Seeds of doubt

Published: Sunday 30 June 2002

Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton -- which was cleared for commercial cultivation in India recently -- has been found to cause damage to the environment. The discovery was made by scientists in China where the transgenic variety of cotton comprises 35 per cent of the country's crop. Even though Bt cotton's success in controlling the bollworm pest is not disputed, it has been found that the plant harms the population of natural parasitic enemies of bollworm and seems to encourage other pests. A report by Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences (nies) under the State Environmental Protection Administration in China sheds light on these findings. China produces Bt cotton commercially. In 2001, it was grown in an estimated area of 1.5 million hectares, about 35 per cent of total cotton area, stated the Cotton Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. The study says that the variety of insects found in the Bt cotton fields is less than in conventional ones, but the concentration of pests is more in the former. Scientists also found that Bt cotton would not resist bollworm after being planted for eight to 10 years continuously.

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