28 January 2010

wake up and smell the contamination

The risk of GM contamination with non-GM and organic crops has long been one of the standing contraindications of the technology. Involving H&M again, there has been an expose that the Swedish clothing chain's organic cotton clothing is in fact contaminated with GM. This not only is a reflection of H&M but also of the Indian organic cotton industry.

30% if the tested samples contain contaminated GM and the cotton has been traced back to India which supplied half the global supply of organic cotton. This means that roughly 107,000 tons of fiber could have been contaminated. Sanjay Dave, the head of the Indian agricultural authority, Apeda, said that fraud was occurring on a “gigantic scale,” and fines were issued to third-party certification agencies such as EcoCert andControl Union as recently as April 2009.

Organic Exchange states that while GM contamination in organic cotton is growing in India--where it is estimated that up to 70% of conventional cotton is produced using GM seed--this is also true for all other regions that grow both organic and GM cotton. Contamination can occur at the farm where GM and organic crops are grown too close together and cross pollination takes place. The resulting seed on the fringes of the organic cotton crop may then contain the Bt gene. Opportunities also exist for accidental contamination to occur as the majority of organic cotton is processed in the same machinery as conventional/GM cotton.

The original expose in the Financial Times, German edition also mentions C&A and Tchibo. Wal-Mart is currently the biggest buyer of organic cotton and should their produce be tested as well? How does this effect the Indian cotton industry?

Cotton accounts for upto 38% of the country's export and the area under cultivation in India is the highest in the world (8.9 million ha). This accounts to 25% of the world area and employ seven million people for their living. This also accounts to huge portions of revenue which will be affected if our certifying bodies are not rigorous enough. Firmer rules need to be in place and enforced along the organic cotton production chain, including third party certification. Clothing retailers as well will keep the industry in check with more involvement in the supply chain and this will work as an additional measure of quality control.

The dangers of Bt cotton are well documented and this is the first major scandal of contamination that could have severe consequences to the cotton industry. When is the Indian government going to wake up and stop pushing for more GM?

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