Biotech industry’s propaganda is false
The only transgenic crop grown in India is Bt cotton developed by injecting a toxin from a soil bacterium called Bacillus Thuringiensis [Bt] into a cotton seed through a highly sophisticated process.
When planted the seed produces a highly toxic cotton plant. Its roots, stem, leaves and boll continuously secrete Bt toxin. The dreaded pest American Bollworm, starts dying when it bites into this plant. The argument goes that farmers do not have to spray pesticides, get more yields and make more profit. The industry claims that farmers make Rs 2,0000 per acre more than they used to earn previously.
Look at these claims dispassionately. In 2004-5 when only 5% of cotton area in India had Bt, the yield was 470 kg per hectar. In 2011-12, when 90% of Indian cotton farms are growing Bt, the estimates are 480kgs per hectar, a measly increase of 4 kg per acre! In Vidarbha, Maharashtra 90% of all cotton is Bt. Mr Sharad Pawar, Union agriculture minister, himself a great proponent of GE crops, told Parliament on Dec-ember 19, 2011: “Vidarbha produces about 1.2 quintals [cotton lint] per hectare on an average.” This is less than 20% of what conventional non-Bt farmers used to get in the late 1990s and early 2000. Vidarbha farmers are losing about Rs 2,000 crore per year, leading to increasing suicides by cotton farmers.
In AP during the Kharif 2011 season, 33.73 lakh acres of the 47 lakh acres planted with Bt cotton, suffered from crop failure. Two-thirds of the cotton area had a yield loss of more than 50%. The AP data shows that after 10 years of Bt cultivation, the yields are less than the pre-Bt days. More disturbingly, Bt cultivation is making our soil increasingly toxic. In 2003, a year after Bt was introduced, the soil registered a 2% toxicity. In 2007, five years later, the soil toxicity jumped to 40%. Bt cotton has been killing the soil systematically.
It is claimed that Bt cotton significantly reduces pesticide use. During the seven years of study of Bt cotton in Warangal, NPM methods of cotton cultivation showed 20% to 50% less costs on pesticides compared to Bt cotton, proving the “low pesticide use” argument blatantly false.
A new ace up the sleeves of the agro-chemical industry is that transgenic crop increases the nutritional value of our foods. Most visible of this propaganda is for GE rice, which is intended to bring Vitamin A into our plates. Many experts say that by eating about 200 gm of green leafy vegetables or a raw mango or a spoonful of pumpkin, one gets as much of Vitamin A offered by about 2.5 kg of Vitamin A rice. Globally, there is a growing apprehension about the ill-effects of transgenic foods on human health. Experiments on mice fed with GM foods have shown growth abnormalities, liver disturbances, and unprecedented allergies. The UK-based Union of Concerned Scientists has gathered multiple evidences of this. But the biotech industry has consistently bulldozed these arguments, using its financial and media muscle.
Transgenic industry is like the emperor’s clothes. The more closely you see it, the more its lies become evident. We need to be extremely vigilant about the consistent falsehoods spread by the industry and their mascots.
P.V. Satheesh is Director, Deccan Development Society