Category Archives: India

Chakras, Subtle Bodies and the Aura

It’s a modest apartment in Newport where I sit with Susan Swift to go over “quite the life” as any listener might say about this feisty, spiritual and articulate, world-traveling woman.

The hitching post Susan and I tie our respective philosophical steeds on is “philosophy” and “fate,” although we could have brought in a whole team of other steeds to pull the conversation toward all spiritual directions.

“I know what is mine to do,” the 73-year-old Swift states early on in our talk. Since her life here on the coast — Five Rivers first — not only started in 1972 as a search for environmental justice, she also fell into a what would be a life-long walkabout as a student of karma, Dharma and the meaning of interconnected “souls.”

Before the Central Coast mountains, Waldport, Seal Rock and Newport, Susan was living the Southern California lifestyle in Compton.

The Alsea basin seems worlds away from her birthplace of Inglewood. Quickly, though, she and her husband and a whole slew of residents became embroiled in cloak and dagger drama, rising to the level of the US Forest Service spraying chemicals on their land, Dow Chemical and their lawyers attempting to wear down citizens’ groups, bugged telephones, and various sundry nefarious things unfolding in a seemingly isolated rural community.

One of Susan’s cohorts has already been featured in my column Deep Dive — Carol Van Strum. For more information on those battles with toxics, bad science and broken promises by officials breaking the rule of protecting public health, safety and welfare, read Oregon Coast TODAY, “A Real-Life Toxic Avenger.”

Sometimes a young life lived produces an amazingly detailed and complex life, for sure. However, in the end, when a journalist runs into a person like Swift, with seven-plus decades under her belt, a series of floodgates open up.

Toxins, Dirty Water, Building Family

Sure, Citizens Against Toxic Sprays is a big part of her foundation, 45 years ago when she was living in the woods, in a teepee and a small shack with Calvin Parker, husband number two (one of three, but who’s counting), and her son Joe Lund from a previous marriage.

C.A.T.S. was created with the organizing skills of Susan and others in the rural community, propelled by fear — the debilitating, permanent and deadly harm being perpetrated by officials and for-profit companies upon adults, children, pets, penned animals, wildlife and drinking water through herbicide spraying.

There’s plenty of newspaper copy and radio clips on Susan’s life out here, her singing, putting on events for the legal battle against the chemical companies and their spraying ways; her work on the Lincoln County Planning Commission and other issues tied to public health. She’s been featured in a November 23, 1980 article in Salem’s Statesman Journal.

What anchors much of what I see while talking with Susan (and in reporting on the people of this area) is best captured in one short passage from that article about Susan written by Kristine Rosemary with the Statesman Journal:

Now, to make any sense of the art of diplomacy as practiced in the hidden rural valleys and insulated towns of the Oregon Coast Range, you must consider this: It is a place of overlapping generations of emigrants, each with its own notions of how to live with the land. Rain and shards of Chinese-looking mists blow into those hollows in a thrashing wind. And writhing vines of domestic blackberry gone feral make a slow triumph of thorns. The children of homesteaders who came to farm these fertile valleys were joined 50 years after, by a second wave of urban exiles.

An emblematic quote and a microcosm of what this Oregon Coast now faces with population influxes, lack of affordable housing, more pollution to contend with, climate change and shifting economic, cultural and generational baselines. What is left out even in this Statesman Journal’s prescient description is what’s not included so many times in countless articles — who was here first.

The Siuslaw and Kuitsh people began settling the coast more than 9,000 years ago. They have probably lived in the same locations for hundreds of generations.

Who knows if that paper mill, hotel or housing development was built on an ancient significant site? Or on top of sacred burial grounds, or over summer root-picking fields or a shaman’s spiritual place?

Coast as Healing Center

Susan Swift, RN, formerly known as Mrs. Parker, Swedish massage therapist, is keenly aware of Native American history as her daughter, Autumn Rayne, is part Cheyenne. What has been germinated from those early days in Five Rivers, then in Waldport, and then to the Valley and even Portland, is a determined septuagenarian who has lived on a wildlife refuge in India, ended up in Egypt on a spiritual journey and has met the Dali Lama.

There are stories layered onto life lessons, like shoots on an old fig tree. Her past, Susan says, is her journey forward. She’s helped Mo and her husband (of the Oregon Coast’s famed seafood and chowder restaurants, Mo’s) get through the last days of their lives as their in-home certified care taker. She’s played guitar and sang with husband number three — musician and instrument maker, and she’s chased elephants out of her garden of succulents.

Iterations of her life include head of the Lincoln County Planning Commission, nursing school, working at a mental health unit in Portland, and now writing, which she’s recently pursued in a memoir workshop at the senior center.

The coast is the healing breath she takes with her wherever she ventures. Susan believes she has past lives (that we all do) to account for and to make amends with, as well as to understand in order to carry forth on a pathway to enlightenment. Ironically, Susan Swift says her gift of energy empathy and nursing came at a young age: “I first learned my hands could take away pain when I was 10 years old.”

Every thought you produce, anything you say, any action you do, it bears your signature.

— Thích Nh?t H?nh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist

Do what you love because the universe will support you. Speak and say what you want.

Be specific. Then get out of the way and let the universe take care of the details.

— Susan Swift, July 8, 2019

She laughs because her prayers for a partner were answered, but she wasn’t specific enough — “I didn’t mention that partner should be on the same continent.” That spiritual partner was living in India.

She went to India for a workshop with 45 people from 15 countries. That’s where she met this tall, dark handsome Reiki master. “He was raised Muslim, and I was raised Christian, and we came to the same spiritual place, looking for the same spiritual answers.” That was in 2005. She returned to the USA and had a spiritual awakening with him over the years — sharing emails, letters, phone calls.

“In 2010, I retired, closed up the Vancouver house, put everything I owned into my son’s house in Covington, Washington.” She spent a total of four years in India, on a wildlife refuge: Mudamalli Wildlife Refuge in Tamil Nadu. Her partner was Nijamudeen. Susan was “totally embraced by this huge Muslim family.”

Her travails get complicated as Susan courses back and forth through her own chronological history and these many points of enlightenment in her 73 years. She has a thousand stories floating around her cranium. I fill pages and pages of notes.

How she got to India, with her healing touch on a dog that had been attacked by a black panther, covers all levels of spiritual and geographical ground. She went to Egypt in 2003 on a prayer for peace journey with 250 people from 25 nations. She talks excitedly about going down the Nile and to a resort on the Red Sea. She talks about the guides and hotel charges playing the song, “Imagine” by John Lennon, wherever they went since the tour’s theme was taken from the songwriter’s famous piece.

The trip was part of a far-reaching international push to get George W. Bush and his administration to hold off on a violent attack on Iraq, to instead follow international players’ plans to get Saddam Hussein to agree to step down with loads of money.

“I told an Egyptian woman that this was my first use of a passport as an American, and I was ashamed and told her I couldn’t handle it. She held me and told me calmly: ‘America is the world’s great hope for democracy and freedoms. We understand that your president was appointed by the court and wasn’t elected by the people of your country.’”

The Enlightened Being is Really Inside Our “self”

Now rewind to 1982, and Susan Parker is headed for Seaside, to catch a talk by the Dali Llama concerning China’s latest offer to return Tibet to China. “It was quite an entourage. I was at the greeting line. Oh my gosh, there I was telling the Dali Llama I was so honored and most joyful about his visit, with my sandalwood mala in my hand. He leaned in and bonked third eyes with me.”

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A life is not always marked out with milestones set forth in an organized and clear path, but for the sake of brevity, it might be wise to follow our Central Coast resident using a timeline to get through some of her dynamic, compelling life chapters.

She grew up in a working-class family in Compton, and as stated earlier, she knew she had healing hands as a youngster placing them on her mom’s two ruptured spinal discs. The young Susan wanted to be outside playing baseball, “but my hands seemed to know what to do with the muscle spasms the size of my fists.”

Those healing hands more than five decades later would take care of a large tumor on Nami (Namaste), the Basenji dog in India she adopted, and used her healing words to help Gemmee, who has his shoulder gashed after it had outrun a black panther. “Nami never barked, just commented about everything in this yodeling song.”

Back to the Land on the Lam

Back to how she ended up in Five Rivers — she was with Calvin Parker, a Northern Montana Cheyenne she met in Pasadena. He was a sergeant in the US Army, about to be sent to Vietnam. He ended up AWOL, and the couple moved to Five Rivers where his sister was living in an old school house.

They lived in a 15-by-30, cold-water shack heated by a wood-burning-stove. “During this time, I was dreaming of a dark-haired, light-eyed girl.” (which eventually was their daughter, Autumn Rayne)

Susan ended up taking minutes for the local school committee. She found an old mimeograph machine and put together the Five Rivers Run-off Community Newsletter, stuffing flyers into mailboxes. That’s when she took notice of the herbicides issue popping up in editorials inside the Newport News Times.

“I hadn’t gone to school at that point, but I created a health form survey, passing it out door to door, all the way from Highway 34 to the mill. So many miscarriages, tumors and cancers were reported.” That was 1974, and Susan Swift shakes her head as she tells me that a scientist from OSU still advocates there is nothing wrong with 2,4,5-T.

This community of mostly women fighting the forest service and prevailing conservative strains of science worked together to build their adopted family on many levels. Susan laughs again recalling she was living in a teepee with two kids before getting her first place in Waldport. She was a single mom with a three- and 11-year-old. “They were exposed to musicians and artists coming and going all the time.” Joseph Lund graduated from Waldport High in 1985, and did the first video yearbook for the school.

She became an EMT-in-training for the Waldport Ambulance, graduating as the first woman to drive the ambulance. She ended working at a spa in Yachats. In 1978 she was lecturing at Lane Community College teaching different classes on the health effects of herbicide exposure, chemical releases in forestry and the dioxin molecule, diagramming it on the board, showing students how it worked.

She moved into her first house in Seal Rock, and put out her first shingle, “Susan Parker, LMT,” above a Waldport barbershop. The place became a center for healing. Transpersonal healing, encounters with lives, and more would begin to charge her life and encompass her interests.

“No matter what you believe, doing things out of compassion for others is as healing as we can get.”

She moved to Newport in the 1980s, at this point managing the Ocean Food Co-op. She was one of the spearheads to create an Oceana board of directors, hire a paid bookkeeper and charge a $10 yearly fee.

She met Husband Number Three at an open mic session at a local bar and eatery in Waldport. He was a guitarist and “amazingly gifted instrument maker.”

“I bought a guitar for twenty-five dollars cash and twenty-five in food stamps. I taught myself guitar and sang the songs I wanted to sing . . . positive ones. That’s when he said, ‘I like your voice.’” The marriage lasted one and a half years, but they are still friends.

With a belief in past lives, Susan takes many things both in stride and contextualized through transpersonal psychology, but she also has both feet in the waters of transglobal spirituality and multiple contexts for enlightenment and “godliness.”

Healing & Being in the Right Place Spiritually

Fate, she calls it, or her life’s proscribed journey points. She even ended up getting the finances for nursing school after working hard to take care of Mo (Mohava Niemi) who she was with until Mo died in 1992, as well as taking care of Mo’s spouse, Dutch Niemi, until he too passed on.

Dutch (he was a Finnish fisherman) had always wanted to send a child in need to college, but instead after Susan’s healing ways and hearing all the people taking care of his medical needs tell Susan she was a born natural for RN school, Dutch came through. “Dutch said he wanted to help me. That $9,000 helped me pay off bills and made it possible to go to nursing school.”

She worked for Dutch on weekends while she was at Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis. That healing and spiritual medical caretaking continued after nursing school graduation. She worked for a Portland neurosurgeon for three years, and she worked with the Oregon State Mental Hospital Portland campus as the lead nurse for six.

Her first nursing job was at Corvallis Manor, but she also took her caring hands and gifted spirit of empathy to a group home for developmentally disabled adults, Portland’s Eliot House.

“I treated every patient as a precious soul.”

While there was a 20-year absence from Lincoln County between 1994 and 2014, the draw to this area has been strong. She has joined up with Lincoln County Community Rights which just celebrated the two-year anniversary of its successful effort to ban aerial spraying in Lincoln County.

She’s done some driving for Yaquina Cab, shuttling people to and from the hospital. In this interview, Susan and I gravitate back to her story and her natural gifts — her abilities to organize and to start things, and her deep well of beliefs around alternative healing, energy fields on the body, and reincarnation.

These are book-level ideas, sculpted around a life still in the making, but one lived complexly and with mindfulness: with the added hues and tones of adventure, unique healing and death and dying situations painted in. One can hope she will see the light and eventually put down in writing a life well-lived, one where young and old might learn new (or old) meditative and mediation practices.

In our vapid celebrity culture, which is obsessed with putting the limelight on the rich, famous, or infamous, an authentic woman’s gritty and universal story should be compelling, to say the least.

“We have a choice everyday how we think. What you focus on, expands. We can choose how to go through this life. We need to just get out of our own way and begin living.”

•••

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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.

 “Child Actorvism” and the Extinction Agenda of Neoliberal Racists

There is no shortage of social justice causes trumpeted by the West† with a revolving medley of “child actorvists” at the forefront. The logical observer may question whether these endless multi-billion dollar campaigns have had any tangible effect at all, except in serving as a stalking horse for mass-mediated interferences in the affairs of other nations.

Whether it is about immigration, education or the whitewashing of terrorists, they are there, ready with their scripted messages. The latest sensation happens to be Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg who is trying to save humanity from an environmental apocalypse by playing truant from school.  Manufactured doyens, however, conveniently overlook real progress in the activist areas they were groomed for, revealing a strong pattern of bias in the process.

On Friday Aug 9 2019, more than a million Indians planted 220 million trees in a single day, with each tree representing a resident of the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP).  According to state government official Awanish K. Awasthi: “The pits are geo-tagged and the saplings carry a QR code. So we can record how many saplings are planted and where.” The BBC had earlier cast doubts on whether Ethiopia had actually planted 350 million trees in July due to the lack of a verification mechanism.

This was not India’s first afforestation feat. In 2016, nearly 800,000 volunteers in UP planted 50 million trees in a single day while a year later, 66 million saplings were embedded in just 12 hours by volunteers in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh.

India has targeted a total forest cover comprising 33 percent of its landmass by 2030.  While this initiative was launched under the general rubric of climate change, there were more immediate issues at stake.  The spectres of desertification and groundwater depletion were enough to mobilize ordinary Indians into action.

The sheer design, organization and coordination involved in the Indian undertaking may be studied for years to come. Once verified, the afforestation model can be adapted in fields ranging from big data, artificial intelligence, sharing economy to contingency planning.  A somewhat similar mobilization model was employed when Cyclone Fani hit eastern India during the first days of May. As The Conversation reported on May 13:

A record 1.2 million people (equal to the population of Mauritius) were evacuated in less than 48 hours, and almost 7,000 kitchens, catering to 9,000 shelters, were made functional overnight. This mammoth exercise involved more than 45,000 volunteers.

After studying the grim statistics for Hurricane Maria (Puerto Rico, US; 2017), Hurricane Harvey (Texas, US; 2017) and Cyclone Idai (Mozambique, Madagascar, Malawi and Zimbabwe; 2019), the authors concluded that the “world can learn from” from the Indian experience.

Yet, the momentary fascination with India’s mass mobilization skills dissipated just as quickly as the storm itself. The global risk researcher, stupefied by hours of BBC programming, was left to wonder: Where are those follow-up in-depth analyses? How come the world only came to know of India’s recent tree-planting milestone through a brief Associated Press report? Isn’t climate change the dernier cri?

One could excuse the BBC for disregarding Uttar Pradesh’s greening exploits as it was too busy fabricating videos on “large-scale protests” in Kashmir alongside usual suspects like Al Jazeera and Reuters. Even Malala Yousafzai stepped forward to test the waters, only to be summarily rebuffed.

There may be other reasons behind the neoliberal media’s indifference here. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had earlier committed the cardinal sin of renaming the city of Allahabad as Prayagraj. This is a complete no-no in a West that inevitably sides with militant Islam. Take a look at Serbia, Syria, Libya and Myanmar, amongst numerous other examples. Additionally, India’s afforestation campaign (2016 to 2030) was being undertaken outside the ambit of parasitic Western NGOs at a paltry outlay of $6 billion. India was showing the way in cost savings and volunteer-based sustainability, without the need for star-studded events that child actorvism thrives on.

Neoliberal Selectivity

New Delhi’s indigenous efforts since 2015 were therefore deemed unsatisfactory by Extinction Rebellion superstar Thunberg.  She pilloried India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a February 2019 video post:

Dear Mr Modi, you need to take action now against the climate crisis, not just talking about it because if you keep going on like this, doing business as usual, and just talking about and bragging about the little victories, you are going to fail. And if you fail, you are going to be seen as one of the worst villains in human history in the future. And you don’t want that. (Emphasis added).

Do not seek a scintilla of sanity in the outburst above. Instead, note the timing:  It was posted during the run-up to the April-May 2019 Indian general elections where Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won by a landslide victory, surpassing expectations thanks to neoliberal hissy-fits typified by the likes of Thunberg.

Does Thunberg consider the planting of 50, 66 and 220 million trees overnight – involving schoolchildren no less – as one of those insignificant “little victories”? Who is doing the talking and bragging and who is doing the actual planting here? One of India’s other “little victories” was in lifting 271 million people – numbering more than half the EU population – out of poverty in a mere 10 years.

If Thunberg’s views aren’t reflective of Western neoliberal racism, tell me what is? Here is where racial supremacist undercurrents are cleverly masked by the clarion call of “social justice”. Nothing non-Westerners do is good enough unless it involves and profits vested Western interests. Neoliberals and their neoconservative cousins feel they are entitled to run the affairs of other nations. If the line is not toed, an army of “child actorvists” are ready to selectively name and shame national leaders. How is this different from the use of child soldiers and human shields by an assortment of violent thugs and jihadis? And much like jihadis, a false flag calamity inflicted on a child actorvist would reap international sympathy for the “cause”, would it not? We shall see what the future holds…

Quite tellingly, when it comes to the question of extinction, French-Lebanese author Amin Maalouf sums up the prevalent Western hypocrisy perfectly: “Threats to pandas cause more emotion than threats to the extinction of Christians in the Middle East”. Another child actorvist, Bana Alabed, has been roped in to hasten that particular genocide.

The Incurably Colonized

Instead of India’s Modi, Thunberg could have trained her guns on Southeast Asian politicians for allowing the West to dump millions of tons of highly-toxic trash throughout the region. (India had another “little victory” by banning them). It cannot get more pathetic than Pakistani garbage appearing in an illegal Malaysian dumpsite! Is Thunberg really as environmentally literate as she claims to be?  The organized crime networks involved in the regional garbage racket are also into money laundering, smuggling, organ harvesting and human trafficking.

Neoliberals and neoconservatives, however, have a soft spot for Southeast Asia (sans Mynamar) for a good reason: Its leaders and societies have an incurable inferiority complex towards all things Western, rendering them supine and receptive to machinations from the other side of the world. The region hosts innumerable Western-backed NGOs and affiliates whose sole role is to disrupt and shape the local political process. That is, when they are not discriminating against native talent, native ideas and native solutions. For a region that has had several developmental head-starts over India, Southeast Asia has yet to produce world-class scientists, innovators and products of any import, making it easy for West to offer their “expertise” and goods at huge costs. The media in “Asian values” bastions like Malaysia and Singapore are more likely to celebrate Thunberg’s theatrics than investigate real Asian success stories.

Just like neoconservatism, neoliberalism neatly divides the world along classic colonial lines. Can George Soros and his neoliberal backers claim a single success story from the countless “social justice” agitprops unleashed worldwide? Instead, such interventions have left behind a string of broken, emasculated and dysfunctional societies. Women and children are the biggest victims here. One could also include Thunberg’s Sweden in the list of nations facing a surge in sexual violence against women and children. Swedish schools are no longer safe and somehow no child activist has emerged to publicize this highly-proximate issue. †† What is the celebrated “female education activist” Malala Yousafzai actually doing?

Redundant Societies

The idea that the East and West can cooperate, compliment and compete on an equal footing is an anathema to neoliberal and neoconservative minds. It is in “redundant societies” however where neoliberals find the most fertile ground for its destructive agendas. Redundant societies are ones the world would scarcely miss in case its populations were magically rendered extinct overnight – short-term raw material and supply chain disruptions notwithstanding. Is that the core idea behind Extinction Rebellion? Fewer humans are great for the environment, no?

A nation less contaminated by the neoliberal agenda is a nation poised for growth and technical breakthroughs.  Look at the world around us: the relatively nationalistic South Korea, Japan, China and India (the “effective Asia”), Israel, Russia, and Eastern Europe are already challenging the West’s dominance in many critical areas. Even Iran is not doing too badly considering the circumstances.

In the meantime, one hopes that Thunberg will encounter flotsams of plastic as she yachts towards the upcoming UN powwow in New York. If so, these may turn out to be trash that were supposedly repatriated by Southeast Asian nations but which were dumped en route by ships. To avoid “baseless allegations” like these, Thunberg could try some real environmental work by researching, tabulating and verifying claims that all repatriated trash had indeed reached their destinations in toto, as claimed. Maybe, this is a task too arduous for Thunberg. Let’s leave such little details to an Indian schoolgirl’s future dissertation, shall we? After all, she would have literally had her hands soiled in planting the future while others talked the big talk at big money events.

† The author defines the West as nations west of the Metternich line in Europe as well as the Anglo-American world, including geographically-dispersed nations such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It does not refer to European Civilization.

†† Anyone researching this topic should scrupulously avoid Google.

Health Care Imperialism: Looting The World’s Doctors

To poach and rely on highly skilled foreign workers from poor countries in the public sector is akin to the crime of theft.

—  “Migration of Health Workers: An Unmanaged Crisis,” The Lancet, May 28, 2005

What is striking about the tyranny of the medical industrial complex is not only its unconscionable oppression of the American working class, but also its assault on the health care systems of other countries. These acts of barbarity and pillage allow the Anglo-American elites to keep the countries of the global south in a state of backwardness and dependency, and one of the ways this is done is by enticing doctors from developing nations to abandon their countries and practice in the West.

One such example is India, a country with horrendous unmet health care needs. Snakebites are a serious problem and lead to the deaths of over 45,000 Indians each year, the overwhelming majority of whom are villagers in isolated rural communities. Following a snakebite, the afflicted person often has to travel vast distances to reach a medical facility, typically battling poor roads in the process. An unreliable power grid results in these remote areas having intermittent access to electricity, which exacerbates the problem as the anti-venom must be refrigerated.

So lax are India’s ethics laws that her destitute masses are frequently used as clinical guinea pigs by powerful pharmaceutical companies in the testing of new drugs, which has resulted in tens of thousands of adverse reactions and thousands of fatalities. The number of clinical trials has risen dramatically following a relaxing of drug testing laws that was implemented in 2005, and many of these patients are unable to read the consent forms which are printed in English. India also has an egregious doctor-patient ratio, with less than one doctor for every thousand patients.

Speaking on the troubled state of Indian health care, Tatyarao P. Lahane, MD, said in an interview with The Times of India:

A skewed doctor-patient ratio in our country is the major cause of trouble. In almost all leading countries of the world a doctor in a government hospital checks a maximum of 30 patients a day. In India, any doctor on an average checks at least 150 patients a day.

Inadequate environmental regulations have led to extremely poor air quality, which has likewise contributed to unsatisfactory health outcomes. Furthermore, India’s downtrodden masses continue to be oppressed by an inhuman multi-tier system. In an article titled “More Indians die of treatable diseases than lack of access to healthcare,”  Swagata Yadavar writes:

Poor care quality leads to more deaths than insufficient access to healthcare –1.6 million Indians died due to poor quality of care in 2016, nearly twice as many as due to non-utilisation of healthcare services (838,000 persons).

In addition to these problems that are a pox on Indian society, there are over 59,000 Indian physicians working in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, countries which have the resources to easily train their own doctors. Two thirds of that number work in the US. Lamenting the staggering number of Indian doctors that go abroad in “Doctors For The World: Indian Physician Emigration,” Fitzhugh Mullan writes “that their clinical and political energies will never address the improvement of health care in India.”

In an ironic twist, private hospitals that cater to affluent Indians are turning a profit through the peculiar phenomenon of “medical tourism,” whereby uninsured and underinsured Americans can receive medical care for a minuscule fraction of what they would be billed in the US.

Significant numbers of African doctors, virtually all coming from countries with poor doctor-patient ratios, are lured to practice in the US, and are also beguiled by false promises of excellent training and superior working conditions. Many hail from countries with poor health indicators, such as Ghana, where life expectancy is 63. Moreover, as Jonathan Wolff writes in “Why America Steals Doctors From Poorer Countries“:

If a doctor from Ghana is recruited to the US, not only does Ghana lose its doctor, it loses the money paid for the training. It may be that the doctor is likely to send a portion of earnings back home (known in the development business as “remittances”). But this is scant compensation. In sum, the US is receiving a massive subsidy from the developing world in training its medical staff.

Nigeria has a doctor-patient ratio of one doctor for every five thousand of her citizens, a life expectancy of 55 for men and 56 for women, and a maternal mortality rate of over 800 deaths per 100,000 live births. Over half of Nigeria’s doctors practice abroad.

International medical graduates (IMGs) that hail from developing countries are often sent to work in rural areas where American physicians are reluctant to practice, and yet many never return to their native lands. In an article titled “U.S. Recruiting Africa’s Doctors for Placements No One Wants,” by Austin Drake Bryan, the author writes:

The United States is recruiting the world’s doctors — and from the very places that need MDs the most. Dubbed the “international brain drain,” the United States leads the way in attracting international doctors, especially those from Africa.

The United States, with its high salaries, attracts more international doctors every year than Britain, Canada and Australia combined. However, for every 1000 people, Africa has only 2.3 health care workers, while the United States has almost 25.

IMGs are frequently brought into the US on guest worker visas, and can have their visa revoked if they complain. This bolsters the stranglehold of the health insurance companies, hospital executives, and pharmaceutical companies, and exacerbates the challenges of unionizing a newly proletarianized and increasingly dehumanized workforce. Indeed, foreign doctors on the J-1 visa are particularly vulnerable to abusive and exploitative working conditions. Decrying the exploitation of IMGs in Australia, Sue Douglas, MD, writes in The Australian “that international medical graduates are a vulnerable group that have been exploited by the government, abused by their own profession and ignored by the public.”

In an interview with Pamela Wible, MD, and Corina Fratila, MD, Fratila, who is from Romania, speaks of training in the US and being forced to work 126 hours a week with minimal supervision, while also struggling with the danger of fatal miscommunications that can easily occur between doctors and nurses who are coming from different countries and do not share English as their native language.

Another disturbing trend is the growing number of American medical graduates that do not match into a residency position. In an article published on April 16th, 2019, titled “The National Resident Matching Program No Longer Meets Doctor Needs,” Joe Guzzardi writes:

In the most recent match, which happened last month, 1,162 U.S. medical school seniors and 811 previous U.S. graduates did not match to a residency at a teaching hospital, so nearly 2,000 U.S. grads did not get residency. Without fulfilling residency requirements, doctors can’t practice medicine. In last month’s match as well, 4,028 non-U.S. citizen students/IMGs matched and were granted residency, bringing the total number of IMGs placed in U.S. residencies since 2011 to 31,894.

It is important to remember that residency positions are subsidized through Medicare funds, which are in turn subsidized by the American taxpayer. Passed over for a residency position and often saddled with terrible student loans, some unmatched medical school graduates have even taken their own lives, as exemplified by the tragedy of Robert Chu. The increasing reliance on foreign doctors is also curious, in light of the fact that vast numbers of American high school students are not receiving an education in basic math and science.

A ruthless war is being waged against universal health care, both at home and abroad. US military interventions in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan (under the communists), and Yugoslavia brought about the destruction of comprehensive (and in the case of Afghanistan, burgeoning), single-payer health care systems. Juan Orlando Hernández, the US puppet overseeing the Honduran junta following the putsch that ousted the progressive government of Manuel Zelaya, has taken measures to privatize that country’s health care system. Hence, “democracy has been restored.”

The progressive governments in Cuba and Venezuela both offer free health care to their citizens. Consequently, they are “rogue” states. Syria has been ravaged by the US-NATO-Israel bombing campaigns and the “international community’s” support for a generous array of barbarians and religious fanatics, yet still offers free health care to her citizens. This is also the case with the rebel government in the Donbass which even gives free health care to captured neo-Nazis.

The poaching of foreign doctors is consistent with the desire of the Western elites to keep the global south under the iron heel of subservience and destitution. This devilry has also played a role in transforming the American medical profession into a diabolical sweatshop devoid of unions and labor laws, with the deteriorating rates of infant mortality, life expectancy and maternal mortality that have inexorably followed. To borrow a phrase from Yeats: “anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Unless we find a way to disenthrall ourselves from the despotism of the medical industrial complex, the health care oligarchs will continue to enslave us all.

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.

Poisoned for Profit: We Are Not the Agrochemical Industry’s Guinea Pigs

Environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason has just written to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Chemicals Regulation Division (HSE) in the UK claiming that the glyphosate-based weed killer Roundup has poisoned her nature reserve in South Wales and is also poisoning people across the UK (she includes herself here, as she struggles with a neurodegenerative condition). She notes that the widespread spraying of glyphosate went against the advice of directive 2009/128/EC of the European parliament but was carried out at the behest of the agrochemicals industry.

Mason has sent a 24-page fully referenced document with her letter in support of her claims. It can be accessed in full here. What follows is a brief summary of just a few of the take-home points. There is a lot more in Mason’s document, much of which touches on issues she has previously covered but which nonetheless remain relevant.

The thrust of her open letter to these agencies is that glyphosate is a major contributory factor in spiralling rates of disease and conditions affecting the UK population. She also makes it clear that official narratives — pushed by the pesticides industry, the media and various key agencies — have deliberately downplayed or ignored the role of agrochemicals in this. Instead, the focus has been on the role of alcohol use and obesity, conveniently placing the blame on individual behaviour and the failure of people to opt for ‘healthy lifestyle’ choices.

Mason argues that Monsanto emails released into the public domain have revealed that Roundup was kept on the market by capturing regulatory agencies, corrupting public officials, bribing scientists and engaging in scientific fraud. In addition, she notes that documents show that the European Commission bowed to the demands of pesticide lobbies. Former PM David Cameron, Defra, the European Food Safety Authority, the European Commission and the European Chemicals Agency all ignored the warnings that GM crops and Roundup were hazardous to human health and the environment.

In the run-up to the relicensing of glyphosate in the EU, Mason states that in its analysis the Glyphosate Task Force omitted key studies from South America (where herbicide-tolerant GM crops are grown) that associate Roundup with cancer, birth defects, infertility, DNA damage and neurotoxicity. She refers to many studies in support of her claim that glyphosate is deleterious to human health and the environment. It is worth noting that the European Chemicals Agency has classified glyphosate as a substance causing serious eye damage and toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects.

Mason reserves a special place for Cancer Research UK (CRUK) in her letter, saying that the agency has been hi-jacked by the pesticides industry and has persuaded key figures in the medical establishment to repeat certain claims: that alcohol, cigarette smoking and obesity are the main causes of cancer. She argues that Monsanto and the US EPA have known for a long time that Roundup is carcinogenic.

CRUK recently made a bold statement about its vision to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured. However, Mason asserts this is fantasy for public consumption. She argues there are a huge number of cancers in the UK and their prevalence is increasing each year in tandem with the rising use of glyphosate and other agrochemicals.

Mason provides the statistics:

In the UK, there were 13,605 new cases of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2015 (and 4,920 deaths in 2016): there were 41,804 new cases of bowel cancer in 2015 (and 16,384 deaths in 2016); 12,547 new cases of kidney cancer in 2015 (and 4,619 deaths in 2016); 5,736 new cases of liver cancer in 2015 (5,417 deaths in 2016); 15,906 new cases of melanoma in 2015 (2,285 deaths in 2016); 3,528 new cases of thyroid cancer in 2015 (382 deaths in 2016); 10,171 new cases of bladder cancer in 2015 (5,383 deaths in 2016); 8,984 new cases of uterine cancer in 2015 (2,360 deaths in 2016); 7,270 cases of ovarian cancer in 2015 (4,227 deaths in 2016); 9,900 new cases of leukaemia in 2015 (4,712 deaths in 2016); 55,122 new cases of invasive breast cancer in 2015 (11,563 deaths in 2016); 47,151 new cases of prostate cancer in 2015 (11,631 deaths in 2016); 9,211 new cases of oesophageal cancer in 2015 (8,004 deaths in 2016); and 5,540 new cases of myeloma in 2015 (3,079 deaths in 2016); 2,288 new cases of testicular cancer in 2015 (57 deaths in 2016); 9,921 new cases of pancreatic cancer in 2015 (9,263 deaths in 2016); 11,432 new cases of brain cancer in 2015 (5,250 deaths in 2016); 46,388 new cases of lung cancer in 2015 (and 35,620 deaths in 2016). In the US in 2014 there were 24,050 new cases of myeloma.

Arguing that UK farmers are “drowning” their crops in pesticides, Mason notes that it is therefore not surprising that Pesticide Action Network UK’s analysis of the last 12 years of residue data (published by the Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food) shows there are unacceptable levels of pesticides present in the food provided through the Department of Health’s (DoH) School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS).

Residues of 123 different pesticides were found, some of which are linked to serious health problems such as cancer and disruption of the hormone system. Moreover, residues contained on SFVS produce were higher than those in produce tested under the national residue testing scheme (mainstream produce found on supermarket shelves). However, Mason says that when PAN-UK sent its findings to the DOH, the agency was told that pesticides are not the concern of the DoH.

Perhaps they should be, given what Baskut Tuncak, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, stated in 2017:

Our children are growing up exposed to a toxic cocktail of weed killers, insecticides and fungicides. It’s on their food and in their water, and it’s even doused over their parks and playgrounds. Many governments insist that our standards of protection from these pesticides are strong enough. But as a scientist and a lawyer who specialises in chemicals and their potential impact on people’s fundamental rights, I beg to differ.

He added:

Paediatricians have referred to childhood exposure to pesticides as creating a ‘silent pandemic’ of disease and disability. Exposure in pregnancy and childhood is linked to birth defects, diabetes, and cancer. Because a child’s developing body is more sensitive to exposure than adults and takes in more of everything – relative to their size, children eat, breathe, and drink much more than adults – they are particularly vulnerable to these toxic chemicals. Increasing evidence shows that even at ‘low’ doses of childhood exposure, irreversible health impacts can result.

Tuncak says that most victims cannot prove the cause of their disability or disease and this limits our ability to hold those responsible to account. But this is changing. The public is becoming increasingly aware of the industry’s criminal strategy for keeping Roundup on the market, thanks to the various high-profile litigations in the US. Maybe it’s time for the (taxpayer-funded) agencies Rosemary Mason has continually written to over the years to finally act in the public interest. Or would that be too much to expect?

In finishing, we should take note of the current orchestrated campaign (cheer-led by those outside of India with industry links) to get herbicide-tolerant seeds planted in India. Aside from Bt cotton, GM crops are not allowed in the country. This cynical campaign is aimed at increasing GM seed, glyphosate and other toxic agrochemical sales. Given increasingly saturated markets elsewhere, the global GM seed and herbicide industry regards India as a massive potential money spinner.

However, Punjab took the lead in 2018 and banned glyphosate. Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have since followed. But there is still no nationwide ban. With this in mind, author and academic Ashwani Mahajan has started a petition campaign (here) to stop the use of glyphosate in India.

He says that pesticide companies are taking advantage of farmers’ ignorance about the deadly risks associated with glyphosate. Mahajan notes that industry is sending its agents to approach farmers directly and trap them with attractive promotional offersThis is part of a wider strategy to get farmers to break with effective traditional practices and lure them onto agrochemical (and GMO) treadmills as described in the 2017 paper The Ox Fall Down: Path Breaking and Technology Treadmills in Indian Cotton Agriculture (Glenn Stone and Andrew Flachs).

Farmers are being subjected to slick PR and lured because they are told this herbicide is a cost-effective method to kill weeds quickly. What they are not told is that its effectiveness is limited, that it’s a health and environmental hazard and that it’s a risk to their lives. But it’s not just farmers’ lives that are at risk. We just need to look at the statistics provided earlier in this article to realise the risk to the wider public health.

Finding Reason Beyond the Rage in Kashmir

Kashmir is glorified the world over as paradise on the earth for its scenic beauty, serene valleys, calm and fresh waters, and colourful flora and fauna. But, beyond the gaze of this matrix lies a narrative of pains, sufferings, and broken promises. Caught in the whirlpool of hypersensitive political environs, the Kashmir imbroglio refuses to abate and has assumed multiple forms of uncertainty and chaos with the passage of time.

Many theories have been put forth by the political pundits within and outside the valley, but those theories go astray and turn rudimentary within the framework of time. Like elsewhere, writings on the Kashmir imbroglio were minuscule until the narrative of Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night caught the attention of the readers worldwide regarding the Kashmir problem and gave impetus to further narratives and perspectives on Kashmir which subsequently assumed some weight and authors began to write and rewrite stories on Kashmir.

Kashmir: Rage and Reason by Gowhar Geelani is a fresh narrative on Kashmir which was recently released after publication by Rupa Publications, New Delhi. The book offers fresh insights about a number of themes about Kashmiri nationalism; resistance of the new age and rebellion after the demise of militant commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani in July, 2016. The book is divided into ten chapters, each dealing with a different theme lucidly.

Chapter 1 of the book describes the killing of rebel commander Burhan Wani on 8 July 2016. Burhan Wani became a phenomenon during the years of his militant affiliation. Notably, among the tools used by Wani was social media to further his cause. After Wani’s death militancy was revived.

Chapter 2, “Why Tral Bleeds Green,” the author narrates a series of events that venerate militants.

Chapter 3 examines the struggle in Kashmir, whether vying for homeland or caliphate. The author argues that the struggle of Kashmiris is for political and economic rights, justice, and dignity that predate the birth of India and Pakistan. According to Geelani, it is important to contextualise and historicize the struggle of Kashmiris for independence which can be traced to the 16th century when it was taken over by the Mughals. The author writes that Kashmiri pandits were driven out of the valley by governor Jagmohan. Nonetheless, those who remained back in Kashmir continued to live as brothers and sisters.

In chapter 4, “A nationalism of multiple identities,” the author argues that multiple identities have played a role in rallying public opinion in J&K.The first mobilisation of masses was against Dogra rule in 1931. The 1987 elections are claimed to have been rigged to thwart the rise of the MUF (Muslim United Front), which caused an eruption of militancy in Kashmir.

In chapter 5, “Violence to Non-Violence: A lost opportunity?,” Geelani argues that violence that ravages the state emanates from New Delhi, to which the current generation bears witness. The majority of people in Kashmir are involved in a battle for their unique identity and existence. Preaching peace to Kashmiris in the current atmosphere is considered invective.

In chapter 6 under the theme “A New Language of Resistance,” the author writes about the development of intellectual and narrative resistance in Kashmir, whose outcome is resilience through creative forms of defiance. Words are weapons, so is memory.

Chapter 7, “Hell in Paradise,” narrates the author’s observation of crackdowns, civilian killings, torture, and the exodus of Kashmiri Hindu pandits. Geelani explores the recreation of a communal bond among Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits.

In chapter 8, the author says that truth in Kashmir is overlaid with competing narratives and hermeneutics. Working as journalist is a tough job. Indian journalists, barring a few, have lost their credibility in Kashmir. Indian media provides one-sided coverage and the masses of mainland India have been misguided about the whole situation.

In Chapter 9, the author notes that the world has yet to take cognizance of the Kashmir conflict. Religion, nationalism, cultural and other identities are key to understand the Kashmir imbroglio. For the peace and prosperity of the region, peaceful negotiation is the sine-qua-non condition for its resolution.

The last chapter of the book titled “A Leadership Crisis” tells that pro-Delhi politics indulges in doublespeak in Kashmir. Pro-India politics has severely eroded its credibility in Kashmir. The author ascribes this to the lack of political will and statesmanship in New Delhi, Islamabad, and Srinagar to the current problem. Statesmanship is necessary according to the author for a crisis resolution in Kashmir.

The book has focussed on few major topics; however, other topics regarding political uncertainty also deserve equal attention. Geelani’s Kashmir is articulate and passionate, helping the reader to understand Kashmir in the current global geopolitical context. The book is a must read for those seeking an insight into Kashmir.

The World is Dedollarizing

What if tomorrow nobody but the United States would use the US-dollar? Every country, or society would use their own currency for internal and international trade, their own economy-based, non-fiat currency. It could be traditional currencies or new government controlled crypto-currencies, but a country’s own sovereign money. No longer the US-dollar. No longer the dollar’s foster child, the Euro. No longer international monetary transactions controlled by US banks and – by the US-dollar controlled international transfer system, SWIFT, the system that allows and facilitates US financial and economic sanctions of all kinds – confiscation of foreign funds, stopping trades between countries, blackmailing ‘unwilling’ nations into submission. What would happen? Well, the short answer is that we would certainly be a step closer to world peace, away from US (financial) hegemony, towards nation states’ sovereignty, towards a world geopolitical structure of more equality.

We are not there yet. But graffities are all over the walls signaling that we are moving quite rapidly in that direction. And Trump knows it and his handlers know it which is why the onslaught of financial crime – sanctions, trade wars, foreign assets and reserves confiscations, or outright theft – all in the name of “Make America Great Again”, is accelerating exponentially and with impunity. What is surprising is that the Anglo-Saxon hegemons do not seem to understand that all the threats, sanctions, trade barriers, are provoking the contrary to what should contribute to American Greatness. Economic sanctions, in whatever form, are effective only as long as the world uses the US dollar for trading and as reserve currency.

Once the world gets sick and tired of the grotesque dictates of Washington and the sanction schemes for those who do no longer want to go along with the oppressive rules of the US, they will be eager to jump on another boat, or boats, abandoning the dollar and valuing their own currencies. Meaning trading with each other in their own currencies and that outside of the US banking system which so far even controls trading in local currencies, as long as funds have to be transferred from one nation to another via SWIFT.

Many countries have also realized that the dollar is increasingly serving to manipulate the value of their economy. The US-dollar, a fiat currency, by its sheer money mass, may bend national economies up or down, depending in which direction the country is favored by the hegemon. Let’s put the absurdity of this phenomenon in perspective.

Today, the dollar is based not even on hot air and is worth less than the paper it is printed on. The US GDP is US$ 21.1 trillion in 2019 (World Bank estimate), with current debt of 22.0 trillion, or about 105% of GDP. The world GDP is projected for 2019 at US$ 88.1 trillion (World Bank). According to Forbes, about US$ 210 trillion are “unfunded liabilities” (net present value of future projected but unfunded obligations (75 years), mainly social security, Medicaid and accumulated interest on debt), a figure about 10 times the US GDP, or two and a half times the world’s economic output.

This figure keeps growing, as interest on debt is compounded, forming part of what would be called in business terms ‘debt service’ (interest and debt amortization), but is never ‘paid back’. In addition, there are about one to two quadrillion dollars (nobody knows the exact amount) of so-called derivatives floating around the globe. A derivative is a financial instrument which creates its value from the speculative difference of underlying assets, most commonly derived from such inter-banking and stock exchange oddities, like ‘futures’, ‘options’, ‘forwards’ and ‘swaps’.

This monstrous debt is partly owned in the form of treasury bonds as foreign exchange reserves by countries around the world. The bulk of it is owed by the US to itself – with no plans to ever “pay it back” – but rather create more money, more debt, with which to pay for the non-stop wars, weapon manufacturing and lie-propaganda to keep the populace quiet and in lockstep.

This amounts to a humongous worldwide dollar-based pyramid system. Imagine, this debt comes crashing down, for example, because one or several big (Wall Street) banks are on the brink of bankruptcy, so, they claim their outstanding derivatives, paper gold (another banking absurdity) and other debt from smaller banks. It would generate a chain reaction that might bring down the whole dollar-dependent world economy. It would create an exponential “Lehman Brothers 2008” on global scale.

The world is increasingly aware of this real threat, an economy built on a house of cards, and countries want to get out of the trap, out of the fangs of the US-dollar. It’s not easy with all the dollar-denominated reserves and assets invested abroad, all over the globe. A solution may be gradually divesting them (US-dollar liquidity and investments) and moving into non-dollar dependent currencies, like the Chinese Yuan and the Russian Ruble, or a basket of eastern currencies that are delinked from the dollar and its international payment scheme, the SWIFT system. Beware of the Euro, it’s the foster child of the US-dollar!

There are increasingly blockchain technology alternatives available. China, Russia, Iran and Venezuela are already experimenting with government-controlled cryptocurrencies to build new payment and transfer systems outside the US-dollar domain to circumvent sanctions. India may or may not join this club – whenever the Modi Government decides which way to bend – east or west. The logic would suggest that India orients herself to the east, as India is a significant part of the huge Eurasian economic market and landmass.

India is already an active member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) – an association of countries that are developing peaceful strategies for trade, monetary security and defense, comprising China, Russia, India, Pakistan, most Central Asian countries and with Iran waiting in the wings to become a full-fledged member. As such, SCO accounts for about half of the world population and a third of the world’s economic output. The east has no need for the west to survive. No wonder that western media hardly mention the SCO which means that the western average public at large has no clue what the SCO stands for, and who are its members.

Government-controlled and regulated blockchain technology may become key to counter US coercive financial power and to resist sanctions. Any country is welcome to join this new alliance of countries and new but fast-growing approach to alternative trading – and to finding back to national political and financial sovereignty.

In the same vein of dedollarization are Indian “barter banks”. They are, for example, trading Indian tea for Iranian oil. Such arrangements for goods to be exchanged against Iranian petrol are carried out through Indian “barter banks”, where currencies; i.e., Iranian rials and Indian rupees, are handled by the same bank. Exchange of goods is based on a list of highest monetary volume Indian trade items, against Iranian hydrocarbon products, for example, Iran’s large import of Indian tea. No monetary transaction takes place outside of India, therefore, US sanctions may be circumvented, since no US bank or US Treasury interference can stop the bilateral trade activities.

At this point, it might be appropriate to mention Facebook’s attempt to introduce a globe-spanning cryptocurrency, the Libra. Little is known on how exactly it will (or may) function, except that it would cater to billions of Facebook members around the world. According to Facebook, there are 2.38 billion active members. Imagine, if only two thirds – about 1.6 billion – opened a Libra account with Facebook, the floodgate of Libras around the world would be open. Libra is or would be a privately-owned cryptocurrency – and coming from Facebook – could be destined to replace the dollar by the same people who are now abusing the world with the US-dollar. It may be projected as the antidote to government-controlled cryptocurrencies, thus, circumventing the impact of dedollarization. Beware of the Libra!

Despite US and EU sanctions, German investments in Russia are breaking a 10-year record in 2019, by German business pouring more than €1.7 billion into the Russian economy in the first three months of 2019. According to the Russian-German Chamber of Commerce, the volume of German companies’ investments in Russia is up by 33% – by € 400 million – since last year, when total investments reached € 3.2 billion, the largest since 2008. Despite sanctions which amounted to about € 1 billion combined for 140 German companies surveyed and registered with the Chamber of Commerce, and despite western anti-Russia pressure, Russia-German trade has increased by 8.4 percent and reached nearly € 62 billion in 2018.

In addition, notwithstanding US protests and threats with sanctions, Moscow and Berlin continue their Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project which is expected to be finished before the end of 2019. Not only is the proximity of Russian gas a natural and logical supply source for Germany and Europe, it will also bring Europe independence from the bullying sales methods of the United States. And payments will not be made in US dollars. In the long-run, the benefits of German-Russian business and economic relations will far outweigh the illegal US sanctions. Once this awareness has sunk in, there is nothing to stop Russian-German business associations to flourish, and to attract other EU-Russian business relations – all outside of the dollar-dominated banking and transfer system.

President Trump’s trade war with China will eventually also have a dedollarization effect, as China will seek – and already has acquired – other trading partners, mostly Asian, Asian-Pacific and European with whom China will deal in other than dollar-denominated contracts and outside the SWIFT transfer system, for example, using the Chinese International Payment System (CIPS) which, by the way, is open for international trade by any country across the globe.

This will not only circumvent punishing tariffs on China’s exports (and make US customers of Chinese goods furious, as their Chinese merchandise is no longer available at affordable prices, or no longer available at all), but this strategy will also enhance the Chinese Yuan on international markets and boost the Yuan even further as a reliable reserve currency, even outranking the US-dollar. In fact, in the last 20 years, dollar-denominated assets in international reserve coffers have declined from more than 90% to below 60% and will rapidly decline further as Washington’s coercive financial policies prevail. Dollar reserves are rapidly replaced by reserves in Yuan and gold, and that even in such staunch supporters of the west as is Australia.

Washington also has launched a counter-productive financial war against Turkey, because Turkey is associating and creating friendly relations with Russia, Iran and China, and foremost, because Turkey, a NATO stronghold, is purchasing the Russian S-400 cutting-edge air defense system, a new military alliance which the US cannot accept. As a result, the US is sabotaging the Turkish currency, the Lira which has lost 40% since January 2018.

Turkey will certainly do whatever it can to get out from under the boot of the US-dollar stranglehold and currency sanctions and further ally itself with the East. This amounts to a double loss for the US. Turkey will most likely abandon all trading in US dollars and align her currency with, for example, the Chinese Yuan and the Russian ruble, and, to the detriment of the Atlantic alliance, Turkey may very likely exit NATO. Abandoning NATO will be a major disaster for the US, as Turkey is both strategically, as well as in terms of NATO military power one of the strongest – if not the strongest – nation of the 29 NATO members, outside of the US.

If Turkey exits NATO, the entire European NATO alliance will be shaken and questioned. Other countries, long wary of NATO and of storing NATO’s nuclear weapons on their soils, especially Italy and Germany, may also consider exiting NATO. In both Germany and Italy, a majority of the people is against NATO and especially against the Pentagon waging wars from their NATO bases in their territories in Germany in Italy.

To stem against this trend, the former German Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, from the conservative German CDU party, is being groomed to become Jean-Claude Juncker’s successor as President of the European Commission. Mr. Juncker served since 2014. Ms. Von der Leyen was voted in tonight, 17 July, with a narrow margin of 9 votes. She is a staunch supporter of NATO. Her role is to keep NATO as an integral part of the EU. In fact, as it stands today, NATO is running the EU. This may change, once people stand up against NATO, against the US vassal, the EU Administration in Brussels, and claim their democratic rights as citizens of their nation states.

Europeans sense that these Pentagon initiated and ongoing wars and conflicts, supported by Washington’s European puppet allies, may escalate into a nuclear war, their countries’ NATO bases will be the first ones to be targeted, sinking Europe for the 3rd time in 100 years into a world war. However, this one may be all-destructive nuclear, and nobody knows or is able to predict the damage and destruction of such a catastrophe, nor the time of recovery of Mother Earth from an atomic calamity.

So, let’s hope Turkey exits NATO. It would be a giant step towards peace and a healthy answer to Washington’s blackmail and sabotage against Turkey’s currency. The US currency sanctions are, in the long run, a blessing. It gives Turkey a good argument to abandon the US dollar and gradually shift towards association with eastern moneys, mainly the Chinese Yuan, thereby putting another nail in the US-dollar’s coffin.

However, the hardest blow for Washington will be when Turkey exits NATO. Such a move will come sooner or later, notwithstanding Ms. Von der Leyen’s battle cries for NATO. The breaking up of NATO will annihilate the western power structure in Europe and throughout the world, where the US still maintains more than 800 military bases. On the other hand, the disbanding of NATO will increase the world’s security, especially in Europe – for all the consequences such an exit will bear. Exiting NATO and economically exiting the US-dollar orbit is a further step towards dedollarization, and a blow to US financial and military hegemony.

Finally, investments of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also called the New Silk Road, will be mostly made in Yuan and local currencies of the countries involved and incorporated in one or more of the several BRI land and maritime routes that eventually will span the globe. Some US-dollar investments may serve the People’s Bank of China, China’s Central Bank, as a dollar-divesting tool of China’s huge dollar reserves which currently stands at close to two trillion dollars.

The BRI promises to become the next economic revolution, a non-dollar economic development scheme, over the coming decades, maybe century, connecting peoples and countries – cultures, research and teaching without, however, forcing uniformity, but promoting cultural diversity and human equality – and all of it outside the dollar dynasty, breaking the nefarious dollar hegemony.

• First published at New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

From the Green Revolution to GMOs

Why did the European Food Safety Authority claim that glyphosate was not ecotoxic? This is the question environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason poses in her new 23-page report which can be accessed in full here. In places, the report reads like a compilation of peer-reviewed studies and official reports that have documented the adverse impacts of chemicals used in modern agriculture.

Only a brief outline of Mason’s report is possible here. Readers are urged to consult the document to grasp more detailed insight into the issues she discusses as well as the evidence cited in support of her arguments and claims.

Mason argues that the European Commission has consistently bowed to the demands of the pesticide lobby. In turn, she notes the fraudulent nature of the assessment of glyphosate which led to its relicensing in Europe and thus the continued use of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup. This ongoing support for the pesticide lobby flies in the face of so much evidence pointing to the detrimental effects of Roundup and other agrochemicals on the environment, living organisms, soil, water and human health.

These chemicals have become integral to an increasingly globalised process of agro-industrialisation. Mason discusses the nature of modern farming by referring to the endless corn fields of Iowa. One hundred years ago, these fields were home to 300 species of plants, 60 mammals, 300 birds and thousands of insects. Now, there is almost literally nothing – except corn – in what amounts to a biological desert. The birds, bees and insects have gone.

It’s a type of farming where so much toxic agrochemicals are used that they have ended up in soils and sediment, ditches and drains, precipitation, rivers and streams and even in seas, lakes, ponds, wetlands and groundwater. A type of agriculture that is responsible for undermining essential biodiversity, human health and diverse, nutritious diets.

The report takes us further afield, to the Great Barrier Reef to discuss the destruction of coral by Monsanto’s Roundup and Bayer’s insecticide clothianidin. It is interesting that the pesticide industry and the media tend to blame global warming for the degradation of the reef. Although there have been efforts to grow new corals, Mason states that pesticide run off from farmland means that corals will continue to be destroyed.

She touches on the role of agrochemicals in relation to the decline of the Monarch butterfly and the now well-documented ecological Armageddon due to the dramatic plunge in insect numbers: insects which are vital to soil health and the food web. Numerous studies and reports are presented as well as warnings from scientists and whistleblowers like Henk Tennekes and Evaggelos Vallianatos about the impacts of toxic chemicals in food and agriculture.

Indeed, since the late 1990s, Mason notes that various scientists have written in increasingly desperate tones about biodiversity loss and the impact on humanity as well as the emerging fungal threats to animal, plant and ecosystem health.

Mason also reveals insight into her own struggles with a local authority in Wales over the destruction of her nature reserve due to the council’s spraying of Roundup in the vicinity. Despite numerous open letters and e-mails to UK and European agencies documenting the impacts of this herbicide (some of this correspondence is contained in the report, with responses), her evidence has been ignored and it remains ‘business as usual’.

That’s because global agrochemical conglomerates exert huge political influence at state and international levels. For instance, back in 2017, the Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food was heavily critical of these companies and accused 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”. The authors noted the catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society in general.

At the time, one of the report’s authors, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, said:

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

Her co-author, Baskut Tuncak, the UN’s special rapporteur on toxics, added:

While scientific research confirms the adverse effects of pesticides, proving a definitive link between exposure and human diseases or conditions or harm to the ecosystem presents a considerable challenge. This challenge has been exacerbated by a systematic denial, fuelled by the pesticide and agro-industry, of the magnitude of the damage inflicted by these chemicals, and aggressive, unethical marketing tactics.

In noting the severity of the issue and the driving forces that perpetuate and profit from the chemical-intensive corporatised global food regime, Mason quotes Vandana Shiva:

The ecological crisis, the agrarian crisis, the food crisis, the health and nutrition crisis, the crisis of democracy and sovereignty are not separate crises. They are one. And they are connected through food. The web of life is a food web. When it is ruptured by chemicals and poisons that come from war, and rules of ‘free trade’ that is a war declared by corporations against the earth and humanity, biodiversity is wiped out, farmers are killed through debt, and people die either because of hunger or because of cancer, diabetes, heart problems, hypertension and other environment and food related chronic diseases. Everyone is paying a very high price for corporate greed and dictatorship and collusion of corporate states to spread the toxic empire of corporations in the name of ‘reforms’.

Pesticides include herbicides, insecticides, termiticides, nematicides, rodenticides and fungicides. Today, the pesticide industry is valued at over $50 billion and there are around 600 active ingredients. Herbicides account for approximately 80 per cent of all pesticide use.

Of course, Vandana Shiva’s main focus is on India and the ongoing undermining of its indigenous agriculture by foreign corporations. The potential market for herbicide growth alone in India is huge: sales have probably now reached over $800 million per year in that country, with scope for even greater expansion. And have no doubt the global agrochemical industry has made India a priority, with a push to break traditional weeding practices (‘double-lining’ ox ploughing), seemingly with the intention on nudging farmers towards taking up herbicide-tolerant seeds.

Little wonder too that we currently see industry-connected lobbyists (masquerading as objective scientists or independent ‘science communicators’) residing abroad and encouraging farmers in India to plant these illegal GM seeds in what appears to be an orchestrated campaign. Numerous high-level reports have stated that GM is unsuitable for India. Having lost the debate, the GM/agrochemical lobby has now resorted to a tactic of illegal cultivation.

While touting the supposed virtues of GM agriculture, these lobbyists also spend much of their time promoting the merits of its godparent, the Green Revolution, in an attempt to justify the roll-out of GM seeds and associated herbicides. But emerging academic research indicates that the Green Revolution in India did next to nothing in terms of increasing productivity, despite the well-perpetuated myth that it saved lives and helped avert famine. In fact, in Punjab, the cradle of the Green Revolution in India, this ‘green dream’ has turned into a toxic environmental and human health nightmare.

India produces enough food to feed its population. It does so without GM and could do so agroecologically without synthetic chemicals – without ‘nuking’ nature and without destroying human health. While the agrochemical lobby continues to spin the message that India and the world  need its proprietary inputs to feed the world and eradicate hunger, the reality is – as noted by Hilal Elver and Baskut Tuncak – that we do not.

If we want to look at the causes of hunger and malnutrition, we must first address the deleterious impacts of the water-guzzling, chemical-dependent Green Revolution, so eloquently described by Bhaskar Save in his open letter to officials in 2006 and extremely pertinent given India’s current water emergency; the global capitalist food regime and its undermining of regional food security and food sovereignty; the lack of income to purchase sufficient food; and various other issues, including an erosion of land rights, debt, poverty and food distribution problems.

No amount of genetic engineering or chemicals can address these issues. And no amount of industry-inspired spin can divert attention from the root causes of malnutrition and hunger and genuine (agroecological) solutions.

Encouraging Illegal Planting of Bt Brinjal in India

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

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

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

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

Prominent campaigner Aruna Rodrigues says:

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

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

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

Pro-GMO lobby encourages illegal planting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wider implications of GM agriculture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prominent critics of GM respond

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

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

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

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

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

The authors observe:

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

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

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

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