The world already produces enough food to feed 10 million people but over two billion are experiencing micronutrient deficiencies (of which 821 million were classed as chronically undernourished in 2018). However, supporters of genetic engineering (GE) crops continually push the narrative that GE technology is required if we are to feed the world and properly support farmers.
First of all, it must be stressed that there is already sufficient evidence to question the efficacy of GE crops; however, despite this, conventional options and innovations that outperform GE crops are in danger of being sidelined in a rush by powerful, publicly unaccountable private interests like the Gates Foundation to facilitate the introduction of GE into global agriculture; crops whose main ‘added value’ is the financial rewards accrued by the corporations behind them.
Secondly, even if we are to accept that at some stage GE can supplement conventional practices, we must acknowledge that from the outset of the GMO project, the sidelining of serious concerns about the technology has occurred and despite industry claims to the contrary, there is no scientific consensus on the health impacts of GE crops.
Both the Cartagena Protocol and Codex share a precautionary approach to GE crops and foods, in that they agree that GE differs from conventional breeding. There is sufficient reason to hold back on commercialising GE crops and to subject each GMO to independent, transparent environmental, social, economic and health impact evaluations.
To evaluate the pro-GMO lobby’s rhetoric that GE is needed to ‘feed the world’, we first need to understand the dynamics of a globalized food system that fuels hunger and malnutrition against a backdrop of food overproduction. As Andrew Smolski describes it: capitalism’s production of ‘hunger in abundance’.
Over the last 50 years, we have seen the consolidation of an emerging global food regime based on agro-export mono-cropping (often with non-food commodities taking up prime agricultural land) and linked to sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF ‘structural adjustment’ directives. The outcomes have included a displacement of a food-producing peasantry, the consolidation of Western agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries from food self-sufficiency into food deficit areas.
As long as these dynamics persist and food injustice remains an inherent feature of the global food regime, the rhetoric of GM being necessary for feeding the world is merely ideology and bluster. Furthermore, if we continue to regard food as a commodity in a globalized capitalist food system, we shall continue to see the comprehensive contamination of food with sugar, bad fats, synthetic additives, GMOs and pesticides and rising rates of diseases and serious health conditions, including surges in obesity, diabetes and cancer incidence, but no let-up in the under-nutrition of those too poor to join in the over-consumption.
Looking at India as an example, although it continues to do poorly in world hunger rankings, the country has achieved self-sufficiency in food grains and has ensured there is enough food available to feed its entire population. It is the world’s largest producer of milk, pulses and millets and the second-largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, groundnuts, vegetables, fruit and cotton.
Farmers, therefore, produce enough food. It stands to reason that hunger and malnutrition result from other factors (such as inadequate food distribution, inequality and poverty). It is again a case of ‘scarcity’ amid abundance. The country even continues to export food while millions remain hungry.
While the pro-GMO lobby says GE will boost productivity and help secure cultivators a better income, this too is misleading as it again ignores crucial political and economic contexts; with bumper harvests, Indian farmers still find themselves in financial distress.
India’s farmers are not experiencing hardship due to low productivity. They are reeling from the effects of neoliberal policies, years of neglect and a deliberate strategy to displace smallholder agriculture at the behest of the World Bank and predatory global agri-food corporations. It’s for good reason that the calorie and essential nutrient intake of the rural poor has drastically fallen.
And yet, the pro-GMO lobby wastes no time in wrenching these issues from their political contexts to use the notions of ‘helping farmers’ and ‘feeding the world’ as lynchpins of its promotional strategy.
Many of the traditional practices of small farmers are now recognised as sophisticated and appropriate for high-productive, sustainable agriculture. These practices involve an integrated low-input systems approach to agriculture that emphasises, among other things, local food security and sovereignty, diverse nutrition production per acre, water table stability, climate resilience and good soil structure. Agroecology represents a shift away from the reductionist yield-output industrial paradigm, which results in enormous pressures on health and the environment.
A recent FAO high-level report called for agroecology and smallholder farmers to be prioritised and invested in to achieve global sustainable food security. Smallholder (non-GMO) farming using low-input methods tends to be more productive in total output than large-scale industrial farms and can be more profitable and resilient to climate change.
These corporations leverage their financial clout, lobby networks, funded science and political influence to cement a ‘thick legitimacy’ among policy makers for their vision of agriculture. In turn, World Bank ‘enabling the business of agriculture’ directives, the World Trade Organization ‘agreement on agriculture’ and trade related intellectual property rights help secure their interests.
In the meantime, supporters of GMO agriculture continue to display a willful ignorance of the structure of the food system which produces the very problem it claims it can resolve. The pro-GMO scientific lobby arrogantly pushes its ideological agenda while ignoring the root causes of poverty, hunger and malnutrition and denigrating genuine solutions centred on food sovereignty.
Newly released pesticide usage statistics for 2018 confirm that the British people are being used as lab rats. That’s the message environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason has sent to Dave Bench, senior scientist at the UK Chemicals, Health and Safety Executive and director of the agency’s EU exit plan. In her open letter to Bench, Mason warns that things could get much worse.
In 2016, the UK farming minister said that the nation could develop a more flexible approach to environmental protection free of “spirit-crushing” Brussels directives if it votes to leave the EU. George Eustice, the minister in question, said that the EU’s precautionary principle needed to be reformed in favour of a US-style ‘risk-based’ system that would allow for faster approvals.
There is little doubt that Eustice had GM crops in mind: the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says that the most promising crops suitable for introducing to England would be Roundup Ready GA21 glyphosate-tolerant crops as they synergise well with herbicides already widely used in the UK.
Similarly, Boris Johnson said in his first speech as prime minister in July 2019:
Let’s start now to liberate the UK’s extraordinary bioscience sector from anti-genetic modification rules and let’s develop the blight-resistant crops that will feed the world.
However, the ‘GM will feed the world mantra’ is pure industry spin. The technology has a questionable record and, anyhow, there is already enough food being produced to feed the global population, yet around 830 million are classed as hungry and two billion experience micronutrient deficiency. If Johnson wants to ‘feed the world’, he would do better by looking of the inbuilt injustices of the global food regime which is driven by the very corporations he seems to be in bed with.
Conservative politicians’ positive spin about GM is little more than an attempt to justify a post-Brexit trade deal with Washington that will effectively incorporate the UK into the US’s regulatory food regime. The type of ‘liberation’ Johnson really means is the UK adopting unassessed GM crops, using more glyphosate (or similar agrochemicals) and a gutting of food safety and environmental standards. It is no secret that various Conservative-led administrations have wanted to ditch the EU regulatory framework on GM for some time.
Unregulated chemical cocktail
Mason asks Bench why Defra and the Chemicals Regulation Division refuse to ban glyphosate-based herbicides in Swansea between 2014-2017 when she told them that it was poisoning her nature reserve:
Analysis of local tap water in August 2014 revealed a 10-fold increase since August 2013: from 30 ppt to 300 ppt. I told them that these were of the order of concentrations found in a laboratory study in 2013 that showed that breast cancer cell proliferation is accelerated by glyphosate in extremely low concentrations. We had several neighbours who have recently developed breast cancer. Now, in 2019, with many scientific papers reporting apocalyptic insect declines around the world, we are facing a global Armageddon; yet the public has no idea, because the press has concealed it from them.
Bench is also asked:
Have you seen the pesticides usage statistics for 2018? They confirm what a European NGO said in 2013, that the British citizens are being used as lab rats!
Dave Bench, you presented a paper at the Soil Association meeting on 20 November 2017… [it] showed that pesticide active ingredients applied to three British crops had increased between 6-18 fold between 1974 and 2016, rather than halved as farmers and industry had claimed!! As well as hearing this new evidence of increased pesticide use in the UK, the conference heard new scientific evidence from around the world showing that very low doses of pesticides, well below official ‘safety’ levels, pose a significant risk to public health via our food supply.
Were you shocked? Presumably you weren’t because you described the regulatory system for pesticides as robust and as balancing the risks of pesticides against the benefits to society. That statement is rubbish. It is for the benefit of the agrochemical industry. The industry (for it is the industry that does the testing, on behalf of regulators) only tests one pesticide at a time, whereas farmers spray a cocktail of pesticides, including over children and babies, without warning.
Ian Boyd, the former Chief Scientific Adviser to Defra, says pesticides, once they have been authorised, are never reviewed.
Mason adds there is consistent denial by the National Farmers Union (NFU), Defra and the agrochemical industry about the massive amounts of pesticides used on farmland and herbicides used in towns and cities on weeds; and there is silence from the UK corporate media.
She informs Bench that although glyphosate was relicensed in Europe by a “corrupt” group of individuals, it is distributed to every organ of the body and has multiple actions: it is an herbicide, an antibiotic, a fungicide, an antiprotozoal, an organic phosphonate, a growth regulator, a toxicant, a virulence enhancer and is persistent in the soil. It chelates (captures) and washes out the following minerals: boron, calcium, cobalt, copper, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, nickel and zinc.
In her previous reports, as in her letter to Bench, Mason has documented the consequences of this for human health.
Just as concerning is the UN Global Chemicals Outlook II report that indicates large quantities of hazardous chemicals and pollutants continue to leak into the environment, contaminating food chains and accumulating in our bodies, where they do serious damage. Estimates by the European Environment Agency suggest that 62 per cent of the volume of chemicals consumed in Europe are hazardous to health. The World Health Organization estimates the burden of disease from selected chemicals at 1.6 million lives. The lives of many more are negatively impacted.
Business as usual: public health crisis
Mason goes on to highlight numerous disturbing aspects of the revolving door between the pesticide industry and public bodies/government in the UK. She also notes that David Cameron appointed Michael Pragnell, founder of Syngenta, to Cancer Research UK’s (CRUK) board and awarded him a CBE in 2017 for services to cancer research.
Mason explains that the British government’s UK life sciences strategy is dependent on funding from the pharmaceutical sector which has links with the pesticide industry. In 2011, CRUK started donating money (£450 million/year) to the government’s ‘Strategy for UK Life Sciences’ while AstraZeneca (Syngenta’s parent company) was providing 22 compounds to academic research to develop medicines in the UK. She argues that Syngenta’s products cause diseases, while its parent company tries to cure them with synthetic chemicals. And CRUK is a willing enabler.
In 2014, the NFU, the Crop Protection Association (CPA) and Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) launched ‘Healthy Harvest’ to safeguard the crop protection pesticide toolbox. The NFU and the agrochemical companies have continually defended the use of pesticides for economic reasons and complain about any attempt to restrict the 320-odd at their disposal. CPA, AIC and the NFU commissioned Andersons to write a report: ‘The effect of the loss of plant protection products on UK Agriculture and Horticulture’. Conveniently for the report’s commissioners, Andersons predicted dire economic effects on UK farming if pesticides were to be restricted.
And it is not that these powerful interests do not have the government’s full attention. Between May 2010 and the end of 2013, the Department of Health alone had 130 meetings with representatives of industry. According to Mason, it is business as usual and patently clear that the pesticides industry is being protected.
While continuing to ignore and side-line important scientific research findings which highlight inconvenient truths for government and the pesticide industry, prominent public officials and scientists as well as the media attempt to explain away all the diseases now affecting the UK as a result of individual behaviour: bad lifestyle choices.
In her various reports, Mason has discussed the importance of the gut microbiome and the deleterious effects of glyphosate which result in various health issues, such as obesity and depression. By 2018, CRUK was claiming that obesity caused 13 different cancers, but Mason argues that contamination by residues from 123 different pesticides on the fruit and vegetables supplied to schools by the Department of Health is the real reason for childhood obesity – not biscuits or poor choices.
Each year, there are steady increases in the numbers of new cancers in the UK and increases in deaths from the same cancers with no treatments making any difference to the numbers. While certain prestigious research centres are lavished with funding, Mason argues their work merely serves to strengthen the pesticide and pharmaceutical industries and implies the entire process is little more than a profitable racket at the expense of public health.
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…
Baskut Tuncak, the UN’s special rapporteur on toxics, added:
While scientific research confirms the adverse effects of pesticides, proving a definitive link between exposure and human diseases or conditions or harm to the ecosystem presents a considerable challenge. This challenge has been exacerbated by a systematic denial, fuelled by the pesticide and agro-industry, of the magnitude of the damage inflicted by these chemicals, and aggressive, unethical marketing tactics.
MS Swaminathan is often referred to as the ‘father’ of India’s Green Revolution. In 2009, he said that no scientific evidence had emerged to justify concerns about genetically modified (GM) crops, often regarded as stage two of the Green Revolution.
In a December 2018 paper in the journal Current Science, however, it was argued that Bt insecticidal cotton (India’s only officially approved commercial GM crop) is a failure and has not provided livelihood security for mainly resource-poor, small and marginal farmers.
The paper attracted a good deal of attention because, along with scientist PC Kesavan, Swaminathan was the co-author.
They concluded that globally both Bt crops and herbicide-tolerant crops are unsustainable and have not decreased the need for toxic chemical pesticides, the reason for these GM crops in the first place. Attention was also drawn to evidence that indicates Bt toxins are toxic to all organisms.
Kesavan and Swaminathan mounted a general critique of the GM paradigm. They noted that glyphosate-based herbicides, used on most GM crops in the world, and their active ingredient glyphosate, are genotoxic, cause birth defects and are carcinogenic. They also asserted that GM crop yields are no better than that of non-GM crops.
The authors concluded that genetic engineering technology is supplementary and must be need based. In more than 99% of cases, they said that time-honoured conventional breeding is sufficient.
In fact, Kesavan and Swaminathan argued that a sustainable ‘Evergreen Revolution’ based on a ‘systems approach’ and ‘ecoagriculture’ would guarantee equitable food security by ensuring access of rural communities to food.
Part of the pushback against Kevasan and Swaminathan has come from Dr Deepak Pental, developer and promoter of GM mustard at Delhi University. He responded to their piece with an article in September 2019, again in Current Science.
He argued that Kesavan and Swaminathan have unequivocally aligned themselves with overzealous environmentalists and ideologues, who have mindlessly attacked the use of GM technology to improve crops required for meeting the food and nutritional needs of a global population that is predicted to peak out at 11.2 billion. Pental added that the two authors’ analysis of modern breeding technologies is a reflection of their ideological proclivities.
By resorting to such statements, Pental was drawing on industry-inspired spin: criticisms of GM are driven by ideology, not fact, and GM is required to ‘feed the world’. Both assertions are baseless but are employed time and again across the globe by the pro-GM lobby in an attempt to discredit inconvenient scientific findings and campaigners who forward valid criticisms.
In response to Pental, Andrew Paul Gutierrez, Peter E. Kenmore and Aruna Rodrigues hit back with a piece in a November 2019 edition of the same journal, ‘When biotechnologists lack objectivity’. In it, they argue:
The need to counter Pental is critical because of his influence as part of a lobbying force for unbridled legislation for GE technologies and as a purveyor of scare tactics that food security in India will be compromised without them.
We question his failure to consider whether genetically modified crops (GMOs) are safe for human and ecological health, increase yield and quality, are rigorously tested using proper risk assessment biosafety protocols, and whether biosafety research level (BRL) mechanisms for GMOs field testing under various programmes are being implemented? These are the major themes of our rebuttal.
The authors indicate the adverse impacts on human health of GMOs and associated agrochemical inputs and the very real risk of gene flow and other ways by which non-GM crops and seeds can be contaminated by their GM counterparts:
Genetic contamination is of special concern in India which has rich genetic diversity of crops/plants, and yet there are ongoing efforts to release GMO herbicide tolerant mustard (Brassica juncea) in India, which is a centre of diversity and domestication of over 5,000 wild and domesticated varieties of mustard and the wider ‘family’ of brassicas that includes 9,720 accessions… We must question why regulators would ever consider approval of GMOs of native species (e.g. of Desi cottons, brinjal eggplant, mustard, rice, among others).
As alluded to in the above extract, India has a wealth of plant species that have evolved and been adapted over millennia. The country has good-quality traditional seeds which are ideally suited for local soils, climates and pests. And these seeds are less resource intensive. We must therefore question why Pental’s GM mustard is being pushed so hard when it does not out-yield certain mustard species that India has already.
While touching on serious conflicts of interest within regulatory bodies, the authors also discuss Bt cotton and GM mustard, the commercialisation of which is currently held up due to a public litigation case with Aruna Rodrigues acting as lead petitioner.
They provide data to highlight the myth of Bt cotton success in India. However, GM promoters continue to peddle the story of Bt cotton success and aim to drive the full-scale introduction of GM crops into Indian agriculture on the back of this false narrative.
The authors explain that the current GM Bt cotton hybrids in India were indeed developed as a ‘value capture’ mechanism that enabled the seed industry to side-step intractable legal intellectual property rights: the interests of poor farmers were sacrificed for corporate commercial benefit.
In the article, data is also presented for GM mustard and the authors argue that it shows no yield advantage and its testing and evaluation have involved protocol violations.
In India, various high-level reports have advised against the adoption of GM crops. Appointed by the Supreme Court, the ‘Technical Expert Committee (TEC) Final Report’ (2013) was scathing about the prevailing regulatory system and highlighted its inadequacies and serious inherent conflicts of interest. The TEC recommended a 10-year moratorium on the commercial release of all GM crops.
Kesavan and Swaminathan, in their piece. also criticised India’s GM regulating bodies due to a lack of competency and endemic conflicts of interest and a lack of expertise in GM risk assessment protocols, including food safety assessment and the assessment of environmental impacts. They also questioned regulators’ failure to carry out a socio-economic assessment of GM impacts on resource-poor small and marginal farmers and called 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.”
Rodrigues has for a long time contended that GM ‘regulation’ in India occurs in a system dogged by serious conflicts of interest: funders, promoters and regulators are basically one and the same. She argues that agricultural institutions and numerous public sector scientists working within these bodies along with a powerful lobbying force are joined at the hip in pushing for GM.
GM Silver bullet misses the target
If the pro-GM lobby is genuinely concerned about ‘feeding the world’, it should really be questioning why the world already produces enough to feed 10 million people but over two billion are experiencing micronutrient deficiencies (of which over 800 million are classed as chronically undernourished); why we are seeing rising rates of obesity, diabetes and a range of other health-related conditions; and why, post-Green Revolution, the range of crops grown has narrowed and the nutrient content of food and diets has diminished.
The answers lie with the practices, processes and toxic inputs that are integral to the prevailing model of chemical-intensive, industrial agriculture and the dynamics of the globalised capitalist food system. Throughout the world, this model has become tied to agro-export mono-cropping (often with non-food commodities taking up prime agricultural land), sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF ‘structural adjustment’ directives, the outcomes of which have included a displacement of a food-producing peasantry, the consolidation of rapacious global agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries into food deficit areas.
Global food insecurity and malnutrition are therefore not the result of a lack of productivity.
As for India, although it fares poorly in world hunger assessments, the country has more than enough food to feed its 1.3 billion-plus population and with appropriate policy support measures could draw on its own indigenous agroecological know-how to do so.
Where farmers’ livelihoods are concerned, the pro-GM lobby says GM will boost productivity and help secure cultivators a better income. This too is misleading and again ignores crucial political and economic contexts. For instance, to gain brief insight into the nature of India’s agrarian crisis and why farmers are leaving the sector, let us turn to renowned journalist P Sainath who says:
“The agrarian crises in five words is: hijack of agriculture by corporations. The process by which it is done in five words: predatory commercialisation of the countryside. When your cultivation costs have risen 500 per cent over a decade, the result of that crisis, that process in five words: biggest displacement in our history.”
India’s farmers are not experiencing financial hardship due to low productivity. They are reeling under the effects of neoliberal policies, years of neglect and a deliberate strategy to displace smallholder agriculture at the behest of the World Bank and global agri-food corporations. And people are not hungry in India because its farmers do not produce enough food. Hunger and malnutrition result from various factors, not least poor food distribution, lack of infrastructure, (gender) inequality and poverty.
However, aside from putting a positive spin on the questionable performance of GM agriculture, the pro-GM lobby, both outside of India and within, has wasted no time in wrenching these issues from their political contexts to use the notions of ‘helping farmers’ and ‘feeding the world’ as lynchpins of its promotional strategy.
So the presumption was that you really just need your basic macronutrients – carbohydrates, proteins, fats, etc., and the mitochondria will take care of everything. What is ignored is that to get from those macronutrients to ATP you actually need functional enzymes and you need micronutrients – vitamins and minerals at each step and there’s 22 of them you need. Thiamine happens to be the most important because of its geographic position, if you will, and because of its great limiting step along the various pathways.
No matter what other deficiency you may or may not have, if you do not address thiamine you will never heal. It’s not the only vitamin you need, but it’s the one you absolutely must address before you deal with everything else. I think that’s the most difficult thing for people to realize and why folks will go on these things with folate and B12 and this, that and the other thing, forgetting entirely that that’s so much further down the pathway than thiamine. So they wonder why they don’t heal and they seem to think, “Well it must not be the nutrients. It’s not the vitamins. I’ve done the vitamin thing and it’s not working.” But they haven’t done the right ones yet.
— Chandler Marrs, PhD. and editor of Hormones Matter April 2019 interview
In so many deceptive and not so deceptive ways, Western Medicine has failed a great many hundreds of millions of people. Anything tagged “Western” under this penury and punitive parasitic-reactionary-zombie-shock-to-the-system capitalism is more than just suspect when one looks at the project of finance and command and control the financiers of the world have unleashed for several hundred years.
Western Agriculture (the so-called greening of farming with former Nazi chemists retrofitting war tools into farmers’ nerve agents, hormone disrupters, brain scrambling toxins into the war against nature; i.e., the so-called green revolution) we can ask, how is that working out for humankind? It doesn’t take a Michael Pollan to understand that just the Western diet and the loads of preservatives, emulsifiers, anti-caking tricks, nanoparticles and fake, cheap, trickster ingredients — thanks to Western Life Goes Better with Chemicals paradigm – are killing Americans and others tied to these crack cocaine delivery systems supplying the West with “nutritional” and “farming” beasts of a nation.
We can’t mix apples and oranges, can we, as we are told by Western Mass Media, et al, when we couple the war on human food with the war on ecology and nature, which is what agriculture has unleashed and continues to supercharge this highly industrialized, mono-culture focused, scaled-up version of a Brave New Farm New Order consumer pipeline. Water polluted, aquifers drained, rivers clogged, dams the old-new normal, most wild systems destroyed, fractured and quickly endangered, and, well you have a system that is sick under any person’s definition of the word or concept of “illness.”
However, hand in hand goes the medical and pharma communities lavishly gaining trillions in profits from this pipeline of cancer-causing, heart-disease tripping, stroke-inducing, diabetes-setting high fat-salt-sugar-meat-dairy diet. In part, the medical community has facilitated reinforcing that death pipeline through co-option of the “normalcy” of capital and profits ruling the market — ruling citizens by flipping us into consumers, perennial patients, targets, marks, victims, Guinea pigs, and then chucking any sense of the precautionary principle in lieu of our so called better angels (actual devils of GMOs, HFCS, hyphenated carcinogens).
Every doctor making a cool five million bucks a year on gastric by-passes, heart surgeries, diabetes maintenance programs and cancer-treatments is part of the problem.
Doctors invest in Pizza Hut, Coca Cola, Merck, Monsanto, and whatever bulks up their investment portfolios. Their well-being and their families’ well-being and their rich status in our New Gilded Age society are dependent/interdependent on disease treatment, disease maintenance, disease-embracing medicine, and disease as the new normal.
What goes into Johnny’s gullet-lungs-brain comes back to the rich and Western elite in literal gold reserves and hedge fund derivatives.
So, Western Industrialization – in agriculture, in medicine, in food, in education, in production lines – greased vis-à-vis those economy of scales that aid and abet putting out of business any sane (AKA alternative) treatment modality (naturopathic, holistic, Eastern “medicine” steeped in health care preventative models), or holistic food system (agroecological, organic, scaled to human size farming), or education program (the whole person, intergenerational, creative, hands on, sans core curriculum and standardized test model kind) –is not just the bane of humanity, big or small communities, but also the bane of civilization as we know it.
Any veterinarian looking at an over-sized, arthritis-prone, pre-diabetic, sluggish, tired, itchy skin, anxious, stinky mouthed youngish Labrador Retriever will prescribe more veggies, no commercial dog food (of the rendered roadkill variety) lean chicken, rice, carrots, corn, squash, err, a vegetarian diet.
The human patient doctors really are glad the advertisement says, “Things deep-fried, refined, greasy, meat-centric do go better with Coca Cola.” Money, money, money, guaranteed job security, great gobs of power in our society as sickness and disease come to younger and younger cohorts with each passing year.
Johnny, Juanita, Quyen, Ahmed are Dining on Death
It goes without saying that anyone following my polemics and non-polemical writing know that I am solidly anti-corporation, anti-top down government, and for peace colleges, for an entirely new and different educational system, and that’s not just for PK12, but lifelong education. I am for scaling down, localizing, and working bio-regionally and globally on these systems of pain, oppression, subjugation, and disease.
We are only going to get out of this plundering, and end these enslaved systems of oppression, pollution, and lobotomy through ecosocialism and a true people’s contract through a people’s direct democracy, and strong collective engagement and education.
The revolution will not happen here in the USA, as we know, and when I say revolution, I am speaking about all of those systems of penury and oppression tied to the Military-Prison-Chemical-Pharmacological-Fossil Fuel-Finance-Banking-Insurance-Medical-IT-Real Estate-Education-Legal-AI Complex going down down gone!
While I parachute into jobs tied to the social services, homeless citizen services, PK12 education, environmental activism, localized community rights building, art, literature, politics, media, journalism, anti-poverty programs, I get more than a bird’s eye view of the systems of oppression in this white supremacist patriarchal society.
Just three days ago, I was the teacher of record (substitute) with seven para-educators (women who not only assist that special ed classroom, but who are also teachers, aides, psychologists, so to speak) as I worked an elementary school’s special education self-contained classroom.
First, the parents of these children are amazing, but they are hobbled not only by poverty, by their working class struggle, and by the vagaries of paying so much to live in poverty, but also by these special needs children.
These children are mostly honored and loved.
Then those seven hours, five days a week, in a school, these youth are then shepherded by caring people working under systems of oppression and penury and disappearing funding, until alas, these educational frameworks become failures.
And to what end? Young kids I taught Monday were 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 years old. Where will they be when they hit 18 or 21? The society is not planning for their adulthood, for their needs, for their pathway to some sense of independence. Think living on the streets or staying at home until parents die.
This is the problem, now, is it not? Youth who need one-on-one, sometimes two staff-to-one child attention. The funding isn’t there, and when localities face budget constraints, they go after the “lower rung,” to include firing/laying off para-educators. No teacher in her right mind would have a classroom of a dozen or more youth with behavioral, developmental, intellectual disabilities under her wing WITHOUT the support of paraeducators.
A million people have a million “ideas” and “opinions” about what is wrong and needs fixing with education, but in the end, the American hating, trolling, everyone’s opinion is sacrosanct citizen is more than out to lunch when it comes to almost every armchair prognostication made.
We put young and old immigrants in cages, or these wire boxes where most anyone in this society would not dare put their pet dogs in, and yet we let children die, force children away from family, and, well, a society that accepts that (and by it happening, we all accept that sort of Gestapo Nazi style of punishment), will easily accept the broken and breaking systems of education we have come to see in thousands of communities across the land.
Is it any wonder that the food we feed these special education students is one hot mess of triple fat, triple salt, triple carbs, triple sugar?
Children – either deemed special ed or behaviorally challenged, or gifted and talented – are being fed the most perverse diets on earth. Flooded with empty calories and dead-end oils that are toxic and inflammatory, but also chemicals that make up the ingredient list on a box of crackers that hardly any college educated person can pronounce, let alone understand the origins and consequences on the human physiology, the food (sic) served is deadly. Daily deadly dose of cafeteria (they don’t cook in school cafeterias anymore, but microwave prepacked junk) slop.
Pollution Starts with the Polluting of the Mind
Polluting people with propaganda, with bad food, bad air, bad soil, bad water, bad culture, and, alas, these children in special education are dealing with a multitude of issues they will never fully or even partially get out from under.
Chronic disease, chronic fatigue, chronic brain fog, chronic pain, chronic anxiety, chronic addiction, chronic confusion, chronic anger, chronic discombobulation, all of it have their origins right smack in the center of the gooey nougat of death-inducing capitalism.
I’m interested in people thinking outside of the box, and pushing against the paradigms of oppression, in any arena, whether it’s industry, big oil, big finance, or, in this article’s case, medicine.
How many times does a guy who is pugnacious and pugilistic get to interview a doctor whose pedigree goes way back – he’s alive and well, age 95, living in England?
Old school – mandatory (national service) in the RAF (7 years) in England, and working for the national health service in the UK (10 years).
I have been tracking the work of people like Derrick Lonsdale around naturopathy, the foods-vitamins-lifestyles-vaccinations connection for decades. I have looked at the value of Vitamin and Herbal Supplemental enrichment in our lives for years — lifestyles broken by the chemical exposures, the pesticides exposures, the drug exposures, the pollution exposures, the GMO exposures, the electrical magnetic frequency (WiFi, cellular phone, etc) exposures, the heavy metal exposures.
Add to that the magical thinking, the lobotomizing education systems, the consumer-droning mass media mush, and we have some really hard times in Western Society that is so hobbled by fear, falling in line (in a goosestep sometimes) with the corporate-government narrative, etc.
Autoimmune Disease Goes to the Mitochondria
There are so many maladies tied to autoimmune diseases, bowel conditions, blood issues, and complete endocrine and hormone discombobulation.
In many cases, women especially are deemed hysterical, psychologically-motivated, insane when they come to Western Medicine with such issues listed above:
Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus)
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Multiple sclerosis (MS)
Type 1 diabetes mellitus
Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy
I’ve been lucky to have written for Hormones Matter – tied to my mistreatment by social services non-profits and Planned Parenthood for a simple sex ed training class in Seattle where I dared to ask the facilitators with PP that the Gardasil debate was not yet settled.
Here I was as a foster youth social worker, and you can imagine the foster parents that have children in their charge – many are tied to homeschooling and are skeptical of vaccinations. You just need to go to Hormones Matteror just do the Google (if Google hasn’t scrubbed all the evidence against Gardasil) and put in “ Merck and Gardasil and criticism and lawsuits.” What have you.
Derrick, along with Hormones Matter editor, Chandler Marrs, have written an amazing book, Thiamine Deficiency Disease, Dysautonomia, and High Calorie Malnutrition.
Go to Hormonesmatter (dot) com and check out the depth of the articles, depth of the outside the Western Medicine Paradigm the articles address. Writers who are PhD’s, MDs, or experts through their own trials and tribulations suffering under myriad of diseases.
Here’s my interview:
Paul Haeder: So you are 95 years old, and have seen many changes in Western Society and innovative arenas of thought and knowledge around disease and human health. What are some of the biggest impacts you believe from your learning have greatly changed the way you see health? What are some of the most troubling aspects of medicine and health you can discuss after, what, more than 50 years in medicine?
Derrick Lonsdale: I started my medical career, after National Service as a medical officer in the RAF, in family practice for 7 years under the NHS. Not liking the bureaucracy I immigrated to Canada with a short service commission in the RCAF. I did residency in pediatrics at Cleveland Clinic and in 1962 I was invited to join the staff.
I was on the pediatric staff at the Cleveland Clinic from 1962 to 1982. I headed a section on biochemical genetics. A six year old boy who had repeated episodes of brain disease had every conventional test normal. He proved to be the first case of vitamin B1 dependency, a mutation in the gene that enabled glucose to fuel energy metabolism. It changed my professional life. With the extensive library research required, I learned the details of energy metabolism and began to be aware that it was the core issue of disease. I began to realize that the present medical model, dependent on the Flexner report of 1910, is inadequate. I found that so many of the children referred to the Clinic were emotionally sick from diet rather than from poor parenting. I published a suggested new medical model, based on a combination of genetics/environmental stress/and energy, represented as three interlocking circles. The body is an electrochemical “machine” and if the genetic code is perfect (it never is) all it requires is energy.
Genetic mutations seldom act by themselves. Another factor comes into play, giving rise to the gene expression. Diabetes sometimes makes its first appearance after a cold or an injury, strongly indicating that energy deficiency affects the gene(s) at root. The troublesome aspects of modern medicine are far reaching. The profession has been taken over by the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry. Drugs only treat symptoms and do not address cause. Surgery to remove a sick organ is tacitly an admission of medical failure.
PH: Great scientists like Robert Sapolsky have looked at the diseases of Homo sapiens as they are tied to stress, as in his book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.
DL: Hans Selye was the great interpreter of the physiologic and pathophysiogic effects of stress. He was able to show that the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) in experimental animals required energy for the animal to adapt to the many forms of stress that he used in his experiments. Lab data obtained from stressed animals imitated the lab data from sick humans and he formulated the idea that human diseases were “the diseases of adaptation”. One of his students was able to produce the GAS by making the animal thiamine deficient, thus showing the importance of energy metabolism. The only way that we can help the body in synthesizing the required energy is by providing the right fuel and the catalysts that enable oxidation to occur efficiently. Pharmaceuticals only address symptoms but do nothing for their underlying cause.
PH: Discuss your work and knowledge around just the real and perceived stress of our Western Culture (not tied to our Western diets — that’s for a later question) and how that plays havoc on the human biological system?
DL: Well, I guess that comes under the heading of stress. Just like Selye’s animals, we require energy to adapt b . . . meaning that our brain/body complex defense mechanisms go into action. We live in a world that takes little notice of our biology. The further we get away from it the greater the risk. There are thousands of toxic chemicals that increase the stress load. The relatively new science of epigenetics has yet to emerge in clinical medicine. This, as you know, is the science of how nutrition and lifestyle influence our genes. Epigenetics is even emerging in the complex field of cancer.
PH: On Hormones Matter, you have many articles tied to thiamine deficiency, but also other areas:
October 14, 2019, Sleep Requires Energy
September 30, 2019, A New Medical Model to Prevent Physician Burnout
September 17, 2019, SIDS and Vaccination
September 12, 2019, Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis: An Unusual Treatment
August 22, 2019, When Glaucoma Is More Than an Eye Disease
July 1, 2019, Energy Loss as a Cause of Disease
DL: Yes, but they are all tied to our capacity to synthesize energy. I did sabbatical in Australia after David Read published thiamine deficiency as a cause of SIDS. My colleagues and I published abnormal auditory brain-stem evoked potentials in threatened SIDS and showed that megadose thiamine stopped the apnea alarms from ringing. We also published our work. Thiamine deficiency disease gives us the prototype for dysautonomia. Interestingly, many case reports of dysautonomia have been published in association with an assortment of diseases, without recognizing the importance of the association. I have suggested that it hallmarks the association as evidence that each disease is caused by oxidative inefficiency. The dysautonomia is really very much part of the disease expression.
PH: So, Dr. Lonsdale, there seems a sense of urgency in these pieces, and the thread to each of them goes to deficiency in nutrition. Why is it in 2019, we have Western medicine treated disease rather than preventing disease?
DL: A good question. The medical profession as a whole has rejected the deficiency of non caloric nutrients as a common cause of disease. They claim that vitamin enrichment has abolished them and that these diseases are only of historical interest. Hence they are not familiar with the symptoms that would have been recognized 70-80 years ago. Many of these patients are diagnosed as “psychosomatic” and there are probably millions of Americans affected. Any physician who claims that a patient’s symptoms are due to (e.g.) beriberi is considered to be “off his head” and is exactly what happened to me at Cleveland Clinic. I actually saw beriberi in CCH patients and nobody would believe me. I have outlined their cases in our book that needs to be read by every physician, since laboratory proof is used.
PH: We have in the USA more than 150 million people with at least chronic illness, many with co-occurring. We have an obesity epidemic. We have a society that is fed the propaganda of Madison Avenue. How do you see this logjam getting broken when so much of Western Medicine “depends” on the food industries of high salt, fat, sugar?
DL: Chandler [Marrs] and I are more than convinced that thiamine deficiency is widespread because this deficiency is easily induced by inordinate ingestion of sugar in many different forms. The last statistics that I saw for the U.S. was 150 pounds of sugar per capitum per annum. We have suggested that the early symptoms, if recognized at onset, are easily treated. We believe that if there is failure to recognize them, chronic disease follows later, giving rise to an assortment of neurodegenerative diseases. Each is named by the first individual to recognize the repeated appearance of a constellation of symptoms and signs (Parkinson, Alzheimer etc). Not acknowledging the overlap of these symptoms in patients with a diagnosis of one disease versus another, each is thought to have a separate cause that must be specifically identified as a “cure”. We regard that as trying to shut the stable door after the horse has gone.
In 1936 Sir Rudolph Peters opened the studies of oxidative metabolism by the discovery of the catatorulin effect. He showed that there was no difference in the respiration of thiamine deficient pigeon brain cells compared with cells from a thiamine replete pigeon until glucose was added to the preparation. The thiamine sufficient cells immediately began to respire, whereas the TD cells did not. I have seen hundreds of patients whose extremely variable symptoms were due to mild to moderate thiamine deficiency and proved it via lab testing.
PH: Where do you see the work you and Chandler have accomplished going? Most people I see and work with as a teacher and social worker just can’t understand the axiom – You are what you eat. I could take that further, of course, by saying “you are what you read, do, say, believe, hold dear, don’t believe, hope for, dream of, observe, watch, hear, listen to.”
DL: We believe that we must try to address both physicians and patients, hence our reports on Hormones Matter. It has led to a great deal of correspondence between patients and us. What appalls us is the many years of suffering expressed by many of them and their rejection by their physicians as “problem patients”. One young woman discovered from reading our book that her Flagyl toxicity symptoms were due to TD. Not only did her physician insist that her symptoms were “psychological”, she was rejected from that multi-doctor clinic “ because she would not accept the psychology diagnosis”. Her physician denied Flagyl toxicity even though the symptoms are published.
PH: Is it a matter of hormones in most cases you have experienced in both medicine and in communicating with individuals with major physical health concerns?
DL: Hormones enter the picture because they are under the control of the limbic brain with the autonomic system. Energy deficiency in the brain affects their synthesis and their distribution.
PH: What could med schools be doing to really help the health of a community, the country?
DL: Med schools have produced research to show that a lot of disease in America is biochemical in origin. Even if these common symptoms are correctly found to be biochemical in origin, they then assume that a drug must be found to correct them. The whole climate of medicine is based on pharmaceutical “genius”.
PH: Talk about the violence-hormone-vitamin deficiency connection in more depth, if you will?
DL: Our emotional sensations arise from the lower brain and are tied to the perceived event. They can be modified by the cortex but it implies brain communication. TD is equivalent to a mild degree of hypoxia and is thought of as causing pseudohypoxia. Because this is dangerous to the organism, either of them will excite the tendency to initiate the fight-or-flight reflex behavior. Hence, I see a boy who has had a mild redress in school, nursing it with a sense of human injustice, bursting into nonsensical violence. Nobody has ever questioned a perpetrator as to the quality of his diet. Nobody has reported a physical exam that might show the imprint of dysautonomia. Some years ago a probation officer in Cuyahoga Falls managed to get a judge to bind over juvenile criminals to her for dietary supervision. The recidivity rate fell to virtually zero.
PH: What do you attribute your longevity to?
DL: I don‘t know. I do take a lot of supplements.
PH: What role does epigenetics play in your research around energy and Vitamin B?
DL: I think that my use of megadoses of thiamine is epigenetic.
PH: Diseases of adaptation v. diseases of maladaptation is what you allude to when speaking of Seyle. Give a connotation and denotation of what this is saying for the average reader to understand.
DL: Stress is defined as a mental or physical environmental force acting on an organism, including humans. Like Selye’s experimental animals such a person first must perceive the form of the stress and adapt to it. Infection excites a defensive response that is organized automatically by the brain. A deadline, a business problem, a divorce etc requires a thought process conducted by the brain. Both physical and mental stress require energy expenditure. It explains why a divorce might result in sickness in one person and not in another, depending on the energy status. In other words, the ability to meet life stresses depends on the combination of adequate nutrition and genetics.
PH: Industrial agriculture and industrial food and industrial everything have come from the industrial revolution, from then to now. What can we do to reverse this turbo charged world of turbo charged living, eating, consuming and surviving? Your message is clear, smart and elegant, but in Capitalism, we always want to blame the victim, the patient, the person. It’s our fault if we are in constant fatigue, or if we are fat and can’t lose weight, or if we have difficulty dealing with the everyday “norms” of modern society.
DL: I don’t think that we can do anything about altering the cause. All we can do is to repeat and repeat what IS the cause, pointing out HOW it affects us. If a person will not change diet, he/she may well accept supplements because they are trained to taking pills for health correction. Perhaps, artificial as that may be, clinical improvement will enhance the perceived importance of nutrition and lifestyle, acting as a learning process.
PH: Where is the new frontier in medicine, in your estimation?
DL: I think that it is in the hands of ACAM [ACAM is the pioneer integrative organization and advocate of education for dedicated professionals who set out to make a difference in the standards of healthcare. Our membership includes MD, DO, ND, ARNP, NP, DC, DDS, scientists, medical students/residents, dietitians, nutritionists, researchers, and more.] and ICIM [The International College of Integrative Medicine is a community of dedicated physicians who advance innovative therapies in integrative medicine by conducting educational conferences, supporting research, and cooperating with other scientific organizations, while always promoting the highest standards of practice.]
PH: I have friends and others researching the chemical-human disease connection, to include Dr. Rosemary Mason, looking at the unbelievable amounts of chemicals – poisons – in our ecosystems, food systems, and bodies.
Campaigner and environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason has written an open letter to the Chief Medical Officer of England, Sally Davies. In it, Mason states that none of the more than 400 pesticides that have been authorised in the UK have been tested for long-term actions on the brain: in the foetus, in children or in adults.
The UK Department of Health (DoH) has previously stated that pesticides are not its concern. But, according to Mason, they should be. She says that Theo Colborn’s crucial research in the early 1990s showed that endocrine disrupters (EDCs) were changing humans and the environment, but this research was ignored by officials. Glyphosate, the most widespread herbicide in the world, is an EDC and a nervous system disrupting chemical.
Speak to these concerns, too, Dr. Lonsdale.
DL: I totally agree but this kind of common sense usually falls on deaf ears. I have entered my posts on the metronidazole toxicity group and sent a letter to the FDA in regard to the nature of its toxicity. It hasn’t changed a thing but a lot of people have been helped. A paper I wrote in 1980 reporting 20 adolescents who had proved thiamine deficiency disease caused my phone to light up but it has long been forgotten. We can only just keep plugging on!!!
The renowned author and whistleblower Evaggelos Vallianatos describes British environmentalist and campaigner Dr Rosemary Mason as a “defender of the natural world and public health.” I first came across her work a few years ago. It was in the form of an open letter she had sent to an official about the devastating environmental and human health impacts of glyphosate-based weed killers. What had impressed me was the document she had sent to accompany the letter. It was over 20 pages long and contained official data and referred to a plethora of scientific papers to support the case she was making.
For almost a decade, Rosemary Mason has been writing open letters and sending reports she has compiled to media outlets and prominent officials and agencies in the US, the UK and Europe to question their decisions and/or to inform them of the dangers of pesticides. She has been relentless in exposing conflicts of interest, fraudulent science and institutionalised corruption in regulatory processes surrounding glyphosate and other agrochemicals. Her quest has been fired by a passion to protect the natural world and the public but there is also a personal aspect: she is affected by a serious health condition which she attributes directly to the reckless use of pesticides in South Wales where she resides. And her assertion here is not based on idle speculation. In her reports, she has presented a great deal of evidence about the deterioration of the health of the British public and how agrochemicals play a major contributory role.
She recently sent me a report ‘How glyphosate-based herbicides poisoned our nature reserve and the world‘. It focuses on how she had set up a nature reserve in South Wales. What she and her husband (who has a professional background in conservation and nature) had achieved on that reserve was impressive. But thanks to the local council’s indiscriminate spraying of glyphosate-based herbicides, it was subsequently transformed from a piece of land teeming with flora and fauna into a barren wasteland.
What follows is an interview I conducted with Rosemary Mason about her nature reserve and her campaigning. We discussed her motivation, the support she has received and her feelings after almost a decade of campaigning.
Colin Todhunter: Have you always had a passion for the natural environment?
Rosemary Mason: I was born in the countryside during the war and my mother took us on walks and taught us about wildflowers, which was her passion. My brothers and I fished in the stream for minnows and sticklebacks and set nightlines for pike and chub (we never caught any). When I was a junior doctor, I became interested in bird watching and I am former chair of the West Area, Glamorgan Wildlife Trust. At that time, unlike today, farmland was full of lapwing, oystercatcher and redshank displaying and protecting their nests.
CT: Why did you decide to set up your nature reserve?
RM: In 2006, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust was launched in response to the massive declines in bumblebees, butterflies and insects in general, with the demise of traditional hedgerows, hay meadows, chalk grassland and wildflowers and the intensification of farming and the widening use of pesticides. At the same time, the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council perversely announced the closure of its wildlife research centres for ‘financial reasons’, a decision opposed by 99% of 1,327 stakeholders. Monks Wood centre, which hosted BBC’s Spring Watch, pioneered work on DDT and pesticides in the 1960s and more recently revealed how climate change is affecting wildlife, with spring arriving three weeks earlier. More significantly, the research centres were also involved in assessing the impacts of GM (genetically modified) crops on wildlife, with findings contradicting industry claims that no harm would be caused.
In response, in March 2006, my husband and I decided to establish our own small pesticide-free wildlife reserve after attending a joint meeting of the Welsh Ornithological Society and the British Trust for Ornithology in Aberystwyth.
CT: I have read your new report about your nature reserve. I would certainly encourage everyone to read it. It describes in some detail how you and your husband set about attracting an impressively wide array of bird, insect and plant species to the reserve, many of which had virtually disappeared from the British countryside, mainly as a result of intensive farming practices. What I found impressive is your knowledge of these species and how you were able to identify them. From the narrative provided (which at times reads almost like a novel) and the enthusiasm conveyed, you put in a lot of hard work developing the reserve and what you achieved there was impressive.
RM: In brief, it was a miracle. I think the next five years from 2006 were the most exciting and fulfilling of my life. At the end of 2009, I wrote an account of speckled bush crickets. Judith Marshall, working at the Natural History Museum, is a world expert on grasshoppers and bush crickets. She said it was the first monograph to be written on a single species.
CT: Can you say something about the demise of the nature reserve?
RM: We published a second photo-journal in 2010, ‘The year of the bumblebee: observations in a small nature reserve.’ But in 2011, I knew something was wrong. The moths were disappearing from the area and the orb web spider had gone from the hedge. We were aware that the local council was spraying glyphosate-based herbicides on Japanese knotweed in the valley below and close to our reserve. But we had to be sure.
So, in August 2013 and August 2014, we sent samples of river water and tap water to Leipzig to Prof Dr Monika Kreuger for analysis. Between August 2013 and August 2014, the levels of glyphosate in tap water had increased ten-fold, from 30 ppt to 300 ppt. These were of the order of concentrations that stimulated the growth of breast cancer cells in a laboratory setting.
In August 2013, we asked our then Welsh Assembly Member to request the council to stop spraying glyphosate-based herbicides on Japanese knotweed. The council said they would only stop if they were authorised by the Health and Safety Executive. So, I wrote to the HSE at the beginning of 2014 telling them about measuring increasing glyphosate levels in water and that we had had many cases of breast cancer in our area. They refused to do it because they said that glyphosate-based herbicides were still legal. I begged them to do it on several occasions, as we saw the biodiversity in our reserve plummeting. Finally, they said if I asked the same question again, they wouldn’t reply to me.
CT: You have engaged in a long struggle for many years, trying to get officials at local, national and European levels to act on pesticides. You have written many open letters to policy makers and key officials and have usually attached lengthy reports referring to data and scientific papers in support of your case. I think you began doing this in late 2010. Whose work have you taken inspiration from along the way?
RM: The work of Dr Henk Tennekes, the independent Dutch toxicologist, was a real eye opener for me. In 2010, he published a paper and wrote a book ‘The Systemic Insecticides: a disaster in the making’. It is about the loss of insects and insect-feeding birds in Europe, caused by neonicotinoid insecticides. The RSPB and the IUCN Charities refused to help fund the book because it ‘wasn’t scientific enough’. We subsequently discovered that Syngenta had funded neonicotinoid seeds for the RSPB Hope Farm Reserve. Systemic neonicotinoid insecticides are still on the market in the UK and the US nine years later.
I found Henk’s work to be shattering. It actually changed the course of my life. The fact was that he’d worked out that the effect on the brains of insects was irreversible, cumulative and there was no safe level of exposure. What was worse was that the Chemical Regulation Directorate didn’t seem to take it seriously. So, I wrote to Europe and the US EPA and the response was the same: ‘there is no evidence that the neonics are harmful to honeybees.’ Henk had written this book with amazing pictures and artwork showing the impact on insect-feeding birds throughout Europe. Humans had the same receptors; so, imagine the effects on humans if there are lots of neonics around. By March 2011, Henk and I decided that there would be a chemical apocalypse. So here we are, eight years later and bingo, our predictions were spot on!
Francisco Sanchez-Bayo, a toxicologist living in Australia, wrote papers with Henk agreeing that neonicotinoids insecticides irreversibly damaged the brains of insects and that levels built up over time. In 2019, he wrote a paper with a colleague in China, which proved that insect losses were global and due to pesticides.
Then there was the late Dr Maewan Ho of the former Institute of Science in Society who helped me to publish an article in the ISiS magazine in September 2014: ‘How Roundup poisoned my nature reserve’. She sadly died on 16 March 2016 from advanced cancer. She was an amazing woman and gave me much encouragement.
Finally, Polly Higgins, a Scottish barrister and environmentalist, gave up her practice and set up an organisation to end ecocide (destruction of the environment). Polly Higgins was an inspiration and campaigned tirelessly against ecocide. She died from cancer aged 50.
CT: Given all the open letters you have written to officials over the years, I cannot but feel you have by and large been stonewalled. Where does the buck stop?
RM: With David Cameron, the Health and Safety Executive and Defra (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) . A ‘Letter from America’ was sent from nearly 60 million US citizens warning Europe not to authorise GM crops and Roundup because of the disastrous effects on human health and biodiversity. Wales and Scotland took that advice. David Cameron received it on 11 November 2014, but he and Defra ignored it on behalf of England and kept it secret from the public. Cameron also appointed Michael Pragnell, Founder of Syngenta, to be Chairman of Cancer Research UK, which I’ve written about.
The HSE refused to ask the Council to stop spraying GBH on our reserve because it was ‘still legal’. The European Commission and the European Food Safety Authority ignored the Letter from America too and kept on authorising GM crops for feed and food in the EU.
Of course, there are many others who should be held responsible too, such as Bernhard Url, chief executive of EFSA, and the recently retired Chief Medical Officer for England, Dame Sally Davies.
CT: How do you feel about the destruction of your reserve, the pesticides issue, the state of nature and those officials who have effectively ignored much of what you have said to them? Disappointed? Frustrated?
RM: Those are such inadequate words to express my feelings. I am devastated about the global losses of biodiversity and I weep for our reserve. Sometimes, I dream that it is all reversible, but I know it is not. I read books about nature as ‘comfort food’. I feel sorry for the children who may never see a butterfly or a bumblebee. Indeed, I am a bit disappointed about the lack of support I have had from certain environmental groups and media outlets that report on environmental issues. I would like the mainstream media to acknowledge the role of the pesticides industry, but I don’t suppose they ever will.
However, I have gained some satisfaction from receiving expressions of gratitude and praise via the academia.edu site where my work is archived. And at least Jon Snow (Channel 4 broadcast journalist in the UK) has revealed the chief cause of losses of biodiversity to be poisoning the land, not global warming.
How do I feel? Maybe ‘resigned’ would be the right word to use.
• All of Rosemary Mason’s work can be accessed on the academia.edu website here.
Promoters of genetic modification (GM) in agriculture have long argued that genetically engineered Golden Rice is a practical way to provide poor farmers in remote areas with a subsistence crop capable of adding much-needed vitamin A to local diets. Vitamin A deficiency is a problem in many poor countries in the Global South and leaves millions at high risk for infection, diseases and other maladies, such as blindness.
Some scientists believe that Golden Rice, which has been developed with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, could help save the lives of around 670,000 children who die each year from Vitamin A deficiency and another 350,000 who go blind.
Meanwhile, critics say there are serious issues with Golden Rice and that alternative approaches to tackling vitamin A deficiency should be implemented. Greenpeace and other environmental groups say the claims being made by the pro-Golden Rice lobby are misleading and are oversimplifying the actual problems in combating vitamin A deficiency.
Many critics regard Golden Rice as an over-hyped Trojan horse that biotechnology corporations and their allies hope will pave the way for the global approval of other more profitable GM crops. The Rockefeller Foundation might be regarded as a ‘philanthropic’ entity but its track record indicates it has been very much part of an agenda which facilitates commercial and geopolitical interests to the detriment of indigenous agriculture and local and national economies.
Smears and baseless attacks
As Britain’s Environment Secretary in 2013, Owen Paterson claimed that opponents of GM were “casting a dark shadow over attempts to feed the world”. He called for the rapid roll-out of vitamin A-enhanced rice to help prevent the cause of up to a third of the world’s child deaths:
“It’s just disgusting that little children are allowed to go blind and die because of a hang-up by a small number of people about this technology. I feel really strongly about it. I think what they do is absolutely wicked.”
Just recently, Robin McKie, science writer for The Observer, wrote a piece on Golden Rice that uncritically presented all the usual industry talking points. On Twitter, The Observer’s Nick Cohen chimed in with his support by tweeting: “There is no greater example of ignorant Western privilege causing needless misery than the campaign against genetically modified golden rice.”
Whether it comes from the likes of corporate lobbyist Patrick Moore, Owen Paterson, biotech spin-merchant Mark Lynas, well-remunerated journalists or from the lobbyist CS Prakash who engages more in spin that fact, the rhetoric takes the well-worn cynically devised PR line that anti-GM activists and environmentalists are little more than privileged, affluent people residing in rich countries and are denying the poor the supposed benefits of GM crops.
Golden Rice does not work and opponents are not to blame
Despite the smears and emotional blackmail employed by supporters of Golden Rice, in a 2016 article in the journal Agriculture& Human Values Glenn Stone and Dominic Glover found little evidence that anti-GM activists are to blame for Golden Rice’s unfulfilled promises. Golden rice was still years away from field introduction and may fall far short of lofty health benefits claimed by its supporters.
Professor Glenn Stone from Washington University in St. Louis stated that:
Golden Rice is still not ready for the market, but we find little support for the common claim that environmental activists are responsible for stalling its introduction. GMO opponents have not been the problem.
Stone added that the rice simply has not been successful in test plots of the rice breeding institutes in the Philippines, where the leading research is being done. While activists did destroy one Golden Rice test plot in a 2013 protest, it is unlikely that this action had any significant impact on the approval of Golden Rice.
Destroying test plots is a dubious way to express opposition, but this was only one small plot out of many plots in multiple locations over many years. Moreover, they have been calling Golden Rice critics ‘murderers’ for over a decade.
Believing that Golden Rice was originally a promising idea backed by good intentions, Stone argued:
But if we are actually interested in the welfare of poor children – instead of just fighting over GMOs – then we have to make unbiased assessments of possible solutions. The simple fact is that after 24 years of research and breeding, Golden Rice is still years away from being ready for release.
Researchers continue to have problems developing beta carotene-enriched strains that yield as well as non-GM strains already being grown by farmers. Stone and Glover point out that it is still unknown if the beta carotene in Golden Rice can even be converted to vitamin A in the bodies of badly undernourished children. There also has been little research on how well the beta carotene in Golden Rice will hold up when stored for long periods between harvest seasons or when cooked using traditional methods common in remote rural locations.
Claire Robinson, an editor at GMWatch, has argued that the rapid degradation of beta-carotene in the rice during storage and cooking means it’s not a solution to vitamin A deficiency in the developing world. There are also various other problems, including absorption in the gut, the low and varying levels of beta-carotene that may be delivered by Golden Rice in the first place and the rapid degradation of beta-carotene when stored.
In the meantime, Glenn Stone says that, as the development of Golden Rice creeps along, the Philippines has managed to slash the incidence of Vitamin A deficiency by non-GM methods.
In whose interest?
The evidence presented here might lead us to question why supporters of Golden Rice continue to smear critics and engage in abuse and emotional blackmail when they are not to blame for the failure of Golden Rice to reach the commercial market. Whose interests are they really serving in pushing so hard for this technology?
In 2011, Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, a senior scientist with a background in insect ecology and pest management, asked a similar question:
“Who oversees this ambitious project, which its advocates claim will end the suffering of millions?”
She answered her question by stating:
An elite, so-called “Humanitarian Board” where Syngenta sits – along with the inventors of Golden Rice, Rockefeller Foundation, USAID and public relations and marketing experts, among a handful of others. Not a single farmer, indigenous person or even an ecologist, or sociologist to assess the huge political, social, and ecological implications of this massive experiment. And the leader of IRRI’s Golden Rice project is none other than Gerald Barry, previously Director of Research at Monsanto.
Sarojeni V. Rengam, executive director of Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific, has called on the donors and scientists involved to wake up and do the right thing:
Golden Rice is really a ‘Trojan horse’; a public relations stunt pulled by the agri-business corporations to garner acceptance of GE crops and food. The whole idea of GE seeds is to make money… we want to send out a strong message to all those supporting the promotion of Golden Rice, especially donor organizations, that their money and efforts would be better spent on restoring natural and agricultural biodiversity rather than destroying it by promoting monoculture plantations and genetically engineered (GE) food crops.
And she makes a valid point. To tackle disease, malnutrition and poverty, you have to first understand the underlying causes – or indeed want to understand them. Walden Bello notes that the complex of policies that pushed the Philippines into an economic quagmire over the past 30 years is due to ‘structural adjustment’, involving prioritizing debt repayment, conservative macroeconomic management, huge cutbacks in government spending, trade and financial liberalization, privatization and deregulation, the restructuring of agriculture and export-oriented production.
And that restructuring of the agrarian economy is something touched on by Claire Robinson who notes that leafy green vegetables used to be grown in backyards as well as in rice (paddy) fields on the banks between the flooded ditches in which the rice grew. She argues that the ditches also contained fish, which ate pests. People thus had access to rice, green leafy veg, and fish – a balanced diet that gave them a healthy mix of nutrients, including plenty of beta-carotene.
But indigenous crops and farming systems have been replaced by monocultures dependent on chemical inputs. Robinson says that green leafy veg were killed off with pesticides, artificial fertilizers were introduced and the fish could not live in the resulting chemically contaminated water. Moreover, decreased access to land meant that many people no longer had backyards containing leafy green veg. People only had access to an impoverished diet of rice alone, laying the foundation for the supposed Golden Rice ‘solution’.
Whether it concerns The Philippines, Ethiopia, Somalia or Africa as a whole, the effects of IMF/World Bank ‘structural adjustments’ have devastated agrarian economies and made them dependent on Western agribusiness, manipulated markets and unfair trade rules. And GM is now offered as the ‘solution’ for tackling poverty-related diseases. The very corporations which gained from restructuring agrarian economies now want to profit from the havoc caused.
In finishing, let us turn to what the Soil Association argued in 2013: the poor are suffering from broader malnourishment than just vitamin A deficiency; the best solution to vitamin A deficiency is to use supplementation and fortification as emergency sticking-plasters and then for implementing measures which tackle the broader issues of poverty and malnutrition.
Tackling the wider issues includes providing farmers with a range of seeds, tools and skills necessary for growing more diverse crops to target broader issues of malnutrition. Part of this entails breeding crops high in nutrients; for instance, the creation of sweet potatoes that grow in tropical conditions, cross-bred with vitamin A rich orange sweet potatoes, which grow in the USA. There are successful campaigns providing these potatoes, a staggering five times higher in vitamin A than Golden Rice, to farmers in Uganda and Mozambique.
The Soil Association says, despite the fanfare, Golden Rice has not yet actually helped a single person and if commercialised it will not be helping to reduce people’s reliance on a rice-based diet. It believes that we could have gone further in curing blindness in developing countries years ago if only the money, research, and publicity that have gone into Golden Rice over the last 15 years had gone into proven ways of curing the Vitamin A deficiency that causes blindness.
However, instead of pursuing genuine solutions, we continue to get smears and pro-GM spin in an attempt to close down debate.
On the back of Brexit, there are fears in the UK that a trade deal will be struck with Washington which will effectively lower food and environmental standards to those of the US. At the same time, it seems that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is being resurrected and could have a similar impact in the EU. These types of secretive, corporate-driven trade deals ride roughshod over democratic procedures and the public interest.
India has not been immune to such deals. The US-India Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (2005) is aimed at widening access to India’s agricultural and retail sectors for US companies. This agreement was drawn up with the full and direct participation of representatives from various companies, such as Monsanto, Cargill and Walmart, in return for India receiving assistance to develop its nuclear sector.
And now, in India, there are serious concerns about another deal. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is currently being negotiated by 16 countries across Asia-Pacific and would cover half the world’s population, including 420 million small family farms that produce 80% of the region’s food. Although stumbling blocks have prevented any deal being struck thus far, there is an increased sense of urgency to get it signed.
The RCEP could further accelerate the corporatisation of Indian agriculture. The plight of farmers in India has been well documented. A combination of debt, economic liberalisation, subsidised imports, rising input costs, deliberate underinvestment and a shift to cash crops has caused massive financial distress. Over 300,000 (perhaps over 400,000) have taken their lives over the last 20 years. From the effects of the Green Revolution (degraded soils, falling water tables, drought, etc.) to the lack of minimum support prices and income guarantees, it is becoming increasingly non-viable for many smallholder farmers to continue.
Indian smallholder/peasant farmers are under attack on all fronts. Transnational corporations are seeking to capitalise the food and agriculture sector by supplanting the current system with one suited towards their needs, ably assisted by the World Bank and its various strategies and directives. There is a push to further commercialise the countryside, which will involve shifting hundreds of millions to cities.
GRAIN is an international non-profit organisation and in 2017 released a short report that outlined how RCEP is expected to create powerful new rights and lucrative business opportunities for food and agriculture corporations under the guise of boosting trade and investment.
Land acquisition and seed saving
The RCEP is expected to create powerful rights and lucrative business opportunities for food and agriculture corporations under the guise of boosting trade and investment. It could allow foreign corporations to buy up land, thereby driving up land prices, fuelling speculation and pushing small farmers out. This could intensify the ‘great land grab’ that has already been taking place in India.
GRAIN notes that giant agribusiness concerns want to put a stop to farmer seed saving and sharing by forcing farmers to buy their proprietary seeds each season. The global seed industry is highly concentrated today and recent mergers only further consolidate its power and influence over both governments and farmers. For example, with China having acquired Syngenta, that country has a new vested interest in seeing seed laws strengthened via tighter intellectual property rights under RCEP.
We have already seen the devastating effects on Indian farmers due to Monsanto’s illegal ‘royalties’ (on ‘trait values’) on GM cotton seeds in India. Monsanto effectively wrote and broke laws to enter India. Under RCEP, things could get much worse. If patents are allowed on inventions ‘derived from plants’ (whether hybrid or genetically modified seeds), we could see higher seed prices, a further loss of biodiversity, even greater corporate control and a possible lowering of standards (or a complete bypassing of them as with GM mustard) for high-risk products such as GMOs.
India’s dairy sector
Access to the huge Indian market is an important focus for New Zealand in the RCEP negotiations, especially where the diary sector is concerned. However, according to RS Sodhi, managing director of the country’s largest milk cooperative, Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation, this could rob the vibrant domestic dairy industry and the millions of farmers that are connected to it from access to a growing market in India.
The Indian government has encouraged the co-operative model in the dairy sector with active policy protection. However, the dairy trade could be opened up to unfair competition from subsidised imports under RCEP. India’s dairy sector is mostly self-sufficient and employs about 100 million people, the majority of whom are women. The sector is a lifeline for small and marginal farmers, landless poor and a significant source of income for millions of families. They are the backbone of India’s dairy sector.
New Zealand’s dairy giant Fonterra (the world’s biggest dairy exporter) is looking to RCEP as a way into India’s massive dairy market. The company has openly stated that RCEP would give it important leverage to open up India’s protected market. As a result, many people fear that Indian dairy farmers will either have to work for Fonterra or go out of business.
At the same time, some RCEP members not only heavily subsidise their farmers, but they also have food safety standards that are incompatible with the small-scale food production and processing systems that dominate in other RCEP countries. There is sufficient room for concern here: during the ‘mustard crisis’ in 1998, ‘pseudo-safety’ laws were used to facilitate the entry of foreign soy oil: many village-level processors were thereby forced out of business.
The RCEP could accelerate the growth of mega food-park investments that target exports to high-value markets, as is already happening in India. These projects involve high-tech farm-to-fork supply chains that exclude and may even displace small producers and household food processing businesses, which are the mainstay of rural and peri-urban communities across Asia. This would dovetail with existing trends that are facilitating the growth of corporate-controlled supply chains, whereby farmers can easily become enslaved or small farmers simply get by-passed by powerful corporations demanding industrial-scale production.
From pesticides to big retail
Fertiliser and pesticide sales are expected to rise sharply in Asia-Pacific in the next few years. Agrochemical use is heaviest in China and growing rapidly in India. GRAIN notes that China’s acquisition of Syngenta, the world’s top agrochemical company with more than 20% of the global pesticide market, puts the country in a particularly sensitive position within RCEP.
GRAIN states that liberalized trade in farm chemicals are bound to be part of the RCEP, resulting in increased residues in food and water, more greenhouse gas emissions, rising rates of illness and further depletion of soil fertility.
The RCEP also demands the liberalisation of the retail sector and is attempting to facilitate the entry of foreign agroprocessing and retail gaints, which could threaten the livelihoods of small retailers and street vendors. The entry of retail giants would be bad for farmers because they may eventually monopolise the whole food chain from procurement to distribution. In effect, farmers will be at the mercy of such large companies as they will have the power to set prices and also will not be interested to buy small quantities from small producers. In effect, the RCEP will usher in a wave of corporate agri-food consolidation.
It is interesting to note that Ashwani Mahajan, economics professor and national co-convener of Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, an Indian political and cultural organization that promotes self-reliance, argues that the ‘make in India’ push by the current government is completely at odds with the RCEP. He argues that no sector seems to want the trade deal and that India’s participation in the talks have overshot the original aim. That aim was to be that of observer, so India could learn from the process. However, Mahajan suggests civil servants now seem to be fully engaged and are ready to sign up to the deal.
The RCEP is a recipe for undermining biodiverse food production, food sovereignty and food security for the mass of the population. It will also create massive job losses in a country like India, which has no capacity for absorbing such losses into its workforce
There is a need to encourage localised food economies that are shielded from the effects of rigged trade and international markets. Rather than have transnational agri-food corporations determining global and regional policies and private capital throttling democracy, we require societies run for the benefit of the mass of the population and a system of healthy food and sustainable agriculture that is run for human need.
We need only look at Mexico and what ‘free trade’ has done to that country’s food and agriculture sector: destroyed health, fuelled unemployment, transformed a rural population into a problematic group of migrants who now serve as a reserve army of labour that conveniently depresses the incomes of those in work. The writing is on the wall for India.
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, localised, traditional methods of food production have given way to global supply chains dominated by policies which favour agri-food giants, resulting in the destruction of habitat and peasant farmer livelihoods and the imposition of a model of agriculture that subjugates remaining farmers and regions to the needs and profit margins of these companies.
Many take as given that profit-driven transnational corporations have a legitimate claim to be custodians of natural assets. There is the premise that water, seeds, land, food, soil, forests and agriculture should be handed over to powerful, 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.
Common ownership and management of these assets embodies the notion of people working together for the public good. However, these resources have been appropriated by national states or private entities. For instance, Cargill captured the edible oils processing sector in India and in the process put many thousands of village-based workers out of work; Monsanto conspired to design a system of intellectual property rights that allowed it to patent seeds as if it had manufactured and invented them; and India’s indigenous peoples have been forcibly ejected from their ancient lands due to state collusion with mining companies.
Those who capture essential common resources seek to commodify them — whether trees for timber, land for real estate or agricultural seeds — create artificial scarcity and force everyone else to pay for access. Much of it involves eradicating self-sufficiency.
Traditional systems attacked
Researchers Marika Vicziany and Jagjit Plahe note that for thousands of years Indian farmers have experimented with different plant and animal specimens acquired through migration, trading networks, gift exchanges or accidental diffusion. They note the vital importance of traditional knowledge for food security in India and the evolution of such knowledge by learning and doing, trial and error. Farmers possess acute observation, good memory for detail and transmission through teaching and storytelling. The very farmers whose seeds and knowledge have been appropriated by corporations to be bred for proprietary chemical-dependent hybrids and now to be genetically engineered.
Large corporations with their seeds and synthetic chemical inputs have eradicated traditional systems of seed exchange. They have effectively hijacked seeds, pirated germ plasm that farmers developed over millennia and have ‘rented’ the seeds back to farmers. Genetic diversity among food crops has been drastically reduced. The eradication of seed diversity went much further than merely prioritising corporate seeds: the Green Revolution deliberately sidelined traditional seeds kept by farmers that were actually higher yielding and climate appropriate.
Across the world, we have witnessed a change in farming practices towards mechanised industrial-scale chemical-intensive monocropping, often for export or for far away cities rather than local communities, and ultimately the undermining or eradication of self-contained rural economies, traditions and cultures. We now see food surpluses in the West and food deficit areas in the Global South and a globalised geopoliticised system of food and agriculture.
A recent article on the People’s Archive of Rural India website highlights how the undermining of local economies continues. In a region of Odisha, farmers are being pushed towards a reliance on (illegal) expensive genetically modified herbicide tolerant cotton seeds and are replacing their traditional food crops.
The authors state that Southern Odisha’s strength lay in multiple cropping systems, but commercial cotton monoculture has altered crop diversity, soil structure, household income stability, farmers’ independence and, ultimately, food security. Farmers used to sow mixed plots of heirloom seeds, which had been saved from family harvests the previous year and would yield a basket of food crops. Cotton’s swift expansion is reshaping the land and people steeped in agroecological knowledge.
The article’s authors Chitrangada Choudhury and Aniket Aga note that cotton occupies roughly 5 per cent of India’s gross cropped area but consumes 36 to 50 per cent of the total quantum of agrochemicals applied nationally. They argue that the scenario here is reminiscent of Vidarbha between 1998 and 2002 – initial excitement over the new miracle (and then illegal) Bt cotton seeds and dreams of great profits, followed by the effects of their water-guzzling nature, the huge spike in expenses and debt and various ecological pressures. Vidarbha subsequently ended up as the epicentre of farmer suicides in the country for over a decade.
Choudhury and Aga echo many of the issues raised by Glenn Stone in his paper ‘Constructing Facts:Bt Cotton Narratives in India’. Farmers are attracted to GM cotton via glossy marketing and promises of big money and rely on what are regarded as authoritative (but compromised) local figures who steer them towards such seeds. There is little or no environmental learning by practice as has tended to happen in the past when adopting new seeds and cultivation practices. It has given way to ‘social learning’, a herd mentality and a treadmill of pesticides and debt. What is also worrying is that farmers are also being sold glyphosate to be used with HT cotton; they are unaware of the terrible history and reality of this ‘miracle’ herbicide, that it is banned or restricted in certain states in India and that it is currently at the centre of major lawsuits in the US.
All this when large agribusiness concerns wrongly insist that we need their seeds and proprietary chemicals if we are to feed a growing global population. There is no money for them in traditional food cropping systems but there is in undermining food security and food sovereignty by encouraging the use of GM cotton and glyphosate or, more generally, corporate seeds.
Across the world, the Green Revolution dovetailed with an international system of chemical-dependent, agro-export mono-cropping and big infrastructure projects (dams) linked to loans, sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF directives, the outcomes of which included a displacement of the peasantry, the consolidation of global agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries into food deficit regions.
Often regarded as Green Revolution 2.0, the ‘gene revolution’ is integral to the plan to ‘modernise’ Indian agriculture. This means the displacement of peasant farmers, further corporate consolidation and commercialisation based on industrial-scale monocrop farms incorporated into global supply chains dominated by transnational agribusiness and retail giants. If we take occurrences in Odisha as a microcosm, it would also mean the undermining of national food security.
Although traditional agroecological practices have been eradicated or are under threat, there is a global movement advocating a shift towards more organic-based systems of agriculture, which includes providing support to small farms and an agroecology movement that is empowering to people politically, socially and economically.
In his final report to the UN Human Rights Council after a six-year term as Special Rapporteur, in 2014 Olivier De Schutter called for the world’s food systems to be radically and democratically redesigned. His report was based on an extensive review of recent scientific literature. He concluded that by applying agroecological principles to the design of democratically controlled agricultural systems we can help to put an end to food crises and address climate-change and poverty challenges. De Schutter argued that agroecological approaches could tackle food needs in critical regions and could double food production in 10 years. However, he stated that insufficient backing seriously hinders progress.
And this last point should not be understated. For instance, the success of the Green Revolution is often touted, but how can we really evaluate it? If alternatives had been invested in to the same extent, if similar powerful and influential interests had invested in organic-based models, would we now not be pointing to the runaway successes of organic-based agroecological farming and, importantly, without the massive external costs of a polluted environment, less diverse diets, degraded soils and nutrient deficient food, ill health and so on?
The corporations which promote chemical-intensive industrial agriculture have embedded themselves deeply within the policy-making machinery on both national and international levels. From the overall bogus narrative that industrial agriculture is necessary to feed the world to providing lavish research grants and the capture of important policy-making institutions, global agri-food conglomerates have secured a perceived thick legitimacy within policy makers’ mindsets and mainstream discourse. The integrity of society’s institutions have been eroded by corporate money, funding and influence, which is why agroecology as a credible alternative to corporate agriculture remains on the periphery.
But the erosion of that legitimacy is underway. In addition to De Schutter’s 2014 report, the 2009 IAASTD peer-reviewed report, produced by 400 scientists and supported by 60 countries, recommends agroecology to maintain and increase the productivity of global agriculture. Moreover, the recent UN FAO High Level Panel of Experts concludes that agroecology provides greatly improved food security and nutritional, gender, environmental and yield benefits compared to industrial agriculture.
Writer and academic Eric Holtz-Gimenez argues that agroecology offers concrete, practical solutions to many of the world’s problems that move beyond (but which are linked to) agriculture. In doing so, it challenges – and offers alternatives to – plunder which takes place under a prevailing system of doctrinaire neoliberal economics that in turn drives a failing model of industrial agriculture.
The Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology by Nyeleni in 2015 argued for building grass-root local food systems that create new rural-urban links, based on genuine agroecological food production. It went on to say that agroecology should not become a tool of the industrial food production model but as the essential alternative to that model. The Declaration stated that agroecology is political and requires local producers and communities to challenge and transform structures of power in society, not least by putting the control of seeds, biodiversity, land and territories, waters, knowledge, culture and the commons in the hands of those who feed the world.
It involves prioritising localised rural and urban food economies and small farms and shielding them from the effects of rigged trade and international markets. It would mean that what ends up in our food and how it is grown is determined by the public good and not powerful private interests driven by commercial gain and the compulsion to subjugate farmers, consumers and entire regions.
Whether in Europe, Africa, India or the US, agroecology can protect and reassert the commons and is a force for grass-root change. This model of agriculture is already providing real solutions for sustainable, productive agriculture that prioritise the needs of farmers, citizens and the environment.
Catastrophic events that send the world into turmoil happen on ‘just another day’. The atom bomb that exploded over Hiroshima took place while thousands of ordinary folk were just going about their everyday business on ‘just another day’. A missile attack on a neighbourhood in Gaza or a drone attack on unsuspecting civilians in Afghanistan: death and destruction come like a bolt from the blue as people shop at the local market or take their kids to school on ‘just another day’.
Will it be ‘just another day’ when the next nuclear bomb is exploded in anger, an ordinary day when people are just going about their daily business? By then it might be too late to do anything, too late to act to try to prevent an unfolding global catastrophe on a scale never before witnessed by humans.
Yet so many appear too apathetic and wrapped up in a world of gadgets, technology, shopping malls, millionaire sports players and big-time sports events to think that such a thing could be imminent.
Are they so preoccupied with the machinations of their own lives in cotton-wool cocooned societies to think that what is happening in Syria or Iraq is just too boring to follow or that it doesn’t really concern them or it is ‘not my problem’? Do they think they are untouchable, that only death, war and violence happens in faraway places?
Could any of us even contemplate that on some not-too-distant day a series of European cities could be laid waste within a matter of minutes? It isn’t worth thinking about. Or is it?
The US (and the West’s) foreign policy is being driven on the basis of fake morality and duplicity. Millions lie dead in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya as a result of US-led imperialism and nuclear-armed Russia is constantly demonised simply because it will not acquiesce to Washington and serve as a vassal state.
And now, as the US continues to stir up tensions with Iran and as China warns neighbouring countries about allowing US nuclear missiles aimed at it on their territories, much of the Western public and media remain oblivious to the dangers of conflict escalation and the biggest immediate threat to all life on Earth: nuclear war.
The threat of mass murder
Some fell to the ground and their stomachs already expanded full, burst and organs fell out. Others had skin falling off them and others still were carrying limbs. And one in particular was carrying their eyeballs in their hand.
The above extract comes from an account by a Hiroshima survivor talking about the fate of her schoolmates. In 2016, it was read out in the British parliament by Scottish National Party MP Chris Law during a debate about Britain’s nuclear arsenal.
In response to a question from MP George Kereven, the then British PM Theresa May said without hesitation that, if necessary, she would authorise the use of a nuclear weapon that would kill hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children. May also implied that those wishing to scrap Britain’s nuclear weapons are siding with the nation’s enemies.
Politicians like May read from a script devised by elite interests. This transnational capitalist class dictates global economic policies and decides on who lives and who dies and which wars are fought and inflicted on which people.
The mainstream narrative tends to depict individuals who belong to this class as ‘wealth creators’. In reality, however, these ‘high flyers’ have stolen ordinary people’s wealth, stashed it away in tax havens, bankrupted economies and have imposed a form of globalisation that results in devastating destruction and war for those who attempt to remain independent or structurally adjusted violence via privatisation and economic neoliberalism for millions in countries that have acquiesced.
While ordinary folk across the world have been subjected to policies that have resulted in oppression, poverty and conflict, this is all passed off by politicians and the mainstream media as the way things must be.
The agritech sector poisons our food and agriculture. Madelaine Albright says it was worth it to have killed half a million kids in Iraq to secure energy resources for rich corporations and extend the wider geopolitical goals of ‘corporate America’. The welfare state is dismantled and austerity is imposed on millions. The rich increase their already enormous wealth. Powerful corporations corrupt government machinery and colonise every aspect of life for profit. Environmental destruction and ecological devastation continue apace.
And nuclear weapons hang over humanity like the sword of Damocles.
The public is supposed to back this status quo in support of what? Austerity, powerlessness, imperialism, propping up the US dollar and a moribund system. For whom? Occidental Petroleum, Soros, Murdoch, Rothschild, BP, JP Morgan, Boeing and the rest of the elite and their corporations whose policies are devised in think tanks and handed to politicians to sell to a largely ignorant public: those who swallow the lie about some ‘war on terror’ or Washington as the world’s policeman, protecting life and liberty.
Rejecting hegemonic thought
Many believe nuclear weapons are a necessary evil and fall into line with hegemonic thinking about humanity being inherently conflictual, competitive and war-like. Such tendencies do, of course, exist, but they do not exist in a vacuum. They are fuelled by capitalism and imperialism and played upon by politicians, the media and elite interests who seek to scare the population into accepting a ‘necessary’ status quo.
Co-operation and equality are as much a part of any arbitrary aspect of ‘human nature’ as any other defined characteristic. These values are, however, sidelined by a system of capitalism that is inherently conflict-ridden and expansionist.
Much of humanity has been convinced to accept the potential for instant nuclear Armageddon hanging over its collective head as a given, as a ‘deterrent’. However, the reality is that these weapons exist to protect elite, imperialist interests or to pressure others to cave into their demands. If the 20th century has shown us anything, it is these interests are adept at gathering the masses under notions of flag, god and country to justify their slaughter.
To prevent us all shuddering with the fear of the threat of instant nuclear destruction on a daily basis, it’s a case of don’t worry, be happy, forget about it and watch TV. It was the late academic Rick Roderick who highlighted that modern society trivialises issues that are of ultimate importance: they eventually become banal or ‘matter of fact’ to the population.
People are spun the notion that nuclear-backed militarism and neoliberalism and its structural violence are necessary for securing peace, defeating terror, creating prosperity or promoting ‘growth’. The ultimate banality is to accept this pack of lies and to believe there is no alternative, to acquiesce or just switch off to it all.
Instead of acquiescing and accepting it as ‘normal’, we should listen to writer and campaigner Robert J Burrowes:
Many people evade responsibility, of course, simply by believing and acting as if someone else, perhaps even ‘the government’, is ‘properly’ responsible. Undoubtedly, however, the most widespread ways of evading responsibility are to deny any responsibility for military violence while paying the taxes to finance it, denying any responsibility for adverse environmental and climate impacts while making no effort to reduce consumption, denying any responsibility for the exploitation of other people while buying the cheap products produced by their exploited (and sometimes slave) labour, denying any responsibility for the exploitation of animals despite eating and/or otherwise consuming a range of animal products, and denying any part in inflicting violence, especially on children, without understanding the many forms this violence can take.
Burrowes concludes by saying that ultimately, we evade responsibility by ignoring the existence of a problem. The evasion of responsibility, acquiescence and acceptance are, of course, part of the conditioning process.
The ‘problem’ encompasses not only ongoing militarism, but the structural violence of neoliberal capitalism, aided and abetted by the World Bank, IMF and the WTO. It’s a type of violence that is steady, lingering and a daily fact of life under globalised capitalism.
Of course, oppression and conflict have been a feature throughout history and have taken place under various economic and political systems. Indeed, in his various articles, Burrowes goes deep into the psychology and causes of violence.
But there is potentially a different path for humanity. In 1990, the late British MP Tony Benn gave a speech in parliament that indicated the kind of values that such a route might look like.
Benn spoke about having been on a crowded train, where people had been tapping away on calculators and not interacting or making eye contact with one another. It represented what Britain had apparently become under Thatcherism: excessively individualistic, materialistic, narcissistic and atomised.
The train broke down. As time went by, people began to talk with one another, offer snacks and share stories. Benn said it wasn’t too long before that train had been turned into a socialist train of self-help, communality and comradeship. Despite the damaging policies and ideology of Thatcherism, these features had survived her tenure, were deeply embedded and never too far from the surface.
For Tony Benn, what had been witnessed aboard that train was an aspect of ‘human nature’ that is too often suppressed, devalued and, when used as a basis for political change, regarded as a threat to ruling interests. It is an aspect that draws on notions of unity, solidarity, common purpose, self-help and finds its ultimate expression in the vibrancy of community, the collective ownership of productive resources and co-operation. The type of values far removed from the destructive, divisive ones of imperialism and capitalism which key politicians and the corporate media protect and promote.
Anti-Imperialism protest in the Phillippines. Photo: Carlo Manalansan by Bulatlat
‘Ukrainegate’ has opened the floodgates of impeachment in Washington, DC. President Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky provided such an opportunity that Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who resisted pressure for impeachment, is now on board along with a majority of the party. Democrats are moving quickly to make Trump the third president ever to be impeached.
Conviction is up to the Republican-controlled Senate, where a two-thirds vote is required, so that is very unlikely. Trump will probably be the Republican nominee even though he has never broken 50 percent support in the polls. Chris Hedges writes that a partisan impeachment will anger the people in Trump’s base who view him as challenging the establishment and could backfire for the Democrats.
The political impact of impeachment depends on how the Democrats build their case and whether it becomes bi-partisan. Richard Nixon grew more unpopular and public support for his impeachment grew during the process. Bill Clinton consistently had more than 60 percent support during his presidency, ending with 66 percent popularity while support for impeachment decreased as it progressed. Trump starts with a historically low level of popularity, whether an angered base and failed impeachment in the Senate will help Trump is too soon to say.
Impeachment by the House seems inevitable even though less than a majority of voters currently support it. The Democrats need to be careful because shining a light on Ukraine, where Obama-Biden conducted the most open coup in US history (until the recent Trump failed coup in Venezuela,) could undermine Joe Biden, their highest polling candidate. It will also expose the ugly realities of US foreign policy, the corporate control of both parties and the need for fundamental change in US politics.
Joe Biden with Petro Poroshenko, who was an informant for the US government for six years before becoming president. Photo: Sergey Dolzhenko for EPA.
The US Coup in Ukraine
The openness of the US coup in Ukraine is something to behold. In December 2013, Victoria Nuland, the Assistant US Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, bragged to a meeting of the International Business Conference sponsored by the US-Ukrainian Foundation that the US had ‘invested’ more than $5 billion and “five years worth of work and preparation” to bring Ukraine into the US orbit. In November 2013, President Yanuyovch rejected an EU Agreement in favor of joining Russia’s Common Union with the other Commonwealth Independent States.
The timeline of events around the coup shows pressure and bribery were being used including the promise of a $1.5 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan and $850 million from the World Bank. Nuland described three trips to Ukraine where she made it “absolutely clear” to Yanukovych that the US required “immediate steps” …to “get back into conversation with Europe and the IMF.” Threats and payoffs were the modes of US operation.
Nuland was also meeting with the Ukrainian opposition including the neo-Nazi Svoboda party. Less than one month before the coup removed Yanuyovch on January 30, 2014, the State Department announced Nuland would be meeting “with government officials, opposition leaders, civil society and business leaders to encourage agreement on a new government and plan of action.” On February 4, Nuland was caught speaking on a taped open telephone conversation with US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, discussing the next government saying, “I think Yats is the guy,” referring to Holocaust-denier, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who became the post-coup prime minister. In the call, she also urged that Yats should work with neo-Nazis.
Shortly after Yats became Prime Minister, Joe Biden called him. Biden was the White House point-person on Ukraine. At a press conference, Obama touted Biden’s role while stumbling over Yats’ name, saying: “Vice President Biden just spoke with Prime Minister [pause] – the prime minister of Ukraine to assure him that in this difficult moment the United States supports his government’s efforts.”
OU added another US agent, Natalia Jaresko, a long-time State Department official, who went to Ukraine after the U.S.-sponsored Orange Revolution. Jaresko was made a Ukrainian citizen by OU on the same day he appointed her finance minister. Between the Orange Revolution and the 2014 coup, William Boardman reports, Jaresko ran a hedge fund in Ukraine used to manage “a CIA fund that supported ‘pro-democracy movements’ and laundered much of the $5 billion the US spent supporting the Maidan protests that led to the Kiev coup.” Jaresko received $1.77 million in bonuses from the tax-payer funded investment project in addition to her $150,000 annual salary. She is now head of the “La Junta” in Puerto Rico.
In addition to controlling the top government posts in Ukraine, the US moved to control key economic sectors. Regarding agriculture, Monsanto was given the ability to buy property (which had been previously forbidden) and an $8.7 billion IMF loan required Ukraine to allow biotech farming and the sale of Monsanto’s poison crops and chemicals thereby destroying farmland that was one of the most pristine in Europe.
Regarding energy, the largest private gas company in Ukraine, Bursima Holdings, appointed Vice President Joe Biden‘s son, Hunter Biden, and a close friend of Secretary of State John Kerry, and Devon Archer, the college roommate of Kerry’s stepson, to the board. Archer also served as an adviser to Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, co-chaired his National Finance Committee and serves as a trustee of the Heinz Family Office, which manages the family business. Hunter Biden and Archer, along with Christopher Heinz, co-founded Rosemont Seneca Partners.
President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meet in New York on September 25, 2019, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. Photo: Saul Loeb for Getty Images
Trump’s Phone Call with Zelensky Urging Investigation of Biden
Donald Trump is concerned about Biden as a political opponent in the 2020 election. Although he is fading in current polls, Biden still leads among Democrats seeking the nomination and defeats Trump in all head-to-head polls, as do other leading Democratic candidates.
The impeachment spike occurred because of a July 25 telephone call between Trump and President Zelensky where Trump urged Zelensky to investigate Biden. A CIA official filed a whistleblower complaint about it and the Inspector General sent a letter to Jerry Maguire, Director of National Intelligence, who initially withheld both from Congress. The Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, Michael Atkinson, found the complaint to be “credible” and “of urgent concern” and alerted Rep. Adam Schiff, the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, about it. The administration has taken steps to restrict access to records of the call, the transcript of which has still not been provided to Congress.
Since December 2018, Rudy Guiliani had been pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden and Hunter Biden’s involvement with Bursima. The April 21 election of Zelensky and July 21 Parliamentary elections, which brought in a new government, undid much of Guiliani’s lobbying. Trump’s call after the legislative elections, ostensibly to congratulate Zelensky, included multiple mentions of the need to investigate Biden. The Washington Post reports, “Days after the two presidents spoke…Giuliani met with an aide to the Ukrainian president in Madrid and spelled out two specific cases he believed Ukraine should pursue. One was a probe of a Ukrainian gas tycoon who had Biden’s son Hunter on his board. Another was an allegation that Democrats colluded with Ukraine to release information on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort during the 2016 election.”
Manafort was one of the few convictions from the Mueller investigation. Manafort was indicted on twelve counts, including committing conspiracy against the United States by failing to register as a foreign agent of Ukraine. Manafort pleaded guilty to that charge in September 2018.
Democrats calling for impeachment describe Trump’s actions as coercing a foreign nation into the 2020 elections by pressuring them to investigate a chief rival, Joe Biden. Trump withheld military funding for Ukraine and scheduling a meeting with Zelensky at the White House as coercive instruments. US policy in Ukraine has emphasized militarism against Russia since the coup. The New Yorker reports, “McCain was calling for the U.S. to arm Ukraine for defense against a ‘Russian invasion’ that he sees as part of Putin’s plan to ‘re-establish the old Russian empire.’ McCain also called for the U.S. to send military ‘advisors.’”
Trump says he is waiting to see if Zelensky will “play ball” with the US. Trump is using threats and payoffs in Ukraine, just as Joe Biden did.
Joe Biden points to some faces in the crowd with his son Hunter in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2009. Photo: Carlos Barria For Reuters.
The Risk to Biden Grows
While Trump is deservedly at serious risk for impeachment, the risk to Biden is also growing. Politico reports that Joe Biden is waging war on the Hunter Biden-Ukraine reporting. The risk to Biden is existential, he needs Democrats to remain silent and for the impeachment inquiry not to examine what Trump was investigating in Ukraine.
In January 2018, Biden bragged on video in his speech to the Council on Foreign Relations how he pressured Ukraine to fire Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin saying he would not approve a $1 billion dollar IMF loan if Shokin was not fired before Biden left Ukraine during a six-hour visit. On April 1, The Hill published an article that reports: “The prosecutor [Biden] got fired was leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into the natural gas firm Burisma Holdings that employed Biden’s younger son, Hunter, as a board member.” They report Rosemont Seneca Partners received “regular transfers into one of its accounts — usually more than $166,000 a month — from Burisma from spring 2014 through fall 2015,” confirmed by US banking records. Shokin’s file shows prosecutors identified Hunter Biden, business partner Devon Archer, and their firm, Rosemont Seneca, as potential recipients of the money.
The article further reports that Shokin wrote before he was fired that he had made “specific plans” for the investigation that “included interrogations and other crime-investigation procedures into all members of the executive board, including Hunter Biden.” This is consistent with a sworn affidavit of Shokin (see shokin-ukraine-prosecutor-sworn-statement) where he said, “Poroshenko asked me to resign due to pressure from…Joe Biden…who was threatening to withhold USD $1 billion in subsidies to Ukraine until I was removed.” There were no complaints against Shokin at the time. He explains, “The truth is I was forced out because I was leading a wide-ranging corruption probe of Bursima Holdings.” Shokin describes how Poroshenko had asked him to end the probe multiple times and he had refused.
The Hill reports that “interviews with a half-dozen senior Ukrainian officials confirm Biden’s account, though they claim the pressure was applied over several months in late 2015 and early 2016, not just six hours of one dramatic day.” Obama named Biden the administration’s point man on Ukraine in February 2014, after the coup and as Crimea was voting to return to Russia.
The New Yorker not only details Hunter’s personal and professional problems but also reports that Guiliani said “in the fall of 2018, he spoke to Viktor Shokin, Ukraine’s former Prosecutor General. Shokin told him that Vice-President Biden had him fired in 2016 because he was investigating Burisma and the company’s payments to Hunter and Archer. Giuliani said that, in January 2019, he met with Yurii Lutsenko, Ukraine’s current prosecutor general, in New York, and Lutsenko confirmed Shokin’s version of events.” Biden and his supporters are working to change the narrative, perhaps the impeachment inquiry will get the facts out.
This weekend, Mykola Azarov, Ukraine’s former prime minister from 2010-2014, said in an interview that Ukraine must investigate whether Hunter Biden’s role in Burisma complied with the country’s laws; i.e., investigate what Biden had done for Burisma to justify his remuneration. Further, he said allegations that Joe Biden had gotten Ukraine’s prosecutor general fired to protect his son must also be investigated. On Friday, Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau said it was investigating activity at Burisma between 2010-2012, but it was not looking into changes to its board in 2014 when Hunter Biden joined.
Protesters opposing a coup against Nicolás Maduro outside the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC, on May 16, 2019. Photo: Jose Luis Magana for AP.
The Quagmire Of US Imperialism
The Ukraine crisis exposes the bipartisan corruption inherent in the US imperialist foreign policy. An investigation into Ukraine may expose what are actually common practices by both Democratic and Republican administrations in regime change efforts. As John Kiriakou explained when he gave a talk at the Venezuelan Embassy during the Embassy Protection Collective action, the CIA has a secret regime change office that provides plans to overthrow any government the US chooses to target. These plans involve similar tactics – the investment of large amounts of money into NGOs (often ‘human rights groups’), support for a violent opposition, installing US-trained and controlled leaders and payoffs for those involved.
In the past, these practices occurred behind closed doors, but now it seems the ruling class has become so brazen, it doesn’t try very hard to hide what it’s doing. This provides an opportunity for the public to discuss whether or not the current foreign policy is serving our interests or the world. If we agree that it doesn’t, then it is up to us to organize to change it.
Other countries have resisted regime change but have paid a heavy price. Syria is trying to rebuild after more than eight years of war instigated and supported by the US. Venezuela is resisting ongoing coup attempts and brutal unilateral coercive measures imposed by the US. This week at the United Nations, Venezuela successfully prevented the US from removing its diplomats but the US doubled down on its regime change tactics. Even leading Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are making false claims about Venezuela.
As residents in a corrupt, corporate-controlled, imperialist country, we have a responsibility to ourselves and the world to take action to stop the US disastrous foreign policy. The world is changing. The US will no longer be the hegemon. Will we allow the US to continue wreaking havoc as it goes down, or are we ready to change course and become a cooperative member of the global community? Last weekend, we held the People’s Mobilization to Stop the US War Machine. On October 11, we’ll participate in the Rage Against the War Machine actions at the White House. We are committed to organizing to end US imperialism because it is fundamental in creating the future world we need.