Suicide: The New Harvest of GM Cotton

August 1, 2006
Source
IPS - Inter Press Service

By Anuradha Mittal

OAKLAND, Aug 1 2006 (IPS) - Evidence from the fields shows Monsanto's claims about its Bt cotton variety to be spurious, writes Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute (www.oaklandinstitute.org), a policy thinktank dedicated to creating a space for public participation and democratic debate on key social, economic, environmental and foreign policy issues. In this article, Mittal cites a new study by Cornell University researchers, the first to look at longer-term economic impact of Bt cotton. The study of 481 Chinese farmers in five major cotton-producing provinces found that after seven years of cultivation they had to spray up to 20 times in a growing season to deal with secondary insects, which resulted in a net average income of 8 percent less than conventional cotton farmers. Failure of Bt cotton crops in India resulted in the suicides of an estimated 700 farmers in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, between June 1, 2005 and August 9, 2006, to escape debt incurred by buying the expensive GM seed. As Bt cotton continues to jostle for public acceptance, Bt crops have been attacked by 'Lalya' or 'reddening' as well, a disease unseen before which affected Bt more than the non-Bt cotton crop, resulting in 60 percent of farmers in Maharashtra failing to recover costs from their first GM harvest. Genetic engineering and Bt cotton will neither revolutionise the countryside in the developing countries nor improve food security, but a new farm economy based on the principle of food sovereignty and farmers' rights as the centrepiece of the country's economic development model will.

Monsanto’s website boasts that 2005 capped a decade in which the ”eager adoption” of technology resulted in the ”planting and harvesting of the billionth cumulative acre of biotech crops”. It goes on to hail the benefits that the technology allegedly provides to farmers: ”increased crop yields, the ability to reduce on-farm chemical use, the opportunity to transition to more environmentally-friendly farming practices, and savings in both time and money”.

This fits in well with the industry’s public relations exercise of preventing debate by creating a false sense of need. The key arguments used in this pro-industry publicity blitz are green washing –”biotech will create a world free of pesticides”- and poor washing –”We must accept genetic engineering to increase yields, reduce costs, and improve livelihoods of farmers.”

Evidence from the fields, however, shows these claims to be spurious. A new study by Cornell University researchers, the first to look at longer-term economic impact of Bt cotton, concluded that the Chinese cotton growers who were among the first farmers worldwide to plant Bt cotton –which is inserted with the Bacillus Thuringiensis gene to produce lethal toxins against bollworms– are seeing their profits disappear. A study of 481 Chinese farmers in five major cotton-producing provinces found that after seven years of cultivation they had to spray up to 20 times in a growing season to deal with secondary insects, which resulted in a net average income of 8 percent less than conventional cotton farmers because Bt seed is triple the cost of conventional seed. The researchers stressed that this could become a major threat in countries where Bt cotton has been widely planted.