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[SANET-MG] australia adopts GM cotton

ISIS Press Release 03/02/05
Australia Adopts GM Cotton but is it Wise?
The moratorium on GM canola holds but Bt cotton slips through.
Sam Burcher

Sources for this report are available in the ISIS members site. Full
details here

Monsanto's single and double gene cotton
Bt ( bacillus thuringiensis ) cotton has been grown in Australia since
1996. Varieties have either one or two genetically modified inserts that
provide separate proteins to kill off pests (see “GM cotton that people
forgot”, this series). The first to be planted was Monsanto's Ingard,
with one gene, which was restricted to 30% of the total acreage under
cotton, and confined to the cooler climes of Queensland and New South
Wales. But after six seasons of growing Ingard, the insects showed early
signs of tolerance to Bt, and Ingard had to be withdrawn.

A second strain Bollgard II, with an additional protein to help improve
insect control, has replaced the single gene variety. Applications have
been granted to expand GM cotton production to parts of the country
where it was previously prohibited because of concerns of
cross-contamination with native cotton species.

Both Ingard and Bollgard contain the Bt toxin Cry1Ac construct 531.
Studies have proved that this unpredictable gene expresses itself
randomly in different part of the plant and at different levels
throughout a season. For example, terminal leaves express more
endotoxins than flowers and expression levels can decline as a plant
ages. Reports of Ingard's performance as being insect resistant have
been described as “variable” and in areas where insect pressure is
intense as “very disappointing.” This correlates with findings by ISIS.
See (More on Bt Resistance, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/MoreBtresistance.php )

Monsanto claims that the current 30% cap on GM cotton could be lifted to
as much as 80% of total acreage in 2004/5 by the expansion plans.
Bollgard II has already been approved in southern Queensland and
northern New South Wales and awaits approval in northern Australia where
no cotton is grown at present.

Industry claims that the northern Australian cotton may not need any
chemical sprays. But this is refuted by extensive experience that shows
supplemental insecticides such as organophosphates have been used in a
number of GM cotton fields to control Bt resistant Helicoverpa
caterpillar larvae.

GM cotton fails to improve yields and decreases profits
Julie Newman from the Network of Concerned Farmers (
www.non-gm-farmers.com ) says, “The misleading propaganda involved with
promoting GM is nothing short of appalling. Australian farmers are told
GM has a far superior yield when there is no evidence and no reason to
presume this. We are told that there will be a reduction in costs when
the little information available reveals a significant increase in costs
to all farmers. We are told that there is no market risk when there is
evidence that there is significant market risk for a range of our
products. Again, the GM industry has been launching a concerted effort
to discredit any alternative voice and quashing any adverse reports
while refusing to submit the data required to support their claims.”

In 2001 /2, GM cotton was grown on165 000 hectares in Australia, the
third largest exporter of cotton after the US and China, with an annual
$1.7 billion accruing from the crop . Some 90% of Australia's cotton is
exported to Malaysia each year. Australian farmers who adopted GM cotton
have seen yields remain constant at 7-8tonnes/ha, while average
operating profits fell from around $155 in 1995 to $60 in 2001 . That is
because the price for cotton plummeted by almost 40% during the same
period. A further loss for Australian cotton farmers is a $155/ha
“technology fee” that ha s to be paid to Monsanto. In the US and China,
cotton farmers receive up to one third to one half of the returns from
government subsidies, but Australian farmers do not.

Monsanto has aggressively pushed GM cotton worldwide. In 1998 , 41 000
hectares were grown in Mexico, and 12 000 hectares grown in South
Africa. Farmers in West Africa are being encouraged to use a combination
of GM cottonseeds for planting initial crops, but it is essential that
these poor farmers are able to keep seeds for subsequent sowing. As
Monsanto insists on a very strict growing regime, farmers in Africa may
be tempted to use easily available, old and extremely toxic insecticides
if Bt fails. Monsanto also markets glyphosate resistant Round Up Ready
cotton to manage weeds by overspraying the whole crop with Roundup
herbicide. Monsanto claims that demands for Roundup cotton by growers
increased by 40 % and is sown on 1.5 million hectares. The industry
backed International Service for the Acquisition of Agrobiotechnology
Applications (ISAAA) figures state a combined total of 7.5 million
hectares of Bt resistant and Bt/ herbicide tolerant cotton is grown
across the world, but GM crops are still only 1.3% of global agriculture
area (see “Life after the genetic engineering nightmare”, ISP Briefing
to European Parliament http://www.indsp.org/LifeAfterGE.php ).

Roundup Ready disturbs the food web
Research reports from around the world strongly suggest a clear link
between Roundup Ready and soil-borne pathogens such as fusarium (a
fungus that causes head blight in wheat crops and colon iz es the roots
of soya crops ) that produce toxins harmful to human and animal health.
(See “Roundup Ready Sudden Death Syndrome” ISIS report
www.i-sis.org.uk/RRSD.php ).

In a recent letter to Melbourne's Weekly Times , Bob Phelps the
executive director of GeneEthics Network Australia revealed that
fusarium is now spreading quickly through Austr alia's non-fusarium
resistant GM cotton areas, according to the New South Wales Agriculture
Department. Roundup disturbs the soil food web so fusarium proliferates
while beneficial microbes are lost. Weeds that tolerate Roundup, and GM
cotton volunteers that result from management of new varieties will also
be managed with chemical cocktails. The major concern is that if 80% of
the cotton crop is to be given over to Bollgard II, then target insects
will soon adapt as they will be exposed to large and continuous doses of
toxins, and the surviving pests will be super-resistant .

Mr Phelps said, “Other (GM) crops with new traits being field tested in
many places are at least ten years away from commercial reality, and
most will fail”. Of the double gene Bt and Roundup Ready cotton he
concluded that, “Both traits add more chemicals to our environment and
our food.”

GM cotton in household products
Cottonseeds are crushed and the resulting oil ends up as unlabelled
“vegetable oil”. In particular, it is often used in deep fat fryers for
fish and chips and other fast foods restaurants, explains Dr Judy
Carmen, director of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research.
The linters (short filled fibres attached to the cottonseeds) from GM
cotton find their way into household products as diverse as ice cream,
sausage skins and toothpaste . Lint is also used in medical supplies
such as bandages and wound dressings as well as in tampons and clothing.

Oil and linters made from GM cotton are not labelled in food in
Australia as they are deemed to contain no DNA or protein, a presumption
not based on empirical data.

Government reveals GM canola test sites
Some Australian states had concerns about GM canola because of potential
weediness, outcrossing with native species, contamination of cereal
crops and insufficient health and environmental research (See “Defiant
Australian states ban GM canola”, SIS 19). Under Australian law, they
were only able to impose a moratorium on commercially growing it for
economic or marketing reasons. Recent investigations by the Network of
Concerned Farmers disclosed the position of covert GM canola “trial
sites ” (see “Secret trials in “GM-free Australia”, SiS 24). The Network
took aerial photographs, informed local farmers of the sites and
provided them with draft letters asking Bayer CropScience to cover any
legal liability for any GM contamination of their fields. Many
protestors are unhappy about the expansion of GM cotton, which poses
health, environmental and economic risks, and are alarmed at the
attitude of the federal government back -pedalling on the issue of GM ,
effectively saying that the moratorium was meant only for food crops.

One reason for expanding GM cotton zones to the north is because water
for irrigation is becoming more expensive and scarce in the eastern
states, while the north has a monsoon type climate. Cotton growers in
the north of Western Australia hope to plunder the waters of the Fitzroy
River and direct it to proposed cotton fields in the Kimberley. A report
detailing plans to almost double the size of the stage two River Ord
Irrigation Area have been delayed until after the Western Australian
state election, as the planting of GM cotton fields are expected to be
recommended, which would upset Greens and Aboriginals.

Stand firm against GM cotton
The Northern Territory government opposes commercial GM cotton because
it is “damaging to the reputation of the Territory” for good,
unadulterated food. Federal Government-approved trials of 18 hectares of
Bollgard cotton were harvested this summer, but the green light for
commercial release was not given. Primary Industry Minister Kon
Vatskalis stands by his decision not to support the introduction of
cotton farming anywhere in the Territory.

The GM cotton industry claims that it can offer 5 000 jobs to the local
Aboriginal population, who spurned the idea in the Kimberley. For the
Yawuru people, it is a question of priorities. They put the country, the
land and water before money. Water thirsty cotton would require up to
1600 gigalitres of water annually and dry out the wetlands and
waterholes that intrinsically shape the region. Besides, the locals
claim their Indigenous land rights to preserve the Kimberley for future
generations to forage hunt and maintain their culture.

All Science in Society articles cited can be accessed on ISIS members
website: http://www.i-sis.org.uk/isisnews.php

This article can be found on the I-SIS website at

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