Genetically modified (GM) cotton was developed to reduce the heavy reliance on pesticides. The bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) naturally produces a chemical harmful only to a small fraction of insects, most notably the larvae of moths and butterflies, beetles, and flies, and harmless to other forms of life. The gene coding for Bt toxin has been inserted into cotton, causing cotton to produce this natural insecticide in its tissues. In many regions, the main pests in commercial cotton are lepidopteran larvae, which are killed by the Bt protein in the transgenic cotton they eat. This eliminates the need to use large amounts of broad-spectrum insecticides to kill lepidopteran pests (some of which have developed pyrethroid resistance). This spares natural insect predators in the farm ecology and further contributes to noninsecticide pest management.

Cotton has been genetically modified for resistance to glyphosate (marketed as Roundup in North America) a broad-spectrum herbicide sold by Monsanto which also sells some of the Bt cotton seeds to farmers. There are also a number of other cotton seed companies selling GE cotton around the world. About 62% of the GM cotton grown from 1996 to 2011 was insect resistant, 24% stacked product and 14% herbicide resistant.

Cotton has gossypol, a toxin that makes it inedible. However, scientists have silenced the gene that produces the toxin, making it a potential food crop.


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Now for the first time suicides by farmers, including those in 2011 and 2012, have been definitively linked to the declining performance of the GM cotton.

Starting a decade ago, 90% of the country’s cotton growers have adopted the GM cotton.

On January 9 an internal advisory, a copy of which is held by the Hindustan Times, was sent out to cotton growing states by the Minister of Agriculture.

The note presents a grim scenario: “Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers.”

It seems that the success of the Bt cotton lasted only 5 years. Since then, cotton yields have been gradually falling and pest attacks increasing. The GM crop was genetically altered to kill cotton-eating pests. However, for farmers, the rising costs in the form of necessary pesticides have not matched the returns received. This has pushed many farmers to the edge financially and otherwise. In other words the genetically modified crop is no more profitable than it used to be.


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Cotton – engineered to produce Bt toxin. The seeds are pressed into cottonseed oil, which is a common ingredient in vegetable oil and margarine.


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