By Dr. Maria Shweba

IN 2010, Pakistan officially approved genetically modified crops when Bt Cotton varieties containing Monsantos (MON-531 event) were approved. Quality issues have been well known since then as poor quality seeds and low Bt toxin in these crops has been reported. Low toxin could mean that Cotton pests may develop resistance, sooner than anticipated and thus rendering Bt Cotton technology ineffective. This must be blamed on poor control by the Agricultural department and lack of quality control and parameters by the local seed companies.Another factor that is a leading case for concern is that refugia has not been implemented in Pakistan. Refugia is a piece of land in a crop field where non-GM or non-Bt Cotton is sown so that resistance development is delayed.
According the standards established by EPA, farmers with Bt crops are required to provide refuge areas to help control resistance. The refuge area supply a source of wildtype (non-mutant) insects to mate with possible resistant insects to produce nonresistant insects. Bt crops are planted with alternating rows of regular non-Bt crops. The insects that have developed resistance to Bt have more chances of mating with an insect that has not developed resistance to Bt. By the laws of genetics, the progenies produced will be insects that are not resistant to Bt. In the US, the EPA requires Bt cotton farmers implement refuge areas to these guidelines:-
1. Growers may plant up to 80% of their cotton acres with Bt corn. At least 20% must be planted with non-Bt cotton(refuge area)
2. Refuge area must be within, adjacent to the Bt cornfields. it must be placed within 1/2 mile of the Bt field.
3. If refuge are strips within a file, the strips should be at least 4 rows.
In Pakistan, we are very fond of talking about attaining latest Agri-technology but have little knowledge or desire to implement the related issues thus, the technology benefits are not fully realized. By not implementing refugia in GM crops, we are lining up ourselves to repeat the mistake done by India which also did not implement refugia and in 2010, Monsanto announced that its Bt Cotton seeds were ineffective against Pink Bollworm pests.
Another troubling news is that Bollgard-2 and Round Up ready Flex smuggled Cotton seeds are being used by some Cotton farmers and during the last two years, 10-20% farmers are already using the latest technology, say unconfirmed reports. No stewardship is being done so we may end up with poor quality Bollgard-2 technology now. It could also mean that Monsanto, the Company which started this technology will find itself unable to do Cotton business in Pakistan along with its licensee, Bayer.

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