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Pakistan University Invents Disease-Resistant GM Cotton

Pakistan’s Punjab University has signed a memorandum of understanding to provide newly invented disease-resistant cotton seed to farmers in the country through seven multinational companies nationwide.

The university said providing the companies–Aurigo Group, Bahar Seed Corp., ICI Pakistan Ltd, Neelum Seeds, SunCrop Group and Weal AG Corp.–the cotton seed will bring “revolution in the cotton industry” and is meant to boost the country’s economy and save often struggling farmers close to $189 per acre.

Punjab University vice chancellor Zafar Moeen Nasir said the genetically modified BT cotton seed invented by PU scientists would contribute as much as $4 billion to the country’s economy and it would start providing results in just two years.

Nasir said the cotton seed would be used on more than 8 million acres of land in the country and is reusable. He said the new BT cotton seed that was developed is disease resistant, insect resistant, drought tolerant and weedicide resistant, and will be Pakistan’s first GM cotton seed.

The seed was developed using modern molecular genetic engineering and DNA cloning techniques. BT cotton seed varieties would now be commercialized through these seed marketing companies for use in Pakistani agriculture sector.

The use of GM cotton in India was recently criticized in a report by the U.K.-based Soil Association.

The report studied what it called “the astronomical rise and catastrophic fall of GM cotton in India,” calling efforts to expand genetically modified cotton in India a “failure,” even though India has become the world’s largest grower of cotton and second largest exporter of cotton after the U.S.

[Red more about GM cotton: Soil Association Report Decries India’s GM Cotton Use]

The report by the Soil Association, which advocates for organic cotton, said GM technology “has consistently failed to deliver…and instead some of the poorest people in the world have paid a heavy price for the industry’s hype.” It cites statistics from 2014 that show 80 percent of the cotton crop failed in the 150,000 acres of the Raichur district, causing losses of more than $4 million for farmers.

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A key problem with GM cotton, the report claimed, is that rapid development of resistance occurs because GM cotton plants are engineered to continuously release toxins, and this constant, long-term exposure encourages the survival of any pests that are genetically resistant to the toxin. As a result, insecticide use has increased in recent years, from a reported 0.5 kilograms per hectare in 2006 up to 1.20 kilograms per hectare in 2015.

In addition, according to a recent report from the Pesticide Action Network U.K., the use of pesticides in cotton farming has shown some improvement over the years, particularly in the utilization of less harmful chemicals, but progress remains slow.

Findings suggest that pest adaptation to the new transgenic GM environment is changing the way pests are controlled and in some cases requiring the pattern of insecticide use to be adapted.

Keith Tyrell, director of PAN UK, said, “Poor resistance management and new pests are driving big increases in insecticide use in India, China and Brazil, while the introduction of herbicide-tolerant GM varieties has seen a massive increase in herbicide use in some countries like the U.S.”