Category Archives: Agriculture

From Mad Cow Disease to Agrochemicals: Time to Put Public Need Ahead of Private Greed

The first part of this article documenting the development of BSE in Britain was written by Rosemary Mason and is taken from her new report. It is fully referenced and cites sources and evidence in support of her claims. Additional reporting for the second part of the article was provided by Colin Todhunter.

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Mad cow disease is a fatal epidemic neurological syndrome created by the agricultural industry, farmers and food processors.

In 1987, an epidemic of a fatal neurological disease in cows suddenly appeared in Britain. Cows became uncoordinated, staggered around, collapsed and finally died. The disease was called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) because there were holes in the brain where prion protein cells became folded, had linked up and then split to cover the surface of the brain. There were more than 1,300 cases of BSE spread over 6,000 farms.

For at least 40 years, infected slaughterhouse carcasses had been rendered down and recycled into animal feed. Not wanting to waste anything, pressure cooking of the spinal cord and brain produced a sludge known as ‘mechanically-recovered meat’. The regulators allowed it to go into meat products. This processed meat and bone meal was turned into a coarse powder and was fed back to cows. Cows are herbivores and this way they were turned into cannibals.

By 1990, BSE had spread into 14 other species, including cats. Politicians, the food industry, media, the government, farmers and vets said BSE couldn’t jump species to affect humans and it was safe to eat beef. Advertisements were taken out in newspapers and politicians were shown eating steak tartare in the Houses of Parliament to boost the sales of beef. At an agricultural show, the Agriculture Minister John Gummer was seen offering a beef burger to his daughter.

In 1995, the first human under 40 contracted what became known as new variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (new vCJD, related to BSE and belonging to the same family of diseases). By March 1996, there were five cases and the government was forced to alter its advice. Kevin Maguire, a journalist, was lunching with someone in Westminster who said that scientists had discovered that ‘mad cow disease’ could jump species and had been found in humans.

Maguire said that it was a scandal in an effort to get every penny out of a carcass. His newspaper, The Mirror, was the first to break the news to the public, saying that humans could catch mad cow disease from eating infected beef and that the government was about to do a U-turn by finally accepting that the brain wasting disease may have been passed to people. This U-turn by ministers – who for 10 years had insisted it was impossible – was a devastating indictment of the British government and probably one of the worst examples of government since the war.

During 1996, 10 more cases of new vCJD in people under 40 were diagnosed. All died within 13 months and there was no cure. In 2005, the authorities thought the disease was over, but in 2009, a case was discovered in a 30-year-old man. Another case appeared four years later. Today, people are living with uncertainty, not knowing if they are incubating new vCJD.

The parents of children who had died from new vCJD said “We trusted government advice.” Each Christmas one mother had sent an e-mail to those she thought responsible with a photograph of her daughter and said your actions have deprived me of my daughter. Another parent from Scotland who had lost his 30-year-old son to the disease had tattooed on his arm the name of his son followed by: ‘murdered by greed and corruption’.

In the documentary ‘Mad Cow Disease: The Great British Beef Scandal’, first broadcast on BBC 2 on 11 July 2019, Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London, said:

New Variant CJD is not a natural disease. It is an epidemic we have created. If the agricultural industry hadn’t decided to feed cattle with meat and bone meal, if the food processors hadn’t decided to scrape every last bit of flesh off the carcass, and if MAFF [govt ministry] hadn’t prioritised farming over food safety, all of the people who died would still be alive. This is the tragedy.

The following is taken from a publication compiled by the European Environment Agency, ‘Late lessons from early warnings’ (Patrick van Zwanenberg and Erik Millstone):

Many of the UK policy makers who were directly responsible for taking policy decisions on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) prior to March 1996 claim that, at the time, their approach exemplified the application of an ultra-precautionary approach and of rigorous science-based policy-making. We argue that these claims are not convincing because government policies were not genuinely precautionary and did not properly take into account the implications of the available scientific evidence.

… It is, however, essential to appreciate that UK public policy making was handicapped by a fundamental tension. The department responsible for dealing with BSE has been the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), and it was expected simultaneously to promote the economic interests of farmers and the food industry whilst also protecting public health from food-borne hazards. The evidence cited here suggests that because MAFF was expected simultaneously to meet two contradictory objectives it failed to meet either.

The UK introduced legislation banning the use of contaminated ruminant protein for use in ruminant feed in 1988. By then, a million cows had entered the food chain. At the height of the scandal, British beef had lost around 60% of sales. Prior to the ban, microbiologist Stephen Dealler challenged the government’s claim over safety and was moved from his research lab.

However, Britain continued to export meat and bone meal to Europe. The European Commission asked the UK to introduce an export ban on feedstuffs, but the UK refused to do so. It was not until 1996 that the EC banned these exports.

From mad cows to GMOs and pesticides

Where glyphosate (and other agrochemicals) and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are concerned, we again see commercial interests being prioritised and the public interest sidelined. Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup was originally sprayed on crops in 1980 and on grazing land in 1985 (recommended by Monsanto scientists). GMOs entered the commercial market in the US in the 1990s. As shown in the report mentioned in the introduction to this article, the authorities did not heed the advice of key scientists and went ahead regardless.

Readers are urged to consult the report as it documents the duplicity that underpins the agrochemical/GMO agritech sector and describes how science and regulatory processes have been corrupted. In Britain, the government is saying that GM crops and Roundup are safe and intends to introduce these crops after Brexit.

Of course, heavily compromised industry-funded scientists and other lobbyists say the science is decided on GM and that glyphosate is safe. They say anyone who rejects this is anti-science and doesn’t care about world hunger because we can only feed the world by rolling out more GM crops and more agrochemicals. But this is little more than propaganda and emotional blackmail, part of an industry strategy designed to tug at the heartstrings of public opinion and sway the policy agenda.

We need to turn to author Andre Leu who has outlined major deficiencies in pesticide safety protocols. He offers a more realistic appraisal:

… it is a gross misrepresentation to say that any of the current published toxicology studies can be used to say that any of the thousands of pesticide products used in the world do not cause cancer or other diseases… there is no evidence that pesticides are safe.

Washington State University researchers recently found a variety of diseases and other health problems in the second- and third-generation offspring of rats exposed to glyphosate. In the first study of its kind, the researchers saw descendants of exposed rats developing prostate, kidney and ovarian diseases, obesity and birth abnormalities. The study’s authors say:

The ability of glyphosate and other environmental toxicants to impact our future generations needs to be considered and is potentially as important as the direct exposure toxicology done today for risk assessment.

And where GMOs are concerned, they are little more than a flawed technological panacea that ignores the structural causes of malnutrition and hunger.

An increasing number of prominent reports and voices are now arguing that we do not need toxic chemicals to feed the world and that if we maintain our economic and agricultural course we are headed for disaster. FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva recently called for healthier and more sustainable food systems and said agroecology can contribute to such a transformation.

Moreover, the new report from the UN High Level Panel of Food Experts on Food Security and Nutrition — Agroecological and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition — argues that food systems are at a crossroads and profound transformation is needed. Many high-profile reports and figures have been saying similar things for years.

It is therefore disconcerting that the British government seems oblivious to the need of the hour and remains intent on pursuing an obsolete neoliberal, water-polluting, soil degrading, health destroying, unsustainable model of food and agriculture at the behest of corporate interests.

Mad cow disease did not just suddenly appear from nowhere. It was created by humans, particularly the farming industry and food processors. The British government kept on maintaining that eating beef was perfectly safe. A scientist who spoke out was silenced. The interests of the beef industry were paramount.

Evidence suggests there could soon be a second wave of cases affecting humans. It will be among people with a genetic predisposition towards longer incubation periods than the first patients had. This genetic predisposition is shared by half the British population. Some 177 people (as of June 2014) have contracted and died of vCJD.

That number is dwarfed when it comes to the spiralling rates of disease and illness that we now see among the British population. This too hasn’t happened for no reason. We see clear trends between the rising use of agrochemicals (especially glyphosate) and rising rates of morbidity, while much of the media and policy makers remain silent on this connection.

From the ‘great British beef scandal’ of the 1980s to ongoing pesticide issue, the profit motives of rich corporations continue to trump the public interest.

The Flawed Food Dependency

The most destructive object on the planet… is the human jawbone.1

Whether by sight, taste, touch, feel, or smell, it’s only too obvious that “food” affects every aspect of life and is key to crucial life-supporting ecosystems. Day-in, day-out, every living thing needs food.

Perchance, ecosystems cease to function, the human jawbone would plop open, and remain plopped open, gaping and, over time, morph into a zombie-like end game of people preying upon people.

All of which serves as a prelude to Julian Cribb’s brilliance as an established and celebrated science writer, recipient of 32 journalism awards, and author of ten books, with a new “first-rate” book, now available via pre-order: Food or War.

It is an important book:

The world faces the greatest threat to global food supply in all of human history… There has never been a situation faced by the entire human population at one time to compare with today’s.2

Cribb takes readers on a wild ride through human history with jolts along the way: “Most people who die in wars perish from hunger.”

Food or War is not only a page-turner with Cribb’s clear, precise prose, but as an added bonus, it’s jam-packed, like a textbook, with significant facts and statistics about the biosphere. It belongs in the hands of people who deeply care about the deteriorating condition of our poisoned planet. Incidentally, based upon very compelling evidence, yes, it is poisoned.

Not surprisingly, food is the primary dynamic behind human conflict, “Since the dawn of civilization – and not merely its lack. Also its abundance.” The great civilizations arose in fertile river valleys like the Nile where water and food were plentiful. (pps 4-5)

But… “Time and again, the fertile regions of the world have spewed out great armies, bent on conquest, plunder and often, on the acquisition of fresh lands in which their people can flourish. But first they must displace or absorb the conquered.”(pps 4-5)

Nevertheless, of more immediate concern, Cribb poses a question that silently haunts our (collectively) reckless unenlightened naïve Age of Anthropocene: “Is Agriculture Sustainable?”

It’s the single biggest question of the century and requires careful study. Cribb’s explanation elicits pause:

The basics of the global food system, which today feeds seven to eight billion people, were developed by the ancient Romans. Their model of mono-crop, broadacre export agriculture has been taken up worldwide.3

Continuing… Food is the product of an “Iron Age system” yet super-charged and propped up by the addition of recent high-intensity technologies, chiefly chemistry, fossil fuels, and biotechnology. And, knowing there are devils lurking in the details, fatal flaws are exposed, by the bucketful, especially in light of an already crippled, hobbling biosphere, as Cribb’s says: “The overheated, over-populated, over-exploited planet.”

Unquestionably, the Iron Age system is increasingly looking shaky, especially in the face of not only an over-populated biosphere, but that same biosphere is undergoing earth-shattering changes that scare people and force eco migrants to flee across assorted landscapes; e.g., erratic climate behavior, loss of precious soil, water scarcity, and chemical pollution, as well as the onset of collapsing ecosystems for the first time in human history as, for example, the loss of 75% of flying insects from Germany’s skies. What’s responsible for killing flying insects, en masse, in over 60 “protected” nature reserves?

Recently, a key study, EAT-Lancet Commission/2019, issued a “highly authoritative warning” to the world at large: Even though food systems can potentially nurture health and also support environmental sustainability, “they are currently threatening both.”

That’s a mouth-dropping warning that’s difficult to fathom, especially with knowledge that the flawed food system is not properly analyzed for public consumption in the first instance. Food or War corrects that egregious failure to “level with the public,” and it does so in wonderful style, even when dealing with thorny issues.

The modern food system is broken and needs fixing. It endangers human health and destroys ecosystems. As such, agricultural experts claim “business as usual” for farming is no longer a viable option. Rather, it must, must, must change: “We must take a more ecological approach.”4

Along those lines, Cribb quotes Dr. Jane Goodall, the world-famous anthropologist:

Someday we shall look back on this dark era of agriculture and shake our heads. How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poisons?5

Unbelievably, more than 2,000 and 4,000 different chemicals and pesticides are used in farming, and more than 2,500 chemicals are intentionally added to foods to modify flavor, color, stability, texture, and costs. Many, if not most, of these chemicals over the decades have not been properly analyzed for toxicity to humans.

In the final analysis, modern industrial chemical farming cheats Mother Nature. But, she’s almost gone anyway!

As a result, the scientific literature is crammed full (thousands) of telling studies, “with mounting evidence,” that chemicals are implicated in a global pandemic of (1) cancers, (2) brain damage, (3) sexual dysfunction, (4) allergies, (5) hormonal and developmental disorders on a level of which humanity has never experienced.

Little wonder that human health care costs skyrocket. Given enough time, the costs volcanically erupt based upon years and years of pent-up accumulation of chemicals lodged in human tissue, finally becoming one more statistic of our peculiar modern-day human tragedies, crippling illnesses and over-populated care centers.

Most American families have at least one family member confined to a care center or under 24/7 home care.

Additionally, nearly every American family has someone with cancer and/or sexual dysfunction, as both ailments stand out, if only because billions upon billions are spent annually on each ailment; in fact, record amounts of money spent for bizarre treatments and powerful drugs to live long enough for adolescent intimacy, all over again.

Meanwhile, male sperm count (fertility) throughout much of the developed world has fallen off a cliff, in free-fall, down by as much as 60%, which may be a blessing in disguise. But that’s another subject for another time. Still, why the steep falloff, which is accelerating, by the decade?

Ipso facto, the unthinkable could happen (but, on second thought, not so unthinkable) as chemically-induced men run out of ammunition, no more fire power.

The Earth is now subject to a universal chemical bombardment, a macro-scale version of the destruction of the forests and rice paddies of Vietnam in the US ‘Agent Orange’ campaign of the 1970s. The job of most farm chemicals is to kill something — whether it is an insect or a plant — and their dispersal through the global environment ensures that many non-target species, including people, birds, frogs, honeybees, and soil micro-organisms, are killed, injured or have their reproductive neurological and developmental systems damaged.6

Today’s version of industrial farming with its monocroping produces vast fields of green for as far as the eye can see in perfectly aligned slick rows embedded in “sick soils” where microbial activity is so low that nutritional value is negligible, lacking minerals, vitamins, proteins, and, worse yet, with low antioxidant qualities because there are not enough microbes in the soil to release them.

That’s the antithesis of how humans, over the centuries, evolved as strong and powerful creatures, eventually growing into a force more powerful than the biosphere itself, forever thereafter dominate as the infamous “human footprint.”

While not solely responsible, the modern industrial food system is, nonetheless, a major contributor to a universal web of toxicity… that hardly existed three generations ago and previously, did not exist at all for the entirety of human history… Farm chemicals… have become a significant threat to life on the planet.7

It’s the greatest paradox of all time.

Postscript:

If the pathway to war, government failure, or the collapse of a civilization can be thought of as a series of dominoes, collapsing one upon another, the fall of the food domino and the climate domino lie very early in the sequence and have irresistible impact and consequences.

— Julian Cribb

  1. Julian Cribb, Food or War, Cambridge University Press, 2019) p. 177.
  2. p. 62.
  3. p. 86.
  4. p. 88.
  5. p. 93.
  6. p. 100.
  7. p. 99.

Encouraging Illegal Planting of Bt Brinjal in India

In February 2010, the Indian government placed an indefinite moratorium on the commercial release of Bt brinjal. Prior to this decision, numerous independent scientific experts from India and abroad had pointed out safety concerns regarding Bt (insecticidal) brinjal based on data and reports in the biosafety dossier that Mahyco, the crop developer, had submitted to the regulators.

The then Minister of the Ministry of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh had instituted a unique four-month scientific enquiry and public hearings. His decision to reject the commercialisation of Bt brinjal was supported by advice from renowned international scientists. Their collective appraisals demonstrated serious environmental and biosafety concerns, which included issues regarding the toxicity of Bt proteins resulting from their mode of action on the human gut system.

Jairam Ramesh pronounced a moratorium on Bt brinjal in February 2010 founded on what he called “a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach.” The moratorium has not been lifted.

In India, five high-level reports have advised against the adoption of GM crops. Appointed by the Supreme Court, the ‘Technical Expert Committee (TEC) Final Report’ (2013) was scathing about the prevailing regulatory system and highlighted its inadequacies and serious inherent conflicts of interest. The TEC recommended a 10-year moratorium on the commercial release of all GM crops.

Prominent campaigner Aruna Rodrigues says:

In his summing-up of the unsustainability of Bt brinjal and of its implications if introduced, one of the experts involved, Professor Andow, said it posed several unique challenges because the likelihood of resistance evolving quickly is high. He added that without any management of resistance evolution, Bt brinjal is projected to fail in 4-12 years.

And that is what we have witnessed with Bt cotton. The reason why this crop made it into India’s fields in the first place was due to ‘approval by contamination’. India’s first and only legal GM crop cultivation – Bt cotton – was discovered in 2001 growing on thousands of hectares in Gujarat. In March 2002, it was approved for commercial cultivation.

The pro-GMO lobby, having lost the debate on the need for and efficacy of GM, has again resorted to such tactics. It appears nothing has been learnt from the experience of an ill-thought-out experiment with Bt cotton that put many poor farmers in a corporate noose for the sake of Monsanto profit.

Pro-GMO lobby encourages illegal planting

India is signatory to the international agreement on the regulation of modern biotechnology – the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol. The country also has science-based legal regulations for modern biotech.

The moratorium on Bt brinjal occurred because science won out against a regulatory process that lacked competency, possessed endemic conflicts of interest and demonstrated a lack of expertise in GMO risk assessment protocols, including food safety assessment and the assessment of environmental impacts.

As we have seen with the relentless push to get GM mustard commercialised, the problems persist. Through numerous submissions to court, Aruna Rodrigues has described how GM mustard is being undemocratically forced through with flawed tests (or no tests) and a lack of public scrutiny: in effect, there has been unremitting scientific fraud and outright regulatory delinquency. Moreover, this crop is also herbicide-tolerant (HT), which, as stated by the TEC, is wholly inappropriate for India with its small biodiverse, multi-cropping farms.

Despite this, on 10 June 2019 a bunch of pro-GMO activists stage-managed an event designed to gain maximum publicity by illegally planting Bt brinjal seeds at Akola in the state of Maharashtra. A press release issued to coincide with this stunt stated that the event was an act of ‘Satyagraha’ (the notion of nonviolent resistance used by Gandhi against British rule).

One of the instigators has even argued that Bt brinjal is ‘organic’, involves almost pesticide-free cultivation, probably uses less fertiliser and is entirely natural. Moreover, the argument put forward is that if organic farming means growing plants without the support of safe and healthy modern technology and this is imposed by ‘eco-imperialists’, the poor would starve to death.

These unscientific claims and well-worn industry-inspired soundbites must be seen for what they are: political posturing unsupported by evidence to try to sway the policy agenda in favour of GM. The actions in Akola display a contempt for government acting in the wider public interest.

Drawing on previous peer-reviewed evidence, a 2018 paper in the journal Current Science concluded that Bt crops and HT crops are unsustainable and globally have not decreased the need for toxic chemical pesticides, the reason for these GM crops in the first place. Furthermore, GM crop yields are at least no better than that of non-GM crops, despite the constant industry claims that only GM can feed the world.

Each genetic modification poses unique risks which cannot be controlled or predicted; as a technology, GM is thus fundamentally flawed. But a food crop isn’t just eaten. There are effects on the environment too. Even a cursory examination of the US cropping system is enough to prove that the legacy of pesticidal GM crops has fuelled the epidemics of herbicide- resistant weeds and emerging insecticide resistant pests.

GMOs are not substantially equivalent to their non-GMO counterparts and there is no consensus on GM safety or efficacy among major institutions, despite what lobbyists claim. Genetic engineering is fundamentally different from natural plant breeding and presents various risks. This is recognised in laws and international guidelines on GM worldwide The claims and the research and ’big list’ studies (claiming safety) forwarded by the pro-GMO lobby do not stand up to scrutiny.

We need to look at GM objectively because plenty of evidence indicates it poses risks or is not beneficial and that non-GM alternatives are a better option. Moreover, many things that scientists are trying to achieve with GMOs have already been surpassed by means of conventional breeding.

Wider implications of GM agriculture

If people are genuinely concerned with ‘feeding the world’, they should acknowledge and challenge a global food regime which results in a billion people with insufficient food for their daily needs. As stated by Eric Holt-Giménez and his colleagues in the 2009 book, Food rebellions! Crisis and the hunger for justice:

The construction of the corporate food regime began in the 1960s with the Green Revolution that spread the high-external input, industrial model of agricultural production to the Global South. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s structural adjustment policies (SAPs) followed in the 1980s, privatizing state agencies, removing barriers to northern capital flows, and dumping subsidized grain into the Global South. The free trade agreements of the 1990s and the World Trade Organization enshrined SAPs within international treaties. The cumulative result was massive peasant displacement, the consolidation of the global agri-food oligopolies and a shift in the global flow of food: While developing countries produced a billion-dollar yearly surplus in the 1970s, by 2004, they were importing US$ 11 billion a year.

Instead, we get calls for more corporate freedom, GMOs and deregulation that coincide with constant attacks on proven agroecolocical methods which have no need for proprietary pesticides or GMOs and thus represent a challenge to industry profits. India has more than enough food to feed its 1.3 billion-plus population and, given appropriate support, can draw on its own indigenous agroecological know-how built from hundreds (even thousands) of years’ experience to continue to do so.

But pro-GMO lobbyists adopt a haughty mindset and assert the world can genetically modify itself to food security. At the same time, they attempt to marginalise safe and sustainable approaches to farming and sideline important political, cultural, ethical and economic factors.

The consequences of GM do not just relate to unpredictable changes in the DNA, proteins and biochemical composition of the resulting GM crop. Introducing GM can involve disrupting cultures and knowledge systems and farmers’ relationships with their environments: changing the fabric of rural societies. We just need to look at the adverse social and environmental consequences of the Green Revolution as outlined by Bhaskar Save in his 2006 open letter to officials. Even here, if we just focus on the Green Revolution in India in terms of production alone, the benefits are questionable to say the least.

Like the Green Revolution, GM is not just about ‘the science’; if anything, it is about solidifying the processes described by Holtz Gimenez et al above and a certain type of farming and the subsequent impacts on local economies and relations within rural communities. Before the Green Revolution, for instance, agriculturalists relied on mutual relationships within their villages. After the introduction of Green Revolution technology, they found themselves solely dealing with banks and agribusiness, thus weakening relationships within villages (Vandana Shiva discussed these impacts at length in her 1993 book, The Violence of the Green Revolution).

If India or the world is to continue to feed itself sustainably, we must look away from the industrial yield-output paradigm and the corporations driving it and adopt a more localised agroecological systems approach to food and agriculture that accounts for many different factors, including local food security and food sovereignty, local calorific production, cropping patterns and diverse nutrition production per acre, water table stability, climate resilience, good soil structure and the ability to cope with evolving pests and disease pressures.

Prominent critics of GM respond

In response to the recent activities in Akola, Aruna Rodrigues issued a legal notice to initiate proceedings against those responsible for the deliberate planting of illegal Bt Brinjal.

Vandana Shiva issued a press release, which can be read on the site seed freedom. She cites numerous peer-reviewed studies to rebut the claims made in support of GM and notes the outright hypocrisy of industry lobbyists who are laying claim to Gandhi’s legacy. She argues that that ‘Satyagraha’ is being degraded and misused: the planting of illegal Bt brinjal is a crime that violates India’s Biodiversity Act.

Of course, one of the most vocal claims of lobbyists is that GM technology offers farmers choice and that ‘activists’ are denying choice.

Writing on the Times of India website, Kavitha Kuruganti says if choices are to be left to farmers entirely, why do we need regulation of chemical pesticides either? What about the choices of farmers impinging upon consumer health and environmental sustainability? What about the choice of one set of farmers (let us say the ones who are keen on adopting GM crops) impinging upon the choice of neighbouring organic farmers whose crop will inevitably get contaminated? She argues there is nothing like absolute freedom without concomitant duties and responsibilities and that applies to technologies too.

Choice operates on another level as well. It is easy to manufacture ‘choice’. In 2018, there were reports of HT cotton illegally growing in India. A 2017 journal paper reported that cotton farmers have been encouraged to change their ploughing practices, which has led to more weeds being left in their fields. It is suggested that the outcome in terms of yields (or farmer profit) is arguably no better than before. However, it coincides with the appearance of an increasing supply (and farmer demand) for HT cotton seeds.

The authors observe:

The challenge for agrocapital is how to break the dependence on double-lining and ox-weeding to open the door to herbicide-based management…. how could farmers be pushed onto an herbicide-intensive path?

They show how farmers are indeed being nudged onto such a path and also note the potential market for herbicide growth alone in India is huge: sales could reach USD 800 million this year with scope for even greater expansion. From cotton to soybean, little wonder we see the appearance of HT seeds in the country.

And as for ‘choice’, what choice is there when non-GM seeds disappear and farmers only have GM seeds to ‘choose’ from, which is what happened with GM cotton. Real informed choice is the result of tried and tested environmental learning and outcomes. Then you decide which option is best. However, where Bt cotton was concerned this process gave way to ‘social learning’ – you follow the rest. This, coupled with Monsanto’s PR campaigns within villages and in the national media, did not leave a great deal of space for ‘free choice’.

The ‘free’ market ideologues behind events in Akola talk about ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’ and helping the farmer. But the real agenda is to open-up India to GM and get farmers hooked on a corporate money-spinning GMO seed-chemical treadmill.

From Glyphosate to Front Groups: Fraud, Deception and Toxic Tactics

Environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason has just written to the Editor-in-Chief of the British Medical Journal and the British Medical Association Council Chairman, Chaand Nagpaul.

Her purpose is to not only draw attention to the impact of biocides, not least that of glyphosate, on health and the environment but also to bring attention to the corruption that allows this to continue.

Along with her letter, she enclosed a 13-page document. Readers can access the fully referenced document here: European Chemicals Agency classifies glyphosate as a substance that causes serious eye damage. It is worth reading in full to appreciate the conflicts of interest and the corruption that has led to the rise in certain illnesses and the destruction of the natural environment.

By way of a brief summary, the key points raised by Dr Mason and her claims include the following.

  • The European Chemicals Agency classifies glyphosate as a substance that causes serious eye damage. There has been a massive increase in the use of glyphosate in recent years. An increase in cataracts has been verified by epidemiological studies in England and by a 2016 WHO report.
  • There are shockingly high levels of weed killer in UK breakfast cereals. After testing these cereals at the Health Research Institute in Iowa, Dr Fagan, director of the centre, said: “These results are consistently concerning. The levels consumed in a single daily helping of any one of these cereals, even the one with the lowest level of contamination, is sufficient to put the person’s glyphosate levels above the levels that cause fatty liver disease in rats (and likely in people).”
  • The amount of glyphosate in tap water in South Wales has increased tenfold in a very short period.
  • Glyphosate is largely responsible for the destruction of biodiversity and an increase in the prevalence of many serious health conditions.
  • There are massive conflicts of interest throughout various agencies in the EU that ensure harmful agrochemicals like glyphosate come to market and remain there.
  • In fact, a global industry has emerged to give ‘advice’ on biocides regulation. This results in regulatory bodies effectively working to further the commercial interests of the pesticide industry.
  • The European Food Safety Authority sanctioned increased maximum pesticide residue levels (MRL) at the request of industry (Monsanto in this case, to 100 times the previously authorised MRL).
  • The Washington-based International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is used by corporate backers to counter public health policies. Its members have occupied key positions on EU and UN regulatory panels. It is, however, an industry lobby group that masquerades as a scientific health charity. The ILSI describes its mission as “pursuing objectivity, clarity and reproducibility” to “benefit the public good”. But researchers from the University of Cambridge, Bocconi University in Milan, and the US Right to Know campaign assessed over 17,000 pages of documents under US freedom of information laws to present evidence of influence peddling.
  • ILSI Vice-President, Prof Alan Boobis, is currently the Chairman of the UK Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (CoT) (2015-2021). He was directly responsible for authorising chemicals such as glyphosate, chlorothalonil, clothianidin and chlorpyrifos that are destroying human health and creating a crisis in biodiversity. His group and others have authorised glyphosate repeatedly. He and David Coggon, the previous Chairman of CoT (2008-2015), were appointed as experts on Science Advice for Policy by European Academies (SAPEA), a group allied with the agrochemical industry and is fighting for higher pesticide exposure.
  • Jean-Claude Juncker the President of the European Commission who, against a petition from more than 1.5 million European citizens, re-authorised glyphosate in December 2017 for a further five years. He set up the Science Advisory Mechanism, aiming to put industry-friendly personnel on various committees.

There are many more claims presented by Rosemary Mason in her report. But the take-home point is that the reality of the agrochemical industry is masked by well-funded public relations machinery (which includes bodies like the UK’s Science Media Centre). The industry also subverts official agencies and regulatory bodies and supports prolific lobby organisations and (‘public scientists’) which masquerade as objective institutions.

When such organisations or figures are exposed, they frequently cry foul and attempt to portray any exposure of their lack of integrity as constituting an attack on science itself; no doubt many readers will be familiar with the ‘anti-science’ epithet.

The industry resorts to such measures as it knows its products are harmful and cannot stand up to proper public scrutiny. And under a system of sustainable agroecology that can produce plentiful, nutritious food, it also knows its markets would disappear.

Motivated by fraud and fear of the truth emerging, it therefore tries to persuade politicians and the public that the world would starve without it and its products. It co-opts agencies and officials by various means and embeds itself within the policy agenda, both nationally and internationally.

And now, with increasingly saturated markets in the West, from Africa to India the industry seeks to colonise new regions and countries where it attempts to roll out its business model. Whether, say, through trade agreements, the WTO or strings-attached loans, this again involves capturing the policy ground and then trapping farmers on a financially lucrative chemical (-GMO)-treadmill, regardless of the consequences for farmers’ livelihoods, food, public health and the environment.

Bavarians Vote to Stop Extinction

The world is in the throes of an extinction crisis unlike any throughout paleoclimate history, aka: the Sixth Mass Extinction, keeping in mind that the normal “background rate” for extinction is 1-to-5 species gone per year. But, what if it’s five (5) every 24 hours?

Answer: It’s a lot more than that.

The current worldwide extinction rate is more than 1,000xs the normal background rate, or, in the simplest of terms, instead of 1-to-5 species extinct per year, it’s alarmingly somewhere between 25-to-250 (maybe more) species of plant, insect, bird, and mammal extinct every 24 hours.

In fact, crucial resources for sustaining life have already been severely weakened, as demonstrated in studies of mass loss of arthropods, and other key elements of biodiversity happening all over the planet from Australia to pristine European nature preserves to uninhabited tropical rainforests, as the Anthropocene (the current geological age during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment) haphazardly destroys and poisons life-sourcing ecosystems.

For example, ecosystems are negatively impacted far and wide by chemicals to such an extreme that chemical toxins are now found in Mt. Everest’s snow at 29,000 feet as well as in deep-water squid at 3,800 feet, proving that what’s ordinarily considered “hard to believe” is, in fact, “almost beyond comprehension.”

Meanwhile, the world has started taking notice, and it’s Germany where the Age of Enlightenment has fortunately been resurrected by enlightened skeptics, known as “liberals” back in the 18th century, challenging current societal values and exposing false truths.

This quasi-enlightenment surge is happening in Bavaria, Germany’s most conservative of 16 federal states, led by the Christian Social Union (“CSU”) ever since 1946, as this powerful bastion of political conservatism responds to grassroots citizen campaigns and a recently passed referendum to “Protect Nature,” primarily via major changes in industrial farming.

As one conservationist remarked upon passage of the referendum: “The times when it was enough for politicians to pay lip service to biodiversity are over.”1

Henceforth, Bavarians will implement a sweeping set of conservation measures, including: (1) Setting aside 13% of state land in special ecological zones, inclusive of ecosystem infrastructure of hedgerows, meadows, and wetlands  (2) Organic agriculture must be practiced in 1/3 of Bavarian farmland, as well as cutting out fertilizers on all state-owned farms to reduce nitrogen pollution (3) Protection of wetlands, waterways, and threatened insect populations by eliminating insecticides as much as possible.

Already, three more German states are considering biodiversity referendums, as well as inquiries from Sweden and Australian.  Another proposal would designate large portions of EU agricultural subsidies diverted for protection of biodiversity.

The motivation behind Bavarian citizens reacting so strongly in the face of opposition by the ruling political establishment was awareness that native landscapes had turned monotonous, overly developed, and strikingly “empty of life.”

Another motivating catalyst was the landmark 2017 Krefeld Insect Study conducted by German researchers, as well as citizen scientists, that clearly delineated a mouth-dropping 75% loss in biomass of flying insects in a large number of nature reserves over a period of 25 years.

Krefeld Entomological Society, est. 1905 in Germany, trapped insect samples in 63 nature preserves. They consistently found massive declines of up to 80% in every kind of habitat sampled.

For example, data for hoverflies, a pollinator often mistaken for a bee, registered 17,291 trapped in a reserve in 1989. Twenty-five years later at the same location, it was 2,737 or a whopping loss of 84%! That number is well beyond classification for an extinction event. Thereafter, the only question going forward is whether species comeback is possible.

Today’s Sixth Extinction is so prevalent that scientists prefer to designate species loss as “functional extinctions,” which means functionally extinct animals and plants are still present but no longer prevalent enough to affect an ecosystem; e.g., a shortage of insect pollinators in the Maoxian Valley in China forced farmers to hire human workers at $19 per worker/per day to replace bees. Each worker pollinated 5-to-10 apple trees by hand per day.

Scientists from Bavaria’s leading research institutions are hopeful that their referendum will trigger a massive worldwide reduction in the use of insecticides and herbicides in agriculture, which should, in turn, boost insect populations.

According to the renowned Harvard entomologist E.O. Wilson, without insects and other land-based arthropods, humanity would last all of a few months.

It’s been nearly six decades since Rachel Carson wrote:

The more I learned about the use of pesticides, the more appalled I became. I realized that here was the material for a book (Silent Spring). What I discovered was that everything which meant most to me as a naturalist was being threatened.

Well, finally, Bavarians discovered that fact 60 years later (whew!)

  1. Christian Schwägerl, “In Conservative Bavaria, Citizens Force Bold Action on Protecting Nature”, Yale Environment 360, April 25, 2019.

As the 2019 Indian General Election Takes Place, Are the Nation’s Farmers Being Dealt a Knock-Out Blow?

In 1830, British colonial administrator Lord Metcalfe said India’s villages were little republics that had nearly everything they could want for within themselves. India’s ability to endure derived from these communities:

Dynasty after dynasty tumbles down but the village community remains the same. It is in a high degree conducive to their happiness, and to the enjoyment of a great portion of freedom and independence.

Metcalfe was acutely aware that to subjugate India, this capacity to ‘endure’ had to be broken. Since gaining independence from the British, India’s rulers have only further served to undermine village India’s vibrancy. But now a potential death knell for rural India and its villages is underway.

There is a plan for the future of India and most of its current farmers don’t have a role in it. Successive administrations have been making farming financially unviable with the aim of moving farmers out of agriculture and into the cities to work in construction, manufacturing or the service sector, despite these sectors not creating anything like the number of jobs required.

The aim is to displace the existing labour-intensive system of food and agriculture with one dominated by a few transnational corporate agribusiness concerns which will then control the sector.  Agriculture is to be wholly commercialised with large-scale, mechanised (monocrop) enterprises replacing family-run farms that help sustain hundreds of millions of rural livelihoods, while feeding the urban masses.

So why would anyone set out to deliberately run down what is effectively a productive system of agriculture that feeds people, sustains livelihoods and produces sufficient buffer stocks?

Part of the answer comes down to India being the largest recipient of World Bank loans in the history of that institution and acting on its ‘advice’. Part of it results from the neoliberal-driven US-Indo Knowledge Agreement on Agriculture. Either way, it means India’s rulers are facilitating the needs of (Western) capitalism and all it entails: a system based on endless profit growth, crises of overproduction and market saturation and a need to constantly seek out and expand into new, untapped (foreign) markets to maintain profitability.

And as a market for proprietary seeds, chemical inputs and agricultural technology and machinery, India is vast. The potential market for herbicide growth alone, for instance, is huge: sales could reach USD 800 million this year with scope for even greater expansion. And with restrictions on GMOs in place in Europe and elsewhere, India is again regarded as a massive potential market.

A few years ago, influential ‘global communications, stakeholder engagement and business strategy’ company APCO Worldwide stated that India’s resilience in weathering the global downturn and financial crisis has made governments, policy-makers, economists, corporate houses and fund managers believe that the country can play a significant role in the recovery of the global economy in the years ahead.

Decoded, this means corporations moving into regions and nations and displacing indigenous systems of production and consumption. And where agriculture is concerned, this predatory capitalism hides behind emotive, seemingly altruistic rhetoric about ‘helping farmers’ and the need to ‘feed a burgeoning population’ (regardless of the fact this is exactly what India’s farmers have been doing).

Prime Minister Modi is certainly on board. He has proudly stated that India is now one of the most ‘business friendly’ countries in the world. What he really means is that India is in compliance with World Bank directives on ‘Ease of Doing Business’ and ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’: facilitating environment-destroying policies and forcing working people to take part in a race to the bottom based on ‘free’ market fundamentalism.

None of this is a recipe for national sovereignty, let alone food security. Renowned agronomist MS Swaminathan recently stated:

Independent foreign policy is only possible with food security. Therefore, food has more than just eating implications. It protects national sovereignty, national rights and national prestige.

Despite such warnings, India’s agrarian base is being uprooted. In a recent interview, Director of Food First Eric Holt-Giménez notes that when Cargill, Bayer or Syngenta say they need to expand the use of GMOs or the other latest technologies so they can feed the world, they’re really talking about capturing the market that’s still controlled by peasant agriculture. To get those markets they first must knock out the peasantry.

Looking at the Industrial Revolution in England, historian Michael Perelman has detailed the processes that whipped the English peasantry into a workforce ‘willing’ to accept factory wage labour. Peasants were forced to leave their land and go to work for below-subsistence wages in dangerous factories being set up by a new, rich class of industrial capitalists. Perelman describes the policies through which peasants were forced out of agriculture, not least by the barring of access to common land. A largely self-reliant population was starved of its productive means.

Today, we hear seemingly benign terms like ‘foreign direct investment’, ‘ease of doing business’, making India ‘business friendly’ or ‘enabling the business of agriculture’. But behind the World Bank/corporate-inspired rhetoric lies the hard-nosed approach of modern-day capitalism that is no less brutal for Indian farmers than early industrial capitalism was for English peasants.

GDP growth has been fuelled on the back of cheap food and the subsequent impoverishment of farmers: the gap between farmers’ income and the rest of the population has widened enormously. While underperforming corporations receive massive handouts and have loans written off, the lack of a secure income, exposure to international market prices and cheap imports contribute to farmers’ misery.

Farmers must also contend with profiteering seed and chemical companies, corrupt middlemen, high interest loans and debt and the overall impacts of the corporate-inspired US-Indo Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture that flung open the sector to US agribusiness. Up to 400,000 farmers have taken their lives since 1997 and millions more are experiencing economic distress.

As independent cultivators are bankrupted, the aim is that land will eventually be amalgamated to facilitate large-scale industrial cultivation. Those who remain in farming will be absorbed into corporate supply chains and squeezed as they work on contracts dictated by large agribusiness and chain retailers.

Even the scaling up of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) across Andhra Pradesh is a cause for concern. For instance, the involvement of BNP Paribas Bank (which has funded numerous questionable projects, including in India), the Gates Foundation (with its staunch commitment to GMOs and gene editing technology and its cosy relationship with global agribusiness) and the potential illegal accessing of agrobiodiversity and traditional knowledge by foreign entities does not bode well.

There are also serious concerns about farmer’ interests being ignored. In effect, ZBNF seems to be focused more on global export chains, the further commodification of agriculture, facilitating consumerism and the involvement of unethical international finance. Even here it seems Western interests are being handed the reins.

If British rule, the impacts of the Green Revolution and neglect and mismanagement of the countryside since independence all served to undermine rural India and its inhabitants, Western agricapital now seems intent on delivering a knock-out blow. The timely reminder as voting in the 2019 Indian General Election gets underway is that certain leading politicians have been all too willing to facilitate the process.

2019 Indian General Election: Manifesto Demand for Indefinite Moratorium on GMOs

A new ‘Political Manifesto’ has demanded an indefinite moratorium on the environmental release of GMOs in India pending independent and rigorous biosafety risk assessment and regulation.

The documents states:

GMO contamination of our seeds, our foundation seed stock, will change the structure of our food at the molecular level. Any harm or toxicity that there is will remain, without the possibility of remediation or reversibility.

Signed by high-profile organisations and individuals, including farmer’s organisation Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, Aruna Rodrigues (Lead Petitioner: Supreme Court GMO PIL), Kavitha Kuruganti and Vandana Shiva as well as dozens of co-signatories, the manifesto demands the introduction of a biosafety protection act, which would prioritise India’s biosafety and biodiversity and implement the GMO moratorium, while preventing the import of any GMOs into India.

The manifesto also calls for a ban on the herbicides glyphosate and glufosinate as well as for national consultations and a parliamentary debate to formulate policy to establish and incentivize agroecological systems of farming as a means of avoiding ecosystems collapse. In addition, the document wants a pledge that farmers’ traditional knowledge and inherent seed freedom will remain secure and that there should be no patents on GMO seeds or plants.

The release of the manifesto coincides with the upcoming 2019 Indian general election, which begins in April.

The current Modi-led administration has presided over an accelerating push within official circles for GM agriculture. There has also been creeping illegal contamination of the nation’s food supply with GMOs. This might seem perplexing given that the ruling BJP stated in its last election manifesto: “GM foods will not be allowed without full scientific evaluation on the long-term effects on soil, production and biological impact on consumers.”  

Readers are urged to read the five-page ‘Political Manifesto Demand With Regard to GMOs/LMOs‘. It sets out clear and cogent arguments for the moratorium and contains the list of signatories.

Five high-level reports: no to GMOs

In India, five high-level reports have advised against the adoption of GM crops: the ‘Jairam Ramesh Report’ imposing an indefinite moratorium on Bt Brinjal (2010); the ‘Sopory Committee Report’ (2012); the ‘Parliamentary Standing Committee’ (PSC) Report on GM crops (2012); the ‘Technical Expert Committee (TEC) Final Report’ (2013); and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment and Forests (2017).

These reports conclude that GM crops are unsuitable for India and that existing proper biosafety and regulatory procedures are inadequate. Appointed by the Supreme Court, the TEC was scathing about the prevailing regulatory system and highlighted its inadequacies and serious inherent conflicts of interest. The TEC recommended a 10-year moratorium on the commercial release of GM crops. The PSC also arrived at similar conclusions.

However, the drive to get GM mustard commercialised (which would be India’s first officially-approved GM food crop) has been relentless. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has even pushed the process by giving it the nod, but the cultivation of GM mustard remains on hold in the Supreme Court due to a public interest litigation brought by lead petitioner Aruna Rodrigues.

Rodrigues argues that GM mustard is being undemocratically forced through with flawed tests (or no tests) and a lack of public scrutiny: in effect, there has been unremitting scientific fraud and outright regulatory delinquency. Moreover, this crop is also herbicide-tolerant (HT), which, as stated by the TEC, is wholly inappropriate for a country like India with its small biodiverse, multi-cropping farms.

GMOs in the food system

Despite official committees and reports advising against GMOs, they have already contaminated India’s food system. Back in 2005, for instance, biologist Pushpa Bhargava noted that unapproved varieties of several GM seeds were being sold to farmers. In 2008, Arun Shrivasatava wrote that illegal GM okra had been planted in India and poor farmers had been offered lucrative deals to plant ‘special seed’ of all sorts of vegetables.

In 2013, a group of scientists and NGOs protested in Kolkata and elsewhere against the introduction of transgenic brinjal in Bangladesh – a centre for origin and diversity of the vegetable – as it would give rise to contamination of the crop in India. In 2014, the West Bengal government said it had received information regarding “infiltration” of commercial seeds of GM Bt brinjal from Bangladesh.

In 2017, the illegal cultivation of a GM HT soybean was reported in Gujarat. Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, a national farmers organisation, claimed that Gujarat farmers had been cultivating the HT crop illegally. There are also reports of HT cotton (again illegally) growing in India. 

A study by the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment found that due to lax enforcement, a deeply flawed labelling system and corporate deception, Indian supermarkets are inundated with GM foods. The results show the large-scale illegal presence and sale of GM processed foods in the country.

All of this is prompting calls for probes into the workings of the GEAC and other official bodies which have been asleep at the wheel or deliberately looking the other way. The latter could be the case given that senior figures in India misguidedly regard GM seeds (and their associated chemical inputs) as key to ‘modernising’ Indian agriculture. 

Despite reasoned argument and debate against the cultivation of GM crops or the consumption of GM food in India, we are witnessing GMOs entering India anyhow. Rohit Parakh of India for Safe Food says that the government’s own data on the import of live seeds indicates that imports continue, including that of GM canola, GM sugar beet, GM papaya, GM squash and GM corn seeds (in addition to GM soybean) from countries such as the USA, with no approval from the GEAC.

In finishing let’s look at a warning from 10 years ago, when it was predicted that Bt brinjal would fail within 4-12 years if introduced in India. It seems that’s precisely what has happened to Bt cotton in the country. The last thing India needs is another ill thought out GMO experiment pushed through without proper independent assessments that consider health and environmental outcomes or the effects on farmers’ livelihoods and rural communities.

Indeed, a recent paper by Prof Andrew Paul Gutierrez concludes that extending implementation of GM technology to other crops in India will only mirror the disastrous implementation of Bt cotton, thereby tightening the economic noose on still more subsistence farmers for the sake of profits.

It is therefore a timely and much needed intervention by a coalition of groups and individuals to put forward a call for a moratorium on GMOs.

India’s Agrarian Crisis: Dismantling “Development”

In his 1978 book India MortgagedT.N. Reddy predicted the country would one day open all sectors to foreign direct investment and surrender economic sovereignty to imperialist powers.

Today, the US and Europe cling to a moribund form of capitalism and have used various mechanisms to bolster the system in the face of economic stagnation and massive inequalities: the raiding of public budgets, the expansion of credit to consumers and governments to sustain spending and consumption, financial speculation and increased militarism. Via ‘globalisation’, Western powers have also been on an unrelenting drive to plunder what they regard as ‘untapped markets’ in other areas of the globe.

Agricapital has been moving in on Indian food and agriculture for some time. But India is an agrarian-based country underpinned by smallholder agriculture and decentralised food processing. Foreign capital therefore first needs to displace the current model before bringing India’s food and agriculture sector under its control. And this is precisely what is happening.

Western agribusiness is shaping the ‘development’ agenda in India. Over 300,000 farmers have taken their lives since 1997 and many more are experiencing economic distress or have left farming as a result of debt, a shift to (GMO) cash crops and economic liberalisation.

Other sectors have not been immune to this bogus notion of development. Millions of people have been displaced to facilitate the needs of resource extraction industries, land grabs for Special Economic Zones, nuclear plants and other large-scale projects. And the full military backing of the state has been on hand to forcibly evict people, place them in camps and inflict human rights abuses on them.

To help open the nation to foreign capital, proponents of economic neoliberalism are fond of stating that ‘regulatory blockages’ must be removed. If particular ‘blockages’ stemming from legitimate protest, rights to land and dissent cannot be dealt with by peaceful means, other methods are used. And when increasing mass surveillance or widespread ideological attempts to discredit and smear does not secure compliance or dilute the power of protest, brute force is on hand.

India’s agrarian crisis

India is currently witnessing a headlong rush to facilitate (foreign) agricapital and the running down of the existing system of agriculture. Millions of small-scale and marginal farmers are suffering economic distress as the sector is deliberately made financially non-viable for them.

At the same time, the country’s spurt of GDP growth – the holy grail of ‘development’ – has largely been fueled on the back of cheap food and the subsequent impoverishment of farmers. The gap between their income and the rest of the population has widened enormously to the point where rural India consumes less calories per head of population than it did 40 years ago. Meanwhile, unlike farmers, corporations receive massive handouts and interest-free loans but have failed to spur job creation.

The plan is to displace the existing system of livelihood-sustaining smallholder agriculture with one dominated from seed to plate by transnational agribusiness and retail concerns. To facilitate this, independent cultivators are being bankrupted, land is to be amalgamated to facilitate large-scale industrial cultivation and remaining farmers will be absorbed into corporate supply chains and squeezed as they work on contracts, the terms of which will be dictated by large agribusiness and chain retailers.

US agribusiness corporations are spearheading the process, the very companies that fuel and thrive on a five-year US taxpayer-funded farm bill subsidy of around $500 billion. Their industrial model in the US is based on the overproduction of certain commodities often sold at prices below the cost of production and dumped on the rest of the world, thereby undermining farmers’ livelihoods and agriculture in other countries.

It is a model designed to facilitate the needs and profits of these corporations which belong to the agritech, agrochemicals, commodity trading, food processing and retail sectors. A model that can only survive thanks to taxpayer handouts and by subsidising the farmer who is squeezed at one end by seed and agrochemical manufacturers and at the other, by powerful retail interests. A model that can only function by externalising its massive health, environmental and social costs. And a model that only leads to the destruction of rural communities and jobs, degraded soil, less diverse and nutrient-deficient diets, polluted water, water shortages and poor health.

If we look at the US model, it serves the needs of agribusiness corporations and large-scale retailers, not farmers, the public nor the environment. So by bowing to their needs via World Bank directives and the US-Indo Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture, what is the future to be for India?

A mainly urbanised country reliant on an industrial agriculture and all it entails, including denutrified food, increasingly monolithic diets, the massive use of agrochemicals and food contaminated by hormones, steroids, antibiotics and a range of chemical additives. A country with spiralling rates of ill health, degraded soil, a collapse in the insect population, contaminated and depleted water supplies and a cartel of seed, chemical and food processing companies with ever-greater control over the global food production and supply chain.

But we don’t need a crystal ball to look into the future. Much of the above is already taking place, not least the destruction of rural communities, the impoverishment of the countryside and continuing urbanisation, which is itself causing problems for India’s crowded cities and eating up valuable agricultural land.

So why would India want to let the foxes guard the hen house? Why mimic the model of intensive, chemical-dependent agriculture of the US and be further incorporated into a corrupt US-dominated global food regime that undermines food security and food sovereignty? After all, numerous high-level reports have concluded that policies need to support more resilient, diverse, sustainable (smallholder) agroecological methods of farming and develop decentralised, locally-based food economies.

Yet the trend in India continues to move in the opposite direction towards industrial-scale agriculture and centralised chains for the benefit of Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and other transnational players.

The plan is to shift hundreds of millions from the countryside into the cities to serve as a cheap army of labour for offshored foreign companies, mirroring what China has become: a US colonial outpost for manufacturing that has boosted corporate profits at the expense of US jobs. In India, rural migrants are to become the new ‘serfs’ of the informal services and construction sectors or to be trained for low-level industrial jobs. Even here, however, India might have missed the boat as jobless ‘growth’ seems to have arrived as the effects of automation and artificial intelligence are eradicating the need for human labour across many sectors.

If we look at the various Western powers, to whom many of India’s top politicians look to in order to ‘modernise’ the country’s food and agriculture, their paths to economic prosperity occurred on the back of colonialism and imperialism. Do India’s politicians think this mindset has disappeared?

Fueled by capitalism’s compulsion to overproduce and then seek out new markets, the same mentality now lurks behind the neoliberal globalisation agenda: terms and policies like ‘foreign direct investment’, ‘ease of doing business’, making India ‘business friendly’ or ‘enabling the business of agriculture’ embody little more than the tenets of neoliberal fundamentalism wrapped in benign-sounding words. It boils down to one thing: Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and other transnational corporations will decide on what is to be eaten and how it is to be produced and processed.

Alternatives to development

Current policies seek to tie agriculture to an environmentally destructive, moribund system of capitalism. Practical solutions to the agrarian crisis must be based on sustainable agriculture which places the small farmer at the centre of policies: far-sighted and sustained policy initiatives centred on self-sufficiency, localisation, food sovereignty, regenerative agriculture and agroecology.

The scaling up of agroecological approaches should be a lynch pin of genuine rural development. Other measures involve implementing land reforms, correcting rigged trade, delinking from capitalist globalisation (capital controls) and managing foreign trade to suit smallholder farmers’ interests not those of foreign agricapital.

More generally, there is the need to recognise that genuine sustainable agriculture can only be achieved by challenging power relations, especially resisting the industrial model of agriculture being rolled out by powerful agribusiness corporations and the neoliberal policies that serve their interests.

What is required is an ‘alternative to development’ as post-development theorist Arturo Escobar explains:

Because seven decades after World War II, certain fundamentals have not changed. Global inequality remains severe, both between and within nations. Environmental devastation and human dislocation, driven by political as well as ecological factors, continues to worsen. These are symptoms of the failure of “development,” indicators that the intellectual and political post-development project remains an urgent task.

Looking at the situation in Latin America, Escobar says development strategies have centred on large-scale interventions, such as the expansion of oil palm plantations, mining, and large port development.

And it is similar in India: commodity monocropping; immiseration in the countryside; the appropriation of biodiversity, the means of subsistence for millions of rural dwellers; unnecessary and inappropriate environment-destroying, people-displacing infrastructure projects; and state-backed violence against the poorest and most marginalised sections of society.

These problems, says Escobar, are not the result of a lack of development but of ‘excessive development’. Escobar looks towards the worldviews of indigenous peoples and the inseparability and interdependence of humans and nature for solutions.

He is not alone. Writers Felix Padel and Malvika Gupta argue that adivasi (India’s indigenous peoples) economics may be the only hope for the future because India’s tribal cultures remain the antithesis of capitalism and industrialisation. Their age-old knowledge and value systems promote long-term sustainability through restraint in what is taken from nature. Their societies also emphasise equality and sharing rather than hierarchy and competition.

These principles must guide our actions regardless of where we live on the planet because what’s the alternative? A system driven by narcissism, domination, ego, anthropocentrism, speciesism and plunder. A system that is using up oil, water and other resources much faster than they can ever be regenerated. We have poisoned the rivers and oceans, destroyed natural habitats, driven wildlife species to (the edge of) extinction and have altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere to the point that runaway climate change seems more and more likely.

And, as we see all around us, the outcome is endless conflicts over fewer and fewer resources, while nuclear missiles hang over humanity’s head like a sword of Damocles.

 

A Dangerous Road: A New Technological Revolution in Food

Back in 1968 The Population Bomb, by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, created a sensation with its predictions of famine and Malthusian disaster. Ultimately their predictions were proven to be incorrect, at least in terms of the time-frame that the authors suggested. What the Ehrlichs had failed to take into account was the so-called Green Revolution in agriculture that had begun in the 1950s but was a long way from reaching its potential impact on food production. Technological innovation, through new methods, new crop varieties, the use of oil-powered machinery, artificial pesticides and fertilizers transformed farming across the world, particularly in developing countries where it had not been utilized before.

Greater efficiency in production meant that as the human population continued expanding the production of food supplies would also expand to meet and surpass the necessary levels to sustain the continued growth of humanity. This revolution in agriculture was hailed as a miraculous success, which is perhaps true in the sense that its rollout probably saved millions or even billions of people from death by starvation and diseases caused by malnutrition. Paul Ehrlich, himself, acknowledges that he was indeed wrong but still believes that his fundamental theory was correct and that we have merely deferred an inevitable disaster.

Some sixty years after the Green Revolution began we now understand that the effects of this dramatic change are not all positive. While it brought farmers from a way of working that had not changed fundamentally in hundreds and in some places thousands of years, to more efficient modern methods, it has also been highly destructive. Just as the automation of the Industrial Revolution caused unemployent and mass migration in Europe, the Green Revolution did the same thing in much of the developing world. Instead of being subsistence farmers in their ancestral villages many people find themselves making products in factories under horrific conditions that leave them little or no better off than previous generations.

Even if you choose to ignore the social implications of this transition, it is hard to ignore the catastrophic enviromental cost of the Green Revolution. The truth is that the success of this new agriculture did not come for free – it was a trade off between increased productivity and increased enviromental damage. In recent decades we have all become aware of the decimation of the planet – through burning fossil fuels, deforestation, pollution, desertification etc. Much of these problems are a direct result of the continual expansion of modern agriculture. Brazil has been cited as a great success story of the Green Revolution but at what cost? The reality of the situation is catastrophic rainforest loss, biodiversity loss and destruction of the soil to produce cheap crops for export. Part of this process has been to make the land less acidic by putting tens of millions of tonnes of lime on Brazillian fields, resulting in Brazil being the world’s second largest exporter of soya beans. Formerly biodiverse land is also used to raise cattle, but in both cases the land eventually ends up depleted and reliant on continual artificial fertilization.

The evidence of the last sixty years should be more than enough to demonstrate that we need a rethink about agriculture and how it can be made sustainable in a world of finite resources. Less than half of the world’s population now lives in rural areas and about one third of the world’s working people work in agriculture, although numbers in both these areas are likely drop in coming decades. We are fast approaching another technological revolution in food production and signs of it are already in evidence. If one travels through rural France the landscape is dramatically changed from that of a few decades, due to the proliferation of mega-farms. In Australia some of the farms owned by one or a few people are of staggering proportions, running into many millions of acres. In China you’ll find the two largest individual farms in the world, comprising over 33 million acres between them.

A new report in the UK, The Future of Food 2040, gives an optimistic although cautious look at what farming might look like in two decades from now, it offers some sobering thoughts about how industrial agriculture will look to deal with the challenges ahead. The overriding theme of the report is that of technological innovation to continue to produce food in the quality and quantity needed to keep up with future demands.

A major part of what is predicted for the future of agriculture is automation through the introduction of robotics, drones and AI to improve efficiency. A nod is given to ideas such as increased recyling, less waste, renewable energy and pollution control, but ultimately this is a vision of the high-tech farm that will operate almost by itself – with few or no people.

This report applies to the UK but with the increasing spread of large-scale agricultural concerns, similar technological rollout is likely to happen all over the world. There is increasing integration between food technology, global biochemical industry (note Monsanto and Bayer have merged) and the agricultural sector. Large scale farming operations will be able to implement these innovations at an early stage making them more competitive and leaving the small producers even further behind. Some of the technology discussed is quite startling – nanoencapsulation (coating tiny particles), genome editing in breeding, 3d printing of food and even GPS collars on livestock to monitor and control their location using ‘negative electric stimuli capability’, more commonly known as electric shocks.

Robotics is likely to play a big part in this new technological Green Revolution – driverless, autonomous farm vehicles; drones to monitor and spray crops; robotic fruit pickers and autonomous animal or crop care bots, all of which will be monitored and controlled through sophisticated AI software. The report suggests that the global market for robots in agriculture will vastly expand, from $3 billion in 2015 to well over $70 billion by 2024. Clearly, automation although in its infancy, is already here and set to expand in an explosive way.

One might argue that all of this is a good thing and that, as it did from the 1950s, enable us to feed an ever increasing human population. One can say that technology, in itself, is not a bad thing and that we should not be scared by the increasing visibility of robotics in society; after all we’ve been using tools since we lived in caves. However, one must look at who is really going to benefit from this creeping industrialization and automation of food, our most basic necessity.

For those that can afford to invest in these new technological innovations it is likely to be a real ‘game changer’. Just as the arrival of a new tractor transformed the horse-powered farm, this technology will transform productivity and profitability. However, this does not really take into account the human element of the equation. Farmers usually live on or next to their farms, they need to support a household and probably a number of family members as well as themselves. With the increasing consolidation of small farms into larger ones – either by big farmers or corporate farming interests, the mega-farm will be avail of these innovations while the small farmer may not. The mega-farm will no longer need significant staff levels, perhaps only a manager who understands software as well as he/she does farming.

Already one can see a trend of industrial food producers and supermarkets becoming increasingly involved in agriculture, if this trend continues the traditional farmer could become a rare sight. In twenty years from now the majority of farms may be gigantic but with far fewer or even no people physically present. One must ask if this vision of the future is about better practices, productivity and good food or is it about eliminating the troublesome costs of human labour and human error in order to maximize profits? Will the consumer truly benefit from these predicted changes or will this mean even less transparency in an industry that already makes great efforts to hide unethical practices?

Technology has the ability to be an incredible and transformative boon to how we live and can play a vital role in solving our environmental problems in the decades ahead. Unfortunately, if the past is anything to go by, it will lead to consolidation of already too powerful industrial interests, unemployment, environmental depletion and increased profits into fewer and fewer pockets. Now is the time for us to look at where this is going and demand that governments do not allow this to evolve unchecked. If commercialization of such life-changing technology occurs without careful and decisive oversight, it could have dangerous implications for human society and the future of the planet itself.

A Dangerous Road: A New Technological Revolution in Food

Back in 1968 The Population Bomb, by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, created a sensation with its predictions of famine and Malthusian disaster. Ultimately their predictions were proven to be incorrect, at least in terms of the time-frame that the authors suggested. What the Ehrlichs had failed to take into account was the so-called Green Revolution in agriculture that had begun in the 1950s but was a long way from reaching its potential impact on food production. Technological innovation, through new methods, new crop varieties, the use of oil-powered machinery, artificial pesticides and fertilizers transformed farming across the world, particularly in developing countries where it had not been utilized before.

Greater efficiency in production meant that as the human population continued expanding the production of food supplies would also expand to meet and surpass the necessary levels to sustain the continued growth of humanity. This revolution in agriculture was hailed as a miraculous success, which is perhaps true in the sense that its rollout probably saved millions or even billions of people from death by starvation and diseases caused by malnutrition. Paul Ehrlich, himself, acknowledges that he was indeed wrong but still believes that his fundamental theory was correct and that we have merely deferred an inevitable disaster.

Some sixty years after the Green Revolution began we now understand that the effects of this dramatic change are not all positive. While it brought farmers from a way of working that had not changed fundamentally in hundreds and in some places thousands of years, to more efficient modern methods, it has also been highly destructive. Just as the automation of the Industrial Revolution caused unemployent and mass migration in Europe, the Green Revolution did the same thing in much of the developing world. Instead of being subsistence farmers in their ancestral villages many people find themselves making products in factories under horrific conditions that leave them little or no better off than previous generations.

Even if you choose to ignore the social implications of this transition, it is hard to ignore the catastrophic enviromental cost of the Green Revolution. The truth is that the success of this new agriculture did not come for free – it was a trade off between increased productivity and increased enviromental damage. In recent decades we have all become aware of the decimation of the planet – through burning fossil fuels, deforestation, pollution, desertification etc. Much of these problems are a direct result of the continual expansion of modern agriculture. Brazil has been cited as a great success story of the Green Revolution but at what cost? The reality of the situation is catastrophic rainforest loss, biodiversity loss and destruction of the soil to produce cheap crops for export. Part of this process has been to make the land less acidic by putting tens of millions of tonnes of lime on Brazillian fields, resulting in Brazil being the world’s second largest exporter of soya beans. Formerly biodiverse land is also used to raise cattle, but in both cases the land eventually ends up depleted and reliant on continual artificial fertilization.

The evidence of the last sixty years should be more than enough to demonstrate that we need a rethink about agriculture and how it can be made sustainable in a world of finite resources. Less than half of the world’s population now lives in rural areas and about one third of the world’s working people work in agriculture, although numbers in both these areas are likely drop in coming decades. We are fast approaching another technological revolution in food production and signs of it are already in evidence. If one travels through rural France the landscape is dramatically changed from that of a few decades, due to the proliferation of mega-farms. In Australia some of the farms owned by one or a few people are of staggering proportions, running into many millions of acres. In China you’ll find the two largest individual farms in the world, comprising over 33 million acres between them.

A new report in the UK, The Future of Food 2040, gives an optimistic although cautious look at what farming might look like in two decades from now, it offers some sobering thoughts about how industrial agriculture will look to deal with the challenges ahead. The overriding theme of the report is that of technological innovation to continue to produce food in the quality and quantity needed to keep up with future demands.

A major part of what is predicted for the future of agriculture is automation through the introduction of robotics, drones and AI to improve efficiency. A nod is given to ideas such as increased recyling, less waste, renewable energy and pollution control, but ultimately this is a vision of the high-tech farm that will operate almost by itself – with few or no people.

This report applies to the UK but with the increasing spread of large-scale agricultural concerns, similar technological rollout is likely to happen all over the world. There is increasing integration between food technology, global biochemical industry (note Monsanto and Bayer have merged) and the agricultural sector. Large scale farming operations will be able to implement these innovations at an early stage making them more competitive and leaving the small producers even further behind. Some of the technology discussed is quite startling – nanoencapsulation (coating tiny particles), genome editing in breeding, 3d printing of food and even GPS collars on livestock to monitor and control their location using ‘negative electric stimuli capability’, more commonly known as electric shocks.

Robotics is likely to play a big part in this new technological Green Revolution – driverless, autonomous farm vehicles; drones to monitor and spray crops; robotic fruit pickers and autonomous animal or crop care bots, all of which will be monitored and controlled through sophisticated AI software. The report suggests that the global market for robots in agriculture will vastly expand, from $3 billion in 2015 to well over $70 billion by 2024. Clearly, automation although in its infancy, is already here and set to expand in an explosive way.

One might argue that all of this is a good thing and that, as it did from the 1950s, enable us to feed an ever increasing human population. One can say that technology, in itself, is not a bad thing and that we should not be scared by the increasing visibility of robotics in society; after all we’ve been using tools since we lived in caves. However, one must look at who is really going to benefit from this creeping industrialization and automation of food, our most basic necessity.

For those that can afford to invest in these new technological innovations it is likely to be a real ‘game changer’. Just as the arrival of a new tractor transformed the horse-powered farm, this technology will transform productivity and profitability. However, this does not really take into account the human element of the equation. Farmers usually live on or next to their farms, they need to support a household and probably a number of family members as well as themselves. With the increasing consolidation of small farms into larger ones – either by big farmers or corporate farming interests, the mega-farm will be avail of these innovations while the small farmer may not. The mega-farm will no longer need significant staff levels, perhaps only a manager who understands software as well as he/she does farming.

Already one can see a trend of industrial food producers and supermarkets becoming increasingly involved in agriculture, if this trend continues the traditional farmer could become a rare sight. In twenty years from now the majority of farms may be gigantic but with far fewer or even no people physically present. One must ask if this vision of the future is about better practices, productivity and good food or is it about eliminating the troublesome costs of human labour and human error in order to maximize profits? Will the consumer truly benefit from these predicted changes or will this mean even less transparency in an industry that already makes great efforts to hide unethical practices?

Technology has the ability to be an incredible and transformative boon to how we live and can play a vital role in solving our environmental problems in the decades ahead. Unfortunately, if the past is anything to go by, it will lead to consolidation of already too powerful industrial interests, unemployment, environmental depletion and increased profits into fewer and fewer pockets. Now is the time for us to look at where this is going and demand that governments do not allow this to evolve unchecked. If commercialization of such life-changing technology occurs without careful and decisive oversight, it could have dangerous implications for human society and the future of the planet itself.