The objection raised by NGOs and other expert panels against Bt cotton have been “speculative, confusing and without any reasonable assessment of technological strength”, Parliament was informed today.
Bt cotton is the only transgenic crop approved for commercialisation in the country till date.
In a written reply to the Lok Sabha, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said: “From the inception of Bt cotton, there has been a sustained objection from some of the NGOs besides civil society, technical expert committee constituted by Supreme Court, Parliamentary Standing Committee, etc,”
“The objections have been very speculative and confusing, without any reasonable assessment of the technological strengths of Bt cotton. ...There is no scientific evidence to show that Bt cotton has adversely impacted the biodiversity of human/cattle health,” he said.
The NGOs and panels have opposed on the grounds that biosafety assessment of Bt cotton before its introduction and post release monitoring of it were not adequate. Secondly, Bt cotton was not suitable for cultivation for rainfed areas.
Lastly, cattle death and farmers’ suicides were attributed to introduction of Bt cotton in some regions, he added.
In spite of the controversy regarding Bt cotton, Pawar said, “The ground reality is that during the last decade, area under cotton cultivation and productivity has gone up significantly. During the post Bt cotton era, Indian economy has benefited as India is the second largest cotton exporter.”
The main purpose of Bt cotton was to control the dreaded insect pests —— bollworms. Bt cotton effectively controls bollworms, thus preventing yield losses from an estimated damage of 30—60 per cent each year in the country, he noted.
The use of insecticides for bollworm control has come down to 222 tonnes in 2011-12 from 9,400 tonnes prior to the introduction of Bt cotton. Whereas yields are estimated to have increased at least by 30 per cent due to effective protection from bollworm damage, he explained.
Asked if steps are being taken by the government to curb its likely impact on human health, Pawar said, “The government is following a policy of case by case approval of genetically modified (GM) crops. Extensive evaluation and regulatory approval process takes place before any GM crop is approved for commercial cultivation.”
A final view on the commercialisation of GM crop is taken only when there is a clear economic and technical justification besides suitability for environment and human consumption, he added.
Out of about 19 million hectare, 90 per cent is under Bt cotton. Cotton production stood at 35.2 million bales (of 170 kg each) in the 2011-12 crop year (July-June).