‘No question is so difficult to answer as that to which the answer is obvious’ –George Bernard Shaw.
The success story of Bt-cotton in India is obvious, but it has indeed become strangely, circumspect to affirmatively answer the ‘obviously easy to answer’ question -‘has Bt-cotton succeeded in India in combating the bollworm menace?’ The answer lies in the simple fact that farmers have endorsed the technology in a vast majority. If Bt-cotton would not have controlled bollworms, the technology would not have moved the distance it has today.
There may be a need for refinement and constant changes are always inbuilt into science. While we progress with advanced technologies for sustainable growth and prosperity, environment should always be uppermost in our minds. Questions must be asked and concerns will be raised, but, science must provide answers and solutions. Bio-safety concerns are paramount to all of us. Answers should be forthcoming from good robust scientific experiments. We need not shy away from moving forward to develop GM technologies in a manner that is profoundly acceptable to the ecology, environment and society. But, any new technology must be compared to the previously used technologies and evaluated for the trade-off benefits, checks and balances and economic gain of the farmers.
It is clear that there is hardly any technology that can be 100.0% safe to everything. Interestingly, Bt-cotton is one of the few technologies having the safest bio-safety profiles. It comes as an alternative to the previously used hazardous concoction of insecticide mixtures. The insecticides used on cotton were known to have ravaged ecology, disrupted the environment, played havoc with human and animal health, were toxic to honey bees, insect-parasitoids and predators, caused allergies and a myriad number of ill-effects. Bt-cotton removed that to a great extent. Strangely, this seems to have been less acknowledged by detractors of the Bt-cotton technology. It is true that insecticides are now being used for sap-sucking pest control on Bt cotton hybrids, but, as mentioned in this book, the increase is because of the susceptible hybrids and has nothing to do with Bt-technology. We cannot afford to move back towards the pesticide era. By all scientific standards, Bt GM Cotton technology is by far the most environment friendly technology available thus far. We must however develop varieties and hybrids that show comprehensive resistance to sucking pests through resistant germplasm sources and to bollworms through Bt genes. This is possible through good plant breeding efforts. Once this is done, it is for sure that insecticide usage will be substantially reduced.
Bt-cotton was the first of GM technologies to be introduced into India. It is beyond doubt that farmers preferred Bt-cotton instead of the hazardous insecticide-cocktails for bollworm control. It is true that because of huge investment potential, multinational companies had the edge to develop the technology more efficiently and at a faster pace, compared to many public sector institutions across the world. But, GM technologies are being developed now more easily than before, as the transformation technology itself has advanced tremendously. India cannot afford to lose the competitive edge in agriculture, in the international arena, by slowing down biotechnology applications in agriculture. While we move forward, it surely becomes everybody’s responsibility to use the best science based technologies available to the farmer after weighing out all concerns and consequences, but, we need to move forward to face future challenges of burgeoning food and clothing demands of the ever-increasing populace.
I congratulate Dr Kranthi for the good effort in bringing out all possible facets of the Bt-cotton technology, especially from the Indian perspective, in the form of questions and answers, which makes the book readable. I hope that this book will enable all stakeholders for better understanding so as to assist in proper assessment of the technology in as rationally a manner as possible.
The book is accessible in its entireness here.