India does not blame Bt cotton for farmer suicides

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Environmental advocacy groups have claimed for many years that farmers in India have been committing suicide because of Bt cotton crops. Their argument seeks to draw a direct correlation between the deaths and some inherent toxicity of Bt cotton that was causing health problems for the farmers.

Finally, India’s government is setting the record straight. The government has denied that farmer suicides were due to the failure of the crop because it was from genetically modified cotton seed.

The Economic Times reported that Minister of State for Agriculture, Harish Rawat, said, “India has harvested an average of 5.1 million tonnes of cotton per year, which is well above the highest production of 3 million tonnes before the introduction of Bt cotton.”

Rawat said the suicides were due to multiple factors including a combination of indebtedness, crop failure, drought, socio-economic and personal reasons.

As a result, the government has taken steps to help improve the financial condition of farmers to help them overcome debt problems, which is likely one of the leading causes of the suicides. Measures that have been taken include issuing special credit cards and providing interest rate subvention for timely payment on crop loans and increasing credit flow to the ag sector.

The environmental activist groups sensationalized the suicides in the name of vilifying genetically modified crops. However, the deaths were more likely due to indebtedness and a result of failed agricultural policies, not GM crops.

This is not the first time farmers have committed suicide over poor economic conditions, production failures and debt. It occurred fairly recently in the spring and summer of 2009 when many dairy owners and operators committed suicide when prices for milk plummeted. During that time, many dairy businesses were plunged into debt, which lead to several suicides. However, the environmentalists cannot claim the suicides in the United States were due to genetically modified seeds.

Read more about the dairy industry suicides.

Read more about the concern over suicides in the U.S.  

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Lara Bryant    
Silver Spring, MD  |  May, 09, 2012 at 09:35 AM

I have been following this issue recently and have a few responses to the article. 1) India is more than the Indian government. Indian farmers and citizens have a different story to tell than the one I am reading in this article. From the documentaries that I have seen, the Indian government seems like a highly incredible source to quote on this issue, and I don't think anyone should take their word over the word of actual Indian farmers. 2) It seems to me that the problem with Bt cotton is not that the seeds are genetically modified; the problem is that this crop has been pushed on Indian farmers in certain regions to the point that they don't feel they have a choice to grow anything else. Add to that the monopolic condition and an inexplicably instable cotton market (some sources I have read blame competition from imports of subsidized American cotton) and the high cost of growing the crop lead to insurmountable debt. I am very skeptical that issuing credit cards is any kind of solution to this problem. 3) Estimates of Indian farmer suicides are in the hundreds of thousands. The American dairy farmer suicides of 2009, while a very serious and sad problem, aren't on close to the same scale, so it is not surprising that reactions to the Indian farmer suicides are more extreme.

north america  |  June, 01, 2012 at 01:13 AM

There is reason for both. But Indian farmers have been growing cotton for a very long time. Why, all of a sudden, have we seen this spate of suicides in a very short period of time? Please cease and desist defending Monsanto and their ilk. While one needs to be open minded and consider all possibilities. there is a definite correlation. Look at the time-line and the incidence.

Joel Waltz    
Boone  |  June, 18, 2012 at 11:22 PM

This is bogus, manipulated information. It is the usual media brainwashing from the corporate giants working to keep their name in shiny lights. Just watch "the world according to Monsanto" and then make your decision on whether this article is truthfilled.

chennai  |  August, 10, 2012 at 01:05 AM

An early preliminary result by Indian Institute of Management indicated that by using Bt. cotton the pesticide cost is reduced by 23.98 percent but then the seed cost rises by 168.77 percent. This study was done in 2006. Yes, farmers commit suicide because of debt load but the debt load is caused primarily by seed cost especially if the local corrupt government makes the farmers buy only Bt. Cotton seeds. No other second choice. In the U.S. such monopoly won't be tolerated. I cannot figure out as to how these corrupt organizations manage to get into India. First there was that Union Carbide in Bhopal causing the worst Industrial disaster, then that corrupt Enron that tried to set up a power plant in Bombay and now we have this Monsanto.

November, 01, 2012 at 06:47 PM

On January 9, 2012, the Indian Ministry of Agriculture sent a devastating internal advisory to the country’s nine cotton-growing states. Based on studies conducted by the Indian Council of Agricultural Studies and the Central Cotton Research Institute (the country’s chief cotton research facility), the Ministry warned the states of significantly declining Bt cotton crop yields after the first five years of production, growing parasite and pest infestations and the need for greater pesticide use, higher costs tied to both the GM seeds and the greater pesticide use, Bt cotton’s heavy water demands which are twice those of traditional cotton crops, and the severe toll these escalating problems have taken on India’s farmers. “Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton,” declares the advisory. “The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers.

Oklahoma  |  November, 30, 2012 at 08:24 PM

If you think that this would not be tolerated in America you are sadly mistaken. Coming from a farmer, there is only an illusion that there are choices to be made when purchasing seed, they all go back to a small hand full of companies and if you are caught saving and breeding your own, you will find yourself in trouble.

Eric Bjerregaard    
Florida  |  July, 21, 2013 at 03:13 PM

Chad, Don't buy patented seeds and you will not have a problem with saving seeds. There is no problem finding non gmom seed suppliers in this country. If this was really going here do you really think some democrat politician wouldn't have realized it and used the sherman anti-trust act to get himself re-elected? Quit spreading your sour grapes misinformation.

Eric Bjerregaard    
Florida  |  July, 21, 2013 at 03:19 PM

Joel, Yours is just the usual leftist nonsense complaining about anything that makes capitalism look good.

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