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Monsanto’s Bt Cotton Hits Resistance Trouble in India, New Pests Emerge

Immediate release (8 Mar 2010)

Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341 065

Monsanto’s admission that a major cotton pest has developed resistance to their GM Bollgard 1 Bt cotton has been described by GM Freeze as “predictable” and that it “could be disastrous for poor farmers”.

Resistance has been confirmed in one major insect pest of cotton – the pink bollworm – in four districts of Gujarat. [1] This is one of the first cases where widespread breakdown of GM insect resistance has taken place. Reports also suggest that sucking insect pests, which are not controlled by the Bt toxins genetically engineered into the cotton, are also increasing. Yields of Bt cotton are reported to be down by 8.5% and pesticide costs up by one third. [2]

Monsanto are seeking to blame farmers for the problem, claiming they failed to provide non-GM refuges in cotton crops, which are designed to prevent resistant bollworms growing in numbers. Monsanto’s solution is another Bt cotton, this time containing two resistance genes, and to apply more chemicals. One Indian campaigner described this approach as “a vicious circle that Indian farmers have got into”. [3]

Commenting on the events in India, Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

The existence of pest resistant to Bt cotton is predictable. It mirrors previous experiences with chemical pesticides when attempts to kill pests, rather than managing them, has inevitably led to resistance developing and shifts to new pests.

Cotton growers were subjected to heavy marketing pressure by Monsanto to switch to Bt varieties in the first place, and now they are in danger of being trapped on a treadmill of pesticide and GM dependency. It could be disastrous for poor farmers who are faced with rising costs and falling yields.

The Indian authorities need to deal with this problem very quickly by making non-GM seed available to farmers and by set up training in non-chemical crop management techniques.

ENDs

Notes
[1] See India Today, 6 March 2010, at http://indiatoday.intoday.in/site/Story/86939/India/Bt+cotton+has+failed+admits+Monsanto.html

and

Business Standard, 6 March 2010, at www.business-standard.com/india/news/setback-for-bt-cotton-main-pest-develops-resistance/387703/.

[2] India Today, as above.

[3] “This is the pattern Monsanto has been following everywhere. Once Bollgard 1 fails, they start pushing Bollgard 2 and tell farmers to apply more pesticides. This is a vicious circle that Indian cotton farmers have got into,” Devinder Sharma of Forum for Biotechnology and Food Safety said. Quoted in India Today, see 1 above.