That “promising biotechnology” is Monsanto’s Bt cotton seed, genetically modified to ward off the cotton bollworm. Indian farmers have been desperate to get their hands on it because they think they need it to compete with their lavishly capitalized and subsidized U.S. peers.
But the Monsanto seed, which promises to enable farmers to use 25 percent less pesticide, might not be worth the premium (it goes for about twice as much as conventional seed, the Times reports). The great Indian journalist P. Sainath wrote recently that “despite all the claims made for [Bt cotton], input dealers here have seen no decline in pesticide sales as a result of its use. Some claim higher sales than before.”
As prices for seeds and other inputs rise, farmers have seen the price their goods fetch in the marketplace fall or stagnate. The result has been crushing debt burdens, mounting losses, and a stunning surge in suicides among farmers.
The Times reports that “17,107 farmers committed suicide in 2003, the most recent year for which government figures are available. Anecdotal reports suggest that the high rates are continuing.”
Well, that’s one way to clear the land of “inefficient” farmers.
by oliveridley •
Interesting side note about the spinach E-Coli outbreak
Where does this particularly virulent strain come from? It’s not found in the intestinal tracts of cattle raised on their natural diet of grass, hay and other fibrous forage. No, O157 thrives in a new — that is, recent in the history of animal diets — biological niche: the unnaturally acidic stomachs of beef and dairy cattle fed on grain, the typical ration on most industrial farms. It’s the infected manure from these grain-fed cattle that contaminates the groundwater and spreads the bacteria to produce, like spinach, growing on neighboring farms.
When cows were switched from a grain diet to hay for only five days, O157 declined 1,000-fold. This is good news. In a week, we could choke O157 from its favorite home — even if beef cattle were switched to a forage diet just seven days before slaughter, it would greatly reduce cross-contamination by manure of, say, hamburger in meat-packing plants.
Seems easy enough to implement, if impossible to enforce.
A more nuanced look, if not a debunking of the above theory can be found on this scienceblogs page.