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Growers face huge losses in Brazil as Bt cotton eaten by caterpillars

NOTE: According to the article below, GM Bt cotton is the major factor in the catastrophic failure of the Brazilian cotton crop. The crop has fallen victim to a plague of caterpillars, leading to expected losses of millions of dollars for producers. 

Brazilian cotton producers are now asking the government to allow the use of a banned class of pesticides to deal with the problem. But as the article shows, chemical pesticides are becoming less effective and so farmers are having to use more and more to try to control pests.

Let's bear in mind this latest example of Bt cotton failure next time a GM pusher claims Bt crops reduce insecticide use.

A Brazilian commentator told us:

"The article makes clear that the further agriculture gets from the natural production system, the higher the risk - as with markets.

"GM promised a better future, but is delivering worse problems. In terms of tort law, whose responsibility is this? One crop affecting another, unseen damaging effects due to the use of a new technology, more pesticides being required and more waste of harmful products into the environment and communities?

"The question one could ask, in terms of tort law, is if the responsibility for such damages should not be imposed only onto the growers but also onto the companies introducing transgenic seeds into the market."

EXCERPT: Celito Breda explained that the increased incidence of caterpillars this season is due to a number of factors. He says that one was the expansion of the cultivation of transgenic maize resistant to caterpillars, whose toxin eliminates 100% of the species Spodoptera (armyworms) and only 10% of Helicoverpa. Breda reports that earlier in the plantings of conventional corn, the caterpillar Spodoptera, which is a cannibal, contributed to the control of Helicoverpa. Without natural enemies, the population of the corn ear worm multiplied.
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Caterpillars devouring crop, causing losses of 2 billion Brazilian real in Bahia
Plague has claimed 2% of the area under cotton in western Bahia
agricultura.ruralbr
6.3.13
http://bit.ly/XWlSLc
Rough English translation from the Portuguese by GMWatch

The increased incidence of corn earworm caterpillar, better known as caterpillar cob of corn, could cause damage estimated at 2 billion Brazilian real [unit of currency]. Only in western Bahia [a state in Brazil], where there is a higher incidence of the pest, the losses are expected to reach 1 billion Brazilian real, according to the Brazilian Association of Cotton Producers (Abrapa). The losses include increased spending on insecticides for pest control and productivity losses in soybean and cotton.

The president of the Brazilian Group of Cotton Consultants, Celito Eduardo Breda, who is also director of the Bahia Association of Cotton Producers (Abapa), estimates that the caterpillars have decimated 2% of the area under cotton in western Bahia and provides that if there is no control, the losses in the next 30 days could reach 4% of expected production.

The alert raised by the producers of Bahia led the Ministry of Agriculture to declare a phytosanitary emergency  to control the caterpillar Helicoverpa zea. Breda, who is an expert on the subject, said that it is not just the corn ear worm, also known in other countries as the apple caterpillar of cotton, but several species of Helicoverpa, which makes the control of pests that voraciously attack crops difficult. 

No scientific study to identify the various species has been carried out so far.

Celito Breda explained that the increased incidence of caterpillars this season is due to a number of factors. He says that one was the expansion of the cultivation of transgenic maize resistant to caterpillars, whose toxin eliminates 100% of the species Spodoptera (armyworms) and only 10% of Helicoverpa. Breda reports that earlier in the plantings of conventional corn, the caterpillar Spodoptera, which is a cannibal, contributed to the control of Helicoverpa. Without natural enemies, the population of the corn ear worm multiplied.

He said the drought last year and the continuous cultivation of various crops during the year contributed to the species' survival and increased pest population, which now threatens crops. One of the proposals submitted to the government is the establishment of a fallow period between August and October for crops that Helicoverpa makes its home in, such as beans, wheat, barley, Brachiaria, millet, sorghum, watermelon, orange, pumpkin, and green manures (sunn hemp, pigeon pea, etc).

Import of insecticide

Cotton farmers are asking the government to allow the emergency import of insecticides of the "emamectin benzoate" group, which are banned in Brazil, but used in countries that have strict controls on pesticides, such as America, Australia, and Japan. Breda says the relaxation of rules is necessary to diversify the range of products used for the control of caterpillars and prevent pests becoming resistant to a particular active ingredient. He cites the case of insecticide Premio, by DuPont, one of the most used pesticides in the control of Helicoverpa.

Breda says, "In the last season we used 70 ml of the product to control 90% of the population of the caterpillar. This season with 150 ml, we could only control 70%."

Producers also want the federal government to mandate by law the planting of areas of conventional crops, called refuges, on the edges of transgenic crops, to allow the multiplication of natural enemies of pests. Breda said that in Australia, after losing 75% of cotton production in 1997 because of the incidence of pests, 50% of cotton crops had to be planted as refuges. He says that in Brazil the refuge is planted according to the recommendation of the companies that produce the seeds.