Govt to introduce genetically modified cottonseed in 2009
* Bt cottonseed has an inbuilt capacity to destroy pests
By Atif Khan
ISLAMABAD: A genetically modified cottonseed, with inbuilt resistance against pests that is significantly expected to increase production of the crop will be introduced next year, a top official said here on Tuesday.
Deputy Director of National Biosafety Centre (NBC), Afzaal Ahmed, told Daily Times that Bt cottonseed would be available in the market from 2009, which would tremendously increase per acre production of the cotton, accounting 10 percent to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 55 percent to the foreign exchange earnings of the country.
Mr Ahmed said that Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a genetically modified cottonseed, developed as an effective biological control against a variety of insect pests that destroy important crops including cotton. Bt cottonseed has an inbuilt capacity to destroy intestinal walls of pests and any pesticide, which attacks it dies within a small fraction of time.
Explaining the decreasing per acre production and recent shortfall of cotton crop, he said that usually major factor of poor cotton crop is pesticides attack, which not only reduces per acre production of the crop but farmers spend quite sum of money on cure.
He said that due to the resistance against the most common disease of cotton like leaf turn virus and other pesticides, Bt cottonseed would not only increase the production but also farmers would save on pesticides.
The NBC Deputy Director said that although Bt cotton is available in the market, it is illegally smuggled from the West. It might not produce the desired results, as it is not modified according to the climatic and soil conditions of Pakistan, he added..
“Every area has its own climatic and soil conditions, even one type of seed producing excellent results in Sindh may not produce the same results in Punjab, that’s why scientists do research and genetically modify the seeds to produce the desired results. As the research is still going on, so farmers are advised in their own interest not to use imported Bt cottonseed, available in the market,” Mr. Ahmed said.
Earlier, farmers of the country, using imported Bt cottonseed available in the market had failed to get the desired results and they spread rumors that Bt cottonseed has been flopped in the country.
Explaining the misconception in this regard, he said that this Bt seed was developed and genetically modified by Pakistani scientists according to the conditions of the country, and the local companies would market it. “How can you flop a product which is still under research,” he argued.
“National Institute of Genetic Engineering (NIBJE) has been developing the seeds under the same technique but has nothing to do with international brand Bt cottonseed; NIBJE would most probably appoint some local company to market the seed in the local market in 2009,” NBC official said.
Scientists opposing Bt cotton express their fears that pests could develop a resistance against the seed in long run, “Bt cotton will become vulnerable to pest attack in the long run as pests would develop resistance, also Bt genes escaping from pollen grains will harm neighboring crops’ bio-diversity,” said an agricultural scientist at the federally operated National Agricultural Research Center in Islamabad.
Answering the criticism Mr. Ahmed said that research is going on and Bt seed would be approved after accessing all the bio safety parameters. Even after it is launched in local the market, the scientists would closely monitor its results and later if some resistance is developed, the seed can be further genetically modified, Afzaal explained.