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Erroneous comments, unsubstantiated allegations in Monsanto-smoke article

NewsErroneous comments, unsubstantiated allegations in Monsanto-smoke article


This is with regard to the opinion piece titled, Monsanto’sprofits, not Diwali, creating smoke in Delhi (4 November 2018,by Arvind Kumar) in your esteemed publication. It is surprising to note that your publication has decided to publish an opinion which makes unsubstantiated allegations and more importantly what is factually inaccurate.

The author’s accusation of Monsanto for the issue of pollution in Delhi and term the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act,2009 as Monsanto law and the primary reason leading to pollution in Delhi is not only malicious, but is also brazen in its attempt to malign Monsanto. It attempts to sensationalize policy decisions taken by the government and the elected lawmakers in all their wisdom, and any how link it to Monsanto as the intended beneficiary.

The esteemed readers of your publication deserve a fact-based and analytical articulation and this opinion piece is grossly misleading in both fairness and accuracy.

We would like to provide our point of view on the article and the blatant inaccuracies.

1. Punjab continues to struggle with paucity of groundwater and crop shift is a reality to embrace:

Today, agriculture in Punjab and neighbouring Haryana continues to struggle with severe paucity of groundwater. The Central groundwater board has found that 82% of Punjab are as have seen a substantial fall in the groundwater level based on the data compiled by the board between 2006 and 2015, followed by findings in 2016 and 2017. Experts attribute this to shift in traditional cultivation pattern from maize-wheat to paddy-wheat cycle, which has led to unprecedented exploitation of groundwater for irrigation. Agriculture experts in Punjab continue to recommend an integrated water management strategy, including drip irrigation, change in cropping pattern and banning early plantation of paddy so that the monsoon run-off can be used to irrigate the paddy fields, reducing the dependence on groundwater for irrigation.

2. Introduction of Bt-cotton has significantly benefitted India,India’s farmers and farmers in Punjab:

The introduction of Bt-cotton in India has transformed cotton cultivation in the country, increasing yields from 191 kg/Ha in 2002 to around 532 kg/Ha in 2014 and making India the larges tex porter of cotton globally. Acreage of cotton across the country went up from 7.7 MHa to around 12 MHa in the same period and is a reflection of the fact that farmers across the country wholeheartedly adopting the technology that provided them protection from debilitating pests, helped reduce pesticide use and helped farmers more than double their income.

The choice to plant cotton or paddy is largely dependent on farm economics and an intrinsic choice of farmers and the same applies to farmers of Punjab who have been very progressive.

3. Blaming Monsanto for policy decisions of governments and then to pollution in Delhi is outright illogical:

A recent study by the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur indicates that the major causes of air pollution in Delhi are road and construction dust, industrial pollution, municipal waste burning and automobile emissions. The article conveniently ignores all other sources of air pollution and presents stubble burning by Punjab’s paddy farmers as the sole cause for the pollution. Post-harvest of paddy, some farmers undertake the practice of burning stubble from the paddy harvest to prepare their land for the upcoming Rabi season.

It might be pertinent to present to your readers the fact that Monsanto has no control on the farmers’ decision to cultivate paddy and how to undertake land preparation for the next season. We are not in the business of paddy, neither in wheat and lack any commercial interest whatsoever in them. The premise that Monsanto has influenced the Punjab groundwater law to promote GM cotton is therefore contrary to established facts and is only intended to create a controversy where none exists. In addition, your readers might be interested to note that Monsanto has not introduced any GM food crops in India.

The article seems to have grossly contorted various developments to fit a particular mould. Moreover, such a one-sided and unsubstantiated depiction prevents farmers and consumers, your readers, from exercising a well-informed choice when it comes to adopting the latest agricultural innovations.

It is regrettable that your publication has decided to print this inaccurate story without verifying the accuracy of the statements in the article and cross referencing the remarks with in formation that has been publicly available for several years.

This article has published false accusations and insinuations that have relied upon inaccurate or false information, distorted facts,and grievously damages the reputation of Monsanto. Monsanto therefore requests that our views be published in The Sunday Guardian, and in online versions, with equal prominence as the article in question.

Arun Gopalakrishnan

Lead—Corporate Communications

Monsanto India

Andheri (East), Mumbai




Arun Gopalakrishnan, Monsanto’s official for Corporate Communications, is just doing his job of defending his employer and his stance is thus understandable. However, we cannot ignore the facts or go against scientific analysis. The facts here are straightforward. For around 25 years since the early 1970s when farmers in Punjab started growing rice as a primary crop,they burnt the residue of their fields in September and Delhi was spared from the smoke resulting from such burning, but when the burning was delayed after 2006 to the post-monsoon season when the wind changed direction, Delhi bore the brunt of the impact. Further, my article highlighted the statement of the Punjab Agriculture Minister in 2007 that Bt Cotton be grown instead of rice. His statement supports the claim that Monsanto would be the beneficiary of such a policy. This is clearly an accurate conclusion.

This column is by no means the first one to link the annual blanket of smoke in November over Delhi to fields in Punjab being set on fire. A number of other newspapers and television channels have repeatedly made the same claim over the past few years. The only extra piece of information supplied by this column was that wind carried smoke from Punjab towards Delhi only in the recent past, and it provided the reason for the change from the past. Although Delhi has been combating pollution for many years, it is a well documented fact that smoke from Punjab’s fires remained in Punjab in earlier years when farmers completed burning their fields before the monsoon winds ceased and changed direction.

Mr Gopalakrishnan’s is in a state of denial when he asserts that farmers in Punjab burning their fields is not the “primary reason” for the blanket of smoke over Delhi in November. He also makes a factually incorrect accusation when he claims that the “article conveniently ignores all other sources of air pollution and presents stubble burning by Punjab’s paddy farmers as the sole cause for the pollution.” To the contrary, the article acknowledges that Delhi suffers from “vehicular and industrial pollution, apart from smoke from bonfires in winter.”

Perhaps what he means is that the article does not mention Monsanto’s role in contaminating the air, water and earth around the world! Maybe we should discuss how Monsanto supplied millions of litres of Agent Orange that was dropped over Vietnam, killing and maiming millions of people and poisoning the earth? Or must we talk about Polychlorinated biphenyls(PCBs) sold by Monsanto which made the air and water of the world toxic? The effects of Agent Orange and PCBs continue to this day. Those directly exposed to Agent Orange suffer from various medical problems and babies continue to be born with severe deformities, while PCBs continue to linger in water and air making them toxic.

A convenient claim by the Monsanto PR official, who responded to the article, is that Monsanto’s Bt Cotton has reduced the usage of pesticides. This claim does nothing to address the point in the original article about Monsanto’s products being responsible for killing bees around the world and several European countries banning their products. This claim also misses the fact that Monsanto’s Bt Cotton uses more fertilizers than traditional varieties of cotton. According to a study by Council of Social Development (CSD) entitled Socio-Economic ImpactAssessment of BT Cotton in India,’ “Bt [cotton] is found to be associated with higher use of chemical fertilizers there by causing a threat to soil health.” It is a well known fact that fertilizers mixed to the soil over the years has resulted in the inability of the soil to absorb water and this is one of the reasons for the depletion of groundwater.

Monsanto’s pontification about saving water is truly ironical as the amount of water needed to produce one kilogram of cotton is nearly four times the amount needed to produce one kilogram of rice. According to UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers, it takes 2.497 litres of water to produce 1 kilogram of rice, but 2,495 litres of water produces just 250 grams of cotton. It was due to the cotton farms of Uzbekistan guzzling up water in the Amu Darya river that we ended up with a major ecological disaster in the form of Aral Sea drying up. That was not even Bt cotton. CSD’s survey shows that Bt cotton is a water-intensivecrop as farmers who irrigated their fields three times per cycle for non-Bt varieties of cotton crop now irrigate them five times per cycle for Bt cotton. That means it takes 16,633 litres of water to grow a kilogram of Bt cotton.

The claim that Monsanto has no food crops in India is a half-truth. It was the Indian government under pressure from farmers and activists which blocked the introduction of Bt brinjalAdditionally, Monsanto playing coy about influencing governments is Orwellian behaviour. According to Wikileakscable 10NEWDELHI275_a from 2010, Mahyco which is “26 percent owned by Monsanto” has been developing Bt brinjal,and “USAID, through its Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSP II) led by Cornell University, which works in partnership with the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT), the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, TNAU, and UAS, Dharwad, has been supporting the work on Bt brinjal for six years.” Another cable from Wikileaks(Cable 10NEWDELHI355_a) shows that American Senator Claire McCaskill was lobbying the Indian government on behalf of Monsanto.

It is of course an uncomfortable fact for the proponents of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) around the world,particularly USAID, that India has achieved self-sufficiency in the production of food grains without any GMO crop, and part of that success is due to rice cultivation in Punjab. This self-sufficiency flies in the face of the standard propaganda about GMO crops feeding the world. The solution for the proponents of GMOs then is to destroy the success story of India and alter the food habits of Indians and convert them to meat eaters. After all, GMO corn and GMO soybeans are used as chicken feed.Indians would even be grateful to firms producing GMOs for producing chicken feed.

Monsanto needs to take responsibility for its behaviour. Instead of issuing veiled threats and attempting to intimidate writers, it could have at least acknowledged its role in creating the problem, and perhaps even sought ways to address it. That would have been a more graceful response. Instead, it has put its arrogance on display for everyone to see by attempting to shoot the messenger. Perhaps it is used to succeeding with its threatening behaviour and shutting down the voices of people who oppose it around the world. Such behaviour may have worked in other countries, but it will not work in India.

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