FARMER SUICIDES REDUCED BY BIOTECH
By Dennis T. Avery
This is important progress — which should be enough by itself to embarrass Greenpeace and the other anti-technology groups opposing biotech. But the big news on the biotech crops is that they’re slashing the toll from farmer suicides, perhaps by a million deaths per year. Suicides have been the primary cause of the World Health Organization’s estimated 10 million annual deaths from pesticides. The most frequent cause of rural suicides is debt, often because the farmer’s rice or cotton crop has failed and he has no way to pay back loans or feed his family. All he has is his ruined fields, which lie there mocking his attempts at success.
Even though the vast majorities of accidental farmer pesticide “poisonings” are mild, and pass quickly, they are unpleasant, and some have lasting effects. Some professionals say about two-thirds of the acute pesticide poisoning deaths in the developing countries are intentional. The World Health Organization tells us that, in Sri Lanka, 70 percent of the farmers who commit suicide choose pesticide poisoning. In China, the percentage of farmer suicides by poison is 60 percent, in India 30 percent. And these are only the victims treated in hospitals. We have poor statistics on the number of farmer suicides because the farmers are rural, often far from medical care; and, there is always family reluctance to admit the shame of suicide.
Bollworm losses in India typically take half the farmer’s crop and often 90 percent. When Bt cotton was introduced, the insects were showing resistance to parathyroid, organophosphates, carbomates, and cycledienes. India seemed likely to lose not just its cotton farmers, but the millions of textile jobs for its urban workers too. The suicide potential was vast.
A study in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry reported that pesticide self-poisoning had “become a fashion in the entire Sunderabad region [in the center of India], and is fast replacing hanging and immolation [setting oneself on fire].”
The Bt cotton contains a natural pesticide found in soils around the world. The bollworms are more likely to be killed by the biotech application because it’s not just sprayed in their general direction, they swallow it. That sharply reduces the development of resistance. Ultimately, if Bt resistance does develop, other pesticides could be delivered through similar biotech seeds.
Crop failures have always been a widely recognized problem for all farmers, but, in the old days, farmers diversified their crops and spread their risk the low-yield way. Mostly, they could barely feed their own families, but family food security was the top priority. Today’s high-tech farming requires special seeds and purchased inputs to deliver the higher per-acre yields — but that feeds more people, saves more land for wildlife, and provides a better life for the families in the farming community.
The new problem is the concentrated financial risk for the farmers. This risk became intolerable for many when insects began to develop resistance to the more common pesticides. Indian cotton farmers found themselves spraying a dozen times per season, spending far more for the chemicals — and still losing their crops. Chinese rice farmers were faced with similar epidemic problems of such insects as stem borers and leafhoppers.
Will the quadruple benefits of fewer crop sprayings, lower costs, higher yields, and more financial security — plus reduced misery that leads to suicide — finally soften the hearts of anti-technology activists? Stay tuned.
2. Chowdhary, Banerjee, Brahma and Biswas, 2007, “Pesticide Poisoning in Nonfatal, Deliberate Self-Harm: A Public Health Issue,” Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 49: 117-120
3. J. Jayaratnam, 1990, “Acute Pesticide Poisoning: a Major Global Health Problem,” World Health Statistics Quarterly 43: 139-144
Agriculture, the Economy, & Human Health & Welfare:
Policy Issues Relating to Food Production & Consumption
Science, Ethics, & Human Health:
Human Health & Public Policy
Political Environmentalism Versus Human Progress & Prosperity:
Policy Issues Relating to Energy, Environment,
& Natural Resources
Dennis T. Avery, a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., is an environmental economist. He was
formerly a senior analyst for the U.S. Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global
Warming Every 1500 Hundred Years. Readers may write to Avery at P.O. Box 202, Churchville, Virginia, 24421, email him
email at firstname.lastname@example.org; or comment on www.cgfi.org.
Africa: Black Africa *
Africa: North Africa *
American Government 1
LINKS TO PARTICULAR ISSUES & SUBJECT MATTER CATEGORIES
TREATED IN THE PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE, U.S.A.:
American Government 2 * American Government 3 * American Government 4
American Government 5 * American Politics * Anglosphere * Arabs
Arms Control & WMD * Aztlan Separatists * Big Government
Black Africa * Bureaucracy * Canada * China * Civil Liberties * Communism
Congress, U.S. * Conservative Groups * Conservative vs. Liberal
Constitutional Law * Counterterrorism * Criminal Justice * Disloyalty * Economy
Education * Elections, U.S. * Eminent Domain * Energy & Environment
English-Speaking World * Ethnicity & Race * Europe * Europe: Jews
Family Values * Far East * Fiscal Policy, U.S. * Foreign Aid, U.S. * Foreign Policy, U.S.
France * Germany * Hispanic Separatism * Hispanic Treason * Human Health * Immigration * Infrastructure, U.S. * Intelligence, U.S. * Iran * Iraq * Islamic North Africa
Islamic Threat * Islamism * Israeli vs. Arabs * Jews & Anti-Semitism
Jihad & Jihadism * Jihad Manifesto I * Jihad Manifesto II * Judges, U.S. Federal
Judicial Appointments * Judiciary, American * Latin America * Latino Separatism
Latino Treason * Lebanon * Leftists/Liberals * Legal Issues
Local Government, U.S. * Marriage & Family * Media Political Bias
Middle East: Arabs * Middle East: Iran * Middle East: Iraq * Middle East: Israel
Middle East: Lebanon * Middle East: Syria * Middle East: Tunisia
Middle East: Turkey * Militant Islam * Military Defense * Military Justice
Military Weaponry * Modern Welfare State * Morality & Decency
National Identity * National Security * Natural Resources * News Media Bias
North Africa * Patriot Act, USA * Patriotism * Political Culture * Political Ideologies
Political Parties * Political Philosophy * Politics, American * Presidency, U.S.
Private Property * Property Rights * Public Assistance * Radical Islam
Religion & America * Rogue States & WMD * Russia * Science & Ethics
Sedition & Treason * Senate, U.S. * Social Welfare Policy * South Africa
State Government, U.S. * Subsaharan Africa * Subversion * Syria * Terrorism 1
Terrorism 2 * Treason & Sedition * Tunisia * Turkey * Ukraine
UnAmerican Activity * UN & Its Agencies * USA Patriot Act * U.S. Foreign Aid
U.S. Infrastructure * U.S. Intelligence * U.S. Senate * War & Peace
Welfare Policy * WMD & Arms Control
Africa: Black Africa *
Africa: North Africa *
American Government 1
POLITICAL EDUCATION, CONSERVATIVE ANALYSIS
POLITICS, SOCIETY, & THE SOVEREIGN STATE
Website of Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
An Online Journal of Political Commentary & Analysis
Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr., Editor