Ever wonder why the organic cotton crowd doesn’t want genetically modified varieties in its “certified organic” clique?
Some reluctance undoubtedly comes from the fact that Bt cotton was developed for the conventional system of cotton production, and to accept it would be a tacit approval of conventional cotton.
For organic cotton, it’s all about perception. But really, what difference should it make whether a Bt protein in applied foliarly, as organic cotton allows, or within the plant, as the protein is produced in Bt cotton?
If you’re looking for real science, look no further than a thoughtful analysis by Roger Leonard and Ron Smith, Extension entomologists with Louisiana State University and Auburn University, respectively. They put real numbers to the sustainability of Bt cotton, which is grown on well over 95 percent of U.S. cotton acreage.
With Bt cotton, 1.04 million fewer pounds of insecticide are applied. Because fewer insecticide applications are made, Smith and Leonard point out, it saves 41,250, 10-hour work days, eliminates 2,150 10-hour days of aerial application and conserves 2.41 million gallons of fuel and 93.7 million gallons of water.
Bt cotton is fully compatible with the principles of integrated pest management, note Smith and Leonard. Since Bt cotton controls only caterpillar pests, several beneficial insects (that would be killed by foliar insecticides) are left unharmed.
The most important component of any sustainable production system is the economic viability of the cotton producer using it. Farmers who produce Bt cotton accrue $168 million in economic benefits from lower production costs and increased yield.
Smith and Leonard point out that Bt cotton reduces pesticide exposure risk, creates wildlife benefits and gives cotton producers more time for family and community activities.
And just as importantly, Bt cotton produces exactly the same fiber found in all consumer products derived from cotton. In other words, a pair of organic denim jeans isn’t going to feel any different than a pair woven from Bt cotton.
But the anti-Bt cotton crowd persists.
Take the Sustainable Cotton Project, which has started an initiative called the Cleaner Cotton Campaign, which promises to produce cotton with 73 percent less chemical.
Its purpose, according to its Web site, is to recruit cotton producers who “would normally be spraying cotton intensively or using genetically modified seed. If we can influence the experience and therefore the mindset of conventional agriculture, then we can immediately be able to reduce the amount of chemicals released into our environment.”
The benefits of proper and judicious use of chemicals aside, why the hostility toward genetically-modified cotton? I suggest the project add a whole lot to its credibility by giving Ron Smith and Roger Leonard a call. It’s time they got the real scoop on Bt cotton.