Muslim Countries Plan for Hot Bleak Future
What happened – which is described in significant detail in a report presented recently at the Textile Exchange Sustainability Conference – is something many anti-gmo forces had predicted. The very promise of GM crops for the farmers depends on the crops’ Gm-embedded pesticide always having a strong kill rate for the pests. The promise of GM crops for the seed manufacturer (in this case, Monsanto) depends on a single strain of crops being mass-produced and planted in volume.
The risk/reward equation here is a messy and indelicate balance. With a virtually-monoculture crop strain ideal for manufacturing and even pesticide development, unfortunately the farmers are automatically sacrificing the natural food security of the normally-highly-diverse bio culture of non-gm seeds. Sometimes the risk plays out, but it is already apparent in several situations where GM crops have been planted that the pests themselves are beginning to evolve faster to resist than expected. When they become even partially resistant to the Gm-implanted pesticides, the GM crops could rapidly be destroyed.
The first-generation GM cotton, known as Bollgard I, was designed around the pink bollworm and had been planted for the first four years of Monsanto’s Indian GM Cotton invasion. The Bt cotton plants, designed to continuously release toxins to fight off the pests, did what they were designed to do for a few years, and yields looked promising.
The problem was that the pink bollworm was making its own natural genetic adaptation to the crop. This was further aided by continuous exposure to the Bt toxins, which provided wide exposure to the genetic variants of bollworm that evolved naturally. In short order, four states in Western India had large populations of pink bollworm that were resistant to the Bt toxins.
Monsanto responded by creating Bollgard II, a moreexpensive, second-generation Bt cotton with two different pesticide toxins within the crop. The pink bollworm rapidly evolved to defeat that new variant also. Faced with a potential disaster on their hands, the farmers then responded by applying other pesticides to their Bt-infused Bollgard II crops, which created a “worst of both worlds” situation. Adding pesticides manually defeated the whole idea of using Bt crops in the first place. And putting more pesticides on the crops meant much higher costs for the farmers and greater damage to human health and the environment.
The situation grew even worse when other pests, not originally considered by Monsanto when designing their crop, entered the equation. In 2015, whitefly appeared in the cotton-growing regions of Punjab and eventually wiped out two-thirds of the cotton crop. Besides the total crop loss, estimated at $629 million U.S., farmers felt that all hope of getting their crops back on track was lost. They fell deeply in debt trying to fight all that had happened and got more desperate as the situation grew bleaker. According to an investigation after the fact by the Indian Parliament, there were an estimated 7,992 farmer suicides in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra province between 2006 and 2011 directly resulting from of this. Independent investigations estimate vastly more suicides.
The organic farmers who did not use the GM cotton or pesticides not only survived but continued to thrive, even while the pink bollworm evolved against the Monsanto seed variants and the whitefly emerged as another threat. Those groups began to receive more funding from the government of India. India itself has now become known as the center for organic cotton, with an estimated 70% of all organic cotton now grown in the country.
Branding-wise, organic farming’s value as part of the product itself is also being promoted. With crop rotation, less damage to the environment and maintaining biodiversity in the seed cultures (and without the need for pesticides), organic cotton from India is now seen as a far more sustainable crop. It is literally taking back ground from the areas once devastated because of the former plantings of Monsanto’s Bt cotton.
Pest resistance to the natural Bt toxin was not an issue prior to the genetic modification of plants, and the resistance being created by genetic modification could have far-reaching consequences for the organic growers who previously used the Bt toxin as a natural pesticide.
Plant resistance to the cancer-causing herbicide glyphosate, which is part of Monsanto’s seed-chemical package for many crops, is also increasing.
Fortunately, some countries are learning their lesson about hacking nature and are abandoning forced genetic engineering and embracing natural methods that work with nature instead of against it.