The growing resistance against toxic protein has led to loss of productivity since the non-BT cotton seeds including standard elite lines have been contaminated with Bt genes. The Bt cotton is genetically modified and produces one or more toxins as they grow to kill bollworm.
In a meeting held in Multan, Pakistan Central Cotton Committee based on the test reports determined that all the widely cultivated fifteen non-Bt cotton varieties are contaminated.
According to the results of BCT, compiled in accordance with the lab examination of four leading institutions, the standard elite varieties of CIM-620 and CRIS-129 developed by Central Cotton Research Institutes (CCRIs) are also no more conventional seed types.
The functioning of Bt cotton depends on cultivation of non-Bt varieties on the same field to avoid development of resistance in pests against the toxic protein.
With the revelation that many non-Bt cotton varieties have been contaminated with Bt gene, one of the main reasons slowing down cotton output may have been discovered. Many believe that it is a tip of an iceberg associated with our weak cotton economy.
Ibrahim Mughal, chairman Agriculture-Forum Pakistan said, “The bollworm had emerged as the biggest threat to cotton in the country as they inflicted the biggest dent to the national output. The damages done by bollworms have been estimated at as high as 3.8 million bales of cotton annually, which is huge if compared with maximum production of about 14 million bales”.
The federal cotton commissioner, Dr Khalid Abdullah termed it as careless on the part of the department as the main reason which led to contamination of non-Bt cotton varieties and said that we need to gin non-Bt and Bt cotton varieties separately.
Senior scientific officer CCRI Sakrand, Mr Hadyat Ullah said that this contamination could even be a result of cross pollination during propagation level.
An Australian scientist, Dr Neil Forrester suggested that the government regulation of all transgenic genes in all crops is needed to remedy this complex situation. Help should be sought from governments of countries who have successfully encountered this issue.
A spokesman of Punjab Agriculture Department said the provincial government always stressed on planting non-Bt crop with Bt cotton, but the important point here was that Bt cotton planted in Pakistan is Bollgard-I technology, which had become obsolete and lost effectiveness against Pink bollworm and less effective against Heliothis. “Being old technology, there are issues of purity and gene expression,” the spokesman said.
It is very imperative to mention here that India switched to Bollgard-II Bt technology in 2006. In Australia, 100 percent GMO cotton is Bollgard-III which is the latest version of Bt and glyphosate resistance.
The spokesman added that Punjab government was now transforming cotton research system to align it with advanced technologies. “In this context, a Punjab Cotton Mission 2025 has been drafted for increasing Punjab cotton productivity from 8 million bales to 15 million bales,” the provincial agriculture department official said.