Category Archives: GMO

Asia-Pacific Trade Deal: Trading Away Indian Agriculture?  

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.

Right Kind of Green: Agroecology

The globalised industrial food system that transnational agri-food conglomerates promote is failing to feed the world. It is responsible for some of the planet’s most pressing political, social and environmental crises.

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.

In India, Green Revolution technology and ideology has actually helped to fuel drought and degrade soils and has contributed towards illnesses and malnutrition. Sold under the guise of ‘feeding the world’, in India it merely led to more wheat in the diet, while food productivity per capita showed no increase or actually decreased. Nevertheless, there have been dire consequences for the Indian diet, the environment, farmers, rural communities and public health.

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.

Agroecology

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 scaling up of agroecology can tackle hunger, malnutrition, environmental degradation and climate change. By creating securely paid labour-intensive agricultural work, it can also address the interrelated links between labour offshoring by rich countries and the removal of rural populations elsewhere who end up in sweat shops to carry out the outsourced jobs: the two-pronged process of neoliberal globalisation that has devastated the economies of the US and UK and which is displacing existing indigenous food production systems and undermining the rural infrastructure in places like India to produce a reserve army of cheap labour.

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.

There are enough examples from across the world that serve as models for transformation, from the Oakland Institute’s research in Africa and the Women’s Collective of Tamil Nadu to the scaling up of agroecological practices in Ethiopia.

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.

Nuclear War: Just Another Day

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.

“Ukrainegate” Teaches Us More About Ourselves Than Trump Or Biden

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.”

In addition to Yats, the post-coup president of Ukraine was known by US authorities as “Our Ukraine Insider” or “OU.” A series of Wikileaks documents showed OU had been working as an informant for the United States for six years. A Wikileaks cable made clear the US considered Petro Poroshenko to be corrupt but his “price had to be paid.” In a cable involving Secretary of State Clinton, OU explained the value of the US being in Crimea — Russia’s only seaport and long-time naval base.

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.

Regime change efforts have had disastrous consequences. Certainly, no country is better off than it was before US interference.  Look at Iraq and Libya, thriving countries that were thrown into chaos, for recent examples. Ukraine has elected a new government, but its GDP is 24 percent smaller now than it was in 1993, and corruption has continued. And the echoes of US regime change from 1953 in removing Mohammad Mosaddegh, the elected Prime Minister of Iran, continue to reverberate and poison relations between the US and Iran.

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.

Pesticides in the Dock: Ecological Apocalypse but Business as Usual

Much of the following article is based on a new 20-page report by environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason. Readers are urged to access the full report containing all relevant citations here  

In a new paper published in King’s Law Journal — ‘The Chemical Anthropocene: Glyphosate as a Case Study of Pesticide Exposures’ — the authors Alessandra Arcuri and Yogi Hale Hendlin state:

As the science against glyphosate safety mounts and lawsuits threaten its chemical manufacture’s profits, the next generation of GMO crops are being keyed to the pesticide dicamba, sold commercially as XtendiMax® – and poised to be the next glyphosate. Regulatory agencies have historically been quick to approve products but slow to reconsider regulations after the decades of accumulated harms become apparent.

They add that the entrenched asymmetries between public and ecological health and fast-to-market new chemicals is exacerbated by the seeming lack of institutionalised precautionary policies.

According to environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason, these ‘entrenched asymmetries’ result from the corporate capture of key policy-making bodies and their subversion by agri-food oligopolies.

In her new report, ‘Why Does Bayer Crop Science Control Chemicals in Brexit Britain’, she states that Bayer is having secret meetings with the British government to determine which agrochemicals are to be used after Brexit once Britain is ‘free’ of EU restrictions and becomes as deregulated as the US.

Such collusion comes as little surprise to Mason who says the government’s ‘strategy for UK life sciences’ is already dependent on funding from pharmaceutical corporations and the pesticides industry:

Syngenta’s parent company is AstraZeneca. In 2010, Syngenta and AstraZeneca were represented on the UK Advisory Committee on Pesticides and the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Foods, Consumer Products and the Environment. The founder of Syngenta, Michael Pragnell CBE, was the Chairman of Cancer Research UK (CRUK) from 2011-2017. CRUK started by giving money (£450 million/year) to the Government’s Strategy for UK Life Sciences and AstraZeneca provided 22 compounds to academic research to develop medicines. AstraZeneca manufactures six different anti-cancer drugs mainly aimed at breast and prostate cancer.

It seems like a highly profitable and cozy relationship between the agrochemical and pharmaceutical sectors and the government at the expense of public health.

Mason states that pesticides have been conveniently kept off the public health agenda: people are being blamed for obesity and rising rates of illness because of lifestyle choices. Because ‘loosely’ regulated and unmonitored pesticides continue to proliferate, she says that 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.

However, it is not just human health that is at risk from pesticides.

Devastating impacts

In 2010, Dutch toxicologist Henk Tennekes described neonicotinoid insecticides as an unfolding disaster. In his book The Systemic Pesticides: a Disaster in the Making, he catalogued a tragedy of monumental proportions regarding the loss of invertebrates and subsequent losses of the insect-feeding (invertebrate- dependent) bird populations in all environments in the Netherlands.

Tennekes stated:

The disappearance can be related to agriculture in general, and to the neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid in particular, which is a major contaminant of Dutch surface water since 2004. The relationship exists because there are two crucial (and catastrophic) disadvantages of the neonicotinoid insecticides: they cause damage to the central nervous system of insects that is virtually irreversible and cumulative. There is no safe level of exposure, and even minute quantities can have devastating effects in the long term; they leach into groundwater and contaminate surface water and persist in soil and water chronically exposing aquatic and terrestrial organisms to these insecticides. So, what, in effect, is happening is that these insecticides are creating a toxic landscape, in which many beneficial organisms are killed off.

From Rachel Carson back in 1962 with her book Silent Spring to more recent researchers, governments have been warned about the catastrophic effects of pesticides but have continued to capitulate to industry interests.

Mason counts the costs of these unheeded warnings. In 2017, scientists in Germany found three quarters of flying insects had vanished in 25 years in protected habitats surrounded by intensively farmed land. It was predicted that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon” and profound impacts would be felt by human society.

In France, scientists have revealed a massive decline in bird populations. The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn. The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects which they depend on for food have disappeared.

This global insect apocalypse is largely the result of intensive agriculture and pesticide usage. According to Mason, one of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects. If this food source is taken away, all these animals starve to death. Such cascading effects have already been seen in Puerto Rico, where a recent study revealed a 98% fall in ground insects over 35 years.

The demise of insects appears to have started at the dawn of the 20th century, accelerated during the 1950s and 1960s and reached alarming proportions over the last two decades.

Corporate capture

Mason refers to documents that reveal the EU bowed to demands of pesticide lobbies and created SAPEA (Science Advice for Policy by European Academies) which she says is “a committee of corrupt individuals that would actually increase sales of pesticides.”

She notes that the environmental group Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN) has obtained over 600 documents showing top EU officials fighting to “cripple” the bloc’s pesticide protection legislation. They show top officials trying to protect chemical and farming interests (and profits) from incoming European rules that were expected to directly ban up to 32 endocrine disrupting (EDC) pesticides. Mason concludes that current EU legislation is set up in favour of the pesticides industry.

In discussing the failure of regulators to keep hazardous chemicals from polluting our wildlife, food, air and drinking water. Mason cites several studies and reports and concludes that thousands of chemicals have entered the food system. Their long-term, chronic effects have been woefully understudied and their health risks inadequately assessed.

It is worrying to think that, globally, sales of synthetic chemicals are to double over the next 12 years with alarming implications for health and the environment if governments continue to fail to rein in the plastics, pesticides and cosmetics industries. The second Global Chemicals Outlook (2019) says the world will not meet international commitments to reduce chemical hazards and halt pollution by 2020. In fact, industry has never been more dominant nor has humanity’s dependence on chemicals ever been as great.

Global agricultural corporations have been severely criticised by Hilal Elver, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food. A report presented to the UN human rights council in 2017 was severely critical of the global corporations that manufacture pesticides, accusing them of the “systematic denial of harms”, “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” and heavy lobbying of governments which has “obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions”.

Elver says many of the pesticides are used on commodity crops, such as palm oil and soy, not the food needed by the world’s hungry people: “The corporations are not dealing with world hunger,” she says, despite industry propaganda which claims it and its chemicals are necessary for feeding the world. This is simply not true. Numerous high-level reports say that agroecology can feed the world healthily and sustainably.

At the Royal Society of Medicine Conference on pesticides safety, the late Peter Melchett presented alarming figures from official sources. The number of active ingredients applied to wheat had risen 12-fold from 1.7 in 1974 to 20.7 in 2014; that those applied to potatoes had risen 5.8 times from 5.3 in 1975 to 30.8 in 2014; that those applied to onions and leeks had risen 18-fold from 5.3 in 1975 to 30.8 in 2014. Pesticides are tested individually but no one tests the cocktail of pesticides to which humans and the environment are exposed.

The Chief Scientist for the UK’s Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) Professor Ian Boyd has pointed out that once a pesticide is approved there is no follow up.

Moreover, Dr Michael Antoniou, head of the Gene Expression and Therapy Group at King’s College London, told a Royal Society of Medicine conference that the adjuvants in commercial pesticide formulations can be toxic in their own right and in some cases more toxic than the declared active ingredients. Yet only the active ingredients are tested and assessed for long-term health effects in the regulatory process. He also said that research on hormone-disrupting chemicals, including pesticides, shows that very low realistic doses can be more toxic than higher doses.

Nevertheless, Dave Bench, head of UK Chemicals Regulation Division, has described the regulatory system for pesticides as robust and as balancing the risks of pesticides against the benefits to society. Does this mean balancing industry profits against public interest on a set of scales heavily weighted in favour of the former?

Glyphosate in the dock

Hilal Elver has stated that to address the pesticides issue, we must deal with the corporations pushing them. And this is not lost on Mason who documents Monsanto’s dirty tactics to keep its multi-billion-dollar money-spinner glyphosate-based Roundup on the market.

Bayer CEO Werner Bauman has told his top-tier investors that Bayer had performed an adequate due-diligence on Monsanto before purchasing the company for $66 billion. At the time of its purchase, Monsanto told its German suitors that a $270-million set-aside would cover all its outstanding liabilities arising from Monsanto’s 5,000 Roundup cancer lawsuits.

But Bauman has conceded to anxious shareholders that Monsanto had withheld internal papers relevant to the case. Bayer never saw those internal Monsanto documents prior to the purchase.

Robert F Kennedy, co-counsel to Baum Hedlund Law, which is representing nearly 800 people in the US who allege Roundup exposure caused their non-Hodgkin lymphoma, says that it was no surprise that Monsanto kept secrets from Bayer.

He notes that Dewayne Johnson’s jury heard evidence that for four decades Monsanto maneuvered to conceal Roundup’s carcinogenicity by capturing regulatory agencies, corrupting public officials, bribing scientists and engaging in scientific fraud to delay its day of reckoning. The jury found that these activities constituted “malice, fraud and oppression” warranting $250 million in punitive damages.

Kennedy says:

Perhaps more ominously for Bayer, Monsanto also faces cascading scientific evidence linking glyphosate to a constellation of other injuries that have become prevalent since its introduction, including obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease, brain, breast and prostate cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and declining sperm counts. Strong science suggests glyphosate is the culprit in the exploding epidemics of celiac disease, colitis, gluten sensitivities, diabetes and non-alcoholic liver cancer which, for the first time, is attacking children as young as 10.

“Researchers peg glyphosate as a potent endocrine disruptor, which interferes with sexual development in children. The chemical compound is certainly a chelator that removes important minerals from the body, including iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium and molybdenum. Roundup disrupts the microbiome destroying beneficial bacteria in the human gut and triggering brain inflammation and other ill effects.

Kennedy states that glyphosate now accounts for about 50% of all herbicide use in the US. About 75% of glyphosate use has occurred since 2006, with the global glyphosate market projected to reach $11.74 billion by 2023. He adds that never in history has a chemical like glyphosate been so pervasive. It is in our air, water, plants, animals, grains, vegetables and meats. It’s in beer and wine, children’s breakfast cereal and snack bars and mother’s breast milk. It’s even in our vaccines.

The issues outlined here are not confined to Europe, the UK or the US. From Argentina to India, the agri-food industry is subverting public institutions and adversely impacting diets, food, public health and the environment.

Regardless of a rapidly emerging health and environmental apocalypse, unrestrained capitalism reigns, profits trump public interest and its business as usual.

Officials Ignore Pesticides and Blame Alcohol and Biscuits for Rising Rates of Disease  

The information below and the quotes were taken from the 12-page report that accompanied Rosemary Mason’s recent open letter to the Chief Medical Officer to England, Sally Davies. It can be accessed here.

*****

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.

In a book published in 1996, Our Stolen Future: How Man-made Chemicals are Threatening our Fertility, Intelligence and Survival, Colborn (d. 2014) and colleagues revealed the full horror of what was happening to the world as a result of contamination with EDCs. There was emerging scientific research about how a wide range of these chemicals can disrupt delicate hormone systems in humans. These systems play a critical role in processes ranging from human sexual development to behaviour, intelligence and the functioning of the immune system.

In addition to glyphosate, EDCs include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). DDT, chlordane, lindane, aldrin, dieldrin, endrin, toxaphene, heptachlor, dioxin, atrazine and dacthal.

Colborn stated:

The concentration of persistent chemicals can be magnified millions of times as they travel to the ends of the earth… Many chemicals that threaten the next generation have found their way into our bodies. There is no safe, uncontaminated place.

Mason says that Colburn predicted that this would involve sexual development and adds this is why certain people may be confused about their sexuality.

She says to Davies:

You were appointed as interim CMO by David Cameron in June 2010; you became the permanent holder in 2011. Was that once you had assured him of your loyalty by not mentioning pesticides?

She continues by saying:

You did not train as a specialist in public health but as a consultant haematologist, specialising in haemoglobinopathies. You joined the Civil Service in 2004 and became Chief Scientific Adviser to the Health Secretary. Did David Cameron instruct Tracey Brown OBE from Sense about Science, a lobby organisation for GMO crops, to be your minder? When the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists published a paper saying that exposure to chemicals during pregnancy could damage the foetus, you and Tracey Brown publicly made fun of it.

After that I wrote to you about the Faroes Statement: in 2007, twenty-five experts in environmental health from eleven countries (including from the UK) met on the Faroes and contributed to this statement: ‘The periods of embryonic, foetal and infant development are remarkably susceptible to environmental hazards. Toxic exposures to chemical pollutants during these windows of increased susceptibility can cause disease and disability in infants, children and across the entire span of human life.’ You asked Dr John Harrison from Public Health England to write to me to reassure me that there was no evidence that it was true.

You made an announcement in 2011 that antibiotic resistance was an apocalyptic threat to humans and the issue should be added to the government’s national risk register of civil emergencies… When I informed you that one of glyphosate’s many actions was as an antibiotic, you ignored me.  Dr Don Huber, a Plant Pathologist from Purdue University, Indiana, says that glyphosate is an antibiotic, 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.

Mason doesn’t waste much time in drawing conclusions as to why her previous letters to Davies and other officials have been ignored or sidelined. She notes that between May 2010 and the end of 2013 the UK Department of Health alone had 130 meetings with representatives of industry and concludes that commercial interests are currently in control of key decisions about the public’s health.

In 2014, an open letter from America warned citizens, politicians and regulators in the UK and EU against adopting GM crops and glyphosate. It was endorsed by NGOs, scientists, anti-GM groups, celebrities, food manufacturers and others representing 60 million citizens in the US. Mason draws attention to the fact that the letter outlined eight independent papers describing environmental harm and six about the threat to human health.

But David Cameron, PM at the time, ignored it. The European Commission and the European Food Safety Authority also ignored it. Glyphosate was relicensed.

Mason asked relevant officials why the EFSA was regularly increasing the maximum residue levels of glyphosate in foods at the request of Monsanto but has received no reply.

Professor Philippe Grandjean, the leader of the conference that issued the ‘Faroes Statement’, released the book: Only One Chance: How Environmental Pollution Impairs Brain Development – and How to Protect the Brains of the Next Generation (2013). In reviewing the book, Theo Colbern said:

This book is a huge gift to humankind from an eminent scientist. Grandjean tells the truth about how we have been ruining the brain power of each new generation and asks if there are still enough intelligent people in the world today to reverse the problem. I cannot rid myself of the idea that too many brains have been drained and society is beyond the point of no return. We must learn from the follies and scandals that Grandjean reveals and stop the chemical brain drain before it is too late.

But pesticides are ignored

A key point that Mason wants to make to Davies is that lifestyle choices are not to blame for rising rates of diseases, cancer and obesity; these increases are the outcome of the toxic cocktails of pesticides and other chemicals we are consuming.

Mason says to Davies about the Chief Medical Officer for England’s 2019 annual report:

For your final report, you failed to mention many diseases afflicting people in the UK… You claim that you work independently and you are going to write about childhood obesity in September. But why did you collude with Cancer Research UK to blame the people for obesity?

Not only did David Cameron ignore the ‘Letter from America’, he also appointed Michael Pragnell, founder of Syngenta and former Chairman of CropLife International, to the board of Cancer Research UK in 2010. He became Chairman in 2011. As of 2015, CropLife International´s member list included BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, FMC Corp., Monsanto, Sumitomo and Syngenta. Many of these make their own formulated glyphosate.

Mason says to Davies:

CRUK, you, the Chief Medical Officer for England, and Public Health England, linked cancer to alcohol, obesity and smoking. You all blamed the people for ‘lifestyle choices’. Where is the scientific evidence for this?

Syngenta is a member of the European Glyphosate Task Force, which sought to renew (and succeeded) European glyphosate registration. Not surprisingly, Mason says, the CRUK website denies that there is any link between pesticides and cancer. Its website says the following about pesticides:

For now, the evidence is not strong enough to give us any clear answers. But for individual pesticides, the evidence was either too weak to come to a conclusion, or only strong enough to suggest a “possible” effect. The scientific evidence on pesticides and cancer is still uncertain and more research is needed in this area.

Mason refers to a survey commissioned by CRUK, ‘People lack awareness of link between alcohol and cancer’, but asks what credible scientific evidence is there that alcohol causes seven different types of cancer and that obesity causes 13 different types of cancer? She concludes, none, and writes that certain top scientists have questioned (ridiculed) the messages being conveyed to the public about alcohol use.

In the Observer and the Guardian in July 2019, CRUK took out half-page advertisements stating that obesity (in huge letters) is a cause of cancer. In a smaller box, it was stated that, like smoking, obesity puts millions of adults at greater risk of cancer. Bus stops and advertising hoardings were replete with black text on a white background. The adverts invited people to fill in the blanks and spell out OBESITY, asking the public to ‘Guess what is the biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking’.

Mason notes that CRUK has also paid for many TV adverts, describing how it looks after people with cancer and encourages donations from the public. It claims to have spent £42 million on information and influencing in 2018.

She says that the Department of Health’s School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS) has residues of 123 different pesticides that seriously impact the gut microbiome. Mason states that obesity is associated with low diversity of bacteria in the microbiome and glyphosate destroys most of the beneficial bacteria and leaves the toxic bacteria behind. In effect, she argues (citing relevant studies) that Roundup (and other biocides) is a major cause of gross obesity, neuropsychiatric disorders and other chronic diseases including cancers, which are all on the rise, and adversely impacts brain development in children and adolescents.

She asks Davies:

Why did you not attend the meeting in the Houses of Parliament on Roundup? If you were away, you have hundreds of staff in the DOH or Public Health England that could have deputised for you. Dr Don Huber, Emeritus Professor of Plant Pathology at Purdue University, Indiana, and one of four experts on Roundup, spoke at a meeting in the House of Commons on 18th June 2014 on the dangers of Roundup. In what was one of the most comprehensive meetings ever held in Europe on Glyphosate and Roundup, experts from around the World gathered in London to share their expertise with the media, members of a number of UK political parties, NGO representatives and members of the general public. EXCEPT THAT NONE OF THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA WAS PRESENT, NOR THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH NOR PUBLIC HEALTH ENGLAND. They are protecting the pesticides industry.

Mason makes much of the very cosy relationship between the Murdoch media and successive governments in the UK and asks:

Roundup weed killer is present in all our foods: why does the UK media not want us to know?

She notes that women in the UK are being warned to cut back on sweet treats or risk cancer. Sally Davies says women are consuming “two biscuits too much each day” and should lose weight. Davies says obesity will surpass smoking as the leading cause of cancer in women by 2043. Last year, official figures revealed 30 per cent of women in the UK are overweight and 27 per cent are obese. Obesity levels across all genders have risen from 15 per cent to 26 per cent since 1993.

But as Mason has shown time and again in her reports and open letters to officials, pesticides (notably glyphosate) are a key driver of obesity. Moreover, type 2 diabetes is closely associated with being very overweight. According to NHS data, almost four in five of 715 children suffering from it were also obese.

Type 2 diabetes is a disaster for the child and their family and for the NHS,” says Graham MacGregor, a professor of cardiovascular health at Queen Mary University of London who is also the chair of the campaign group Action on Sugar. “If a child gets type 2 diabetes, it’s condemning them to a lot of complications of that condition, such as blindness, amputations and kidney disease,” he said. “These figures are a sign that we are in a crisis and that the government doesn’t seem to be taking action, or not enough and not quickly enough. The UK obesity levels now exceed those of the US.

Mason explains:

I am one of the many British women in 2014-16 who were spending nearly 20 years of their life in poor health (19.3 years) while men spend just over 16 years in poor health. Spanish women live the longest, with UK longevity ranked 17th out of 28 EU nations, according to Public Health England’s annual health profile. 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.

She concludes:

Britain and America are in the midst of a barely reported public health crisis. These countries are experiencing not merely a slowdown in life expectancy, which in many other rich countries is continuing to lengthen, but the start of an alarming increase in death rates across all our populations, men and women alike. We are needlessly allowing our people to die early.

Treadmill of Magic Seeds and Broken Promises

Political posturing aligned with commercial interests means that truth is becoming a casualty in the debate about genetically modified (GM) crops in India. The industry narrative surrounding Bt cotton is that it has been a great success. The current Modi-led administration is parroting this claim and argues its success must be replicated by adopting a range of GM food crops, amounting to what would be a full-scale entry of GM technology into Indian agriculture. Currently, Bt cotton is India’s only officially approved commercially cultivated GM crop.

With the aim of putting the record straight, a media event took place on Friday, 6 September in New Delhi at the Constitution Club of India during which it was declared that Bt cotton has been a costly and damaging failure. Speakers included prominent environmentalists Aruna Rodrigues and Vandana Shiva who presented a good deal of information based on official reports, research papers and documents submitted as evidence to the Supreme Court on Bt cotton.

It was argued that even the government’s own data contradicts its tale of Bt cotton success and that the consequences of irresponsibly rolling out various GM crops based on a false narrative would be disastrous for the country.

PR and broken promises

In the early 2000s, Bt cotton was being heavily promoted in India on the basis it would cut pesticide use dramatically, boost yields and contribute to the financial well-being of farmers. However, pesticide use is back to pre-Bt levels and yields have stagnated or are falling. Moreover, some 31 countries rank above India in terms of cotton yield and of these only 10 grow GM cotton.

As will be shown, farmers now find themselves on a chemical-biotech treadmill and have to deal with an increasing number of Bt/insecticide resistant pests and rising costs of production. For many small-scale cotton farmers, this has resulted in greater levels of indebtedness and financial distress.

Failure to yield

Over 90% of cotton sown in India is now Bt. Although initially introduced to the country in 2002, its adoption was only about 12 and 38% respectively in 2005 and 2006. A good deal of data was contained in the media briefing that accompanied the event in Delhi. In it, Aruna Rodrigues and Vandana Shiva show that, even then (2005-2006), average yields had already reached the current plateau of about 450-500 kg/ha. Average all-India Bt cotton yields hovered around or below 500 kg/ha during the period 2005-2018.

What is particularly revealing is that cotton production for 2018-2019 will be the lowest in a decade, down to an estimated 420.72 kg/ha, according to a press release issued in July by the Cotton Association of India.

Furthermore, the argument is that increases in yields that may have occurred were in any case due to various factors, such as increased fertiliser use and high-yielding hybrid seeds, and not Bt technology.

The data presented by Rodrigues and Shiva shows that cotton yield in the pre-Bt era increased significantly from its 191 kg/ha low in 2002 to 318 kg/ha in 2004-2005, registering an increase of 66% in just three years (the baseline for Bt cotton is 2005-2006 as prior to this adoption rates were not significant). The two environmentalists say this was a result of increased acreage under hybrids and a new class of insecticides.

They note that the momentum of this upward swing carried into the Bt era and had nothing to do with that technology. Their argument is that Bt cotton has failed but is being trumpeted as a success under the cover of increased fertiliser use, hybrid seed trait yield (not attributable to Bt technology), better irrigation and insecticide seed coating.

Biotech treadmill and ecological disruption

Bt technology was used in conjunction with high-yielding hybrids (as opposed to pure line varieties) and has no trait for intrinsic yield. This, Rodrigues and Shiva argue, conveniently allowed a smudging of the yield data (isolating the precise impact of hybrid yield would prove to be difficult) and also provided a ‘value-capture’ mechanism for Monsanto: the introduction of these hybrids disallows seed saving, forcing farmers to buy new expensive hybrid Bt cotton seed each year (hybridisation gives one-time vigour).

Prior to Bt cotton, the extensive use of insecticides to cope with the Pink Bollworm (PBW), which is native to India, had become a problem. Spraying for PBW caused outbreaks of the American Bollworm (ABW). The ABW is a secondary pest that was induced by extensive insecticide use and became the target for Bt cotton.

Although Bt cotton was supposed to control both species of bollworm, PBW resistance to Bt toxin has now occurred and the ABW is also developing resistance. Moreover, post 2002, new pests have appeared, such as whitefly, jassids and mealybugs.

However, Rodrigues and Shiva note that resistance in PBW now occurs to both Monsanto’s Bollgard I and Bollgard II Bt cotton (BGI and BG II). BGI was replaced by BG II as early as 2007-8, just six years after its introduction because the PBW had developed resistance. The ABW is also now developing resistance to stacked Bt toxins in BG II.

Irresponsible roll out

Hybrids are input intensive and are sown at suboptimal wide spacing. Unlike in other countries that grow Bt cotton, they are long season cottons and are thus more susceptible to pest build-up. With this in mind, Rodrigues and Shiva refer to Dr K R Kranthi, former director of the Central Institute for Cotton Research, who says:

Insecticide usage is increasing each year because of resistance development in sucking pests to imidacloprid and other neonicotinoid insecticides—by 2012 insecticide usage was at 2002 levels and will continue to increase inducing further outbreaks of insecticide and Bt resistant pests.

Bt cotton hybrids also require more human labour and perform better under irrigation. However, 66% of cotton in India is cultivated in rain fed areas, where yields depend on the timing and quantity of highly variable monsoon rains. Unreliable rains, the high costs of Bt hybrid seed, continued insecticide use and debt have placed many poor (marginal) smallholder farmers in a situation of severe financial hardship.

In fact, Professor A P Gutierrez argues that Bt cotton has effectively put these farmers in a corporate noose: his research has noted a link between Bt cotton, weather, yields, financial distress and farmer suicides.

Monsanto’s profiteering

Rodrigues and Shiva note that Monsanto was allowed a ‘royalty’ on Bollgard I seed without having a patent on it. Drawing on conservative estimates (by K R Kranthi), on average, the additional expenditure on seeds (compared to non-Bt seeds) was at least Rs 1,179 per hectare and the Indian farmer may have spent a total extra amount of Rs 14,000 crores (140 billion) on Bt cotton seeds during the period 2002-2018. The trait value charged (2002-2018) is around Rs 7,000 crores. This excludes royalties accruing to Mahyco-Monsanto, which were illegal on Bollgard I (first generation Bt cotton) and yet allowed by the regulators.

Overall net profit for cotton farmers was Rs 5,971/ha in 2003 (pre-Bt) but plummeted to average net losses of Rs 6,286 in 2015, while fertiliser use kg/ha exhibited a 2.2-fold increase. As Bt technology was being rolled out, costs of production were thus increasing. And these costs were increasing in the face of stagnant yields.

Why GM anyway?

At this point, it is worth broadening the scope of this article by noting that in 2010, an indefinite moratorium was placed on Bt brinjal, which would have been India’s first GM food crop. Despite the current push for a full-scale entry of GM into Indian agriculture, the moratorium is still in place: the conflicts of interest, secrecy, negligence and lack of competence inherent in the GM regulatory process that were acknowledged at that time remain unaddressed.

It would therefore be grossly irresponsible to roll out GM. If the experience of Bt cotton tells us anything, it would also be extremely unwise to proceed without carrying out independent health, environmental and socio-economic risk assessments.

Of course, establishing the need for GM – crops that outperform current non-GM options currently available – is paramount but totally absent. With this in mind, Rodrigues and Shiva cite evidence that traditional plant breeding and newer methods outperform GM agriculture at much less cost, release fewer carbon emissions and earn much greater profits for farmers.

Given this situation (the fraud of GM and its dubious track record aside), anyone could be forgiven for thinking that the plan to get GM into Indian agriculture is solely driven by ideology and commercial interest. Instead of drawing on proven traditional knowledge and practices to ensure food security, the strategy seems to be to place farmers on biotech-chemical treadmills for the benefit of corporate interests.

Green Revolution to ‘gene revolution’

If we look at the Green Revolution, it too was also sold under the guise of ‘feeding the world’. But in India, according to Professor Glenn Stone, it merely led to more wheat in the diet, while food productivity per capita showed no increase or actually decreased. Nevertheless, there have been dire consequences for the Indian diet, the environment, farmers, rural communities and public health.

More generally, 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. It would also mean the undermining of national food security.

GM-based agriculture is key to what would amount to a wholesale corporate capture of the agri-food sector: a sure-fire money spinner that would dwarf the amount drained from India courtesy of Monsanto’s ‘royalties’ on Bt cotton.

Agroecological solutions

This wholesale shift to industrial agriculture would have devastating impacts on the environment, rural communities, public health, local and regional food security, seed sovereignty, nutritional yield per acre, water tables and soil quality, etc. Industrial agriculture has massive health, social and environmental costs which are borne by the public and taxpayers, certainly not by the (subsidised) corporations that rake in the massive profits.

It is no surprise, therefore, that an increasing international consensus is emerging on the role of agroecology. In this respect, smallholder farmers are not to be regarded as residues from the past but as being crucial to the future.

And this is not lost on Rodrigues and Shiva who note the vital importance and productivity of small farms (which outperform industrial-scale enterprises and feed most of the global population) and the advantages of agroecological farming. They refer to the recent UN FAO High Level Panel of Experts which concludes that agroecology provides greatly improved food security and nutritional, gender, environmental and yield benefits compared to industrial agriculture.

Furthermore, according to Rodrigues and Shiva, regenerative organic farming can draw down excess carbon from the atmosphere and put it in the soil, thereby reversing climate change and making agriculture climate resilient. They argue that organic systems are competitive with conventional yields and leach no toxic chemicals. As for cotton, they state that ‘desi’ species of cotton varieties are highly amenable to low-cost organic farming, providing an excellent opportunity for India to emerge as a global leader in organic cotton.

The take-home message is that if GM food crops are to be rolled out – based on a narrative about Bt cotton that relies more on industry spin than actual facts – it would be disastrous for India. Given the evidence, it’s a warning that should not be taken lightly.

An eight-page briefing was issued to coincide with the media event and contains relevant references, additional data and numerous informative charts. It can be accessed here.

Boris Johnson, GMOs and Glyphosate

In his first speech to parliament as British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said:

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.

Johnson reads from a well-rehearsed script. The ‘GM will feed the world mantra’ is pure industry spin. There is already enough food being produced to feed the global population yet around 830 million are classed as hungry. Feeding the world effectively, sustainably and equitably involves addressing the in-built injustices of the global food system.

The never-ending push to force GM on the public under the guise of saving humanity is a diversion that leaves intact the root causes of world hunger and undernutrition: neoliberal deregulation and privatisation policies, unfair WTO rules, poverty, land rights issues, World Bank/IMF geopolitical lending strategies and the transformation of food secure regions into food deficit ones, etc.

Even in regions where productivity in agriculture lags behind or concerns exist about climate change, numerous high-level reports have recommended that (non-GMO) agroecological practices should be encouraged to enhance biodiversity and deal with food and climate crises.

However, pro-Brexiteer Conservative politicians talk of the essential need for Britain and the world to adopt 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 and food and a gutting of food safety and environmental standards.

It is no secret that various Conservative-led administrations have wanted to break free from the EU regulatory framework on GM for some time. Back in 2014, Genewatch exposed collusion between the government and transnational corporations to force GM into Britain above the heads of the public. This is despite numerous surveys over the years showing that most of the British public remain sceptical of GM, do not see a need for it or reject the technology outright.

Rosemary Mason writes to Jonathan Jones

It would be reasonable to ask why GMOs are even on the market in the first place given that, in his book Altered Genes, Twisted Truths (2015), US lawyer Steven Druker set out in detail how GM could well be based on the greatest scientific fraud of our age. This is something environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason points out in a recent open letter to Dr Jonathan Jones, Head of the Sainsbury Laboratory in the UK, and his colleague, fellow US-based plant scientist Jeffrey Dangl.

In April, Jones received the go-ahead from the British government to carry out field tests on GM potatoes in fields in Suffolk and Cambridge. He was given permission to proceed despite Druker’s findings and Caius Rommens, former GMO potato scientist with Monsanto, raising serious concerns about genetic engineering.

In a new report by Mason, which she has sent with her letter to Jones, Rommens is quoted as saying:

We also assumed that theoretical knowledge was all we needed to succeed, and that a single genetic change would always have one intentional effect only. We were supposed to understand DNA and to make valuable modifications, but the fact of the matter was that we knew as little about DNA as the average American knows about the Sanskrit version of the Bhagavad Gita. We just knew enough to be dangerous, especially when combined with our bias and narrowmindedness.

If that was the state of knowledge (or lack of it) at Monsanto, then what of glyphosate-based Roundup, the company’s weedicide widely used in conjunction with GM crops? We already know from the ‘Monsanto Papers’ that ghost writing, cover-ups and duplicity seemed to be the order of the day as the company sought at all costs to protect its multi-billion-dollar money-spinner from being taken off the market.

If genetically engineered ‘Roundup ready’ crops – are introduced to fields in Britain, the use of glyphosate could accelerate even further. In her various reports over the years, Mason has shown the massive increase in the use of the weedicide in farming and the correlation with a huge spike in various diseases and conditions in the UK.

Mason wants to make it clear to Jones that when plant physiologists like him say that that glyphosate/Roundup only affects plants, fungi and bacteria and doesn’t affect humans, they are wrong.

She says to Jones:

You claimed, together with Monsanto and global pesticide regulators, that Roundup only affects plants, fungi and bacteria because they had the shikimate pathway which is absent in humans and animals. But humans and animals have trillions of bacteria in their gut: the gut microbiome, the collective genome of organisms inhabiting our body.

Mason states that obesity is associated with low diversity of bacteria in the microbiome and glyphosate destroys most of the beneficial bacteria and leaves the toxic bacteria behind. In effect, she argues, Roundup (and other biocides) are a major cause of gross obesity, neuropsychiatric disorders and other chronic diseases including cancers, which are all on the rise.

Her report refers to numerous studies, including a paper in Nature to argue that obesity is associated with low bacterial richness in the gut (Chatelier, E.L. et al. Richness of human gut microbiome correlates with metabolic markers: Nature, 2013). Mason also draws attention to a multi-author study (Wang, Y. et al, “The Gut-Microglia Connection: Implications for Central Nervous System Diseases: Frontiers in Immunology,” 2018) which postulates the microbiome has relevance for both gastrointestinal and brain disorders, including autism spectrum disorders, Parkinson’s disease and even demyelinating disorders of the central nervous system.

She adds:

Glyphosate disrupts the shikimate pathway within these gut bacteria, without which we cannot survive. Glyphosate is a strong chelator of essential minerals, such as cobalt, zinc, manganese, calcium, molybdenum and sulphate… Two key problems caused by glyphosate residues in our diet are nutritional deficiencies, especially minerals and essential amino-acids, and systemic toxicity.

Mason refers to Dr Don Huber, an expert on glyphosate and a senior US plant scientist, who explains that Roundup, as a mineral chelator, probably causes cancer. Some years ago, Huber wrote to the US Secretary of Agriculture about a pathogen new to science that could significantly impact the health of plants, animals and probably human beings. He argued it is widespread, very serious and is in much higher concentrations in Roundup Ready soybeans and corn – suggesting a link with Roundup.

Rosemary Mason’s 20-plus page report is wide raging in scope and refers to various published peer-reviewed papers to support her arguments (it can be read in full on the academia.edu site). Aside from the effects of (the widespread prevalence of) glyphosate and other agrochemicals on human health – especially and disturbingly the exposure and impacts on children and child development – she discusses the environmental costs, including pesticide run off into seas and oceans, the ongoing destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, algae blooms and the fungicidal action of Roundup which is destroying the means by which trees communicate and look after each other.

In relation to sanctioning the continued use of glyphosate in Europe, Mason notes that it was totally unacceptable, possibly negligent or even criminal, for the European Union to have allowed a group of plant scientists on the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF) – whose knowledge of human physiology was so lacking that they did not recognise that glyphosate has effects on humans – to make decisions that affect human health.

PAFF’s role was pivotal in the decision to re-licence the use of glyphosate in the EU in 2017. Although a list of its members is not made public, as a phytopharmaceuticals committee involved in the authorisation of pesticides, Mason presumes plant physiologists were amply represented and held sway.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that in the UK between May 2010 and the end of 2013, the Department of Health had 130 meetings with representatives of the agrochemicals/GM sector.

If Mason’s letter to Jones tells us anything, it is that the British public need to think long and hard about whose interests are really being served when Boris Johnson and others in high office extol the ‘virtues’ of GM agriculture and its associated chemical inputs.

The Corporate Capture of Agriculture

Many lobbyists talk a lot about critics of genetic engineering technology denying choice to farmers. They say that farmers should have access to a range of tools and technologies to maximise choice and options. At the same time, somewhat ironically, they decry organic agriculture and proven agroecological approaches, presumably because these practices have no need for the proprietary inputs of the global agrochemical/agritech corporations they are in bed with. And presumably because agroecology represents liberation from the tyranny of these profiteering, environment-damaging global conglomerates.

It is fine to talk about ‘choice’ but we do not want to end up offering a false choice (rolling out technologies that have little value and only serve to benefit those who control the technology), to unleash an innovation that has an adverse impact on others or to manipulate a situation whereby only one option is available because other options have been deliberately removed. And we would certainly not wish to roll out a technology that traps farmers on a treadmill that they find difficult to get off.

Surely, a responsible approach for rolling out important (potentially transformative) technologies would have to consider associated risks, including social, economic and health impacts.

Take the impact of the Green Revolution in India, for instance. Sold on the promise that hybrid seeds and associated chemical inputs would enhance food security on the basis of higher productivity, agriculture was transformed, especially in Punjab. But to gain access to seeds and chemicals many farmers had to take out loans and debt became (and remains) a constant worry. Many became impoverished and social relations within rural communities were radically altered: previously, farmers would save and exchange seeds but now they became dependent on unscrupulous money lenders, banks and seed manufacturers and suppliers. Vandana Shiva in The Violence of the Green Revolution (1989) describes the social marginalisation and violence that accompanied the process.

On a macro level, the Green Revolution conveniently became tied to an international (neo-colonial) system of trade based on chemical-dependent agro-export mono-cropping linked to loans, sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF structural adjustment (privatisation/deregulation) directives. Many countries in the Global South were deliberately turned into food deficit regions, dependent on (US) agricultural imports and strings-attached aid.

The process led to the massive displacement of the peasantry and, according to the academics Eric Holt-Giménez et al, (Food rebellions: Crisis and the hunger for Justice, 2009), the consolidation of the global agri-food oligopolies and a shift in the global flow of food: developing countries produced a billion-dollar yearly surplus in the 1970s; they were importing $11 billion a year by 2004.

And it’s not as though the Green Revolution delivered on its promises. In India, it merely led to more wheat in the diet, while food productivity per capita showed no increased or even actually decreased (see ‘New Histories of the Green Revolution‘ by Glenn Stone). And, as described by Bhaskar Save in his open letter (2006) to officials, it had dire consequences for diets, the environment, farming, health and rural communities.

The ethics of the Green Revolution – at least it was rolled out with little consideration for these impacts – leave much to be desired.

As the push to drive GM crops into India’s fields continues (the second coming of the green revolution – the gene revolution), we should therefore take heed. To date, the track record of GMOs is unimpressive, but the adverse effects on many smallholder farmers are already apparent (see ‘Hybrid Bt cotton: a stranglehold on subsistence farmers in India’ by A P Gutierrez).

Aside from looking at the consequences of technology roll outs, we should, when discussing choice, also account for the procedures and decisions that were made which resulted in technologies coming to market in the first place.

Steven Druker, in his book Altered Genes, Twisted Truth, argues that the decision to commercialise GM seeds and food in the US amounted to a subversion of processes put in place to serve the public interest. The result has been a technology roll out which could result (is resulting) in fundamental changes to the genetic core of the world’s food. This decision ultimately benefited Monsanto’s bottom line and helped the US gain further leverage over global agriculture.

We must therefore put glib talk of the denial of technology by critics to one side if we are to engage in a proper discussion of choice. Any such discussion would account for the nature of the global food system and the dynamics and policies that shape it. This would include looking at how global corporations have captured the policy agenda for agriculture, including key national and international policy-making bodies, and the role of the WTO and World Bank.

Choice is also about the options that could be made available, but which have been closed off or are not even considered. In Ethiopia, for example, agroecology has been scaled up across the entire Tigray region, partly due to enlightened political leaders and the commitment of key institutions.

However, in places where global agribusiness/agritech corporations have leveraged themselves into strategic positions, their interests prevail. From the false narrative that industrial agriculture is necessary to feed the world to providing lavish research grants and the capture of important policy-making institutions, these firms have secured a thick legitimacy within policymakers’ mindsets and mainstream discourse. As a result, agroecological approaches are marginalised and receive scant attention and support.

Monsanto had a leading role in drafting the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights to create seed monopolies. The global food processing industry wrote the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. Whether it involves Codex or the US-India Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture aimed at restructuring (destroying) Indian agriculture, the powerful agribusiness/food lobby has secured privileged access to policy makers and sets the policy agenda.

From the World Bank’s ‘enabling the business of agriculture’ to the Gates Foundation’s role in opening up African agriculture to global food and agribusiness oligopolies, democratic procedures at sovereign state levels are being bypassed to impose seed monopolies and proprietary inputs on farmers and to incorporate them into a global supply chain dominated by powerful corporations.

We have the destruction of indigenous farming in Africa as well as the ongoing dismantling of Indian agriculture and the deliberate impoverishment of Indian farmers at the behest of transnational agribusiness. Where is the democratic ‘choice’? It has been usurped by corporate-driven Word Bank bondage (India is its biggest debtor in the bank’s history) and by a trade deal with the US that sacrificed Indian farmers for the sake of developing its nuclear sector.

Similarly, ‘aid’ packages for Ukraine – on the back of a US-supported coup – are contingent on Western corporations taking over strategic aspects of the economy. And agribusiness interests are at the forefront. Something which neoliberal apologists are silent on as they propagandise about choice, and democracy.

Ukraine’s agriculture sector is being opened up to Monsanto/Bayer. Iraq’s seed laws were changed to facilitate the entry of Monsanto. India’s edible oils sector was undermined to facilitate the entry of Cargill. And Bayer’s hand is possibly behind the ongoing strategy to commercialise GM mustard in India. Whether on the back of militarism, secretive trade deals or strings-attached loans, global food and agribusiness conglomerates secure their interests and have scant regard for choice or democracy.

The ongoing aim is to displace localised, indigenous methods of food production and allow transnational companies to take over, tying farmers and regions to a system of globalised production and supply chains dominated by large agribusiness and retail interests. Global corporations with the backing of their host states, are taking over food and agriculture nation by nation.

Many government officials, the media and opinion leaders take this process as a given. They also accept that (corrupt) profit-driven transnational corporations have a legitimate claim to be owners and custodians of natural assets (the ‘commons’). There is the premise that water, seeds, food, soil and agriculture should be handed over to these conglomerates to milk for profit, under the pretence these entities are somehow serving the needs of humanity.

Ripping land from peasants and displacing highly diverse and productive smallholder agriculture, rolling out very profitable but damaging technologies, externalising the huge social, environmental and health costs of the prevailing neoliberal food system and entire nations being subjected to the policies outlined above: how is any of it serving the needs of humanity?

It is not. Food is becoming denutrified, unhealthy and poisoned with chemicals and diets are becoming less diverse. There is a loss of plant and insect diversity, which threatens food security, soils are being degraded, water tables polluted and depleted and millions of smallholder farmers, so vital to global food production, are being pushed into debt in places like India and squeezed off their land and out of farming.

It is time to place natural assets under local ownership and to develop them in the public interest according to agroecological principles. This involves looking beyond the industrial yield-output paradigm and adopting a systems approach to food and agriculture that accounts for local food security and sovereignty, cropping patterns to ensure diverse nutrition production per acre, water table stability and good soil structure. It also involves pushing back against the large corporations that hold sway over the global food system and more generally challenging the leverage that private capital has over all our lives.

That’s how you ensure liberation from tyranny and support genuine choice.

India’s Tryst with Destiny

Today, we are in the grip of a globalised system of capitalism which drives narcissism, domination, ego, anthropocentrism, speciesism and plunder. A system that is using up oil, water and other resources much faster than they can ever be regenerated. We have poisoned the rivers and oceans, destroyed natural habitats, driven wildlife species to (the edge of) extinction and have altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere with seemingly devastating effects.

With its never-ending quest for profit, capitalism thrives on the exploitation of peoples and the environment. It strides the world hand in glove with militarism, with the outcome being endless destabilisations, conflicts and wars over finite resources and the capture of new markets.

This is sold to the masses as part of an ongoing quest to achieve human well-being, measured in terms of endless GDP growth, itself based on an ideology that associates such growth with corporate profit, boosted by stock buy-backs, financial speculation, massive arms deals,  colonialism masquerading as philanthropymanipulated and rigged markets, corrupt and secretive trade deals, outsourced jobs and a resource-grabbing militarism.

That such a parasitical system could ever bring about a ‘happy’ human condition for the majority is unfathomable.

Over the last 70 years, material living standards in the West have improved, but how that wealth was obtained and how it is then distributed is what really matters. Take the case of the UK.

While much of manufacturing has been outsourced to cheap labour economies, welfare, unions and livelihoods have been attacked. Massive levels of tax evasion/avoidance persist and neoliberal policies have resulted in privatisation, deregulation and the spiralling of national and personal debt. Moreover, the cost of living has increased as public assets have been sold off to profiteering cartels and taxpayers’ money has been turned into corporate welfare for a corrupt banking cartel.

Meanwhile, the richest 1,000 families in the UK saw their net worth more than double shortly after the 2008 financial crisis, the worst recession since the Great Depression, while the rest of the population is confronted with ‘austerity’, poverty, cutbacks, reliance on food banks and job insecurity.

But let’s not forget where much of the UK’s wealth came from in the first place: some $45 trillion was sucked from India alone according to renowned economist Utsa Patnaik.  Britain developed by under-developing India. And now the West and its (modern-day East India) corporations are in the process of ‘developing’ India by again helping themselves to the country’s public wealth and natural assets (outlined further on).

Under this system, it is clear whose happiness and well-being matters most and whose does not matter at all. According to researcher and analyst Andrew Gavin Marshall, it is the major international banking houses which control the global central banking system:

From there, these dynastic banking families created an international network of think tanks, which socialised the ruling elites of each nation and the international community as a whole, into a cohesive transnational elite class. The foundations they established helped shape civil society both nationally and internationally, playing a major part in the funding – and thus coordinating and co-opting – of major social-political movements.

Additional insight is set out by David Rothkopf in his 2008 book Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making:

The superclass constitutes approximately 0.0001 percent of the world’s population. They are the Davos-attending, Gulfstream/private jet-flying, money-incrusted, megacorporation-interlocked, policy-building elites of the world, people at the absolute peak of the global power pyramid … They are from the highest levels of finance capital, transnational corporations, the government, the military… and other shadow elites.

These are the people setting the agendas at the Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg Group, G-7, G-20, NATO, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. They decide which wars are to be fought and why and formulate global economic policy.

Tryst with destiny

In 1947, on the steps of the Red Fort in Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru spoke optimistically about India’s tryst with destiny. Free from the shackles of British colonialism, for many the future seemed bright.

But some 72 years on, we now see a headlong rush to urbanise (under World Bank directives – India is the biggest debtor nation in the history of that institution) and India’s cities are increasingly defined by their traffic-jammed flyovers cutting through fume choked neighbourhoods that are denied access to drinking water and a decent infrastructure. Privatisation and crony capitalism are the order of the day.

Away from the cities, the influence of transnational agricapital and state-corporate grabs for land are leading to violent upheaval, conflict and ecological destruction. The links between the Monsanto-Syngenta-Walmart-backed Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture and the associated US sanctioning and backing of the opening up of India’s nuclear sector to foreign interests show who really benefits from this.

Under the guise of ‘globalisation’, Western powers are on an unrelenting drive to plunder what they regard as ‘untapped markets’ in other areas of the globe. Foreign agricapital has been moving in on Indian food and agriculture for some time. But it first needs to eradicate the peasantry and displace the current model of production before bringing India’s food and agriculture sector under its control.

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

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

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

Millions of small-scale and marginal farmers are suffering economic distress as the sector is deliberately made financially non-viable for them. Veteran rural reporter P Sainath says what this has resulted in is not so much an agrarian crisis but a crisis of civilisation proportions, given that the bulk of the population still lives in the countryside and relies on agriculture or related activities for an income.

Independent cultivators are being bankrupted, land is to be amalgamated to facilitate large-scale industrial cultivation and remaining farmers will be absorbed into corporate supply chains and squeezed as they work on contracts, the terms of which will be dictated by large agribusiness and chain retailers.

US agribusiness corporations are spearheading this process, the very companies that fuel and thrive on a five-year US taxpayer-funded farm bill subsidy of around $500 billion. Their industrial model in the US is based on the overproduction of certain commodities often sold at prices below the cost of production and dumped on the rest of the world, thereby undermining farmers’ livelihoods and agriculture in other countries, not least India.

It is a model that can only survive thanks to taxpayer handouts and only function by externalising its massive health, environmental and social costs. And it’s a model that only leads to the destruction of rural communities and jobs, degraded soil, less diverse and nutrient-deficient diets, polluted water, water shortages and spiralling rates of ill health.

We hear certain politicians celebrate the fact India has jumped so many places in the ‘ease of doing business’ table. This term along with ‘foreign direct investment’, making India ‘business friendly’ and ‘enabling the business of agriculture’ embody little more than the tenets of US neoliberal fundamentalism wrapped in benign-sounding words.

Of course, as Gavin Andrew Marshall notes, US foundations have played a major part in shaping policies and co-opting civil society and major social-political movements across the world, including in India. As Chester Bowles, former US ambassador to India, says:

Someday someone must give the American people a full report of the Ford Foundation in India. The several million dollars in total Ford expenditures in the country do not tell 1/10 of the story.

Taking inflation into account, that figure would now be much greater. Maybe people residing in India should be given a full report of Ford’s activities too as well as the overall extent of US ‘intervention’ in the country.

A couple of years ago, economist Norbert Haring (in his piece “A well-kept open secret: Washington is behind India’s brutal experiment of abolishing most cash) outlined the influence of USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in furthering the incorporation of India into the US’s financial (and intelligence architecture). But this is the type of thing just the tip of a very large iceberg that’s been going on for many decades.

After the recent general election, India seems destined to continue to capitulate to a programme that suits the needs of foreign capital for another five years. However, the focus is often on what India should or should not do. It’s not as if alternatives to current policies do not exist, but as Jason Hickel wrote in The Guardian back in 2017, it really is time that the richer countries led the way by ‘de-developing’ and reorienting their societies to become less consumption based. A laudable aim given the overexploitation of the planet’s resources, the foreign policy implications (conflict and war) and the path to environmental suicide we are on. However, we must first push back against those forces and which resist this.

On 15 August, India commemorates independence from British rule. Many individuals and groups are involved in an ongoing struggle in India to achieve genuine independence from exploitation and human and environmental degradation. It’s a struggle for freedom and a tryst with destiny that’s being fought throughout the world by many, from farmers and indigenous peoples to city dwellers, against the same system and the same forces of brutality and deceit.