ISIS Report 27/03/08
Transgenic Cotton Offers No Advantage
May decrease income by up to 40 percent or more. Dr.
Mae-Wan Ho and Prof.
use of transgenic cotton does not provide increased returns to the farmer.
This is the conclusion of a 4-year
study reported in Agronomy Journal
by researchers at the University of Georgia and the US Department of Agriculture
The researchers grew a number of different
cultivars of cotton at two locations in the state of Georgia. The transgenic varieties consisted of two main traits, herbicide
tolerance and Bt biopesticides, alone and variously combined (stacked); they
(B), expressing the Bt toxin Cry1Ac from soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis to control the cotton
II (B2) expressing two different Bt toxins, Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab, to delay the
evolution of pest resistance
Ready (RR), tolerant to glyphosate herbicide;
Link (LL), tolerant to herbicide glufosinate
Five different non-transgenic cotton cultivars
were also grown. Each cultivar, whether transgenic or not, was managed to
maximise profit, as consistent with practices recommended by the University of Georgia.
The results showed that “no transgenic technology system
produced significantly greater returns than a non-transgenic system in any
year or location.” The returns are dominated by yields, and could be reduced
by 30-40 percent, as in 2004 at one of the two locations, when the non-transgenic
variety produced a return of $1274.81 per ha compared with $858.73 for BR,
$737.41 for B2R, and $876.14 for LL.
some cases, the production costs for transgenic varieties (e.g. the cost of
applying pesticides) were lower, but this was only enough to compensate for
the higher cost of the seeds and technology fees. Choosing the right variety
was important, which means that many farmers could improve their returns with
more appropriate non-transgenic varieties rather than by adopting transgenic
cotton. This will, however, be more difficult in future because seed companies
are reducing the number of non-transgenic varieties they offer for sale.
authors remarked that the high investment for transgenic crops before any
yield is realised is a predicament for growers. That is true even in the US,
and all the more so in the Third World,
where farmers typically have no reserves to draw on. They must borrow to buy
the seeds in the hope of paying back the loan from the proceeds of the harvest.
A poor harvest or a low price can mean disaster. The authors also commented
that a benefit often attributed to transgenic crops is that they allow farms
to operate with fewer workers; but this is unlikely to be an advantage in
the Third World where farms are small and labour costs are much less.
It is a pity that the researchers have
not included organically managed cotton in their study, because it is clearly
a much better option. Persistent and massive crop failures of transgenic cotton
have contributed substantially to the worsening epidemic of suicides among
farmers in India, where a timely return to organic cotton growing is saving
lives, and turning despair into hope [2-4]
(Organic Cotton Beats Bt Cotton
in India, SiS 27; Message from Andra Predesh:Return to organic
cotton & avoid the Bt cotton trap, SiS 29; Stem
Farmers’ Suicides with Organic Farming, SiS
world, people are becoming aware that pesticide poisoning and devastation
of the natural ecosystem are too high a price to pay for conventional cotton,
and are opting, not for transgenic cotton, but for
organic cotton  (Picking Cotton Carefully,
SiS 34). World organic cotton supply has been growing
at the average rate of 50 percent over the past 6 years (see Chapter 21 of
Food Futures Now *Organic
*Sustainable *Fossil Fuel Free ). It
is not too late for cotton farmers in the US to get out of the transgenic cotton trap.
- Jost P, Shurley D,
Culpepper S, Roberts P, Nichols R, Reeves J and Anthony S. Economic Comparison
of transgenic and montransgenic cotton production systems in Georgia. Agronomy
Journal 2008, 100, 42-51. (doi:10.2134/agronj2006.0259)
- Gala R. Organic cotton
beats Bt cotton. Science in Society 27,
- Gala R. Return to
organic cotton & avoid the Bt-cotton trap. Science in Society 29,
- Burcher S. Stem farmers’
suicides with organic farming, Science in Society 32,
- Ho MW, Burcher S, Lim LC, et al. Food
Futures Now, Organic, Sustainable, Fossil Fuel Free, ISIS TWN, London
& Penang, 2008.