ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

4 June 2002




1. GM Cotton damaging the environment
Xinhau News Agency

BEIJING, June 3 (Xinhuanet) -- A genetically modified cotton plant which makes up 35 percent of China's crop, is damaging the environment despite its success in controlling the bollworm pest, according to a report released here Monday.

The plant, Bt transgenic cotton, was harming natural parasitic enemies of the bollworm and seemed to be encouraging other pests, according to the study by the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences (NIES) under the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) at a seminar here.

Researchers have seen a significant decrease in populations of the bollworm's parasitic natural enemies.

Bt transgenic cotton, containing anti-bollworm genes from certain bacillus, is in large-scale commercial production in Chinaand the planting area was estimated to top 1.5 million hectares last year, accounting for about 35 percent of the total cotton area, according to the Cotton Research Institute under the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

The report says that the diversity index of the insect community in the Bt cotton fields is lower than conventional cotton fields while the pest dominant concentration index is higher.

The balance of the insect community is weaker in Bt cotton fields than the conventional crops as some kinds of insects thrive and this is more likely to cause outbreaks of certain pests, said Xue Dayuan, the NIES expert in charge of the report.

Populations of pests other than cotton bollworm has increased in Bt cotton fields and some have even replaced it as primary pests because the GM plant is slow at controlling those pests, thereport says.

Scientists also verified with lab tests and field monitoring that cotton bollworm will develop resistance to the GM cotton and concluded that Bt cotton will not resist bollworm after being planted for eight to ten years continuously.

New GM organisms and products would benefit agriculture and many other industries, but people should always beware of the long-term and underlying impacts on the environment, said Zhu Xinquan, chairman of the Chinese Society of Agro-Biotechnology that jointly hosted the seminar with the NIES and Greenpeace China.

GM organisms will pass new genes borrowed from different species to local plants and creatures through reproduction when itis put into the natural environment, changing the natural gene structures, said Isabelle Meister, an expert from Greenpeace International, the international environmental campaign group.

"The changes are irreversible and the loss is likely to be damaging as the genes in nature, mostly existing in wildlife and some small regional species, are useful for people to develop new species of plants and animals with high quality or against certaindisease," she said.

China is a center for diversity of several plants like soy bean and faces the problem of how to protect its original genes from imported GM products, Meister said.


2. GM Cotton brings hardship to S. Sulawesi, farmers claim

June 1, 2002
Jakarta Post
A'an Suryana

A year ago, Santi, a farmer group leader in Bulukumba, South Sulawesi, was extremely pleased when an employee from plantation company PT Branita Sandhini arrived at her home and offered her genetically modified cotton seeds.

The man promised a good harvest with the seeds, with a yield of four to seven tons of cotton per hectare of land.

In addition, Branita Sandhini, a subsidiary of the multinational Monsanto Group, was cited as saying it would provide the seeds and fertilizer through a credit scheme.

Then the company said it would buy the farmers' cotton at a good price, allowing them to pay off their debt to the company and improve their income.

It sounded like a very good offer indeed. So Santi and the farmers in her group set aside 25 hectares of land to plant the genetically modified cotton seeds.

This fantastic offer, however, soon turned sour. The story says that the cotton harvest was very poor, with the farmers getting only some 70 kilograms to 120 kilograms per hectare. Worse still, the price the company set for the cotton was less than impressive.

This trapped Santi and the farmers in her group in debt. "My fellow farmers and I did not deserve this fate. We burned our cotton as a sign of resistance to this unfair treatment," said Santi, who told her story during a discussion organized by the National Consortia for Forest and Nature Conservation in Indonesia (Konphalindo) in Nusa Dua, Bali.

According to a statement provided by Konphalindo, the planting of genetically modified Bollgard cotton seeds by Branita had caused losses not only to farmers, but also to the environment.

Mosanto spokeswoman Tri Sukirman, however, disputed Santi's account and Konphalindo's statement, saying that farmers had gained much from the project, with the productivity of their land increasing after planting the transgenic cotton seeds provided by Branita.

"Using conventional cotton seeds, the productivity was only 550 kilograms per hectare. However, the productivity increased after they used the transgenic cotton, to 1.2 tons per hectares," she told The Jakarta Post. According to Tri, the new transgenic cotton seeds require less fertilizer than conventional seeds, thus reducing pollution.

Conventional cotton, she said, requires seven to 12 fertilizing sessions per season, while the new cotton requires two. She added that the revenue of the farmers had also increased. In the past, she said, farmers earned Rp 750,000 per season, which lasts five months, but now they can earn Rp 3 million.

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