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Soil Association Report Decries India’s GM Cotton Use

A new report by the U.K.-based Soil Association on what it calls “the astronomical rise and catastrophic fall of GM cotton in India” details and criticizes efforts to expand genetically modified cotton in India.

The report, “Failed Promises: The Rise and Fall of GM Cotton in India,” calls these efforts a “failure,” even though India has become the world’s largest grower of cotton and second largest exporter of cotton after the U.S. The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts India cotton production for the 2017-18 crop year to reach 30 million 480-pound bales, an 11 percent increase from last year due to expanded planted area.

But 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.

The Soil Association maintains that GM is harming the lives of farmers economically and has even led to “massive suicides” of farmers over the economic losses.

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.

The report said the Cotton Advisory Board of India has found a threefold increase in the cost of growing cotton, due to the high price of GM, also known as Bt, seeds, and other input costs such as fertilizers and the pesticides needed to deal with the serious pest problems.

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GM cotton has caused problems worldwide, the Soil Association said. According to the report, between 2011 and 2016 Burkina Faso lost $82.4 million, and as a result, implemented a complete phase out of GM cotton for the 2017-18 season. Early indications suggest the phase out has been a success, with cotton output predicted to rise 20 percent in the current season. The introduction of GM into Nigeria was rejected by more than a hundred groups representing over 5 million Nigerians, on environmental and health grounds, and heeding the experiences of Burkina Faso. Pakistan, where 86 percent of the cotton crop is GM, has also been badly hit by the cotton crisis, with a 27.8% decline in cotton production during 2015.

In the U.S.—the home of GM creator Monsanto’s—the cotton bollworm is leading an assault on Bt cotton across the cotton growing belt from the Carolinas to Texas, the report claimed. Due to increasing problems with pest resistance, Southern states are facing another year of large pest populations. In Texas, some bollworm populations are resistant to both the original Bt cotton and its replacement.

The answer to the problem, the report says, is non-GM and organic cotton. In India, organic cotton production is in a good position – before GM ran into difficulties organic cotton yields were just 14 percent lower than GM cotton, and the associated costs of organic were 38 percent lower, which puts organic at least on a par with conventional cotton in terms of profitability. India is the world’s largest producer of organic cotton, responsible for around 70 percent of organic cotton worldwide.

“The organic market has been growing for several years and reached $15.7 billion in 2015,” the Soil Association said. “Brands across the world are adding organic cotton to their portfolio, and top companies already using organic cotton are expanding its share within their overall fiber purchasing.”

To allow farmers to continue to switch from the failing GM technology, consumers need to buy organic cotton products and ask their favorite brands and retailers to stock them, and brands need to include or increase organic cotton in their sourcing portfolio, the report suggests.

“Organic cotton can be just as profitable as non-organic cotton, incomes are more secure as farmers grow other crops alongside their cotton and organic farmers have the opportunity to supply a market that has been growing for years,” the report said.