Co-existing with GM cotton
“GMO seed is a very important topic. We are focusing on finding solutions to meet the farmers’ needs. Our goal is to make farmers not dependent on traders without knowing the exact origin of their seed supplies. The organic community needs to reinforce their position and involve experts, government agencies, to preserve good organic agricultural practices.”
Didier Perreol, CEO Ekibio Group,
Vice President of the French Organic Agency (L’agence Bio Française)
Genetically Modified (GM) seeds are not permitted in organic agriculture.
GM cotton has been released into, and adopted by, an increasing number of countries over the past 10 years: the US, Brazil, India, China, South Africa, Australia, Argentina, Mexico, and Columbia and recently in Burkina Faso, West Africa - many of them also grow cotton organically.
There are three main types of GM cotton: herbicide tolerant (tolerant to glyphosate and bromoxynil), insect resistant (with the Bacillus thuringiensis -Bt- toxin genes inserted) and a third type which combines both attributes (Agricultures Network, 2001). The Bt gene specifically kills lepidopteran insects such as bollworms and budworms.
The risks of cross-contamination of organic by GM (genetically modified) cotton can arise from a number of sources; from using GM seed, through cross-pollination, and by mixing (whether unintentional or intentional) during storage, transport, ginning and further processing.
Organic standards have clear rules about production and manufacturing, separation, traceability and record keeping. There are also clear requirements for inspection, certification and control by independent bodies, which is overseen by governmental agencies.
In 2010 the integrity of organic cotton from India came under the spotlight. In response, a guidance document was developed to provide a set of best practice protocols for organic cotton farming projects and their certifiers to avoid and prevent GM contamination. The task force, behind the document consisted of experts within C&A, Helvetas, CottonConnect and Textile Exchange - with support from the Soil Association and a number of prominant Organic Cotton Certifiers. The guidance is not a substitute for all the normal obligations of standards and certification. Rather, it is a supplement to ensure a more consistent and reliable approach to the sometimes wide variation in how these are applied "in the field". The Guide, and accompanying posters targeted at Indian growers, can be downloaded from the list below.