Nature Institute Logo
Unintended Effects of Genetic Manipulation
A Project of The Nature Institute
Project Director:  Craig Holdrege
20 May Hill Road   ●   Ghent, NY 12075 USA   ●   Tel: (518) 672-0116   ●

Posted: July, 2015

GM Cotton and Suicide Rates

Annual suicide rates for farmers in areas of India where cotton fields are fed by rain, not irrigation, are directly correlated with increases in the adoption of genetically engineered insecticidal Bt cotton, according to an unusually holistic new analysis by researchers in the U.S. and Italy.

Authors of the analysis – published in June, 2015 in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe – include Hans Herren, a leading scientist in global efforts to end poverty and hunger through agroecology. The study concludes that for areas in India with rainfed cotton fields, planting Bt cotton increases the risk of farmer bankruptcy because of the costs of Bt seed and insecticide. (Bt cotton has been engineered to be toxic to pink bollworms and other lepidopteran insects. Farmers, however, often not only continue using insecticide but may eventually increase such use, due to a tendency for a surge in pests over time). Most cotton in India is rainfed, adds the study.

The authors also urge the use of more holistic methods of analysis before policymakers adopt new technologies for agricultural development. They suggest that Bt cotton “may be economic” in irrigated cotton fields, where infestations of pink bollworms are more likely to occur, but that using Bt cotton and insecticide on rainfed fields is “questionable.” Their analysis notes ecological reasons why pink-bollworm infestations are not a problem in rainfed areas unless irrigated fields with infestations are nearby and the infestations spread to the rainfed fields. The analysis also concludes that planting high-density, short-season cottons – the seeds of which are cheaper than genetically engineered seeds – could increase yields and reduce farmers’ costs in both irrigated and rainfed cotton fields.

Native varieties of cotton in India coevolved with pests for 5,000 years, the authors note, and for almost all of that time were grown with methods that can be described as functionally organic. In the 1970s, however, hybrid cottons were introduced and the use of both synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, especially insecticide against the pink bollworm, increased dramatically. Pesticide use upset the ecological balance, leading to outbreaks of other pests, an eventual resurgence of the pink bollworm, and other ecological and health impacts, according to the analysis. Then, in 2002, transgenic F1 Bt hybrid cotton (Bt cotton) was first planted in India. “The inescapable conclusion,” the researchers add, “is that Bt cotton was introduced to India to solve a bollworm problem created by insecticide use.” Bt cotton is now planted on 92 per cent of the fields devoted to cotton in India. Insecticide use did decline initially but by 2013 was at the level it was in 2000, before Bt cotton was first planted, the study states.

The authors add: “The need for Bt cotton in India must be reevaluated on biological and economic grounds using properly unbiased field experiment unfettered by onerous corporate intellectual property constraints.”

Gutierrez, A. P., L. Ponti, H. R. Herren et al (2015). “Deconstructing Indian Cotton: Weather, Yields, and Suicides,” Environmental Sciences Europe vol. 27, no. 12. Read the study.

Copyright 2015 The Nature Institute.

This document:

--> Back to top of this document

--> Main Unintended Effects Search Page

Home | About Us | Become a Friend | Bookstore | Contact Us | Search | Calendar of Events |
Our Education Programs | Our Publications | Content Areas | Writings Ordered by Author | Resources and Links |