Genetically modified cotton resistant to bollworm is a reality and five million Chinese cotton farmers have embraced it. It works, too, killing bollworm larvae that used to kill their cotton. IN the late 1990s it looked like a miracle. Pesticide use was cut by 70%. After seven years, though, the miracle is looking more like a curse because new pests called mirids have rushed into the pest vacuum and taken up shop.
“The farmers are very upset about it, because GM cotton was such a wonderful thing, and they don’t understand why it won’t work now,” says Shenghui Wang of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, US, who interviewed 481 Chinese farmers in 2004 about their more recent experiences with the GM cotton. (New Scientist)
Wang and her advisor aren’t discouraged. No, not at all.
“GM cotton has helped more than five million Chinese farmers. Over that period, up till 2004, farmers have really been much better off, and the environment has benefited,” says Per Pinstrup-Andersen, Wang’s supervisor. “It was a tremendous success story. But over time, things developed that must be dealt with, just as with other technologies. It doesn’t mean farmers shouldn’t use it.”
Yes, funny what Nature does “over time.” But Wang and Pinstrup-Andersen have some possible solutions. Like planting attractant crops near the GM crops and then spraying the shit out of them with powerful insecticides. Not sure exactly how this works to keep the environment clean or reduce costs, but I’m not a farmer. There’s more where that came from, too:
Longer term alternatives include identifying and introducing natural predators of the mirids, or equipping GM cotton with new toxins that kill them as well.
Maybe this is why the tag line of Pete Seeger’s anti-war song, “Where have all the Flowers gone?” is “When will they ever learn?”