There is a steady fall globally in the use of insecticides and pesticides – thanks to the growth in cultivation of biotech-driven crops, says Anthony M. Shelton, an agri-biotech expert from Cornell University, US.

Bt cotton and corn are the key drivers that are pushing down the sales of the $10-billion global insecticide industry.

Environmental concerns apart, the availability of insect resistant Bt crops are playing an important role, he said.

There is also a good case to bring down the use of harmful insecticide and pesticide sprays through biotech techniques in fruits and vegetable crops, especially cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant (brinjal), onions and tomatoes, he said.

Interestingly, two major insecticide producing companies – Bayer Crop Sciences and DuPont E.I. – have strongly forayed into biotechnology, especially Bt and transgenics. In the next decade, the focus would be on developing newer varieties of plants that are resistant to key insects, Shelton, who heads Cornell’s Agricultural Experimental Station, told Business Line here.

Tracing the growth of agri-biotech, Shelton, an expert in integrated pest management said insect resistant Bt crops were grown in 66 million hectares spread across 26 countries in 2011.

“It is also no longer a rich country’s crop as nearly 50 per cent of these countries are from the developing block,” he said.

Regulatory concerns

Referring to India, he said regulatory impediments are slowing down the growth of biotechnology, especially in agri-biotech. China is rapidly moving forward in adoption of Bt technology for agri-crops, while India is grappling with putting in place its Regulatory Authority for biotechnology.

Interestingly, when India announced a moratorium on Bt brinjal in 2011, China gave its nod for Bt rice in a big way, he said.

Shelton felt that fortified rice varieties, which will give additional benefits such as Vitamin A and Bt crops that give environmental benefits by way of reducing pesticide use to resistant to harmful insects and higher yielding varieties, have the potential to turn the tide in favour of this technology in the future.