The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)
Biotechnology as an Alternative to Chemical Pesticide Use:Lessons from Bt Cotton in China"
Chinese Center for Agricultural
Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natual Resources Research,
Dept. of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics,
Dept. of Agricultural Resources and Economics,
University of California,
Developing countries apply large amounts of pesticides and those amounts are growing in most countries. For example, China applies a larger quantity of pesticides to crops than almost any country in the world and applications continue to increase. Pesticides have made an important contribution to agricultural output in many countries. However, because many extremely dangerous chemicals are still used and poor farmers use them with little concern for their own safety, these chemicals have led to both and acute and long term poisonings of farmers and farmworkers. In addition, pesticides have led to the degradation of rural land and water. Furthermore, because most poor countries have difficulty regulating pesticide use and the monitoring pesticide residue in foods,urban consumers in LDCs are exposed to high levels of dangerous chemicals.
Biotechnology offers an alternative to some of these chemicals. An important strategy of plant breeders for controlling pests and reducing the need for chemicals has been to breed for host plant resistance to insects. Since the late 1980s scientists in the U.S.A., China, and elsewhere have been working to develop crops that are genetically engineered to be resistant to important pests. One of the most popular genes that has been engineered into plants is a gene from a bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that has been used as a natural pesticide for decades. In China Bt varieties of rice, maize, cotton, and vegetables have been developed and are a various stages of testing. In India Bt cotton and Bt vegetables are in the testing stage. In Brazil Bt corn, soybeans, and sugarcane among others are being tested.
In 1998 cotton varieties that were genetically engineered with a Bt gene to produce the toxin, which kills bollworms, were introduced commercially in North China. Using a simple model of farmer demand for pesticide and data from a survey of 280 farmers in Northern China we have estimated the impact different Bt varieties on pesticide use. We then show what type of chemicals are reduced and some evidence on the reduction of poisonings of farmers.
Next we look at the GMOs for pest resistance that are in the pipeline in China - Bt maize, Bt rice, and Bt vegetables. We combine scientists' projections of the possible adoption of these Bt crops, evidence from our data on reductions of chemical use and farmer poisonings, and data from other studies about the amount of residue in Chinese food to project some of the possible health impacts on farmer and consumers of adopting Bt crops. We then discuss the implications for other developing nations.