Agriculture Reference
In-Depth Information
and that data from a report by the Monsanto-funded ISAAA went without references or
citations (Bagla 2010; Sharma 2010). Despite the academies' apologies, Ramesh rejected
the report, saying that it did not “appear to be the product of rigorous scientific evalua-
tion” (Raj 2010), and he vowed not to lift the moratorium “anytime soon” (Bagla 2010).
The case shows the power of the framing of transgenics by anti-GMO campaign-
ers—especially when one considers, as discussed above, that transgenic brinjal has
been subjected to relatively more stringent testing than other products of agricultural
biotechnology. It also points to the limitations of the idea that genetic engineering will
be found more acceptable if it is carried on in public sector institutions, removed from
corporate control. This didn't happen in this case, which also shows the possible misun-
derstandings (and misuse) of science, as well as its limits. It cannot be proved that there
are no hazards associated with Bt brinjal. But the careful weighing of scientific evidence
(and of the definable risks associated with the cultivation of conventional brinjal plants,
and the measurable benefits of growing Bt ) against the definite uncertainty associated
with cultivation of the transgenic plant has been effectively prevented in this case by the
way in which it has been politicized.3
Bt Rice
A variety of rice incorporating the Bt protein, with resistance to three major insect pests
that attack the world's most important food crop, yield levels of which have been stagnat-
ing, was unveiled in China in 1997—but it has still not been released commercially for cul-
tivation (though biosafety certificates for two strains were issued in 2009; see Jia 2010).
China has invested substantially in agricultural biotechnology, both in public sector insti-
tutions and through funding private sector research for which the companies concerned
have also received tax breaks (Stone 2008). At the same time, the state has proceeded
cautiously in regard to food crops, being concerned, it seems, about the possible loss of
export markets (Herring 2009). Thus far, in China as in India, transgenic cotton seeds are
those that have spread most widely. By 2008, 68 percent of the cotton acreage of the world's
biggest producer was believed to incorporate Bt (James 2009). But whereas in India it
is hybrid Bt cotton that has spread widely, in China it has been GM varieties developed
through back-crossing, most of them technically illegal. Though these varieties are not as
productive as hybrids, they have often proven beneficial for poor cotton farmers—when
their pesticide use has decreased and their incomes been increased (Huang et al. 2007).
The inability of the state to regulate the cultivation of Bt cotton fuels fears about Bt
rice. Among mainstream scientists there is little concern about health implications,
because of the fact that the Bt protein has been consumed so extensively with no evi-
dence of ill effects (though see Qiu 2008). But there is concern both about gene flow and
the possibility that Bt rice could pass on its pest-resistant properties to both weedy and
wild relatives (Lu et al. 2003; Shivrain et al. 2007), and about the possibility that the pests
will develop resistance to Bt . This is especially so given the likelihood—after the experi-
ence with Bt cotton—of the spread of pirated Bt varieties among large numbers of small
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