Monsanto boss told to leave Indian farmers alone (4/8/2006)

The press report below focuses mainly on the hype put out by Monsanto India's managing director Felipe Osorio at a business seminar on Bt cotton.

Osorio claimed that the economic benefits to farmers from Bt cotton adoption "would be at least double this year as compared to last cropping season". What this report fails to mention is that his claims were powerfully contradicted by another of the speakers at the same event.

Osorio was just one of several pro-industry speakers at the meeting. Others included:
Dr Bhagirath Chowdhury, ISAAA;
Dr C.D.mayee, co-Chairman, GEAC;
Dr Sachin Chaturvedia, Research Information Systems (RIS)
Mr RK Sinha, Exec Dir, All India Crop Biotech Association
Mrs L Balasubramanyam, Corporate Law Group.

The panel was chaired by Prof Bibek Debroy, secretary general of the Punjab, Haryana, Delhi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI) and the panel was jointly hosted by the free market Liberty Institute, which has long been at the forefront of lobbying for GM crops and aggressively attacking their Indian critics. http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=156

But they didn't have it all their own way. The token critic present - Devinder Sharma - took the battle right into the enemy's camp, lambasting them for helping to destroy Indian agriculture and for 'looting' Indian agriculture. The following were among the points Devinder raised:

1. Bt cotton approval in India was the biggest scientific fraud to have hit Indian science since Independence.

2. Monsanto made available research trial data to two economists from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Bonn - published in 'Science', which was a 'complete sham'.

3. GEAC - India's main GM regulatory body - has operated as 'a rubber stamp for the biotech industry'.

4. If Indian farmers were really making such great gains from growing Bt cotton, why were they committing suicide and abandoning agriculture?

5. In reality, Monsanto was robbing India's farmers with its 'astronomical' seed price. Monsanto originally sought to offer Bt cotton to India for Rupees (Rs) 9-crore. Since gaining approval to sell Bt cotton seed in India in 2002, Monsanto has made a neat Rs 1400-crore. If this money had stayed with India's farmers, there would be far fewer suicides.

6. GEAC was not at all concerned at the damage being done by Bt cotton - thousands of Bt cotton farmers were committing suicide (Devinder, in fact, challenged the other speakers to come with him if they wanted to meet the families of those who committed suicide) - and the GEAC was also trying to brush aside the sheep mortality charge. The Government had been involved in tampering with the post-mortem reports on the sheep, said Devinder, and this showed that the GEAC was only interested in erasing the evidence of problems not probing it.

7. In a letter to the Prime Minister, Devinder had asked for action against the successive chairmen of GEAC. They needed to be held accountable for the destruction their actions had wrought in the cotton belt.

8. Bt cotton, Devinder pointed out, does not increase productivity. All it does is to operate like a pesticide, which means it reduces crop losses. It is being promoted as if it increases crop yields, which is scientifically nonsense, in order to hoodwink farmers into buying Bt seed.

9. No GM crop in the world increases productivity. In fact, GM crops are known to reduce productivity and Devinder gave GM soyabeans as a classic example.

10. Finally, and more importantly, the latest Cornell study on China clearly showed that Bt cotton has not reduced pesticide use, and Chinese farmers were incurring losses. What more evidence, Devinder asked, is needed to stop the use of Bt cotton?

Devinder concluded by calling for the industry to 'leave Indian farmers alone.'

AsiaPulse, August 1 2006

NEW DELHI, Aug 01, 2006 (AsiaPulse via COMTEX) -- US-biotech major Monsanto has said the economic benefits to farmers that would accrue due to adoption of Bt cotton seeds would be at least double this year as compared to last cropping season.

"The possible economic benefit would emanate from rise in area under the transgenic cotton seed in the current cropping season," a senior official of its Indian arm said.

The economic benefit due to adoption of Bt cotton seed to be around Rs 25 billion (US$536 million) for last year and expects this gain to touch even Rs 60 billion due to doubling of acreage under the transgenic crop this season, Monsanto India's managing director Felipe Osorio said at PHDCCI seminar on Bt cotton.

Pointing out that Bt cotton was grown in 3.1 million acres last season, Osorio said the acerage is estimated to grow significantly this season as the technology has led to 64 per cent rise in production and 25 per cent cut in pesticides use.

He called for joint partnership between private companies and Indian science institutes to develop more hybrids cotton varieties.

On the trait value or royalty charged by Monsanto, Osorio said contrary to common perception, prices of BT cotton seeds in China and Australia were high.

The prices in China range between Rs 1,100-1,200, while the equivalent in India is Rs 900, he added.

Sanchin Chaturvedi of Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) said, "we need to explore option beyond Bt cotton".

Social desirability and technology appropirateness should be the two basic ingredients for the national biotech policy, he said and added that the country needs technology to augment agricultural productivity in all crops.

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