Probe sought into failure of first Bt cotton crop

NEW DELHI APRIL 15. Confirming doubts over the quality and economic viability of Bt cotton, Gene Campaign — a non-governmental organisation working for the farmers' rights — has demanded an investigation by the Government into the failure of the first harvest, amounting to criminal negligence that had endangered the fundamental rights of the citizens.

Releasing the results of the first Bt cotton crop, Suman Sahai of the Gene Campaign said a random survey in the cotton-growing districts of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh showed that it was not resistant to bollworm and the farmers used the same quantity of pesticide as on the non-Bt variety, thus proving wrong the claims of the owner, Mahyco-Monsanto. The Bt cotton plant was weak and the boll size small. Even the length of the cotton fibre was shorter and hence the yield less, the survey showed.

Gene Campaign has written to the Union Agriculture Minister demanding compensation for the farmers who had suffered because of the low yield in the Bt cotton plantation. It demanded that Mahyco-Monsanto be made to pay for the loss to the farmers under the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Rights Act, 2001. "However, the more important question is how did the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) allow the commercial cultivation of this Genetically Modified (GM) crop when it was know that its varieties were low yielding," Ms. Sahai said.

What is shocking is that GM crop cultivation has been sanctioned and allowed to continue in States even though the mandatory regulatory authorities have not been set up, amounting to blatant violation of the Environmental Protection Act, 1989, she pointed out.

Gene Campaign activists along with scientists from the Andhra Pradesh Agriculture University visited six villages in Yavatmal and 10 in Warangal where they spoke to 100 farmers. The survey indicated that traders were not lifting Bt cotton, preferring instead varieties such as Brahma and Banny. The input costs are almost Rs. 1,000 per acre higher than for non-Bt cotton. "The failure of Bt cotton is bitter and more widespread with 60 per cent of Bt cotton farmers unable to recover their costs," the survey said.

Charging the GEAC with criminal negligence, Gene Campaign has demanded that data from the field trial of Monsanto's Bt cotton be made public. The GEAC has consistently refused to do so. Had this been done, the farmers could have avoided heavy losses, the NGO said.

According to Ms. Sahai, 98 of the 100 farmers surveyed said they would not grow Bt cotton next season.

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