``Review all Bt cotton varieties''

NEW DELHI, MARCH 17 . Gene Campaign, a non-government organisation, has demanded that the performance of all Bt cotton varieties must be reviewed to determine their suitability to Indian conditions. At a time when several parts of the world including South African countries, the Middle East and Europe were "saying no to GM crops and foods," India seemed interested only in releasing new varieties, it said.

"The observation that the Bt toxin protects against bollworm only upto 90 days and that sucking pests, as found in RCH-2 (rasi cotton) can wipe out the entire crop must be investigated before any further release of Bt varieties," said Suman Sahai, Gene Campaign president.

Ms. Sahai wondered why before any review of the reported bad performance of the Mahyco-Monsanto cotton, its impact on environment and health, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved new varieties for Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan earlier this month.

She also wondered why there was no control over the illegal Bt cotton varieties and alleged that the GEAC seemed interested only in releasing new varieties. "Illegal varieties have spread at a fast rate and there is no response from the regulatory agencies to control the situation or penalise the offenders."

On the basis of observations on the third-year data studies carried out by research groups and local scientists under their aegis in three districts of Andhra Pradesh — Warangal, Guntur and Prakasam — she claimed that farmers had suffered heavy losses with Mahyco-Monsanto's MECH-12 and MECH-184 varieties.

"They were found largely ineffective against the bollworm.

The maximum yield of these two varieties was four quintals an acre, while the average losses amounted to over Rs 4,000 an acre. The reasons for this were low yield, premature falling of cotton balls and wilt leading to drying up of roots. All Bt cotton fibre was found to be of poor quality in length, colour and tensile strength," she said.

The study found that RCH-2 Bt variety of Rasi Seed Company had higher productivity level than the two varieties of Monsanto. RCH-2 yielded 11 quintals an acre in its first season, while the MECH-12 and MECH 184 variety of Mahyco-Monsanto Bt Cotton yielded in its third season four quintals an acre. The survey also found the RCH-2 Bt resulted in a net profit of Rs 11,850 an acre as against MECH-12 and MECH-184 variety's average loss of Rs. 4,000 an acre to the farmers.

The survey included 209 farm families selected by random sampling. Of these 134 had cultivated only Bt cotton, 73 had cultivated both Bt and non-Bt Cotton, while two had cultivated only non-Bt Cotton.

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