20 years of biotech-cotton cultivation

Dr David Stelly, ICAC, the International Cotton Advisory Council, Researcher of the Year 2017, stated at the 76th ICAC Plenary meeting that, “20 years of biotech-cotton cultivation, shows that biotech crops have not hurt the environment and are not adversely affecting human health”.

Biotech cotton was introduced commercially in 1996 and as of 2017 had been adopted by farmers in 15 countries and accounted for more than 80 % of global production. Bt-cotton (containing genes from a common soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis) confers resistance against bollworms, and herbicide resistant (HT) cotton contains a gene that renders certain herbicides ineffective. The impacts of biotechnology on cotton area, production, yields and pesticide use were discussed.

Pest management and weed suppression are possible through non-biotech options, and the use of biotechnology can result in negative secondary effects, such as lower fiber quality (Burkina Faso), increased populations of secondary pests (India and Brazil) and the development of weed and insect resistance (United States).

Nevertheless, most farmers around the world choose to plant varieties containing traits conferred with biotechnology. Presumably, this is because of a combination of efficacy and reduced costs of production, particularly savings in labour.