This cotton variety was genetically modified only to enable it to protect itself against pests, and it failed. The stunning disclosure has swerved the spotlight back on the debate over the efficacy and sustainability of GM crops.
No doubt, there were four different varieties of pests that Bt cotton was expected to resist — and has so far failed the test in only one.
Bt cotton is the only GM crop approved for commercial cultivation in India and 522 varieties, including those developed by state-owned institutions, are being farmed.
“During field monitoring of the 2009 cotton crop in Gujarat, Monsanto1 and Mahyco scientists detected unusual survival of pink bollworm to first-generation single-protein Bollgard cotton. Testing was conducted to assess for resistance to Cry1Ac, the Bt protein in Bollgard cotton, and pink bollworm resistance to Cry1Ac was confirmed,” the company said on Friday.
Monsanto said further studies were being conducted on why the crops lost their pest-fighting ability.
Responding to an e-mail question, the company said use of unapproved Bt cotton seeds, planted prior to approval, which may have had lower potency, and not following farming norms might have contributed to pink bollworm resistance. This has been reported to India’s biotech regulator, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee.
Does this put under cloud Bt technology itself? G T Gujar, who heads the insect science division of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, said: “This is just a preliminary report and shouldn’t be viewed as failure of the technology. It’s a chance to understand it better.”
Gujar said some resistance was natural and therefore, farming Bt cotton according to government norms was essential.
Anti-GM groups said Monsanto’s disclosure proved the inefficacy of BT technology. “The shortcoming of any pest management technology that tries to kill an insect rather than control or manage it is apparent as has been predicted. This is true with Bt technology as well as with chemical pesticides,” said Kavitha Kuruganti of Faridkot-based Kheti Virasat Mission.