Critical articles recently authored by geneticist P.C. Kesavan and leading agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan describing Bt cotton as a “failure” seems to have missed a lot of positive points. The Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, K. VijayRaghavan has therefore, rightly called this paper as “deeply flawed”.
Professor Swaminathan has said that “Genetic modification is the technology of choice for solving abiotic problems like drought flood, salinity, etc. It may not be equally effective in the case of biotic stresses since new strains of pests and diseases arise all the time.”
Combatting the criticism –
- The U.S. National Academy of Sciences observed in 2016 that “Bt in maize and cotton from 1996 to 2015 contributed to a reduction in the gap between actual yield and potential yield under circumstances in which targeted pests caused substantial damage to non-GE varieties and synthetic chemicals could not provide practical control”.
- Data from a large number of peer-reviewed publications have shown that, on average, GM technology adoption has reduced pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yield by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%.
- Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops.
- Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries.
- Data from a billion animals fed on GM corn have not indicated any health hazards.
- Those in the Americas and elsewhere consuming Bt corn or soybean for over 15 years have not reported any health issues.
- Even reports based on faulty studies in experimental animals that stated that GMOs cause cancer were withdrawn.
- Major food safety authorities of the world have rejected these findings.
Performance in India –
- The yields hovering around 300 kg/ha at the time of introduction of Bt cotton (2002) have increased to an average of over 500 kg/ha, converting India from a cotton-importing country to the largest exporter of raw cotton.
- The herbicide glyphosate is only used for selection of hybrids and is not meant for farmer fields. In any case, reports on the probable carcinogenic potential of the herbicide have not been accepted by major science academies.
- The development of resistance can be tackled through practices like Integrated Pest Management and by stacking Bt genes to fight secondary pests.
- The moratorium on Bt brinjal is the most unfortunate step taken by the government in 2010. Bangladesh has used India’s data to successfully cultivate Bt brinjal. Reports indicate that as many as 6,000 Bangladeshi farmers cultivated Bt brinjal in 2017 with no issues at sight.
- India has one of the strongest regulatory protocols for field trials of GM crops. It is an insult to the integrity of our scientists to indict the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation and the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee as lacking in expertise and having vested interests.
It is unfortunate that farmer distress is being wrongly attributed to Bt cotton failure. Farmers continue to grow Bt cotton. There is definitely scope for improvement in terms of technology and regulatory protocols. But it is time to deregulate the Bt gene and lift the embargo on Bt brinjal. A negative review from opinion-makers can only mislead the country. In the end, it is India that will be the loser.
Source – The Hindu
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