Bt Cotton, Question and answers, a book by K.R. Kranthi


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.

The Halo Effect: Suppression of Pink Bollworm on Non-Bt Cotton by Bt Cotton in China


In some previously reported cases, transgenic crops producing insecticidal proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) have suppressed insect pests not only in fields planted with such crops, but also regionally on host plants that do not produce Bt toxins. Here we used 16 years of field data to determine if Bt cotton caused this “halo effect” against pink bollworm (Pectinophora gossypiella) in six provinces of the Yangtze River Valley of China. In this region, the percentage of cotton hectares planted with Bt cotton increased from 9% in 2000 to 94% in 2009 and 2010. We found that Bt cotton significantly decreased the population density of pink bollworm on non-Bt cotton, with net decreases of 91% for eggs and 95% for larvae on non-Bt cotton after 11 years of Bt cotton use. Insecticide sprays targeting pink bollworm and cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera) decreased by 69%. Previously reported evidence of the early stages of evolution of pink bollworm resistance to Bt cotton in China has raised concerns that if unchecked, such resistance could eventually diminish or eliminate the benefits of Bt cotton. The results reported here suggest that it might be possible to find a percentage of Bt cotton lower than the current level that causes sufficient regional pest suppression and reduces the risk of resistance.

Pink bollworm abundance on non-Bt cotton before and after adoption of Bt cotton.

Volledige artikel in Plos One.

Widespread adoption of Bt cotton and insecticide decrease promotes biocontrol services

Over the past 16 years, vast plantings of transgenic crops producing insecticidal proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) have helped to control several major insect pests12345 and reduce the need for insecticide sprays156. Because broad-spectrum insecticides kill arthropod natural enemies that provide biological control of pests, the decrease in use of insecticide sprays associated with Bt crops could enhance biocontrol services789101112. However, this hypothesis has not been tested in terms of long-term landscape-level impacts10. On the basis of data from 1990 to 2010 at 36 sites in six provinces of northern China, we show here a marked increase in abundance of three types of generalist arthropod predators (ladybirds, lacewings and spiders) and a decreased abundance of aphid pests associated with widespread adoption of Bt cotton and reduced insecticide sprays in this crop. We also found evidence that the predators might provide additional biocontrol services spilling over from Bt cotton fields onto neighbouring crops (maize, peanut and soybean). Our work extends results from general studies evaluating ecological effects of Bt crops123461213 by demonstrating that such crops can promote biocontrol services in agricultural landscapes.
Nature letter

Genetically modified crops shrink farming’s pesticide footprint

Genetically modified crops have allowed pesticide spraying to be reduced by almost half a million kilograms in the last 15 years. Eric Constantineau

Recent news reports claim one in ten Australians believe the world will end on December 21, 2012, based largely on internet gossip about the meaning of ancient stone carvings from the Mayans of Central America. Such is the disturbing power of frightening myths to influence human belief.

No wonder modern apocalyptic mythology about agriculture, sinister stories about pesticides and assertions that genetic engineering of crops break a biological taboo find a very receptive audience, especially among those who don’t ever go to a modern farm.

In truth, there’s a lot to feel good about in the way modern agriculture is shaping up to the big challenges of the present – reducing carbon emissions, preventing soil erosion and minimising any environmental damage by herbicides and pesticides.

Helping the environment

One of the most significant crop management improvements in recent times has been the increasingly common practice of sowing seeds by direct drilling them into the stubble of the previous season’s crop. This approach forgoes a massive amount of soil tillage with the plough. Such minimum-tillage or no-tillage farming means that much less diesel oil is used in tractors and carbon levels can buildup in the soil rather than be released to the atmosphere.

It’s been estimated that the carbon emission savings from introduction of genetically engineered crops that encourage no-till farming are equivalent to removing 19.4 bn kilogram of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere worldwide. This is equal to the carbon emissions savings from removing 8.6 million cars from the road for one year.

Minimal tillage farming also has several other benefits, such as better moisture retention in the soil and reduction in soil erosion.

Genetically modified insect protected cotton on the left, next to a closely related conventional cotton variety on the right which is showing the damage from heavy insect feeding pressure. Greg Kauter, Courtesy of Australian Cotton Growers Research Association Inc, Narrabri, NSW.

Klik hier voor het volledige Australische artikel. 

The GM debate is growing up

Scientists on YouTube, Frankenfood out of the headlines: Rothamsted looks like a turning point

No GM spuds,” proclaimed a banner wielded by protesters in opposition to a trial of genetically modified crops last weekend. The activists had planned to destroy the trial plots at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire but were thwarted by a low turnout and a well-prepared police presence.

But more interesting than their failure to vandalise the plants is the important turning point in the GM debate that this trial has revealed. Media reporting and comment has been mostly neutral and positive about the experiments, or actively hostile to the protesters – a far cry from the days of “Frankenfood” headlines. What has changed?

Volledige artikel vind je op de Guardian. 

Genetically modified Bt maize: No impact on insect communities

Plant varieties, weather and farming methods affect the maize ecosystem

For three summers in a row, Eva Schultheis and her team at RWTH Aachen University caught countless insects on the maize trial field and then identified the species in the laboratory. They wanted to find out whether the insect communities found in genetically modified Bt maize are different from those found in conventional maize. They found differences between the years and between individual maize varieties, but were unable to detect any influence of the genetic modification. Extensive investigations in the laboratory with the rice leaf bug, which was chosen as a representative species, also failed to find any negative Bt maize effects. GMO Safety spoke to Eva Schultheis about her research work.

Het volledige interview kun je hier nalezen.

Interview with Dr. Gia Aradottir

In England, there is an important experiment underway. A research group at the Rothamsted Research station in Harpenden, is testing a variety of wheat that has been genetically engineered to scare away aphid pests. If successful, the experiment could demonstrate the effectiveness of a novel, environmentally-friendly way to manage pests. However, a protest group is threatening the ability of the researchers to continue their project, and there have been a lot of claims made about the research. To help shed some light on this experiment, I interviewed Dr. Gia Aradottir, a biologist who is involved in the project.

Volledige interview met interessante comments onderaan op biofortified.

Can Genetically Engineered Crops Cause Adverse Effects on Nontarget Organisms?

Various published studies analyzed effects of Bt maize on nontarget insects. Two well-known studies focused on monarch butterflies (1) and on black swallowtails (2). The first, a note to Nature in 1999, was a laboratory study in which monarch caterpillars were fed milkweed leaves dusted with loosely quantified amounts of pollen from a single Bt corn variety. In the second study in 2000, black swallowtail caterpillars were placed different distances from a cornfield planted with a Bt corn variety different from that used in the 1999 study; populations were studied for effects of Bt for seven days. In the first study more monarch caterpillars died when they ate leaves dusted with Bt corn pollen versus leaves dusted with conventional corn pollen. In the second study, no negative effects of Bt pollen were found on numbers of swallowtail caterpillars.

Het volledige artikel met referenties vind je hier.

Don’t destroy research

De volledige tekst met de vraag van de wetenschappers om de proef niet te vernielen kun je hier terugvinden. 

De petitie kun je hier ondertekenen, je vindt er in de commentaren ook heel wat interessante comments van mensen allerlei!

In online en andere pers werden reeds heel wat artikels aan deze oproep en kwestie gewijd, deze artikels vind je allemaal terug op de pagina van de oproep onder het filmpje en de oproep om de petitie te tekenen.

On the ‘Failure of Bt Cotton’ Analysing a Decade of Experience

Given that the controversy over success and failure of Bt technology still exists, this paper discusses the available field studies that have addressed agro-economic questions of Bt cotton cultivation in India. Since a meta-analysis of studies can give only partial conclusions, owing to differences across study methodologies and coverage, this paper takes a different strategy, i e, looking not simply at differences between Bt farms and non-Bt farms, but at the experience of farmers before growing Bt and after switching to Bt. It also examines the more general problem of comparing field studies and suggests ways to use farmer behaviour as a proxy for settling different interpretations of agro-economic effects of the new technology. The study explains why there has been so much controversy given virtually universal adoption of Bt technology in cotton and concludes that in the battle of numbers around Bt cotton, those of the farmers have been curiously missing.

De volledige studie is hier raadpleegbaar en extreem aangeraden!