With Bangladesh likely to approve commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) Bt cotton varieties sourced from an Indian company soon, seed manufacturers in the country have urged for regulatory approval of the new generation of herbicide-tolerant Bt (HTBt) cotton varieties whose application is pending with Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
In a report in Dhaka Tribune last week, the Bangladesh National Technical Committee on Crop Biotechnology has given a nod for two Bt cotton varieties, sourced from the Hyderabad-based JK Agri Genetics.
According to Ram Kaundinya, director general, Federation of Seed Industry for India, the government has to go ahead with deployment of modern GM technology urgently to cut down on rising cost of pesticides and labour in cotton cultivation.
Commercial cultivation of two GM food crops – brinjal and mustard – approved by GEAC are yet to start in India even a decade after the approvals because the government hasn’t yet decided in favour of GM foods.
Since the introduction of Bollgard-I, which was the country’s first GM crop approved for commercialisation in 2002, followed by Bollgard-II,a pest-resistant cotton variety, which protects the crop from bollworm, in 2006, the GEAC has not approved any new varieties.
The approval for HTBt cotton was first sought by Bayer (then Monsanto) in 2016, but it withdrew the application in the subsequent year, citing delays in the process. Though the application was re-submitted by Bayer-Mahyco in December last year, the regulator is yet to take a call.
Over three dozen seed companies, which are authorised to sell the transgenic Bt cotton by licence-holder Bayer Crop Science-Mahyco, warn that the illegal seeds, first seen in the market in 2019, could contaminate the regular Bt seed and lead to “heavy losses” for cotton growers.
Since its introduction two decades ago, Bt cotton has led to a dramatic rise in India’s cotton yield and thereby, production, but over the last two-three years, the yield has come down marginally. The cotton production rose from 8.62 million bales (of 170 kg each) in 2002-03 to 34.04 MB in 2021-22. Once introduced for commercial cultivation, Bt cotton will be Bangladesh’s second GM crop after Bt brinjal which was approved in 2013.