Category Archives: GMO

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

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

The documents states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five high-level reports: no to GMOs

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

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

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

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

GMOs in the food system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musings on a Monday After Teaching High School Get You Down? Nope!

Hold those things that tell your history and protect them… The ability to have somebody to tell your story is so important. It says: ‘I was here’.

— Maya Angelou

Image result for biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity

One of those splattering days — called to teach special education at one of the high schools in Lincoln City. Wonderful students, wonderful para-educators, wonderful teachers.

But not according to the powers that be in the world! How many students are thrown to the floor/ground and handcuffed by armed cops? How many schools are like prisons, with armed school personnel and local cops there to intimidate?

We are priming youth with these strip searches and forced drug tests and grillings about their allegiances outside the capitalist frame to be compliant adults, scared of their own shadows, frightened to death to take too many breathes of air.

No one can dispute a federal appellate court’s characterization of a strip-search as “demeaning, dehumanizing, undignified, humiliating, terrifying, unpleasant, embarrassing, [and] repulsive, signifying degradation and submission.” Even the Supreme Court has said that a search that intrusive “demand[s] its own specific suspicions.” The shock and humiliation suffered by persons subjected to such arrests and searches is aggravated by the fact that they are almost always ordinary citizens who have never been in jail before. In one case a Chicago woman doctor who had been strip searched afterward suffered paranoia, suicidal feelings and depression and would not undress anywhere but in a closet.

The Fourth Amendment was designed to stand between us and arbitrary governmental authority. For all practical purposes, that shield has been shattered, leaving our liberty and personal integrity subject to the whim of every cop on the beat, trooper on the highway and jail official. The Framers would be appalled.

Source: “How the Supreme Court Came to embrace Strip Searches for Trivial Offenses.”

So, how many students are put through this fascist ringer, forced into this series of illegal, unethical, inhumane, insane demands that speak to deeply dehumanizing actions by the so-called powers?

Teaching students in public schools is like pulling the blinders and the blindfolds off of captives who have been shuttered away in some dark and cold cave in Pakistan. They think they sort of have these freedoms outlined in the Constitution, or Bill of Rights, but in reality, they know the jig is up. They know you can’t cross the street while being black without a police confrontation. They know that if they skip rope the wrong way or if they wrestle with their buddies in the cafeteria, then they are subject to the resources officer (thug, wannabe cop) coming in and escalating the situation.

You can’t wear caps, and you can’t hug in public. If you raise your voice in school as a Latino or some teen who is Asian and expressively dressed, well, we have the entire thug force of America come at you full-force.

The Fourth Amendment is dead, and the new government bureaucrats and Gestapo chieftains have taken away unlawful and overreaching search and seizure laws and have normalized their complete “right” to search, seize, strip, scan, spy on, probe, pat down, taser, and arrest any individual at any time and for the slightest provocation.

In any given day, thousands of Americans undergo forced cavity searches, forced colonoscopies, forced blood draws, forced breath-alcohol tests, forced DNA extractions, forced eye scans, forced inclusion in biometric databases.

I have worked for the Starvation Army, through the auspices of the VA, and that corrupt religious outfit — brown shirts one and all — not only forces veterans to pee in a cup for an illegal UA test, but twice daily everyone in a transition housing center has to blow in a straw and prove sobriety with an alcohol monitor.

It’s not for the benefit of the individual, mind you. Getting caught with a hot pee or positive for booze blow, for the homeless vet, the powers that be come down like orchestrated hammers to remind you that you are broken, that you need fixing, that your three hots and a cot are jeopardized and that you might be on the streets, with your four bags of belongings, your emotional support dog, your wife and three kids in tow.

The same treatment is in store for our first through 12th graders.

Typical of the public schools is a North Carolina case of administrators strip-searching a 10-year-old boy in hopes of finding a $20 bill lost by another student, even though the accused boy protested twice that he did not have the missing money. Get this — these little and big brown-shirts, like this ass. principal, ordered the fifth grader to disrobe down to his underwear and subjected him “to an aggressive strip-search that included rimming the edge of his underwear.”

The so-deemed ripped-off $20 bill was later found in the school cafeteria. Did the parents come in with bats and get retribution? Was anything done?

The children of the world want real answers, real stories, real heroes and real tools to navigate a world of fascists, climate change, huge class divides, no economic futures for at least 40 percent of the students as they matriculate out and meander in the wasteland of the 21st century’s second decade in. We have talking sessions and the youth want to ask why people my age and younger have allowed the corporations and government to seize the most intimate details of who we are. Why this is a police state, and a policed school system.

They get it and don’t think all of this talk is some movie script for a Minority Report Two. They already know all their testing scores and performance reports are held captive somewhere. They also know that their vaccination and health records are easily accessed by school officials.

I try and tamp down the urge to tell it like it is early in a class: in the United States we are now guilty until proven innocent.

Students want to know why there are so many fellow classmates with Epipens, why so many are on Individualized Employment Plans, why so many have para-educators assigned to them, what so many are pulled out of classes for special ed or special diets.

We can’t share snacks at breaks because so many are allergic to gluten or sugar or corn or coconut or peanuts of eggs or soy. They are these nervous assist objects and gizmos for many youth on the spectrum to handle, and some are allowed to bring in their own beanbags or to stand up away from the class or pace the room.

We talk about the consequences of unintended fallout from all the junk and plastic products and chemicals laced in the foods and emanating from every corner of a community.

Background checks, parents’ credit checks, health records, records on what they eat and purchase and what their parents plop down on credit cards. What we think, believe, hope for, covet, adhere to spiritually, all of it is recorded, put out in the cloud, held by the IRS, Medical-Pharma-Finance-Debt Complex.

On one hand, we talk about climate change, plastics in their feces, why they get sick with cheese or white bread or with peanut butter. These are smart kids, probing, wanting to know more and more.

They want people in their lives that take them over to the edge of the cliff, and strap them into the hang-glider and take off. They want teachers and mentors taking them to the edge of the boat and plopping backwards to the great blue sea in their snorkel and scuba gear.

They want to go into the forest, not the edge of it. They want to spend time with beavers and watch the process of dam building and the amazing species of aquatic animals thriving.

These children are tired of the Tupperware brand of education and the countless coloring projects and poster projects. They want teachers to help them build catfish ponds, to build gardens, to learn in tepees, to learn how to make children’s puzzles out of wood to sell to the public. They want zip lines around their school, and they want more and more hands-on work. They want to know how to make clay pots, and they want to learn how to arrange flowers, and grow them. They want to learn how to grow food and prep it and cook it. They want to build solar powered pedicabs, and they want to go to all the nursing homes and care facilities with their homemade drums and pianos and accordions and voices and sing and dance and perform for their elders.

It all can be done, and they ask why not, and we talk about every dollar put into a system like decent and real life education getting many dollars matched in return for each dollar invested in children and youth.

Then, we talk about what it means to give up everything for the job, that getting a low paid service job means not having health insurance and being forced to not take vacations, ever, if the job is below a certain amount of hours. They know they won’t be high paid $2000-an-hour lawyers, and they know that very few of the graduates from all the schools in this county will get to be brain surgeons.

We talk about the power in numbers, like bee hives, or ants, and then relate it to people — how many people would it take to get some land, build gardens, do some home-cottage industry work, and sustain a healthy lifestyle. I name this as intentional communities and cooperative living.

Unfortunately, these children are going to be the products of parents who are downtrodden, negative about their own futures, and denigrating against any or all new ideas to get out of this hamster wheel America.

Most of the ideals the youth I teach possess come from Hollywood or thereabouts. They have not met real farmers who are also experts in cheese making and cooking and preserving. They are not meeting the people who are the survivors and the ones who can help us get through this climate and economic chaos.

We talk about the very concept of making sure not to degrade or toxify one self of any of the vital keys to self and community preservation — you are what you eat, you are what you read, you are what you dream, you are what you hope, you are what you think, you are what you say, you are what you believe, you are what you imagine, you are what you do.

There is a lot of pressure on youth, but mainly because the education system as such and the economic horizon we have gifted them are imperiled and off the rails. They want to know what Genetic Engineering is, why all the food items in grocery stores that are not in the green grocery section are contaminated with Roundup, or glyphosate.

They want to know what a Franken-fish is. We talk about that, the mighty salmon, since they reside in Salmon Nation.

Twenty million people share our home in this place we call Salmon Nation.

It spans 100 million acres between San Francisco and Anchorage and generates over $500 billion in economic activity each year, yet is only a sliver of the range that Pacific salmon once ran.

The historic salmon runs remind us of our heritage—what is, was, and, maybe, could be again. Salmon Nation offers a framework for our thinking—a nature state, not a nation state—based on interconnection and the broad distribution of wealth between marine and terrestrial, freshwater and saltwater, urban and rural. Our work is to figure out how to organize our communities and economies to sustain, or even restore, that wealth into the future. Salmon Nation is about the connection between people and place—loving where you live and leaving it better than you found it.

I talk about the power of young people occupying buildings, occupying parks, occupying grocery stores, and occupying the world. They want to know how to protest, how to sing, how to develop the tools that will one day be used by them collectively to do more in the world than to work for the man and bleed their souls for the debts incurred in this capitalist nation.

Image result for Frankenfish

We parse the following press release just pushed out by environmental groups:

FDA Lifts Import Ban on Genetically Engineered Salmon

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth and Quinault Indian Nation, and Feed Seven Generations today decried the FDA’s decision to lift the 2016 import alert that banned genetically engineered salmon from entering the U.S.

“USDA’s new guidelines don’t require adequate mandatory labeling, don’t require calling the fish “genetically engineered” and don’t help consumers know what kind of fish they are buying,” said George Kimbrell, Legal Director at the Center for Food Safety. “These guidelines don’t require mandatory labeling of GE salmon, and instead allow producers to use QR codes or 1-800 numbers for more information. That clearly is not what the Murkowski amendment requires.”

Dana Perls, Senior food policy campaigner with Friends of the Earth, warned, “The FDA’s decision to allow GMO salmon onto the U. S. market runs counter to sound science and market demand. More than 80 retailers have said they won’t sell this risky, unlabeled GMO fish and polls show consumers don’t want it.”

“The FDA’s unilateral decision, without tribal consultation, is an alarming signal that our sacred and prized wild salmon is now even more vulnerable to external markets and ecological threats,” said Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation. “It’s unconscionable and arrogant to think man can improve upon our Creator’s perfection in wild salmon as a justification and excuse to satisfy corporate ambition and greed.”

“By lifting the ban on genetically engineered salmon, the FDA has put American consumers at serious risk and has directly attacked the life ways of Pacific Northwest Tribal communities,” said Valerie Segrest, Muckleshoot Tribal Member and Executive Director of Feed Seven Generations. “They have done this without a single tribal consultation, which violates their legal responsibility, mandating that they consult with tribes. Clearly this is an appropriation of our culture and this action will lead to inevitable contamination and irreversible damage to our food system.”

In every year since 2015, Senator Murkowski (R-AK) has inserted a requirement into FDA appropriations language that requires the FDA to issue mandatory labeling guidelines for GE salmon, using clear, on-package labeling stating that these fish are genetically engineered. FDA claims that the USDA new “bioengineered food” labeling guidelines are adequate, but the USDA “bioengineered” guidelines do not require explicitly labeling GE salmon as “genetically engineered.” Moreover, companies could choose to hide the label using a QR code, rather than on-package labeling.

George Kimbrell, Legal Director at the Center for Food Safety, announced that CFS is examining possible legal actions to force the FDA to comply with the Murkowski amendment. Moreover, the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice are leading the legal challenge to whether the FDA even has the legal authority to approve this genetically engineered fish as a “new animal drug”.

More information on health and environmental risks of genetically engineered salmon and a full list of stores that have made commitments to not sell genetically engineered seafood and salmon, letters sent to companies by Friends of the Earth U.S., Center for Food Safety and allies, and a list of coalition partners are available at www.gefreeseafood.org.

We talk about how youth, how students, even how their own parents have no say in this insanity of releasing Frankenstein fish into their diets. They are already concerned about other grand experiments by the sociopaths — nanoparticles in all processed foods; more and more chemicals on their bodies, inside their bodies, inside their lungs, unregulated created by these sociopaths in the sciences and technologies hired as hired-guns to make profits for the elite at the expense of global health, and each child’s health. We talk about the native American way, that we need sanity back, sane ideas, sustainability that is real.

Tribal fishermen scramble to contain a spill of farmed Atlantic salmon in north Puget Sound before they tarnish local waters, shedding light on a global struggle between farmed and wild fish. Annie Crawley worked with the Lummi Tribe, Wild Fish Conservancy, Lummi Island Wild, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and many others to tell the story of the farmed Atlantic salmon spill into the Salish Sea in August 2017. The event sparked a movement of people to speak out against Atlantic salmon net pens in the Puget Sound. Although our state government has taken action to remove the net pens, they are still in other parts of our world ocean. We hope this film will ignite others to choose wild salmon over farmed salmon and create awareness around the impact farmed salmon can have to wild populations.

— Annie Crawley 

The young people of today are our only hope. It’s not the aging politicians that will work to solve the global problems. It’s not the rich and the famous and the celebrity who give a shit about us, the 80 percenters. It’s not the athletes or the CEOs or the bankers who will put the blood sweat and tears into the problems to solve them.

Young people are the lost generations, the lost people, the lost souls, as we adults have abandoned their futures by eating up their futures with this continual continent-sized pile of lies and magical thinking.

They are ready for action and for actors to help them lead themselves. Young people are open to radicals and revolutionaries. Young people need leaders and shaman people to help them crawl out of the dungeons their parents have constructed in not only their own lives, but the future lives of their children.

The students.

Each day I learn more and more about the value of listening and being with and being one with the people of the world, the new people, the arising ones, the people who have not felt gravity enough to weigh down their hope and outlook and creativity. Unfortunately, the systems set up in Capitalism are all about colonizing people at younger and younger ages so they too can be ready for the hamster wheel of Capitalism.

Image result for hamster wheel for humanity

A Dangerous Road: A New Technological Revolution in Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Dangerous Road: A New Technological Revolution in Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poisoning the Public: Toxic Agrochemicals and Regulators’ Collusion with Industry

In January 2019, campaigner Dr Rosemary Mason lodged a complaint with the European Ombudsman accusing European regulatory agencies of collusion with the agrochemicals industry. This was in the wake of an important paper by Charles Benbrook on the genotoxicity of glyphosate-based herbicides that appeared in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe.

In an unusual step, the editor-in-chief of that journal, Prof Henner Hollert, and his co-author, Prof Thomas Backhaus, issued a strong statement in support of the acceptance of Dr Benbrook’s article for publication. In a commentary published in the same issue of the journal, they write:

We are convinced that the article provides new insights on why different conclusions regarding the carcinogenicity of glyphosate and GBHs [glyphosate-based herbicides] were reached by the US EPA and IARC. It is an important contribution to the discussion on the genotoxicity of GBHs.

The IARC’s (International Agency for Research on Cancer) evaluation relied heavily on studies capable of shedding light on the distribution of real-world exposures and genotoxicity risk in exposed human populations, while the EPA’s (Environmental Protection Agency) evaluation placed little or no weight on such evidence.

Up to that point, Dr Mason had been writing to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the EU Commission for an 18-month period, challenging them about ECHA’s positive assessment of glyphosate. Many people around the world had struggled to understand how and why the US EPA and the EFSA concluded that glyphosate is not genotoxic (damaging to DNA) or carcinogenic, whereas the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency, the IARC, came to the opposite conclusion.

The IARC stated that the evidence for glyphosate’s genotoxic potential is “strong” and that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. While IARC referenced only peer-reviewed studies and reports available in the public literature, the EPA relied heavily on unpublished regulatory studies commissioned by pesticide manufacturers.

In fact, 95 of the 151 genotoxicity assays cited in the EPA’s evaluation were from industry studies (63%), while IARC cited 100% public literature sources. Another important difference is that the EPA focused its analysis on glyphosate in its pure chemical form, or ‘glyphosate technical’. The problem with that is that almost no one is exposed to glyphosate alone. Applicators and the public are exposed to complete herbicide formulations consisting of glyphosate plus added ingredients (adjuvants). The formulations have repeatedly been shown to be more toxic than glyphosate in isolation.

Rejection of Dr Mason’s complaint

The European Ombudsman has now rejected Rosemary Mason’s complaint who has in turn written a 25-page response documenting the wide-ranging impacts of glyphosate-based Roundup and other agrochemicals on human health and the environment. She also outlines the various levels of duplicity that have allowed many of these chemicals to remain on the commercial market.

Mason is led to conclude that, due to the rejection of her complaint (as with others lodged by her to the Ombudsman), the European Ombudsman Office is also part of the problem and is essentially colluding with European pesticide regulatory authorities. Mason has addressed this concern directly to Emily O’Reilly, who currently holds the post of European Ombudsman:

In your rejection of all my complaints over the last few years, it is clear that The Ombudsman’s Office is protecting the European pesticides regulatory authorities, who are in turn being controlled by the European Glyphosate Task Force…. You have turned a blind eye to the authorisation of many of the toxic pesticides that are on the market today because industry is being allowed to self-regulate.

Some of the key points, claims and issues raised in Mason’s new report entitled “The European Ombudsman is colluding with the European Pesticide Regulatory Authorities” include:

  • The European pesticide regulatory authorities and the European Ombudsman is colluding with industry, resulting in the poisoning of humans and the environment;
  • Cancer Research UK is not addressing the impact of agrochemicals because it is heavily compromised by industry interests and therefore claims, “there is little evidence that pesticides cause cancer”;
  • The UK Science Media Centre is an industry lobby organisation, which feeds the wider media and its journalists with misleading and false information about agrochemicals;
  • Industry group the European Glyphosate Task Force (GTF) has been instrumental in ensuring the re-licensing of glyphosate in the EU;
  • Maladministration and criminal collusion with the agrochemicals industry resulted in the renewal of glyphosate registration in the EU;
  • The report touches on the condemnation of the ECHA’s positive classification of glyphosate by the judges of the International Monsanto Tribunal;
  • The global insect apocalypse and the impact of intensive agriculture and pesticides is catastrophic;
  • Children and adults have diminished mental acuity and exhibit increasing levels of mental health disorders, depression, suicides and anxiety as a result of exposure to agrochemicals;
  • Monsanto’s sealed secret studies shows the company knew about impact of its product on cancers and eye damage;
  • The report mentions UN expert on Toxins Baskut Tuncak’s call to put children’s health before pesticides;
  • Mason outlines the poisoning of British food: breakfast cereals have shockingly high levels of glyphosate;
  • She notes that 30,000 doctors and health professionals in Argentina have demanded a ban on glyphosate;
  • Brazil’s National Cancer Institute statement that genetically modified crops are causing of massive pesticide use is referred to;
  • The independence of regulatory decisions made by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) has been marred by political donations to Labor and the Coalition. In the 2017-18 financial year, Bayer donated $40,600 to Labor and $42,540 to the Coalition, with CropLife donating $34,271 to Labor and $22,300 to the Coalition;
  • As a result, APVMA is allowing clothianidin and Roundup to be applied to crops in low lying areas which drains into The Great Barrier Reef; and,
  • In turn, the poisoning of The Great Barrier Reef is taking place due to the impact of herbicides and long-acting insecticides.

There are numerous other important points and issues tackled in the report, which readers are urged to read in full. Mason names key individuals and provides all relevant links to research, reports and papers. You can access the report here. You can also access Dr Mason’s many other documents here.

Oil, Agriculture and Imperialism: Averting the Fast-Track to Armageddon?

US National Security Advisor John Bolton has more or less admitted that the ongoing destabilisation of Venezuela is about grabbing its oil. He recently stated:

We’re looking at the oil assets… We’re in conversation with major American companies now… It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.

The US’s hand-picked supposed leader-in-waiting, Juan Guaido, aims to facilitate the process and usher in a programme of ‘mass privatisation’ and ‘hyper-capitalism‘ at the behest of his coup-instigating masters in Washington, thereby destroying the socialist revolution spearheaded by the late Hugo Chavez and returning to a capitalist oligarch-controlled economic system.

One might wonder who is Bolton, or anyone in the US, to dictate and engineer what the future of another sovereign state should be. But this is what the US has been doing across the globe for decades. Its bloody imperialism, destabilisations, coups, assassinations, invasions and military interventions have been extensively documented by William Blum.

Of course, although oil is key to the current analysis of events in Venezuela, there is also the geopolitical subtext of debt, loans and Russian investment and leverage within the country. At the same time, it must be understood that US-led capitalism is experiencing a crisis of over-production: when this occurs capital needs to expand into or create new markets and this entails making countries like Venezuela bow to US hegemony and open up its economy.

For US capitalism, however, oil is certainly king. Its prosperity is maintained by oil with the dollar serving as the world reserve currency. Demand for the greenback is guaranteed as most international trade (especially and significantly oil) is carried out using the dollar. And those who move off it are usually targeted by the US (Venezuela being a case in point).

US global hegemony depends on Washington maintaining the dollar’s leading role. Engaging in petrodollar recycling and treasury-bond ‘super-imperialism‘ are joined at the hip and have enabled the US to run up a huge balance of payments deficit (a free ride courtesy of the rest of the world) by using the (oil-backed) paper dollar as security in itself.

More generally, with its control and manipulation of the World Bank, IMF and WTO, the US has been able to lever international trade and financial systems to its advantage by various means (for example, see this analysis of Saudi Arabia’s oil money in relation to African debt). US capitalism will not allow its global dominance and the role of the dollar to be challenged.

Unfortunately for humanity and all life on the planet, the US deems it necessary to attempt to prolong its (declining) hegemony and the age of oil.

Oil, empire and agriculture

In the article ‘And you thought Greece had a problem’, Norman Pagett notes that the ascendance of modern industrialised humans, thanks to oil, has been a short flash of light that has briefly lifted us out of the mire of the middle ages. What we call modern civilisation in the age of oil is fragile and it is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to extract remaining oil reserves. The age of oil is a driver of climate change, that much is clear. But what is equally disturbing is that the modern global food regime is oil-dependent, not least in terms of the unnecessary transportation of commodities and produce across the planet and the increasing reliance on proprietary seeds designed to be used with agrochemicals derived from petroleum or which rely on fossil fuel during their manufacture.

Virtually all of the processes in the modern food system are now dependent upon this finite resource:

Vast amounts of oil and gas are used as raw materials and energy in the manufacture of fertilisers and pesticides, and as cheap and readily available energy at all stages of food production: from planting, irrigation, feeding and harvesting, through to processing, distribution and packaging. In addition, fossil fuels are essential in the construction and the repair of equipment and infrastructure needed to facilitate this industry, including farm machinery, processing facilities, storage, ships, trucks and roads. The industrial food supply system is one of the biggest consumers of fossil fuels and one of the greatest producers of greenhouse gases.

Norman J Church (2005)

Pagett notes that the trappings of civilisation have not altered the one rule of existence: if you don’t produce food from the earth on a personal basis, your life depends on someone converting sunlight into food on your behalf. Consider that Arabia’s gleaming cities in the desert are built on its oil. It sells oil for food. Then there is the UK, which has to import 40 per cent of its food, and much of the rest depends on oil to produce it, which also has to be imported. Pagett notes that while some talk about the end of the oil age, few link this to or describe it as being the end of the food age.

Without oil, we could survive – but not by continuing to pursue the ‘growth’ model China or India are pursuing, or which the West has pursued. Without sustainable, healthy agriculture, however, we will not survive. Destroy agriculture, or more precisely the resources to produce food sustainably (the climate, access to fresh water and indigenous seeds, traditional know-how, learning and practices passed on down the generations, soil fertility, etc.), which is what we are doing, and we will be in trouble.

The prevailing oil-based global food regime goes hand in hand with the wrong-headed oil-based model of ‘development’ we see in places like India. Such development is based on an outmoded ‘growth’ paradigm:

Our politicians tell us that we need to keep the global economy growing at more than 3% each year – the minimum necessary for large firms to make aggregate profits. That means every 20 years we need to double the size of the global economy – double the cars, double the fishing, double the mining, double the McFlurries and double the iPads. And then double them again over the next 20 years from their already doubled state.

Jason Hickel (2016)

How can we try to avoid potential catastrophic consequences of such an approach, including what appears to be an increasingly likely nuclear conflict between competing imperial powers?

We must move away from militarism and resource-gabbing conflicts by reorganising economies so that nations live within their environmental means. We must maximise human well-being while actively shrinking out consumption levels and our ecological footprint.

Some might at this point be perplexed by the emphasis on agriculture. But what many overlook is that central to this argument is recognising not only the key role that agriculture has played in facilitating US geopolitical aims but also its potential for transforming our values and how we live. We need a major shift away from the current model of industrialised agriculture and food production. Aside from it being a major emitter of greenhouse gases, it has led to bad food, poor health and environmental degradation and has been underpinned by a resource-grabbing, food-deficit producing US foreign policy agenda for many decades, assisted by the WTO, World Bank, IMF and ‘aid’ strategies. For instance, see ‘Sowing the Seeds of Famine in Ethiopia’ by Michel Chossudovsky and ‘Destroying African Agriculture’ by Walden Bello.

The control of global agriculture has been a tentacle of US capitalism’s geopolitical strategy. The Green Revolution was exported courtesy of oil-rich interests and poorer nations adopted agricapital’s chemical-dependent model of agriculture that required loans for inputs and related infrastructure development. It entailed trapping nations into a globalised system of debt bondage, rigged trade relations and the hollowing out and capture of national and local economies. In effect, we have seen the transnational corporate commercialisation and displacement of localised productive systems.

Western agricapital’s markets are opened or propped up by militarism (Ukraine and Iraq), ‘structural adjustment’ and strings-attached loans (Africa) and slanted trade deals (India). Agricapital drives a globalised agenda to suit its interests and eradicate impediments to profit. And it doesn’t matter how much devastation ensues or how unsustainable its food regime is, ‘crisis management’ and ‘innovation’ fuel the corporate-controlled treadmill it seeks to impose.

But as Norman J Church argues, the globalisation and corporate control that seriously threaten society and the stability of our environment are only possible because cheap energy is used to replace labour and allows the distance between producer and consumer to be extended.

We need to place greater emphasis on producing food rooted in the principles of localisation, self-reliance, (carbon sequestrating) regenerative agriculture and (political) agroecology and to acknowledge the need to regard the commons (soil, water, seeds, land, forests, other natural resources, etc) as genuine democratically controlled common wealth. This approach would offer concrete, practical solutions (mitigating climate change, job creation in the West and elsewhere, regenerating agriculture and economies in the Global South, etc) to many of the world’s problems that move beyond (but which are linked to) agriculture.

This would present a major challenge to the existing global food regime and the prevailing moribund doctrinaire economics that serves the interests of Western oil companies and financial institutions, global agribusiness and the major arms companies. These interlocking, self-serving interests have managed to institute a globalised system of war, poverty and food insecurity.

The deregulation of international capital flows (financial liberalisation) effectively turned the world into a free-for-all for global capital. The further ramping up of US militarism comes at the back end of a deregulating/pro-privatising neoliberal agenda that has sacked public budgets, depressed wages, expanded credit to consumers and to governments (to sustain spending and consumption) and unbridled financial speculation. This relentless militarism has now become a major driver of the US economy.

Millions are dead in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan as the US and its allies play out a continuation of what they regard as a modern-day ‘Great Game’. And now, in what it arrogantly considers its own back yard, the US is instigating yet another coup and possible military attack.

We have Western politicians and the media parroting unfounded claims about President Maduro, like they did with Assad, Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi and like they do about ‘Russian aggression’. All for what? Resources, pipelines, oil and gas. And these wars and conflicts and the lies to justify them will only get worse as demand across the world for resources grows against a backdrop of depletion.

We require a different low-energy, low-carbon economic system based on a different set of values. As the US ratchets up tensions in Venezuela, we again witness a continuation of the same imperialist mindset that led to two devastating world wars.

Capitalist Agriculture: Putting Soil on a Diet of Snake Oil and Doughnuts

In their rush to readily promote neoliberal dogma and corporate-inspired PR, many government officials, scientists and journalists take as given that profit-driven transnational corporations have a legitimate claim to be custodians of natural assets. The premise is that under capitalism water, food, soil and agriculture should be handed over to powerful and wholly corrupt transnational corporations to milk for profit, under the pretence these entities are somehow serving the needs of humanity.

These natural assets (‘the commons’) belong to everyone and any stewardship should be carried out in the common interest by local people assisted by public institutions and governments acting on their behalf, not by private transnational corporations driven by self-interest and the maximization of profit by any means possible.

Concerns about what is in the public interest or what is best for the environment lies beyond the scope of hard-headed commercial interests and should ideally be the remit of elected governments and civil organisations. However, the best-case scenario for private corporations is to have supine, co-opted agencies or governments. And if current litigation cases in the US and the ‘Monsanto Papers’ court documents tell us anything, this is exactly what they set out to create.

Of course, we have known how corporations like Monsanto (and Bayer) have operated for many years, whether it is by bribery, smear campaigns, faking data, co-opting agencies and key figures, subverting science or any of the other actions or human rights abuses that the Monsanto Tribunal shed light on.

Behind the public relations spin of helping to feed the world is the roll-out of an unsustainable model of agriculture based on highly profitable (GM) corporate seeds and massive money-spinning health- and environment-damaging proprietary chemical inputs that we now know lacked proper regulatory scrutiny and should never have been commercialised in the first place. In effect, transnational agribusiness companies have sought to marginalise alternative approaches to farming and create dependency on their products.

Localisation and traditional methods of food production have given way to globalised supply chains dominated by transnational companies policies and actions which have resulted in the colonisation of land in the Global South as well as the destruction of habitat and livelihoods, ecocide, mass displacement of peoples and the imposition of corporate-controlled, chemical-intensive (monocrop) agriculture that weds farmers and regions to a wholly exploitative system of globalised capitalism. Whether it involves the undermining or destruction of what were once largely self-sufficient agrarian economies in Africa or the devastating impacts of soy cultivation in Argentina or palm oil production in Indonesia, transnational agribusiness and capitalism cannot be greenwashed.

Soil on a doughnut diet

One of the greatest natural assets that humankind has is soil. It can take 500 years to generate an inch of soil yet just a few generations to destroy. When you drench soil with proprietary synthetic chemicals, introduce company-patented genetically tampered crops or continuously monocrop as part of a corporate-controlled industrial farming system, you kill essential microbes, upset soil balance and end up feeding soil a limited “doughnut diet” of unhealthy inputs (and you also undermine soil’s unique capacity for carbon storage and its potential role in combatting climate change).

Armed with their synthetic biocides, this is what the transnational agritech companies do. In their arrogance (and ignorance), these companies claim to know what they are doing and attempt to get the public and various agencies to bow before the altar of corporate ‘science’ and its scientific priesthood.

But in reality, they have no real idea about the long-term impacts their actions have had 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 in this article, where Brian Barth discusses a report by the American Society of Microbiologists (ASM). Acknowledging that farmers will need to produce 70 to 100 per cent more food to feed a projected nine billion humans by 2050, the introduction to the report states:

Producing more food with fewer resources may seem too good to be true, but the world’s farmers have trillions of potential partners that can help achieve that ambitious goal. Those partners are microbes.

Linda Kinkel of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Plant Pathology is reported by Barth as saying:

We understand only a fraction of what microbes do to aid in plant growth.

Microbes can help plants better tolerate extreme temperature fluctuations, saline soils and other challenges associated with climate change. For instance, Barth reports that microbiologists have learned to propagate a fungus that colonizes cassava plants and increases yields by up to 20 per cent. Its tiny tentacles extend far beyond the roots of the cassava to unlock phosphorus, nitrogen and sulphur in the soil and siphon it back to their host.

According to the article, a group of microbiologists have challenged themselves to bring about a 20 per cent increase in global food production and a 20 per cent decrease in fertilizer and pesticide use over the next 20 years – without all the snake oil-vending agribusiness interests in the middle.

Feeding the world? 

These microbiologists are correct. What is required is a shift away from what is increasingly regarded as discredited Green Revolution ideology. The chemical-intensive green revolution has helped the drive towards greater monocropping and has resulted in less diverse diets and less nutritious foods. Its long-term impact has led to soil degradation and mineral imbalances, which in turn have adversely affected human health.1

Adding weight to this argument, the authors of this paper from the International Journal of Environmental and Rural Development state (references in article):

Cropping systems promoted by the green revolution have increased the food production but also resulted in reduced food-crop diversity and decreased availability of micronutrients. Micronutrient malnutrition is causing increased rates of chronic diseases (cancer, heart diseases, stroke, diabetes and osteoporosis) in many developing nations; more than 3 billion people are directly affected by the micronutrient deficiencies. Unbalanced use of mineral fertilizers and a decrease in the use of organic manure are the main causes of the nutrient deficiency in the regions where the cropping intensity is high.

(Note: we should adopt a cautious approach when attributing increases in food production to the green revolution technology/practices).

The authors imply that the link between micronutrient deficiency in soil and human nutrition is increasingly regarded as important:

Moreover, agricultural intensification requires an increased nutrient flow towards and greater uptake of nutrients by crops. Until now, micronutrient deficiency has mostly been addressed as a soil and, to a smaller extent, plant problem. Currently, it is being addressed as a human nutrition problem as well. Increasingly, soils and food systems are affected by micronutrients disorders, leading to reduced crop production and malnutrition and diseases in humans and plants. Conventionally, agriculture is taken as a food-production discipline and was considered a source of human nutrition; hence, in recent years many efforts have been made to improve the quality of food for the growing world population, particularly in the developing nations.

Referring to India, Stuart Newton’s states:

The answers to Indian agricultural productivity is not that of embracing the international, monopolistic, corporate-conglomerate promotion of chemically-dependent GM crops… India has to restore and nurture her depleted, abused soils and not harm them any further, with dubious chemical overload, which are endangering human and animal health. (p. 24).

Newton provides insight into the importance of soils and their mineral compositions and links their depletion to the green revolution. In turn, these depleted soils cannot help but lead to mass malnourishment. This is quite revealing given that proponents of the green revolution claim it helped reduced malnutrition.

And Newton has a valid point. India is losing 5,334 million tonnes of soil every year due to soil erosion, much of which is attributed to the indiscreet and excessive use of fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research reports that soil is become deficient in nutrients and fertility.

The US has possibly 60 years of farming left due to soil degradation. The UK has possibly 100 harvests left in its soils.

We can carry on down the route of chemical-intensive (and soil-suffocating, nutritionally inferior GM crops), poisonous agriculture, where our health, soil and the wider environment from Punjab to the Gulf of Mexico continue to be sacrificed on the altar of corporate profit. Or we can shift to organic farming and agroecology and investment in indigenous models of agriculture as advocated by various high-level agencies and reports.

The increasingly globalised industrial food regime that transnational agribusiness promotes is not feeding the world and is also responsible for some of the planet’s most pressing political, social and environmental crises – not least hunger and poverty. This system, the capitalism driving it and the corporations that fuel and profit from it are illegitimate and destructive.

These companies quite naturally roll-out their endless spin that we can’t afford to live without them. But we can no longer afford to live with them. As the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver says:

The power of the corporations over governments and over the scientific community is extremely important. If you want to deal with pesticides, you have to deal with the companies.

As we currently see in litigation cases involving Monsanto in the US, part of ‘dealing’ with these corporations (and hopefully eventually their board members and those who masquerade as public servants but who act on their behalf) should involve the law courts.

I would go further than Elver by saying that while dealing with these corporations is a step forward, we must also address the root cause: capitalism and its international relations of production and consumption. And we must also offer solutions – beginning with an agroecology that is underpinned by a strong ecosocialist political vision.

  1. See this report on India by botanist Stuart Newton, p. 9 onward.

The Stomach-Churning Violence of the Agrochemical Oligopoly

As humans, we have evolved with the natural environment over millennia. We have learned what to eat and what not to eat, what to grow and how to grow it and our diets have developed accordingly. We have hunted, gathered, planted and harvested. Our overall survival as a species has been based on gradual, emerging relationships with the seasons, insects, soil, animals, trees and seeds. And out of these relationships, we have seen the development of communities whose rituals and bonds have a deep connection with food production and the natural environment.

However, over the last couple generations, agriculture and food production has changed more than it had done over previous millennia. These changes have involved massive social upheaval as communities and traditions have been uprooted and have entailed modifying what we eat, how we grow our food and what we apply to it. All of this has been driven by geopolitical concerns and powerful commercial interests with their proprietary chemicals and patented seeds. The process of neoliberal globalisation is accelerating the process as farmers are encouraged to produce for global supply chains dominated by transnational agribusiness.

Certain crops are now genetically engineered, the range of crops we grow has become less diverse, synthetic biocides have been poured on crops and soil and our bodies have been subjected to a chemical bombardment. We have arrived at a point where we have lost touch with our deep-rooted microbiological and social connection with nature and have developed an arrogance that has placed ‘man’ above the environment and all other species. One of the consequences is that we have paid an enormous price in terms of the consequent social, environmental and health-related devastation.

Despite the promise and potential of science, it has too often in modern society become a tool of vested interests, an ideology wrapped in the vestiges of authority and the ‘superstition’ that its corporate-appointed priesthood should not be challenged nor questioned. Instead of liberating humankind, it has now too often become a tool of deception in the hands of agribusiness conglomerates which make up the oligopoly that controls what is an increasingly globalised system of modern food and agriculture.

These corporations have successfully instituted the notion that the mass application of biocides, monocropping and industrial agriculture are necessary and desirable. They are not. However, these companies have used their science and propaganda to project certainty in order to hide the fact that they have no real idea what their products and practices are doing to human health or the environment (and in cases when they do know, they do their best to cover it up or hide behind the notion of ‘commercial confidentiality‘).

Based on their limited, tainted studies and co-opted version of science, they say with certainty that, for example, genetically engineered food and glyphosate are ‘safe’. And when inconvenient truths do emerge, they will mobilise their massive lobbying resources to evade regulations, they will seek to hide the dangers of their products or they will set out to destroy scientists whose findings challenge their commercial bottom line.

Soil microbiologists are still trying to fully comprehend soil microbes and how they function as anintegrated network in relation to plants. The agrochemical sector has little idea of how their biocides have affected soils. It merely churns out public relations spin that their inputs are harmless for soil, plants and human health. Such claims are not based on proper, in-depth, long-term studies. They are based on a don’t look, don’t find approach or a manipulation of standards and procedures that ensure their products make it on to the commercial market and stay there.

And what are these biocides doing to us as humans? Numerous studies have linked the increase in pesticide use with spiralling rates of ill health. Kat Carrol of the National Health Federation is concerned about the impacts on human gut bacteria that play a big role in how organs function and our neurological health. The gut microbiome can contain up to six pounds of bacteria and is what Carroll calls ‘human soil’. She says that with their agrochemicals and food additives, powerful companies are attacking this ‘soil’ and with it the sanctity of the human body.

And her concerns seem valid. Many important neurotransmitters are located in the gut. Aside from affecting the functioning of major organs, these transmitters affect our moods and thinking. Feed gut bacteria a cocktail of biocides and is it any surprise that many diseases are increasing?

For instance, findings published in the journal ‘Translational Psychiatry’ provide 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.

Environmental campaigner Dr Rosemary Mason has written extensively on the impacts of agrochemicals (especially glyphosate) on humans, not least during child and adolescent development. In her numerous documents and papers, she cites a plethora of data and studies that link the use of agrochemicals with various diseases and ailments. She has also noted the impact of these chemicals on the human gut microbiome.

The science writer Mo Costandi discusses the importance of gut bacteria and their balance. In adolescence the brain undergoes a protracted period of heightened neural plasticity, during which large numbers of synapses are eliminated in the prefrontal cortex and a wave of ‘myelination’ sweeps across this part of the brain. These processes refine the circuitry in the prefrontal cortex and increase its connectivity to other brain regions. Myelination is also critical for normal, everyday functioning of the brain. Myelin increases a nerve fiber’s conduction velocity by up to a hundred times, and so when it breaks down, the consequences can be devastating.

Other recent work shows that gut microbes control the maturation and function of microglia, the immune cells that eliminate unwanted synapses in the brain; age-related changes to gut microbe composition might regulate myelination and synaptic pruning in adolescence and could, therefore, contribute to cognitive development. Upset those changes, and, As Mason argues, there are going to be serious implications for children and adolescents. Mason places glyphosate at the core of the ailments and disorders currently affecting young people in Wales and the UK in general.

Yet we are still being subjected to an unregulated cocktail of agrochemicals which end up interacting with each other in the gut. Regulatory agencies and governments appear to work hand in glove with the agrochemical sector.

Carol Van Strum has released documents indicating collusion between the manufacturers of dangerous chemicals and regulatory bodies. Evaggelos Vallianatos has highlighted the massive fraud surrounding the regulation of biocides and the wide scale corruption at laboratories that were supposed to test these chemicals for safety. Many of these substances were not subjected to what was deemed proper testing in the first place yet they remain on the market. The late Shiv Chopra also highlighted how various dangerous products were allowed on the commercial market and into the food chain due to collusion between these companies and public officials.

Powerful transnational corporations are using humanity as their collective guinea pig. But those who question them, or their corporate science, are automatically labelled anti-science and accused of committing crimes against humanity because they are preventing their products from being commercialised ‘to help the poor or hungry’. Such attacks on critics by company mouthpieces who masquerade as public officials, independent scientists or independent journalists are mere spin. They are, moreover, based on the sheer hypocrisy that these companies (owned and controlled by elite interests) have humanity’s and the environment’s best interests at heart.

Many of these companies have historically profited from violence. Unfortunately, that character of persists. They directly profit on the back of militarism, whether as a result of the US-backed ‘regime change’ in Ukraine or the US invasion of Iraq. They also believe they can cajole (poison) nature by means of chemicals and bully governments and attack critics, while rolling out propaganda campaigns for public consumption.

Whether it involves neocolonialism and the destruction of indigenous practices and cultures under the guise of ‘development’, the impoverishment of farmers in India, the twisting and writing of national and international laws, the destruction of rural communities, the globalisation of bad food and illness, the deleterious impacts on health and soil, the hollowing out of public institutions and the range of human rights abuses we saw documented during The Monsanto Tribunal, what we are witnessing is structural violence in many forms.

Pesticides are in fact “a global human rights concern” and are in no way vital to ensuring food security. Ultimately, what we see is ignorance, arrogance and corruption masquerading as certainty and science.

… when we wound the planet grievously by excavating its treasures – the gold, mineral and oil, destroy its ability to breathe by converting forests into urban wastelands, poison its waters with toxic wastes and exterminate other living organisms – we are in fact doing all this to our own bodies… all other species are to be enslaved or driven to extinction if need be in the interests of human ‘progress’… we are part of the same web of life –where every difference we construct artificially between ‘them’ and ‘us’ adds only one more brick to the tombstone of humankind itself.

— ‘Micobes of the World Unite!’, Satya Sager

Reckless Gamble for Profit that Placed Indian Cotton Farmers in Corporate Noose

The dubious performance (failure) of genetically engineered Bt cotton, officially India’s only GM crop, should serve as a warning as the push within the country to adopt GM across a wide range of food crops continues. This article provides an outline of some key reports and papers that have appeared in the last few years on Bt cotton in India.

In a paper that appeared in December 2018 in the journal Current Science, P.C. Kesavan and M.S. Swaminathan cited research findings to support the view that Bt insecticidal cotton has been a failure in India and has not provided livelihood security for mainly resource-poor, small and marginal farmers. This paper was not just important because of its content but also because M.S. Swaminathan is considered to be the father of the Green Revolution in India.

The two authors provided evidence that indicates Bt crops are unsustainable and have not decreased the need for toxic chemical pesticides, the reason for these GM crops in the first place.

The authors cite the views of Dr K.R. Kranthi, former Director of the Central Institute for Cotton Research in Nagpur. Based on his research, he concluded in December 2016:

Bt-cotton plus higher fertilizers plus increased irrigation also received a protective cover from the seed treatment of neonicotinoid insecticides such as imidacloprid, without which majority of the Bt-cotton hybrids which were susceptible to sucking pests would have yielded far less. It can safely be said that yield increase in India would not have happened with Bt-cotton alone without enhanced fertilizer usage, without increased irrigation, without seed treatment chemicals, and the absence of drought-free decade.

In effect, levels of insecticide use are now back to the pre-Bt era as is productivity due to pest resistance and crop failures.

Following on from this, an April 2018 paper in the journal Pest Science Management indicates there has been progressive bollworm resistance to Bt cotton in India over a seven-year period. The authors conclude:

High PBW [pink bollworm] larval recovery on Bt‐II in conjunction with high LC50 values for Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab in major cotton‐growing districts of central and southern India provides evidence of field‐evolved resistance in PBW to Bt‐I and Bt‐II cotton.

This alongside other problems related to Bt cotton has had disastrous consequences for farmers. In a 2015 paper Professor Andrew Paul Gutierrez and his colleagues say:

Bt cotton may be economic in irrigated cotton, whereas costs of Bt seed and insecticide increase the risk of farmer bankruptcy in low-yield rainfed cotton. Inability to use saved seed and inadequate agronomic information trap cotton farmers on biotechnology and insecticide treadmills. Annual suicide rates in rainfed areas are inversely related to farm size and yield, and directly related to increases in Bt cotton adoption (i.e., costs).

In a new December 2018 paper, Gutierrez sends a warning to those considering rolling out GM food crops in India:

… recent calls by industry and its clients to extend implementation of the hybrid technology in aubergine (brinjal, eggplant) and mustard and likely other crops in India will only mirror the disastrous implementation of the failed hybrid Bt technology in Indian cotton and, will only serve to tighten the economic hybrid technology noose on still more subsistence farmers for the sake of profits.

He concludes that Bt cotton has placed many resource-poor farmers in a stranglehold. Bt cotton prevents seed saving and farmers must purchase costly seed, which leads to suboptimal planting densities. Stagnant/low yields have followed, insecticide use has grown and new pests resistant to insecticide/Bt toxins have emerged.

Giterriez says that leading Indian agronomists have proposed that adoption of pure-line high density short-season varieties of rainfed cotton which could more than double current yields and would avoid heavy infestations of pink bollworm, thus reducing insecticide use and pesticide disruption. This cotton is not a new technology and predates Bt cotton.

Given what Gutierrez says, it is quite timely that Kesevan and Swaminathan question regulators’ failure in India to carry out a socio-economic assessment of GMO impacts on resource-poor small and marginal farmers. They call for “able economists who are familiar with and will prioritize rural livelihoods and the interests of resource-poor small and marginal farmers rather than serve corporate interests and their profits.”

This mirrors what Gutierrez and his colleagues argued in 2015 that policy makers need holistic analysis before new technologies are implemented in agricultural development.

Naturally, corporations and many pro-GM scientists wish to avoid such things as much as possible. They try to convince policy makers that as long as the science on GM is sound (which it isn’t, despite what they proclaim), GM should be rolled out regardless. They regard regulators and regulations as a mere hindrance that is preventing GM from helping farmers. Deregulating GM is the order of the day. It’s a reckless approach. We need only look at Indian cotton farmers whose lives and livelihoods have been devastated due to the ill thought out roll-out of Bt technology.

Kesavan and Swaminathan criticise India’s GMO regulating bodies due to a lack of competency and endemic conflicts of interest and a lack of expertise in GMO risk assessment protocols, including food safety assessment and the assessment of environmental impacts. Many of these issues have been a common thread in five high-level official reports in India that have advised against the commercialisation of GM crops:

  • The ‘Jairam Ramesh Report’, imposing an indefinite moratorium on Bt Brinjal [February 2010];
  • The ‘Sopory Committee Report’ [August 2012];
  • The ‘Parliamentary Standing Committee’ [PSC] Report on GM crops [August 2012];
  • The ‘Technical Expert Committee [TEC] Final Report’ [June-July 2013]; and
  • The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment and Forests [August 2017].

In her numerous submissions to India’s Supreme Court, prominent campaigner Aruna Rodrigues has been scathing. She recently told me that:

It is proven in copious evidence in the Supreme Court in the last 13 years that our regulators are seriously conflicted: they promote GMOs openly, fund them (as with herbicide-tolerant mustard and other public sector GMOs) and then regulate them. Truth is a massive casualty. This is not lightly stated.

She added that “failed hybrid Bt cotton in India” has put farmers on a pesticide treadmill as increasing levels of pest resistance becomes manifest.

Prior to this, in 2017, Rodrigues also said:

Never has an agri-tech been sold as a ‘magic bean’ to farmers, like Bt cotton, with opprobrium attaching to our regulators and ministries of governance who supported and continue to support this technology-castle built on sand, in the absence of evidence and when the hard data said the opposite.

In the rush to plant these ‘magic beans’, the area planted under Bt cotton has often displaced vital food crops at a time when India should surely have been looking to achieve food security and self-sufficiency.

Writing in India’s The Statesman newspaper in 2015, for example, the knife-edge existence of the people that rich corporations profit from was highlighted in the case of Babu Lal and his wife Mirdi Bai who had been traditionally cultivating wheat, maize and millet on their farmland in Rajasthan. Their crops provided food for several months a year to the 10-member family as well as fodder for farm and dairy animals, integral to the mixed farming system employed.

Company agents (unspecified – but Monsanto and its subsidiaries dominate the GM cotton industry in India) approached the family with the promise of a lump-sum payment to plant Bt cotton seeds in two of their fields. Lal purchased pesticides to help grow the seeds in the hope of receiving the payment, which never materialised because the company agent said the seeds produced had ‘failed’ in tests.

The family faced economic ruin, not least because the food harvest was much lower than normal as the best fields and most labour and resources had been devoted to Bt cotton. It resulted in Lal borrowing from private moneylenders at a high interest rate to meet the needs of food and fodder. On top of this, the company’s agent allegedly started harassing Lal for a payment of about 10,000 rupees in lieu of the fertilisers and pesticides provided to him. Several other tribal farmers in the area also fell into this trap.

The promise of a lump-sum cash payment can be very enticing to poor farmers, and when companies co-opt influential villagers to get new farmers to agree to plant Bt cotton, farmers are reluctant to decline the offer. When production is declared as having failed, solely at the company’s discretion it seems, a family becomes indebted.

According to that article, there was growing evidence that the trend to experiment with Bt cotton has disrupted food security in certain areas and had introduced various health hazards and had damaged soil due to the use of chemical inputs.

Before finishing, it is certainly worth mentioning Stone and Flachs’s 2017 paper on how certain interests within and beyond India are attempting to break traditional farming cotton cultivation practices with the aim of placing farmers on yet another corporate treadmill. This time, the aim appears to be to introduce herbicide-tolerant (HT) cotton in India on the back of Bt cotton. The authors indicate just how hugely financially lucrative for corporations the relatively ‘undeveloped’ herbicide market is in India. These HT cotton seeds have now appeared illegally on the market.

Ultimately, as Gutierrez implies, the bottom line is cynical corporate interest and profit – not helping Indian farmers or some high-minded notion about feeding the world. Just ask Babu Lal and thousands like him!

Of course, given the track record of HT crops, it is another disaster in the making for Indian farmers and the environment. This warning has already been made clear by the Supreme Court appointed Technical Expert Committee, which regards HT crops as being wholly inappropriate for India.

With various GM crops waiting in the wings, India should continue to adopt a precautionary approach towards GMOs as advocated by Jairam Ramesh and not implement another reckless gamble with farmers’ livelihoods, the nation’s health and the environment. About nine years ago, based on a rigorous consultation with international scientific experts regarding the commercialisation of Bt brinjal, one of those experts, Prof Andow, concluded that without any management of resistance evolution, Bt brinjal would fail in 4-12 years. Jairam Ramesh pronounced a moratorium on Bt brinjal in February 2010 founded on what he called “a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach.”

Isn’t such failure what we now witness with Bt cotton?  It serves as a timely warning for implementing a widespread GMO food crop regime in India. The writing is on the wall.

The GMO Issue Reaches Boiling Point in India

In a recent article published on the India-based News18 site (CNN), prominent US biologist Nina Federoff was reported as saying it is time for India to grant farmers access to genetically modified (GM) crops. In an interview with the site, she says there is no evidence that GM crops are dangerous when consumed either by people in food or by animals in feed. Federoff says that the commercial release of various GM crops in India has been halted by the Indian government due to opposition from environmental activists.

She adds that we are rapidly moving out of the climate regime in which our primary crops were domesticated, arguing that that they do increasingly worse and will yield less as temperature extremes become common and pest and pathogen populations change. She says GM will become more or less essential in an era of climate change.

In recent weeks, aside from Federoff’s intervention, GM has been a hot topic in India. In late November, a paper appeared in the journal Current Science which argues that India doesn’t need GM crops and that the track record of GM agriculture is highly questionable. The paper is notable not just because of what it says but because of who is saying it: distinguished scientist P.C. Kesavan and M.S. Swaminathan, renowned agricultural scientist and geneticist and widely regarded as the father of the Green Revolution in India.

I recently spoke with prominent campaigner Aruna Rodrigues about developments surrounding the GM issue in India, particularly the views of Federoff. Rodrigues is lead petitioner in a case before India’s Supreme Court that is seeking a moratorium on GM crops and selective bans.

Colin Todhunter: What do you make of Nina Federoff’s recent comments advocating for GM in India?

Aruna Rodrigues: Nina Federoff is a long-time supporter of GMOs. The last time she offered advice to India (in her role as scientific advisor to Hilary Clinton) was when Bt brinjal (eggplant) was being pushed for commercialisation. She advised that Bt brinjal would be good for India!

CT: She is a high-profile scientist. Did government officials take her advice?

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

CT: What were some of the other reasons they put forward for rejecting Bt brinjal?

AR: Genetic contamination was the outstanding concern. India is a centre of origin of brinjal with the greatest genetic diversity. Contamination was a certainty. In his summing-up of the unsustainability of Bt brinjal and of its implications if introduced, one of the experts involved, Professor Andow, said it posed several unique challenges because the likelihood of resistance evolving quickly is high. He added that without any management of resistance evolution, Bt brinjal is projected to fail in 4-12 years. Jairam Ramesh pronounced a moratorium on Bt brinjal in February 2010 founded on what he called “a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach.” 

CT: So, it is clear that, despite Federoff’s claims, there are valid reasons why GM has not been commercialised in India, aside from cotton, that is. Can you say something about the health safety aspects of GM crops? Federoff says GM crops are safe for human and animal consumption. Is she correct?

AR: She is wrong. There are numerous studies that indicate the possibility of harm. All the major scientific bodies of the world, including the US National Academies, the World Health Organisation and the American Medical Association, agree that the potential for adverse effect is real and that these crops, both existing, but especially any new ones, need to be tested more thoroughly than they have been in the past (for example, for long-term toxicity for cancer). Meanwhile, agroecology that minimises the use of pesticides and uses no GMO has a proven safety and nutritional record and out-yields GMOs at a fraction of the cost.

CT: Federoff makes a blanket claim about safety. But each genetic modification poses unique risks and as a technology, according to molecular geneticist Michael Antoniou, GM is fundamentally scientifically flawed. So, it is impossible to say up front that they are all safe – or, in fact, that the ones on the market have been rigorously tested because they have not. But a food crop isn’t just eaten. There are effects on the environment too.

AR: Federoff fails to address all the ways GM crops can be unsafe. Existing GM crops do not have a history of safe use in the environment. Even a cursory examination of the US cropping system is enough to prove that the legacy of pesticidal GM crops has fuelled the epidemics of herbicide- resistant weeds and emerging insecticide resistant pests. This proves that you cannot rescue scientifically flawed ways to farm by introducing GM technologies that only exacerbate the most damaging farming practices.

CT: Federoff claims that we need GM if we are to mitigate the effects of climate change and produce sufficient food.

AR: This is rubbish. Agroecology has demonstrated far more effectiveness already than even the best hypothetical hopes of GM crops. But more to the point: it is the machine we call industrial agriculture that is a major cause of climate change. Giving that machine more fuel in the form of GM crops is not a solution but a dangerous distraction from what is needed to halt climate change.

CT: The paper by Kesavan and Swaminathan coincided with a mass march by farmers in Delhi at the end of November. Farmers in India have a list of grievances, with the effects of Bt cotton being a prominent one. Surely, given the devastation caused by Bt cotton (which these two authors say “has failed in India”), to introduce more GM crops at this time would cause further hardship for farmers. The paper by these two eminent scientists could be seen as a timely intervention.

AR: It is certainly courageous of Nina Federoff, given the failure of Bt cotton and her earlier unfortunate advice, to indulge in yet another round of misconceived guidance to the Indian government. I must also express disquiet and surprise that a bold charge has been levelled against that paper by Prof Vijay Raghavan (Scientific Advisor to the PM), which he says is “deeply flawed”. It is expected that any such statement is buttressed with sound data and science, especially when addressing scientists of the stature of Swaminathan and Kesavan. Therefore, without substantiation, a specific response to Raghavan is not possible.

However, it is relevant to the context to state that Bt cotton has failed and within a time-scale of less than 12 years. We need only look at the work of Dr. K Kranthi, ex Director of the Central Institute for Cotton Research, and Prof Gutierrez et al in the paper ‘Deconstructing Indian cotton: weather, yields, and suicides’.

CT: It was predicted that Bt brinjal would fail within 4-12 years. It seems that’s precisely what has happened to Bt cotton in India. So, the last thing India needs is another ill thought out GM experiment pushed through without proper independent assessments that consider health and environmental outcomes or the effects on farmers’ livelihoods and rural communities. But isn’t this what is on the horizon? You have for many years been highlighting flawed regulatory mechanisms in India where GM is concerned. I have been following the current case concerning herbicide-tolerant (HT) GM mustard. It is disturbing to say the least to read about deep-rooted conflicts of interest across the entire regulatory framework and what you describe as ‘regulatory delinquency’ as well as scientific malfeasance on such a massive scale.

AR: Collective regulatory misadventures with Bt cotton must indict the regulators for ‘connected’ farmer suicides in rain-fed Bt cotton cultivation. They must take responsibility. Despite this history of regulatory adventurism with hybrid Bt cotton and Bt brinjal, this has not deterred our regulators as they attempt to introduce HT GM mustard. It is sobering that documents in the public domain reveal clear cover-up, invalid and even fraudulent field trials, the results of which were nevertheless accepted by the regulators. Perhaps, the greatest regulatory mystery surrounds the fact that the regulators themselves admit that there is no claim made by the government that HT (GMO) hybrid mustard out-performs non-GMO hybrids. Therefore, there is no ‘need’ for this GM Mustard. ‘Need’ must be established as a prior regulatory step in risk assessment.

CT: Nina Federoff says that what is preventing the widespread adoption of GM in India is political disagreement and activists. This is a well-worn tactic: try to cast valid criticisms of GM as ‘unscientific’ and politically motivated. But as you have outlined, there are valid reasons why the introduction of GM food crops is being prevented in India.

AR: It is proven in copious evidence in the Supreme Court in the last 13 years that our regulators are seriously conflicted: they promote GMOs openly, fund them (as with HT mustard and other public sector GMOs) and then regulate them. Truth is a massive casualty. This is not lightly stated. It would also be prudent to recognise that unsustainable HT and Bt crops (Bt maize in industrial systems in the West) and failed hybrid Bt cotton in India serve to put farmers on a pesticide treadmill as increasing levels of pest resistance becomes manifest. In fact, a new paper in the journal Pest Management Science based on research over a seven-year period shows progressive field-evolved resistance of pink bollworm to Bt cotton in India.

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

CT: Federoff and others are fond of making claims about what GM has or will achieve. GM crops have been on the market for over two decades. Do you see any validity in these types of claims?

AR: Most GMOs on the market now provide technological fixes to kill weeds or pests. They have no trait for yield. Together, they account for nearly 98% of all GMOs planted worldwide. 25 years of official US data on HT crops show they have led to intractable problems of super weeds, significant increases in herbicide use because of resistant weeds, higher farmer costs and no yield advantage. Claims made for GMOs with various traits, for example, drought or saline resistant or providing yield or nutritional enhancement, are futuristic. The few that have been tested for drought resistance and some other traits are according to prominent scientist Doug Gurian-Sherman out-performed by traditional breeding techniques hands-down.