Bt cotton has delivered significant benefits to all members of the agricultural value chain in the country, and has contributed to a cumulative national farm income of about $9.4 billion between 2002 and 2010, turning India from an importer of cotton to an exporter, according to T M Manjunath, a consultant in agricultural biotechnology and integrated pest management.
“In India, various studies have revealed that increase in yield due to effective control of bollworms and reduction in insecticide applications following the introduction of Bt cotton were about 50%. Further, a farmer was able to earn a profit that ranged from Rs 7,800 to 30,500 per hectare. Given this track record, it is clear that plant biotechnology, which can offer several more beneficial traits, has the tremendous potential to improve agriculture in India and the world over,” he said.
Today, about 160 million hectare of biotech crops are planted in 29 countries (19 developing, 10 industrial). After 16 years of the introduction of biotech crops, experts have not found evidence of negative impacts of Bt crops on humans, animals or the environment anywhere in the world, he added.
Bt cotton was introduced in India in 2002, following more than six years of biosafety testing. In the decade since introduction, the area planted to Bt cotton has increased from a mere 29,000 hectare in 2002 to 11 million hectare in 2011, a 380-fold increase. Bt cotton now covers as much as 93% of the total cotton acreage in the country.
“Biotech crops are the most-rigorously tested agricultural products in the world market today, requiring 8 to 10 years of detailed study in both the lab and field before even being eligible for commercial approval. Such tests carried out by both government bodies and independent experts in several countries, including India, with regard to toxicity, allergenicity, germination, cross-pollination, effects on soil, effects on non-target organisms and animals. have shown that these crops are as safe as their non-Bt counterparts,” Manjunath said.
Bt cotton, Bt corn and Bt potato have been in commercial cultivation in several countries since 1996, while others like Bt brinjal and Bt rice are at various stages of regulatory approval.