Bt resistance right on cue

News archive: March 2010

In a statement issued on 6 March this year, Monsanto said: 
“Testing was conducted to assess for resistance to Cry1Ac, the Bt protein in Bollgard cotton, and pink bollworm resistance to Cry1Ac was confirmed in four districts in Gujarat – Amreli, Bhavnagar, Junagarh and Rajkot. Gujarat is one of nine (Indian) states where cotton is grown. To date, no insect resistance to Cry1Ac has been confirmed outside the four districts in Gujarat.”
'Bollguard' cotton is a GM variety developed by Monsanto. 'Bollguard' has been transfected with a variant of a gene copied from the soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringienses or 'Bt'. The toxic protein generated by the transgene kills a specific insect pest, pink bollworm.



The Company was quick to lay the blame for the emergence of resistance on Indian farmers and regulators. Apparently, the pink bollworm resistance problem is due to farmer ignorance: failure to plant non-Bt crop refuges, failure to procure non-Bt seed for the refuges, failure to scout the crop for pest emergence, failure to switch to Monsanto's Bollguard II which has had two Bt genes inserted, over-use of pesticides, failure to manage the infected crop residues and unopened bolls after harvest, poor tillage and inadequate grazing of cattle on the GM stubble, and previous illegal planting of unsuitable Bt cotton crops.

Monsanto's answer seems to be to advise farmers to buy its Bollguard II cotton seed, and learn how to farm biotech-style.

Anti-GM voices in India are pointing out a number of more fundamental issues. “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.” Monsanto's advice is described as “ridiculous” and “short-sighted”. The first, because Bollguard II has no additional toxin to combat pink bollworm, the second because the Bt toxin is only active for 90 days in the plant, while pink bollworm is a late season pest. Also, “Indian farmers with small holdings cannot be expected to give up large parts of their land for non-productive 'refuges'”.

It has also been pointed out that the Cry1Ac toxin is the same one as that generated by the recently banned GM aubergine.

OUR COMMENT

Put simply, GM high-tech crops are not suitable for small farmers working highly variable land in highly variable ecosystems. Working with these smallholders to develop appropriate, modern, low-input methods to optimise the productivity of their individual farms would be a more real benefit than trying to bend their skills around a fancy foreign crop containing a toxin with limited targets.

Monsanto insists such resistance is “natural and expected”, which hasn't stopped the Company keeping such events under its hat in the past. Here's proof if you ever needed it that the biotech industry's intention is to create new problems so that it can sell new GM crops with an ever-expanding stack of artificial genes in them. At the moment Bt toxins are only tested individually when they are first commercialised: there are no signs of any will to test the cocktail of toxins from stacked genes now entering the food chain. If you value your health, demand testing of all crops as eaten.



SOURCES:
  • Dinesh C. Sharma, Bt cotton has failed admits Monsanto, India Today, 6.03.10
  • Setback for Bt cotton: main pest develops resistance, Business Standard, 6.03.10
  • Zia Haq, Bt cotton flunks pest resistance test in Gujarat, Hindustan Times, 5.03.10
  • Priscilla Jebaraj, Bt cotton ineffective against pest in parts of Gujarat, admits Monsanto, The Hindu, 6.03.10
  • Cotton in India, Monsanto, 5.03.10, www.monsanto.com

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