Bt cotton is a genetically modified (GM) variety of cotton and its seed contains genetically engineered soil bacterium gene, Bacillus thuringiensis. This gene acts as a natural toxin against insects and pests including bollworms.
Modi was a supporter of GM crops even when he was the chief minister of Gujarat, a decade ago. It was then that GM cotton was introduced in the country and instantly became a huge success. From being a net importer, India became the world's second-largest producer and exporter of Bt cotton. The production of cotton increased from 136 lakh bales in 2002 to an estimated over 400 lakh bales in 2014.
Bt cotton is the country’s only biotech crop so far, which had led to the increase in yield per hectare and reduction in pesticide use. Bt cotton has been extensively used by several other countries including USA, Australia, Mexico, Argentina, South Africa and Pakistan. However, Bt cotton have had its share of controversies and views on it have not always been sanguine.
Why did Bt cotton become controversial?
Many farmers believe that the hybrids are costly, give low yield and lead to the disappearance of honeybees. They also said that Bt cotton is weak enough to fight bollworms effectively and were thus, forced to buy expensive pesticides. This resulted in opting other GM seeds for the new planting cycle. Revolutionising of food led to a vicious cycle of debt, poverty and suicides. GM seeds indirectly reinforced a farming process, which undermined the sustainability of poor Indian farmers.
The ministry of environment and forests placed a moratorium on the commercialisation GM Brinjal in 2010, bringing great uncertainty to the field of agri-biotechnology in India. Was this a political gimmick? Read to know.
The conflicting views of the different schools of thought regarding GM crops’ impact will remain a lingering issue for the years to come, as far as the environment is concerned. Nevertheless, the questions raised over the environmental and health impacts of Bt cotton have subsided by and large. They will commercially be sold in India within about two years, read to know more.