Cotton farmers are watching a new discovery from Texas A&M’s AgriLife Research that could expand their market. USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced the deregulation of Texas A&M’s cotton variety genetically engineered to have ultra-low levels of gossypol in its seed. According to the Texas A&M website, this allows research to move toward commercialization of a new strain of cotton that has the potential to help feed half a billion hungry people across the globe while also doubling the income of cotton farmers.
Gossypol is a naturally occurring compound in the pigment of cotton plants and protects them from pests and diseases. This GE variety maintains protective levels of gossypol in the plants, but the compound is significantly reduced in the seed. This benefits agriculture by lowering cottonseed oil refining costs, and potentially expands the use of cottonseed in the livestock and aquaculture feed industries, as well as for human food uses.
After 23 years, Dr. Keerti Rathore figured out a way to remove a naturally occurring toxin from cottonseeds that made them inedible to people and most animals. The breakthrough by Rathore and his team at Texas A&M AgriLife Research will allow farmers to grow cotton for both fiber and food.
As part of the petition process, APHIS prepared a draft plant pest risk assessment and draft environmental assessment, and made these documents available for a 30-day public review and comment period on August 1, 2018. APHIS considered all of the public comments and conducted a thorough review of the potential environmental impacts in its final EA pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act, reaching a finding of no significant impact.
APHIS concluded in its final PPRA that this variety of GE cotton is unlikely to pose a plant pest risk to agricultural crops or other plants in the United States and is deregulating this variety of GE cotton.
The next step for the new development will be approval from the FDA, which is expected in the upcoming months.