There are at least two sides to every story.
It is often pure subjectivity as to which you prefer to adhere.
When researching serious matters, we pore through evidence and try to be objective, yet the conclusions to which we arrive often are based on our position at the beginning of our quest.
A thinking person will at least consider all sides.
Our Story Begins in 2006
In 2006, Prince Charles embarked on a tour of India. One of the very troubling situations he found was an alarming number of suicides among farmers. He delved deeper and discovered a previously-unknown factor in these tragic deaths: many of the farmers who took their own lives had experienced the repeated failure of genetically-modified (GM) crops. He vowed to help by setting up the Bhumi Vardaan Foundation to provide aid and education to small farmers.
The story was taken up in 2008 by The Daily Mail, whose reporter travelled to India to see for himself. He reported that many of the suicides in the villages he visited were by men who–after planting GM cotton seeds that failed–were without money, in debt, and faced the loss of their lands.
Award-winning Indian rural affairs journalist Palagummi Sainath said at a lecture at the Institute of Development Studies in Kolkata:
“We have been undergoing the largest catastrophe of our independent history—the suicides of nearly a quarter of a million farmers since 1995. We are talking of the largest recorded rate of suicides in human history.”
The information we’re given is this: corporate-driven interests, sanctioned by the Indian government, aggressively market GM seeds and their accompanying pesticides/herbicides to cash-crop farmers (primarily cotton) beginning in 2002 with the promise of vastly higher yields.
The price for the seeds is 1000 times that of conventional seed. Farmers take out loans to buy the seeds, figuring they’ll make it all back and more with the higher yields. What they’re not told—among other things—is:
1) GM plants require twice as much water as conventional cotton
2) you can’t use seeds from the current year’s crop for planting the following year because of a built-in “terminator gene” that causes the plants to die after one season (this means, of course, that farmers have to buy more seeds)
3) prices for their harvests will not be relative to their investments and they will end up losing money because of governmental subsidies for cheaper products from the United Kingdom and United States
4) historically, GM seeds do not produce greater yields than non-GM seeds.
We all know statistics can be manipulated to support whatever your agenda.
Of course, there was a backlash of this report because it’s simply horrific. One of the biggest GM-seed manufacturers, Monsanto, denies any responsibility. It asserts that the GM cotton they sell grows great. (If given enough water, which is a critical issue for every farmer.) Media outlets call Prince Charles names, attacking his intelligence and knowledge of the issues. Various news agencies say it’s a myth and that The Daily Mail’s reporter’s views are skewed.
Then There’s the Data.
According to a report by the National Crime Records Bureau of the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs, the number of suicides in India has grown every year from 2000 to 2010. The total number of farmers in India has decreased during that time (as agribusiness takes on a greater share of the nation’s farming) while the relative number of suicides has increased among small farmers.
What Color is Your Lens?
There is obviously a bigger picture here, as there are an increasing number of suicides in India among the general population. The issues surrounding that (poverty, illness, financial insolvency, etc.) must be addressed. Where the role of genetic modification and farming practices comes in depends on the lens through which you view the data.
Should small farmers—most with limited education and wherewithal and zero political power—know to ask the seed salesperson for certified data from other farmers in the region, attesting to the claims of higher yields? Should they know to ask how much water was needed and the environments in which the very successful crops were grown? Should these subsistence farmers who depend on the harvesting of their crops for their very lives and those of their families be able to just avoid the temptation and pressure of the promises of a multi-national, multi-billion dollar company?
All crops—conventional, organic, GM—run the risk of failure due to any variety of reasons. Are these farmers unlucky and should they have planned for such failure as a contingency?
Maybe. But if GM farming is a part of the cause of such misery and destruction, it is one tragic factor that can be readily removed from the equation.
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