indian farmers, without harming the ecology and the health of human beings and animals.

Various international agencies have also come out in favour of GM food/crop. OECD has said that the risks associated with biotechnology derived foods are not inherently different from the risks associated with conventional ones. WHO has echoed a similar sentiment by saying that it is not aware of scientifically documented cases in which the consumption of these foods has had negative human health effects. ENTRANSFOOD, a network of international experts, the Royal Society of London, and many other prestigious organizations have also made similar statements.

The implementation of the regulations involves a number of players. These include the seed companies, the farmers on whose fields the trials are conducted, the Institutional Biosafety and the Monitoring and Evaluation Committees. The seed companies are rigorously implementing the protocols prescribed by the regulators, and have also built up in-house capabilities to tackle any emergency. Till date, there has not been any let up in their responsible use of the
technology.

Despite what the critics and activists have to say about the acceptance of this technology, the rigorous scientific protocols and studies conducted in India have amply demonstrated that GM products are safe for the environment, human beings and animals. The farmers have also given a thumbs-up to it, by itself enough to discredit the activists and critics.

It is thus evident that the concerns that have been raised about potential risks to both food and environment safety in the case of transgenic crops using recombinant DNA techniques have not found favor with the other stakeholders, particularly the farmers, mainly due to the robust regulatory regime in place.

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Executive Director, All India Crop Biotech Association

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Bt Cotton is Better, Feel Dharwad Farmers

- Narayan Kulkarni, BioSpecectrum (India), March 2007, http://biospectrumindia.com/content/CoverStory/10703072.asp

The launch of Bt cottonseeds in 2002 has brought some cheer among farmers of Garag, Lokur and Hangarki, small villages close to Dharwad in Karnataka. They are again looking at cotton cultivation after having reduced the acreage under cotton because of high cultivation costs with no margins. Here is what they had to say. In the ensuing pages, we also bring reactions from farmers hailing from other states as well.

Basappa Barki is a small farmer in a village called Hangarki, about 20 km from Dharwad in Karnataka, owning 2.5 acres of land. He has been cultivating cotton for years but in the 1990s due to low returns on investment. However, he restarted cultivating cotton in 2002, not with regular hybrids but with the newly launched Bt cottonseeds.

"I came to know about this new Bt cotton seeds from an advertisement in a local newspaper in 2002. Since then I have been cultivating Bt cotton. Due to the drought during 2003 and 2004, we could not get a good crop. Otherwise I used to get 10-12 quintals of cotton as against only five quintals during drought, noted Basappa Barki.

On the contrary, Ashok Desai, a businessman who owns 100 acres of farmland in the same village, has different views. He said, "I was cultivating non-Bt cotton (DCH variety) in about 40 acres during mid 1990s. Not satisfied with its performance (fall in the yields) over the years and other problems such as labor, I looked at other cash crops, mainly sugarcane during the early 2000 by reducing the acreage to cotton. When I came to know about the new Bt cottonseeds in 2002, I tried it the
same year."

He added, "I came to know about the launch of new Bt cotton seeds through Internet and tried with Mahyco Bt variety on three acres. The yield was good with about 8-9 quintals per acre. As the Bt cotton has short staple, the price for this was on the lower side. It fetched Rs 2,000 per quintal, comparatively lesser than the non Bt variety."

Ashok Desai continued, "Though the yield was good, I could not continue with Bt cotton from 2003 as it was not cost effective. The failure of monsoon and regular labor problems encouraged me to look at other cash crops like sugarcane in the irrigated land."

The same is not true in case of Sankappa Shigihalli, who has 150 acres of dry agriculture land in Garag village, where Monsanto has a 150-acre field trial facility. Sankappa has started sowing Bt cotton only in 2006 kharif after recommendations from his neighbor Bhimappa Tigadi who has been using Paras Brahma since 2004 kharif season.

Incidentally Garag has had the history of being the sole producer of the National Flag and the hand-woven khadi for the manufacture of National Flag since 1956. Sankappa Shigihalli said, We purchased only three packets of Paras Brahma Bt cotton, that too at the fag end of the sowing season i.e. during July 2006. He happily adds, "We are getting good yields with good returns too." On asking about the yields, Sankappa noted, 25 quintals for three acres. "This year the rates for cotton are on lower side and we got Rs 2,250 per quintal."

Shigihalli has been cultivating soya, maize, groundnut, onion, potato and sugarcane along with cotton (non-Bt variety) in about five-six acres in his dry agricultural land. To get good returns on investment, he has been spraying pesticide 10 times. For each spray, he has been spending Rs 500 per acre per spray. Now with the Brahma Bt, he said, "We just spray for two times during the entire crop season. Happy about adapting to this new Bt cotton, he said, "We have so far not come across any side effects of Bt cotton on animals as we have allowed small animals for grazing in our fields. This year we will increase the acreage for cotton to 5-6 acres.

Manjunath Shigihalli, the youngest brother of Sankappa, a teacher at a primary school in the same village, said, "The children have a lesson on the basics of biotechnology and its application. They are keen to know more about it and also DNA etc.

Sharing his views on the Bt cottonseeds, Bhimappa Tigadi said, "I was one among few farmers of Garag to get free Bt cottonseeds along with two other non-Bt varieties in 2004-05 for trials in ? acre (10 guntas). After realizing the merits of this Bt cotton (Brahma) for two years, I decided to buy the Bt cottonseeds at Rs 750 per packet in 2006. Now most of the farmers in our village are using this new Brahma Bt variety.

Bhimappa Tigadi said, "During the last kharif season, I had cultivated Brahma in four acres and one acre with DCH variety. The yield for the Brahma variety was good with 12-quintals/acre while for DCH variety, I got just five quintals/acre. The rate for Brahma is comparatively less against the non-Bt variety, which has long staple. In spite of this, I will go for more of Bt cotton this season due to less number of sprays and more yield.

Similarly Channabasappa Neeralakatti, a school teacher and also having a small agriculture land of five acres at Hangarki village has been sowing Bt cotton since 2005. He said, I purchased two packets of Bunny Bt for Rs 1800/packet in 2005 and thanks to the Supreme Court's intervention as we got the Bt seed packet at Rs 750/packet in 2006.

He further said, "It started with just three-four farmers in 2002. Now 90 percent of the farmers in our village are using Bt cotton seeds like RCH-2, Mallika, Brahma, Bunny Bt, Mahyco Bt etc."

The situation is the same in Lokur village, a familiar name that came to limelight when the BBC crew members visited this small village to feature the Narasingannavaras, the largest joint family in India. The farmers in Lokur are now turning to Bt cotton.

It was Veerabhadragouda Patil, a progressive farmer with over 100 acres of agriculture land who brought cotton to this village for the first time in 1975 and also tried with Bt cotton in his fields in 1998 at a time when the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) activists had burnt the Bt cotton trial fields in Bellary, as part of Operation Cremation Monsanto.

Mallangouda Patil, a son of Veerabhadragouda Patil, said, "My father was the first to introduce cotton to our village way back in 1975. Thereafter we were covering cotton in about 40-50 acres out of 100 acres of dry farmland. We used to get good returns initially. Gradually with fall in yields, increase in costs of cultivation and continuous drought-like situation pushed us to look at other crops like groundnut, potato, green dal etc. In 1998, our father also bought a packet of Bt cottonseeds when trials were going on and tried with new Bt variety without bringing it to notice of the other farmers.

"Again in 2005 we tried with Rasi's RCH-2 in one acre and the yield was satisfactory with 6-quintals/ acre. We increased the acreage in 2006 kharif by buying 12 packets of Mahyco's Bt cotton by paying at Rs 1,450 per packet. Drop in the price of Bt cotton supported us to buy few more packets of the same variety that we distributed to other farmers in the village. We are happy with the performance of Mahyco's Bt (8-9 quintals per acre). The rate for this cotton was also good as we got Rs 2,200 per quintal."

Shivangouda, Mallangouda's brother, said, "This year we are not getting a good rate for cotton. Earlier the rates had crossed the Rs 4,000 mark. However, less number of spraying (twice per season) and good yields support us to look at this new Bt cotton."

Considering the positive results of Bt cotton, Mallangouda said, "Bt cotton is better over the non-Bt variety. And we are looking at covering about 20 acres with Bt during the coming kharif season."

Mahesh Kittur, a small farmer from Hangarki with 10 acres of dry agriculture land, wishes to shift to Bt cotton and he's not an exception. Kittur, who used one packet of Bunny Bt last year by buying it at Rs 750, said, "In the coming kharif season, I will buy two packets of Mallika and increase the area under cotton." Besides Basappa Barki, Kittur and Neeralakatti, other small farmers with land holdings of 5-10 acres such as Rudrappa Hulagannavar, Gurupadappa Solagad, Shankargouda Badiyavar have expressed happiness over the performance of Bt cotton and are looking forward to increasing the acreage under cotton in the coming years.

On the other hand, Mahadevappa Andi, a small farmer with 14 acres of land at Hangarki, who also does 'Lavani' (cultivating other' lands for rents or share cropping for specific period) was a bit unhappy with the way the seed companies treat the farmers. He cultivated cotton in about 5-6 acres with Bunny Bt in 2006.

An agitated Mahadevappa Andi said, "In 2005, Nuziveedu Seeds had organized 'Kshretrotsava' (a regional agricultural fair) on the fields of Channabasappa Neeralakatti, inviting farmers from the neighboring districts. It was a gathering of over 1,500 farmers. During that year they had regular field visits and regular plot supervision was done. As a result, more and more farmers bought packets of Bt cottonseeds the following year. In 2006 we came across uneven growth of the plant and also the size of the bud. In spite of our please to the companies, not a single representative turned up to help us."

Sharing his views on the issue, Channabasappa Neeralakatti said, "We were able to bring an agri scientist from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, to our fields, who on observation told us that it might be due to mixture of different varieties of Bt cotton seeds taken from different fields/ plots.

Mahadevappa was not very convinced with the answer. He said, "I strongly feel about the possibility of mixing of spurious seeds with genuine Bt cotton seeds. He even questioned the seed firms for not making efforts in making the farmers aware of the situation and helping them in identifying the genuine Bt cotton seeds.

The above views from farmers clearly indicate that they are ready to accept the change and adapt the new technologies as long as they are benefited. They too have to move with the changing situations in a global village to lead a better living. Keeping this in mind, the companies, the governments and other related agencies should make sincere efforts in bringing about awareness on the latest technologies available for farmers who undoubtedly form the "backbone of our society.

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Punjab's Bt Cotton Cultivators Are Optimistic

- Rolly Dureha, BioSpecectrum (India), March 2007, http://biospectrumindia.com/content/CoverStory/10703072.asp

Bt cotton was approved for commercial sale in the Northern part of India in 2005. With the widespread success of Bt cotton in the state of Punjab, it became a big election campaign tool in the recent assembly elections to mobilize mass farmer support for Capt Amarinder Singh, Chief Minister of Punjab. As the polls neared, Bt cotton was touted as the reason for the rising prosperity in the Malwa region (north-western Punjab). Here is a direct feedback from a Punjab farmer who has been growing Bt cotton in her fields for two seasons.

Suman Taneja is a 45 year-old educated farmer hailing from Kandwala Amarkot village, about 8-9 km from Abhore at the Punjab-Haryana border, in district Firozpur, Punjab. In addition to managing her 20-acre field, this political science postgraduate with a bachelor in education (BEd), also teaches English to primary students in a nearby-recognized private school. She is a seasoned cotton farmer, growing cotton in the kharif season and wheat in the Rabi season along with some fodder crops.

Suman's family has been growing cotton in their farm since Independence and she was among the first few farmers in her village to adopt Bt cotton in 2005, the year it was approved for commercialization in Punjab. "One of my cousin brothers is a research officer at the Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana. He was the one who had initially advised me to plant Bt cotton in 2005", she said. "That year, I experimented with Bt cotton (Rasi Seeds-RCH-134) in 5 acres. Though the seeds were expensive, about Rs 1,749 a packet, the yield was good. The plants achieved good height, demanded less water, and just one or two rounds of insecticide spray as compared to eight-10 round of sprays on the other regular varieties. The cotton balls were also bigger and softer. Even the workers doing the picking were happy as they managed to pick more cotton in a day."

When asked about how do the Bt cotton varieties compare with the non-Bt varieties, she clarified, "I was earlier planting hybrid cotton varieties. These also gave good yields but were quite susceptible to pests, in particular to the American Bollworm complex. Encouraged and enthused by the results that she saw in 2005, the following year she decided to increase the acreage of Bt cotton in her fields. In 2006, Suman planted Bt cotton (RCH-134, MRC-6301 and MRC-6025) on eight acres of land. She also tried an unapproved Bt cotton variety from Gujarat on 3.5 acres and the regular hybrid variety (from Rasi Seeds) on five acres. Once again, she was not disappointed with the yield from Bt cotton, although the weather turned bad with heavy rains and hailstorm at the time of the cotton-picking leading to a lot of ball dropping and wastage. "The yield was about 12 quintals/acre and if the weather had been good, it would have touched about 16 quintals/acre", she said. According to her, even the illegal variety gave good results, but it required a lot of water as compared to the Rasi Bt cotton variety.

Comparing and contrasting the upbeat mood of the farmers in Punjab today with that ten years ago, she commented, "Ten years ago, the cotton farmers were facing a grave problem due to the various pests, which used to damage the standing crop very badly. And they were not being controlled by any mechanism. Those were uncertain and trying times for us. The situation has vastly improved since the last four-five years with better hybrids, effective pesticides and now the Bt cotton."

"The main advantage with Bt cotton is that I can manage my fields better with significantly lesser sprays. There is less pest infestation leading to a good yield. Now I can be more relaxed, there is less tension and uncertainty and I can spend more time with my family."

But Suman strongly feels that the cost of the Bt cottonseeds should come down. "On an average, the hybrid seeds are available for Rs 400 per packet, whereas I had bought the Bt cotton seeds for Rs 1,700-1,750 in 2005 and Rs 1,140 in 2006 per packet. And it takes two packets to sow one acre of land. At the time of sowing, it becomes difficult to arrange money to buy Bt seeds in bulk. Also, many a times it rains just after sowing and in such cases we have to prepare the fields again and do re-sowing. The cost of the seeds should be less so that even the small farmers can purchase these seeds easily", she said emphatically.

Another issue that she points is the availability of Bt cotton seeds at the time of sowing. "Due to the high demand for seeds in the sowing season, many a times they go out of stock. There should be a proper distribution system in place to ensure a reliable steady supply of seeds," she said.

The Bt cotton has fetched her a price in the band of Rs 2,100-2,400 per quintal in 2006 and although she has not been able to make any substantial savings till now, she is optimistic about the good income generation in the future. In the coming season, a confident Suman plans to increase the acreage of Bt cotton in her fields and would advice the farmers to try Bt cotton.

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Bt cotton experience has indicated that the technology has been beneficial to farmers

- Rolly Dureha, BioSpectrum (India), March 7, 2007, http://biospectrumindia.com/content/exclusives/10703071.asp

Interview with BS Parsheera, Chairman, GEAC

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) is the country's apex regulatory authority on the approval of genetically modified crops. In an exclusive interview, the first one by the head of GEAC in the last five years, BS Parsheera, Chairman, GEAC and Additional Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, takes us through the trials and tribulations in the journey of India's first biotech crop-the Bt cotton.

There is a lot of controversy regarding the merits of GM cotton even today, five years down the line. What is your view on this?

The Bt cotton experience in India has been very positive and encouraging. Bt cotton containing cry 1 Ac gene (MON 531 event) of Monsanto was the first transgenic crop released in India in April 2002 with the approval of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), constituted by this Ministry under Rules 1989 of Environment Protection Act (EPA). Subsequently, 62 new Bt cotton varieties have been released. In April 2006, the GEAC has released Bt cotton varieties containing three new gene events namely cry 1Ac gene (event-1) indigenously developed by JK Agrigenetics in collaboration with IIT Kharagpur, encoding fusion genes (cry 1Ab+Cry Ac) GFM, developed by Nath Seeds in collaboration with China and Bollgard-II developed by Mahyco. In addition, the GEAC has approved 124 Bt hybrids for large-scale trials with cry I Ac gene and new gene event.

The Bt cotton experience has indicated that the technology has been beneficial to farmers. The total area under Bt cotton has exponentially increased from 72,682 acres in 2002 to 86,00,000 acres in 2006. The total estimated production during 2005-06 is about 25 million bales (of 170 kg each). Bt cotton has reduced pesticide usage by 2260 MT of pesticides. The state-wise productivity of cotton during pre and post Bt cotton (lint Kg/ha) is as follows:

Except for a few pockets in dry areas like Warangal (Andhra Pradesh) and Vidarbha (Maharashtra), the response to Bt cotton has been positive.

The Supreme Court has directed the GEAC not to give approvals to GM crops until further orders. What is the approach adopted by the GEAC regarding the case and how is the committee taking the case forward?

We have taken a stand before the court that the introduction of GM crops in the country is being done after elaborate procedures for risk assessment and bio-safety issues based on case-to-case protocols. And only after fully satisfying ourselves on the bio-safety aspects, the release of the crop is approved. The entire process of assessment is done by an expert committee, which does not have any clash of interest, along with some of the representatives of the ministries concerned. It is done in an absolutely objective and transparent way. We also provide opportunity for NGOs and other interested formal groups to represent their case, if they have any, regarding any aspect of issue under consideration.

We are expecting that the discussion would now start as we have already given our position in an affidavit to the court and so has the other party. We have also made an offer that if the Court so chooses, we are willing to make a detailed presentation of how exactly the procedure is followed, which is done by people who have expertise in the area and have a very objective view about the issues involved.
Bir Singh Parsheera, Chairman, GEAC

Bir Singh Parsheera hails from the Lahoul-Spiti District of Himachal Pradesh. Born in 1950, he completed his Bachelors degree from the Punjab University and earned a Masters degree (MSc) in National Development and Project Planning from Bradford University, UK. Presently he is the Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Environment & Forests, Govt of India and the Chairman, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC).

In 1973, during the initial stage of his career, he had joined the Indian Police Service but then moved to the Indian Administrative Service the next year. He has worked in various capacities in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and in the Government of India. Some of the important posts held by him include Commissioner and Special Officer of Municipal Corporations of Vijayawada, Shimla and Hyderabad.

He has worked in the department of Tourism, Health, among others, before moving to Government of India in the Ministry of Environment and Forests for a period of 5 years. On his repatriation, he worked as Managing Director of Sports Authority, Managing Director of APHC and Secretary (Co-operation & Marketing) in the State Government. Thereafter in January 1997 he went again on deputation to the Government of India and worked there in different capacities until November, 2003. After coming to the State he briefly worked as Direcotr-General of EPTRI & Agriculture Production Commissioner and Principal Secretary, Dept, of Horticulture & Sericulture, Govt. of Andhra Pradesh before moving to the present assignment.

What were the hurdles the GEAC faced during the approval of the first GM cotton hybrids way back in 2002?

Since it was the first GM crop, the regulatory agency was extremely overcautious leading to a period of seven years testing before it was approved. The emphasis at that point of time was to assess the efficacy of the technology and not much importance was given to the genetic background of the hybrids. The GEAC also had to face a lot of opposition from several quarters. However, international experience with Bt cotton and data available on the bio-safety studies did help the committee to take a final view.

During its initial days, the GEAC faced a lot of flak regarding its functioning. How have the processes been streamlined now?

In the beginning there were some problems in terms of transparency, etc. In the sense that the website was not ready. So there was room for some doubt. But recently now we have ensured that all our agenda notes for every meeting of the GEAC are put on the website and the minutes of the meeting are also put there along with our detailed reason as to why we have chosen a particular course of action. We also have been giving opportunity to the NGO representatives, whenever they come up with specific issues to make a presentation before the GEAC to give their reasons as to why something should be done or should not be done.

As India's apex regulatory authority on the approval of GM crops, what is the role that GEAC envisions for itself in the years to come?

As an apex body notified under the EPA, 1986, the GEAC will have to maintain a balance, that is, play a proactive role in the regulation of GM crops to facilitate approvals without compromising on the safety aspects. Measures would have to be taken to ensure continuous post release monitoring to ensure timely remedial measures (delay in insect resistant development etc.). The post release monitoring will also ensure improvement in the pre release bio-safety assessment.

With the ongoing research on many biotech crops, how is the authority equipping/strengthening/innovating itself for the future? Can other government agencies play a role in facilitating the approval process?

In India there has been a spurt of interest in GMOs with the granting of Bt cotton approval in March 2002. Further in view of the biotechnological advances, worldover there has been an increase in production, export and import of GM food and food products. With the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol (CBP) coming into force on July 11, 2003, globally there has also been a growing demand for the governments to make stringent laws for food safety assessment before market authorization is permitted. The CBP also stipulates certain procedures for decision-making and risk assessment. Various stakeholder ministries have initiated or are in the process of evolving a GM policy pertinent to their sector. Some initiatives which are under active consideration are listed below:

Food Safety and Standard Act, 2006 by Ministry of Health

National Biotech Regulatory Authority by DBT

GMO Policy on Labeling by Ministry of Health

Incorporation of the GMO policy in the foreign trade policy by DGFT/Ministry of Commerce.

With the new initiatives coming into force, the administrative ministries would play a major role in facilitating ongoing research, monitoring and approval process for GM products.

Has the government ensured adequate public awareness in the Bt crops arena?

The need for public awareness and training has been adequately addressed by this ministry and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) since 2002. While the emphasis for training was initially restricted to nine cotton-growing states, the training and awareness programs have been extended to other states only during 2006. Further, the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) is implementing a GEF-World Bank aided project on Capacity Building for bio-safety to address issues related to transboundary movements of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs). The Capacity Building Program also addresses the issue of improving and enhancing the Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) detection facilities at four national institutions. Recently, the Ministry of Agriculture has initiated a major program to increase awareness among the state and district level agencies to ensure effective pre and post release monitoring.

Does India have a structured risk assessment system in place for valuating the Bt crops?

Yes. India has a structured risk assessment system, which is well defined in the Biosafety guidelines of 1998. Further, on a case-to-case basis specific protocols are prescribed by the Review Committee on Genetic Modification (RCGM). Any company involved in the development of GM food crop has to undertake extensive bio-safety assessment, which includes environmental safety assessment as well as food and feed safety. The environmental safety assessment includes studies on pollen escape out-crossing, aggressiveness and weediness, effect of the gene on non-target organisms, presence of the protein in soil and its effect on soil micro-flora, confirmation of the absence of Terminator Gene, baseline susceptibility studies. The food and feed safety assessment studies include composition analysis, allergenicity and toxicological studies and feeding studies on fish, chicken, cows and buffaloes. In case the transgenic crop is found to be not suitable for human consumption, the product is rejected during the trial stage itself. The agronomic testing includes evaluation of the stability of the introduced trait, efficacy of the technology and the agronomic performance vis a vis its non-GM counterpart.

What is your message to the companies working in the area of GM crops?

The development of transgenic crops should be need-based and address the country's specific issues related to food and livelihood security. There should be no compromise on the bio-safety studies and the companies should be ready to face full accountability in case of any mishaps. Companies should play proactive role in enhancing the awareness of their products as well as be vigilant during the post release period.

Would you like to say something to the NGOs running an aggressive anti-GM campaign in the field of agribiotech?

The NGOs should be open to others' point of view and not impose their mandate of anti-GM policy on the country. They should play a proactive role to ensure that the government is vigilant and takes timely action where required. The arguments for a moratorium on GM products should be based on scientific facts and not on fictitious propaganda such as sheep death due to consumption of Bt cotton leaf, etc. The introduction of any new technology may have both beneficial and adverse impacts and requires careful evaluation of the long-term sustainable benefits. In the case of modern agricultural biotechnology, the benefits as well as risks would vary from crop to crop, region to region and technology to technology. Therefore, the moot point is to ensure that a cautious step-by-step approach is adopted and a comprehensive evaluation of risk versus societal benefits is ensured before taking a final view. Therefore, scientific assessment and not moratorium is the answer to address bio-safety concerns. In accordance with the precautionary approach, the government is following a policy of case by case approval for transgenic crops.

After Bt cotton, which is the next crop likely to get the GEAC nod of approval?

While there are several GM crops under various stages of testing, the next crop that is under consideration of the GEAC is Bt brinjal developed by Mahyco.

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Interview with Clive James

- Rolly Dureha. BioSpectrum (India), March 2007, http://biospectrumindia.com/content/interviews/10703071.asp

"India has a unique opportunity to exert global leadership by facilitating the timely approval and deployment of biotech fiber, feed, food and fuel crops." - Dr Clive James

Dr Clive James, an internationally renowned agricultural scientist founded ISAAA in 1990, which facilitates the acquisition and transfer of agricultural biotechnology applications from the industrial countries, for the benefit of resource poor farmers in the developing countries. On the occasion of the 5th anniversary of Bt cotton in India, he shares his thoughts on the way forward for India.

India has the maximum acreage of Bt cotton in Asia (3.8 million hectares compared to China's 3.5 million) as per the latest ISAAA findings for 2006. What is the way forward for India now?

Biotech crops offer India substantial benefits in the near term and provide the opportunity for the country to strengthen its world leadership in the adoption of biotech crops. This will ensure its competitive advantage globally in terms of crop production and coincidentally biotech crops can contribute to economic growth, a better environment and more importantly to the alleviation of poverty and hunger. The way forward for India is first to significantly increase its area of Bt cotton in the next few years so that the gains can be shared with even more Indian cotton farmers, cotton textile workers and consumers. Cotton impacts the lives of 60 million people in India and is a major export for the country. Future gains from Bt cotton can be substantially greater than those achieved in 2006, as more Indian farmers adopt the superior Bt cotton technology. The most recent public sector study on Bt cotton by Dr Gandhi et al confirms an average yield gain of 31 percent, a significant reduction of 39 percent in the number of pesticide sprays and an 88 percent increase in profit, equivalent to $250 per hectare for the 2004 growing season. Prior to the introduction of Bt cotton in India in 2002, Indian cotton yields were one of the lowest in the world. However, after the introduction of Bt in 2002 cotton yields increased from 308 kg per hectare in 2001-2002 to 450 kg per hectare in 2005-2006, a 46 percent increase in yield, with most of the increase attributed to Bt cotton. In turn, exports of raw cotton from India soared from 0.9 million bales in 2005 to 4.7 million bales in 2006, the highest ever. The number of companies in India selling Bt cotton increased from one in 2002 to 15 in 2006, giving farmers a broad choice of Bt cotton products to choose from.

Bt cotton developed by the public sector in India is at an advanced stage of development and will give the farmer more choices of Bt cotton hybrids to select-those developed by either the public sector or the private sector. About 15 biotech crops are under development by both the public and private sector including mustard hybrids and nutritionally enhanced potatoes, which are at an advanced stage of development. Leading traits in new biotech crops include pest and disease resistance as well as delayed ripening in fruit and vegetables. Further, the development of golden rice as a contribution to remedy Vitamin A deficiency and longer-term programs with focus on salinity and drought resistance in rice, the most important food crop in India and more importantly the principal food crop of the poor, holds much promise.

An advanced collaborative program between the private and public sector program features the development of both hybrid and open-pollinated Bt Brinjal (eggplant) resistant to fruit and shoot borer, which sometimes requires insecticides every other day. Brinjal is a very important vegetable crop that is grown on 5,00,000 hectares in India and supplies 25 percent of the calorie needs of resource-poor farmers, who cultivate on average 0.26 hectares of eggplant, which is also a major cash crop. Bt brinjal is expected to double yields, reduce pesticides by half, and deliver an increased income to small farmers equivalent to over $400 million per year at the national level and this will be a substantial contribution to the alleviation of their poverty.

In summary, India has a unique opportunity at this time to exert leadership at the global level by facilitating the timely approval and deployment of a chronology of biotech fiber, feed, food and fuel crops that can coincidentally ensure that crop production in India is competitive in an increasingly globalized world; contribute to economic growth; a safer environment and contribute to food, feed, fiber and fuel; and most important contribute to the alleviation of poverty and hunger for its people. In spite of the significant success of Bt cotton, there are some who believe that this technology poses a risk to India. Based on the consistent body of evidence accumulated in India and 21 other countries by about 45 million farmers over an 11-year period, the evidence is clear that this technology offers substantial benefits to India. On the contrary, the greatest risk associated with this technology for India is not to use it.

According to the ISAAA 2006 report, the global transgenic crop cultivation breached the 100 million hectare mark in 2006. However, there is reluctance in the acceptance of GM technology by the masses globally. Why is it so?

One of our characteristics as people is that we do not handle change very well, and we are usually more comfortable with the status quo, which may be the least safe situation, but we are creatures of habit and resist change. Witness the resistance to pasteurized milk and irradiation of food when first introduced-in both cases it took time for society to change its view and embrace the new technologies, which offered significant advantages over the conventional technology being applied at that time. Biotech crops are no different and hence the sharing of knowledge to inform society about the new science is a top priority. A better-informed society will be able to engage in a transparent knowledge-based decision-making process, which will allow a more objective evaluation of the attributes of biotech crops and their potential contribution to society.

Surveys confirm that the more knowledgeable society is about biotech crops the more acceptable biotech crops are to society. Recent surveys in the US, where 300 million people have consumed biotech food for more than 10 years without a single incident related to food safety, report that biotech crops were not even on the list of concerns about food, whereas concerns such as pesticide residues and allergies were significant issues to many people. In fact, survey results indicate that people would preferentially select biotech products if they contained omega 3 oils because of the substantial nutritional and health benefits they offer. Omega 3 biotech products are expected to be in the market in about five years, subject to timely regulatory approval.

It is very important to recognize that 3.6 billion people living in 22 countries that planted officially approved biotech crops-which is more than half the world's population of 6.5 billion-consumed GM crop produce as food, feed and fiber in 2006. These crops generated significant benefits in terms of improved production, significant economic environmental as well as socioeconomic benefits; in developing countries biotech crops have contributed to the alleviation of poverty and hunger. The planting of 102 million hectares by over 10 million farmers in 2006 is clear evidence of the high level of acceptance of biotech crops and their products globally. Furthermore, another 29 countries have approved biotech crops for import for food/feed bringing the total number of countries that have already approved biotech crops to 51 countries representing 70 percent of the global population. This represents a high level of acceptance which has increased every single year for the last 11 years and is expected to continue to increase in the future, as more countries approve and adopt biotech crops.

It is clear that the technology is here to stay. In fact, it has increased at an unprecedented rate by double digit growth every single year for the last 11 years, making it the fastest adopted crop technology in recent history. It is a vote of confidence of farmers who have made approximately 45 million independent decisions to increase their plantings of biotech crop every single year since commercialization began in 1996, a remarkable acceptance record, by any standard.

Many GM products are mired in regulatory issues. How can the regulatory process be made simpler without compromising on the safety aspect? How feasible is it to evolve global regulatory guidelines along with global awareness programs?

The complexity of the regulatory environment for biotech or GM crops results from two aspects of over-regulation-the data needs for applications and the long delays and unnecessary repetitiveness of regulatory review.

Data requirements: The original data requirements for the general release are derived from "points to consider" produced between 1986 and 1992 in a technical working group of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). These data needs were further refined in national regulations around the world. The OECD guidelines deliberately took a comprehensive view of the matter, meaning that many questions are repetitive and unnecessarily detailed.

A major precedent set in these guidelines was that the unit of regulatory review is the event, i.e., the specific combination of a particular new gene insert in a particular place in the plant genome. As a consequence, every new genetically modified line resulting from introducing the same gene into a plant has to be reviewed and treated as a completely new product. For example, there are several Bt maize events on the market, using the same or almost identical new gene, and all of these have had to produce a completely new biosafety assessment and regulatory application file. Experience, with these multiple events, shows that there is no good reason to maintain this overcomplicated requirement.

A review to agree that the unit of regulation should be the phenotype and the gene inserted, not the event, would greatly reduce the amount of data needed without compromising safety in any way.

Another major source of complexity and resource waste is the lack of MAD (mutual acceptance of data). There is a totally unnecessary requirement by many national bodies to reproduce data on safety through institutions in their own country. It ignores the fact that much greater national benefits can be drawn from the expeditious deployment of the biotech or GM crops to the farmers.

Regulatory delays: Once a comprehensive biosafety file has been developed, and regulatory applications have been filed, the initiative moves from the applicant to the regulatory bodies. Regulations worldwide have legally agreed time limits for review and decision-making. While applicants are held to these, authorities almost without exception disregard these time limits, making it impossible for the applicants to make informed plans for the next steps in their activities.

This is counter-productive in two ways. First, it delays applications unreasonably. This time loss represents a loss of benefits for farmers who are supposed to benefit from the products and also a loss of income for the applicant, including interests on capital invested. For public institutions, there is another damaging result: unreasonable delays of the regulators often result in public projects running out of funding, leading to many promising projects being abandoned simply because they run out of money.

The current initiative in India to explore the streamlining of the evaluation process of biotech crops is welcome and could significantly benefit developers of biotech crops, farmers and consumers in India by eliminating the opportunity cost associated with regulatory delays. The Union Minister of Agriculture has encouraged the streamlining of the process for the same reasons cited above.

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