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The Rupp Report: Interlaken - The Summit Of The Global Cotton Industry, Part III

This year's International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) Meeting will take place October 7-12 at the Congress Centre Kursaal Interlaken, in Switzerland. The theme of the congress is "Shaping Sustainability in the Cotton Value Chain." Over the next few weeks, the Rupp Report will focus on this event with a selection of issues related to the congress agenda. This week, the focus is on the controversial issue of genetically modified plants in general, and cotton in particular.

Allegations And Criticism
This issue is actually very much in the focus of the global daily press. If two people get together and start discussing the subject of genetically modifying plants, there will be no consensus. Why? Generally each partner in the discussion thinks (s)he knows a lot more than the other and wants to convince the opponent that (s)he's right. On the one side, there is the individual who has a high level of environmental consciousness, whose self-proclaimed attitude is to defend nature as well as human beings and animals from the negative impacts from genetically modified plants.

On the other side, there is — probably — a professional who knows much more about this subject, and is even involved in biotechnological activities. Of course, this person thinks that with his or her professional background comes a duty to teach the opponent and to explain all the obvious advantages of genetically modified plants. The pro may tell his/her opponent that modern biotechnology has enabled increased efficiency in cotton production. Based on information from Cotton Incorporated, 50-percent more cotton is produced worldwide today on the same amount of land as compared to some 40 years ago.

Furthermore, as Cotton Incorporated notes on its cottontoday website: "Integrated pest management strategies and other enhanced technologies have resulted in reduced insecticide applications around the world. Specifically, the advent of insect-resistant strains of cotton and high-tech pest monitoring systems helps cotton growers reduce the volume of inputs needed to cultivate their crops.

"According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), only about 0.8 pounds of insecticides and 2.1 pounds of herbicides are applied to each acre of cotton. Since the average acre in the U.S. produces about 800 pounds of cotton, that means only 0.09 ounces of total pesticides are applied per pound of cotton produced."

Dead-end Street ...
That's not bad at all — at least, not in the professional's view. However, the author remembers hot and endless discussions with his daughter when she was studying to become a bioengineer. They all ended up in a dead-end street. She always said: "Why do people not understand that modifying plants is not a bad thing? People do this with flowers, and nature is doing the same." The author always answered: "Explain it to the people."

Transferred to the cotton industry, consumers and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) should know the facts and figures. Cotton Incorporated notes: "The tremendous gains in production efficiency from modern technology now allow U.S. cotton growers to produce 50 percent more cotton on the same amount of land, preserving habitat while promoting fiber and food security. In the United States, insecticide use has been drastically reduced, thanks to biotechnology, the success of the boll weevil program [see sidebar] and the extensive use of integrated pest management (IPM) practices in cotton production.

"Transgenic technology, which is technology that is used deliberately to alter the genome of an organism by the transfer of a gene or genes from another species or breed, has proven particularly effective in this area. The International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC), a body that assist governments in fostering a healthy world cotton economy, reported that: 'indirect significant benefits of the [transgenic] technology include improved populations of beneficial insects and wildlife in cotton fields, reduced pesticides runoff, and improved farm worker and neighbor safety as well as soil-related environmental improvements through changed tillage practices with herbicide tolerant varieties.'"

... With No Return?
As the ICAC meeting will be in Switzerland, here is another glimpse at this country, where environmental issues are always on top of the list for certain people and organizations. Between 2007 and 2011, a group of scientists from the Swiss National Research Programme found that for genetically modified plants, there are "no specific risks to the environment and health of people and animals." This research program, NRP 59, was presented recently and caused a lot of new discussions.

In 2005, the Swiss people had voted for a five-year moratorium on the use of genetic engineering in agriculture. Then the Federal Council launched a research program and furnished it with a budget of 12 million Swiss francs. It also included field trials, which ended up in the headlines after they were vandalized by protesters.

Communication Is The Key Word
The point is not to list in this Rupp Report all the details of this program. The point is that the results provoked new and endless discussions among the interested parties. There is the Swiss Farmers Association (SFA) on the one side, which has endorsed the moratorium and its extension ever since. The officially declared reasons are somewhat questionable: "Because of the lack of profitability, the SFA currently sees no reason to stop or loosen the moratorium and the cultivation of genetically modified plants. It would be a risk for the reputation of Switzerland to be a country free of genetically modified plants and this reputation should be kept as a marketing advantage. Therefore, the moratorium on the cultivation of genetically modified plants should be extended until 2017."

On the other side, there is the Swiss Working Group on Gene Technology (SAG), which criticized in a statement the "tendentious summaries and recommendations in the final report of the NRP 59," and said "statements to relieve possible risks are exaggerated and excessive."

Have Your Say
It will be exciting to see how the arguments of both sides will be presented in Interlaken. In 2008, the World Bank Development Report emphasized that "agriculture is a vital development tool for achieving the Millennium Development Goals to half (halve? half is not a verb) the share of people suffering from extreme poverty and hunger by 2015." This statement is also valid for the ever-increasing consumption of cotton. Solutions that satisfy the entire human race are essential. The ICAC meeting in Interlaken has a great chance to play an active role in this context.

Dear reader, if you want to participate in this discussion, have your own say. Write to jrupp@textileworld.com, and the Rupp Report will not hesitate to respond to your comments.

Boll Weevil Eradication: A Brief History

A little more than a century ago, Anthonomus grandis (boll weevil) migrated from Mexico to the U.S. and spread rapidly throughout the Cotton Belt. Since then, it has cost America's cotton producers more than $15 billion - from yield losses and costs to control the insect pest.

In 1958, the National Cotton Council officially recognized the economic havoc the boll weevil was wreaking on U.S. cotton production. With Congressional leadership and support, a USDA Boll Weevil Research Lab was created followed by eradication experiments, a trial eradication program and an areawide boll weevil control program on Texas' High Plains and Rolling Plains to prevent the weevil's migration.

In the late 1970s, the National Boll Weevil Eradication Program was launched by USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) along the Virginia-North Carolina border.

Grower referendums were initiated to continue the advancement of the Boll Weevil Eradication Program. Growers funds with some state support accounted for over 70 percent of the program operation budget with less than 30 percent of funds provided by Federal cost share.

The program later expanded into other Southeastern states followed by southwestern Arizona, southern California and a portion of northwest Mexico. Later programs were launched in Oklahoma, New Mexico, the Mid-South, and Texas.

Source: National Cotton Council

September 11, 2012