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Is GM cotton a success in India or not?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 28-08-2017 Mayank Aggarwal

New Delhi: A parliamentary panel has asked the environment ministry to conduct a comprehensive study to evaluate whether Bt cotton, the country’s only transgenic crop, is a success amid a debate over whether commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) crops should be allowed.

The need for such a study was felt as central government agencies have attempted to portray a rosy picture about Bt cotton production in the country which "actually is not the case”, the panel noted.

Transgenic cotton is the only GM crop approved for cultivation in India, and the government and civil society groups have made conflicting claims about its success. 

The parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, environment and forests, led by Congress MP Renuka Chwodhury, submitted the report to the Rajya Sabha chairman on Friday.

The panel observed that while government data claims success of Bt cotton, civil society says the production of cotton in the country has increased largely due to increase in area under cotton, significant increase in irrigation and fertile groundnut cultivation areas shifting to cotton.

In its report, the committee observed that “India’s cotton yields increased by 69% in the five years (2000-2005) when Bt cotton was less than 6% of total cotton area, but by only 10% in the 10 years from 2005 to 2015 when Bt cotton grew to 94% of total cotton area”. 

It also noted that the data provided by the government agencies speak only about the production and not the average yield of Bt cotton, which the committee believes would be the true assessment of the potential of the GM technology. 

“The committee is of the considered view that this duality of the claims about the increase in the yield of cotton after its commercialisation in the country needs further examination and clarification,” the panel said.

The panel also pulled up the government for moving with haste towards commercialization of GM crops and said it should thoroughly examine the impact of GM crops on the environment before taking a final call.

The committee also noted that 21 years after the introduction of GM crops in the world, only six countries account for more than 90% of all GM crop area globally (the US 40%, Brazil 23%, Argentina 14%, India 6%, Canada 6% and China 2%) and despite the GM technology being propagated as the “most advanced agricultural technology, 17 of the 20 most developed countries do not grow it, which includes most of Europe, Japan, Russia, Israel, etc.”

The panel observed that there is “increasing evidence about the lack of safety of GM crops and little or no benefits to justify the risks”.

Civil society groups are now opposing the commercialisation of GM mustard crop.

If GM mustard gets a go ahead, it will become India’s first GM food crop.

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