After the devastating whitefly pest attack on cotton crop in Punjab and Haryana, India will now screen genetically modified (GM) cotton hybrids on sale in the country to identify the varieties that are resistant to whitefly, according to an agency report.
The whitefly attack on the Bt cotton variety in Punjab and Haryana was the first major infestation since India adopted GM cotton in 2002. It has fueled worries over the vulnerability of the GM seeds that yield nearly all of the cotton in the world’s top producer.
The Agriculture Ministry does not want to take any chances as the pest could thrive and affect nearby farms growing vegetables, said P.K. Chakrabarty, an assistant director general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).
Out of the 1,128 hybrids, the ICAR has been asked to see which have an inherent tolerance to whitefly, Chakrabarty said. The government will screen the available hybrids and then put up a list which will sensitise private producers to select suitable hybrids only.
A joint venture of Monsanto with Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co Pvt Ltd, Kaveri Seeds and Bayer Bioscience Pvt Ltd are among companies allowed to sell GM cotton hybrids in India.
Bt cotton was modified scientists at Monsanto to produce its own insecticide to kill bollworms. But the strain has no resistance against whitefly which attacked the crop this season.
The government now plans to educate farmers to use only those hybrids that are less vulnerable to whitefly, Chakrabarty said. (SH)