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Genetically modified cotton comes to India

May 9, 2000

The genetically engineered cotton seed developed by Monsanto has been given a ‘biosafety clearance’ by the Indian government. This paves the way for the cultivation and marketing of transgenic cotton in the country. Monsanto has been in the forefront of research and discovery of pesticide resistant seeds for cotton, soyabean, and corn. Though these have caught on to some extent in the USA itself, farmers in Europe have been far more circumspect since there is resistance both from regulators and consumers of genetically modified foods.

Hence it will be interesting to see the reception that genetically modified cotton seeds receive from farmers in India. Even in the past, the Indian farmer has shown himself to be a shrewd judge of the farm products that he buys and there is no reason not to allow him to decide whether he wants or does not want to use genetically modified seeds.

Secondly, the productivity of cotton in India at 200 kgs/hectare is among the lowest in the world. It has been estimated that the yield can be easily doubled to 400/kgs per hectare if proper farm practices, pesticides and irrigation facilities are put in place. The use of transgenic cotton could help the farmer reduce the amount he spends on insecticides since the gene `Bacillus Thuringiensis' inserted in the cotton creates a protein deadly to certain insecticides.

If the use of transgenic cotton takes off this could signal the start of tough times for Indian pesticide manufacturers such as United Phosphorous, Rallis and Excel Industries which derive almost 70% of their revenues from insectides. A longer term benefit of improved cotton productivity, as and when it happens, would be to allow the exports of raw cotton itself. So far the spinning mills have prevailed upon the government to restrict cotton exports in order to facilitate the yarn producers to get cotton at cheaper prices on the grounds of promoting value added exports.

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