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Global Impacts of Genetically Modified Cotton Cultivation in Textile Sector

The contribution of cotton is more than just a fibre for textiles

Cotton fibres used in textiles around the world come from the seed hairs of a plant known as gossypium hirsutum. Cotton, which is cultivated in different countries of the world, develops in closed, green capsules known as bolls that burst open when ripe, revealing the white, fluffy fibres. Genetically modified (GM) cotton has become widespread, covering a total of 15 million hectares in 2007, or 43 percent of the world’s cotton. Most GM cotton is grown in India and the US, but it can also be found in China, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, Mexico, and Columbia. The GM cultivars grown today are resistant to herbicides or insect pests. More than half (68%) of China’s cotton production is genetically modified to produce a substance (Bt toxin) that protects it against insect pests. A few types of caterpillars are especially problematic because they bore into cotton bolls reducing yield and compromising quality. Pesticide applications for repeated times are necessary to protect the cotton bolls from these insects. GM cotton has now enabled Chinese farmers to considerably reduce pesticide use. [1]


A boll-worm on a cotton boll

GM cotton ecosystems are not only safe, but safer than conventional cotton ecosystems where insecticidal inputs are higher. GM cotton in China has reduced the use of toxic insecticides by about 80% and reduced the number of farmers poisoned by such chemicals. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is genetically linked with the GM cotton and it produces the proteins that are poisonous to insects. The protein binds with receptors in the insect gut causing pores which perforate the midgut & lead to cell leakage & insect death.

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. A 2006 study done by Cornell researchers, the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy and the Chinese Academy of Science on Bt cotton farming in China found that after seven years these secondary pests that were normally controlled by pesticide had increased, necessitating the use of pesticides at similar levels to non-Bt cotton and causing less profit for farmers because of the extra expense of GM seeds. However, a more recent 2009 study by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Stanford University and Rutgers University refutes this. They concluded that the GM cotton effectively controlled bollworm. The secondary pests were mostly miridae (plant bugs) whose increase was related to local temperature and rainfall and only continued to increase in half the villages studied. Moreover, the increase in insecticide use for the control of these secondary insects was far smaller than the reduction in total insecticide use due to Bt cotton adoption. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) said that, worldwide, GM cotton was planted on an area of 16 million hectares in 2009. [2] This was 49% of the worldwide total area planted in cotton. The U.S. cotton crop was 93% GM in 2010 [3] and the Chinese cotton crop was 68% GM in 2009. [4] 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 cotton led to increases in GM cotton production until 95% of the Australian cotton crop was GM in 2009. [2]

GM cotton acreage in India continues to grow at a rapid rate, increasing from 50,000 hectares in 2002 to 8.4 million hectares in 2009. The total cotton area in India was 9.6 million hectares (the largest in the world or, about 35% of world cotton area), so GM cotton was grown on 87% of the cotton area in 2009. [4] This makes India the country with the largest area of GM cotton in the world, surpassing China (3.7 million hectares in 2009). The major reasons for this increase are a combination of increased farm income ($225/hactare) and a reduction in pesticide use to control the cotton bollworm. Significant economic and production advantages have resulted from growing Bt cotton globally. Bt cotton can substantially reduce the number of pesticide sprayings, which reduces worker and environmental exposure to chemical insecticides and reduces energy use. The quality of life for farmers and their families can be improved by the increased income and time savings offered by Bt cotton. These economic, environmental, and social benefits are being realized by large and smallholder farmers alike in eight countries around the world. [5]

The production of GM cotton has not yet been approved in the EU. Applications have been submitted, but a decision is still pending. Several lines of GM cotton have been approved in the EU, but only for use as food and feed. [1]


01. http://www.gmocompass.org/eng/grocery_shopping/crops/161.genetically_modified _cotton.html
(Retrieved November 24, 2010)
02. Genetically modified plants: Global Cultivation Area Cotton GMO Compass, March 29, 2010
(Retrieved August 7, 2010)
03. NASS Acreage Agricultural Statistics Board, USDA, June 2010 (Retrieved August 7, 2010)
04. ISAAA Brief 41-2009: Executive Summary Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops:
2009 (Retrieved September 6, 2010)
05. John P. Purcell and Frederick J. Perlak , Global Impact of Insect-Resistant (Bt) Cotton, Monsanto
Company, the Journal of Agro biotechnology Management and Economics, Volume-07, Number 1
& 2, Article 5.

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