This is dynamite. It confirms what non-government studies have been showing and is completely contrary to the Monsanto hype that has been used to promote GM cotton.
"Why weren't rigorous studies such as this one conducted earlier?" asks Dr Suman Sahai
"We're now asking ourselves the same question," says an Indian government entomologist.
This could not be more timely given last week's agreement between the US and India, under which the US will help India develop nukes and GMOs.
Govt study spies genetic cotton faults
The Telegraph (Calcutta, India)
New Delhi, July 26: Government scientists have acknowledged flaws in the genetically modified Bt cotton plants under commercial cultivation, virtually endorsing what non-government organisations have been claiming for long.
However, biotechnology company Monsanto, which provided the technology to create the plants, said Bt cotton had gained acceptability among farmers and done well in the past three years.
The Bt cotton varieties are designed to make a protein, cry1Ac, that kills bollworms when they gorge on the plants. But scientists at the Central Institute of Cotton Research have reported that the amount of protein is not always enough to kill the insects.
In a study released yesterday, the Nagpur-based scientists said the amount of protein varies across different varieties and, in some plants, decreases to levels that are inadequate to protect the plants 110 days after sowing.
Their experiments also revealed that production of the protein is lowest in the bollworms' most favoured sites of attack - the plants' ovaries found in the flowers and the thick green peel of the cotton boll from which cotton blooms.
"The most vulnerable parts of the plants thus do not have adequate cry1Ac to kill the pest," said Keshav Kranthi, a senior scientist at the institute of cotton research and lead investigator of the study published in the journal Current Science.
These findings, the researchers said, explain farmers' complaints that bollworms survive on Bt cotton plants. Farmers would have to be "mentally prepared for the possibility of extra applications of insecticides to control bollworms," a scientist said.
The pest-killing ability of the Bt cotton varieties stay intact for about 110 days, the study showed. But cry1Ac levels decline steadily as the plants grow and drop to below the critical "lethal level" of 1.9 micrograms by 110 days.
"This study validates our findings and proves that Bt cotton in India was approved without adequate field testing," said Suman Sahai, director of Gene Campaign, a New Delhi-based NGO that has been demanding greater transparency in genetic engineering issues.
Sahai said India's regulatory agencies should have ascertained whether the plants produce the protein in the right amounts and on the right sites in the plant before approving it for commercial cultivation. "Why weren't rigorous studies such as this one conducted earlier?" she asked.
"We're now asking ourselves the same question," a government entomologist said.
The Bt cotton plants carry a gene from a bacteria called Bacillus thurigiensis (Bt) that allows the plants to produce the cryAc1 protein which is toxic to bollworms.
A spokesperson for Monsanto said Indian farmland under Bt cotton has grown from 72,000 hectares in 2002 to over 1.2 million hectares in 2004. Last year, over 350,000 farmers had planted Bt cotton.
"A majority of farmers in India have managed crops with minimal insecticide sprays for control of bollworms," the spokesperson said.
But the research institute data shows that Bt cotton in India may require more supplemental insecticide sprays than Bt cotton elsewhere in the world.