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Seeds

Cotton

Project: Genetic Engineering and the Privatization of Seeds
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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According to Kirk Azevedo, Monsanto’s facilitator for genetically modified cotton sales in California and Arizona, he learns from a Monsanto scientist that the company’s GM Roundup Ready cotton not only contains the intended protein produced by the Roundup Ready gene, but also contains additional proteins that are not naturally produced in the plant. These unknown proteins were created during the gene insertion process, the scientist reportedly explained to Azevedo, when the modified genes were inserted into the plant’s DNA using a “gene gun.” Azevedo, who has been studying mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), becomes concerned that these abnormal proteins “might possibly lead to mad cow or some other prion-type diseases.” When he shares this concern with the scientist, he discovers that the scientist has no idea what he is talking about. “He had not even heard of prions. And this was at a time when Europe had a great concern about mad cow disease and it was just before the Nobel prize was won by Stanley Prusiner for his discovery of prion proteins,” Azevedo later recalls. [Spilling the Beans, 6/2006] Azevedo will become even more concerned when he learns that Monsanto scientists are feeding experimental GM cotton plants to cattle (see Summer 1997).

Entity Tags: Kirk Azevedo, Monsanto

Category Tags: Monsanto, Public Health, Cotton

Kirk Azevedo, Monsanto’s facilitator for genetically modified cotton sales in California and Arizona, will later say that around this time he discovered that Monsanto is feeding GM cotton plants from test fields to cattle. “I had great issue with this. I had worked for Abbot Laboratories doing research, doing test plots using Bt sprays from bacteria. We would never take a test plot and put [it] into the food supply, even with somewhat benign chemistries. We would always destroy the test plot material and not let anything into the food supply.” When he explains to the Ph.D. in charge of the test plot that feeding experimental plants containing unknown proteins (see 1996) to cows is a potential health risk to humans, the scientist refuses to end the practice. “Well that’s what we’re doing everywhere else and that’s what we’re doing here,” Azevedo recalls the scientist saying. Azevedo then raises his concerns with other employees in Monsanto. “I approached pretty much everyone on my team in Monsanto” but no one seemed interested, and in fact, people started to ignore him. Next, he contacts California agriculture commissioners whose responsibility it is to ensure that the management and design of test plots do not pose any risks to public health. But, “once again, even at the Ag commissioner level, they were dealing with a new technology that was beyond their comprehension,” Azevedo later explains. “They did not really grasp what untoward effects might be created by the genetic engineering process itself.” He also tries unsuccessfully to speak with people at the University of California. Frustrated with the company and the government’s apparent lack of concern, he quits his job at Monsanto in early January 1998. [Spilling the Beans, 6/2006]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Kirk Azevedo

Category Tags: Public Health, Biotech/seed industry, Public Health, Experimental GM Crops, Biotech/seed industry, Monsanto, Public Health, Cotton

By this year, 69 percent of all cotton grown in the US is genetically modified. [Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, 8/2004]

Category Tags: Cotton

Monsanto’s Bollgard Bt cotton fares poorly during a one-year trial period in South Sulawesi, a province of Indonesia. During a drought, much of the crop suffers from a population explosion in cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera), though the pest has no effect on local varieties. Other pests also attack the crop. As a result, farmers are forced to purchase additional pesticides and use them in larger amounts than is usually necessary. Monsanto had said its Bt cotton would require less pesticide. It also claimed its product would produce yields as high as 3 tons per hectare, and even promised some farmers they would see 4-7 tons per hectare. But the average yield turns out to be only 1.1 ton per hectare with 74 percent of the total area planted actually producing less than one ton per hectare. Approximately 522 hectares experience complete failure. As a result of the poor harvest, 70 percent of the 4,438 farmers participating in the experiment are unable to repay the loans they obtained to buy the seed. They had purchased the cotton seed on credit for Rp 40,000/kg from Branita Sandhini, a Monsanto subsidiary, as part of a package deal that also included pesticide, herbicide (including Roundup), and fertilizer. By comparison, Kanesia, a non-transgenic cotton that is grown by other farmers in the area costs only Rp 5,000/kg. Not only does the farmers’ purchase agreement with Branita Sandhini require that they pay these high prices, it also prohibits them from saving and replanting harvested seed. After harvest, they rely on the same company to purchase their crop. However, before buying the harvest, Branita Sandhini asks the farmers to sign a new contract for the following year. In the new contract, the seed prices are double the previous year’s. Fearing that the company will refuse to buy their harvest if they do not sign, many indebted farmers reluctantly agree to the new terms. Others burn their fields in protest. One woman recalls, “The company didn’t give the farmer any choice, they never intended to improve our well being, they just put us in a debt circle, took away our independence and made us their slave forever. They try to monopolize everything, the seeds, the fertilizer, the marketing channel and even our life.” [Jakarta Post, 6/1/2002; Nation (Jakarta), 9/27/2004; Institute for Science in Society, 12/5/2004; Institute for Science in Society, 1/26/2005]

Entity Tags: PT Branita Sandhini, Monsanto

Category Tags: Monsanto, Indonesia, Farmers' rights, Cotton, Resistance

By this year, 71 percent of all cotton grown in the US is genetically modified, an increase of two percentage points over the previous year (see 2001). [Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, 8/2004]

Category Tags: Cotton

By this year, 73 percent of all cotton grown in the US is genetically modified, an increase of two percentage points over the previous year (see 2002). [Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, 8/2004]

Category Tags: Cotton

By this year, 76 percent of all cotton grown in the US is genetically modified, an increase of three percentage points over the previous year (see 2003). [Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, 8/2004]

Category Tags: Cotton

A report by the Indian government finds that Bt cotton grown in India in 2005 experienced a higher incidence of pest and disease and produced lower yields than non-Bt cotton. The report recommends that Bt cotton be planted only in irrigated fields that have fertile soil. Another study, conducted by a number of civil society organizations, finds that farmers who grew Bt cotton in Andhra Pradesh collectively incurred $80 million dollars more in farming costs than non-Bt cotton growers. [Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, 3/29/2006]

Category Tags: Studies-government, Cotton, India

Between January and August 2006, an estimated 1,920 Bt cotton farmers in Vidarbha, Maharashtra (India) commit suicide because of rising debts. And between June and August, the suicide rate reaches one suicide every eight hours. The higher cultivation costs associated with genetically modified Bt cotton (see, e.g., 2005 ) has made it more difficult for farmers to pay back their loans. Roughly 2.8 million of the 3.2 million cotton farmers in the Maharashtra province are currently in default. More than 50 percent of the farmers who commit suicide are between the ages of 20 and 45. [DNA India, 8/26/2006] The epidemic of farmer suicides began in 1994 when India liberalized its economy and devalued the rupee. [DNA India, 8/26/2006]

Category Tags: Farmers' rights, India, Farmers' rights, Cotton, India

In the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh, India, more than 70 Indian shepherds report that 25 percent of their herds died within 5-7 days of continuous grazing on the leaves and pods of harvested Bt cotton plants. The shepherds noticed that the sheep became dull or depressed two to three days after grazing on the plants. They developed “reddish and erosive” lesions in the mouth, became bloated, had episodes of blackish diarrhea, and sometimes had red-colored urine. Post-mordem examinations of the animals revealed the presence of black patches in the small intestines, enlarged bile ducts, discolored livers, and the accumulation of pericardial fluid. Investigators suspect that the deaths were likely due to the Bt toxin in the leaves and pods of the Bt cotton plants. [Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and Anthra, 4/2006; NDTV (New Delhi), 6/1/2006] Researchers from the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and the group Anthra later submit a report on the sheep deaths to India’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, but the government agency dismisses the reports as “exaggerated.” [Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and Anthra, 7/28/2006]

Entity Tags: Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, Anthra

Category Tags: Public Health, India, Public Health, Cotton, India

Monsanto announces that it will purchase Delta & Pine Land Company, the world’s largest cotton seed company, and the first company to obtain a patent on terminator technology (see March 3, 1998). Monsanto has had its sights on Delta & Pine Land for years. A previous plan to buy the company—announced in 1998 (see May 11, 1998)—fell through in December 1999 (see December 19, 1999). The acquisition means that Monsanto will control over 57 percent of the US cotton seed market. It will also deepen Monsanto’s reach into the developing world, where Delta & Pine Land has subsidiaries in 13 countries—including India, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, and Pakistan. According to the ETC Group, an outspoken critic of terminator technology, “the takeover means that Monsanto will command a dominant position in one of the world’s most important agricultural trade commodities and that millions of cotton farmers will be under increased pressure to accept genetically modified (GM) cottonseed.” [Monsanto, 8/15/2006; ETC Group, 8/16/2006]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Delta & Pine Land Company

Category Tags: Seed/biotech industry consolidation, Delta & Pine Land, Monsanto, Cotton

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