Cotton accounts for over 10% of all pesticide use and 25% of insecticide use in the world. However, as more weeds and insects become resistant to these chemicals, farmers need more pesticides and insecticides. This is a perfect formula for health, environmental, and socio-economic disaster. Scientists have found a potential solution for this looming catastrophe: genetically modifying cotton crops.
Genetically modifying cotton crops
Scientists have successfully engineered cotton crops. Most genetically altered cotton plants are modified with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a natural bacterial insecticide, in order for cotton to be resistant to main insect pests. Many firms worldwide promote this technology as environmentally friendly since GM cotton crops need less pesticide.
The widespread adoption results in a significant long-term decline in damage due to the cotton bollworm, considered as the biggest threat to the cotton crop. Bt is very toxic to the moth and butterfly larvae, while leaving non-target insects unharmed. In addition to becoming resistant to insect pests, genetically modifying cotton plants has an added benefit.
Curbing pests in neighboring fields
A recent study published in the Science journal has found that benefits of a GM cotton crop variety are not only restricted to cotton fields, but they extend to neighboring conventional crops. The 10-year study was led by Kong-Ming Wu of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing.
In examining the GM cotton crop variety in China, Wu and his team have shown that the GM cotton crops make their own biological insecticide. The result: significant decrease in the cotton bollworm populations after introducing Bt cotton and also dramatic reduction of insect pest populations in neighboring fields.
Acknowledging GM benefits
The result of Wu and his team’s study lend support to the advantages of genetic engineering. According to Julian Little of the Agricultural Bio-technology Commission, representing GM companies "It is time that anti-GM groups acknowledge the very real benefits that this technology can bring to the developing world."