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11Mar 2013

Demolishing the myth that Monsanto's engineered crops drove 270,000 Indian farmers to suicide.


Last Friday, the leftist television news program Democracy Now ended its Women's Day broadcast with an interview with Vandana Shiva, identified as an Indian feminist, activist, and thinker and the "author of many books." She talked about the effects on women of what she called "the world's violent economic order," which included, among other things, the sale of genetically engineered cotton seeds to Indian farmers. The transcript includes this comment: 

In India...the collection of royalties from seed has led to Monsanto controlling 95 percent of the cottonseed supply, 95 percent through a monopoly, not through the choice of the farmers, as it’s often made out to be. Farmers are getting indebted because the price of seed jumped 8,000 percent, and there’s no option...

Two hundred and seventy thousand Indian farmers have committed suicide since Monsanto entered the Indian seed market. That’s more than a quarter-million. It’s a genocide.

The idea is that indebtedness to Monsanto is driving farmers to suicide--a scandal if true, and one with a claim to be called genocide.

But it isn't true.

Keith Kloor, author of the Collide-a-Scape blog at Discover magazine, notes that of all the myths surrounding genetically modified food, this is the one "that exploits human tragedy and for that reason, I found it so offensive." It was put forward by Prince Charles in 2008 and blown up in the UK by the Daily Mail, Kloor writes, and has "since become part of the GMO discourse, largely unchallenged in the media." And Vandana Shiva, he says, "repeats it every chance she gets."

Kloor points to a story in Canada's National Post that dismantles the Monsanto-killer myth in just a few words:

The issue of farmer suicides first gained media attention in 1995 as the southern state of Maharashtra began reporting a significant rise in farmers killing themselves.

Other states across the country began noticing an increase in farmer suicides as well. But it wasn’t until seven years later — in 2002 — that the U.S.-based agribusiness Monsanto began selling genetically modified cotton seeds, known as Bt cotton, to Indian farmers. 

That's tough to argue with. 

Shiva is not the only one spreading the suicide story. It was also the subject of a 2011 documentary--Bitter Seeds--by Micha Peled, Kloor writes. 

Kloor points to several things, in addition to the National Post story, that question the Monsanto-suicide link. A report by the International Food Policy Research Institute concludes that genetically modified cotton "is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the occurrence of farmer suicides. In contrast, many other factors have likely played a prominent role." Even in regions where the cotton might have led to heavy farmer indebtedness, the problem "was mainly the result of the context or environment in which it was planted," the authors conclude. (The institute is an international group supported by the World Bank  and supported by more than a dozen nations, including the U.S., the UK, Japan, and India.)

Kloor also links to this talk by Cornell's Ronald J. Herring, a professor of government, who says genetically engineered crops "have lessened, not increased, agrarian distress."

Kloor does an excellent job of collecting the links and demolishing this myth. And we owe him for that.

I have only one comment. I am fully convinced that the link between genetically engineered crops and suicides in India is a myth. But I do think that food companies and scientists have been too quick to shrug off the concerns of people worried about genetically engineered food. This is, indeed, a significant development in agriculture, and researchers owe it to us to study the crops, study how they are used, and to make sure that the transition to these foods occurs without major disruption.

In my view, they have not done this. Too often, what we hear from advocates of genetically engineered foods is that this is the same kind of thing that farmers have been doing for thousands of years--breeding crops to alter and improve them, a kind of genetic manipulation.

But it is not the same thing. Genetic engineering allows far broader kinds of genetic manipulation than farmers could ever have achieved by breeding. One might say that the claim that genetic engineering is identical to crop breeding is itself a myth that should be demolished.

-Paul Raeburn



Paul you are correct when you state that "farmer suicides first gained media attention in 1995" and that Monsanto first sold Bt cotton in 2002.

Even though Suicides rates were notable before Monsanto, the numbers rose rapidly after Monsanto, and spiked in 2006.  Numbers have remained high ever since.

In one small area of India (a part of Vidarbha) the suicide figures per year are as follows:
2001 - 52 (before Monsanto)
2002 - 104 (Monsanto's first year)
2003 - 148
2004 - 447
2005 - 445
2006 - 1448
2007 - 1246
2008 - 1267

Now please try and convince us that the Monsanto products are not a SIGNIFICANT (if not the MAJOR) cause of the problem.

Notice that the claim that Bt cotton is a "key contributor" becomes "primary cause". Surely you can see the difference between these two phrases.  - See more at:

Here here, do you actually ake a living writing stuff Paul Raeburn? The above comment outlines the malicious intent of this article. You either are part of that, or just have no sense of basic analysis of what you are reading. I'm sick to death of people banding about and manpulating statistics about actual people drinking toxic pesticide like we are discussing shoe sales in France.

why are you happy to strangely make an odd poke of being the "author of many books." yet would not poke a referencing containing 'private foundations' 


But in 2008, the International Food Policy Research Institute, an alliance of 64 governments, private foundations, and international and regional organizations that aims to end hunger in the developing world, reached an entirely different conclusion.


well isn't that a massive surprise...

'private foundations'??  are you seriously touting an article that uses 'private foundations' as a reliable source of information?    

Do you actually know anything?

That article is a junk smear job. It's manipulation of statistics to paint some childrens version of the news is laughable. 


The greatest flaw in this rather sad piece is that you back it up on organisations that are tools of the corporations themselves...   of course they will validate themselves that way.

We are living in  an information war, plain and simple, and you are falling for it hook, line and sinker. 

Trusting the 'International Food Policy Research Institute' or the World Bank is like trusting the 'Hitler Institute on Being Friendly to Ethnic Minorites'. These are the tools of corporations legitimation of global domination.

Have you read 1984??  Do you know how many members of the US governement are involved with Monsanto? Is it not these same governments that create these fancy sounding organisations?

Newspeak, satirises hypocrisy and evasion by the state: for example, the Ministry of Love (Miniluv) oversees torture and brainwashing, the Ministry of Plenty (Miniplenty) oversees shortage and famine, the Ministry of Peace (Minipax) oversees war and atrocity, and the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue) oversees propaganda and historical revisionism.

and thus the International Food Policy Research Institute will oversee taking peoples self reliance on food away from them and increase misery

go and learn something and stop writing this tedium

Must we argue over tit-for-tat statitics of suidide rates that are rising fast? Or should we try and do something about it? Does it matter if it is GM/Monsanto? Globalisation and financial domination is at the center, GM or not.

Ultimately we can argue over statistics until the whole world has commited suicide..  I go with the feeling, do you have feeling?. .  and I know which sources feel right and which stink of Ronald Mcdonalds perfume. Have you any intuition, or do you just druel over stats from fairy dust organisations?

You would seriously put your eggs in the World Banks basket, a trouser huddle of boldy westerners in itchy trousers obsessed by money and globalisation over Vandana Shiva who is a living embodyment of peace and love? 

Youll look very silly one day. If Gandi were around, youd probably be writing some drivel about the inaccuracy of his cause citing some data from the British government..




Kloor's article and credibility falls apart within a couple paragraphs due to hyperbole. Notice that the claim that Bt cotton is a "key contributor" becomes "primary cause". Surely you can see the difference between these two phrases. 

There is no reason to read Kloor further. He succumbs to the same BS as many, many, many conservative writers.

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