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Indian Farmer Suicide – The Bottom Line

BT Cotton and Farmer Suicides

Suicide is a difficult subject to discuss, as many of us are likely to know someone who’s taken their own life. This is a particularly emotional topic, and I hope to show due respect and sensitivity for those affected by such a tragedy.

Unfortunately, there have been some sensational allegations lately about farmer suicide rates in India. Speculative reports spawned mostly by anti-GMO groups–not pro-farming groups–have implied that these tragic farmer suicides have somehow become an epidemic since the introduction of biotech cotton in 2002. This is simply not true. The activists’ reports largely ignore many complex cultural, environmental and economic factors and instead try to provoke an emotional reaction to shift blame towards biotech.

Suicidal behavior occurs in all parts of the world with varying rates, according to the World Health Organization.

Weather conditions, religious beliefs, living conditions, drug use, alcohol addiction, job stress and population density are examples of variables which can make suicide rates differ by country. Higher suicide rates among Indian farmers long predate the introduction of biotech cotton in India. Many independent research studies, like one completed by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS) in December 2008, concluded “Increased Indebtedness Leads to Farmer Suicide.”

Bt cotton farmers in India are experiencing their best economic benefits ever. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) commissioned a study in 2007 to assess the Socio-Economic Benefits of Bt Cotton Cultivation in Indiaby research agencies Indicus Analytics & IMRB International. Moreover, India’s media has many recent positive reports about the benefits of Bt cotton in the economy.

For example, India’s national daily paper, The Hindu, reported that “Bt Cotton Gives a New Lease of Life to Vidarbha Farmers,” The Economic Times reported about “The Hybrid Solution,” The Times of India wrote about “New Crop Technology Bringing Joy to Bhatinda Farmers” and The Financial Express quoted India’s finance minister as wanting to “Replicate Success of Bt Cotton.”

In summary, according to press reports farmers are attaining better yields, earning bigger returns on their investment and using less pesticide–which ultimately allows them to afford a much better quality of life for their families.

Furthermore, in October 2008, the International Food Policy Research Institute released a study called “Bt Cotton and Farmer Suicide in India” which shows no increase in farmer suicides in India due to Bt cotton. Unlike the claims by anti-biotech groups, the IFPRI study provides a deep analysis of other key factors that played a prominent role in Indian debt such as: a lack of formal budget management training; no formal credit institutions; loan interest rates of 20-30 percent; no debt relief laws for farmers; the unwitting purchase of imitation biotech seed from sham artists; crop failures due to poor weather; lack of an irrigation systems; lack of alternative sources of income outside of agriculture; and personal debts such as endowment obligations for the marriage of daughters and/or family medical bills.

Biotech cotton in India has been a controversial topic, but much of the drama has been unfairly fueled by unscientific claims and exaggerated reporting of a manufactured phenomenon.

So, disregard the sensationalistic and speculative spin by anti-GMO groups and take time to investigate how increased yields are actually saving lives. Indian farmers can now afford vaccines for their children and prenatal care for pregnant wives. Biotech advancements have allowed for less exposure to harmful pesticides and more educational opportunities for better, safer farming practices.

Bt cotton has been given an unfair reputation when the true culprit is a smorgasbord of repairable socio-economic problems in India. A variety of third-party studies have proven that personal debt is the historical reason behind an Indian farmer’s decision to commit suicide, not biotech seed. Think about it this way: if Bt cotton were the root cause of suicidal tendencies, then why is it that Indian farmers represent the fastest-growing users of biotech crops in the world? Between 2005 and 2006, India’s adoption of Bt cotton nearly tripled to 9.5 million acres! Today, Bt cotton is currently used in nine states in India on 14.4 million or 63 percent of India’s total cotton acres. So, if the studies don’t disprove the myths relating Bt cotton to Indian farmer suicide, then perhaps the sales figures will.

The bottom line

Bt cotton is making life better in India. Unfortunately, critics of biotech do not like these favorable statistics or news reports, so they rely on baseless smear campaigns to create a visceral reaction in those who are unfamiliar with the facts. Debt is the reason for Indian farmer suicide–but the economic benefits from Bt cotton may be the key to reversing the tragic statistics.

A native of Chicago, Garrett graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with a B.A. in Public Relations in 1996. He is a 2000 graduate of the Defense Information School, and is still an official Navy spokesperson as a lieutenant commander in the reserves. During his 12 years on active duty as a Public Affairs Officer (PAO) for the U.S. Navy, Garrett has conducted media relations during Operations Allied Force, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. From 2000-2002, Garrett served as the PAO aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and later spent three years as the director of public relations for the world-renown Navy flight demonstration team, the Blue Angels, prior to joining Monsanto in 2008. He has an extensive background in crisis communications, strategic message planning and reputation management. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family, carpentry and creating large divots in local golf courses.

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66 Responses to "Indian Farmer Suicide – The Bottom Line"

  1. “…Between 2005 and 2006, India’s adoption of Bt cotton nearly tripled to 9.5 million acres! Today, Bt cotton is currently used in nine states in India on 14.4 million or 63 percent of India’s total cotton acres. So, if the studies don’t disprove the myths relating Bt cotton to Indian farmer suicide, then perhaps the sales figures will….”
    Where are those sales figures and how do they actually compare to the farmers’ profit margins?
    Do you have any actual statistics comparing an Indian farmer growing conventional cotton vs. Bt cotton?

    You state the farmers save on expenses like not having to buy as much pesticides and that they have higher yields. Higher yields and pesticide savings don’t really mean anything compared to the profit margin. The articles you are refuting refer to farmer indebtedness to Monsanto, in effect indentured servitude to bring in higher yields the following year to pay off the current year, and thus becoming more indebted to Monsanto. At 9.5 million acres of indebtedness, it would be quite a sweet deal for Monsanto, worth protecting, granted not all of those acres may not create indebtedness. Do any? Those are the kinds of numbers and facts that would actually refute the claims you are denying. Your blog doesn’t really address that issue.

    “…Think about it this way: if Bt cotton were the root cause of suicidal tendencies, then why is it that Indian farmers represent the fastest-growing users of biotech crops in the world?…”
    If the reports you are refuting have any truth to them at all, the answer would be that the promise of high yields (assumed profit) to financially uneducated farmers (“…lack of formal budget management training…”) allows them to become blindsided by the actual costs of producing the yield. Does Monsanto provide financial training to the farmers they know have no budget management training before allowing them (or encouraging) them to put themselves in debt to Monsanto?

    “…the unwitting purchase of imitation biotech seed from sham artists…” Does Monsanto then follow up by suing the unwitting Indian farmer similar to how unwitting Canadian farmers were treated?

    You have provide many statistics with a warm fuzzy spin to them, but remove the spin and this post looks like big business trying to turn 3.17 million acres of proprietary seed sales into 9.5 million into 28.5 million. You have stated many reasons why Indian farmers fail, if Monsanto is genuinely concerned about the well-being of this massively growing market, I have to assume that Monsanto is, at least, funding or providing training and social improvement programs to help ward off some of the known failings listed above. Please share some of those projects with us. Or is it a case of “here, buy these seeds, in debt, to increase your yield. And oh yah, good luck if something problematic happens.”

    Things spin many different ways, please share the actual numbers.

  2. This article sounds like it needs to be composted a while before spreading. Fresh steer manure can burn some crops. Who will be the slaves when corn is 100 dollars a bushel and water is 50 dollars a quart? The mere millionaires?

    Is the life of a “third-world” farmer only worth a fraction of the value of the life of a Dow executive?

    What exact fraction? When can we expect the first Dow Executive Suicide?

  3. Thanks Garrett
    I sincerely appreciate your writing on this. I have had a number of colleagues bring the question of Bt and suicide to my attention and responded as best as possible but your summary is great.
    Regards,
    Leigh

  4. In India, the promise of genetically engineered cotton was that it would yield 1,500 kilos per acre. In four states, the average yield was 200 kilos. Farmer incomes were projected to increase by 10,000 rupees an acre, but ran losses of 6,000 rupees per acre. The performance of these crops has been completly unreliable. The hybrid maize seeds that Monsanto sold to the peasants in the poorests states of India, like Bihar, left them with total crop failure and losses totaling 4 billion rupees. In the case of the failure of Bt cotton in Andhra Pradash, it was a billion rupees. A peasant switching to hybrid or genetically modified seed finds him or herself, in a year’s time, two to three thousand rupees in debt.

  5. “Bt cotton farmers in India are experiencing their best economic benefits ever. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) commissioned a study in 2007 to assess the “Socio-Economic Benefits of Bt Cotton Cultivation in India” by research agencies Indicus Analytics & IMRB International. Moreover, India’s media has many recent positive reports about the benefits of Bt cotton in the economy.”

    I don’t suppose you know who funded this study. Was it similar to how the FDA “studies” something in the U.S.?

  6. boy, the name of your site just says it all “Monsanto according to Monsanto” indeed.
    What a crock of crap.
    don’t think PR will save your frankenseeds.
    we are on to you.. as you obviously know or you would not be trying so hard to convince the public otherwise.
    Wake up and smell the organic food kids, get yourselves a new “product” and leave our food supply alone.

  7. The most authoritative view on this subject comes from none other than a Fact Finding team from the Planning Commission, at the behest of the Indian PM. The report of this fact finding team is damning, whatever Monsanto or IFPRI might speculate otherwise:

    This team specifically looked at Distress in Cotton and at the cost of seeds and their quality and how it impinged on the cost of production. The FFT report recommended free, appropriate quality seed for the region, now infamous for its farmers’ suicides. The report recommended that “public sector seed companies and R & D institutions shoudl explore the possibilities of developing non-Bt strains of pest resistant hybrid cotton”. In terms of improving advisory and extension services to farmers, the report stated that farmers need to be well informed about the technological and risk factors for growing Bt Cotton particularly in low productivity rainfed situations, its susceptibility to sucking type insects, market prospects etc. In the executive summary, the FFT notes that “The study shows that while Bt cotton, in fact, does quite well in irrigated conditions, does not do as well in rainfed conditions (A mere 4% of the area under cotton in Maharashtra is under irrigated conditions, notes the report elsewhere in the chapter on ‘Issues related to cultivation of cotton’). Besides, it is found that use of pesticides continued to be high in rainfed conditions and as a preponderant number of farmers in Vidarbha are without irrigation, the problem became acute”. It refers to Bt Cotton as “incorrect seed”.

    Another point worth noting is that the indicus and IMRB reports on Bt Cotton have already been critiqued for their lack of scientificity. Citing them does not help to argue that Bt Cotton has been good for poor Indian farmers. If only immunisation, pre-natal care, literacy and nutrition for children can be reached through Bt Cotton, the UN should be planning to reach all its MDG goals through promotion of Bt Cotton alone!

    The media reports cited have often been written after Monsanto’s PR people have flown the reporters to districts and took them to certain farmers that they chose prior to the visit. You can ask the reporters about who paid for the trip and the answer is there for all to see! This does not mean that this reflects the true picture and representative picture.

    Bt Cotton adoption is no indication of its desirability – by the same yardstick, chemical pesticide adoption by Indian farmers should be measured too…

    Finally, indebtedness is not the root cause – indebtedness is caused by treadmill technologies like agri-chemicals AND GM seeds. Both are traps for farmers and markets for corporations like Monsanto.

  8. Katie – Here’s some information on the studies and groups I cited.

    ASSOCHAM has a business directory which you may purchase online for 800 Rupees. The group formed in 1920 and has 200,000 members. For an idea which companies are represented in their group, visit this link:
    http://www.assocham.org/sectors/index.php

    For a link to the IFPRI study:

    http://www.ifpri.org/pubs/dp/IFPRIDP00808.pdf

    On page 2, they cite the source of their group’s funding: “IFPRI’s research, capacity strengthening, and communications work is made possible by its financial contributors and partners. IFPRI receives its principal funding from governments, private foundations, and international and regional organizations, most of which are members of the Consultative Group on
    International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). IFPRI gratefully acknowledges the generous unrestricted funding from Australia, Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, and World Bank.”

  9. Kavitha

    Reading through the report –

    http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/genrep/rep_vidarbha.pdf

    it is pretty clear that debt and lack of irrigation are the main issues in the area under discussion (Maharashtra and Vidarbha) leading to poor productivity in cotton (for all varieties)

    At no point does it refer to Bt cotton as ‘incorrect seed’ – it points to the incorrect ‘choice’ of seed – one would assume this is due to the hybrid which has been modified being better under irrigation – obviously farmers in the area need to be better educated by suppliers etc on best seed choices and best farming practices (something I know Monsanto does in India in general – although I am unsure on the regional specifics of this)

    I’d argue that the levels of debt in the area dont have anything to do with GM seed technology but with punitive interest rates (as illustrated by the number of farmers unable to get loans due to having defaulted on loans historically – ie before GM crops were in the picture), lack of proper education behind the cultivation of hybrid cotton (not limited to Bt but hybrids in general), lack of regional resources to irrigate more land, and changes in regional commerce (it appears the region had essentially a guaranteed price for cotton previously and that farmers were not informed properly on the changes implemented which ceased this practice around the time of the suicides in question)

    The report does however state that average yields of Bt cotton in india as a whole were 25-30% higher, required less pesticide spraying, performed better with 0 sprays than conventional hybrids which had 3-5 sprays etc etc.

    As this was a 2006 report is there any informatiopn as to how many of the reports suggestions (govt financing availability to farmers, more irrigation etc) have been implemented and what impact this has had on the area in question?

  10. Kavitha:

    The 244-page Planning Commission report on Vidarbha you referenced was based on a 3-day visit to the region between March 8-11, 2006. Whereas, the IFPRI study I referenced used five years of comprehensive data and was written in late 2008. Nearly two years have passed since the distresses were identified in the Planning Commission’s findings, and many of these issues are seeing tangible signs of improvement. But, to be clear, the root cause of many of these tragic suicides can be traced back to indebtedness – and appropriate use of technology can be one way to help lessen this dilemma.

    I’d like to refer you to Surinder Sud’s January 29th article in the Business Standard: http://www.business-standard.com/india/storypage.php?autono=311891 Sud reinforces the fact that the antagonism over Bt cotton is slowing because the performance of the product is generating more and more positive results by farmers.

    Sud references a Center for Economic and Social Studies (CESS) study by S. Mahendra Dev and associate professor N. Chandrasekhara Rao, called “Socioeconomic Impact of Bt Cotton.” Of interest, Sud writes that “Though the expenditure on pesticides sprays turned out to be 17 per cent lower in Bt-cotton fields, the overall cost of production was up by 18 per cent as compared to that of non-Bt cotton. The high cost of seed was among the factors responsible for the higher total expenses on Bt-cotton cultivation. But what set the Bt-cotton apart was the 32 per cent excess yield which brought the per quintal cost of cotton production down by significant 11 per cent, or Rs 223 per quintal, leading ultimately to relatively higher net returns.”

    As history teaches us, it always takes some amount of time for people to learn how to use and adapt to new technologies. Sometimes, though, it takes a bit longer to fully appreciate the value of the technology. Less than a decade ago mobile phones and email were being introduced. Critics said that coverage was sketchy, minutes were too expensive and dial-up modems were slow. But many others saw the potential and appreciated the convenience of being so widely connected. Now we have advanced to the point of touch-screen phones that connect to the internet, play music and allow you to read and send your emails. (And reply to blogs.)

    So, when a new biotech seed product is introduced, it will naturally take some time (and patience) for growers to master its potential in their specific geography and climate. Farmers are shrewd businessmen – they will not waste money on seed products that do not work for them, and will invest wisely in what provides the best return. For the past six years, Bt cotton sales have increased in India because the product is better and more and more farmers are learning how to use it effectively.

    No one is arguing that Bt Cotton will completely fix all of the complex economic issues India. But, the research and reports offer very encouraging statistics as more details become available after each growing season. As you compare the 2006 study to the 2007 reports to the 2009 statistics, the information clearly indicates that farmers’ lives are steadily improving as they become much more familiar with the best growing practices for Bt cotton.

  11. The reason why Indian farmers held religious festivals to welcome GM cotton to India was because they were misleadingly promised massive increases in yields and that they did not need to spray these crops.
    The reality is that Bt is developed to only offer a plant that constantly produces Bt insecticide to kill budworm and bollworm.
    There are however 23 insects that eat cotton and the crop would be destroyed by other insects if these different insects are not controlled.
    There is no reason apart from budworm and bollworm control that would lead to increased yields. However, increased yields are required to pay for the massive increased costs involved for farmers to purchase these seeds every year.
    When a farmer is promised a silver bullet, they risk more than they should by going into debt to pay for the establishment of this crop.
    Loan sharks moved in on these farmers when the crop failed to live up to its expectations.
    It is an appalling advertising campaign that relies on such misleading information.

  12. And yet Julie, Indian farmers continue to adopt Bt cotton due to the increases in yield, reductions in pesticide use (see reports cited in the original post and in Kavitha’s post for this yield data) and increases in farm income.

  13. Julie – in all the reports around the issue it is clear that the adoption of the Bt technology was not the cause of the suicides. Poor yields in the area (across all cotton varieties), lack of infrastructure, punitive interest rates and the cessation of a program which guaranteed sales at a certain price caused financial difficulties for farmers in the region – some of whom sadly chose to take their lives – a trend unchanged by the introduction of Bt cotton (introduced in 2002 – no change in farmer suicide rates as compared to the national average was seen from 1996 onwards)

  14. Debbie, I can tell by the tone of your post that anything we say is unlikely to sway your opinion. Nevertheless, I feel obligated to point out that cotton has VERY little nutritive value for humans, and as such, I know of no instances where it is grown commercially for food. Perhaps your post would be more effective in a different thread?

    And Diane, I agree with you. Both sides are spinning pretty hard to “prove” their points. My guess is the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but I for one cannot fault Monsanto for trying to defend itself with facts when it is being ruthlessly attacked, can you?

  15. And now it seems I must prove MYSELF wrong. Upon further reflection, while cotton is not consumed by humans, cottonseed OIL is. I have no immediate information as to whether GM cotton is used for oil, or whether the refining process to remove gossypol (a toxin naturally occuring in cottonseed oil) has any effect on the “GM-ness” of the oil. Sorry, Debbie!

    Anyone want to continue my correction? ;^)

  16. Ewan, the costs to farmers growing GM is far higher than the costs of growing non-GM hence they are far more vulnerable to seasonal variations and market fluctuations.
    According to the pricing structure on Monsantos triple stack varieties, pricing is calculated as 100% of the benefit gained plus a percentage of other benefits such as “peace of mind”.
    These calculations do not take into account seasonal variation or market fluctuation therefore the farmer carries far more risk.

  17. Cotton seed is grown for animal feed and oil.

    What fascinated me about the IFPRI study was that most farmers who committed suicide had taken out large loans from loansharks to pay for their daughters’ weddings. Yet, I do not hear a widespread call to end the practice of the bride’s family shouldering the entire wedding burden. It is far easier to blame an outward source for your troubles than an inward one.

  18. Julie Newman said:

    “Ewan, the costs to farmers growing GM is far higher than the costs of growing non-GM hence they are far more vulnerable to seasonal variations and market fluctuations.”

    Julie, is that TOTAL cost, or seed cost? Because my understanding is, the need for other inputs (like pesticides) is reduced by using GM seed, which also has the secondary affect of reducing the number of trips through the field, cutting fuel and erosion costs, also. As well as decreasing worker and environmental exposure to those pesticides and other agrichemicals.

    Any businessman, even those with “a lack of formal budget management training” [from the original article], is looking to maximize his profit.

    Can you explain to me why, if GM seeds decrease profit, as you claim, more and more farmers are using them?

    And just so we’re clear, by “profit”, I mean total change in wealth across an entire growing season, not yield per acre, or seed cost, or input cost, although you are welcome to factor in the health benefits for reduced exposure to chemicals if you’d like.

    Also, I’m interested in where you got your facts about Monsanto’s pricing structure. I was unaware those were public domain. But the risks you cite are ALSO not taken into account in the pricing structure of Non-GM seed, unless you know something else I don’t. And Non-GM crops are just as succeptible, and in some cases MORE so, to those risks, assuming they were planted in the same fields during the same years.

  19. Julie – regarding costs/benefits of growing GM cotton in India

    http://www.agbioforum.missouri.edu/v7n3/v7n3a01-morse.htm#F1

    Gives an interesting comparison between GM vs non-GM cotton in Maharashtra. To break down some of the figures for anyone who doesnt want to go to the paper itself.

    Sprays for sucking pests averaged around 2 for both varieties.

    Sprays for bollworm were 3-4 for non GM and between .7 and 1.4 for GM (some spraying is still required due to a decrease in insect resistance with age)

    Spraying costs were equivalent for sucking pests – 1300-1500 rupees

    Spraying costs were significantly reduced for bollworm in GM plants – 500-700 rupees for GM and 2500-2900 rupees for non GM – a saving of ~2000 rupees

    Seed costs were significantly increased for GM varieties – ~1100 Rupees for non GM and ~3700 rupees for GM

    This seed pricing differential resulted in costs for GM being between 100 and 800 rupees higher when taking into account sprays and seed cost. (big differences per year driven by an increase in pesticide cost)

    Yield for Non GM averaged 1.4-1.5 Tonnes per hectare, whereas for GM yield averaged 2.2 tonnes per hectare.

    Taking this yield increase into account GM farmers on average saw an approximate 30-40% increase in gross margin (amounting to between 12000 rupees/ha to 21000 rupees/ha) which appears to be a pretty good return on an increased cost of 100-800 rupees/ha

    As far as I can see it fluctuations in the market would impact both sets of farmers the same unless cotton prices dropped to such levels that 0.7 tonnes of cotton sold for 100-800 rupees, or if input costs for application of pesticides dropped drastically (I believe this would need to occur to the extent that pesticide application generated money for the farmer)

    From this study I would conclude that the technology fees associated with the GM variety are perfectly fair when the benefit to the farmer is so clear (invest 800 rupees to make 12000-21000? You decide)

  20. The truth lies in nature. Science has tremendous value when greedy humans don’t use it to play god.

    Is it human nature to want to fix things that ain’t broken? Or is that just the corporate money-making mentality that drives that bus?

  21. Hello John,
    Re: “I’m interested in where you got your facts about Monsanto’s pricing structure. I was unaware those were public domain.”
    The details regarding pricing structure was attached as an addendum to the last AGM shareholder report.
    It really does say it all. Any financial benefit that the GM crop gives the farmer (as per Monsanto’s calculation of average year) is captured in the costs of the technology.
    Yes, I can explain why its been adopted by farmers:
    USA: 80% of the commodity based subsidies are allocated to the GM crops, soy, cotton and corn. Considering cotton is only 5% of the agricultural industry and accounts for number 2 on the subsidy list, this is significant.
    Argentina: Notice how farmers have been strongly protesting over increased tax on soy and wheat. Is the government taxing all farmers to pay these royalties? If so, how much?
    Brazil: Farmers deliver their soy to Cargill and get told that charges will be deducted unless they prove there is no GM which is too difficult and too expensive to do.
    How exactly does Monsanto work out how much GM is grown by farmers? In Australia we are told there is an increase yet farmers and seed suppliers are saying that it was a dismal failure and farmers dont want it. Those few that are determined to grow it again are only doing so to see if it was just a bad year.

    You wanted more detail about profit:
    Take GM Roundup Ready canola:

    Assuming: Area 1,000 ha, sowing rate 3kg/ha, Yield 1.2t/ha, Price $500/tonne
    In 2008, the additional costs included $10.20/t End Point Royalty + $500/farm Stewardship Fee + $43.50/ha additional seed cost + $12.50t additional freight to designated GM silos. The additional costs for GM use amounted to $71,240 and a yield increase of 11.8733% was required to pay for these extra costs.

    2009: GM costs include: Seed $25,750/tonne ($25.75/kg) + Monsanto’s grain technology fee on seed $3,000/tonne ($3/kg) + End Point Royalty $12/tonne.
    If a non-GM farmers plants replants the previous years seed, the additional cost is an extra
    $114,130 or $114.13/ha which requires an additional yield of 19.0217%.

    But there is no yield advantage with GM Roundup Ready canola as proven in the National Variety Trials. The GM gene was just added to the highest yielding non-GM hybrids found and yet it yielded pretty average and in dryer conditions very poorly.

    The chemical regime is of no benefit as glyphosate can only be applied between the 2-6 leaf stage which is too late for ryegrass and too early for radish (our worst weeds).
    Additional application of the residual grass control Trifluralin is recommended plus additional chemicals whenever glyphosate is used is required to control unwanted volunteers and more toxic alternative of paraquat/diquat will be required to replace glyphosate in following rotations to prevent glyphosate resistance.

    Blind freddy can see there is no economic or agrononomic benefit yet the promotion to try to activate farmers to grow it has been appallingly misleading leading to some wanting to give it a go which removes the choice for non-GM farmers.

  22. Diana said:

    “Is it human nature to want to fix things that ain’t broken? Or is that just the corporate money-making mentality that drives that bus?”

    So, you don’t think 50% more people on the planet in the next 50 years is broken? How do you propose to feed these people without GM?

  23. Jill said:

    “According to Shiva, the farmer suicides ARE as a result of the Bt cotton seeds.”

    Interesting. What I read from that article is that Shiva is very good at spinning anecdotes to support her agenda. But where are the independently reviewed studies to support her allegations? This is a very complex problem, and to suggest such a simple “solution” diminishes the plight of these farmers.

    You are welcome to believe Shiva’s anecdotes. I choose to believe the link and data given back in

    Ewan Ross Says:

    March 30, 2009 at 10:16 am .

  24. Julie, very impressive numbers. But, unless I am reading them wrong, those look like seed costs to me.

    Originally, I said:

    “Julie, is that TOTAL cost, or seed cost? Because my understanding is, the need for other inputs (like pesticides) is reduced by using GM seed, which also has the secondary affect of reducing the number of trips through the field, cutting fuel and erosion costs, also. As well as decreasing worker and environmental exposure to those pesticides and other agrichemicals.”

    Sorry, I should have been more specific. Can you re-do your calculations, only this time factor in ALL input costs for both scenarios (GM vs. non-GM)?

  25. Julie – I’d also be interested to see the full cost/benefit analysis rather than just the extra costs and none of the savings.

    Also can you point me to the information around herbicide useage etc – what concerns me slightly around your ‘next year will cost more’ arguement is what are we comparing with?

    Which herbicides would be used if Roundup wasnt utilized during the growing season? How does the EQ and price compare to roundup useage?

    Why can’t these be used in the non-roundup year as opposed to the herbicides suggested(assuming they are different)?

    I’ll concede that during roundup useage other herbicides do have to be used (in the conditions under discussion) but would have to assume also that these would be required whether roundup was used or not, and that roundup has to be substituting for something in its year of use.

    I’d also point out that the discussion here was around Indian cotton and not Australian Canola, and around IR not HR traited crops – even if it were true that Australian canola did not see profits this has no impact on whether or not a different crop, on a different continent, under different economic and agronomic conditions performed well (it did, to the sum of 12,000 to 21,000 rupees per hectare for an extra up front investment of 100-800 rupees (or an extra 2000-3000 rupees based on your cost analysis which doesnt take into account differential input costs associated with different seed types)

  26. I’m using GM canola in Australia as the example that was used in India where farmers are being promised a fantastic economic return when there is no reason why they would get one.
    The spraying regime, operation costs etc would be similar.

    The non-GM grower would require 1 or 2 applications of simazine and simazine/atrazine totalling $20.42/ha.

    The GM grower would require an application of trifluralin for residual grass control at emergence $13.16/ha plus one application of glyphosate at $17.45/ha for broadleaf knockdown.
    Total = $27.45/ha. If a second application is needed, additional costs of application plus another $17.45 is added.

    Any grasses that appear after the residual of either the triazines or glyphosate will be needed to be controlled in similar costs for both GM and non-GM. Remember glyphosate has no residual action.

    The following rotations, additional chemicals will be needed to be added to glyphosate (extra cost) and glyphosate is to be removed from the knockdown regime to protect against resistance (additional cost of tillage or less effective SS option).

    Bottom line… no financial benefit for farmers so why are we being promised such a financial benefit?

  27. While I am not happy that Indian farmers are dying, these numbers don’t seem that high compared to the numbers of farmers committing suicide in Iowa given the size difference between Iowa and India and the efforts of Iowa’s farmer support system. I also don’t see any attribution for the support system that Iowa and many other US states’ farmer’s have.

    Iowa has several layers of farmer support and it still has many farmer suicides. Farmers in Iowa can ask for help from government agencies such as their local university extension offices. Iowa has three state universities that address issues from how to plant to the mental health of the farmers.

  28. Julie, correct my interpretations where they are wrong:

    Non-GM: Two applications of simazine and simazine/atrazine = $40.82/ha.

    GM: One application of trifluralin @ $13.16/ha + one application of Glyphosate @ $17.45/ha = $30.61/ha, not the $27.45/ha you claimed. So $10.21/ha savings for GM.

    You also claim “will be needed to be controlled in similar costs”, but I see an additional $2.97/ha savings per additional application for GM/Glyphosate vs. non-GM/triazines, unless I am reading your numbers wrong.

    Bottom line, YES financial benefit for farmers of $10.21/ha PLUS n x $2.97/ha for using GM. Where have I misunderstood your numbers?

    Again, I’d like an end-to-end, from field-prep to harvest and seed-cleaning, comparison of the TOTAL costs of a GM regime vs. a non-GM regime. Feel free to add in the costs associated with non-glyphosate following rotations, if you think that makes your case stronger. But you will need to extend those rotations into you non-GM scenario, also. Not “similar”, but specific, if you don’t mind.

  29. Sorry, I knew I was leaving something out earlier, but of course I couldn’t think of it until I hit the “Submit” button!

    Just so we don’t lose sight of the facts, my understanding is other herbicides ALSO recommend rotation to protect against resistance. This is not limited to Glyphosate.

  30. From a technology provider’s perspective, we license our Bollgard II and Bollgard Bt cotton technologies to 23 Indian seed companies who market their individual brands of Bt cotton hybrid seeds to farmers. Bollgard Bt cotton technology is one of the five Bt cotton technologies available in over 150 Bt cotton hybrid seeds. This is in addition to non-bt hybrids and varietal seeds – clearly, a wide choice of seeds available to the India farmer.

    Our presence in cotton is as the Bt cotton technology provider with Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (MMB) – our 50:50 JV with Mahyco and as a cotton seed marketer as licencee of MMB.

    In cotton seed, we market Paras Brahma Bollgard Bt cotton hybrid seeds to farmers. For individual brand sales and an estimation of the market value for cotton seed sales, one will need to contact the Indian seed companies (Mahyco, Rasi, Nuziveedu etc.)

    In 2008, four million farmers cultivated Bt cotton seeds on over 75 per cent of India’s cotton acres; and production increased to 31 million bales in 0708 from 16 million bales in 2001-02. This rapid adoption of technology – probably the fastest across all categories – is testament to the benefits and superior value farmers derive from the technology.

    India’s Bt cotton acres have grown from 2002 till 2008 as follows.

    Year Total Bollgard Bt Cotton Acres Total Cotton Production (in lakh bales)
    2002 72,000 136
    2003 2.3 lakh / 0.23 million 179
    2004 13 lakh / 1.3 million 243
    2005 31 lakh / 3.1 million 244
    87 lakh / 8.7 million 280
    2007 144 lakh / 14.4 million 315
    2008 172 lakh / 17.2 million –

    Studies by research agency IMRB and MMB shows Bt cotton farmers earned higher profits due to higher yields and insecticide savings from per packet of Bt cotton seeds
    – In India, Bt cotton farmers saved 5-10x per acre (US$ 52 / Rs. 2,250) on additional seed cost (US$ 5-12 / Rs. 200-475) using lesser pesticide per acre vs. conventional seed farmers, which equals to a net profit of ~US$ 40 – 47 / Rs. 1,560 – 1,833
    – Additionally, Bt cotton farmers got double yield and earned average 64% (US$ 222 / Rs. 8669) higher income per acre vs. conventional seed farmers, on an additional input cost of US$ 5-12 / Rs. 200-475

    Across India’s cotton growing states, Bollgard Bt cotton farmers are leading better lives. 87% enjoy better lifestyles, 84% have more peace of mind, 72% invested in their children’s education, 67% repaid their long-pending debts (IMRB 2007).

    Do you have any actual statistics comparing an Indian farmer growing conventional cotton vs. Bt cotton?
    India’s cotton farmers have made India the world’s second largest producer and second largest exporter in cotton by doubling the country’s cotton production in six years using the insect-protected Bt cotton hybrid seeds (since introduction of Bt cotton in 2002).

    In 2008, four million farmers cultivated Bt cotton seeds on over 75 per cent (17.2 mn.) of India’s cotton acres (up from 72,000 acres in 2002); and production increased to 31 million bales in 0708 from 16 million bales in 2001-02. In 0708, India exported 10 million bales of cotton, earning export revenue of US$ 2-3 billion. This rapid adoption of technology – probably the fastest across all categories – is testament to the benefits and superior value farmers derive from the technology.

    With Bollgard Bt cotton, farmers are leading a white gold revolution, getting higher yields, pesticide savings, and resultant higher income.
    According to independent studies by IMRB and MMB, India’s Bollgard Bt cotton farmers…
    • Yielded 700 – 900 kg. per acre vs. 300-400 kg. per acre with conventional seeds
    • Saved average Rs. 2,250 per acre from less pesticide usage vs. conventional seed farmers (MMB)
    • Earned average 64% (Rs. 8,669) higher income per acre than conventional seed farmers (IMRB 2008)
    • Higher incomes of India’s Bt cotton farmers result in farmers contributing Rs. 12,608+ crores to India’s GDP in 2007 (IMRB 2008)

    A 2006 survey of Indian cotton farmers by IMRB International showed a 118 percent increase in profit for farmers planting Bollgard cotton over traditional cotton varieties. The same survey showed a 64 percent increase in yield and a 25 percent reduction in pesticide costs.

    Across India’s cotton growing states, Bollgard Bt cotton farmers are leading better lives. 87% enjoy better lifestyles, 84% have more peace of mind, 72% invested in their children’s education, 67% repaid their long-pending debts (IMRB 2007).

    We are now witnessing farmers in a second wave as they upgrade to the superior Bollgard II technology that gives better pest protection against bollworms and spodoptera caterpillar, and higher yields.

    Bollgard Acres
    (in lakh acres) 2006 2007 2008
    Bollgard Bt Cotton 84 133 127.2
    Bollgard II Bt Cotton 3 12 45.1

    You may also refer
    – Indian Union Budget – Economic Survey 2008 – Finance Minister – http://indiabudget.nic.in/es2007-08/chapt2008/chap72.pdf (see page 159 – cotton production)
    – Govt. of India – Cotton Corporation of India – http://www.cotcorp.gov.in/statistics.asp#area

  31. With reference to Fred’s queries, I would like to clarify that Bollgard® Bt cotton technology is one of the five Bt cotton technologies available in over 150 Bt cotton hybrid seeds in India. This is in addition to non-bt hybrids and varietal seeds – clearly, a wide choice of seeds available to the India farmer.

    Our presence in cotton is as the Bt Cotton technology provider with Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (MMB) – our 50:50 JV with Mahyco and as a cotton seed marketer as licencee of MMB .
    We (MMB) license our Bollgard II and Bollgard Bt cotton technologies to 23 Indian seed companies who market their individual brands of Bt cotton hybrid seeds to farmers. In cotton seed, we market Paras Brahma® Bollgard Bt cotton hybrid seeds to farmers.

    When farmers succeed, we succeed. We have been partnering with India’s farmers for over four decades. All our farmer engagement is aimed at helping farmers increase their yield and income sustainably. Eighty per cent of our team is from rural backgrounds. Since farmers are our core focus, the majority of our sales team lives in small towns, and work with farmers in villages daily.

    While sale of seeds is seasonal, beyond marketing our seeds, we engage with farmers year-round in three broad areas guiding them on how to plan a successful season, hand-holding them during the cultivation process, providing advice and facilitating linkages in the post-harvest.
    • Research to understand farmer needs and agronomic trends – Through formal qualitative and quantitative market research, face-to-face meetings. Our farmer research drives our R&D teams, in breeding to develop superior hybrid seeds; and biotechnology to identify beneficial plant traits.
    • Market Awareness and Education on Crop Management – On good agronomic practices, benefits of better seed, and new technologies via group meetings such as field days, farmer meetings, thresher days, harvest days covering the entire spectrum of pre-season, season and post-season activities.

    The team engages with farmers to provide education on choosing the right inputs (seed, fertilizer, etc.) based on local environmental conditions and adaptability (soil, weather, irrigation); to nutrition management – the right fertilizers, dosage, time and method of application, and practices used to increase yield; to guidance on optimum spacing pattern for seed rows during planting.

    For e.g. campaigns like ‘Zyada Paudhe, Zyade Paidavaar’ (More Plants, More Yield) help train farmers to apply optimum spacing techniques for maximum soil use and input benefits.

    In India alone, we conduct over a hundred thousand farmer awareness and education programs, and engage in over a million direct farmer contacts annually.

    In early-2008, we organized a series of Paras Brahmotsavs – an innovative cotton farmer-market linkage initiative that united farmers, ginners and Monsanto on a common platform under the aegis of our Paras Brahma Bollgard Bt cotton hybrid in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.

    Our research indicated that gin mill owners prefer Paras Brahma Bollgard Bt cotton produce for its high quality lint. Thus, in addition to selling to farmers via distributors and trade, the Company built strategic relationships with ginning mills (next in the cotton value chain), and the critical intermediary between the cotton farmer (the producer) and the textile industry (the end user), prior to the 2008 season.

    • Farm Support – In case of development of biotic stress (insects, viruses, bacteria) and abiotic stress factors (drought, flood, extreme temperatures). The team also provides advice on pest and disease management.
    • Clean Cultivation Mealy Bug Control Campaign – When a sucking pest (known as mealy bug, primarily a fruit-based pest) began infesting the cotton crop in the North, Maharashtra and parts of Gujarat in 2007-08, we initiated a Clean Cultivation Mealy Bug Control Campaign with the counsel of the Punjab Agriculture Univ. and Central institute for Cotton Research (CICR) to educate farmers on how to manage the pest by weed control, timely increase of insecticide, thus minimizing yield loss.
    • Downy Mildew Disease Management – Through intensive farmer awareness campaigns and demonstration of seed treatment with fungicides, information on management techniques provided by State Agriculture Universities like Univ. of Agriculture Sciences (UAS), Dharwad, farmers in Tamil Nadu reduced their potential yield loss from 70% to 30%.

    With regular training and farmer awareness and education programs, Indian Bt cotton farmers are leading a white gold revolution, getting higher yields, pesticide savings, and resultant higher income.

    In India, farmers use hybrid cotton seed and the majority have been purchasing new seed each year.

    While sale of seeds is seasonal, beyond marketing our Dekalb high-yielding corn hybrid seeds and Paras Bollgard Bt cotton hybrid seeds, we engage with farmers year-round in three broad areas guiding them on how to plan a successful season, hand-holding them during the cultivation process, providing advice and facilitating linkages in the post-harvest.
    • Research to understand farmer needs and agronomic trends – Through formal qualitative and quantitative market research, face-to-face meetings. Our farmer research drives our R&D teams, in breeding to develop superior hybrid seeds; and biotechnology to identify beneficial plant traits.
    • Market Awareness and Education on Crop Management – On good agronomic practices, benefits of better seed, and new technologies via group meetings such as field days, farmer meetings, thresher days, harvest days covering the entire spectrum of pre-season, season and post-season activities.

    The team engages with farmers to provide education on choosing the right inputs (seed, fertilizer, etc.) based on local environmental conditions and adaptability (soil, weather, irrigation); to nutrition management – the right fertilizers, dosage, time and method of application, and practices used to increase yield; to guidance on optimum spacing pattern for seed rows during planting.

    For e.g. campaigns like ‘Zyada Paudhe, Zyade Paidavaar’ (More Plants, More Yield) help train farmers to apply optimum spacing techniques for maximum soil use and input benefits.

    In India alone, we conduct over a hundred thousand farmer awareness and education programs, and engage in over a million direct farmer contacts annually.

    In early-2008, we organized a series of Paras Brahmotsavs – an innovative cotton farmer-market linkage initiative that united farmers, ginners and Monsanto on a common platform under the aegis of our Paras Brahma Bollgard Bt cotton hybrid in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. Our research indicated that gin mill owners prefer Paras Brahma Bollgard Bt cotton produce for its high quality lint. Thus, in addition to selling to farmers via distributors and trade, the Company built strategic relationships with ginning mills (next in the cotton value chain), and the critical intermediary between the cotton farmer (the producer) and the textile industry (the end user), prior to the 2008 season.

    • Farm Support – In case of development of biotic stress (insects, viruses, bacteria) and abiotic stress factors (drought, flood, extreme temperatures). The team also provides advice on pest and disease management.
    • Clean Cultivation Mealy Bug Control Campaign – When a sucking pest (known as mealy bug, primarily a fruit-based pest) began infesting the cotton crop in the North, Maharashtra and parts of Gujarat in 2007-08, we initiated a Clean Cultivation Mealy Bug Control Campaign with the counsel of the Punjab Agriculture Univ. and Central institute for Cotton Research (CICR) to educate farmers on how to manage the pest by weed control, timely increase of insecticide, thus minimizing yield loss.
    • Downy Mildew Disease Management – Through intensive farmer awareness campaigns and demonstration of seed treatment with fungicides, information on management techniques provided by State Agriculture Universities like Univ. of Agriculture Sciences (UAS), Dharwad, farmers in Tamil Nadu reduced their potential yield loss from 70% to 30%.

    Studies by research agency IMRB and MMB show Bt cotton farmers earned higher profits due to higher yields and insecticide savings from a single packet of Bt cotton seeds
    – In India, Bt cotton farmers saved 5-10x per acre (US$ 52 / Rs. 2,250) on additional seed cost (US$ 5-12 / Rs. 200-475) using lesser pesticide per acre vs. conventional seed farmers, which equals to a net profit of ~US$ 40 – 47 / Rs. 1,560 – 1,833
    – Additionally, Bt cotton farmers got double yield and earned average 64% (US$ 222 / Rs. 8669) higher income per acre vs. conventional seed farmers, on an additional input cost of US$ 5-12 / Rs. 200-475

    Across India’s cotton growing states, Bollgard Bt cotton farmers are leading better lives. 87% enjoy better lifestyles, 84% have more peace of mind, 72% invested in their children’s education, 67% repaid their long-pending debts (IMRB 2007).

    In addition to the above, some key initiatives that are beyond just selling seeds scope of our business but benefit and complement farmer efforts include:
    • MMB Anti-Illegal Seeds Awareness Pucca (Genuine) Bill Campaign – Targeted at farmers in Gujarat, Punjab and Maharashtra who were being duped by unscrupulous infringers producing illegal seeds, this Pucca Bill campaign educated farmers on the benefits of using genuine seeds i.e. higher yields, increased income, and peace of mind. It urges farmers to buy genuine Bollgard Bt cotton seeds only with a Pucca Bill. This is helping farmers tackle issues arising out of use of illegal cotton seeds, i.e. zero or poor yields, higher pesticide costs, and low profits or losses.

    For example, in Gujarat in 2007, farmers cultivated illegal cotton seeds on approximately 15.8 lakh acres out its 57 lakh cotton acres, amounting to 28% of Gujarat’s cotton acres – emerging as one of the top deterrents to increasing cotton production in the state.

    Our efforts included approximately 700 Bollgard Farmer Education and Awareness Meetings on best agronomic practices like plant genuine Bollgard Bt cotton seeds for better yield, in over 2,164 villages in Gujarat where over 76,000 farmers have promised to purchase seeds only with a pucca bill. This, in addition to creative campaigns and communication materials like posters, danglers, leaflets, to drive the benefits of purchasing genuine Bollgard Bt cotton seeds.

    • ‘Apno se Suno’ Campaign uses word-of-mouth and local famers as influencers to spread knowledge, awareness, and facilitate dialogue between farming communities. This platform brings together farmers to share their successful experiences, challenges and benefits. In addition to the farmers present, video testimonials from farmers from other villages are also shared to enhance learnings.

    • Dekalb Advocacy Program (DAP) is a forum where Dekalb corn experts and progressive farmers share best practices to help fellow farmers enhance yields and earn higher income. DAP members demonstrating better agronomic practices also receive Recognition. DAP members are also introduced to key pipeline technologies and their feedback is incorporated into the Research Breeding program. During the 2007-08 season, new elite hybrids of Dekalb Pinnacle, Dekalb 9081, and Dekalb 900M Gold were cultivated by DAP members in their own fields and high yields showcased to other farmers in the villages. This initiative has generated a positive response among farmers, created awareness and a common platform for sharing of best practices. DAP membership has increased to over 6,000 members, and the company continuously receives requests from farmers across the country.

    • Human Rights Anti-Child Labour for Farmers – helping farmers produce hybrid cotton seed ethically by reducing child labour in cotton seed production fields. The program is in partnership with the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), and NGOs VORDS and AFAP since 2004. These efforts have helped farmers reduce child labor on hybrid cotton seed production fields from 20% in 2004 (prior to Monsanto acquiring its hybrid cotton seed brand) to less than 1% in 2007, via a pledge of have pledged Rs. 11 crores / USD 2.44 million (till early-2008). The results of the 2008 season are still being captured.

    In India, we have contributed over Rs. 18 crores since 2001 to community development initiatives in the areas of human rights, sustainable agriculture, education, healthcare, and disaster rehabilitation. Some initiatives in farmer communities are listed below.
    1. Human Rights Anti-Child Labour Campaign for Farmers – see above.
    2. Sustainable Agriculture and Nutrition project targeting 9,500 farmer families to create awareness on best agronomic practices, cultivation to ensure food security; increase nutritional intake among women and adolescent girls, as well as child and maternal health. A three-year program in partnership with United Way in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, and Maharashtra.
    3. JEENA Project (Jharkhand Education Empowerment Nutrition & Agriculture) to improve nutritional well-being of 750 budding female entrepreneurs by imparting practical knowledge in animal husbandry, agriculture and nutrition, in partnership with the International Health Organization (IHO) between 2005-07.
    4. Project to enhance Rural Productivity of 2,800 marginal farmers in 75 remote villages in Gujarat in partnership with NGO GRISERV (Gujarat Rural Institute for Socio-Economic Reconstruction, Vadodara) in 2006-07.
    5. Disaster Rehabilitation – Bihar Farmer Flood Relief for 20,000 flood-affected farmers in Bihar to provide food, drinking water, and medicine in 2008 via NGO United Way Mumbai. United Way set up camps that provide the villagers with food, water and medicines. A hand pump has been set up for clean drinking water. The villagers are provided two meals a day consisting of lentils, rice and vegetables. Informal education centers have also been set up to address the educational needs of children, aged 6-14 years. The Monsanto Research Center (MRC) also donated utensils and clothes to NGO Goonj.

    In keeping with our commitment to making a lasting difference in the communities in which we live and work, we shall continue to create many more meaningful programs to create a healthier environment, increase educational opportunities, improve nutrition, and build stronger communities.

    This is in keeping with the spirit of partnership that Monsanto has fostered with the Indian farmers over the last several years of dedicated village level work.

    Lastly, the case of Percy Schmeiser in Canada was a simple case of patent infringement. He knowingly and deliberately planted, harvested and sold Roundup Ready canola without paying the license fee. This was supported by the findings of the Federal Court of Canada, the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada.

    Monsanto only pursues claims against infringing users in situations where we believe there has been a knowing and deliberate violation of our intellectual property rights. Monsanto does not financially benefit from settlements. All pre-trial settlement dollars collected are directed toward education initiatives such as scholarships and leadership training.

  32. Dear Monsanto,
    When I read of the horrors of GMO’s and Roundup, I flinch. I have read about the proposed New World Order that wants to eliminate poverty, and minimize the world population, but even these tycoons need to feed their families. Certainly these Roundup GMO’s will eventually kill them too? So, where can we purchase the same food that all of your chemists and bioengineers are buying their food? Certainly, as your designers they know the truth? Just looking to have healthy grandchildren and great grandchildren, aren’t you?
    Love,
    Paula

    • Paula,

      Monsanto employees are proud of the seeds we produce and the farmers that use them on their farms. We get our food at the same grocery stores as everyone else, and stand behind the work we do. Instead of minimizing the world population, we have committed to feeding the growing number of people in the world with increased yields. Posts like yours are the reason this blog is out there, and I invite you to keep reading.

  33. Kathleen,

    Do you still eat Montanto GMO foods even after study amoung study confirms how harmful they are to every human and animal that eats it? Also, why doesnt Montanto label their produce as GMO’s?
    Obviously, I don’t like what I have been reading abot Montanto on the web. Thank you in advance for writing back.

    Latest research indicates:

    “The researchers studied toxicity mechanisms of four different Roundup formulations in human cells. The formulations were diluted at minimal doses (up to 100,000 times or more), but they still caused cell death within a few hours. The researchers also noted membrane and DNA damages, and found the formulations inhibit cell respiration.”

    http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_16348.cfm

  34. Alex – another slight correction – all genetically modified products that leave monsanto and go to farmers are categorically labelled as such.

    The study you cite isnt even about the effects of genetically modified food on health – it is about the effects of herbicide – as glyphosate based herbicides have been proven time and time again to be at least 3x less toxic than other herbicides commonly used, and as detailed in Kathleen’s claims the study doesnt really tell us anything, I dont see that there is anything to your claims that GMOs harm human health.

    It would however be interesting to see your sources for the ‘study after study’ which shows the harm of GM foods as I struggle to find any.

  35. This thread is starting to wander off track, moving towards Biotech Safety instead of focusing on the issue at hand. So, for everyone’s benefit, here’s what U.S. Department of Agriculture says about biotech safety:
    “Commercially available foods and crops made using biotechnology have been subjected to more testing and regulation than any other agricultural products, and have all been found safe.” So, for those who have concerns, please use this link for more USDA information that is scientifically-based, and not speculative or biased: http://www.fas.usda.gov/itp/biotech/factsheets/biotechsafety.pdf

  36. How come people can’t put faith in the free market system? If this stuff doesn’t work for farmers, they will stop buying it. If it does provide benefits, they will buy it. Monsanto will go out of business soon if they can’t sell seeds. So lets just see what happens. It’s been 13 years since the introduction of RR soy and no health effects can be attributed to GM so let the market system determine if we have GM seeds or not. All your equations and numbers are great to show on paper what you think the answer is but for me the bottom line will be “Do they keep buying it? Period”

  37. Good point, Garrett. There are other threads to discuss these points.

    THIS thread is (supposed to be) about Indian Farmer Suicides, and how they are or are NOT linked to Bt cotton.

    I’m sure neither of us is trying to silence these other opinions, just point out that the opinions are much more likely to reach their target audience if they are discussed in a venue the target audience is likely to visit.

  38. Ok let’s get back to the point of the blog…

    Finding solid statistics are difficult to find, but even numbers at the low end should catch everyone’s attention…

    According to alternet.org, in 2007 the Indian government and NGOs estimated more than a thousand farmers have killed themselves in the state of Maharashtra alone. The New York Times stated it as 17,000 Indian farmers in 2003 alone. A PBS special called “The Dying Fields,” stated that one farmer commits suicide in Vidarbha every eight hours.

    This website explains everything in detail

    http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/62273/

  39. Michelle India – excellent posts – I missed them initially- they’d make a great blog entry by themselves on what Monsanto has done and is doing in India (

  40. Bob, I’m sure that link explains everything to you in detail. To ME, I see it as a bunch of distortions and conspiracy theories.

    I feel obligated to point out that your numbers don’t jibe, however. If one farmer commits suicide every eight hours, that’s four a day, or 1,460 a year. Why not report that even more gruesome statistic, rather than a smaller number from a different state?

    I’d be interested to see what numbers you can find on suicides per 1,000 farmers for farmers in Maharashtra and Vidarbha as well as Ohio, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, say. I’ll let you decide if it should be limited to bt cotton farmers or not. But don’t list absolute numbers, because the larger (presumed) populations of Maharashtra and Vidarbha will tend to obscure the relevancy.

    I have to admit I don’t know what the answer is, myself, but I think it would help put things into perspective.

    I’ll warn you in advance, so you can look for this information at the same time, that next I will ask what other socio-econimic differences there are between the two sets of states, and how they might influence our “result”.

    Thanks for educating me on this.

  41. Bob, I owe you an apology. Every 8 hours is THREE times a day, and thus 1,095 a year. Not sure what I was thinking of, earlier.

    But I’d still like to see your statistics on farmer suicides.

  42. Editors Note: Post edited to omit offensive language.

    Monsanto

    Madmen
    Or
    N***
    Scientists
    Allowing
    Nothing
    To
    Origanate

  43. John, you are selective in your misinterpretation of the costs.
    The sole “benefit” of chemical costs application differences is around $10.21/ha. But you also need to add the additional costs of adding further chemicals whenever glyphosate is used plus the resistance management of using a less effective alternative to glyphosate in following rotations. The $2.97 is not included as you suggest because you would use the same post emergent chemical in either non-GM or GM after 6 leaf stage. Seed cleaning has been included in costs for non-GM.
    Most importantly, you forgot to add the $114/ha additional costs for the technology use.

    That easily equates to a very significant loss no matter what selective information you look at. The economic reports generally forget to add the additional costs and always promote a yield increase that has no reason to be there as good farmers have good weed control by other options in non-GM crops.

  44. Julie said:

    “John, you are selective in your misinterpretation of the costs.”

    Julie, I freely admit I (still) don’t understand your numbers, and I really want to.

    This is why I CONTINUE to ask for you to present an itemized listing of the TOTAL COST of GM vs. non-GM. If you advocate the need for “using a less effective alternative to glyphosate in following rotations”, then do as many rotations as you need to to get from just before the start of a GM planting to just before the start of the NEXT GM planting.

    I’d like ALL of the numbers collected TOGETHER, for easy comparison. Let’s assume /ha, to keep the typing down. Like:

    Step GM$ non-GM$
    Field Prep $x $y
    Pre-plant $z $a
    Seed cost $b $c
    Plant $d $e
    Post-plant $f $g
    Post-emerg $h $i
    .
    .
    .
    Additional Applications, etc.
    $l $m
    .
    .
    .
    Next Rotation:
    $q $r
    .
    .
    .
    Final Harvest, Final Rotation
    $t $u
    Seed Sales -$v -$w
    =========================
    NET cost $GM $NGM

    Clearly, GM HAS to be cheaper in SOME steps (or NO ONE would buy it), while non-GM is cheaper in others (Seed cost). But it is very easy to only count the places where one is cheaper than the other and skew the “answer” to confuse the uneducated reader (myself included). I’m not suggeseting you are doing this, and I may well have done this unntentionally, but the only way to prove you (or I) aren’t is to provide a full accounting.

    Yes, I could find these numbers on my own, but I want to see your viewpoint, supported by YOUR numbers. And ALL of your numbers.

    Thanks for sticking with me on this.

  45. John,
    The reason why very few farmers are growing GM this year in NSW and Victoria is because their numbers did not stack up.
    I’m comparing the difference between GM and non-GM and the additional or less costs.
    All other costs are different depending on the weeds, crop etc.
    The pro-GM farmers that grew it last year did some figures but their are holes in the figures. Interesting how the farmers that are pushing it the most got free seed isn’t it?
    You can play with the figures however you want but I have noticed those pushing GM have played with the figures you mentioned without including the additional costs that I mentioned.
    Why the next rotation?
    Tell me a logical reason why one or two applications of a knockdown glyphosate at 2-6 leaf stage could possibly have some sort of residual weed control in the following crop when compared to the good residual weed control we get with TT canola? It does not or we would not need to use any chemical other than glyphosate would it?

  46. Julie – I believe John wanted following rotation costs due to the need to use different herbicides in these rotations to deal with volunteer transgenics – I could be wrong, I think all he is asking for is a complete, fair, analysis of all the costs involved so as to get a full picture of the differences, whichever way they fall.

  47. Julie, Ewan is correct.

    At one point earlier you (Julie) had said:

    “The following rotations, additional chemicals will be needed to be added to glyphosate (extra cost) and glyphosate is to be removed from the knockdown regime to protect against resistance (additional cost of tillage or less effective SS option).”

    I’m just trying to get a FULL cycle TOTAL cost analysis, however YOU want to define “full cycle”. You brought up the additional chemicals and rotations, so I’m giving you an opportunity to add in their costs. But we need ALL costs (and income).

    Julie, I know you’re not trying to do this, but the way you keep cherry-picking stats to support your argument makes this seem like a shell game. I want to compare apples to apples, and it seems we are comparing canola to kiwis.

    You said:

    “The pro-GM farmers that grew it last year did some figures but their are holes in the figures. Interesting how the farmers that are pushing it the most got free seed isn’t it?
    You can play with the figures however you want but I have noticed those pushing GM have played with the figures you mentioned without including the additional costs that I mentioned.”

    OK, then fill in their holes (and yours). Give us COMPLETE figures, including the additional costs that you have mentioned. But be sure to include the costs (and benefits) THEY mentioned.

    Am I being unclear with my request? Please let me know which part(s) you don’t understand, so I can clarify further.

  48. http://www.bcg.org.au/resources/Better_Canola_RR_2008_results_booklet.pdf

    Gives a pretty thorough investigation of RR canola growth in Australia – none of the farmers selected appeared to have major issues with the crop, preferred it to TT varieties and enjoyed the ability to not use atrazine – yields werent higher in any of the trials, or it appears on any of the farms – but the ease of use and safety of use (and related economic benefits) paint a picture of RR canola adopters wanting to continue with RR canola use (3 farms from NSW, 10 from Victoria) – it is interesting to note that one of the main issues farmers had with the RR crop was an uniformed or misinformed public perception of the crop “There is a
    lot of misinformation, perpetuated through some media.” – it appears that you’re doing a pretty good job in that respect Julie.

  49. With your permission, Brad, I would like to repost your comment here and continue the conversation.

    Brad Says:

    April 30, 2009 at 9:06 am
    Deborah,

    Regarding testimony of farmers on suicideThere are testimonies of farmers who claim benefits of Bt cotton as well http://www.monsanto.com/biotech-gmo/asp/country.asp?cname=India

    The question then becomes, how does one reconcile conflicting testimony. Most rationale individuals will look to sound scientific analysis as the IFPRI study which found no associaltion between Bt Cotton and suicide:

    http://www.ifpri.org/pubs/dp/IFPRIDP00808.pdf

    Here is a newspaper article for those not inclined to look at actual data:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/nov/05/gmcrops-india

    Previous studies also include:

    http://www.igidr.ac.in/suicide/ExecutiveSummary_SFM_IGIDR_26Jan06.pdf

    • Deborah,

      I understand you want to continue conversation about this topic. Fortunately, Brad is working on a post on Indian Farmer Suicides so the conversation can pick up there. As you recall, 2 weeks ago I put up a post stating that 10 days after a post, responses would not be guaranteed. The comments on this particular post have gone very far down and people who wish to join the conversation will not be likely to follow. Which is what we all want, right? Please stay tuned for that post, and some more discussion.

  50. It was only 5 days before my post that Brad had sent me these articles. But I will wait for the new post.

    • Deborah,

      The policy is for the actual, original blog post. Not for each individual comment.

  51. Ewan, your comment ““There is a
    lot of misinformation, perpetuated through some media.” – it appears that you’re doing a pretty good job in that respect Julie.”
    is typical of Monsanto and GM proponents. They don’t like the detail so they attack the messenger.
    Lets look at some of the misinformation:
    The first farmer to plant it in WA last week claimed he planted it because of the 30% yield increase not because of the chemical use as he did not have a weed problem.
    What 30% yield increase? The GM bit is only resistance to glyphosate!
    Its not selective information as every farmers cropping programme will differ. I am comparing what needs managing different between GM and non-GM and the appropriate costs compared to what is the actual difference in the benefit between GM. There is little or no difference yet a massive increase in costs.
    Its not rocket science!

  52. Julie, your criticism of Evan could also be directed at yourself. As could mine of you. BUt let’s let it go at that, shall we? Also, his comment is two weeks old, so don’t be surprised if he doesn’t even notice your rebuttal.

    Julie said:

    “There is little or no difference yet a massive increase in costs.”

    So, is your contention that Monsanto maliciously misrepresents their products, which I would guess would be a legal offense, or that Monsanto controls the media so that farmers can’t find the “truth”, or that the farmers in WA are too lazy or stupid to figure out things for themselves?

    Or PERHAPS this ONE “first farmer to plant it in WA” is an anecdotal instance, and his experience is representative of NEITHER all WA farmers NOR the value of GM (in this specific case, Roundup Ready crops).

    The claims made for ANY crop are based on average results over a LARGE set of data. But as the old saying goes, “Your mileage may vary.” I hear the average family in the US has 2.4 kids. But I doubt there is a SINGLE family that has EXACTLY 2.4 kids. So, some families are getting “yields” ABOVE the average, and some below.

    Sure, I can pay a premium to get a Porshe that a salesman claims goes 120 miles and hour. Is it the salesman’s fault if I don’t have a NEED (or even an oportunity) to GO 120 miles an hour?

  53. Julie – half of that comment at least can be attributed to a GM canola grower in Australia who grew the GM canola, and liked it. I’d say that he not only doesnt like “the detail” but fundamentally disagrees with it from actual experience growing the GM crop (their reality contradicts the claims they are talking about thus confirming that it is misinformation)

    From the link I gave I’d have to conclude that you are correct in assuming that there is no huge yield increase from the RR canola (some farmers saw a yield increase because of the hybrid used, but one would expect this regardless of whether it was traited or not)

    It equally isnt rocket science to take a quick look through the case studies discussed and see that contrary to your predictions farmers have used, and will continue to use, the RR varieties because despite not giving huge yield increases they do actually offer value to these farmers.

  54. If it did add true value, there would be more than a handful of farmers at the NSW accreditation meetings but there was not.
    Final figures can’t be given because they are not available as Australia has only grown one year of GM canola. Its not rocket science to work out extra costs and can be done by just looking at EXTRA costs. Every programme is different, it is the additional costs or benefits that need to be factored in.
    Re the critical comment regarding delay in posting responses – Not all of us are paid to debate GM like Monsanto’s public relations team. We are farmers and are currently in the middle of a busy 6,000ha seeding program.

  55. Julie, I can’t speak for everyone supporting Monsanto on here, but as far as I know only the OP (original poster), Garrett, in this case, gets “paid to debate GM like Monsanto’s public relations team”. I know I do not get paid for those activities. I use my break and lunch time to support what I think is a worthy effort. And that is likely why Garrett can’t hang around on this topic forever.

    It isn’t a “critical” comment, “they” just wanted you to know that Garrett has likely moved on, doing what he is being paid to do, and cannot spend an indefinite amount of time on this one topic. So if oyu are waiting for a response specifically from him, you should move on.

    EXTRA costs don’t mean anything to a good businessman. Steak costs more than green beans, but if I open a restaurant that serves green beans instead of steak, it will be a failed business. What a GOOD businessman looks at is how much those increased costs will increase gross revenue. If a $1 increase in cost results in a $2 increase in gross revenue, you can bet I’m going for the $1 increase in NET revenue.

    I don’t know what happens in New South Wales, but here in the US (as far as I know) every planting of GM crops has an associated “refuge” required, sometimes as high as 50%, to reduce the likelihood of resistant organisms developing. And thus US farmers get a side-by-side comparison of the relative worth of their GM crops. So if there was no value added, It would be very few seasons before farmers stopped buying GM seeds altogether.

    I have no idea what the refuge policy of Australia is, and don’t want to spend my lunch time researching it, but if it ISN’T required, perhaps that would be an additional point for you to lobby for. Then all of the WA and NSW farmers will have direct evidence to make their decision, and I can stop asking for data which you seem reluctant to provide.

  56. It is true that many other factors can cause the suicide of Indian farmers, such as weather condition, religious beliefs, living conditions, alcohol addiction, etc. However, BT cotton makes their survival condition worse. In order to plant the BT cotton, local farmers need to sign the contract with some giant biotech companies, buy their seeds at a high price and also those farmers have to buy their pesticide and fertilizer to make sure that the BT cotton can grow healthily. Sometimes, when weather condition is not so suitable for the growing of BT cotton, the farmers loss every thing except burdening heavy debts. Even if they gain good harvest, whether they can sell the BT cotton at a good price is another problem. That is why some farmers plant the BT cotton with high expectation every year and finally they find that they just get higher debts.

  57. Jack – I don’t believe that Bt cotton makes the survival conditions worse for indian cotton farmers. If you look at the costs you cite in any of the various reports quoted in the above blog discussion (or possibly in other blog discussions – this issue is a pretty big sticking point for opponents of GMOs) you will note that pesticide costs are actually lower for farmers who utilize Bt cotton, and that fertilizer costs remain the same between Bt and non-Bt users – it is however true that the seeds themselves do cost more – however it is arguable that the increased cost of the seed is not actually that significant when compared to all other running costs of the farm operation

    Looking at the cost analysis in

    http://www.iimahd.ernet.in/publications/data/2006-09-04_vgandhi.pdf

    seed pricing appears to be about the only significantly higher cost, with pesticide useage being the only significantly lower cost – by region it could be argued that there is a higher fertilizer cost in Maharashtra aswell as irrigation, and that in Tamil Nadu the fertilizer cost appears to be significantly lower for Bt cotton as compared to non-Bt.

    In all regions other than Maharashtra the increase in cost of operations is roughly equivalent to the price difference of the seeds. And in all regions the average profitability of Bt as compared to non-Bt is in excess of 50% (57% being the lowest, 300+% being the highest)

    I’m going to assume that owing 30000 Ru due to a failed crop is not that much different to owing 33000 Ru due to a failed crop (and nobody has made any claims that Bt crops are immune to crop failure) whereas getting 32000 Ru as compared to 18000 Ru at the end of the season is probably quite a significant improvement in life – as such I dont see, that from these numbers, one can conclude that it is the cost, or added cost, of Bt which is a major factor in suicides – unless you are ascribing the added stress of signing a contract as a major factor?

    On pricing – that is an issue that faces every farmer – however if your yield is 50-100% higher due to the use of transgenics you will still make 50-100% more money than you would have otherwise regardless of how your crop is priced (meaning that prices would really have to hit rock bottom for the 10% cost increase of transgenics to be the decisive factor in whether or not you made a profit)