ISAAA ‘spin’ – proclaiming the success of GM crops – is discredited

25 Feb

gmfree cymru logoDr Brian John (GM-free Cymru) comments on an emailed reference to a Financial Times report of what some commentators call the ‘annual ISAAA spinfest’: “never take anything from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) seriously”.

ISAAA Biotech header

As another had commented: “I don’t think we can even accept the figures — ISAAA has this intriguing habit of adding up “trait acres” — which means that for a quadruple-stacked variety the acres are counted four times……….. “  Dr John continued:

“Naturally, some of the media who are inclined to support GMOs will make the most of whatever is fed to them by Clive James founder and chair”.


India and China: 2006-2013

China people's daily logoA report in China’s People’s Daily recorded that China had ‘brought in’ some 5 million farmers to cultivate Bt cotton. The genetically modified cotton was projected as a ‘silver bullet’ for the Chinese small cotton producers.

The public had been “repeatedly bombarded by industry drones of how successful the introduction has been for the farmers” and by now, considering all the promises of increasing ‘productivity’, this success should have led to reports of China’s emergence as the foremost global supplier of cotton.

mirid bug

mirid bug

However, there were reports of a study conducted by Cornell University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences which showed that after seven years of introduction Chinese farmers lost money as they had to use 20 times more pesticides sprays to control pests:

“The study — the first to look at the longer-term economic impact of Bt cotton — found that by year three, farmers in the survey who had planted Bt cotton cut pesticide use by more than 70 percent and had earnings 36 percent higher than farmers planting conventional cotton. By 2004, however, they had to spray just as much as conventional farmers, which resulted in a net average income of 8 percent less than conventional cotton farmers because Bt seed is triple the cost of conventional seed.”

Four years later the Guardian reported: “Millions of hectares of farmland in northern China have been struck by infestations of bugs following the widespread adoption of Bt cotton, an engineered variety made by the US biotech giant, Monsanto.

Agricultural economist Devinder Sharma comments : “The magic bullet had bitten the dust in China”


Sharma continues: “In India, the corporate media kept the story alive. Every now and then I find articles detailing the promises of GM crops. More often than not these are based on wrong facts.

“As if this is not enough, GM industry ensures that it packs a few ‘participants’ in every conference/seminar organised by the civil society or farmer organisations. Recently while I was speaking at the Indian Merchant’s Chambers in Mumbai, two farmers — one from Rajasthan, and another from Warangal in Andhra Pradesh — got up to say how successful the technology has been for the farmers. Incidentally, both farmers happened to be passing through the city when they heard of the conference!”

Prof Glenn Davis Stone GMOHe recommends an excellent (and provocative) analysis by an American anthropologist, Prof Glenn Davis Stone of the University of Washington. In his blog, Stone notes that the Business Standard reports that India’s cotton yields have dropped to a 5-year low, “setting off a fascinating round of finger pointing”. In a blog post entitled: GM cotton failing in India; blame the farmers! he writes:

“If you follow GMO debates you will have heard several years of kennel barking about how these figures show a remarkable success. But as I have pointed out (in my blog and in EPW), most of the rise in productivity had nothing to with Bt cotton; in fact it happened before Bt cotton became popular. . . Check it out:

  • the biggest rises were from 2002/3 to 2004/5, when yields rose 56% from 302 to 470 kg;
  • by 2004/5, only 5.6% of India’s cotton farmers had adopted Bt.;
  • do the math: if those 5.6% of planters were really responsible for a 56% rise in yields, then they must have been harvesting 3,288 kg/hectare.”

Read the rest of the article and see Monsanto – implicitly accepting these figures -‘ducking and weaving’ – and blaming the Indian farmer . . .

Bio Spectrum: “India struggles to keep Bt cotton growth story going”

biospectrum asia logoSince then, the mainstream media report improved figures, but BioSpectrum (India & Asia), a publication by Cybermedia, ‘a torch bearer for technology business, knowledge and information’ reports:

“Maharashtra, a state in western India, has seen a drop in the yield and production of Bt cotton in the past one year, especially in the dry regions of Vidarbha, that receives low rainfall. This is despite the fact that at the time 95% of the total land sown in the state comes under Bt cotton cultivation. Also, cost of cultivation is taking a toll on farmers. Labour is scarce. The cost of cultivation for a farmer ranges between Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000 per acre. This excludes land rentals. Labour for picking and weeding takes 60% of the cultivation cost”.

drought afflicted land vidarbhaKeerthana Nagarajan reported on Radio Netherlands’ website: “An estimated 7300 farmers have killed themselves in drought-stricken Vidarbha since 2004 – the year that the government introduced a policy to grow Bacillus thuringiensis or BT cotton, a genetically modified variety of cotton”.

New Delhi’s NDTV reports that a group of NGOs has claimed that the government’s own data proved that BT cotton has resulted in stagnant yields, pest resistance and evolution of new pest and disease attacks, and quotes allegations that the failure of  BT cotton is the root cause of farmer suicides claiming over 10,000 lives so far in the state.

Barack Obama bt protest posterTwo years earlier there were candle-light protests on the eve of US President Barack Obama’s visit, seeking to draw his attention to the plight of agriculture sector in the region. Further evidence that – as Dr John advises – industry figures proclaiming GM successes should not be accepted at face value.

See also cases against Bayer CropScience (substandard GM seeds 2013) and Maharashtra’s 2012 cancellation of Mahyco Monsanto Biotech’s license to sell its genetically modified Bt cotton seeds.



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