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Bollworms develop resistance to Bt cotton, destroy GM crop fields in Pakistan

Bt cotton

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(NaturalNews) Biotech giant Monsanto promises farmers that, if they buy genetically modified (GM) seeds, their crops will exhibit herbicide-, insect- and drought-tolerant characteristics.

Through time, research and field trials, this has proven to be a false promise. All over the world, plants and insects are becoming immune to potent herbicides and pesticides, resulting in the development of "superweeds" and "superpests."

One of the most recent examples is occurring in the major cotton growing belt of Southern Punjab, where farmers fear that bollworms have developed resistance to Monsanto's Bt cotton.

Monsanto currently provides three products to cotton farmers, including Bollgard-II (insect protection), Roundup Ready Flex (RRF) (herbicide tolerance) and Bollgard-II with Roundup Ready Flex, which is supposed to protect against both.

Bt cotton creating superpests in Pakistan

Despite the use of RRF and Bollgard-II, cotton crops are still being attacked by various species of the bollworm, a caterpillar that eats away at the plant during formation, affecting the development of the cotton ball and thus reducing the amount of fiber produced.

Instead of eradicating the bollworm, American, pink and spotted bollworms have become resistant to the Bt cotton because of insufficient toxin levels, according to some experts.

"All Bt varieties of cotton have failed to kill bollworms and live up to their agricultural success stories. We have found four separate patches in our fields where Army bollworm and mealy bug have attacked the crop," said Chaudhry Gohar Ali, a cotton grower in central Pakistan.

The government is urging farmers to continuously spray pesticides in order to control the infestation, which can be costly and deadly to human health and the environment. Pesticides can cost anywhere from 600 to 700 rupees per liter, or about $12 (USD).

Another cotton grower from Shahdadpur in Sindh, a region in southeastern Pakistan, is also concerned about his 100-acre crop spread.

"I am surprised how these pests have survived after eating the Bt cotton crop. Pests should be dying because of the high doses of toxins in Bt cotton plant and not developing resistance, which seems to be the case here," said Muhammad Bux.

Monsanto's Bt cotton was supposed to decrease pesticide use for farmers, but instead the reverse has happened, forcing them to use even more chemicals than before.

"The usage of pesticides increased after Bt was introduced in Pakistan, as the cotton production had been reducing," reported Dawn.com.

"The government has spent an estimated Rs985 million, besides foreign aid, in this regard in the name of research and development of biotechnology. Instead of developing indigenous modified seeds, researchers and scientists ended up copying technology from multinational seed-producing companies and started selling them in the markets to local farmers," said an agriculture expert in the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC).

Officials with PARC say part of the problem is that there's no national pest management program to educate farmers about superpests.

What's even more peculiar is that the threat of bollworms in Punjab has been as low as 1 to 2 percent. Some farmers say the biggest threat to cotton is the leaf curl virus and mealy bug, which Bt is completely ineffective against.

Punjab's ability to grow cotton is extremely important, as the region produces 80 to 90 percent of the country's cotton, amounting to about 10 million bales annually.

"The idea of introducing genetically modified seeds in Pakistan was to minimise pesticide usage and reduce the costs of inputs, apart from keeping the environment clean," said Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) Director of Agriculture and Biotechnology Dr. Nayyer Iqbal.

Instead of using ineffective and harmful GMO seeds, farmers would be better off resorting to traditional farming practices like crop rotation, which helps prevent pests and disease.

"By moving the crop each year you stop soil-borne pests that are fairly specific to that crop attacking the next that you plant," reported lovethegarden.com.

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