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New findings in India's Bt cotton controversy: Good for the field, bad for the farm?

Crop yields from India's first genetically modified crop may have been overemphasized, as modest rises in crop yields may come at the expense of sustainable farm management, says a new study by a Washington University in St. Louis anthropologist.

The study, by Glenn Stone, PhD, professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences, appears in the March issue of the journal World Development.

In his paper, Stone compares village yields in 2003 and 2007, which conveniently had very similar levels of rainfall. "Cotton yields rose 18 percent with the adoption of genetically modified seeds," Stone says. "This is less than what has been reported in some economics studies, but much better than activists have claimed."

Pesticide sprayings were also down by 55 percent with the switch to genetically modified seed.

The crop in question is Bt cotton, genetically modified to produce its own insecticide. Approved for Indian farmers since 2002, the technology is being closely watched because it is the most widely planted GM crop on small farms in the developing world.

Many activists and commentators, including England's Prince Charles, have accused Bt cotton of failing, ruining small farmers and causing suicides, Stone claims.

Several studies by economists, however, have shown Bt cotton farmers to be getting higher yields when compared with planters of conventional cotton.

"These economics studies have had a serious weakness," says Stone, the incoming president of the Anthropology & Environment section of the American Anthropological Association. "The adopters of the new seeds tend to be the most prosperous and well-financed farmers, who were getting better yields than other farmers even before Bt seeds were adopted. Our anthropological research project used a different strategy to assess the seeds' performance."

Stone conducted long-term research in four villages in Andhra Pradesh, India. He found that

Contact: Glenn Stone
Washington University in St. Louis

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New findings in India's Bt cotton controversy: Good for the field, bad for the farm?
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