ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

19 December 2002


AgBioIndia Mailing List
19 December 2002

Subject: Bt cotton: Caught on the wrong foot

India's Environment Minister, Mr T. R. Baalu, had only a few days back claimed that Bt cotton crop was a success. Speaking in Parliament, Mr Baalu said that Bt coton had shown 'encouraging' results in the very first year of its planting. He was answering a question about the reported failure of the transgenic crop in several parts of the country.

Mr Baalu's also said that expert teams, which had toured the cotton belt, have submitted reports saying that the crop yielded more and the farmers sprayed less of pesticides. What Mr Baalu however did not divulge was that the 'teams' comprised the same people who were part of the approval process. Isn't it like asking the police department to conduct an enquiry into alleged fake encounters that involves the police and criminals? After all, how can the officials of Department of Biotechnology (and biotechnologists from the research institutes) be asked to monitor the performance of the crop when they have a vested interest in promoting biotechnology?

Within days of Mr Baalu's insipid 'defence' for a faulty technology, the president Indian Seed Industry Association has accepted that the "performance of Bt cotton has not been up to the mark." Bt cotton failure has been attributed to "the transgenic material not being put on the appropriate and responsive host stock of traditional hybrid". In other words, Monsanto-Mahyco had transferred the Bt gene into a wrong cotton hybrid. This was not something that was not known earlier. In fact, ever since the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) had aggressively campaigned for the approval of Bt cotton, many scientists had unofficially questioned the performance of the cotton hybrid that was being used for transgenic seed purposes. Many believed (and for reasons that are entirely scientific) that Monsanto had used the same kind of varieties that had shown susceptibility to American bollworm in America.

No wonder, Bt cotton crop failure had forced cotton growers to agitate at several places in Maharashtra and Gujarat. Many studies done by independent experts and NGOs have established that Bt cotton had failed to yield the desired results (See AgBioIndia bulletins listed below). What remains unexplained is as to how come the American bollworm atack was observed in some areas (in the very first year of planting) when the transgenic is supposed to be resistant against this dreaded pest. In Karnataka, the State Minister for Agriculture, Mr. V.S. Kougaligi, while replying to a query not only ridiculed Mr Baalu's claim by saying that "growing of Bt cotton has not yielded the desired results in Karnataka" (Times of India, 14/12/02) but also made it clear that "Govt has not given official go-ahead for growing genetically modified Bt. cotton" (Deccan Herald, 15/12/02).

It has also become apparent that although there are no patents on agriculture crop varieties in India, Monsanto-Mahyco's transgenic seed was priced prohibitively high because of the inclusion of a 'royalty' component. The price of transgenic seed (Rs 1600 for 450 grams of Bollgard brand) had a royalty component of Rs 1200. In contrast, the 'desi' seed of Bt cotton supplied by Navbharat Seeds (the company responsible for illegal plantings in Gujarat in 2001) cost the farmers Rs 550 for a kilo. Nearly 90 per cent of the Bt cotton crop in Gujarat was planted with Navbharat seeds.

Bt cotton controversy has surely snowballed into a major scandal. It involves the seed companies, officials of the DBT, the members of the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC), the Review Committee for Genetic Modifications (RCGM) and the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). A section of the print media is also part of the nexus, having launched a concerted campaign to promote the Bt cotton seeds, something which goes against the very ethics of journalism.

The Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security had from the very beginning dubbed the entire exercise as 'the greatest scientific fraud' in independent India's history. Recent incidents and the governments effort to 'greenwash' the claims and 'whitewash' the fraud have proved to be futile. Only a criminal inquiry conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) can provide the right answers.


1. Bt cotton fails to yield expected results -- UNI
2. Mahyco's Bt cotton variety `not up to the mark' -- The Hindu

1. Bt cotton failed in giving expected results say seed breaders.

By Jaspal Singh Sidhu

New Delhi, Dec 18 (UNI): The much-hyped pronouncement that Bt cotton would prove a saviour of the distressed farmers, has turned out to be ''hollow claims'' as the first transgenic crop introduced in the country failed to give the expected results in terms of yield and reduction in pescticide use, say Indian seed breeders.

The breeders, however, say the Bt technology per se is a proven technology and what went wrong with the Bt cotton crop in India is that Mahyco which brought out the transgenic cotton for commercial cultivation, could not select the right Indian hybrid for administering the transfer of technology.

"There are reports that Bt cotton crop was wilting in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka this season," said a scientist from Andhra Pradesh State Agriculture University. The scientist, who is also an advisor to a private seed breeding company, said the farmer had to shell out Rs 1,600 for procuring 450 GM of Bt cotton seed for cultivation in an acre of land. Of this amount, Rs 1,200 was Bt technology fee and the rest was the price of the seeds, he added.

Farmers did not get adequate results in reduction in pesticide use as well as in the yield increase which was around four quintals an acre, being almost the same as the non-Bt variety.

The genetic engineering approval committee (GEAC), the apex regulatory authority for release of genetically modified crop for the commercial cultivation in the country, had cleared three Bt cotton varieties, developed by Mahyco on March 26, 2002 for growing in the southern states, Gujarat and Maharashtra. However, Bt cotton seeds were illegally smuggled and sown in this season in the northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan as well.

When pressed to comment on the performance of Bt cotton, Indian Seed Industry Association president M Prabhakar Rao admitted that "the results are not up to the mark". He attributed the reasons for low results saying the "transgenic material has not been put on the appropriate and responsive host stock of traditional hybrid".

According to reports, Bt cotton was sown in an area of 200,000 to 300,000 acres in Andhra Pradesh alone. The total area under the transgenic crop is estimated around 5 lakh acres this season.

Farmers of Gujarat and Maharasthra are also agitating against the poor performance of Bt cotton. But on the other hand, Mahyco has denied that the transgenic crop had failed to give the expected results. A company official said in fact, the farmers had failed to follow the manual provided by them for growing Bt cotton. He claimed that the transgenic crop is resistant only against bollworm, not other pests and insects which required additional spraying.

2.Mahyco's Bt cotton variety `not up to the mark'

By Gargi Parsai

NEW DELHI DEC. 18. Genetically engineered Bt cotton variety released by Monsanto (Mahyco) in India has not been 'p to the mark', the President of the Indian Industry Seed Association, M. Prabhakar Rao, said here today when asked specifically about the failure of the crop in several States including Andhra Pradesh.

Mr. Rao, who was here to organise a national seminar on `Bhartiya seed industry', was reluctant to be drawn into a discussion on the failure of Mahyco variety of cotton. He did, however, admit that the Bt cotton "would work better if it went into the right genetic background" and addressed the pest scouting performance. To that extent, more trials were needed in India. Mr. Rao said in the globalisation era, indigenous seed industry needed support from the government for which they've organised a national conference on `Globalisation: Challenges and opportunities'.

He opposed a new clause introduced in the draft Seeds Act which called for compensation to farmers in case of failure of a variety.

For a quick recap, also see:

1.AgBioIndia bulletin, Dec 10, 2002:  "India: Bt cotton fraud proved."

2.AgBioIndia bulletin, Oct 18, 2002:  "Bollworm eats into Bt cotton pride."

The AgBioIndia mailing list is an effort by the Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security to bridge the yawning gap in our understanding of the politics of food. We believe this mailing list will create wider awareness and understanding of the compexities of the crisis facing Indian agriculture and food security. This list will keep you posted on the intricacies and games being enacted in the name of eradicating hunger.  It is a non-commercial educational service for non-profit organisations and individuals. Subscribers are welcome to contribute information.  You can view previous issues at

ngin bulletin archive