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Bt cotton is perhaps the best-known example of genetic engineering (GE) or genetic modification (GM) in India. It is cotton that has been genetically-engineered in a laboratory taking genes from a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). These genes and other foreign substances inserted control the release of high doses of toxins through out the plant during various stages in its lifecycle, which are supposedly harmful to bollworms, the most important cotton pest in India.

Bt cotton was a Monsanto-creation and the company teamed up with an Indian seed company, Mahyco, in 1998 to undertake field trials. Four years later, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under the Ministry of Environment, Govt. of India, approved the planting of three Bt cotton varieties in some states, despite strong reasons not to do so, including :

  • The trialing itself was being challenged in India’s Supreme Court

  • There were supposedly certain violations of biosafety guidelines during the trials which GEAC was made aware of

  • The ground reality wherever Bt cotton was being grown commercially elsewhere in the world (China, USA and Australia) was not encouraging. Bollworms, the chief reason for the development of Bt cotton, had developed resistance to the toxins generated within the plant. On the other hand, beneficial species such as bees were being exterminated by the toxins.

In the years that have followed, Bt cotton has failed in India too, as per a study conducted by the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE), New Delhi (an affiliate of Vandana Shiva’s Navdanya), on various counts including :

  • Bollworms are not affected by Bt cotton, nor are other pests. Farmers still have to use pesticides

  • Yields are nowhere close to promised figures, often lower than conventional cotton varieties

  • Net income from a Bt cotton crop is not higher than conventionally-grown cotton

Biosafety norms as prescribed by the GEAC are invariably violated by farmers. Monsanto-Mahyco as well as GEAC have washed their hands off this responsibility by passing it on to the farmer, invariably small-scale and less literate.

To know more about Bt crops and their effects, you may follow these links :

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