How Seeds of a False Story Took Root and Spread

By Keith Kloor | May 9, 2012 12:42 pm

When a questionable story gets rolling and takes on a life of its own, you can usually count on journalists to check it out thoroughly. Not that debunking it necessarily puts an end to the matter, as we discovered with President Obama’s birth certificate and the global warming hoax cooked up by thousands of scientists. Some stories, no matter how discredited, remain believable for certain audiences.

A case in point is the story of India’s shockingly high farmer suicide rates being blamed on agricultural multinationals and GE (genetically engineered) crop technology. The short version of this story is that hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers have killed themselves after the GE cotton crops they switched to either failed or didn’t produce a high enough yield to offset their costs, thus putting individual farmers (and their families) in massive debt. This assertion, which has been percolating for nearly a decade, rocketed far and wide in 2008 after the UK’s Prince Charles hooked his personal anti-GMO campaign to a very real and tragic story in rural parts of India.

That indebted Indian farmers have taken their own lives in horribly high numbers is true. But it’s a complex story that surprisingly few in the media have attempted to unravel. This has allowed anti-GMO activists to build and propagate their farmer suicide/biotech narrative without much journalistic scrutiny.  In a minute, we will see where this has led.

So shortly after Prince Charles made his claim in 2008, the Daily Mail, a bastion of melodramatic and scurrilous journalism, parachuted one of its reporters into India for a first hand look-see. That resulted in a story headlined:

The GM Genocide: Thousands of Indian farmers committing suicide after using genetically modified crops

The piece had all the hallmarks of the Daily Mail’s standard dreck: It was one-sided, biased, sensationalist, and egregiously irresponsible. No matter. On the web, it has had a huge and useful afterlife for GMO opponents.

One month after the Daily Mail piece appeared, the Guardian reported on a new study suggesting that,

if anything, suicides among farmers have been decreasing since the introduction of GM cotton by Monsanto in 2002. “It is not only inaccurate, but simply wrong to blame the use of Bt cotton as the primary cause of farmer suicides in India,” said the report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington DC. “Despite the recent media hype around farmer suicides,” it added, “fuelled by civil society organisations and reaching the highest political spheres in India and elsewhere, there is no evidence in available data of a ‘resurgence’ of farmer suicide in India in the last five years.”

It also found that the adoption of pest-resistant Bt cotton varieties had led to massive increases in yield and a 40% decrease in pesticide use.

“What we argue is that it’s far more complex than simply adopting a technology,” lead author Guillaume Gruère told New Scientist magazine.

Indeed, the story of those Indian farmer suicides is exceedingly complex and multi-causal. In another study published several years ago,  K. Nagaraj, an economist at Madras Institute of Development Studies in Tamil Nadu, examined data from 1997 to 2010 in one of the regions hardest hit by farmer suicides. He concluded:

The answer to the question as to why the farmers are committing suicides? lies in a combination of factors such as crop failure, shifting to more profitable but risky (in terms of output, quality and prices) cash crops like cotton/ sugarcane/ soyabean, exorbitant rate of interest and other terms and conditions of loans availed from money lenders, lack of non farm opportunities, unwillingness to adopt to scientific practices, non availability of timely credit from formal channel, absence of proper climate/ incentive for timely repayment of bank loan, etc.  At some places even though water is available but can’t be exploited fully due to insufficient power supply.  Huge expenditure on children’s education and sudden demand of money for health considerations and marriage, etc. in the family are also major contributors for stress in farming community.  Inconsistency of rainfall during monsoon,absence of support mechanism for marketing of agriculture produce also contributed to uncertainty and financial risk of the farmers.

In 2011, NYU’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice released a report on India’s farmer suicide crisis that cited predatory behavior of GMO sales reps as one of the contributors, but its overall assessment was nuanced:

These farmers and their families are among the victims of India’s longstanding agrarian crisis.  Economic reforms and the opening of Indian agriculture to the global market over the past  two decades have increased costs, while reducing yields and profits for many farmers, to the point of great financial and emotional distress.  As a result, smallholder farmers are often trapped in a cycle of debt.  During a bad year, money from the sale of the cotton crop might not cover even the initial cost of the inputs, let alone suffice to pay the usurious interest on loans or provide adequate food or necessities for the family.  Often the only way out is to take on more loans and buy more inputs, which in turn can lead to even greater debt.  Indebtedness is a major and proximate cause of farmer suicides in India.

Nonetheless, William Pentland at Forbes was critical of the report’s thrust and acidly noted (in a dig at GMO opponents):

Despite what many may believe, most companies ““ agribusiness included ““ prefer to keep their customers alive and prosperous.

Now if you want to know how widely the meme of biotech culpability in India’s rural tragedy has spread, just google Indian farmer suicides. But at the top of your search, I recommend you read the Wikipedia page titled, “Farmers’ suicides in India.” It is quite evenhanded.

Which brings me to media coverage of a new documentary called Bitter Seeds. The fawning reception to it in various quarters is uncritical and not surprising. For example, here’s the write-up in Grist:

The film follows a plucky 18-year-old girl named Manjusha, whose father was one of the quarter-million farmers who have committed suicide in India in the last 16 years. As Grist and others have reported, the motivations for these suicides follow a familiar pattern: Farmers become trapped in a cycle of debt trying to make a living growing Monsanto’s genetically engineered Bt cotton.

As anyone doing a modicum of background reading would learn, that statement is a tad simplistic, to put it charitably. But the narrative of Monsanto’s villainy and the dark side of GMO crops is unquestionably accepted and reinforced at places like Grist.

But that’s on Grist if it’s content to mostly nod approvingly at the talking points of advocacy campaigns. By now, its readers should know what to expect.

For those interested in just how intellectually bankrupt (but also incredibly persistent) the larger narrative of the GM cotton “failure” in India is, read this essay by Cornell University’s Ron Herring. He concludes:

The answer to our puzzle about farmers adopting disastrous technologies””perhaps the most rapid global adoption of any technology in history””is that the disasters exist entirely in the ideational imaginary of transnational advocacy networks. Nevertheless, the narrative of Bt-cotton catastrophe in India is coherent and globally distributed; it catches attention and compels action. It is also without any empirical or biological basis.

Which goes to show that on certain issues like genetically modified crops, social activists and green writers are masters at post-truth politics.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: biotechnology, GMOs
  • Mary

    And the consequences of aiming at the wrong target are at least twofold: 1) the actual issues are not being unearthed
    2) time, money, and energy is diverted away from things that might actually matter–if you knew what the real issues were.

    Like the issue of vaccination, for example: claiming that vaccines cause autism sends researchers chasing down data that leads nowhere, while experiments and studies could have been done to look at other factors. And the false conclusion has real impact on infectious disease.

    Thanks for taking this up. Sending farmers back to old varieties and increasing pesticide use could have real and negative consequences.

  • Menth

    @1 +1“And the consequences of aiming at the wrong target are at least twofold: 1) the actual issues are not being unearthed
    2) time, money, and energy is diverted away from things that might actually matter”“if you knew what the real issues were.”
    Yeah but fighting evil villains FEELS good. Truth takes a backseat.

  • Menth

    Okay, can someone direct me to a basic tutorial on how to make spaces between paragraphs?

  • Menth

    Also: Great story Keith.

  • BobN

    Interesting story that I had never heard of.  Once implanted, such memes are like the poison ivy in my backyard – essentially impossible to eradicate.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    You are obviously in the pay of modern agribusiness and  a denier of the Indian deathcamp/labor farms. A consensus of scientists has spoken the truth about the multi-billion dollar dealers of chemical death. This is simply Bhopal on a retail level instead of wholesale.

  • Michael Larkin

    Menth #3,

    Tom Fuller was kind enough to tell me how to do it, so I’ll pass on to you the instructions he gave me:

    “if you click on the two blue arrows in the menu, the comment shifts into HTML mode. Place your cursor after the that closes a line. Enter twice. That gives you the line break. After that, if you finish your comment in the HTML editor, you can just hit line breaks normally, with two returns.”

  • Michael Larkin

    Sorry, Menth, “…after the that…” should have read “…after the <*p>” that… Substitute “/” for “*” – I don’t know how to cancel the special meaning of the slash before “p”. 

  • Menth

    @Michael Larkin

    Many thanks!

  • jeffn

    Tom Fuller, don’t tease them- 97% of people the advocacy networks have declared to be the “true” experts agree that Monsanto is to blame, so it must be true. And the fact that others are discovering the story was wrong? Proof that it’s worse than we thought over there.
    Great post Keith. The willingness to call bullshit when it lies in front of you strengthens credibility.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    If you look at the primary components needed for humans to have a chance, you start with food. Then you add energy. Then a workable society with stable institutions. Then personal freedom.

    There are times I would swear that I read things by people who seem to oppose all of the above.

  • kdk33

    If you look at the primary components needed for humans to have a chance, you start with food. Then you add energy. Then a workable society with stable institutions. Then personal freedom.

    Close.  A free society with free markets, make it possible for people to have food and energy, and stability. 

    B+ for effort,.

  • Menth

    @11

    One of the best and most entertaining non-fiction books I’ve read recently is The Birth of Plenty by William J. Bernstein. He argues quite persuasively that the fundamental foundations for a flourishing society are: property rights and the rule of law, scientific rationalism, capital markets and transportation/communication.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Birth-Plenty-Prosperity-Created/dp/0071747044/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1336603026&sr=8-1

  • Lady in Red

    Well, Menth, if flourishing society depends upon property rights, rule of law, scientific rationalism, etc. The White Hats are losing.  Between the IPCC’s demand for CO2 regulation and the UN’s encroachment on property rights with its “Agenda 21…”…the growing need for greater intl banking controls and, now, the UN’s Intl Alliance of  Dietary Supplement Trade Association (IADSA), we be goners.  I don’t know where IADSA stands on genetically modified foods, but I’m sure the newspaper stenographers (formerly journalists) will get the story “right” and you will swallow it, as ordered.The “journalism” part is irrelevant, today.  We be fed the party line.           …Lady in Red

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @13

    with respect,

    if I want to learn about the critical underpinnings of a flourishing prosperous democratic society, I probably won’t start with this guy:

    William Bernstein, Ph.D., M.D., is a practicing neurologist in Oregon. Known for his quarterly journal of asset allocation and portfolio theory Efficient Frontier, Dr. Bernstein is also a principal in the money management firm Efficient Frontier Advisors, is a frequent guest columnist for Morningstar, and is often quoted in The Wall Street Journal. 

    No offense

  • Lady in Red

    Hmmmm….  Marlowe Johnson@15….I would think that investment advisers would think a lot, all day long, about flourishing societies, enterprises, countries, and markets.The Wall Street Journal, apparently, listens to Bernstein.      …Lady in Red

  • kdk33

    and what was the problem?

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Hurray for President Obama! Hooray!Let’s all support same sex marriage and give Mitt Romney a chance to join in.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    I said Hooray! When Obama got health care reform.

    Well, I also said hooray when Cap and Trade failed… what a dog of a bill…

    I said hooray when we left Iraq.

    I said hooray when he got ARRA through–I even felt stimulated.

    I said Hooray! when he bailed out the auto industry. I wanna Chrysler!

    I said Hooray! When he got a new SALT treaty.

    I said Hooray! When he sent the SEALs in after Osama bin Laden.

    He ain’t perfect and I’m sure plenty here could make a list just as long of things he’s done that they don’t like, but… Hooray!

  • Tom Scharf

    For those recent commenters here “searching” (and I use that term loosely) for evidence that climate scientists engage in alarmism, please see today’s NYT column:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/10/opinion/game-over-for-the-climate.html?hp 

    I sense the Marlowe spin machine cranking up to warp factor 10…

  • Jarmo

    Indian agriculture will have to experience a major re-organization. Currently, average farm size is less than 2 hectares, infrastructure is poor, access to markets limited, the sector overregulated etc. etc. 35-50 % of some crops are wasted. Rice yields in China are double compared to India.

    Here’s a good article on the state of matters:

    http://www.sandipsabharwal.com/2009/11/agricultural-mess-and-food-inflation.html

  • BBD

    We need to ask what motivates the anti-GMO narrative pushed by Western ENGOs and activists. This is insightful (from Paarlberg: Starved for Science, p 46):

    In addition to the lack of consumer benefit and anxieties regarding uncontrolled exposure, citizens in rich countries today tend to disapprove of GM foods and crops because of what they think this new technology will do to farming. In rich countries today, farmers are already highly productive, perhaps too productive, as Margaret Mellon suggests. New applications of science that could bring still more productivity have become suspect and stigmatised as a result. Long before GM foods and crops came along, citizens in rich countries had already become concerned about modern, high-yielding crops grown on specialised “factory farms” with heavy applications of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Citizens had already come to believe that too much modern agricultural science was moving away from traditional small-scale family farms, which they perceived as socially valuable and working in harmony with nature. They did not want the growing of food to become just another industrial enterprise.

  • Anteros

    Wow. What a brilliant post Keith. The best thing I’ve read for quite a while.
    Funnily enough your link to Wikipedia blew me away too. I was expecting something like the bile they produced about DDT (I suspected, due to my Wiki experiences, that you were being sarcastic..) It is much better than even-handed – it’s an wonderfully written, unbiased thoughtful Wiki-exception.

    Glad too to be able to agree whole-heartedly with Mary @1..

    I also have a suspicion that I’ve mostly cracked my paragraph-break incompetency, so at this point I’m going to go back to the top and have another read through.Happy days :)

  • Anteros

    BBD – insightful indeed

  • Menth

    @15

    I don’t doubt you wouldn’t be interested in such a book but he really does make a well researched, ideologically divested and entertaining tour of economic history. He also has a great book on the history of trade.

    I also understand the reasoning behind checking someone’s credentials before listening to their argument; it’s a convenient time saver and being in the position of a non expert, it functions as a quick method of appraising a work’s ideological tilt and thus worth if evaluation of the evidence itself is not possible. This is why so many people are quick to ask “Who funded the study?” when presented with evidence that contradicts a previously held view.

    That said, if Hitler says 2+2=4, it’s not a sound argument to say “Yeah, but he’s Hitler, so what to believe?”

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Marlowe,

    Perhaps you’ll find this talk by Niall Ferguson more palatable:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/niall_ferguson_the_6_killer_apps_of_prosperity.html

    In a nutshell

    There are six which I think explain the Great Divergence. One, competition. Two, the scientific revolution. Three, property rights. Four, modern medicine. Five, the consumer society. And six, the work ethic. You can play a game and try and think of one I’ve missed at, or try and boil it down to just four, but you’ll lose.

    Ferguson’s Divergence problem seems way more important than the one we’re used to talk about while waiting for Godot.

  • Anteros

    Willard – a top TED. I think over the last 50 years all the countries that have taken steps away from chaos, poverty and basket casedom have all added a seventh app (that they didn’t have previously) – education for women.

    For heaps of reasons (and seemingly many that aren’t clear) that single change is enough to transform societies – as well dramatically reduce population growth.

  • Jarmo

    This story suggests that greedy Microfinance companies are at least partially to blame. Quite gruesome stories:

    More than 200 poor, debt-ridden residents of Andhra Pradesh killed themselves in late 2010, according to media reports compiled by the government of the south Indian state. The state blamed microfinance companies “” which give small loans intended to lift up the very poor “” for fueling a frenzy of overindebtedness and then pressuring borrowers so relentlessly that some took their own lives.

    snip.

    The videos and reports tell stark stories:One woman drank pesticide and died a day after an SKS loan agent told her to prostitute her daughters to pay off her debt. She had been given 150,000 rupees ($3,000) in loans but only made 600 rupees ($12) a week.

    Another SKS debt collector told a delinquent borrower to drown herself in a pond if she wanted her loan waived. The next day, she did. She left behind four children.

    One agent blocked a woman from bringing her young son, weak with diarrhea, to the hospital, demanding payment first. Other borrowers, who could not get any new loans until she paid, told her that if she wanted to die, they would bring her pesticide. An SKS staff member was there when she drank the poison. She survived.

    An 18-year-old girl, pressured until she handed over 150 rupees ($3) “” meant for a school examination fee “” also drank pesticide. She left a suicide note: “Work hard and earn money. Do not take loans.”In all these cases, the report commissioned by SKS concluded that the company’s staff was either directly or indirectly responsible.Caught in the despair of poverty, tens of thousands of impoverished Indians kill themselves every year, often because of insurmountable debt. The supportive structure of the microfinance companies was supposed to change that.

    The deaths came after a period of hypergrowth leading up to the company’s hugely successful August 2010 initial public offering.

    Originally developed as a nonprofit effort to lift society’s most downtrodden, microfinance has increasingly become a for-profit enterprise that serves investors as well as the poor. As India’s market leader, SKS has pioneered a business model that many others hoped to emulate.

    http://articles.businessinsider.com/2012-02-24/markets/31093922_1_debt-collectors-borrowers-pesticide

  • DeNihilist

    We must also look at the culture. The vast majority of Indians are Hindi. Their religion is based on re-incarnation. If you off yourself, you are not going to a hell, just returning to the same lower caste.  Don’t take this wrong, the despair they feel is real, but through a different cultural lense, suicide is an easier option.

  • BBD

    The mechanisms by which the false story takes root and spreads are as interesting as the reasons why there is a Western audience for it in the first place. 

    From Herring’s fascinating essay linked by Keith above (emphasis added):

    A nuanced claim about variable results across different Bt hybrids will not be recognized in global advocacy fora; “complete failure” and dead sheep are certain to gain recognition and circulation. Finally, extreme claims are made more credible by the celebration of local knowledge that dovetails with global skepticism about Enlightenment values””and science in particular””that undergirds the epistemology of protest.

    In the contention business, there are authenticity rents to be garnered””some large, some meager””for producers of contention who walk the fine line: indigenous enough, but fluent in English. “Third-world” intellectuals play an especially important role; their authenticity rents are accordingly high. Because of the extra-local nature of knowledge consumption, facticity itself retreats from salience; as the audience shifts to global fora, local confirmation is not critical for success. Cotton farmers in Gujarat do not know what Vandana Shiva is saying about “genocidal” Bt cotton seeds in Curitiba, Brazil””or even who Vandana Shiva is. If one sensibly asks, how did the terminator-suicide-seed narrative survive in India so long after being proven so decisively wrong, one answer is that production of claims is mostly for international networks, and certainly not for farmers (Herring, 2006).

    Hear, hear.

    Note: anti-science epistemology of protest. Authenticity rents for ‘producers of contention’. Local confirmation ‘not critical for success’ when lying long-distance.

  • MarkB

    This is the first I’ve heard of this particular lunacy. When it started with Prince Charles, you know it’s a whopper. All these years waiting for his mother to die have addled his brain.There is petty literal truth, and there is a higher truth. This is one of those higher ‘green’ truths. Vulgar appeals to factual evidence miss the point, at best, and criminally obscure ideological needs. There is a need for Monsanto to be a monster, just as the Party in 1984 needed Emmanuel Goldstein. Two Minutes Hate, anyone?

  • MarkB

    Please note – I tried to follow the instructions to get a paragraph and failed. Apparently, I’m losing IQ points by the day.

  • Anteros

    MarkB – you have my sympathy. It took me weeks…and I still think I’m using a cumbersome method
    I click on the blue arrows before I start and then manually surround each paragraph with the brackety things with a P inside at the start and a slashP afterwards.
    It’s a bit tedious, but it seems to work

  • BBD

    MarkB; Anteros

    Type your comment, including bold and italic and para breaks.

    Click blue < > button.

    To force breaks, pace cursor after </p> tags and hit Enter twice.

    Submit.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Anteros,

    If you believe that the seventh app is education for women, perhaps we’d need this operating system:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/hans_rosling_and_the_magic_washing_machine.html

    Rosling does not mention if the washing machine works BEST with lukewarm water.

  • Mary

    I just realized that even before the suicide seeds, the terminator myth poisoned this debate. Any chance you could suss out the path to the terminator lies? I know there’s evidence of a lot of activists making that claim, and I’ve even seen it in a recent book in which I had to chastise the author for poor research. She didn’t appreciate that. 

    And frankly, there’s no definitive piece to turn to the explores that claim–I would love to be able to link to that in nearly every discussion ’round the tubz. I betcha you’d get a lot of page views and discussion on that. Of course, you’d also never be forgiven for shilling.

  • BBD

    Mary

    +1, as usual.

  • BBD

    Delta & Pine Land Co patents GURT in 1998. Monsanto gets the horn. Pat Mooney coins term ‘terminator technology’ (according to Stewart Brand). The ever-blithering Vandana Shiva pumps up the myth of ‘heritable sterility’ (one has to smile) in her book Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply (2000). 

    Brand (Whole Earth Discipline) p146:

    As of 2009, there are no sterilized GE crops anywhere in the world

  • MarkB

    Interesting that you go to the Guardian for ‘post-truth politics.’ Interesting seeing as they ran with the ‘death threats against Australian climate scientists’ story. The story that has recently been thoroughly debunked, and remains uncorrected.

  • BBD

    Interesting that you go to the Guardian for “˜post-truth politics.’

    Eh? You’ll be wanting to explain this and back it up with several actual examples illustrating your explanation of ‘post-truth politics’. Or you could just be trolling of course.

  • Mary

    BBD: Yep, there it is, I pulled out my copy of Brand’s book, and have now added the post-it for future discussions. He’s right on all counts there.
    And now I have turned it into a handy bit.ly that I’ll be re-using: http://bit.ly/Jv0plm

    But it would be still nice to have it in an article form.

    Thanks for that.

  • Matt B

    @41 Mary – great link on Brand. I love this except:

    “Why was water flouridation rejected by the political right & Frankenfood by the political left? The answer, I suspect, is that flouridation came from the government and genetically engineered crops from corporations. If the origins had been reversed – as they could have been – the positions woulod be reversed also.”

    Boy, does this sound familiar…….

  • Matt B

    err meant to say”excerpt” not except…..

  • Mary

    @MattB: Yeah, I think that’s on target. But I also think that’s why the opponents of GMOs are about to lose the floor. We are about to see several of the crops we’ve been talking about: those that reduce pesticides, improve nutrition, and benefit small holder farms, etc. And they have been developed by academic and non-profit groups.
    So the shouty Monsatan comments are going to stop working; people are going to see through that. And I think that’s why they’ve stepped up physical assaults on projects like the nitrogen-efficient and glycemic profile wheats that Greenpeace mowed down in Australia, and this current assault threat on the research on pest-resistant wheat in the UK.

  • VKV.Ravichandran

    As a farmer from India I would like to highlight few factors that are responsible for farmers suicides. The success of the crop depends on the timely and sufficient monsoon.

    If monsoon fails in a particular year the farmer falls in to the debt trap set by the money lenders at village levels.These money lenders drain the blood out of the farmers by charging exorbitant interest which goes even up to 60% pa.

    The Minimum Support Price fixed by the Govt for our produce are not adequate enough to cover the cost of production and leave sufficient profit margin.The cost of production keeps escalating at an alarming rate every season. But it is not reflected in the selling price of our produce.

    The return we get is inconsistent with the risk involved  in farming.The MSP is not only insufficient, it seldom works.

    The local traders and middle men exploit the farmers who are desperate in selling their produce.

    Due to these factors  farmers fall in to the debt trap. Unable to serve the debts some of them pathetically end their lives.

    Farmers suicides due to debt burden is a bigger issue.Farmers in the states where cotton is not at all grown also end their lives. Even prior to Bt Cotton was introduced in our country farmers were commiting suicide.

    Instead of probing the root cause and addressing the real issues,it is highly distressing that&nbsp some section of the media seem to divert the issue. It is just an escape mechanism from facing the truth. Thorough and deep analysis of farmers distress condition is the need of the hour so that such tragic incidents do not recur.  .

  • Chris

    Re. the indian woman who drank pesticide….it appears women don’t even need to directly consume this poison anymore; just consume a steady diet of Bt Corn–A Canadian medical study found Bt toxin from GE corn in 80% of umbilical
    cord and fetal blood samples, and in 93% of the women studied. It
    appears Bt proteins are not broken down in the gut, per Monsanto’s
    claim.

  • marcia k

    Keith Kloo, you may be right about seed sales and crop distribution infrastructure being factors in famer suicides (and suicide figures are high), but we have to ask ourselves who implemented that infrastructure and those policies (from food to cash crops with no internal market). There is also the question of … lower yields. As for the Bt Cotton, there are reports that livestock that graze on the these fields get sick and die and the workers who pick it by hand, unlike the USA where it is harvested mechanically, develop rashes and other disorders.

  • jj

    A study in June edition of the medical journal “The Lancet”, which is completely unrelated to biotechnology issues, reported that “our findings do not suggest that suicide is any more prevalent in agricultural workers (including farmers) than it is in any other profession [...] Studies from south India have shown that the most common contributors to suicide are a combination of social problems, such as interpersonal and family problems and financial difficulties, and pre-existing mental illness [...] More suicide deaths occurred in richer states (many of which are in the south) and in individuals with higher levels of education compared with those who had below primary education.” – Hence, if suicide among farmers is not more common than in other groups, and if suicide occurs more often in better educated individuals, then this does not support the hypothesis that cultivation of GM crops is driving poor farmers into mass suicide, either. 

  • Pingback: Vandana Shiva: Fanatic or Fantasist? | Carbon Counter

  • jeltez42

    BT is an Organic approved pesticide. It is organic so it has to be good and safe.

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  • http://www.inbetterbalance.com/ Juliana
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Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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