Devinder Sharma (right) recalls: “In the mid-1980s I was agriculture correspondent with the Indian Express. I had followed the claims Pepsico was making to re-enter the vast Indian market . . . promising a second horticultural revolution. The studies and reports Pepsico presented were not so convincing and I had repeatedly questioned them. Pepsico was certainly not happy with my reports . . . and invited me and my wife for a fortnight visit to the US to see the remarkable agricultural research being conducted . . . and to Venezuela to show me the success they have achieved in potato cultivation . . . I was told they were also taking a senior bureaucrat who was not very enthused with Pepsico’s proposals to the US . . . he did visit Pepsico’s headquarters and once he returned he became a diehard champion for Pepsico which eventually entered Punjab in the late 1980s”.
This incident came to his mind when he read the news report in the Business Standard which said: “A group of members of Parliament from BJP and Shiv Sena are heading to the US on a week long study tour sponsored by global seed giant, Monsanto. The group departs on Saturday.”
It quoted a Monsanto spokesperson’s admission that this is in line with industry practice. The visit would cost approximately $ 6,000 per head for accommodation, food and travel, which would be entirely borne by Monsanto.
Within hours of the news report appearing, social media went berserk. The BJP responded by saying that none of its members would be part of the junket. The Monsanto spokesperson said the trip bore no relation to the ruling party’s decision to put GM crop trials on hold.
Monsanto is not the only company to sponsor study junkets – it is a lobbying practice frequently adopted by big business and somehow the media goes along with it. In the past Monsanto has taken scores of journalists, farmer leaders, scientists and officials of the Department of Biotechnology on study tours. A good research area:
- discover how many junkets have been organised by Monsanto in the past,
- name those who went
- and record what they wrote when they came back.
Sharma insists that this malpractice must stop: “Enough damage has already been done by manipulating the public discourse by sponsored visits”. He concludes:
“Just as the Prime Minister Narendra Modi has put an end to the malpractice of carrying an entourage of journalists on his visits abroad, and has also directed ruling party MPs to take his permission before travelling abroad on such junkets/study tours, it is high time for the Indian media to set an example by putting an end to this malpractice”.
Read the full article on Ground Reality, 8/22/2014