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A Unique Expose

Sukumar Muraleedharan

By MarieMonique Robin
Tulika Books, New Delhi, 2010, pp xii + 372, Rs 675.00


Corporate history affords severalcase studies of companies changing and reinventing themselves over time, acquiring a contemporary shape and form simply not foretold in their original genetic code. Mutations in product profile are a part of corporate evolution. But few companies manage to retain the unmutated gene of corporate criminality through all transformations of product profile. This book by a highly regarded French journalist is precisely that kind of a case study. The story of Monsanto that MarieMonique Robin unfolds is of a company whose scientific and technological career has been so deeply scarred by felony and ethical violations that it is by most criteria, unique. What is it about Monsanto that makes it a serial offender What impels it to push the frontiers of research with the singleminded intent of multiplying profit What makes it evade all prescribed safeguards in its rush to the marketand persist with hazardous products despite the human costs. The chronicle that Robin unfolds is compelling, persuasive and deeply alarming. It leaves no room for even the most voluble champions of corporate free enterprise to make a case of unfair treatment. The problem in fact is the opposite: of public safety becoming a victim of untrammelled corporate profiteering, of oversight bodies unable to maintain a distance from the companies they regulate and becoming, in effect, accomplices in criminality. The Monsanto website proudly blazons a corporate commitment to world farmers. On a futuristic note, Monsanto proclaims its commitment to helping world farmers meet the food needs of the nine billion people who will populate the planet by midcentury. Sustaining this mass of humanity, it estimates, would require more food production in the next forty years than in all the last 10,000 years. If the identity of the company were to be summed up, its chosen words indeed, would simply be that it is all about farmers. In one of the later chapters of a book which sets a new standard in socially responsible and committed reporting on matters of great scientific complexity, Robin describes her encounter with the epidemic of farm suicides in India. Behind the story of farm suicides, which has been told in fits and spurts by the Indian media, lurks a reality which lends it an added poignancy. For the most part, the farmers opting out are not those who customarily inhabit the desolate fringes of subsistence. Indeed, they invariably come from the middle strata ...

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