Attack of the Magic Seeds

Sometimes I wonder if we are sheltered from really, really bad news or if there is just so much bad news that we can’t consume it all. And then I see the weekly Lindsay Lohan update (OMG! she spent the night at her ex’s) and I know it’s the former.

The other day @sonnyjohl pointed me toward a story in the UK’s Daily Mail about 125,000 Indian farmers whose suicides were being blamed on genetically modified crops.

Here’s a brief story of one farmer:

Shankara, like millions of other Indian farmers, had been promised previously unheard of harvests and income if he switched from farming with traditional seeds to planting GM seeds instead.

Beguiled by the promise of future riches, he borrowed money in order to buy the GM seeds. But when the harvests failed, he was left with spiralling debts – and no income.

Shankara, like most of the other killed himself by drinking pesticide. This is gruesomely recalled in the story written by Andrew Malone, “most swallow insecticide – a pricey substance they were promised they would not need when they were coerced into growing expensive GM crops.

“…the Indian Ministry of Agriculture do indeed confirm that in a huge humanitarian crisis, more than 1,000 farmers kill themselves here each month.

Simple, rural people, they are dying slow, agonising deaths. Most swallow insecticide – a pricey substance they were promised they would not need when they were coerced into growing expensive GM crops.”

Twenty dollars buys 1,000 times more traditional seeds than GM seeds, which take twice the water and are still susceptible to bollworms and parasites. They also employ Terminator Technology, which sucks just like Terminators:

When crops failed in the past, farmers could still save seeds and replant them the following year.

But with GM seeds they cannot do this. That’s because GM seeds contain so- called ‘terminator technology’, meaning that they have been genetically modified so that the resulting crops do not produce viable seeds of their own.

As a result, farmers have to buy new seeds each year at the same punitive prices. For some, that means the difference between life and death.

And yes Malone points his finger at US. And by US I mean the U.S. biotech company Monsanto.

Desperate to escape the grinding poverty of the post-independence years, the Indian government had agreed to allow new bio-tech giants, such as the U.S. market-leader Monsanto, to sell their new seed creations.

In return for allowing western companies access to the second most populated country in the world, with more than one billion people, India was granted International Monetary Fund loans in the Eighties and Nineties, helping to launch an economic revolution.

I don’t think this is a very balanced story. The suicides are a tragedy of monumental proportions that don’t deserved to be dismissed as Monsanto tried, “there are other reasons for the recent crisis, such as ‘untimely rain’ or drought, and …suicides have always been part of rural Indian life.”

But what if any good has come from the Magic Seeds? Are there any success stories?

Just as we are sheltered from Bad News, I think Good News is often kept out of the headlines because it doesn’t sell papers.

I don’t mind subjective journalism and, as such, Malone’s piece is powerful and you should go read it right this minute. Everyone should know about this. But subjective journalism dressed up like objective journalism is a disservice to the people written about and the reader.

Decide for yourself which this is.

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