Breaking the GMO-Suicide Myth
Breaking the GMO-Suicide Myth

Breaking the GMO-Suicide Myth

January 22, 2014

Indian farmer suicide rates are high, and experts aren’t sure why. Many point fingers at Monsanto’s GMOs as the cause for a quarter of a million Indian farmer suicides, but journalist Keith Kloor, NYU journalism professor, contributor to Slate and former Senior Editor of the Audobon Magazine, reveals evidence that suggests otherwise.

“Opponents view Monsanto as an evil Goliath that is messing with nature, crushing small farmers, and poisoning the world with ‘frankenfoods,’” Kloor writes in the latest Issues in Science and Technology. “But of all the dirty deeds Monsanto is routinely accused of (which include using patented seeds and monopolistic behavior to destroy farmer’s livelihoods), one awful indictment stands out, and is often repeated in social media and news outlets as received truth.”

Here’s the basic argument he’s talking about: 250,000 Indian farmers have taken their own lives because they are overwhelmed by debt resulting from disappointing harvests. Pieces in the Global Post, Aljazeera, independent research and media organization,, and others all make this claim. Kloor begs to differ.

In the piece, Kloor says that Indian farmers “have come to overwhelmingly embrace genetically modified cotton.” Monsanto’s Bt cotton is specifically the seed under debate. As Kloor points out, since Bt cotton was officially approved in 2002, over 90 percent of cotton farmers adopted the seeds. According to the agricultural minister of India, the country averaged 3 million tons more after the introduction of Bt cotton, totaling 5.1 million tons in 2012. That makes India the world’s second largest producer of cotton, just behind China.


The rates of Indian farmer suicide also do not seem to correlate with Monsanto’s seed. In a report conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute, the farmer suicide rate slightly decreased after 2002, while the suicide rates of other Indian industries continued to climb.


Not only does Kloor attack the idea that Monsanto is responsible for Indian suicides, but he also drives the main arguments of the GMO-blamers into the ground. Most notably, Kloor identifies Vandana Shiva and Belen Fernandez as the two writers who have brought what he calls the GMO-Suicide Myth into mainstream media. (Kloor’s full critique is quite a read, and speaks for itself.)

“By now, the ‘failure of Bt cotton’ and Monsanto’s ‘suicide seeds’ are memes firmly embedded in the media ecosystem,” Kloor writes. “Countless blog posts, tweets, and news stories state it as established fact…. If you had heard of this issue only from fleeting headlines or from friends on Facebook, or from Bill Moyers on PBS, who was told about it when he interviewed Shiva in 2013, you would be inclined to believe that Monsanto is guilty as charged, that the company was indeed responsible for the deaths of a quarter-million Indian farmers.”

The real reason as to why this is happening is still left unknown. Kloor details reasons other scientists and similar countries have suggested—sociocultural aspects, lack of economic opportunity, isolation and/or lack of proper health care. But one thing is for certain: accusations sent in the wrong direction is nothing but harmful.

“Blaming farmer suicides on Bt cotton thus seems not only to be incorrect,” Kloor writes, “but also a distraction from the real causes of a tragic problem.”



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