Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - GE cotton presence confirmed in Cambodia

GE cotton presence confirmed in Cambodia

GE cotton presence confirmed in Cambodia

A genetically engineered (GE) variety of cotton, which recent research has shown

could have adverse environmental effects, is being grown in Cambodia,

agriculture officials confirmed to the Post.

Although the Ministry of

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries does not know how much Bt cotton is being

grown here, the number of hectares under trial is set to increase in the next

few months.

A final mission report from the Agricultural Materials

Standards Specialist confirmed the presence of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis)

cotton in several trials at Chamkar Leu district, Kampong Cham

province.

"According to the final report of the seed industry specialist

under the Agricultural Productivity Improvement Project, there is some Bt gene

modified cotton in variety trials at Chamkar Leu," the report stated.

Pen

Vuth, deputy director at the department of agronomy and land improvement at

MAFF, confirmed Bt cotton was being grown in Cambodia.

His department had

yet to research the impact of genetically modified organisms (GMO).

"The

seeds have been growing in Memot and some in Chamkar Leu," he said. "This seed

is resistant to bollworm."

Bt transgenic cotton is the main GE cotton

variety. A gene from a soil bacteria that is toxic for the bollworm is inserted

into the plant. However, research by Greenpeace showed that resistance to the

gene could rapidly build up in the target bollworm population, leaving the

cotton "ineffective in controlling pests after eight to ten years of continuous

production".

The June 4 report reviewed the impact of Bt cotton in China,

where it accounts for 35 percent by area of the total crop. The results showed

adverse environmental effects after only five years of commercial growing.

The bollworm can develop resistance to the gene, and tests using

bollworms that had acquired Bt resistance showed their susceptibility to the

toxin decreased to 30 percent by the 17th generation. By the 40th generation

bollworm resistance had increased 1,000 times, making Bt cotton practically

useless at combating the pest.

Other worrying findings were natural

parasitic enemies of the bollworm were drastically reduced, the numbers of

secondary pests increased, and farmers were forced to continue using chemical

pesticides.

Larry Kao, general manager of the Manhattan Textiles and

Garment Corporation in Kampong Cham, said his company had provided cotton seed

to farmers since 2000 to test and grow.

Kao said he purchased the seed

from a Chinese company in China's Kwantong province, but did not know whether it

was Bt cotton. The Post asked him to translate the label on the cotton seed can,

which is in Chinese, and it read: "Transformed by the gene to [ensure] a pest

resistant hybrid."

He said his company planned this year to grow between

500-1,000 hectares in three provinces: Kratie, Stung Treng and Kampong

Cham.

The chief of the cotton seed station in Chamkar Leu, Sing Bunny,

said Chinese businessmen providing him with three types of seed to try on his

land two years ago.

They called it Chinese I, II, and III. He

acknowledged the cotton was not destroyed by bollworm, but said after

experimenting for two years, it had generated far less revenue than the normal

crop.

He said the experimental station would not grow any more of the GE

seed.

The report from MAFF's specialist stated that the presence of GE

cotton in Cambodia appears limited at the moment. However it said Vuth's

department should draft a policy on GMO crops, and provide information to

farmers on potential health and environmental impacts. It concluded that

controls over the use of GMOs should be enforced.

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