Even the crows don’t touch GM corn anymore...

For the last two years or so, all the crows in the Defence Colony-Jangpura flyover area absolutely refuse to even touch the corn spread out on the roadside for birds by people, while the pigeons continue to gobble them up. One does not see squirrels nearby either—but the crows stand out by their steadfast refusal to touch the corn
For a couple of years now, I have observed, along with the people who spread corn and other grains, both coarse as well as otherwise, by way of birdseed on the Defence Colony-Jangpura flyover in New Delhi, that the crows have stopped eating corn when spread. They used to go for it, along with other grains, but now wait for the more expensive ‘jowar’ (millet, sorghum) or ‘bajra’ (pearl millet).
Crows are supposed to be extremely intelligent creatures, and for years I have been laying out water in assorted bowls for them as well as for other birds and creatures, as a result of which they tend to let me get quite close before shying away. Theory is that a few generations of crows in the neighbourhood are now comfortable with my presence, and some will let me come within a metre if I don’t make sudden moves and keep my arms very visible.
Very rarely, I have also been successful, especially during the summers, in getting them to pick up pieces of biscuit or ‘roti’ from my hands. Of late, however, they appear to lose interest in the biscuits and take the rotis away, to dip them in water and then eat them. They’ve also become more aggressive with attacking smaller birds at the water baths.
However, for the last two years or so, all the crows in the neighbourhood absolutely refuse to even touch the corn spread out on the roadside for birds by people, while the pigeons continue to gobble them up. One does not see squirrels nearby either—but the crows stand out by their steadfast refusal to touch the corn. This is being repeated for effect—because crows used to be the biggest pests in corn fields at one time.
This is very amazing, because crows are natural scavengers, and would usually eat almost anything. It is not as though they are over-fed or selective—drop any other kind of waste food, and they will go for it with great gusto. But a single phone call to a friend who is a farmer, and plants Monsanto’s “DEKALB” brand seeds, re-confirms that the crows don’t disturb his fields anymore either.
And here’s the latest on why the crows may not be eating genetically modified (GM) corn any more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/12/monsantos-gmo-corn-linked_n_420365.html
Not a very recent article, it has been around for a while, but gains importance again in this context. Please take a close look at this photo, and see how the crows are simply not going anywhere near the corn spread on the pavement: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vm2827/6580715503/in/photostream
Look closely, and you will see the crows lined up on the vertical wire just centimetres away from the corn, but steadfastly refusing to eat it. While the pigeons gobble away.
Please come to the Defence Colony/Jangpura flyover in Delhi, any morning, and take a look. And then let us know—should we be worried, if even the crows won't eat it?

(Veeresh Malik started and sold a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing. He is also involved actively in helping small and midsize family-run businesses re-invent themselves. Mr Malik had a career in the Merchant Navy which he left in 1983, has qualifications in ship-broking and chartering, a love for travel, and an active participation in print and electronic media as an alternate core competency, all these and more.)

Pawan Duggirala
1 decade ago
Nice observation.Liked reading the arguments below even more.This time, when I sign off and go home,I will have to avoid vegetables that look too good. Not that, I see them too often.

Pawan Duggirala
1 decade ago
Crows cant make a living in DELHI

too much SCAM from DELHI
they dont even care for CROWS to make a living (funny side of the story)
Proloy Coomar Pramanik
1 decade ago
Have you attempted spreading out non-GM corn on the same stretch of road, and seen that the crows in that locality do agree to partake of them? Without this necessary control experiment, the conclusions drawn are unwarranted and specious. If the experiment shows that the crows refused to eat even regular, non genetically modified corn, then I don't know how one could assert that crows have stopped eating GM corn specifically.

And was any ill-effect observed on the pigeons who did eat the GM corn? Did the pigeons die off...? Or are we suggesting that whether GM crops are good or not be decided based on the relative brain sizes of pigeons and crows? Whatever the crows do agree to eat, could that be considered safe for human consumption too?
Replied to Proloy Coomar Pramanik comment 1 decade ago
Dear Proloy Coomar Pramanik, thank you for writing in, and grateful.

I have simply placed my observations, surveyed various competing hypotheses, and then applied what is called Occam's Razor (lex parsimonae), which is a valid as well as time-tested and scientific option that has survived the ages available to all of us.

But you have asked a valid question on GM corn vs non-GM corn in Delhi. Please guide me on where I can purchase normal non-GM corn in Delhi's wholesale markets, lately, and oblige.

The way I see it, this is our shared courtyard, and we are all eligible to draw any conclusions basis skill-sets and parameters drawn. Ergo, QED, and good luck - and once again, thank you for writing in.

Proloy Coomar Pramanik
Replied to malQ comment 1 decade ago
If this version of Occam's Razor were to be considered "scientific", then a falling feather would certainly be experiencing a smaller gravitational acceleration due to the earth than a falling stone. Because, it's quite evident to everyone, be they of whatever persuasions, that a feather does indeed reach the ground much later than a stone. This razor is outstandingly parsimonious with respect to truth and a spirit of scientific inquiry.

This is without prejudice to the merits of your reported observations. I welcome them. But, conclusions drawn without cross-examination or objective scrutiny lie in the domain of impulsive oversimplification, not simplicity.

Unfortunately, I live in Hyderabad, not Delhi. So my knowledge of the Delhi wholesale markets is not something I can be called proud of. But, if indeed the population of Delhi is only getting to eat GM corn now (which even crows refuse to eat), and if I could assume that this has been the case for some length of time, then I'd actually feel a degree of confidence that GM may not be all that bad. I know you've already provided links that suggest that the harm from GM may be long-term (like, say, slow arsenic poisoning). But there is something called as Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF). When hard-disks are said to have an MTBF of 50000 hrs of operation, it's not that any such hard disk has actually been operated for 50000 hrs and seen to survive. What's done is to spin about 500 disks continuously for 100+ hrs each, all together, and finding that not a single disk failed within 100 hrs (and proportionately further). While this approach may not look absolutely convincing, it's surprisingly significant statistically, especially after applying some coefficients, and matches closely with the manufacturers' warranty replacement experience over the actual lifetime of the disks in operation. Therefore, if say 10000 Delhi-ites have been consuming consuming GM corn for one year, and say, 250 of them developed some weirdo symptoms lately, then the MTBF because of GM corn could be roughly considered to be 40 years (assuming that nothing other than GM corn was instrumental in the appearance of the symptoms).

We are all free to hold our own opinions and preferences. I respect that. But it isn't the same as freedom to draw any conclusion as one pleases. Conclusions, in so far as they are meant to represent an assertion of a fact (if not irrefutable, at least a strongly evidenced one), have to be based on common agreement. However, to fully respect people's right to exercise choice, I strongly advocate very explicit marking of such products as GM ones. This should be statutory. Those who wish to take the risks (for reasons best understood by them) can buy and consume, those who don't wish, can refrain. (The pigeons and crows, unfortunately, were denied that right to informed choice -- but looks like they figured that out regardless. ;-) ).
Replied to Proloy Coomar Pramanik comment 1 decade ago
Dear Proloy ji,

1) A feather that has been tightly compressed will fall at the same speed as a stone, so that takes care of that - and a stone that is thrown in the water may well not fall as it skips a few times over the surface while the feather floats on. Occam's Razor is capable of responding to all these aspects . . .

2) Scientific enquiry has for decades been trying to prove that smoking is not the cause for an assortment of ailments. Let us take it with a pinch of Sodium Chloride.

3) The crows are not eating corn on the pavements of Delhi anymore. The crows are not attacking corn fields anymore. The crows are probably the smartest of all birds and in terms of survival skills match the cockroach.

4) My form of scientific inquisitiveness teaches me to look beyond the lab and numbers. It is like being on a ship at sea or an airplane in the air, and I qualified for both in my days - we have the best of equipment, but still, nothing beats looking out of the window, cockpit, bridge wings, smell the air, check the sea-state and traffic around, see what the clouds are up to, gaze at the horizon and state of the world, to get a wider more holistic understanding of what is really happening out there.


Having said that, I truly appreciate your writing in, and hope you shall carry out your own enquiries too and let me know more observations from your end?

thank you!!

Proloy Coomar Pramanik
Replied to malq comment 1 decade ago
Dear VM,

Thank you for your responses.

I do appreciate your writing this article in public interest, and trying to make people aware of the dangers of genetically modified corn (and, I'd assume, by extension other GM food). It's indeed a matter of serious concern if crows have started a wholesale boycott of GM corn, have refused to eat GM corn spread on the streets, and have also stopped attacking GM corn fields (though I'm not quite sure why one should be inclined to invite such an attack). That the crows have done this, but not the pigeons, is indeed testimony to the superior intellectual capacity of the crows (inferred either by applying Occam's Razor, or by looking out of the window, or by a combination of both). I'm not too sure how the crows actually got to know that it was genetically modified, given that even humans cannot distinguish without being told. (I'm getting to develop an inferiority complex as regards the crows now...)

Since the color and texture seem to be no different, for the crows to be able to detect it from a distance, and boycott it, it must be an olfactory signature that's characteristic of the GM corn. I'll have to do some research on whether crows do have noses.

Anyway, admire your scientific inquisitiveness, across land, water and sea. It's good to apply Occam's Razor principles through open windows, and also through television screens, movie theatres, coffee-table magazines and placards. One needs to keep one's scientific eyes open to all of these.

There is just a minor point of detail regarding your article. The Monsanto DEKALB corn variety that you've mentioned is NOT genetically modified.

The GM varieties usually go by the name BT. This variety is biotechnologically modified to contain a gene from soil bacteria called Bacillus Thuringiensis, which produces a toxic protein that kills plant pathogens. As far as I know, the only permitted GM crop in India is Bt-Cotton, which now has extensive adoption, and has revolutionized production. The first food crop that was proposed was Bt-Brinjal, but that was shelved after the huge brouhaha over it last year. The government has not yet permitted Bt-Corn production in India (or any other food crop), though Monsanto does sell it legally in several other countries including the US and China. So, if you believe the Delhi supermarkets are flooded with GM corn (which even crows are refusing to eat), it deserves a representation to the government, if not a PIL, because such GM corn has to be completely contraband, in view of such production being yet to be permitted in India.

As per the Monsanto India website, the DEKALB corn varieties (17 of them sold in India) are regular hybridized corn. Which means they have been produced by selective crossing of natural corn varieties themselves. They do not contain foreign genes (like the Bt gene) implanted from foreign organisms. So, calling them GM corn is completely misleading. Of course, all hybridization is a genetic procedure, but then so is all sexual reproduction!


Hybridization is a hundreds of years old procedure that hasn't exactly been a Monsanto invention. It has been practised in India too since ages, including in gaon-dehaat, and is the bread-and-butter stuff of most agricultural universities and institutes today, whose day-to-day research consists in evolving newer, higher-yielding, disease-resistant hybrid varieties. I'd be interested in knowing whether the crows only have objection to Monsanto DEKALB hybrids, or whether they have equal dislike for homebred, say, PUSA or SONARA corn too. If just DEKALB, I'd be quite inspired by the crows' patriotism!

The DEKALB hybrids too have been in existence since the 1910s, which is when the eponymous company started (which was taken over by Monsanto in the late 1990s). The biotech procedures of gene-injection are only a few years' old invention.

Monsanto has plans of introducing Bt-Corn in India in 2012-13 (of course, subject to governmental approval) as per the following article:

Unfortunately, I've not had any first-hand experience in scientifically investigating the effect of GM foods -- it's not my domain of expertise. When I do manage to get my hands on some Bt-Brinjal or such, I'll try to leave them on the pavement, and report back looking over my window on whether rats are showing inclination to eat it or are giving it a thumbs down. Till then, perhaps the following paper on the effects of GM crops on mammalian health may be of use, for those interested:


Here is another survey on the issue:


Regarding whether or not feathers need to be 'tightly compressed' to experience the same gravitational acceleration as a stone, is elementary high-school physics. But that is beside the point since you're not making any claims that basic physics is needed to be known for scientific inquiries.

In the meantime, let's raise a toast to the crows, who have stopped eating GM corn even before it has been introduced in India. Such proactive boycotts and protestations will go a long way in furthering the public cause in India. Btw, did you verify that the "more expensive" jowar and bajra that the crows now seem to have upgraded their diet to, aren't themselves Monsanto crops too? Last heard, Monsanto does sell high-yield hybrid varieties of those seeds too in India.

It just piques me a little bit that nowadays scientific articles seem to get published more in politico-economic journals, and sometimes Cineblitz, Gladrags, and Paanchjanya, than in actual science journals. Modern democracy at work!

Certain M.S. Swaminathans and Norman Borlaugs have spoken in favour of GM food crops, but then in what way can they be a match for the intelligence of crows? After all, what they write are not scarecrow articles.




Replied to Proloy Coomar Pramanik comment 1 decade ago
Dear Proloy,

Thank you for your well-researched response which has certainly added to the knowledge base of readers here as well as taught me how much I have to learn about descriptive writing.

So let us go through the known facts again, please:-

1) Crows have stopped eating corn in India, on street or in the fields, and they are currently unable to decipher the labels. However, as we all know, labels and documentation on global foodgrain and seed movements can certainly be misleading - as I learnt when working on ships bringing PL-480 grains including corn into India in the '70s from the US. You may recall a certain pesticide scandal of that era in that context which was hushed up, but then, those were the days when such things weren't unknown, and we Indians have always somehow accepted that we should promote a sort of Macaulay and Muller ingrained inferiority complex on our own judgements on what is or is not good for us. The crows, being unaware of such finer points of syntax, grammar and law, and not having been subjected to aforesaid Macaulay/Muller, may have taken this decision despite all documentation - but they have.

2) This corn may or may not be GM, or it may or may not be hybrid, or it may or may not be mis-labelled. But, as I stated before, the crows have stopped eating corn. This may not satisfy the level of scientific provenance that the world is pushed towards accepting - but then, we might as well also look at the kind of gyaan coming our way from the same dehaats which gave us hybrids - otherwise carrots would not have been orange, right, and where would our eyes have been then?

3) The global import and export of corn has brought India into a position as a nett importer of corn, from zero in 2000, to over a million tonnes last year. This comes from all over the world, and as on date there is no way to decide its provenance, on whether it is GM, hybrid or from assorted dehaats worldwide. The level of international MNCs like Monsanto using a certain vagueness in labelling and documentation can best be seen, for example, on the way Dairy Milk by Cadbury Kraft is actually not a chocolate in India. But I digress.

4) As for the brand name DEKALB, and its usage for GM corn as well as hybrid/GM as well as hybrid/?? is well documented - and well discussed.

I would like to continue, but am watching a fairly relevant movie called FAIR GAME at the moment, and shall gladly complete this in a while.

KB Patil
Replied to malQ comment 1 decade ago
The polite way in which Mr. Pramanik and Mr. Malik have engaged in a debate is to be commended. Generally, I have seen such debates marked by name calling and intemperate remarks.

Corporates like Monsanto have too often shown their love of lucre at the cost of lives. The most glaring example (atleast for Indians) is Union Carbide. Even the western world has it's fair share of tragedies. The Minimata disease (for details http://www1.american.edu/ted/MINAMATA.HT...), the thalidomide babies (details http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thalidomide) show that it is better to be safe than sorry.
John Carroll
Replied to Proloy Coomar Pramanik comment 9 years ago
This is hardly a new phenomenon. Take some butter, some suet and some lard and make a ball with some "Country Crock" trans-fat fake butter and you will see that, even in the dead of winter, birds will pick the natural fat clean and leave the portion of Country Crock right on the ground...
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