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Advantages and Disadvantages of Bt Cotton

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Cotton is one of the major fiber crops, which is used for a variety of industrial productions. However the damage the cotton plants received from Bollworms, cotton has undergone a process where Bt has been added to its gene to combat the pesticides. Bt cotton continues to deliver significant and multiple agronomic, economic, environmental and welfare benefits. However since Bt cotton was introduced in India, the health and wellbeing in Indian farmers have declined and illegal actions in the black markets became more prominent. This report reflects on the question, ‘Does the benefit of GM cotton outweigh the illegal and health concerns for Indian Farmers?’ It’s important to understand and recognize that over the past decade, Bt cotton has become more of a health and wellbeing concern to the mental state of Indian farmers. This report will reflect on the biological concept and key terms to the investigation, the historical events that have occurred that made rise to Bt cotton, the process in which how the experiment was conducted, and the influence of social, economic, legal and ethical factors have on India and on the farmers.

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Cotton has played a significant role in the production of cloth and furniture, ever since Ancient times. It’s a light and breathable fibrous substance, which is often associated with quality clothing. Cotton cropping provides 60% of the fiber used in textile industry, more than one million metric tons of cooking oil and another million metric ton of quality animal feed. However, cotton isn’t new to this society; in fact, the crop has been used for more than 7,000 years and originates from the Americas, Africa, Egypt, and India and used for many purposes. However the use of Bt cotton is something rather new and hasn’t been around for even a few decades. The bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) was discovered in 1901 by Japanese biologist Shigetane Ishiwatari from investigating the cause of the sotto disease that was killing large populations of silkworms. Since then, scientist, and biologist have experimented and investigated ways to use this bacterium to fight off pesticides in crops, improve crop management effectiveness, and reduce labor efforts and the cost. Bt cotton was first approved for field trials in the United States in 1993 and later in 1995 when it became a commercial use in farming.

In 2002, a joint venture between Monsanto and Mahyco (Agrochemical companies) introduced Bt to India. This significantly affected the farming production of cotton in India, as India grew to the largest GM cotton crop at 10.6 million hectares as of 2011, and the largest producer of cotton as of 2014. The process of transgenesis: Bt cotton was achieved through the process of transgenesis, where additional genes encoding toxin crystals were placed into the cotton’s DNA. This transformation was invented in full purpose to combat the pesticides but since then, the new genetically modified cotton has made many other benefits to the farming industry and to the economy. The process undergoes the transformation of plants using Agrobacterium tumefaciens most commonly found in soil, which infects wounded plant tissue. This bacterium contains a plasmid, which is removed from the bacterium, and the transferred-DNA (Ti-DNA) is cut by a restriction enzyme. The plasmid interacts with compounds released by fractured plants cells known as Vikram. The foreign DNA is cut by the same enzyme and is inserted into the Ti-DNA of the plasmid where it is then reinserted into the bacterium. It carries the foreign gene into the chromosome of a plant cell and grows in culture. The plant is generated from a cell clone, and the foreign gene many express it as a new trait . This process has been globally industrialized, however, since the introduction of this new genetically modified plant, developing countries have experienced the best outcomes on production, however, not so well on their health and wellbeing of their mental state.

Ever since the introduction of Bt cotton to Indian in 2002, India’s cotton production has grown significantly that now it has become the number one cotton producing country in the world. It reached this milestone in 2014 over taking China. Over the last decade, India sustained the growth of cotton primarily due to the adoption of the Bt cotton plant, which has increased the area location and cotton bales being produced. It was significant change as in 2014, 40 million bales of cotton were produced, comparing to the previous years where in 2013 had 39 million bales and 25 million bales in 2012. The graph below shows the trend in cotton production over a 40-year period. The graph compares the three top leading cotton production countries, including China, India, and the United States from 1960 to 2014. The blue trend line represents China, green for India and dotted line for the United States. These trend lines distinctively indicate a steep increase in cotton production in USA beginning in 1996, China in 1997 and India in 2002, corresponding with the introduction of the Bt cotton. From a report case study from the International Service for the Acquisition of the Agri-Biotech Application (ISAA), it was found that in 2014, since the adoption of Bt cotton in India, increased by 600,000 hectares to a record of 11.6 million hectares. Since the production of cotton became so large in India, there was an increase of cotton farmers as well. The number of farmers increased to 7.7 million in 2014 from 7.3 million in 2013. The global demand for cotton consumption continues to rise, due to fast growing economies like China and India. It is estimated that, the global demand for cotton will be about 48 million metric tons by 2030. As the world population continues to increase, it is estimated that by 2050, there will be 9 million humans, and global demand for fiber will increase four to five time more.

Why has Bt cotton become a concern for Indian farmers?

The main problem lies down to the expense on the cottonseeds. Due to the genetically modified cotton containing the Bt bacterium, it meant that the plant is sterile by design and can’t be reproduced. Though the seeds produced higher yields due to the pest-resistant plant, farmers have to buy new seed supply each year in addition to fertilizer and insecticides. In a report published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researched at the Georg-August-University of Gottingen, it was found that farmers using the genetically enhanced Bt cotton increased their cotton yields by 25%, and their overall profits by 50%. However conflicting views propose that GM crops will hurt small-scale farmers who eventually cannot pay for the crops that were grown on their own land. Bt cottonseeds are affordable at a price of $38 per packet, however, only benefits larger-scale agriculture. According to the report from the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington stated that in 2011, 90% of Indian cotton fields, the majority of which are owned by small farmers, were growing Bt cotton. Due to the significant rise in cotton production in Indian, there became greater demands for cottonseeds, however, with the government-regulated prices, many farmers resorted to buying cottonseeds from the black market, which cost 3 to 8 times more than the conventional seeds. Because the small-scale farmers are unable to take loans from larger organizations, many are subjected to private moneylenders with higher interest rates. One Indian farmer, T. Venkatesh said, “We are getting higher yields but we’re not better off… Our costs have gone up much faster than the price of cotton”. Another farmer, Srinivas Reddy, said, “We buy our seeds on the black market now, and we pay three times, sometimes five times, as much as we did for the normal seeds. But nobody is selling non-Bt seeds anymore”. As farmers resort to the black market, many are being charged with a criminal offence, as it is illegal to buy or deal on the black market. Due to this complication, since 1995, more than 270,000 Indian cotton farmers have committed suicide. Even though cotton is not directly responsible for the Indian farmers’ suicide actions, it is a contributing factor to the web of debt. The price of cottonseeds for smaller-owned companies is seen to be expensive, however, putting pressure on the poorly paid growers; it forces many into a cycle of unmanageable debt.

Advantages of Bt cotton

Since Bt cotton was industrialized, there have been many beneficial outcomes for the production of cotton and to the economy. Bt cotton is effective in controlling the yield losses caused by pesticides such as Earias vittella and Pectinophora gossypiella (most commonly referred to Bollworms). It helps to manage the cotton production more easily as pesticides don’t pose a threat anymore to the destruction of the cotton plant.

The use of Bt cotton reduces the cost of cultivation and improves the margin of profit to the farmers working in larger organizations. Since the cotton is now indestructible to the Bollworms, farmers don’t have to spend as much on protecting the field and there was a reduction of use in fertilization and insecticides. Numerous studies conducted across the United States, Australia, China, Mexico, and Spain has demonstrated an overall reduction in spray for Lepidoptera pests. It also reduces environmental pollution and risk of health hazards associated with the use of insecticides. Another benefit to the use of Bt cotton is the reduction in labor cost and efforts and saves time for the production. Farmers don’t have to spray their crops as much, therefore, saving valuable time and effort.

Conclusion

Ever since the introduction of Bt to the cotton producing industry, there have been significant rises in yield production, employment, reduction in cost, and increase in manageability. Bt cotton was introduced to retain the pesticides from destroying the crop. To achieve to new GM crop, the cotton underwent a process called transgenesis, where additional genes encoding toxin crystals were placed into the cotton’s DNA. This new genetically modified crop comes with many benefits to the cotton production industry as well to the economy. There was a reduction in cost and labor, however only positively effects larger organizations, whereas small-scaled companies suffered. Many Indian farmers found themselves in debt as the cottonseeds were expensive. As many farmers couldn’t expel themselves out of this unmanageable debt, many subjected themselves to suicide. I believe many oversee this view and mainly focus on the benefits, as of all the pros outweigh the cons. However this is an unfortunate circumstance for the small-scale farmers. I believe that this ethical issue should have more recognition as thousands of lives have been taken. It doesn’t purpose a threat to the cotton production industry, however it does to the lives of Indian farmers and could be taken more seriously.

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