Genetic Modification

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.

Bt cotton is ineffective against many cotton pests, however, such as plant bugs, stink bugs, and aphids; depending on circumstances it may still be desirable to use insecticides against these. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) said that, worldwide, GM cotton was planted on an area of 67,000 km square in 2002. This is 20% of the worldwide total area planted in cotton. The U.S. cotton crop was 73% GM in 2003.

The initial introduction of GM cotton proved to be a huge success in Australia - the yields were equivalent to the no transgenic varieties and the crop used much less pesticide to produce (85% reduction). The subsequent introduction of a second variety of GM cottonled to increases in GM cotton production until today when 90% of the crop is GM.

GM cotton acreage in India continues to grow at a rapid rate increasing from 50,000 hectares in 2002 to 3.8 million hectares in 2006. The total cotton area in India is about 9.0 million hectares (the largest in the world or, about 25% of world cotton area), so GM cotton is now grown on 42% of the cotton area. This makes India the country with the largest area of GM cotton in the world, surpassing China (3.5 million hectares in 2006). The major reasons for this increase is a combination of increased farm income ($225/ha) and a reduction in pesticide use to control the cotton bollworm.

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