A genetically modified cotton plant, which makes up 35 percent of China's crop, is damaging the environment despite its success in controlling the bollworm, according to a report released in Beijing Monday.
The plant, Bt transgenic cotton, harms natural parasitic enemies of the bollworm and seems to be encouraging other pests, according to the study by the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences (NIES) under the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).
Researchers have seen a significant decrease in populations of the bollworm's natural parasitic enemies.
Bt transgenic cotton, containing anti-bollworm genes from certain bacilli, is in large-scale commercial production in China and the planting area was estimated to top 1.5 million hectares last year, accounting for about 35 percent of the total area planted in cotton, according to the Cotton Research Institute under the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
The report says that the diversity index of the insect community in the Bt cotton fields is lower than conventional cotton fields, while the pest dominant concentration index is higher.
The balance of the insect community is weaker in Bt cotton fields than in fields of conventional crops, because some kinds of insects thrive in the Bt fields and this is more likely to cause outbreaks of certain pests, said Xue Dayuan, the NIES expert in charge of the report.
Populations of pests other than the cotton bollworm have increased in Bt cotton fields and some have even replaced it as primary pests because the GM plant is slow at controlling those pests, the report says.
Scientists also verified with lab tests and field monitoring that the cotton bollworm will develop resistance to the GM cotton and concluded that Bt cotton will not resist the bollworm after eight to ten years of continuous cultivation.
New GM organisms and products can benefit agriculture and many other industries, but people should always beware of the long term and underlying impacts on the environment, said Zhu Xinquan,chairman of the Chinese Society of Agro-Biotechnology which jointly hosted the seminar with the NIES and Greenpeace China.
China is a centre for diversity of several plants such as the soy bean and faces the problem of how to protect original genes from imported GM products.
(Xinhua News Agency June 4, 2002)