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Chinese GM cotton farmers are loosing money

Posted: Jul 26, 2006
After seven years of use of the GM Bt cotton, populations of other insects, such as mirids, are out of control.

This is the main finding of a study presented yesterday by the University of Cornell.

In a country where more than 5 millions of farmers have planted Bt cotton, for a total area estimated of 3.7 millions of hectares this information could have major economic impacts in all the countries where this transgenic crop is grown, including, the U.S., India and Argentina.

It was in the middle of the 90's that the chinese scientists developped a Bt cotton seed, shorthand for the Bacillus thuringiensis gene inserted into the seeds to produce toxins, which is lethal to leaf-eating bollworms. The main cotton transgenic seed from Monsanto was also produced from the same gene. The technology was well received by the producers and today, according to the ISAAA, 65 % of the cotton fields of this country are transgenics.

Chinese seed companies control 60% of this market and Monsanto the remaining 40%. At the beginning the US multinational was gaining ground thanks to a more aggressive marketing strategy, but the chineses scientists have developped more than 100 varieties which gave more options to the farmers based on climat and ground caracterisitcs. In addition, because chinese farmers are allowed to keep and multiply their seeds, Monsanto kept loosing market over local companies.

Cornell's study prooves that concerns over the lack of evaluation and future the negative impacts on the environment of these new varieties raised by many organisations in the beginning of the transgenic revolution, were valid. Today, "according to the study of 481 Chinese farmers in five major cotton-producing provinces, after seven years of use of GM Bt cotton, populations of other insects have increased so much that farmers are now having to spray their crops up to 20 times a growing season to control them."

The study, the first to look at the longer-term economic impact of Bt cotton, found that :"by year three, farmers in the survey who had planted Bt cotton cut pesticide use by more than 70 percent and had earnings 36 percent higher than farmers planting conventional cotton. By 2004, however, they had to spray just as much as conventional farmers, which resulted in a net average income of 8 percent less than conventional cotton farmers because Bt seed is triple the cost of conventional seed."