Monsanto, the US-based multi-million dollar seed company, threatened to leave India if the government trimmed down royalties that local companies pay for its genetically modified (GM) cotton seeds. These particular modified seeds develop pesticide on their own.
The seed giant works in collaboration with the Indian Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (MMB), which offers licence for a modified gene. Mahyco has utter monopoly and sells this modified seed to various local seed companies for a high price and of course, royalties to Monsanto. Recently, a committee formed by the government has recommended about 70% cut in royalty.
The government is yet to take a decision, but the global seed leader has expressed clearly about its intent: not to give in to the arm-twisting, and if need be, to leave India. The sore nerve that green advocates touch is that MMB does not publish revenue figures or say how much it contributes to Monsanto’s overall revenue.
Monsanto entered India in 2002, and launched the GM cotton variety in partnership with Mahyco. The launch was questioned by many “green” activists, who questioned GM crops’ safety, but the joint venture did change the face of cotton farmers in India, making the country the world’s top producer and second-largest exporter of cotton.
Notwithstanding the success of Monsanto’s GM seeds, the recent news made a large section of people send whoops of joy. These people are not alone. Worldwide, Monsanto is seen as the giant evil that puts humans in big health threats, such as cancers of the stomach, colon, and rectum.
The history of GM foods is just a decade-old, and people are scared that Monsanto is playing with nature by compressing 10,000 years of genetic adaptations into just 10 years of dangerous seed experimentation. But the company has been around as an agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology firm for over a century. It impacts every farm across the world, demanding farmers use certain types of seeds and soil.
The company’s partnerships with the controversial Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among other groups, only make Monsanto more shady.
In 2013, an estimated 2 million protesters joined anti-Monsanto rallies in more than 50 countries. They were rallying against the seed corporation’s evil designs on nature, and how their innovation was playing with the health of the masses.
People hate Monsanto for its Frankenstein-like crops that can upset the natural balance, but the corporation does nothing to counter the allegations. As it’s the case in India, the seed giant tends to deal issues with an arrogance that further blights its public image.
In the US, where Monsanto is based, some people claim that the giant company has such ruthless monopoly that it prevents farmers from using anything except their seeds. The claim gains resonance in the Indian context; the central government is exactly addressing the same issue, of monopoly and high price. Apparently, Monsanto also has its people in the government, who make approval from the American food watchdog easier.
A new theory arose recently, that blamed Monsanto for the increasing number of Zika-inflicted diseases in Brazil. It said a pesticide promoted by the seed corporation was causing the epidemic in Africa. There were allegations that Zika was caused due to ingestion of a pesticide (larvicide) found in food. Although scientists from across the world pinned the cause of the disease on the mosquito-borne Zika virus, the theory did fuel the hatred of people towards Monsanto.
While India lags behind in farming, and the government cannot afford to cough up huge payments in the name of royalties, it’s imperative that we do not turn our back on technology. Since the company doesn’t actually produce crops, boycotting would hurt the farmers much more than Monsanto.