Political posturing aligned with commercial interests means that truth is becoming a casualty in the debate about genetically modified (GM) crops in India. The industry narrative surrounding Bt cotton is that it has been a great success.
The current Modi-led administration is parroting this claim and argues its success must be replicated by adopting a range of GM food crops, amounting to what would be a full-scale entry of GM technology into Indian agriculture. Currently, Bt cotton is India’s only officially approved commercially cultivated GM crop.
With the aim of putting the record straight, a media event took place on Friday, 6 September in New Delhi at the Constitution Club of India during which it was declared that Bt cotton has been a costly and damaging failure. Speakers included prominent environmentalists Aruna Rodrigues and Vandana Shiva who presented a good deal of information based on official reports, research papers and documents submitted as evidence to the Supreme Court on Bt cotton.
It was argued that even the government’s own data contradicts its tale of Bt cotton success and that the consequences of irresponsibly rolling out various GM crops based on a false narrative would be disastrous for the country.
PR and broken promises
In the early 2000s, Bt cotton was being heavily promoted in India on the basis it would cut pesticide use dramatically, boost yields and contribute to the financial well-being of farmers. However, pesticide use is back to pre-Bt levels and yields have stagnated or are falling. Moreover, some 31 countries rank above India in terms of cotton yield and of these only 10 grow GM cotton.
As will be shown, farmers now find themselves on a chemical-biotech treadmill and have to deal with an increasing number of Bt/insecticide resistant pests and rising costs of production. For many small-scale cotton farmers, this has resulted in greater levels of indebtedness and financial distress.
Failure to yield
Over 90% of cotton sown in India is now Bt. Although initially introduced to the country in 2002, its adoption was only about 12 and 38% respectively in 2005 and 2006. A good deal of data was contained in the media briefing that accompanied the event in Delhi. In it, Aruna Rodrigues and Vandana Shiva show that, even then (2005-2006), average yields had already reached the current plateau of about 450-500 kg/ha. Average all-India Bt cotton yields hovered around or below 500 kg/ha during the period 2005-2018.
What is particularly revealing is that cotton production for 2018-2019 will be the lowest in a decade, down to an estimated 420.72 kg/ha, according to a press release issued in July by the Cotton Association of India.
Furthermore, the argument is that increases in yields that may have occurred were in any case due to various factors, such as increased fertiliser use and high-yielding hybrid seeds, and not Bt technology.
The data presented by Rodrigues and Shiva shows that cotton yield in the pre-Bt era increased significantly from its 191 kg/ha low in 2002 to 318 kg/ha in 2004-2005, registering an increase of 66% in just three years (the baseline for Bt cotton is 2005-2006 as prior to this adoption rates were not significant). The two environmentalists say this was a result of increased acreage under hybrids and a new class of insecticides.
They note that the momentum of this upward swing carried into the Bt era and had nothing to do with that technology. Their argument is that Bt cotton has failed but is being trumpeted as a success under the cover of increased fertiliser use, hybrid seed trait yield (not attributable to Bt technology), better irrigation and insecticide seed coating.
Biotech treadmill and ecological disruption
Bt technology was used in conjunction with high-yielding hybrids (as opposed to pure line varieties) and has no trait for intrinsic yield. This, Rodrigues and Shiva argue, conveniently allowed a smudging of the yield data (isolating the precise impact of hybrid yield would prove to be difficult) and also provided a ‘value-capture’ mechanism for Monsanto: the introduction of these hybrids disallows seed saving, forcing farmers to buy new expensive hybrid Bt cotton seed each year (hybridisation gives one-time vigour).
Prior to Bt cotton, the extensive use of insecticides to cope with the Pink Bollworm (PBW), which is native to India, had become a problem. Spraying for PBW caused outbreaks of the American Bollworm (ABW). The ABW is a secondary pest that was induced by extensive insecticide use and became the target for Bt cotton.
Although Bt cotton was supposed to control both species of bollworm, PBW resistance to Bt toxin has now occurred and the ABW is also developing resistance. Moreover, post 2002, new pests have appeared, such as whitefly, jassids and mealybugs.
However, Rodrigues and Shiva note that resistance in PBW now occurs to both Monsanto’s Bollgard I and Bollgard II Bt cotton (BGI and BG II). BGI was replaced by BG II as early as 2007-8, just six years after its introduction because the PBW had developed resistance. The ABW is also now developing resistance to stacked Bt toxins in BG II.
Irresponsible roll out
Hybrids are input intensive and are sown at suboptimal wide spacing. Unlike in other countries that grow Bt cotton, they are long season cottons and are thus more susceptible to pest build-up. With this in mind, Rodrigues and Shiva refer to Dr K R Kranthi, former director of the Central Institute for Cotton Research, who says:
Insecticide usage is increasing each year because of resistance development in sucking pests to imidacloprid and other neonicotinoid insecticides—by 2012 insecticide usage was at 2002 levels and will continue to increase inducing further outbreaks of insecticide and Bt resistant pests.”
Bt cotton hybrids also require more human labour and perform better under irrigation. However, 66% of cotton in India is cultivated in rain fed areas, where yields depend on the timing and quantity of highly variable monsoon rains. Unreliable rains, the high costs of Bt hybrid seed, continued insecticide use and debt have placed many poor (marginal) smallholder farmers in a situation of severe financial hardship.
In fact, Professor A P Gutierrez argues that Bt cotton has effectively put these farmers in a corporate noose: his research has noted a link between Bt cotton, weather, yields, financial distress and farmer suicides.
Rodrigues and Shiva note that Monsanto was allowed a ‘royalty’ on Bollgard I seed without having a patent on it. Drawing on conservative estimates (by K R Kranthi), on average, the additional expenditure on seeds (compared to non-Bt seeds) was at least Rs 1,179 per hectare and the Indian farmer may have spent a total extra amount of Rs 14,000 crores (140 billion) on Bt cotton seeds during the period 2002-2018. The trait value charged (2002-2018) is around Rs 7,000 crores. This excludes royalties accruing to Mahyco-Monsanto, which were illegal on Bollgard I (first generation Bt cotton) and yet allowed by the regulators.
Overall net profit for cotton farmers was Rs 5,971/ha in 2003 (pre-Bt) but plummeted to average net losses of Rs 6,286 in 2015, while fertiliser use kg/ha exhibited a 2.2-fold increase. As Bt technology was being rolled out, costs of production were thus increasing. And these costs were increasing in the face of stagnant yields.
Why GM anyway?
At this point, it is worth broadening the scope of this article by noting that in 2010, an indefinite moratorium was placed on Bt brinjal, which would have been India’s first GM food crop. Despite the current push for a full-scale entry of GM into Indian agriculture, the moratorium is still in place: the conflicts of interest, secrecy, negligence and lack of competence inherent in the GM regulatory process that were acknowledged at that time remain unaddressed.
It would therefore be grossly irresponsible to roll out GM. If the experience of Bt cotton tells us anything, it would also be extremely unwise to proceed without carrying out independent health, environmental and socio-economic risk assessments.
Of course, establishing the need for GM – crops that outperform current non-GM options currently available – is paramount but totally absent. With this in mind, Rodrigues and Shiva cite evidence that traditional plant breeding and newer methods outperform GM agriculture at much less cost, release fewer carbon emissions and earn much greater profits for farmers.
Given this situation (the fraud of GM and its dubious track record aside), anyone could be forgiven for thinking that the plan to get GM into Indian agriculture is solely driven by ideology and commercial interest.
Instead of drawing on proven traditional knowledge and practices to ensure food security, the strategy seems to be to place farmers on biotech-chemical treadmills for the benefit of corporate interests.
Green Revolution to ‘gene revolution’
If we look at the Green Revolution, it too was also sold under the guise of ‘feeding the world’. But in India, according to Professor Glenn Stone, it merely led to more wheat in the diet, while food productivity per capita showed no increase or actually decreased. Nevertheless, there have been dire consequences for the Indian diet, the environment, farmers, rural communities and public health.
More generally, the Green Revolution dovetailed with an international system of chemical-dependent, agro-export mono-cropping and big infrastructure projects (dams) linked to loans, sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF directives, the outcomes of which included a displacement of the peasantry, the consolidation of global agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries into food deficit regions.
Often regarded as Green Revolution 2.0, the ‘gene revolution’ is integral to the plan to ‘modernise’ Indian agriculture. This means the displacement of peasant farmers, further corporate consolidation and commercialisation based on industrial-scale monocrop farms incorporated into global supply chains dominated by transnational agribusiness and retail giants. It would also mean the undermining of national food security.
GM-based agriculture is key to what would amount to a wholesale corporate capture of the agri-food sector: a sure-fire money spinner that would dwarf the amount drained from India courtesy of Monsanto’s ‘royalties’ on Bt cotton.
This wholesale shift to industrial agriculture would have devastating impacts on the environment, rural communities, public health, local and regional food security, seed sovereignty, nutritional yield per acre, water tables and soil quality, etc. Industrial agriculture has massive health, social and environmental costs which are borne by the public and taxpayers, certainly not by the (subsidised) corporations that rake in the massive profits.
It is no surprise, therefore, that an increasing international consensus is emerging on the role of agroecology. In this respect, smallholder farmers are not to be regarded as residues from the past but as being crucial to the future.
And this is not lost on Rodrigues and Shiva who note the vital importance and productivity of small farms (which outperform industrial-scale enterprises and feed most of the global population) and the advantages of agroecological farming. They refer to the recent UN FAO High Level Panel of Experts which concludes that agroecology provides greatly improved food security and nutritional, gender, environmental and yield benefits compared to industrial agriculture.
Furthermore, according to Rodrigues and Shiva, regenerative organic farming can draw down excess carbon from the atmosphere and put it in the soil, thereby reversing climate change and making agriculture climate resilient. They argue that organic systems are competitive with conventional yields and leach no toxic chemicals. As for cotton, they state that ‘desi’ species of cotton varieties are highly amenable to low-cost organic farming, providing an excellent opportunity for India to emerge as a global leader in organic cotton.
The take-home message is that if GM food crops are to be rolled out – based on a narrative about Bt cotton that relies more on industry spin than actual facts – it would be disastrous for India. Given the evidence, it’s a warning that should not be taken lightly.
An eight-page briefing was issued to coincide with the media event and contains relevant references, additional data and numerous informative charts. It can be accessed here
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And after so many days since this article went up, only 24 people interested in commenting. I’d argue that many people have got their priorities wrong and should be way more concerned about GMO.
Thank you for this article. How could a whole country allow this to happen? It just amazes me how an incompetent few can cause so much havoc for the world. It was obvious to me of the inferior cotton that GMO brought to the market many years ago. Anybody who truly takes pride in the products they present to the world has no interest in any GMO. All GMO’s, no matter what the product, corn, soy, alfalfa, beets, produce an inferior product that no longer picks up minerals and nutrition in the soil. The chemicals used to treat these crops are producing diseases in man and generally bring his health to a lower level. Although not talked about yet, I fear that Chemicals used in GMO farming are doing irreparable damage to our steams, rivers and lakes. Really, what kind of planet do we want for ourselves? What type of products can we be proud of to present to our fellow man?
This article is just a series of non-scientific list of unproven claims. There is no one single piece of evidence that can be objectively verified in the whole text. It’s built only in believes and propaganda.
Oh, the irony. Haha!
If only you had bothered to go to the link at the bottom of the article…
Is that all you have? As someone else says here – the irony. A two-line ‘rebuttal’ of an article. An article that contains embedded links to peer-reviewed papers and official data/sources – and which links to the original press briefing itself that, again, refers to/is based on similar sources. If you feel a need to comment on here, you’d better arrive with some evidence. Otherwise, you can end up looking foolish.
There are not enough people or outlets writing about this stuff, maybe the single most important issue affecting our future and the planet’s. Thanks to Colin and to OffG. I’m sharing with everyone I know.
Jose Bove, in the noughties, had the right idea, (imo), in destroying the crops, > https://www.organicconsumers.org/scientific/french-organic-farmer-jose-bove-will-avoid-jail-term-destroying-genetically-engineered <. "Aedificare in tuo proprio solo non licet quod alteri noceat" – "It is not lawful to build on one's own land what may be injurious to another": A Maxim of Law.
Thank you for the reiteration of the truth about India and GMO.
While I have a large compendium about the subject, I will focus only on a few aspects that need to be peeled out to understand the underlying goals of gene manipulation.
People in the business of gene manipulation hate the masses. They are the worst misanthropes one could ever imagine. There are enough examples of people of influence that despise/d the masses. One of the most successful was Edward Bernays. He advised corporations as to how to exploit the decrepit masses. The suckers. The useless eaters. The majority of human beings on Earth fall into this category.
This hate is at the basis of the GMO industry. Driven by this hate, any concerns about the well being of the consumers of such Frankenstein food are limited to the maximization of profits. There is no whatsoever concern for the health of the consumers. The opposite is true. The industry is not in the business to prolongue the lifespan of those they hate. The idea alone, that the same voices that keep repeating that over population is the biggest problem on the planet, are in the business to feed everybody on Earth, is preposterous to the hilt.
On the consumer side, the effects of GMO food products are devastating. On top of the list ranks obesity. Consumers with the highest intake of GMO food products are obese (DuckDuckGo Search). The more GMO food products – the more obese. What does obesity do to a human being? You should be able to deduct that for yourself. What I will share with you is this excellent piece of irony that made its rounds last week (not in the MSM, of course): Too Fat to Fight (from PressTV). U.S. troops are supported with GMO food products. Of course.
Another alarming effect of GMO crop is its inccreased use of glyphosate and other deadly -cides. Since the crop that is doused is resitant to these toxic substances, it will take it up. An utter moron who believes that the crop can be doused with toxins and the plants would not take it up. They do and that is the reason why GMO food products contain the highest residuals of toxic substances. Why would you not want to give your kids a healthy dose of nicotinoids and glyphosate with their morning cereals? It is present in all brands, so you can’t make anything wrong. Oh, you wonder why your kids are too fat, even though they don’t eat that much? I don’t believe you.
Leaky Gut Syndrome and Endocrine System disruption. While the latter should be self-explanatory, the first warrants a closer look at. Because the fact that your intestinal lining is dissolving from the glyphosate that you ingest with everything you eat, that is not grown in the absence of these toxic substances used with GMO crop and indoors, will increase the likelyhood of nasty diseases, of which cancer of all kinds sounds sort of normal nowadays. Non-Hodgkinson Lymphoma is very common and on the rise.
Sure, someone else in your family, circle of friends, community, or popular just died of cancer. Right. Cancer. Give more money to cancer research – don’t give a penny for the research of the effects GMO and its increased -cides use has. Yes, it is a scam. The pharma and disease industry is owned by the same misanthropes. The suffering of mankind gives them their orgasm. The more get sick, the better.
It was reported that half a billion bees (estimates) have died in Brazil in August. Considering the average bee hive size with around 60,000, roughly 8,500 hives have died. The number for bee hives in the UK is around 200,000 (vague estimate). World wide there are supposedly 80 million bee hives (also an estimate). Therefore, the loss of bee hives in Brazil does not bode well, but it could be offset by increasing the numbers of hives in other areas. Areas that are not sprayed indiscriminately with nasty toxins. But the simple answer to the problem would be the prohibition of GMO crops and the use of any -cides.
There are no numbers about the loss of bees in India. The numbers of suicides by Indian farmers is most obviously not seen as a problem in the Western hemisphere, where the reason for those was created. As for Modi the nationalist, the lower Kast to which farmers belong, appears to be his least concern. His lunar lander just crashed and that is what really matters. More money for another moon lander. More money for more missiles and nukes. Less money for farmers. More money for Bayer et al.
Only a thorough revolution will change the status quo of carefully planned and executed genocide. No higher yields exist than with Organic farming. Permaculture at that, providing poison free healthy food.
The Triffids are with us.
And they’re man made.
My hunch is that India has been hijacked by the same forces that control the West. The British never really left. It’s a form of imperialism, whereby the Indian establishment will be getting big benefits at the cost of the nation they preside over. These c%nts influence by manipulating those at the top, who they usually install in the first place. India plays a role of getting the sub continent into the Western mindset and under Western rules, but with Indian leaders as the frontmen.
This is easiest to understand when you take into account the seemingly crazy Space programme India has. “How can India afford a SPace Programme?” they cry. “Why are we sending them money, for their people who are in poverty, when they have a Space programme?”. Doesn’t make sense, does it? It’s all about India being onboard, being in the big club, and brainwashing their population the same way the West is brainwashed. Men on the moon and all the other hypno-lies they plant deep inside your psyche to turn populations into confused, dribbling, brainwashed morons.
It doesn’t make sense, because you cannot rationalise evil. GM is evil and makes no sense. Yet it proceeds, and will continue to proceed, while this corporate vermin remains in control
Here you go moon landing believers, even Buzz Aldrin has thrown the towel in and has now admitted, they never went. It’s bullshit, total, high grade, steaming bullshit. The veil is being lifted.
Buzz aldrin confesses? We didn’t go to the moon
LOL!!!! People who believe in this rubbish…..
India loses connection with Moon lander during final descent
The only way Pakistanis will ever land on the Moon is when they sit on their flag ….
Why do you always go off topic? Start your own blog perhaps?
That video, you are twisting his words: he answered the girl that they didn’t go BACK.
You are highly selective in your video, why not show this one from the old man instead when he describes exactly what they did during the lunar landing..
Anyway, all off topic.
Apollo 11 Moon Lander. Hmmmm……something not quite right about this. Haha
It’s not off topic. I provide evidence that India is a slave to the predators of the Empire goes a long way to explaining why the world’s greatest food country is taking the bizarre step of selling its soul and heritage and traditions to the scum which is poisoning their food supply with GMOs.
It was the Congress party that was holding Indian’s deep state in a Western anti-Hindu socialist mind set. This party was started by Westerner Allen Hume in 1885 and run by Westerner Sonia Gandhi till today. Luckily India got out of its grip from the national elections of 2014 onwards, so do keep up Mucho.
India’s space program began in the 1960s under Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi, all three of whom led the Congress Party and all three of them native Indian and Hindu.
If you’re going to troll Off-Guardian commenters, please try to get your facts right first.
Why GMO: because capitalism is compelled to technologically reproduce itself: consuming all in waves of mutilation (primitive accumulation and accumulation by dispossession).
‘Red’ Rosa Luxemburg demonstrated in “Accumulation of Capital” that surplus capital must seek out new areas of colonisation: by radiating out in waves from the imperial heartland. She assumed that when capital colonisation went from national to international to trans-national that it would cease to be expansive and die out: to be succeeded by socialism. But, as David Harvey points out, she did not account for technology …or bio-technology.
Harvey has formulated that the spatial fix (or spatio-temporal fix) – of ever more expansive colonisation of new territories – is now accompanied by the techno-fix. Together: the two can colonise then re-colonise the same territory in successive waves. In which way capitalism can temporally extend its reproductive cycles of colonisation. Indefinitely: but not eternally.
So, all this technocratic progress is good for humanity? Well, you might think so reading some of the comments on other forums. No, it is technocratic tyranny and an autocracy of capital accumulation. Waves of mutilation that converge into a tsunami of fictitious capital that humanity will do well to survive. For many in our extended co-evolutionary interspecies bio-communities – it is already too late.
Humanity comes a very distant second to the hegemony of capital accumulation. The environment an even more distant third (until recently). I’m actually getting tired of hearing that it will raise people out of poverty and improve the lives of millions with science-fiction techno-whizz-bangs. Home and abroad. Or that the current wave of mutilation spreading across Eurasia is the hope of humanity. This is crypto-capitalist anti-realism.
As Marx and Billy Corgan said: “The world is a vampire; sent to drain”. It’s name is capitalism. All political parties – and the majority of the developed world – support it. This is Capitalist Realism. In a few more waves of mutilation the host will be drained. There is nothing I can do about it: but it really pisses me off to see it celebrated elsewhere. Capitalism can only be likened to an unconscious death drive: a blind urge toward Thanatocide.
As Colin makes clear: this is how Thanatocide works on the ground. Progressively improving humanity – by improving on nature – by inexorably destroying both. That’s Capitalist Realism – waves of mutilation spun as humanism, progress, and prosperity. Only now we are beginning to spot the Lie. If only more people had read Marx and Rosa sooner?
Immanuel Wallerstein RIP. An anti-capitalist to his dying day (last week). To replace ‘Voting Turkeys Complex’: I suggest the crypto-capitalists who laud the European and Eurasian wave of mutilation – acolytes of imagined geographies and surreal negentropic econometrics, propounded by journalists like Vltchek/Escobar/Korybko et al – actually read Marx, Luxemburg, Wallerstein et al – to understand why capitalism is a vampire …sent to drain not just Indian farmers: but the environment and all its bio-communal inhabitants. Including us.
Once again I’m educated by one of your posts, thanks.
Looking into the conduct of the US officials, food supply is just another target for invasion. The same warmongers advocating for endless wars, they are also working tirelessly to impose GM food to lock humanity into food supply bondage, not to forget the chronic diseases associated with the use of toxic chemicals in making these GM varieties.
Crops are just another target together with the many countries that continue suffering from the unending assaults by Western democracies.
yes, yes, the field data reveals same or similar post-implementation actual-result as the laboratory tests often suggest or predict: GMOs permanently alter, and almost always in the negative direction, the food chain.. Something about every GMO seems always to surface within a few years after regulators allow GMO substances to intercept and alter natural biological processes. Courts have historically yielded to monopoly power in allowing corporate inventions to be used to alter the food chain, this result; even when the data presented in objection predicts a negative result likely. In just about every case: experience has revealed an irreversible negative outcome when genetically modified bacteria, virus, prion, crop or food stuff are allowed to alter natural environments. History of court ordered insertions and regulatory enablements has shown GMOs change “natures regulatory system (evolution) in ways that produce a negative to survival <=results. Corporate power and wealth infect and alter court opinions and regulatory body rules just as GMOs infect and alter natures biodiversity. Nature's experience induced evolution has proven to be far superior and safer to human survival than corporate profit induced GMOs.
Overall net profit for cotton farmers was Rs 5,971/ha in 2003 (pre-Bt) but plummeted to average net losses of Rs 6,286 in 2015, while fertiliser use kg/ha exhibited a 2.2-fold increase
In that scenario Bt Cotton would disappear quickly from Indian soil: losing money is quite in-popular.
Totally agree. If GM crops are so bad for everything how is that their surface and adoption by farmers has been increasing all over the world??? a bad product would not need all that effort from some groups to make them go. A bad product disappears quickly in the competitive farm world. Framers are not stupid although many want us to believe so.
That’s a naive (and uninformed point of view). I suggest you read the work of Professor Glenn Stone who has conducted extensive fieldwork into cotton cultivation in India and how ‘choice’ and Bt cotton adoption in India had less to do with a ‘competitive farm world’ or rational decision making and more to do with various manipulations. He and his colleague have documented how the same farmers are now being nudged towards HT cotton. There is also an article on this site (in which I refer to their work) that discusses the issue of choice and the ‘free’ market which you allude to. But I would suggest an open mind would help – going by your previous comment in this thread, that’s something you don’t appear to have.