Bt Cotton In
In Effective PR Exercise
01 April, 2005
story of official approval to hybrid varieties of transgenic Bt cotton
using Monsanto's Bt cotton technology is a lesson in effective Public
Relations exercise. The sleek PR machinery of the U.S. chemical giant
Monsanto aided by spineless and misinformed media and the state collusion
assured India officially joined the GM community on March 26, 2002,
when it was first given the green signal for the commercial cultivation
of genetically engineered crops.
However, it was
a small victory for the company with a massive belly. Only 6 states
had approval for the commercial release of Bt Cotton. The lucrative
states of Punjab and Haryana along with Rajasthan were yet to be conquered.
Thus began a media blitzkrieg.
While the farmers
were committing suicide all along the cotton belt what caught the headlines
far more was write ups inspired by Monsanto's PR machine. The stories
of Bt failure were generally glossed over with far less exceptions.
The apparent technical
nature of the debate and general indifference coupled with falling standards
of media integrity made it easier for the company to slip in its claims
that were yet to be proved right.
The propaganda exercise
did not only simply stop at influencing media persons and bureaucrats.
The lobbying even reached the highest court of the country.
On January 6, 1999
environmental activist Vandana Shiva went to Supreme Court challenging
the "illegality" of the field trials authorized by the Department
of Biotechnology. But the next year in July when the SC was still seized
of the matter, Maharashtra Hybrid Company (Mahyco), in which Monsanto
had a stake, was allowed to conduct large-scale field trials including
seed production at 40 sites in six states. The permission was granted
based on the "totally confidential" data from the small trials
that allowed regulators to infer that Bt Cotton was "safe. On January
5, 2001 a 10-member delegation comprising U.S. judges and scientists
met Supreme Court Chief Justice A.S. Anand to educate him -- and other
members of the judiciary on the advantages of biotechnology.
That much was on record. But that showed the cheek of the Bt lobby which
did not leave any stone unturned in its campaign.
appearing in media about the Bt cotton ever since Monsanto appeared
on the scene with Bt. But the overdrive began when the determined and
surefooted groups and individuals began questioning the companys
PR person Ranjana Smetacek was all over the state without setting foot
here. A story appeared in Times of India with a Ludhiana dateline. Resembling
a company handout, it quoted Ms Smetacek extensively to drive home the
presumed Bt advantage. Its another matter that nobody in Ludhianas
media community, including two correspondents of TOI (the story was
without byline) had any clue who she was. Its a mystery how only
the TOIs Ludhiana correspondents got to talk to her. A similar
story was published in The Tribune on February 11 this year. It claimed
without citing the source of information that in India the area
under Bollgard (Bt) cotton increased by estimated 400 per cent to reach
500,000 hectares in 2004 to drive home the point that the
northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan were still awaiting
approval. The rest of the story listed why Bt should be allowed.
It did not need any expert to tell that. Monsanto India Ltd. and Ranjana
Bathinda was the
favourite hunting ground for the PR people of Monsanto. Most of the
media people stationed there complied with unthinkingly reproducing
in their papers what was supplied to them.
A story appeared
in The Indian Express from Bathinda on November 8, 2001, that begin
with There is a variety of cotton that can fight off bollworm,
has no apparent side-effects and has cleared trials. It goes by the
name of Bt Cotton, and the Government doesn't want it.
for Bt Cotton, K.S. Chawla had declared as early as November 17,
2003 in The Tribune. Bt cotton is not being released in the Punjab
circle, comprising Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, while the cotton growers
of these states are hankering after it, it claimed.
On November 21 last
year K.S. Chawla again wrote, Punjab Agricultural University scientists
have sought early official release of Bt cotton varieties. The
story that followed quoted only Dr G.S. Chahal, Additional Director
Research, Punjab Agricultural University, known for his vociferous support
In a story published
on May 15, 2003, K.S. Chawla quoted the vice chancellor of PAU as cautioning
cotton growers in Punjab against propaganda of unscrupulous seed
traders who may sell spurious seed under the name of Bt. Cotton.
On August 12, 2003
he returned to quote Dr Chahal regarding the possibilities of
the adverse effects of cotton cultivation due to what he called delayed
recommendation of Bt cotton in Punjab.
April 23, 2003,
Chawla had already announced the tested varieties would be released
for general cultivation in Punjab from next year.
The list goes on.
is a freelance journalist working with an organisation Media Artists
with Punjab as its area of operation and Editor of Punjab Panorama,
a journal brought out by Media Artists
contact no. 098155