Category Archives: Agrochemicals

From Cotton to Brinjal: Fraudulent GMO Project in India Sustained by Deception

Insecticidal Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton is the first and only GM (genetically modified) crop that has been approved in India. It has been cultivated in the country for more than 20 years. In a formal statement to the Supreme Court of India, the Indian government has asserted that hybrid Bt cotton is an outstanding success. It therefore argues that Bt cotton is a template for the introduction of GM food crops.

However, over the last week, two important webinars took place that challenged the government’s stance. The first was on Bt cotton and involved a panel of internationally renowned scientists who conclusively debunked the myth of Bt cotton success in India. The webinar, organised by the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and Jatan, focused on an evidence-based evaluation of 18 years of approved Bt cotton cultivation in India.

The second webinar discussed the case of Bt brinjal, which the country’s apex regulatory body, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), has brought to the brink of commercialisation. The webinar highlighted deep-seated problems with regulatory processes in India and outlined how the GEAC is dogged by secrecy, conflicts of interest and (scientific) fraud: participants outlined how the GEAC has been colluding with crop developers and seed companies to drive GM crops into agriculture.

Bt cotton failure

The panel for the Bt cotton webinar (YouTube: Bt Cotton in India: Myths & Realities – An Evidence-Based Evaluation) on 24 August included Dr Andrew Paul Gutierrez, senior emeritus professor in the College of Natural Resources at the University of California at Berkeley; Dr Keshav Kranthi, former director of Central Institute for Cotton Research in India; Dr Peter Kenmore, former FAO representative in India, and Dr Hans Herren, World Food Prize Laureate.

Dr Herren said that “the failure of Bt cotton” is a classic representation of what an unsound science of plant protection and faulty direction of agricultural development can lead to.

He explained:

Bt hybrid technology in India represents an error-driven policy that has led to the denial and non-implementation of the real solutions for the revival of cotton in India, which lie in HDSS (high density short season) planting of non-Bt/GMO cotton in pure line varieties of native desi species and American cotton species.

He argued that a transformation of agriculture and the food system is required; one that entails a shift to agroecology, which includes regenerative, organic, biodynamic, permaculture and natural farming practices.

Dr Kenmore said that Bt cotton is an aging pest control technology:

It follows the same path worn down by generations of insecticide molecules from arsenic to DDT to BHC to endosulfan to monocrotophos to carbaryl to imidacloprid. In-house research aims for each molecule to be packaged biochemically, legally and commercially before it is released and promoted. Corporate and public policy actors then claim yield increases but deliver no more than temporary pest suppression, secondary pest release and pest resistance.

Recurrent cycles of crises have sparked public action and ecological field research which creates locally adapted agroecological strategies.

He added that this agroecology:

… now gathers global support from citizens’ groups, governments and UN-FAO. Their robust local solutions in Indian cotton do not require any new molecules, including endo-toxins like in Bt cotton.

Prof Gutierrez presented the ecological reasons as to why hybrid Bt cotton failed in India: long season Bt cotton introduced in India was incorporated into hybrids that trapped farmers into biotech and insecticide treadmills that benefited GMO seed manufacturers.

He noted:

The cultivation of long-season hybrid Bt cotton in rainfed areas is unique to India. It is a value capture mechanism that does not contribute to yield, is a major contributor to low yield stagnation and contributes to increasing production costs.

Prof Gutierrez asserted that increases in cotton farmer suicides are related to the resulting economic distress.

He argued:

A viable solution to the current GM hybrid system is adoption of improved non-GM high-density short-season fertile cotton varieties.

Presenting data on yields, insecticide usage, irrigation, fertiliser usage and pest incidence and resistance, Dr Keshav Kranthi said that a critical analysis of official statistics (eands.dacnet.nic.in and cotcorp.gov.in) shows that Bt hybrid technology has not been providing any tangible benefits in India either in yield or insecticide usage.

He said that cotton yields are the lowest in the world in Maharashtra, despite being saturated with Bt hybrids and the highest use of fertilisers. Yields in Maharashtra are less than in rainfed Africa where there is hardly any usage of technologies such as Bt, hybrids, fertilisers, pesticides or irrigation.

It is revealing that Indian cotton yields rank 36th in the world and have been stagnant in the past 15 years and insecticide usage has been constantly increasing after 2005, despite an increase in area under Bt cotton.

Dr Kranthi argued that research also shows that the Bt hybrid technology has failed the test of sustainability with resistance in pink bollworm to Bt cotton, increasing sucking pest infestation, increasing trends in insecticide and fertiliser usage, increasing costs and negative net returns in 2014 and 2015.

Dr Herren said that GMOs exemplify the case of a technology searching for an application:

It is essentially about treating symptoms, rather than taking a systems approach to create resilient, productive and bio-diverse food systems in the widest sense and to provide sustainable and affordable solutions in it’s social, environmental and economic dimensions.

He went on to argue that the failure of Bt cotton is a classic representation of what an unsound science of plant protection and a faulty direction of agricultural development can lead to:

We need to push aside the vested interests blocking the transformation with the baseless arguments of ‘the world needs more food’ and design and implement policies that are forward looking… We have all the needed scientific and practical evidence that the agroecological approaches to food and nutrition security work successfully.

Bt brinjal – the danger is back

The government’s attempt to use a failed technology as a template for driving GMOs into agriculture has been exposed. Nevertheless, the GEAC has been moving forward with late-stage trials of Bt brinjal, while ignoring the issues and arguments against its commercialisation that were forwarded a decade ago.

In February 2010, the Indian government placed an indefinite moratorium on the release of Bt brinjal after numerous independent scientific experts from India and abroad had pointed out safety concerns 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 the renowned scientists. Their collective appraisals demonstrated serious environmental and biosafety concerns.

Jairam Ramesh pronounced a moratorium on Bt brinjal in February 2010 by stating:

It is my duty to adopt a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach and impose a moratorium on the release of Bt brinjal, till such time independent scientific studies establish, to the satisfaction of both the public and professionals, the safety of the product from the point of view of its long-term impact on human health and environment, including the rich genetic wealth existing in brinjal in our country.

The moratorium has not been lifted and the conditions he set out have still not been met. Moreover, five high-level reports have advised against the adoption of GM crops in India. Appointed by the Supreme Court, the ‘Technical Expert Committee (TEC) Final Report’ (2013) was scathing about the prevailing regulatory system and highlighted its inadequacies. The TEC went a step further by recommending a 10-year moratorium on the commercial release of all GM crops.

The regulatory process was shown to lack 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.

Ten years on and regulators have done nothing to address this woeful state of affairs. As we have seen with the relentless push to get GM mustard commercialised, the problems persist. Through numerous submissions to the Supreme Court, Aruna Rodrigues has described how GM mustard is being forced through with flawed tests (or no tests) and a lack of public scrutiny. Regulators are seriously conflicted: they promote GMOs openly, fund them and then regulate them.

And this is precisely what the webinar ‘Bt brinjal – the danger is back’ (watch on YouTube) discussed on 27 August. Organised by the Coalition for a GM-Free India, the webinar was arranged because the regulators have again brought to the brink of commercialisation a new Bt brinjal ‘event’ – a different Bt brinjal than the 2010 version. Also included in the webinar were the experiences of Bt brinjal introduction in Bangladesh.

Dr Ramanjaneyulu (Centre for Sustainable Agriculture) highlighted how need has never been established for Bt brinjal of which India is a recognised centre of diversity. The argument for Bt brinjal in the run-up to Jairam Ramesh’s moratorium was that pesticide use is a problem in containing the brinjal fruit and shoot borer. He noted that Bt brinjal was promoted by Monsanto, USAID and Cornell University, but serious protocol violations, environmental contamination concerns and potential adverse health impacts were discovered.

He outlined simple non-pesticidal, agroecological management practises that can and are being used to deal with the brinjal fruit and shoot borer.

Farida Akhter of UBINIG (Policy Research for Development Alternative) outlined how the introduction of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh was not needed but imposed on the country, which has 248 varieties of brinjal. Where pesticide use is problematic, she argued that it concerns hybrid varieties rather than traditional cultivars of which 24 varieties are resistant to fruit and shoot borer.

Akhter said that poor quality brinjal and financial losses for farmers have been major issues. Many have abandoned Bt brinjal, but farmers have received incentives to cultivate and where they have done so, fertiliser use has increased and there have been many pest attacks, with 35 different types of pesticides applied.

The Bill Gates-funded Cornell Alliance for Science, a public relations entity that promotes GM agriculture, and USAID, which serves the interests of the GMO biotech sector, tried to sell Bt brinjal on the basis it would ‘save’ people from the overuse of pesticides and related illnesses. But Akhter argued that Bangladesh was targeted because the Philippines and India had rejected Bt brinjal. Again, protocol violations occurred leading to its introduction and Akhter concluded that there was no scientific basis for Bt brinjal: its introduction was political.

As for India, event EE1, the initial Bt brinjal, has now been replaced by event 142, a different Bt brinjal. Kavitha Kuruganti (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture) explained this in the webinar and notes that the GEAC, immediately after the 2010 moratorium was announced, went straight ahead and sanctioned new trials for this Bt brinjal. The GEAC basically stated that the moratorium did not apply to this version, while ignoring all the criticisms about lack of competence, conflicts of interest, non-transparency and protocol violations. It was effectively business as usual!

With event EE1, Kuruganti implied that the GEAC acted more like a servant for Mayco and its Monsanto master. Nothing has changed. She noted the ongoing revolving door between crop developers (even patent holders) and regulators. As before, developers-cum-lobbyists were actually sitting on regulatory bodies as event 142 was proceeding.

Under public-private-partnership arrangements, event 142 has been licensed to private companies for biosafety testing/commercialisation. Despite major concerns, the GEAC has pressed ahead with various trials. In May 2020, under lockdown, Kuruganti notes that the GEAC held a virtual meeting and sanctioned what were effectively final trials prior to commercialisation. She explains that important information and vital data is not in the public domain.

According to Kuruganti, the regulator sits with the crop developer and the companies and grant biosafety clearance, claiming all tests (soil, pollen flow, toxicity, etc) are complete. What is also disturbing is that these licensed companies have closed and opened under new names (with the same people in charge), thereby making accountability and liability fixing very difficult if something were to go wrong further down the line.

She concludes that the story of event 142 is even worse than event EE1:

Once again, they are certainly hiding things that they don’t want conscientious scientists and aware citizens to see and know.

Taken together, the two webinars highlighted how hybrid Bt cotton is being deceptively used as a template for rolling out GM food crops: a fraud being used to promote another fraud in order to force unnecessary GMOs into Indian agriculture.

The post From Cotton to Brinjal: Fraudulent GMO Project in India Sustained by Deception first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Post-Brexit Agrochemical Apocalypse for the UK?

The British government, regulators and global agrochemical corporations are colluding with each other and are thus engaging in criminal behaviour. That’s the message put forward in a new report written by environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason and sent to the UK Environment Agency. It follows her January 2019 open letter to Werner Baumann, CEO of Bayer CropScience, where she made it clear to him that she considers Bayer CropScience and Monsanto criminal corporations.

Her letter to Baumann outlined a cocktail of corporate duplicity, cover-ups and criminality which the public and the environment are paying the price for, not least in terms of the effects of glyphosate. Later in 2019, Mason wrote to Bayer Crop Science shareholders, appealing to them to put human health and nature ahead of profit and to stop funding Bayer.

Mason outlined with supporting evidence how the gradual onset of the global extinction of many species is largely the result of chemical-intensive industrial agriculture. She argued that Monsanto’s (now Bayer) glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide and Bayer’s clothianidin are largely responsible for the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and that the use of glyphosate and neonicotinoid insecticides are wiping out wildlife species across the globe.

In February 2020, Mason wrote the report ‘Bayer Crop Science rules Britain after Brexit – the public and the press are being poisoned by pesticides’. She noted that PM Boris Johnson plans to do a trade deal with the US that could see the gutting of food and environment standards. In a speech setting out his goals for trade after Brexit, Johnson talked up the prospect of an agreement with Washington and downplayed the need for one with Brussels – if the EU insists the UK must stick to its regulatory regime. In other words, he wants to ditch EU regulations.

Mason pondered just who could be pulling Johnson’s strings. A big clue came in February 2019 at a Brexit meeting on the UK chemicals sector where UK regulators and senior officials from government departments listened to the priorities of Bayer Crop Science. During the meeting (Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum Keynote Seminar: Priorities for UK chemicals sector – challenges, opportunities and the future for regulation post-Brexit), Janet Williams, head of regulatory science at Bayer Crop Science Division, made the priorities for agricultural chemical manufacturers known.

Dave Bench was also a speaker. Bench is a senior scientist at the UK Chemicals, Health and Safety Executive and director of the agency’s EU exit plan and has previously stated that the regulatory system for pesticides is robust and balances the risks of pesticides against the benefits to society.

In an open letter to Bench, Mason responded:

That statement is rubbish. It is for the benefit of the agrochemical industry. The industry (for it is the industry that does the testing, on behalf of regulators) only tests one pesticide at a time, whereas farmers spray a cocktail of pesticides, including over children and babies, without warning.

It seems that post-Brexit the UK could authorise the continued use of glyphosate. Of course, with a US trade deal in the pipeline, there are major concerns about glyphosate-resistant GMOs and the lowering of food standards across the board.

Mason says that glyphosate causes epigenetic changes in humans and animals: diseases skip a generation. Washington State University researchers 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.

Glyphosate has been the subject of numerous studies about its health effects. Robert F Kennedy Jr, one of the attorney’s fighting Bayer (which has bought Monsanto) in the US courts, has explained that for four decades Monsanto manoeuvred to conceal Roundup’s carcinogenicity by capturing regulatory agencies, corrupting public officials, bribing scientists and engaging in scientific fraud to delay its day of reckoning.

Kennedy says there is also cascading scientific evidence linking glyphosate to a constellation of other injuries that have become prevalent since its introduction, including obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease, brain, breast and prostate cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and declining sperm counts.

In her new document sent to the UK Environment Agency, Mason argues there is criminal collusion between the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Chemicals Regulation Division and Bayer over Brexit. She also claims the National Farmers Union has been lying about how much pesticides farmers use and have ignored the side effects of chlorpyrifos, chlorothalonil, glyphosate and neonicotinoids. The NFU says farmers couldn’t do without these inputs, even though they destroy human health and the environment.

Of course, farmers can and do go without using these chemicals. And the shift away from chemical-intensive agriculture is perfectly feasible. In a recent article on the AgWeb site, for instance, US farmer Adam Chappell describes how he made the shift on his 8,000-acre farm. Chappell was not some dyed-in-the-wool organic evangelist. He made the shift for financial and practical reasons and is glad he did. The article states:

He was on the brink of bankruptcy and facing a go broke or go green proposition. Drowning in a whirlpool of input costs, Chappell cut bait from conventional agriculture and dove headfirst into a bootstrap version of innovative farming. Roughly 10 years later, his operation is transformed, and the 41-year-old grower doesn’t mince words: It was all about the money.

Surely there is a lesson there for UK farmers who in 2016 used glyphosate on 2,634,573 ha of cropland. It is not just their bottom line that could improve but the health of the nation. Mason says that five peer-reviewed animal studies from the US and Argentina released in July 2020 have focused minds on the infertility crisis being caused by glyphosate-based herbicides. Researchers at The National University of Litoral in Sante Fe, Argentina, have published three concerning peer-reviewed papers including two studies on ewes and rats and one review. In one study, researchers concluded that glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides are endocrine disruptors. They also stated that glyphosate-based herbicides alter reproductive outcomes in females.

But such is the British government’s willingness to protect pesticide companies that it is handing agrochemical giants BASF and Bayer enormous pay-outs of Covid-19 support cash. The announcement came just weeks after Bayer shareholders voted to pay £2.75 billion in dividends. The fact that Bayer then went on to receive £600 million from the government speaks volumes of where the government’s priorities lie.

According to Mason, the new Agriculture Bill provides a real opportunity for the UK to adopt a paradigm shift which embraces non-chemical farming policy. However, Defra has stated that after Brexit Roundup Ready GA21 glyphosate tolerant crops could be introduced.

It is also concerning that a post-Brexit funding gap could further undermine the impartiality of university research. Mason refers to Greenpeace, which notes that Bayer and Syngenta, both sell neonicotinoid insecticides linked to harmful effects on bees, gave a combined total of £16.1m to 70 British universities over five years to fund a range of research. Such private funding could create a conflict of interest for academics and after Brexit a potential shortage of public money for science could force universities to seek more finance from the private sector.

Neonicotinoids were once thought to have little or no negative effects on the environment because they are used in low doses and as a seed coating, rather than being sprayed. But evidence has been mounting that the chemicals harm bees – important pollinators of food crops. As a result, neonicotinoids have been banned by the EU, although they can still be used under license.

According to Bayer’s website, academics who reviewed 15 years of research found “no adverse effects to bee colonies were ever observed in field studies”. Between 2011 and 2016, the figures obtained from the 70 universities – about half the total in the UK – show Bayer gave £9m to fund research, including more than £345,000 on plant sciences. Syngenta spent nearly £7.1m, including just under £2.3m on plant sciences and stated that many years of independent monitoring prove that when used properly neonicotinoids do not damage the health of bee populations.

However, in 2016, Ben Stewart of Greenpeace UK’s Brexit response team, said that the decline in bee populations is a major environmental and food security concern – it’s causes need to be properly investigated.

He added:

But for this research to command public confidence, it needs to be independent and impartial, which is why public funding is so crucial. You wouldn’t want lung cancer studies to be heavily reliant on funds from tobacco firms, nor research on pesticides to be dependent on the companies making them.

Stewart concluded:

As Brexit threatens to cut off vital public funds for this scientific field, our universities need a cast-iron guarantee from our government that EU money will not be replaced by corporate cash.

But Mason notes that the government long ago showed its true colours by refusing to legislate on the EU Directive (2009/128/EC) on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides. The government merely stated that current statutory and voluntary controls related to pesticides and the protection of water, if followed, afford a high degree of protection and it would primarily seek to work with the pesticides industry to enhance voluntary measures.

Mason first questioned the government on this in January 2011. In an open letter to the Chemical Regulation Directorate. The government claimed that no compelling evidence was provided to justify further extending existing regulations and voluntary controls.

Lord Henley, the Under-Secretary of State for Defra, expanded further:

By making a small number of changes to our existing approach we can continue to help feed a growing global population with high-quality food that’s affordable – while minimising the risks of using pesticides.

In her numerous reports and open letters to officials, Mason has shown that far from having ‘high-quality food’, there is an ongoing public health crisis due to the pesticides being used.

She responded to Henley by stating:

… instead of strengthening the legislation, the responses of the UK government and the CRD have considerably weakened it. In the case of aerial spraying, you have opted for derogation.

Mason says that, recently, the day that Monsanto lost its appeal against Dewayne Lee Johnson the sprayers came around the Marina in Cardiff breaking all the rules that the EU had set for Roundup.

We can only wonder what could lie in store for the British public if a trade deal is done with the US. Despite the Conservative government pledging that it would not compromise on the UK’s food and environment standards, it now proposes that chlorine-washed chicken, beef treated with growth hormones, pork from animals treated with ractopamine and many other toxic foods produced in the US will be allowed into the UK. All for the bottom line of US agribusiness corporations. It is also worth mentioning at this point that there are around 2,000 untested chemicals in packaged foods in the US.

Ultimately, the situation comes down to a concentration of power played out within an interlocking directorate of state-corporate interests – in this case, global agrochemical conglomerates and the British government – and above the heads of ordinary people. It is clear that these institutions value the health of powerful corporations at the expense of the health of the population and the state of the environment.

Readers can access Mason’s new paper ‘Criminal collusion between Defra, the Chemicals Regulation Division and Bayer over Brexit Agenda’ via academia.edu website (which cites relevant sources), where all her other documents can also be found.

From Toxic Food to Agrarian Disaster: Dirty Deals Done Dirt Cheap

During the early days of the coronavirus lockdowns, in some quarters there was a certain degree of optimism around. Although millions of people were suffering, the hope was that the Covid-19 crisis would shine light on societal and economic systems across the world, exposing some of the deep-rooted flaws of capitalism. There was a belief that people working together with their respective governments could start building a fairer capitalism and more sustainable economies.

However, we see exactly the opposite taking place. In the UK, we now witness a post-Brexit trade deal being negotiated behind closed doors with the US that could see a lowering of food and environment standards, despite the Conservative government pledge that it would not compromise on standards in these areas. The government now proposes that chlorine-washed chicken, beef treated with growth hormones, pork from ractopamine-injected animals and many other toxic foods produced in the US will be allowed into the UK. Sanctioning the entry of (chemical-resistant) GM crops and GM food are also likely to be part of any deal.

It would effectively mean sacrificing UK farmers’ livelihoods, the environment and the nation’s health to suit the bottom line of US agribusiness corporations.

The UK isn’t the only country that US agribusiness has set its sights on. World Bank Group President David Malpass has stated that poorer countries will be ‘helped’ to get back on their feet after the various coronavirus lockdowns. This ‘help’ will be on condition that neoliberal reforms are implemented and become further embedded. Ranil Salgado, mission chief for India at the IMF, says that when the economic shock passes, it’s important that India returns to its path of undertaking such long-term reforms.

But haven’t ordinary Indians already had enough of these ‘structural adjustments’ and their impacts? Rural affairs commentator P Sainath has highlighted the desperate plight of migrant workers in India. He notes that millions of rural livelihoods have been deliberately snuffed out over a period of many years, sparking an agrarian crisis. As a result of lockdown, tens of millions went back to their villages but there is no work there because rural jobs have been extinguished – the reason for urban migration in the first place.

The US has been pushing to bring Indian agriculture under corporate control for a long time. Further ‘reforms’ would serve to accelerate this process. US agribusiness wants to force GMO food crops into the country, further displace peasant farmers thereby driving even more people to cities and ensure corporate consolidation and commercialisation of the sector based on industrial-scale monocrop farms incorporated into global supply chains dominated by transnational agribusiness and retail giants.

Like the UK, India is also involved in trade talks with the US. If this deal goes through and India capitulates to US demands, it could devastate the dairy, poultry, soybean, maize and other sectors and severely deepen the crisis in the countryside. India could also see GMO food flooding the country and the further corporate consolidation of the seed sector. The article ‘Perils of the US-India free trade agreement for Indian farmers’ published on the grain.org website highlights what could be in store.

In the wake of India deciding to not participate in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, another trade deal that would have had devastating consequences for farmers and the food system. the article concludes:

It would be inconsistent, and a slap in the face, to now start US-India trade talks that will pose much bigger challenges for India’s rural communities and agriculture sector. Such a deal would greatly compromise India’s huge diversity of local seeds and plants which are conserved and reused by millions of Indian farmers year after year. It will also destroy India’s hope for food sovereignty.

Any such trade deal will be for the benefit of powerful agribusiness giants and will reinforce the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of these corporations. It would also send millions more to the cities in search of jobs that are just not there. This will be the result of the ‘reforms’ demanded by the World Bank and IMF.

If lockdown has shown anything, it is that many of those who sought better lives in the cities have failed to establish a firm foothold. They are marginalised and employed in the worst jobs working long hours for minimal wages. The fragility of their position is demonstrated by the reverse migrations we have witnessed and the callous treatment they are used to was demonstrated by the government’s attitude to their plight under lockdown.

The various lockdowns around the globe have also exposed the fragility of the global food system, dominated by long-line supply chains and global conglomerates – which effectively suck food and wealth from the Global South to the richer nations.

What we have seen underscores the need for a radical transformation of the prevailing globalised food regime based on a system of agroecology which reduces dependency on external proprietary inputs, distant volatile commodity markets and patented technologies. It would help to shorten chains, increase crop diversity, improve diets, regenerate soils, support food sovereignty, re-localise production and consumption and boost local economies, which in India would stem the flow of people moving to the cities and would even create livelihoods for those who have returned to the countryside.

It is the type of system that Prof Michel Pimbert and Colin Anderson of Coventry University in the UK advocate. In contrast to corporate-driven trade deals, centrally controlled hi-tech innovations, people-free farming, drones replacing bees, genetically engineered crops and a future of synthetic lab-based food, the two academics argue:

Agroecological innovations… are being driven largely from the bottom up by civil society, social movements and allied researchers. In this context, priorities for innovations are ones that increase citizen control for food sovereignty and decentralise power.

Instead of trade deals hammered out behind closed doors above the heads of ordinary people by elite interests, the authors state that deliberative, inclusive processes like citizens’ juries, peoples’ assemblies and community-led participatory actions are urgently needed.

It is these types of processes that should guide all economic sectors, not just agriculture. Processes underpinned by a vision for a better, more just world that can only be delivered by challenging capitalism’s dispossessive strategies which fuel India’s agrarian crisis and the types of human and environmental degradation and exploitation we see across the globe.

Food and Agroecology: Coping with Future Shocks

The food crisis that could follow in the wake of the various lockdowns that were implemented on the back of the coronavirus may have long-lasting consequences. We are already seeing food shortages in the making. In India, for instance, supply chains have been disrupted, farm input systems for the supply of seeds and fertilisers have almost collapsed in some places and crops are not being harvested. Moreover, cultivation has been adversely affected prior to the monsoon and farm incomes are drying up. Farmers closer to major urban centres are faring a bit better due to shorter supply chains.

Veteran rural reporter P Sainath has urged India’s farmers to move away from planting cash crops and to start cultivating food crops, saying that you cannot eat cotton. It’s a good point. For instance, according to a report that appeared on the ruralindiaonline website, in a region of southern Odisha, farmers have been pushed towards a reliance on (illegal) expensive genetically modified herbicide tolerant cotton seeds and have replaced their traditional food crops. Farmers used to sow mixed plots of heirloom seeds, which had been saved from family harvests the previous year and would yield a basket of food crops. They are now dependent on seed vendors, chemical inputs and a volatile international market to make a living and are no longer food secure.

But what is happening in India is a microcosm of global trends. Reliance on commodity monocropping for international markets, long global supply chains and dependency on external inputs for cultivation make the food system vulnerable to shocks, whether resulting from public health scares, oil price spikes (the industrial global food system is heavily fossil-fuel dependent) or conflict. An increasing number of countries are recognising the need to respond by becoming more food self-sufficient, preferably by securing control over their own food and reducing supply chains.

Various coronavirus lockdowns have disrupted many transport and production activities, exposing the weaknesses of our current food system. While one part of the world (the richer countries) experiences surplus food but crop destruction due to farm labour shortages, millions of people elsewhere could face hunger due to rising food prices — or a lack of food availability altogether: the story of India’s migrant workers returning to their villages from the cities has been one of hardship, hunger and even death.

If the current situation tells us anything, it is that structural solutions are needed to reorganise food production. In his final report (2014) to the UN Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur, Olivier De Schutter called for the world’s food systems to be radically redesigned. His report concluded that by applying agroecological principles to the design of democratically controlled agricultural systems we can help to put an end to food crises and poverty challenges. De Schutter argued that agroecological approaches could tackle food needs in critical regions and could double food production in 10 years. However, he stated that insufficient backing seriously hinders progress.

In addition to De Schutter’s 2014 report, the 2009 IAASTD peer-reviewed report, produced by 400 scientists and supported by 60 countries, recommends agroecology to maintain and increase the productivity of global agriculture. Moreover, the recent UN FAO High Level Panel of Experts concluded that agroecology provides greatly improved food security and nutritional, gender, environmental and yield benefits compared to industrial agriculture.

As a model of agriculture, agroecology is based on traditional knowledge and modern agricultural research, utilising elements of contemporary ecology, soil biology and the biological control of pests. This system combines sound ecological management by using on-farm renewable resources and privileging endogenous solutions to manage pests and disease without the use of agrochemicals and corporate seeds.

Agroecology can also offer concrete, practical solutions to many of the world’s problems. It offers an alternative to a prevailing system of doctrinaire neoliberal economics that drives a failing model of industrial agriculture which is having devastating impacts on the environment, rural communities, public health, local and regional food security and food sovereignty.

Agroecology outperforms the prevailing industrial food system in terms of diversity of food output, nutrition per acre, soil health and efficient water use. In addition, by creating securely paid labour-intensive agricultural work in richer countries, it can also address the interrelated links between labour offshoring by those countries and the displacement of peasant farmers elsewhere who end up in sweat shops to carry out the outsourced jobs.

The Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology by Nyeleni in 2015 argued for building grass-root local food systems that create new rural-urban links, based on genuine agroecological food production. It added that agroecology requires local producers and communities to challenge and transform structures of power in society, not least by putting the control of seeds, biodiversity, land and territories, waters, knowledge, culture and the commons in the hands of those who feed the world.

It would mean that what ends up in our food and how it is grown is determined by the public good and not powerful private interests driven by commercial gain and the compulsion to subjugate farmers, consumers and entire regions to their global supply chains and questionable products( whether unhealthy food or proprietary pesticides and seeds). For consumers, the public good includes more diverse diets leading to better nutrition and enhanced immunity when faced with any future pandemic.

As Florence Tartanac, senior officer at Nutrition and Food Systems Division of the UN FAO, stated in April 2018:

… agroecological markets bring an increase in the availability of more diverse food, especially of local varieties, that are linked to traditional diets. Therefore, consumers’ awareness should be increased on the importance of diet diversification and its effects on physical and mental health as well as on the positive impacts of sustainable, local and traditional consumption on the social, economic and environmental compartments.

She made these comments during the second FAO international symposium ‘Scaling up Agroecology to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals’. And it’s a valid point seeing that the modern diet has become less diverse and is driving a major public health crisis in many countries.

Across the world, decentralised, region and local community-owned food systems based on short(er) food supply chains that can cope with future shocks are now needed more than ever.

The Scourge of Authoritarianism in the Age of Pseudoscience 

Following the court decision in the US to award in favour of Dewayne Johnson (exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer and its active ingredient, glyphosate, caused Johnson to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma), attorney Robert Kennedy Jr said at the post-trial press conference:

The corruption of science, the falsification of science, and we saw all those things happen here. This is a company (Monsanto) that used all of the plays in the playbook developed over 60 years by the tobacco industry to escape the consequences of killing one of every five of its customers… Monsanto… has used those strategies…

Johnson’s lawyers argued over the course of the month-long trial in 2018 that Monsanto had “fought science” for years and targeted academics who spoke up about possible health risks of the herbicide product. Long before the Johnson case, critics of Monsanto were already aware of the practices the company had engaged in for decades to undermine science. At the same time, Monsanto and its lobbyists had called anyone who questioned the company’s ‘science’ as engaging in pseudoscience and labelled them ‘anti-science’.

We need look no further than the current coronavirus issue to understand how vested interests are set to profit by spinning the crisis a certain way and how questionable science is again being used to pursue policies that are essentially ‘unscientific’ — governments, the police and the corporate media have become the arbiters of ‘truth’. We also see anyone challenging the policies and the ‘science’ being censored on social media or not being given a platform on TV and accused of engaging in ‘misinformation’. It’s the same old playbook.

The case-fatality ratio for COVID-19 is so low as to make the lockdown response wholly disproportionate. Yet we are asked to blindly accept government narratives and the policies based on them.

Making an entire country go home and stay home has immense, incalculable costs in terms of well-being and livelihoods. This itself has created a pervasive sense of panic and crisis and is largely a result of the measures taken against the ‘pandemic’ and not of the virus itself. Certain epidemiologists have said there is very little sturdy evidence to base lockdown policies on, but this has not prevented politicians from acting as if everything they say or do is based on solid science.

The lockdown would not be merited if we were to genuinely adopt a knowledge-based approach. If we look at early projections by Neil Ferguson of Imperial College in the UK, he had grossly overstated the number of possible deaths resulting from the coronavirus and has now backtracked substantially. Ferguson has a chequered track record, which led UK newspaper The Telegraph to run a piece entitled ‘How accurate was the science that led to lockdown?’ The article outlines Ferguson’s previous flawed predictions about infectious diseases and a number of experts raise serious questions about the modelling that led to lockdown in the UK.

Ferguson’s previous modelling for the spread of epidemics was so off the mark that it may beggar believe that anyone could have faith in anything he says, yet he remains part of the UK government’s scientific advisory group. Officials are now talking of ‘easing’ lockdowns, but Ferguson warns that lockdown in the UK will only be lifted once a vaccine for COVID-19 has been found.

It raises the question: when will Ferguson be held to account for his current and previously flawed work and his exaggerated predictions? Because, on the basis of his modelling, the UK has been in lockdown for many weeks, the results of which are taking a toll on the livelihoods and well-being of the population which are and will continue to far outweigh the effects of COVID-19.

According to a 1982 academic study, a 1% increase in the unemployment rate will be associated with 37,000 deaths [including 20,000 heart attacks], 920 suicides, 650 homicides, 4,000 state mental hospital admissions and 3,300 state prison admissions. Consider that by 30 April, in the US alone, 30 million had filed for unemployment benefit since the lockdown began. Between 23 and 30 April, some 3.8 million filed for unemployment benefit. Prior to the current crisis, the unemployment rate was 3.5%. Some predict it could eventually reach 30%.

Ferguson – whose model was the basis for policies elsewhere in addition to the UK — is as much to blame as anyone for the current situation. And it is a situation that has been fueled by a government and media promoted fear narrative that has had members of the public so afraid of the virus that many have been demanding further restrictions of their liberty by the state in order to ‘save’ them. Even with the promise of easing the lockdown, people seem to be fearful of venturing out in the near future thanks to the fear campaign they have been subjected to.

Instead of encouraging more diverse, informed and objective opinions in the mainstream, we too often see money and power forcing the issue, not least in the form of Bill Gates who tells the world ‘normality’ may not return for another 18 months – until he and his close associates in the pharmaceuticals industry find a vaccine and we are all vaccinated.

In the UK, the population is constantly subjected via their TV screens to clap for NHS workers, support the NHS and to stay home and save lives on the basis of questionable data and policies. Emotive stuff taking place under a ruling Conservative Party that has cut thousands of hospital beds, frozen staff pay, placed workers on zero-hour contracts and demonised junior doctors. It is also using the current crisis to accelerate the privatisation of state health care. In recent weeks, ministers have used special powers to bypass normal tendering and award a string of contracts to private companies and management consultants without open competition.

But if cheap propaganda stunts do not secure the compliance, open threats will suffice. For instance, in the US, city mayors and local politicians have threatened to ‘hunt down’, monitor social media and jail those who break lockdown rules.

Prominent conservative commentator Tucker Carlson asks who gave these people the authority to tear up the US constitution; what gives them the right to threaten voters while they themselves or their families have been exposed as having little regard for lockdown norms. As overhead drones bark out orders to residents, Carlson wonders how the US – almost overnight – transformed into a totalitarian state.

With a compliant media failing to hold tyrannical officials to account, Carlson’s concerns mirror those of Lionel Shriver in the UK, writing in The Spectator, who declares that the supine capitulation of Britain to a de facto police state has been one of the most depressing spectacles he has ever witnessed.

Under the pretext of tracking and tracing the spread of the virus, the UK government is rolling out an app which will let the likes of Apple and Google monitor a person’s every location visited and every physical contact. There seems to be little oversight in terms of privacy. The contact-tracing app has opted for a centralised model of data collection: all the contact-tracing data is not to be deleted but anonymized and kept under one roof in one central government database for ‘research purposes’.

We may think back to Cambridge Analytica’s harvesting of Facebook data to appreciate the potential for data misuse. But privacy is the least concern for governments and the global tech giants in an age where ‘data’ has become monetized as a saleable commodity, with the UK data market the second biggest in the world and valued at over a billion pounds in 2018.

Paranoia is usually the ever-present bedfellow of fear and many people have been very keen to inform the authorities that their neighbours may have been breaking social distancing rules. Moreover, although any such opinion poll cannot be taken at face value and could be regarded as part of the mainstream fear narrative itself, a recent survey suggests that only 20% of Britons are in favour of reopening restaurants, schools, pubs and stadiums.

Is this to be the new ‘normal’, whereby fear, mistrust, division and suspicion are internalized throughout society?  In an age of fear and paranoia, are we all to be ‘contact traced’ and regarded by others as a ‘risk’ until we prove ourselves by wearing face masks and by voluntarily subjecting ourselves to virus tests at the entrances to stores or in airports? And if we refuse or test positive, are we to be shamed, isolated and forced to comply by being ‘medicated’ (vaccinated and chipped)?

Is this the type of world that’s soon to be regarded as ‘normal’? A world in which liberty and fundamental rights mean nothing.  A world dominated by shaming and spurious notions of personal responsibility that are little more than ideological constructs of a hegemonic narrative which labels rational thinking people as ‘anti-science’ — a world in which the scourge of authoritarianism reigns supreme.

Can We Simultaneously Oppose Bayer/Monsanto’s Biotechnology and Support Cuba’s Interferon Alpha 2B?

Genetically engineered crops are a form of food imperialism.  This technology allows mega-corporations like Bayer/Monsanto to patent seeds, lure farmers into buying them with visions of high yields, and then destroy the ability of small farmers to survive.

Genetic engineering produces an artificial combination of plant traits which often results in foods with less nutritional value while introducing health problems to animals and humans who eat them.  It increases costs of food production, pushing millions of farmers throughout the world into poverty and driving them off their land.

Agricultural corporations get control of enormous quantities of land in Africa, Latin America and Asia which they use to control the world’s food supply and reap super-profits from the cheap labor of those who work for them, sometimes people who once owned the same land.  These crops can be developed in open-field testing which allows the novel pollen to contaminate wild relatives of the engineered crops.

Agro-industries which dominate this process have the resources to lobby two sections of governments.  They tell one government agency that their plants do not need to pass safety tests because they are “substantively equivalent” to already existing plants.  Yet, out of the other side of their mouths, corporate lawyers argue that, far from being equivalent to existing plants, their engineered ones are so novel as to deserve patents, patents which allow companies to sue farmers who save seeds for planting during the next season.

As a resident of St. Louis, a veritable plantation of Monsanto (now Bayer), I have participated in and organized dozens of demonstrations at the company’s world headquarters, as well as forums and conferences. It is necessary to compare the use of biotechnology by food corporations with that of Cuba to decide if they are the same or fundamentally different.

Medicine in Cuba

John Kirk’s Health Care without Borders: Understanding Cuban Medical Internationalism (2015) provides a wealth of information regarding Cuba’s early use of biotechnology in medicine.  It is a poor country suffering effects of a blockade by the US which interferes with its access to materials, equipment, technologies, finance, and even exchange of information.  This makes it remarkable that Cuba’s research institutes have produced so many important medications.  Even a partial list is impressive.  The use of Heberprot B to treat diabetes has reduced amputations by 80 percent.  Cuba is the only country to create an effective vaccine against type-B bacterial meningitis, and it developed the first synthetic vaccine for Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib), which causes almost half of pediatric meningitis infections.  It has also produced the vaccine Racotumomab against advanced lung cancer and has begun clinical tests for Itolizumab to fight severe psoriasis.

By far, the best known efforts of Cuban biotechnology followed an outbreak of dengue fever in 1981 when its researchers found that it could combat the disease with Interferon Alpha 2B.  The same drug became vitally important decades later as a potential cure for COVID-19.  Interferons are signaling proteins which can respond to infections by strengthening anti-viral defenses.  In this way, they decrease complications which could cause death.  Cuba’s interferons have also shown their usefulness and safety in treating viral diseases including Hepatitis B and C, shingles and HIV-AIDS.

A Tale of Two Technologies

There are marked differences between corporate biotechnology for food and Cuba’s medications for health.  First, corporations produce food that fails to be healthier than non-engineered food which it replaces.  Cuba’s biotechnology improves human health to such a degree that dozens of nations have requested Interferon Alpha 2B.

Second, corporate food production drives people off of their land while making a few investors very  rich.  No one loses their home due to Cuban medical advances.

Third, food imperialism fosters dependency but Cuba promotes medical independence.  While corporate biotechnology drains money from poor counties by monopolizing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Cuba strives to produce drugs as cheaply as possible.

Patents for its many medical innovations are held by the Cuban government. There is no impetus to increase profits by charging outrageously high prices for new drugs – these medications become available to Cubans at much lower cost than they would in a market-based health care system like that of the United States. This has a profound impact on Cuban medical internationalism. The country provides drugs, including vaccines, at a cost low enough to make humanitarian campaign goals abroad more achievable.  Its use of synthetic vaccines for meningitis and pneumonia has resulted in the immunization of millions of Latin American children.

Cuba’s other phase of medical biotechnology is also unknown in the corporate world. This is the transfer of new technology to poor countries so that they can produce drugs themselves and do not have to rely on purchasing them from rich countries.  Collaboration with Brazil has resulted in meningitis vaccines at a cost of 95¢ rather than $15 to $20 per dose. Cuba and Brazil worked together on several other biotechnology projects, including Interferon Alpha 2B, for hepatitis C, and recombinant human erythropoletin (rHuEPO), for anemia caused by chronic kidney problems.

In Perspective

The bigger picture is that technology of all types is not “value free” – it reflects social factors in its development and use.  Nuclear plants require military forces for protection from attack, making them attractive in any society dominated by those who employ a high degree of violence to suppress dissent.

Market forces within capitalism select technologies that are profitable, even if they are destructive to human welfare.  Of course, medicine such as antibiotics benefit humanity even if their original goal was profits for pharmaceutical giants.

At other times, products that damage society as a whole are pursued because they augment corporate profits by weakening labor unions.  Planting and harvesting equipment have been used to undermine organizing efforts of agricultural workers.  In the mid-1880s Chicago McCormick adopted new molding machines which could be run by unskilled workers.  The company used them to replace skilled workers of the National Union of Iron Molders.

Expensive technologies can destroy small competitors so that large companies with more capital can better control the market. No case is clearer than the use of GMOs in agriculture.  By use of market control (making non-GMO seeds unavailable), financial terrorism (such as lawsuits against resistant farmers), and the pesticide addiction treadmill, GMO giants such as Bayer/Monsanto have increased the cost of food production.  This destroys the livelihood of small farmers across the globe while transforming the large farmers who remain into semi-vassals of these multinational lords of seeds and pesticides.

Though a century separated them and they affected different types of labor, actions by McCormick and Bayer/Monsanto had something in common.  They both utilized novel technology which resulted in less desirable products but increased profits.

Because they were an invaluable weapon against the union, McCormick used molding machines that produced inferior castings and cost consumers more.  GMOs in agriculture result in lower-quality food.  Since two-thirds of GMOs are designed to create plants that can tolerate poisonous pesticides such as Roundup, pesticide residues increase with GMO usage.

GMOs are also used to increase the production of corn syrup which sweetens a growing quantity of processed foods, and thereby contributes to the obesity crisis. At the same time, food engineered to be uniform, survive transportation, and have a longer shelf life contains less nutritional value. The use of GMOs in corporate agriculture is one of the largest contributing factors to the phenomenon of people simultaneously being overweight and undernourished.

Cuba’s use of biotechnology to create medications is in sharp contrast to both McCormick and Bayer/Monsanto.  Its drugs, especially Interferon Alfpha 2B, are used to help people overcome illnesses.  They are created to share throughout the world rather drive people into worse poverty.  Making a distinction between the biotechnology of Bayer/Monsanto and Cuba requires understanding the difference between bioimperialism and biosolidarity.  Imperialism subdues.  Biosolidarity empowers.

Toxic Agriculture and the Gates Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was launched in 2000 and has $46.8 billion in assets (December 2018). It is the largest charitable foundation in the world and distributes more aid for global health than any government. One of the foundation’s stated goals is to globally enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty.

The Gates Foundation is a major funder of the CGIAR system (formerly the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research) — a global partnership whose stated aim is to strive for a food-secured future. Its research is aimed at reducing rural poverty, increasing food security, improving human health and nutrition and ensuring sustainable management of natural resources.

In 2016, the Gates Foundation was accused of dangerously and unaccountably distorting the direction of international development. The charges were laid out in a report by Global Justice Now: ‘Gated Development – Is the Gates Foundation always a force for good?‘ According to the report, the foundation’s strategy is based on deepening the role of multinational companies in the Global South.

On release of the report, Polly Jones, the head of campaigns and policy at Global Justice Now, said:

The Gates Foundation has rapidly become the most influential actor in the world of global health and agricultural policies, but there’s no oversight or accountability in how that influence is managed.

She added that this concentration of power and influence is even more problematic when you consider that the philanthropic vision of the Gates Foundation seems to be largely based on the values of ‘corporate America’:

The foundation is relentlessly promoting big business-based initiatives such as industrial agriculture, private health care and education. But these are all potentially exacerbating the problems of poverty and lack of access to basic resources that the foundation is supposed to be alleviating.

The report’s author, Mark Curtis, outlines the foundation’s promotion of industrial agriculture across Africa, which would undermine existing sustainable, small-scale farming that is providing the vast majority of food across the continent.

Curtis describes how the foundation is working with US agri-commodity trader Cargill in an $8 million project to “develop the soya value chain” in southern Africa. Cargill is the biggest global player in the production of and trade in soya with heavy investments in South America where GM soya monocrops (and associated agrochemicals) have displaced rural populations and caused health problems and environmental damage.

According to Curtis, the Gates-funded project will likely enable Cargill to capture a hitherto untapped African soya market and eventually introduce GM soya onto the continent. The Gates foundation is also supporting projects involving other chemical and seed corporations, including DuPont, Syngenta and Bayer. It is effectively promoting a model of industrial agriculture, the increasing use of agrochemicals and patented seeds, the privatisation of extension services and a very large focus on genetically modified crops.

What the Gates Foundation is doing is part of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) initiative, which is based on the premise that hunger and malnutrition in Africa are mainly the result of a lack of technology and functioning markets. Curtis says AGRA has been intervening directly in the formulation of African governments’ agricultural policies on issues like seeds and land, opening up African markets to US agribusiness.

More than 80% of Africa’s seed supply comes from millions of small-scale farmers recycling and exchanging seed from year to year. But AGRA is promoting the commercial production of seed and is thus supporting the introduction of commercial (chemical-dependent) seed systems, which risk enabling a few large companies to control seed research and development, production and distribution.

The report notes that over the past two decades a long and slow process of national seed law reviews, sponsored by USAID and the G8 along with Bill Gates and others, has opened the door to multinational corporations’ involvement in seed production, including the acquisition of every sizeable seed enterprise on the African continent.

Gates, pesticides and global health

The Gates Foundation is also very active in the area of health, which is ironic given its promotion of industrial agriculture and its reliance on health-damaging agrochemicals. This is something that has not been lost on environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason.

Mason notes that the Gates Foundation is a heavy pusher of agrochemicals and patented seeds. She adds that the Gates Foundation is also reported to be collaborating in Bayer’s promotion of “new chemical approaches” and “biological crop protection” (i.e. encouraging agrochemical sales and GM crops) in the Global South.

After having read the recent ‘A Future for the World’s Children? A WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission’, Mason noticed that pesticides were conspicuous by their absence and therefore decided to write to Professor Anthony Costello, director of the UCL Institute for Global Health, who is the lead author of the report.

In her open 19-page letter, ‘Why Don’t Pesticides Feature in the WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission?’, she notes in the Costello-led report that there is much talk about greater regulation of marketing of tobacco, alcohol, formula milk and sugar-sweetened beverages but no mention of pesticides.

But perhaps this should come as little surprise: some 42 authors’ names are attached to the report and Mason says that in one way or another via the organisations they belong to, many (if not most) have received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation is a prominent funder of the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Gates has been the largest or second largest contributor to the WHO’s budget in recent years. His foundation provided 11% of the WHO’s entire budget in 2015, which is 14 times greater than the UK government’s contribution.

Perhaps this sheds some light on to why a major report on child health would omit the effects of pesticides. Mason implies this is a serious omission given what the UN expert on toxics  Baskut Tuncak said in a November 2017 article in the Guardian:

Our children are growing up exposed to a toxic cocktail of weedkillers, insecticides, and fungicides. It’s on their food and in their water, and it’s even doused over their parks and playgrounds. Many governments insist that our standards of protection from these pesticides are strong enough. But as a scientist and a lawyer who specialises in chemicals and their potential impact on people’s fundamental rights, I beg to differ. Last month it was revealed that in recommending that glyphosate – the world’s most widely-used pesticide – was safe, the EU’s food safety watchdog copied and pasted pages of a report directly from Monsanto, the pesticide’s manufacturer. Revelations like these are simply shocking.

Mason notes that in February 2020, Tuncak rejected the idea that the risks posed by highly hazardous pesticides could be managed safely. He told Unearthed (GreenPeace UK’s journalism website) that there is nothing sustainable about the widespread use of highly hazardous pesticides for agriculture. Whether they poison workers, extinguish biodiversity, persist in the environment or accumulate in a mother’s breast milk, Tuncak argued that these are unsustainable, cannot be used safely and should have been phased out of use long ago.

In his 2017 article, he stated:

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most ratified international human rights treaty in the world (only the US is not a party), makes it clear that states have an explicit obligation to protect children from exposure to toxic chemicals, from contaminated food and polluted water, and to ensure that every child can realise their right to the highest attainable standard of health. These and many other rights of the child are abused by the current pesticide regime. These chemicals are everywhere and they are invisible.

Tuncak added that paediatricians have referred to childhood exposure to pesticides as creating a “silent pandemic” of disease and disability. He noted that exposure in pregnancy and childhood is linked to birth defects, diabetes, and cancer and stated that children are particularly vulnerable to these toxic chemicals: increasing evidence shows that even at ‘low’ doses of childhood exposure, irreversible health impacts can result.

He concluded that the overwhelming reliance of regulators on industry-funded studies, the exclusion of independent science from assessments and the confidentiality of studies relied upon by authorities must change.

However, it seems that the profits of agrochemical manufacturers trump the rights of  children and the public at large: a joint investigation by Unearthed and the NGO Public Eye has found the world’s five biggest pesticide manufacturers are making more than a third of their income from leading products, chemicals that pose serious hazards to human health and the environment.

Mason refers to an analysis of a huge database of 2018’s top-selling ‘crop protection products’ which revealed the world’s leading agrochemical companies made more than 35% of their sales from pesticides classed as “highly hazardous” to people, animals or ecosystems. The investigation identified billions of dollars of income for agrochemical giants BASF, Bayer, Corteva, FMC and Syngenta from chemicals found by regulatory authorities to pose health hazards like cancer or reproductive failure.

This investigation is based on an analysis of a huge dataset of pesticide sales from the agribusiness intelligence company Phillips McDougall. This firm conducts detailed market research all over the world and sells databases and intelligence to pesticide companies. The data covers around 40% of the $57.6bn global market for agricultural pesticides in 2018. It focuses on 43 countries, which between them represent more than 90% of the global pesticide market by value.

While Bill Gates promotes a chemical-intensive model of agriculture that dovetails with the needs and value chains of agri-food conglomerates, Mason outlines the spiraling rates of disease in the UK and the US and lays the blame at the door of the agrochemical corporations that Gates has opted to get into bed with. She focuses on the impact of glyphosate-based herbicides as well as the cocktail of chemicals sprayed on crops.

Mason has discussed the health-related impacts of glyphosate in numerous previous reports and in her open letter to Costello again refers to peer-reviewed studies and official statistics which indicate that glyphosate affects the gut microbiome and is responsible for a global metabolic health crisis provoked by an obesity epidemic. Moreover, she presents evidence that glyphosate causes epigenetic changes in humans and animals – diseases skip a generation then appear.

However, the mainstream narrative is to blame individuals for their ailments and conditions which are said to result from ‘lifestyle choices’. Yet Monsanto’s German owner Bayer has confirmed that more than 42,700 people have filed suits against Monsanto alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto covered up the risks.

Mason says that each year there are steady increases in the numbers of new cancers and increases in deaths from the same cancers, with no treatments making any difference to the numbers; at the same time, she argues, these treatments maximise the bottom line of the drug companies while the impacts of agrochemicals remains conspicuously absent from the disease narrative.

She states that we are exposed to a lifetime’s exposure to thousands of synthetic chemicals that contaminate the blood and urine of nearly every person tested – “a global mass poisoning.”

Gates Foundation in perspective

As part of its hegemonic strategy, the Gates Foundation says it wants to ensure global food security and optimise health and nutrition.

However, Rosemary Mason alludes to the fact that the Gates Foundation seems happy to ignore the deleterious health impacts of agrochemicals while promoting the interests of the firms that produce them, but it facilitates many health programmes that help boost the bottom line of drug companies.  Health and health programmes seem only to be defined with certain parameters which facilitate the selling of the products of the major pharmaceutical companies which the foundation partners with. Indeed, researcher Jacob Levich argues that the Gates Foundation not merely facilitates unethical low-cost clinical trials (with often devastating effects for participants) in the Global South but also assists in the creating new markets for the “dubious” products of pharmaceuticals corporations.

As for food security, the foundation would do better by supporting agroecological  (agrochemical-free) approaches to agriculture, which various high-level UN reports have advocated for ensuring equitable global food security. But this would leave smallholder agriculture both intact and independent from Western agro-capital, something which runs counter to the underlying aims of the corporations that the foundation supports – dispossession and market dependency.

And these aims have been part of a decades-long strategy where we have seen the strengthening of an emerging global food regime based on agro-export mono-cropping linked to sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF ‘structural adjustment’ directives. The outcomes have included a displacement of a food-producing peasantry, the consolidation of Western agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries from food self-sufficiency into food deficit areas.

While Bill Gates is busy supporting the consolidation of Western agro-capital in Africa under the guise of ensuring ‘food security’, it is very convenient for him to ignore the fact that at the time of decolonisation in the 1960s Africa was not just self-sufficient in food but was actually a net food exporter with exports averaging 1.3 million tons a year between 1966-70. The continent now imports 25% of its food, with almost every country being a net food importer. More generally, developing countries produced a billion-dollar yearly surplus in the 1970s but by 2004 were importing US$ 11 billion a year.

The Gates Foundation promotes a (heavily subsidised and inefficient – certainly when the externalised health, social and environment costs are factored in) corporate-industrial farming system and the strengthening of a global neoliberal, fossil-fuel-dependent food regime that by its very nature fuels and thrives on, among other things, unjust trade policies, population displacement and land dispossession (something which the Gates Foundation once called for but euphemistically termed “land mobility”), commodity monocropping, soil and environmental degradation, illness, nutrient-deficient diets, a narrowing of the range of food crops, water shortages, pollution and the eradication of biodiversity.

At the same time, the foundation is helping powerful corporate interests to appropriate and commodify knowledge. For instance, since 2003, CGIAR (mentioned at the start of this article) and its 15 centres have received more than $720 million from the Gates Foundation. In a June 2016 article in The Asian Age, Vandana Shiva says the centres are accelerating the transfer of research and seeds to corporations, facilitating intellectual property piracy and seed monopolies created through IP laws and seed regulations.

Besides taking control of the seeds of farmers in CGIAR seed banks, Shiva adds that the Gates Foundation (along with the Rockefeller Foundation) is investing heavily in collecting seeds from across the world and storing them in a facility in Svalbard in the Arctic — the ‘doomsday vault’.

The foundation is also funding Diversity Seek (DivSeek), a global initiative to take patents on the seed collections through genomic mapping. Seven million crop accessions are in public seed banks.

Shiva says that DivSeek could allow five corporations to own this diversity and argues:

Today, biopiracy is carried out through the convergence of information technology and biotechnology. It is done by taking patents by ‘mapping’ genomes and genome sequences… DivSeek is a global project launched in 2015 to map the genetic data of the peasant diversity of seeds held in gene banks. It robs the peasants of their seeds and knowledge, it robs the seed of its integrity and diversity, its evolutionary history, its link to the soil and reduces it to ‘code’. It is an extractive project to ‘mine’ the data in the seed to ‘censor’ out the commons.

She notes that the peasants who evolved this diversity have no place in DivSeek — their knowledge is being mined and not recognised, honoured or conserved: an enclosure of the genetic commons.

This process is the very foundation of capitalism – appropriation of the commons (seeds, water, knowledge, land, etc.), which are then made artificially scarce and transformed into marketable commodities.

The Gates Foundation talks about health but facilitates the roll-out of a toxic form of agriculture whose agrochemicals cause immense damage. It talks of alleviating poverty and malnutrition and tackling food insecurity but it bolsters an inherently unjust global food regime which is responsible for perpetuating food insecurity, population displacement, land dispossession, privatisation of the commons and neoliberal policies that remove support from the vulnerable and marginalised, while providing lavish subsidies to corporations.

The Gates Foundation is part of the problem, not the solution. To more fully appreciate this, let us turn to a February 2020 article in the journal Globalizations. Its author, Ashok Kumbamu, argues that the ultimate aim of promoting new technologies – whether GM seeds, agrochemicals or commodified knowledge — on a colossal scale is to make agricultural inputs and outputs essential commodities, create dependency and bring all farming operations into the capitalist fold.

To properly understand Bill Gates’s ‘philanthropy’ is not to take stated goals and objectives at face value but to regard his ideology as an attempt to manufacture consent and prevent and marginalise more radical agrarian change that would challenge prevailing power structures and act as impediments to capitalist interests. The foundation’s activities must be located within the hegemonic and dispossessive strategies of imperialism: displacement of the peasantry and subjugating those who remain in agriculture to the needs of global distribution and supply chains dominated by the Western agri-food conglomerates whose interests the Gates Foundation facilitates and legitimises.

The full text of Rosemary Mason’s 19-page document (with relevant references) — ‘Why Don’t Pesticides Feature in the WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission?’ — can be accessed via the academia.edu website)  

Apocalypse Now! Insects, Pesticide and a Public Health Crisis  

In 2017, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, and UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics, Baskut Tuncak, produced a report that called for a comprehensive new global treaty to regulate and phase out the use of dangerous pesticides in farming and move towards sustainable agricultural practices.

In addition to the devastating impacts on human health, the two authors argued that the excessive use of pesticides contaminates soil and water sources, causing loss of biodiversity, the destruction of the natural enemies of pests and the reduction in the nutritional value of food.  They drew attention to denials by the agroindustry of the hazards of certain pesticides and expressed concern about aggressive, unethical marketing tactics that remain unchallenged and the huge sums spent by the powerful chemical industry to influence policymakers and contest scientific evidence.

At the time, Elver said that agroecological approaches, which replace harmful chemicals, are capable of delivering sufficient yields to feed and nourish the entire world population, without undermining the rights of future generations to adequate food and health. The two authors added that it was time to overturn the myth that pesticides are necessary to feed the world and create a global process to transition toward safer and healthier food and agricultural production.

The authors were adamant that access to healthy, uncontaminated food is a human rights issue.

And this is not lost on environmental campaigner Dr Rosemary Mason who has just sent a detailed open letter/report to Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU) in the UK – ‘Open Letter to the National Farmers Union About Fraud in Europe and the UK’. Mason’s report contains a good deal of information about pesticides, health and the environment.

Health impacts aside, Mason decided to write to Batters because it is increasingly clear that pesticides are responsible for declines in insects and wildlife, something which the NFU has consistently denied.

In 2017, the Soil Association obtained figures from FERA Science Ltd under a freedom of information request. Using data extracted for the first time from the records of FERA Science Ltd, which holds UK Government data on pesticide use in farming, it was found that pesticide active ingredients applied to three British crops have increased markedly. The data covered British staples wheat, potatoes and onions. Far from a 50% cut – which the NFU had claimed – the increase in active ingredients applied to these crops range from 480% to 1,700% over the last 40-odd years.

Health of the nation

Mason’s aim is to make Batters aware that chemical-dependent, industrial agriculture is a major cause of an ongoing public health crisis and is largely responsible for an unfolding, catastrophic ecological collapse in the UK and globally. Mason places agrochemicals at the centre of her argument, especially globally ubiquitous glyphosate-based herbicides, the use of which have spiralled over the last few decades.

Batters is given information about important studies that suggest glyphosate causes epigenetic changes in humans and animals (diseases skip a generation before appearing) and that it is a major cause of severe obesity in children in the UK, not least because of its impact on the gut microbiome. As a result, Mason says, we are facing a global metabolic health crisis that places glyphosate at the heart of the matter.

And yet glyphosate may be on the market because of fraud. Mason points out that a new study has revealed the Laboratory of Pharmacology and Toxicology (LPT) in Hamburg has committed fraud in a series of regulatory tests, several of which had been carried out as part of the glyphosate re-approval process in 2017. At least 14% of new regulatory studies submitted for the re-approval of glyphosate were conducted by LPT Hamburg. The number could be higher, as this information in the dossiers often remains undisclosed to the public.

In light of this, Angeliki Lyssimachou, environmental toxicologist at Pesticide Action Network Europe, says:

The vast majority of studies leading to the approval of a pesticide are carried out by the pesticide industry itself, either directly or via contract laboratories such as LPT Hamburg… Our 140+ NGO coalition ‘Citizens for Science in Pesticide Regulation’ regularly calls on the (European) Commission to quit this scandalous process: tests must be carried out by independent laboratories under public scrutiny, while the financing of studies should be supported by industry.

Mason then outlines the state of public health in the UK.  A report, ‘The Health of the Nation: A Strategy for Healthier Longer Lives’,  written by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Longevity found that women in the UK are living for 29 years in poor health and men for 23 years: an increase of 50% for women and 42% for men on previous estimates based on self-reported data.

In 2035, there will be around 16 million cases of dementia, arthritis, type 2 diabetes and cancers in people aged 65 and over in the UK – twice as many as in 2015. In 10 years, there will be 5.5 million people with type 2 diabetes while 70% of people aged 55+ will have at least one obesity-related disease.

The report found that the number of major illnesses suffered by older people will increase by 85% between 2015 and 2035.

Ecological collapse

Batters is also made aware that there is an insect apocalypse due to pesticides – numerous studies have indicated catastrophic declines. Mason mentions two scientific studies of the number of insects splattered by cars that have revealed a huge decline in abundance at European sites in two decades. The research adds to growing evidence of what some scientists have called an “insect apocalypse”, which is threatening a collapse in the natural world that sustains humans and all life on Earth. A third study which Mason mentions shows plummeting numbers of aquatic insects in streams.

The survey of insects hitting car windscreens in rural Denmark used data collected every summer from 1997 to 2017 and found an 80% decline in abundance. It also found a parallel decline in the number of swallows and martins, birds that live on insects.

Matt Shardlow, the chief executive of the charity Buglife, says:

These new studies reinforce our understanding of the dangerously rapid disappearance of insect life in both the air and water… It is essential we create more joined up space for insects that is safe from pesticides, climate change and other harm.

Of course, it is not just insects that have been affected. Mason provides disturbing evidence of the decline in British wildlife in general.

Conning the public

Mason argues that the public are being hoodwinked by officials who dance to the tune of the agrochemical conglomerates. For instance, she argues that Cancer Research UK (CRUK) has been hijacked by the agrochemical industry: David Cameron appointed Michael Pragnell, founder of Syngenta to the board of CRUK in 2010 and he became Chairman in 2011.

She asserts that CRUK invented causes of cancer and put the blame on the people for lifestyle choices:

A red-herring fabricated by industry and ‘top’ doctors in Britain: alcohol was claimed to be linked to seven forms of cancer: this ‘alleged fact’ was endlessly reinforced by the UK media until people in the UK were brainwashed.

By 2018, CRUK was also claiming that obesity caused 13 different cancers and that obesity was due to ‘lifestyle choice’.

Each year there are steady increases in the numbers of new cancers in the UK and increases in deaths from the same cancers. Mason says that treatments are having no impact on the numbers.

She argues that the Francis Crick Institute in London with its ‘world class resources’ is failing to improve people’s lives with its treatments and is merely strengthening the pesticides and pharmaceutical industries. The institute is analysing people’s genetic profile with what Mason says is an “empty promise” that one day they could tailor therapy to the individual patient. Mason adds that CRUK is a major funder of the Crick Institute.

The public is being conned, according to Mason, by contributing to ‘cancer research’ with the fraudulent promise of ‘cures’ based on highly profitable drugs manufactured by pharmaceutical companies whose links to the agrochemical sector are clear. CRUK’s research is funded entirely by the public, whose donations support over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses across the UK. Several hundred of these scientists worked at CRUK’s London Research Institute at Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Clare Hall (LRI), which became part of the Crick institute in 2015.

Mason notes that recent research involving the Crick Institute that has claimed ‘breakthroughs’ in discoveries about the genome and cancer genetics are misleading. The work was carried out as part of the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes project, which claims to be the most comprehensive study of cancer genetics to date. The emphasis is on mapping genetic changes and early diagnosis

However, Mason says such research misses the point – most cancers are not inherited. She says:

The genetic damage is caused by mutations secondary to a lifetimes’ exposure to thousands of synthetic chemicals that contaminate the blood and urine of nearly every person tested – a global mass poisoning.

And she supports her claim by citing research by Lisa Gross and Linda Birnbaum which argues that in the US 60,000-plus chemicals already in use were grandfathered into the law on the assumption that they were safe. Moreover, the EPA faced numerous hurdles, including pushback from the chemical industry, that undermined its ability to implement the law. Today, hundreds of industrial chemicals contaminate the blood and urine of nearly every person tested – in the US and beyond.

Mason refers to another study by Maricel V Maffini, Thomas G Neltner and Sarah Vogel which notes that thousands of chemicals have entered the food system, but their long-term, chronic effects have been woefully understudied and their health risks inadequately assessed. As if to underline this, recent media reports have focused on Jeremy Bentham, a well-respected CEO of an asset management company, who argued that infertility caused by endocrine disrupting chemicals will wipe out humans.

Mason argues that glyphosate-based Roundup has caused a 50% decrease in sperm count in males: Roundup disrupts male reproductive functions by triggering calcium-mediated cell death in rat testis and Sertoli cells. She also notes that Roundup causes infertility – based on studies that were carried out in South America and which were ignored by regulators in Europe when relicensing glyphosate.

Neoliberal global landscape

Mason draws on a good deal of important (recent) research and media reports to produce a convincing narrative. But what she outlines is not specific to Britain. For instance, the human and environmental costs of pesticides in Argentina have been well documented and in India Punjab has become a ‘cancer capital’ due to pesticide contamination.

UN Special Rapporteurs Elver and Tuncak argue that while scientific research confirms the adverse effects of pesticides, proving a definitive link between exposure and human diseases or conditions or harm to the ecosystem presents a considerable challenge, especially given the systematic denial by the pesticide and agro-industry of the magnitude of the damage inflicted by these chemicals.

In the meantime, we are told that many diseases and illnesses are the result of personal choice or lifestyle behaviour. It has become highly convenient for public officials and industry mouthpieces to place the blame on ordinary people, while fraudulent science, regulatory delinquency and institutional corruption allows toxic food to enter the marketplace and the agrochemical industry to rake in massive profits.

Health outcomes are merely regarded as the result of individual choices, rather than the outcome of fraudulent activities which have become embedded in political structures and macro-economic ‘free’ market policies. In the brave new world of neoliberalism and ‘consumer choice’, it suits industry and its crony politicians and representatives to convince ordinary people to internalise notions of personal responsibility and self-blame.

Readers are urged to read Rosemary Mason’s new report which can be downloaded from the academia.edu website.

Challenging the Flawed Premise Behind Pushing GMOs into Indian Agriculture

A common claim is that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are essential to agriculture if we are to feed an ever-growing global population. Supporters of genetically engineered (GE) crops argue that by increasing productivity and yields, this technology will also help boost farmers’ incomes and lift many out of poverty. Although in this article it will be argued that the performance of GE crops to date has been questionable, the main contention is that the pro-GMO lobby, both outside of India and within, has wasted no time in wrenching the issues of hunger and poverty from their political contexts to use notions of ‘helping farmers’ and ‘feeding the world’ as lynchpins of its promotional strategy. There exists a ‘haughty imperialism’ within the pro-GMO scientific lobby that aggressively pushes for a GMO ‘solution’ which is a distraction from the root causes of poverty, hunger and malnutrition and genuine solutions based on food justice and food sovereignty.

Last year, in the journal Current Science, Dr Deepak Pental, developer of genetically engineered (GE) mustard at Delhi University, responded to a previous paper in the same journal by eminent scientists PC Kesavan and MS Swaminathan which questioned the efficacy of and the need for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture. Pental argued that the two authors had aligned themselves with environmentalists and ideologues who have mindlessly attacked the use of genetic engineering (GE) technology to improve crops required for meeting the food and nutritional needs of a global population that is predicted to peak at 11.2 billion. Pental added that aspects of the two authors’ analysis are a reflection of their ideological proclivities.

The use of the word ‘mindlessly’ is telling and betrays Pental’s own ideological disposition. His words reflect tired industry-inspired rhetoric that says criticisms of GE technology are driven by ideology not fact.

If hunger and malnutrition are to be tackled effectively, the pro-GMO lobby must put aside this type of rhetoric, which is designed to close down debate. It should accept valid concerns about the GMO paradigm and be willing to consider why the world already produces enough to feed 10 billion people but over two billion are experiencing micronutrient deficiencies (of which 821 million were classed as chronically undernourished in 2018).

Critics: valid concerns or ideologues?

The performance of GE crops has been a hotly contested issue and, as highlighted in Kevasan and Swaminathan’s piece and by others, there is already sufficient evidence to question their efficacy, especially that of herbicide-tolerant crops (which by 2007 already accounted for approximately 80% of biotech-derived crops grown globally) and the devastating impacts on the environment, human health and food security, not least in places like Latin America.

We should not accept the premise that only GE can solve problems in agriculture. In their paper, Kesavan and Swaminathan argue that GE technology is supplementary and must be need based. In more than 99% of cases, they say that time-honoured conventional breeding is sufficient. In this respect, conventional options and innovations that outperform GE must not be overlooked or sidelined in a rush by powerful interests like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to facilitate the introduction of GE crops into global agriculture; crops which are highly financially lucrative for the corporations behind them.

In Europe, robust regulatory mechanisms are in place for GMOs because it is recognised that GE food/crops are not substantially equivalent to their non-GE counterparts. Numerous studies have highlighted the flawed premise of ‘substantial equivalence’. Furthermore, from the outset of the GMO project, the sidelining of serious concerns about the technology has occurred and despite industry claims to the contrary, there is no scientific consensus on the health impacts of GE crops as noted by Hilbeck et al (Environmental Sciences Europe, 2015). Adopting a precautionary principle where GE is concerned is therefore a valid approach.

As Hilbeck et al note, both the Cartagena Protocol and Codex share a precautionary approach to GE crops and foods, in that they agree that GE differs from conventional breeding and that safety assessments should be required before GMOs are used in food or released into the environment. There is sufficient reason to hold back on commercialising GE crops and to subject each GMO to independent, transparent environmental, social, economic and health impact evaluations.

Critics’ concerns cannot therefore be brushed aside by claims that ‘the science’ is decided and the ‘facts’ about GE are indisputable. Such claims are merely political posturing and part of a strategy to tip the policy agenda in favour of GE.

In India, various high-level reports have advised against the adoption of GE crops. Appointed by the Supreme Court, the ‘Technical Expert Committee (TEC) Final Report’ (2013) was scathing about India’s 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 GE crops.

As we have seen with the push to get GE mustard commercialised, the problems described by the TEC persist. Through her numerous submissions to the Supreme Court, Aruna Rodrigues has argued that GE mustard is being pushed through based on outright regulatory delinquency. It must also be noted that this crop is herbicide tolerant, which, as stated by the TEC, is wholly inappropriate for India with its small biodiverse, multi-cropping farms.

While the above discussion has only scratched the surface, it is fair to say that criticisms of GE technology and various restrictions and moratoriums have not been driven by ‘mindless’ proclivities.

Can GE crops ‘feed the world’?

The ‘gene revolution’ is sometimes regarded as Green Revolution 2.0. The Green Revolution too was sold under the guise of ‘feeding the world’. However, emerging research indicates that in India it merely led to more wheat in the diet, while food productivity per capita showed no increase or actually decreased.

Globally, the Green Revolution dovetailed with the consolidation of an emerging global food regime based on agro-export mono-cropping (often with non-food commodities taking up prime agricultural land) and (unfair) liberalised trade, linked to sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF structural adjustment-privatisation directives. The outcomes have included a displacement of a food-producing peasantry, the consolidation of Western agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries from food self-sufficiency into food deficit areas. And yet, the corporations behind this system of dependency and their lobbyists waste no time in spreading the message that this is the route to achieving food security. Their interests lie in ‘business as usual’.

Today, we hear terms like ‘foreign direct investment’ and making India ‘business friendly’, but behind the rhetoric lies the hard-nosed approach of globalised capitalism. The intention is for India’s displaced cultivators to be retrained to work as cheap labour in the West’s offshored plants. India is to be a fully incorporated subsidiary of global capitalism, with its agri-food sector restructured for the needs of global supply chains and a reserve army of labour that effectively serves to beat workers and unions in the West into submission.

Global food insecurity and malnutrition are not the result of a lack of productivity. As long as these dynamics persist and food injustice remains an inbuilt feature of the global food regime, the rhetoric of GE being necessary for feeding the world will be seen for what it is: bombast.

Although India fares poorly in world hunger assessments, the country has achieved self-sufficiency in food grains and has ensured there is enough food (in terms of calories) available to feed its entire population. It is the world’s largest producer of milk, pulses and millets and the second-largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, groundnuts, vegetables, fruit and cotton.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food security is achieved when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Food security for many Indians remains a distant dream. Large sections of India’s population do not have enough food available to remain healthy nor do they have sufficiently diverse diets that provide adequate levels of micronutrients. The Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey 2016-18 is the first-ever nationally representative nutrition survey of children and adolescents in India. It found that 35 per cent of children under five were stunted, 22 per cent of school-age children were stunted while 24 per cent of adolescents were thin for their age.

People are not hungry in India because its farmers do not produce enough food. Hunger and malnutrition result from various factors, including inadequate food distribution, (gender) inequality and poverty; in fact, the country continues to export food while millions remain hungry. It’s a case of ‘scarcity’ amid abundance.

Where farmers’ livelihoods are concerned, the pro-GMO lobby says GE will boost productivity and help secure cultivators a better income. Again, this is misleading: it ignores crucial political and economic contexts. Even with bumper harvests, Indian farmers still find themselves in financial distress.

India’s farmers are not experiencing financial hardship due to low productivity. They are reeling from the effects of neoliberal policies, years of neglect and a deliberate strategy to displace smallholder agriculture at the behest of the World Bank and predatory global agri-food corporations . Little wonder then that the calorie and essential nutrient intake of the rural poor has drastically fallen.

However, aside from putting a positive spin on the questionable performance of GMO agriculture, the pro-GMO lobby, both outside of India and within, has wasted no time in wrenching these issues from their political contexts to use the notions of ‘helping farmers’ and ‘feeding the world’ as lynch pins of its promotional strategy.

GE was never intended to feed the world

Many of the traditional practices of India’s small farmers are now recognised as sophisticated and appropriate for high-productive, sustainable agriculture. It is no surprise therefore that a recent FAO high-level report has called for agroecology and smallholder farmers to be prioritised and invested in to achieve global sustainable food security. It argues that scaling up agroecology offers potential solutions to many of the world’s most pressing problems, whether, for instance, climate change and carbon storage, soil degradation, water shortages, unemployment or food security.

Agroecological principles represent a shift away from the reductionist yield-output industrial paradigm, which results in among other things enormous pressures on soil and water resources, to a more integrated low-input systems approach to food and agriculture that prioritises local food security, 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. Such a system would be underpinned by a concept of food sovereignty,  based on optimal self-sufficiency, the right to culturally appropriate food and local ownership and stewardship of common resources, such as land, water, soil and seeds.

Traditional production systems rely on the knowledge and expertise of farmers in contrast to imported ‘solutions’. Yet, if we take cotton cultivation in India as an example, farmers continue to be nudged away from traditional methods of farming and are being pushed towards (illegal) GE herbicide-tolerant cotton seeds. Researchers Glenn Stone and Andrew Flachs note the results of this shift from traditional practices to date does not appear to have benefited farmers. This isn’t about giving farmers ‘choice’ where GE seeds and associated chemicals are concerned. It is more about GE seed companies and weedicide manufactures seeking to leverage a highly lucrative market.

The potential for herbicide market growth in India is enormous and industry looked for sales to reach USD 800 million by 2019. The objective involves opening India to GE seeds with herbicide tolerance traits, the biotechnology industry’s biggest money maker by far (86 per cent of the world’s GE crop acres in 2015 contain plants resistant to glyphosate or glufosinate and there is a new generation of crops resistant to 2,4-D coming through).

The aim is to break farmers’ traditional pathways and move them onto corporate biotech/chemical treadmills for the benefit of industry.

Calls for agroecology and highlighting the benefits of traditional, small-scale agriculture are not based on a romantic yearning for the past or ‘the peasantry’. Available evidence suggests that (non-GMO) smallholder farming using low-input methods is more productive in total output than large-scale industrial farms and can be more profitable and resilient to climate change. It is for good reason that the FAO high-level report referred to earlier as well as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Prof Hilal Elver, call for investment in this type of agriculture, which is centred on small farms. Despite the pressures, including the fact that globally industrial agriculture grabs 80 per cent of subsidies and 90 per cent of research funds, smallholder agriculture plays a major role in feeding the world.

That’s a massive quantity of subsidies and funds to support a system that is only made profitable as a result of these financial injections and because agri-food oligopolies externalize the massive health, social and environmental costs of their operations.

But policy makers tend to accept that profit-driven transnational corporations have a legitimate claim to be owners and custodians of natural assets (the ‘commons’). These corporations, their lobbyists and their political representatives have succeeded in cementing a ‘thick legitimacy’ among policy makers for their vision of agriculture.

From World Bank ‘enabling the business of agriculture’ directives to the World Trade Organization ‘agreement on agriculture’ and trade related intellectual property agreements, international bodies have enshrined the interests of corporations that seek to monopolise seeds, land, water, biodiversity and other natural assets that belong to us all. These corporations, the promoters of GMO agriculture, are not offering a ‘solution’ for farmers’ impoverishment or hunger; GE seeds are little more than a value capture mechanism.

To evaluate the pro-GMO lobby’s rhetoric that GE is needed to ‘feed the world’, we first need to understand the dynamics of a globalised food system that fuels hunger and malnutrition against a backdrop of (subsidised) food overproduction. We must acknowledge the destructive, predatory dynamics of capitalism and the need for agri-food giants to maintain profits by seeking out new (foreign) markets and displacing existing systems of production with ones that serve their bottom line.  And we need to reject a deceptive ‘haughty imperialism within the pro-GMO scientific lobby which aggressively pushes for a GMO ‘solution’.

Gone Fishing? No Fish but Plenty of Pesticides and a Public Health Crisis

There is mounting evidence that a healthy soil microbiome protects plants from pests and diseases. One of the greatest natural assets that humankind has is soil. But when you drench it with proprietary synthetic chemicals or continuously monocrop as part of a corporate-controlled industrial farming system, you can kill essential microbes, upset soil balance and end up feeding soil a limited doughnut diet of unhealthy inputs.

Armed with their synthetic biocides, this is what the transnational agritech conglommerates do. These companies attempt to get various regulatory and policy-making bodies to bow before the altar of corporate ‘science’. But, in reality, they have limited insight into the long-term impacts their actions have on soil and its complex networks of microbes and microbiological processes. Soil microbiologists are themselves still trying to comprehend it all.

That much is clear when Linda Kinkel of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Plant Pathology said back in 2014: “We understand only a fraction of what microbes do to aid in plant growth.”

And it’s the same where ‘human soil’ is concerned.

People have a deep microbiological connection to soils and traditional processing and fermentation processes, which all affect the gut microbiome – the up to six pounds of bacteria, viruses and microbes akin to human soil. And as with actual soil, the microbiome can become degraded according to what we ingest (or fail to ingest). Many nerve endings from major organs are located in the gut and the microbiome effectively nourishes them. There is ongoing research taking place into how the microbiome is disrupted by the modern globalised food production/processing system and the chemical bombardment it is subjected to.

The human microbiome is of vital importance to human health yet it is under chemical attack from agri-food giants and their agrochemicals and food additives. As soon as we stopped eating locally-grown, traditionally-processed food, cultivated in healthy soils and began eating food subjected to chemical-laden cultivation and processing activities, we began to change ourselves. Along with cultural traditions surrounding food production and the seasons, we also lost our deep-rooted microbiological connection with our localities. It was traded in for corporate chemicals and seeds and global food chains dominated by the likes of Monsanto (now Bayer), Nestle and Cargill.

Environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason says that glyphosate disrupts the shikimate pathway within these gut bacteria and is a strong chelator of essential minerals, such as cobalt, zinc, manganese, calcium, molybdenum and sulphate. In addition, it kills off beneficial gut bacteria and allows toxic bacteria to flourish. She adds that we are therefore facing a global metabolic health crisis linked to glyphosate.

Many key neurotransmitters are located in the gut. Aside from affecting the functioning of major organs, these transmitters affect our moods and thinking.  There is strong evidence that gut bacteria can have a direct physical impact on the brain. Alterations in the composition of the gut microbiome have been implicated in a wide range of neurological and psychiatric conditions, including autism, chronic pain, depression and Parkinson’s Disease.

Recently published research indicates that glyphosate and Roundup are proven to disrupt gut microbiome by inhibiting the shikimate pathway. Dr Michael Antoniou of King’s College London has found that Roundup herbicide and its active ingredient glyphosate cause a dramatic increase in the levels of two substances, shikimic acid and 3-dehydroshikimic acid, in the gut, which are a direct indication that the EPSPS enzyme of the shikimic acid pathway has been severely inhibited. The researchers found that Roundup and glyphosate affected the microbiome at all dose levels tested, causing shifts in bacterial populations.

This confirms what Mason has been highlighting for some time. However, she has also been pointing out the environmental degradation resulting from the spiralling use of glyphosate-based herbicides and has just written an open letter to the Principal Fisheries Officer of Natural Resources Wales (NRW), Peter Gough (NRW is the environment agency for Wales).

The letter runs to 20 pages and focuses on glyphosate and neonicotinoid insecticides. She asks who would re-authorise a pesticide that is toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects and is causing serious eye damage along with various forms of cancers and a wide range of other health conditions?

She answers her question by saying the European Glyphosate Task Force and Jean-Claude Juncker President of the EC along with various regulators in Europe who have basically capitulated to an industry agenda. Mason argues that the European Glyphosate Task Force (who actually did the re-assessment of glyphosate) omitted all the studies from South America where they had been growing GM Roundup Ready crops since 1996. She discusses the suppression of key research which indicated the harmful effects of glyphosate.

The Principal Fisheries Scientist Wales sent Mason two NRW Reports two years ago. In it, Mason discovered that giant hogweed on the River Usk bank had been treated with a glyphosate-based herbicide. NRW had also admitted to not studying the effects of neonicotinoids, which had been introduced in 1994. Mason pointed out to NRW that run-off from farms of clothianidin in seeds would be enough to kill off aquatic invertebrates.

In early January, NRW attempted to explain the absence of salmon and trout in the River Usk on climate change (warming of the river), rather than poisoning of the river, which is what Mason had warned the agency about two years ago.

In Britain, information on emerging water contaminants has been suppressed, according to Mason, and there is no monitoring of either neonics or glyphosate in surface or ground water. In the US, though, measurements of these chemicals have been carried out on farmland and their correlation with massive declines in invertebrates by separate agencies and universities in the US and Canada.

Mason notes there has been 70 years of poisoning the land with pesticides. Although the National Farmers Union and the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs in the UK say fewer pesticides are now being applied, the Soil Association indicates massive increases of increasing numbers of pesticides at decreasing intervals (official statistics obtained via a Freedom of Information request).

Readers should consult the full text of Mason’s open letter on the acamedia.edu site to gain wider insight into the issues outlined above and many more, such as government collusion with major agrochemical corporations, the shaping of official narratives on illness and disease to obscure the role of pesticides and Monsanto’s poisoning of Wales.

What Mason outlines is not specific to Wales or the UK; the increasing use of damaging agrochemicals and government collusion with the industry transcends national borders. Nation states are becoming increasingly obsolete and powerless in the face of globalised capitalist interests.

What follows is the e-mail that Mason sent to Peter Gough by way of introducing her letter to him.

Dear Peter,

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) classified glyphosate as a substance that is toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects

Your colleague Dave Charlesworth declared on BBC 1 Breakfast last week that the declines in salmon and trout were due to climate change and warming of the rivers. I told you just over 2 years ago that it was due to pesticides and showed you the proof from assorted NRW documents you sent me.

Why are NRW, the government, ‘top’ UK doctors, farmers, the corporations, the media and global pesticides regulators protecting the agrochemical industry? All of you could suffer from the effects of pesticides in food, in water, in the air and in rain. Why don’t you inform the people?

Monsanto claims that Roundup doesn’t affect humans, but their sealed secret studies that scientist Anthony Samsel obtained from the US EPA, shows evidence of cancers and that bioaccumulation of 14C labelled glyphosate occurred in every organ of the body (page 9).

The NFU and Defra deny they are responsible for 70 years of poisoning the land and the subsequent insect apocalypse; they should read their own document “Healthy Harvest.” The National Farmers’ Union (NFU), the Crop Protection Association (CPA) and the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) combined to lobby the EU not to restrict the 320+ pesticides available to them. The publication is called: HEALTHY HARVEST. [1] (Pages 6-9)

The Department of Health and the Chief Medical Officer for England claim that parents are responsible for obesity in primary school children. However, Pesticides Action Network (PAN) analysed the Department of Health’s Schools Fruit and Vegetable Scheme and found that there were residues of 123 pesticides in it, some of which are linked to serious health problems such as cancer and disruption of the hormone system.

When PAN informed them, they said that pesticides were not the concern of the DOH. (Page 14, 13-16).

Dr Don Huber, Emeritus Professor of Plant Pathology, Purdue University, US, speaking about GMO crops and glyphosate, said: “Future historians may well look back upon our time and write, not about how many pounds of pesticide we did or didn’t apply, but by how willing we are to sacrifice our children and future generations for this massive genetic engineering experiment that is based on flawed science and failed promises just to benefit the bottom line of a commercial enterprise.” (Page 18)

Kind regards,

Rosemary