The European Union (EU) approved two oils from transgenic cotton for market despite a pledge by many EU states to block their markets to new biotech foods.

“These processed cottonseed oils are indistinguishable from conventional cottonseed oils and can therefore be considered as substantially equivalent to cottonseed oils,” an EU official said in a statement. The United Kingdom used a soon-to-expire '97 novel food regulation, which has a “fast-track” provision, to allow a member state to bypass a vote of all other member states before putting a product on the market.

Even though the oils have been evaluated favorably, they will still have to be labeled as being derived from a transgenic crop once new EU labeling rules come into force.

EPA Clears Bollgard II For '03

Monsanto has received full U.S. regulatory clearance for Bollgard II, its insect-protected cotton technology. Approval means U.S. cotton producers will have access to Bollgard II cotton varieties for the 2003 planting season.

“Bollgard II cotton is expected to provide the grower with additional benefits, including a broader spectrum of insect control and increased defense against the potential development of insect resistance,” says David Rhylander, director of cotton marketing for Monsanto. “The technology will provide agronomic advantages similar to those of its predecessor, Bollgard cotton.” It will also increase yield and lint potential, improve insect control, reduce input costs, save time and reduce pesticide spraying, he adds.

Bollgard II is the second generation of insect-protected cotton developed by Monsanto. This technology contains two different insect-control genes compared to the single insect-control gene in its predecessor.

Bollgard II cotton will provide cotton producers with control of a broad spectrum of pests, including cotton bollworm, tobacco budworm, pink bollworm, European corn borer, cabbage and soybean loopers, fall and beet armyworms, saltmarsh caterpillar and cotton leaf perforators.

As part of the registration conditions, the Environmental Protection Agency will require the same insect resistance management programs growers have been following the past several years. These plans require planting a non-Bollgard cotton refuge within a specific distance from each Bollgard II cotton field to serve as habitat for susceptible insects.

Seed companies' supply of Bollgard II cotton seed will be limited in 2003, says Rhylander.

New Cotton Production System Yields Big

For the past 15 years, cotton yields throughout the Cotton Belt have stagnated. To overcome the plateau, generally believed to be from a lack of improved genetics, Bill Pettigrew developed a production system that boosts yields.

Pettigrew, a plant physiologist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), uses an earlier planting schedule that boosts yields by giving cotton plants more sunlight at the right time.

Peak cotton blooming normally occurs around the second week of July. By planting earlier, growers can shift peak blooming closer to June 21, the longest day of the year. Also, cotton bolls should benefit from more rainfall in June and early July than is available later in the summer.

Pettigrew planted different upland cotton varieties during the first weeks of April and May from 1996 to 2000. He found that plants bloomed sooner four out of the five years when planted earlier. Yields also increased 10% on average. And although an early season cold period stunted the early planted crop in 1997, yields from both crops were equal.

Pettigrew's system, the Early Planting Cotton Production System, provides greater lint yield and avoids many late-season stresses — such as insects, high temperatures and low moisture — while reducing the need for late-season irrigation and insecticide application.

Drawbacks could include increased risk of seedling exposure to cold stress and increased seedling infections by soilborne pathogens in cool and damp conditions.