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Information on agricultural biotechnology for plant and animal researchers and policy-makers

News Article

India Approves Bt Cotton


India’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee has approved the release of Bt cotton for commercial use on certain conditions.

India’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee has approved the release of Bt cotton for commercial use on certain conditions. GEAC chairman A.M. Gokhale said that 10 conditions to be enforced were to be announced shortly. "The committee decided unanimously in favour of releasing Bt cotton for commercial use and we are now working out the details. The test results are satisfactory and these cotton seeds are not hazardous to environment," Gokhale said. Conditions were expected to cover non-GM refuges and buffer zones, and spell out monitoring requirements.

The GM cottonseed developed by Monsanto contains a Bacillus thuringiensis endotoxin gene. It will be marketed by Mahyco. The announcement follows 4 years of analysis, and heated debate on the percieved benefits and risks. Last year saw illegal growing of Bt cotton seeds sold by Navbharat Seeds in Gujurat.

The approval covers BT MECH 12, BT MECH 162 and BT MECH 184 varieties containing the Bt CRY 1 Ac genes. Trials were continuing on a fourth variety. "The period of validity of approval is three years from April 2002-March 2005," Gokhale said. Among the conditions is a non-GM refuge in which the same non-Bt cotton variety will be sown. The GEAC says the belt must include at least five rows of non-Bt cotton or 20% of total sown area, whichever was more. MAHYCO will be required to monitor bollworm susceptibility to Bt.

"About 150,000 hectares out of the present area will come under Bt cotton in the first year," Gokhale said. He predicted a "spectacular" increase in productivity and a drastic reduction in use of insecticides. India's cotton output for this year is expected to be around 15.6 million bales (of 170 kg each) from 14.0 million in 2001., according to the Cotton Advisory Board, set up by the federal textile ministry.

Manju Sharma, Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), says that after Bt cotton the next crops in line are Indian mustard (Brassica) developed by Aventis Crop Sciences and marketed in India by ProAgro Seeds and transgenic potatoes with high nutritional quality developed with introduction of the AmAI gene from Amaranthus. The transgenic mustard has also completed field trials and has been evaluated by the Review Committee on Genetic Modification (RCGM) and the results of further field trials would be evaluated by GEAC.

Sharma says that a transgenic fish expressing growth hormone gene will be subject to further evaluation during in 2002. A diagnostic kit for white spot virus in prawns would be evaluated in 2002. Preparation of animal feed through conversion of lignocellulasic material and its enrichment would be taken up as a major research priority. Genomic studies will be taken up for major livestock species like buffalo. India is also hoping to produce edible vaccines, for diseases such as cholera, rabies and hepatitis B. It is expected that clinical trials of plants such as tomatoes, bananas and cabbage containing the vaccine antigens will happen in 2003-04

In the longer term, GM rice, mungbean, pigeonpea, tomato, cabbage and cauliflower are being developed for field evaluation, and it is hoped that they might be on the market by 2005. Protein-enriched transgenic wheat may be available by 2003-05.

The Kisan Coordination Committee (KCC), a farmer’s organisation, praised the announcement: "It's a major step in ensuring farmers freedom of access to technology," said Shetkari Sanghathan leader Sharad Joshi. "A door has been opened for cotton farmers; one more manacle has been removed," said Saroj Kashikar, president of the KCC. "Armed with this new technology, Indian farmers are now better placed to take on competition in the international arena."

"The trials conducted have been highly inadequate and led to a corrupt decision under the pressure of MNCs like Monsanto," environmentalist Vandana Shiva of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology said. She argued that within a generation or two bollworm pests would become resistant to Bt Cotton toxin, making the transgenic seeds counterproductive in the long run.

Gene Campaign's Suman Sahai said Indian cropping pattern and climate was not suitable for growing Bt cotton. Sahai also argued that refuges were impractical in India where land holdings are small and average around one to 1.5 acres.

The Confederation of Indian Industry said the approval was "a landmark decision and a shot in the arm for the biotech industry." It would "pave the way for future research and development in the agri-biotech industry in the country," said a spokesperson. Arguing that the approval was long overdue, CII said that the decision would have a positive impact both on the domestic and international front. It would also send a positive signal that the government is committed to promoting the growth of knowledge–based industries in India.

"The approval of Bt Cotton would help in the economic upliftment of cotton farmers in the country and also provide them with the requisite technology to become competitive", said the CII.

Article details

  • Date
  • 27 March 2002
  • Subject(s)
  • Genetic engineering/ modification
  • Plant and animal genes and genomics