Category Archives: Monsanto

Bayer Shareholders: Put Health and Nature First and Stop Funding This Company!


Campaigner and environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason has just written an open letter to Bayer Crop Science shareholders and Chairman of the Board Werner Wenning. She has also sent them a 13,000-word report. Mason is appealing to shareholders to put human health and nature ahead of profit and to stop funding Bayer. In her report, she sets out why shareholders should take this course of action.

Mason outlines how the gradual onset of the global extinction of many species is largely the result of chemical-intensive industrial agriculture. For instance, she argues that Monsanto’s (now Bayer) glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide and Bayer’s clothianidin are largely responsible for the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and that the use of glyphosate and neonicotinoid insecticides are wiping out wildlife species across the globe. Mason also argues that the science behind (chemical-dependent) GMOs is fraudulent and that the devastating effects of pesticides on human health can no longer be ignored.

She begins by addressing some of her concerns directly to Werner Wenning and Bayer shareholders. The following is a slightly edited (for clarity) version Mason’s letter to Wenning (and shareholders) and sets the scene for what is in her report.

Dear Mr Wenning,

I have taken the liberty of writing an Open Letter to Bayer Crop Science Shareholders for your next meeting. I apologise because I can’t find the email address of Paul Singer, Founder of Elliott Management Corporation but could you please pass it on. I understand that Elliott disclosed in June that it has a $1.3 billion stake in Bayer and Paul Singer was anxious for a settlement (glyphosate litigation cases in the US).

US District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco suggested a high-profile mediator, Ken Feinberg to lead settlement talks over the herbicide litigation. Has he resolved anything?

I understand that the Monsanto lobbyist organisation Genetic Literacy Project (Founding Director Jon Entine) has suggested that you might take the European Union to Court if they ban glyphosate in 2022. Liam Condon for Bayer Crop Science said: If we feel a scientific process, an established regulatory pathway, is being completely ignored, then of course we’ve got to look at all our options.

As you must be aware, Cancer Research UK protects the agrochemical industry: the CRUK website claims “there is little evidence that pesticides cause cancer.”

Michael Pragnell former Chairman of Cancer Research UK (2010-2017), founder of Syngenta and former Chairman of CropLife International, was awarded a CBE in 2017 for services to cancer research. CropLife International was founded in 2001. As of 2015, CropLife International´s member list included the following eight companies: BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, FMC Corp, Monsanto, Sumitomo and Syngenta. Many of these corporations make their own formulated glyphosate. CRUK said that there was little evidence that pesticides caused cancer. CRUK, the CMO England and PHE, linked cancer to alcohol, obesity and smoking. They blamed the people for ‘lifestyle choices’.

But I have warned Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Under-Secretary of State for Defra, that when the British people wake up to the fact that pesticides are responsible for their reduced life expectancy (and the fact that they spend the last 16-20 years or so in poor health), Defra may be taken to court for re-registering Roundup when they knew it not only caused cancer but a host of other problems that have been outlined in my document.

The 2019 UK State of Nature revealed shocking declines in the natural world 04/10/2019.

Jon Snow, in the Channel 4 Report ‘Extinction Britain: Wildlife survey shows shocking declines in animals’, noted that 14% of UK wildlife faces extinction. Jon Snow has finally told the truth: “We all thought it was climate change. Now we are told we are actually poisoning the land with our agriculture.”

Most UK farmers who manage ‘75% of UK land’ are drowning their crops in pesticides and lobbied to continue this.

The National Farmers’ Union, the Crop Protection Association and the Agricultural Industries Confederation combined to lobby the EU not to restrict the 320+ pesticides available to them.

Global Chemicals Outlook II – From Legacies to Innovative Solutions: Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development March 2019.

Mandated by the UN Environment Assembly in 2016, this agenda seeks to alert policymakers and other stakeholders to the critical role of the sound management of chemicals and waste in sustainable development. It takes stock of global trends as well as progress made and gaps in achieving the global goal to minimize the adverse impacts from chemicals and waste by 2020.

However, there is Continued growth in the pesticide/crop protection industry.

“Pesticides include herbicides, insecticides, termiticides, nematicides, rodenticides and fungicides. These products are largely used for crop protection in agriculture. Today the industry is valued at over US dollars 50 billion and there are around 600 active ingredients. Herbicides account for approximately 80 per cent of all pesticide use (Phillips McDougal 2018).”

Top 10 products used on major crops in the United States by volume, 1968 – 2016 (Phillips McDougal 2018, p. 4).

No 1 Glyphosate (an herbicide, an antibiotic, a fungicide, an antiprotozoal, an organic phosphonate, a growth regulator, a toxicant, a virulence enhancer and is persistent in the soil. It chelates (captures) and washes out the following minerals: boron, calcium, cobalt, copper, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, nickel and zinc. (Monsanto/Bayer),

No 2 metolaclor, an organochlorine, selective herbicide
No 3 pyraclostrobin, a fungicide (Sigma-Aldrich)
No 4 mesotrione, a herbicide (Syngenta)
No 5 thiamethoxam, a systemic neonicotinoid insecticide (Syngenta)
No 6 acetochlor, a herbicide (Monsanto and Zeneca)
No 7 azoxystrobin, a fungicide (Syngenta)
No 8 atrazine, an herbicide and endocrine-disrupting chemical (Syngenta)
No 9 abamectin, an insecticide, an acaricide
No 10 clothianidin, a long acting systemic neonicotinoid insecticide (Bayer)

Bayer Crop Science shareholders, please read the attached document

Do you really want to put your money into two corporations that lied about the safety of their products for more than 40 years and continue to produce BIOCIDES for agriculture; chemicals that are weapons of war and kill all life?

Bayer Crop Science, the former IG Farben, a private chemical company allied with the Nazis in WW2, built a factory and a concentration camp at Auschwitz. IG Farben was probably the most well-known corporate participant in the Holocaust, and the company’s history sheds a chilling light on how genocide became tied in with economics and business.

Rosemary Mason 09/10/2019

Key points for Bayer shareholders to consider

The following lists just some of the key bullet points from Mason’s report. A wide range of peer-reviewed studies are listed in support of the claims made. Readers are strongly urged to access it in full via the acadameia.edu site.

  • Monsanto and pesticide regulators claim that Roundup only affects plants, fungi and bacteria because they have the shikimate pathway which is absent in humans and animals. Their assertion displays considerable ignorance of human physiology. Alternatively, it is deliberately fraudulent. Humans and animals have trillions of bacteria in their gut: the gut microbiome.
  • The gut microbiome is the collective genome of organisms inhabiting our body. Obesity is associated with low bacterial richness in the gut. Glyphosate, the controversial main ingredient in Monsanto‘s Roundup and other herbicides, disrupts the shikimate pathway within these gut bacteria, without which we cannot survive. Glyphosate is a strong chelator of essential minerals. In addition, it kills off beneficial gut bacteria and allows toxic bacteria such as Clostridium difficile to flourish. Two key problems caused by glyphosate residues in our diet are nutritional deficiencies, especially minerals and essential amino-acids, and systemic toxicity.
  • The richness of the human gut microbiome correlates with metabolic markers: we are facing a global metabolic health crisis provoked by an obesity epidemic. Britain and the US are in the midst of a barely reported public health crisis.They are experiencing not merely a slowdown in life expectancy, which in many other rich countries is continuing to lengthen, but the start of an alarming increase in death rates across all our populations, men and women alike. We are needlessly allowing our people to die early.
  • There is a gradual onset of the global extinction of trees and crops. Moreover, the fungicidal action of Roundup is destroying the means by which trees communicate. It would be irresponsible to release genetically engineered trees into the environment.
  • Glyphosateis being connected to Lake Erie’s troubling algae blooms, which has fouled drinking water and suffocated and killed marine life in recent years. Roundup and clothianidin are largely responsible for the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef because the APVMA did not read the instructions.
  • Massive kills of wildlife during flooding now make sense with glyphosate and clothianidin having been found to be toxic to aquatic invertebrates, biocides and immune suppressants.
  • Emerging pathogens are wiping out wildlife species across the globe partly due to immune suppression by glyphosate and neonicotinoid insecticides.
  • The science behind GMOs is fraudulent. US Attorney Steven Druker says that governments and leading scientific institutions have systematically misrepresented the facts about GMOs.
  • In the UK, each year there are steady increases in the numbers of new cancers and increases in deaths from the same cancers, with no treatments making any difference to the numbers.
  • Roundup/glyphosate causes birth defects at low doses.
  • Neurotransmitter changes in the brain derive from exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides.
  • The global legacy of aspartame, Monsanto’s neurotoxic sweetener: Erik Millstone has just analysed EFSA Panel decisions on Aspartame and finds they are biased towards industry (2019 paper).

All of Rosemary Mason’s reports and open letters to officials can be accessed here.

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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Boris Johnson, GMOs and Glyphosate

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

Let’s start now to liberate the UK’s extraordinary bioscience sector from anti-genetic modification rules and let’s develop the blight-resistant crops that will feed the world.

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

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

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

However, pro-Brexiteer Conservative politicians talk of the essential need for Britain and the world to adopt GM is little more than an attempt to justify a post-Brexit trade deal with Washington that will effectively incorporate the UK into the US’s regulatory food regime. The type of ‘liberation’ Johnson really means is the UK adopting unassessed GM crops and food and a gutting of food safety and environmental standards.

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

Rosemary Mason writes to Jonathan Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She says to Jones:

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

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

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

She adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Corporate Capture of Agriculture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Modified

Parts of the documentary Modified are spent at the kitchen table. But it’s not really a tale about wonderful recipes or the preparation of food. Ultimately, it’s a story of capitalism, money and power and how our most basic rights are being eroded by unscrupulous commercial interests.

The film centres on its maker, Aube Giroux, who resides in Nova Scotia, Canada. Her interest in food and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) was inspired by her mother, Jali, who also appears throughout. Aube says that when her parents bought their first house her mother immediately got rid of the lawn and planted a huge garden where she grew all kinds of heirloom vegetables, berries, flowers, legumes and garlic.

“She wanted me and my sister to grow up knowing the story behind the food that we ate, so our backyard was basically our grocery store,” says Aube.

During the film, we are treated not only to various outdoor scenes of the Giroux’s food garden (their ‘grocery store’) but also to Aube and her mother’s passion for preparing homemade culinary delights. The ‘backyard’ is the grocery store and much of Giroux family life revolves around the kitchen and the joy of healthy, nutritious food.

When GMOs first began appearing in food, Aube says that what bothered her mother was that some of the world’s largest chemical companies were patenting these new genetically engineered seeds and controlling the seed market.

In the film, Aube explains, “Farmers who grow GMOs have to sign technology license agreements promising never to save or replant the patented seeds. My mom didn’t think it was a good idea to allow corporations to engineer and then patent the seeds that we rely on for food. She believed that seeds belong in the hands of people.”

As the GMO issue became prominent, Aube became more interested in the subject. It took her 10 years to complete the film, which is about her personal journey of discovery into the world of GMOs. The film depicts a world that is familiar to many of us; a place where agritech industry science and money talk, politicians and officials are all too eager to listen and the public interest becomes a secondary concern.

In 2001, Canada’s top scientific body, The Royal Society, released a scathing report that found major problems with the way GMOs were being regulated. The report made 53 recommendations to the government for fixing the regulatory system and bringing it in line with peer reviewed science and the precautionary principle, which says new technologies should not be approved when there is uncertainty about their long-term safety. To date, only three of these recommendations have been implemented.

Throughout the film, we see Aube making numerous phone calls, unsuccessfully trying to arrange an interview to discuss these issues with Health Canada, the department of the government of Canada that is responsible for national public health.

Meanwhile, various people are interviewed as the story unfolds. We are told about the subverting of regulatory agencies in the US when GMOs first appeared on the scene in the early 1990s: the Food and Drug Administration ignored the warnings of its own scientists, while Monsanto flexed its political muscle to compromise the agency by manoeuvring its own people into positions of influence.

One respondent says, “We’ve had a number of people from Monsanto, many from Dupont, who have actually been in top positions at the USDA and the FDA over the last 20 years, making darn sure that when those agencies did come out with any pseudo-regulation, that it was what these industries wanted. The industry will often say these are the most regulated crops in history… I’m not an expert on the law in many other countries. But I am an expert on the laws in the United States and I can tell you… they are virtually unregulated.”

Aube takes time to find out about genetic engineering and talks to molecular biologists. She is shown how the process of genetic modification in the lab works. One scientist says, “In genetics, we have a phrase called pleiotropic effects. It means that there are other effects in the plant that are unintended but are a consequence of what you’ve done. I wouldn’t be surprised if something came up somewhere along the line that we hadn’t anticipated that’s going to be a problem.”

And that’s very revealing: if you are altering the genetic core of the national (and global) food supply in a way that would not have occurred without human intervention, you had better be pretty sure about the consequences. Many illnesses can take decades to show up in a population.

This is one reason why Aube Giroux focuses on the need for the mandatory labelling of GM food in Canada. Some 64 countries have already implemented such a policy and most Canadians want GM food to be labelled too. However, across North America labelling has been fiercely resisted by the industry. As the film highlights, it’s an industry that has key politicians in its back pocket and has spent millions resisting effective labelling.

In the film, we hear from someone from the agri/biotech industry say that labelling would send out the wrong message; it would amount to fearmongering; it would confuse the public; it would raise food prices; and you can eat organic if you don’t want GMOs. To those involved in the GMO debate and the food movement, these industry talking points are all too familiar.

Signalling the presence of GMOs in food through labelling is about the public’s right to know what they are eating. But the film makes clear there are other reasons for labelling too. To ensure that these products are environmentally safe and safe for human health, you need to monitor them in the marketplace. If you have new allergic responses emerging is it a consequence of GMOs? There’s no way of telling if there is no labelling. Moreover, the industry knows many would not purchase GM food if people were given any choice on the matter. That’s why it has spent so much money and invested so much effort to prevent it.

During the film, we also hear from an Iowa farmer, who says GM is all about patented seeds and money. He says there’s incredible wealth and power to be had from gaining ownership of the plants that feed humanity. And it has become a sorry tale for those at the sharp end: farmers are now on a financially lucrative (for industry) chemical-biotech treadmill as problems with the technology and its associated chemicals mount: industry rolls out even stronger chemicals and newer GM traits to overcome the failures of previous roll outs.

But to divert attention from the fact that GM has ‘failed to yield’ and deliver on industry promises, the film notes that the industry churns out rhetoric, appealing to emotion rather than fact, about saving the world and feeding the hungry to help legitimize the need for GM seeds and associated (health- and environment-damaging) chemical inputs.

In an interview posted on the film’s website, Aube says that genetic engineering is an important technology but “should only take place if the benefits truly outweigh the risks, if rigorous adequate regulatory systems are in place and if full transparency, full disclosure and the precautionary principle are the pillars on which our food policies are based.”

Health Canada has always claimed to have had a science-based GMO regulatory system. But the Royal Society’s report showed that GMO approvals are based on industry studies that have little scientific merit since they aren’t peer reviewed.

For all her attempts, Aube failed to get an interview with Health Canada. Near the end of the film, we see her on the phone to the agency once again. She says, “Well I guess I find it extremely concerning and puzzling that Health Canada is not willing to speak with me… you guys are our public taxpayer funded agency in this country that regulates GMOs, and so you’re accountable to Canadians, and you have a responsibility to answer questions.”

Given this lack of response and the agency’s overall track record on GMOs, it is pertinent to ask just whose interests does Health Canada ultimately serve.

When Aube Giroux started this project, it was meant to be a film about food. But she notes that it gradually became a film about democracy: who gets to decide our food policies; is it the people we elect to represent us, or is it corporations and their heavily financed lobbyists?

Aube is a skilful filmmaker and storyteller. She draws the viewer into her life and introduces us to some inspiring characters, especially her mother, Jali, who passed away during the making of the film. Jali has a key part in the documentary, which had started out as a joint venture between Aube and her mother. By interweaving personal lives with broader political issues, Modified becomes a compelling documentary. On one level, it’s deeply personal. On another, it is deeply disturbing given what corporations are doing to food without our consent – and often – without our knowledge.

For those who watch the film, especially those coming to the issue for the first time, it should at the very least raise concerns about what is happening to food, why it is happening and what can be done about it. The film might be set in Canada, but the genetic engineering of our food supply by conglomerates with global reach transcends borders and affects us all.

Whether we reside in North America, Europe, India or elsewhere, the push is on to co-opt governments and subvert regulatory bodies by an industry which regards GM as a multi-billion cash cow  – regardless of the consequences.

Modified won the 2019 James Beard Foundation award for best documentary and is currently available on DVD. It is due to be released on digital streaming platforms this summer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior to this, in 2017, Rodrigues also said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From GM Potatoes to Glyphosate: Regulatory Delinquency and Toxic Agriculture

Food and environment campaigner Dr Rosemary Mason has just produced the report ‘Shockingly high levels of weedkiller found in popular breakfast cereals marketed for British children’. In this 68-page document, she draws from new research in the UK that mirrors findings from the US about the dangerous levels of glyphosate found in food, especially products aimed at children (glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s weedicide Roundup). Readers can access this report here (which contains all relevant references).

Mason begins by reporting on research that significant levels of weedkiller were found in 43 out of 45 popular breakfast cereals marketed to US children. Glyphosate was detected in an array of popular breakfast cereals, oats and snack bars.

Tests revealed glyphosate was present in all but two of the 45 oat-derived products that were sampled by the Environmental Working Group, a public health organisation. Nearly three in four of the products exceeded what the EWG classes safe for children to consume. Products with some of the highest levels of glyphosate include granola, oats and snack bars made by leading industry names Quaker, Kellogg’s and General Mills, which makes Cheerios.

Back in April, internal emails obtained from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) showed that scientists had found glyphosate on a wide range of commonly consumed food, to the point that they were finding it difficult to identify a food without the chemical on it. In response to these findings, however, The Guardian newspaper in the UK reported that there was no indication that the claims related to products sold outside the US.

In view of this statement by the Guardian, Mason was involved in sending samples of four oat-based breakfast cereals marketed for children in the UK to the Health Research Institute, Fairfield, Iowa, an accredited laboratory for glyphosate testing.

After testing the samples which were sent, Dr Fagan, the institute’s director, said:

The levels consumed in a single daily helping of any one of these cereals, even the one with the lowest level of contamination, is sufficient to put the person’s glyphosate levels above the levels that cause fatty liver disease in rats (and likely in people). (Access the Certificate of Analysis here.)

Just as concerning were results for two ‘organic’ products from the US that were also tested at the time: granola had some glyphosate in it and ‘organic’ rolled oats had even higher levels of the chemical.

Mason argues that the fact such high levels of glyphosate have been found in cereals in Britain should ring alarm bells across Europe, especially as the distribution of glyphosate and aminomethylphosphonic acid in agricultural top soils of the European Union is widespread.

A question of power

As in her previous documents, Mason describes how regulators in the EU and the UK relicensed Roundup for the benefit of the industry-backed Glyphosate Task Force. Even more alarming is that, on the back of Brexit, she notes that a US-UK trade deal could result in the introduction of Roundup ready GM crops in the UK. Indeed, high-level plans for cementing this deal are afoot.

Mason offers worrying data about the increasing use of biocides, especially glyphosate, as well as the subsequent destruction of the global environment due to their use. As usual, she produces a very data-rich report which draws on many sources, including official reports and peer-reviewed papers.

Of course, there is a strong focus on Monsanto. Aside from the use of glyphosate, she also documents the impact of the company’s presence in Wales, where she lives, with regard to the dumping of toxic chemicals (PCBs) from its manufacturing site there between 1949 and 1979, the effects of which persist and still plague the population and the environment.

Mason asks: “Monsanto has been bought up by Bayer, so the Monsanto name has disappeared but where are the Monsanto executives hiding?”

She is aware, of course, that such figures don’t have to hide anywhere. The company ‘got away with it’ in Wales. And its recent crop of executives received huge ‘golden handshakes’ after the Bayer deal despite them having perpetuated a degenerative model of industrial agriculture. A model that has only secured legitimacy by virtue of the power of the global agritech lobby to lock in a bogus narrative of success, as outlined in the report ‘From Uniformity to Diversity’ by The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems.

As that report notes, locking farmers into corporate-dependent treadmills, state support of (export) commodity cropping via subsidies and the discounting of the massive health, environment and social costs of industrial agriculture ensures that model prevails and makes it appear successful. If you base your food regime on short-term thinking and a reductionist yield-output paradigm and define success within narrow confines, then the model is a sure-fire winner – for corporate growth (profit) if little else.

Without being able to externalise the health, social and environmental costs of its actions and products, this model would not be viable for the corporations involved. Widening the parameters to properly evaluate ‘success’ entails asking the industry questions that it finds very difficult to gloss over, not least what has been the cost of input-(biocide)dependent yields of commodities in terms of pollution, health, local food security and caloric production, nutrition per acre, water tables, soil quality and structure and new pests and disease pressures?

Why have African countries been turned from food exporters to food importers? Why is land in South America being used for Roundup Ready crops to feed the appetite for meat in rich countries, while peasant farmers who grew food for themselves and local communities have been displaced?

And what are the effects on once thriving rural communities; on birds, insects and biodiversity in general; on the climate as a result of chemical inputs and soil degradation; and what have been the effects of shifting towards globalised production chains, especially in terms of transportation and fossil fuel consumption?

The global food regime degrades public health and the environment, and it has narrowed the range of crops grown, resulting in increasingly monolithic, nutrient-deficient diets. Yet the powerful industry lobby calls for more deregulation and more techno-fixes like GMOs to ‘feed the world’. This is in spite of the fact that hunger and malnutrition are political: these phenomena are in large part the outcome of a global capitalist food regime that, with help from IMF/World Bank geopolitical lending strategies and WTO rules, has undermined food security for vast sections of the global population by creating a system that by its very nature drives inequality, injustice and creates food deficit areas.

Moving to a more sustainable model of agriculture based on localisation, food sovereignty and agroecology calls for a different world view. Proponents of industrial agriculture are resistant to this because it would harm what has become a highly profitable system based on the capture of political, research and media institutions.

And this is where we return to Rosemary Mason. If there is an overriding theme within her work over the years, it is corruption at high levels which facilitate much of the above. For instance, she notes the determination of the UK government, working hand in glove with global agribusiness, to ensure certain biocide products remain on the market and to help major corporations avoid any culpability for their health- and environment-damaging practices and chemicals.

Mason and various whistleblowers and writers have over the years described how these corporations have become institutionally embedded within high-profile public bodies and scientific research policy initiatives. Regulatory delinquency, institutionalised corruption and complete disregard for the health and well-being of the public is the order of the day.

GMOs and a post-Brexit deal with the US

If the UK is about to introduce GM crops into its fields on the back of a post-Brexit deal with the Trump administration, then it should take heed of what the ex-director of J.R. Simplot and team leader at Monsanto Dr Caius Rommens says in his new book:

The main problem about the current process for deregulation of GMO crops is that it is based on an evaluation of data provided by the developers of GMO crops. There is a conflict of interest. I propose that the safety of GMO crops is assessed by an independent group of scientists trained at identifying unintended effects.

This former high-level Monsanto researcher of potatoes now acknowledges that genetic engineers had limited insight into the effects of their experiments. Genetic engineering passes off the inherent uncertainty, unintended consequences and imprecision of its endeavours as unquestionable certainty. And the USDA accepts industry information and reassurances.

After finding that most GMO varieties of potatoes that he was involved in developing were stunted, chlorotic, mutated or sterile, and many of them died quickly, Rommens renounced his genetic engineering career and wrote a book about his experiences, ‘Pandora’s Potatoes: The Worst GMOs’.

In an interview with GMWatch, Rommens is asked why regulators in the US, Canada and Japan, which have approved these potatoes, are ignoring these aspects.

Rommens responds:

The standard tests needed to ensure regulatory approval are not set up to identify unintended effects. They are meant to confirm the safety of a GM crop, not to question their safety. None of the issues I address in my book were considered by the regulatory agencies.

A damning indictment of regulatory delinquency based on ‘don’t look, don’t find’. GMOs have nonetheless become the mainstay of US agriculture. Now the industry is rubbing its hands in anticipation of Brexit, which would pry the UK from the EU and its precautionary principle-based regulation of GMOs.

The push to open up Britain to globalisation in the 1980s ushered in a free-for-all for global capital to determine the future direction of a deregulated UK. Three decades down the line, the consequences are clear for food, agriculture, democracy and public health. The worrying thing is that thanks to Brexit, it could be the case that even worse is yet to come!

GMO Agriculture and the Narrative of Choice

The pro-GMO lobby claim critics of the technology ‘deny farmers choice’. They say that farmers should have access to a range of tools and technologies. It is all about maximising choice and options. Taken at face value, who would want to deny choice?

At the same time, however, we do not want to end up offering a false choice (rolling out technologies that have little value and only serve to benefit those who control the technology), to unleash an innovation that has an adverse impact on those who do not use it or to manipulate a situation whereby only one option is available because other options have been deliberately made unavailable or less attractive. And we would certainly not wish to roll out a technology that traps farmers on a treadmill that they find difficult to get off.

When discussing choice, it is can be very convenient to focus on end processes (choices made available – or denied – to farmers at the farm level), while ignoring the procedures and decisions that were made in corporate boardrooms, by government agencies and by regulatory bodies which result in the shaping and roll-out of options.

Where GMOs are concerned, Steven Druker argues that the decision to commercialise GM seeds and food in the US was based on regulatory delinquency. Druker indicates that if the US Food and Drug Administration had heeded its own experts’ advice and publicly acknowledged their warnings about risk, the GM venture would have imploded and would have never gained traction

It is fine to talk about choice while ignoring what amounts to a subversion of democratic processes, which could result in (and arguably is resulting in) changing the genetic core of the world’s food. Whose ‘choice’ was it to do this? Was the choice given to the US public, the consumers of GM food? Did ordinary people choose for GM food to appear on their supermarket shelves?

No, that choice was denied. The decision was carried out above their heads, ultimately to benefit Monsanto’s bottom line and to gain strategic leverage over global agriculture. And, now that GM food is on the market, can they choose whether to buy it? Again, the answer is no. The massive lobbying firepower of GMO agritech and food corporations have ensured this food is unlabelled and the public has been denied the right to choose.

Of course, let’s not also forget that the GMO venture, like the original Green Revolution, often works with bio-pirated germplasm: little more than theft from the Global South to be tweaked and sold back as hybrid or patented GM seeds to the Global South (read The Great Seed Piracy)

But any serious discussion about the corporate capture of agriculture, seed patenting, the role of the WTO or World Bank, or issues concerning dependency, development and ensuring genuine food security by addressing the dynamics of neoliberal capitalism (globalisation), are often shouted down by pro-GMO scientists and their supporters with accusations of ‘conspiracy theory’. Based on my own personal experience, this even occurs when referring to the work of respected academics who are sneered at as non-scientists and whose PhDs and the peer-reviewed journals their work appear in are somehow unworthy of recognition.

Yet, aside from the issues mentioned above which need to be addressed if we are to achieve equitable global food security (issues the pro-GMO lobby and its prominent scientists in academia seem to not want to discuss – for them, the ‘conspiracy’ slur will suffice), the fact is that the industry has placed GM on the market fraudulently, is complicit in seed piracy and has fought hard to deny consumer choice by using its political and financial clout along the way to undermine democratic processes. Issues that are highly relevant to any discussion about ‘choice’.

(For the sake of brevity, Monsanto’s subversion of science and issues emerging from the ‘Monsanto Papers’ will be put to one side, as this has been presented on numerous occasions elsewhere.)

What are critics denying?

So, just what is it that critics are said to be denying farmers when it comes to the right to choose?

Pro-GMO activists say that GM crops can increase yields, reduce the use of agrochemicals and are required if we are to feed the world. To date, however, the track record of GMOs is unimpressive.

In India and Burkina Faso, for example, Bt cotton has hardly been a success. And although critics are blamed for Golden Rice not being on the market, this is a convenient smokescreen that attempts to hide the reality that after two decades problems remain with the technology.

Moreover, a largely non-GMO Europe tends to outperform the US, which largely relies on GM crops. In general, “GM crops have not consistently increased yields or farmer incomes, or reduced pesticide use in North America or in the Global South (Benbrook, 2012; Gurian-Sherman, 2009)” (from the report ‘Persistent narratives, persistent failure’).

GM agriculture is not ‘feeding the world’, nor has it been designed to do so: the companies that push GM are located firmly within the paradigm of industrial agriculture and associated power relations that shape a ‘stuffed and starved’ strategy resulting in strategic surpluses and scarcities across the globe. The choice for farmers between a technology that is so often based on broken promises and non-GMO agriculture offers little more than a false choice.

“Currently available GM crops would not lead to major yield gains in Europe,” says Matin Qaim, a researcher at Georg-August-University of Göttingen, Germany.

Consider too that once the genetic genie is out of the bottle, there may be no way of going back. For instance, Roger Levett, specialist in sustainable development, argues:

If some people are allowed to choose to grow, sell and consume GMO foods, soon nobody will be able to choose food, or a biosphere, free of GMOs. It’s a one-way choice… once it’s made, it can’t be reversed. ((Choice: Less can be more, in Food Ethics, Vol. 3, No. 3, Autumn 2008.)

There is much evidence showing that GM and non-GM crops cannot co-exist. Indeed, contamination seems to be part of a cynical industry strategy. For instance, GM food crops are already illegally growing in India.

And if we turn our attention to India, recent reports indicate that herbicide tolerant (HT) cotton seeds are now available in certain states. Bt cotton (designed to be pest resistant) is the only legally sanctioned GM crop in India. HT crops are not only illegal in India but have led to serious problems in countries where they are used. The Supreme Court-appointed TEC Committee said that such crops are wholly inappropriate for India.

It seems that, however, according to reports, many farmers are ‘choosing’ to buy these seeds.  And this is where the pro-GMO activists jump in and yell their mantra about offering choice to farmers.

Regardless of the laws of the country being violated, things are not that simple.

Manufacturing ‘choice’

Professor Glenn Stone has conducted extensive field research concerning India’s cotton farmers. By employing the concept of technology treadmills as well as environmental, social and didactic learning, he can help us understand the ‘choices’ that farmers make.

Stone has noted where Bt cotton has been concerned, any decision by farmers to plant GM seeds was not necessarily based on objective decision-making.  There was no experimentation or the testing of seeds within agroecological contexts by farmers as has been the case traditionally.

On the back of a national media campaign about the miracle wonder seeds and a push by Monsanto to get Bt cotton into India in the 1990s, farmers eventually found themselves at the mercy of seed vendors who sold whatever seed they had in stock, regardless of what the farmers wanted. Without agricultural support services from trusted non-governmental organisations, farmers had to depend on local shopkeepers. They believed they were buying the latest and best seeds and created a rush on whatever supplies were available.

The upshot is that traditional knowledge, testing and evaluations by farmers in the field was undermined or broke down and, in many respects, gave way to an unregulated industry-orchestrated free for all. ‘Environmental learning’ gave way to ‘social learning’ (farmers merely emulated one another).

However, in agriculture, environmental learning has gone on for thousands of years. Farmers experimented with different plant and animal specimens acquired through migration, trading networks, gift exchanges or accidental diffusion. By learning and doing, trial and error, new knowledge was blended with older, traditional knowledge systems.

Farmers took measures to manage drought, grow cereals with long stalks that can be used as fodder, engage in cropping practices that promote biodiversity, ethno-engineer soil and water conservation, use self-provisioning systems on farm recycling and use collective sharing systems such as managing common resource properties. In short, farmers knew their micro-environment.

To get farmers onto a corporate technology treadmill, environmental learning pathways have to be broken, and Stone offers good insight into how this occurred with Bt cotton and is now happening with HT cotton. He describes how traditional ‘double-lining’ ox ploughing is breaking down due to ‘didactic learning’ under the promise of increased productivity. After having adopted ‘single-lining’ ploughing (as advocated by didactic ‘teachers’), this promise does not seem to have materialised. However, the farmer is now faced with more weeds.

So, who could blame the farmer for being attracted towards HT cotton and the purchasing of herbicides as a perceived easy fix when faced with an increase in weeds and government policies that have inadvertently increased farm labour costs?

The breaking with traditional practices (or pathways) to implement fresh approaches (which fail to deliver much benefit) can be regarded as part of the process of nudging farmers towards seeking out alternative options to deal with the new problems that arise (the beginning of the treadmill).

It is highly convenient that illegal HT seeds now seem widely available. It dovetails with Monsanto’s stated plan to boost herbicide sales in India (which it regards as a potentially massive growth market). And if farmers demand these seeds, (farmers are a huge vote bank for politicians), Monsanto (now Bayer) might eventually achieve what is has been pushing for all along: India embracing GM agriculture.

In effect, Stone (with his colleague Andrew Flachs) helps us to understand how ‘didactic learning’ (which Monsanto has been undertaking with Indian farmers since the 1990s) can result in driving farmers towards the very option and very choice Monsanto wants them to make. Stone and Flachs also make it clear that once farmers are on an agrochemical/agritech treadmill, it is very difficult for them to get off, even when they are aware it is failing.

A question of power

When the pro-GMO lobby uses ‘choice’ as a stick to hit critics with, it fails to acknowledge these processes, which powerful agritech players are cynically manipulating for their own ends. In other words, ‘choices’ or options must be understood within the broader context of power.

Choice is also about the options that could be made available, but which have been closed off or are not even considered. Take the case of Andhra Pradesh in India. The state government is committed to scaling up zero budget natural farming to six million farmers by 2024. In Ethiopia, agroecology has been scaled up across the entire Tigray region. These types of initiatives are succeeding because of enlightened political leaders and the commitment of key institutions.

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

This perceived legitimacy allows these corporations to devise and implement policies on national and international levels. For example, it was Monsanto that had a leading role in drafting the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights to create seed monopolies. The global food processing industry wrote the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. Whether it involves Codex or the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture aimed at restructuring Indian agriculture, the powerful agribusiness/food lobby has secured privileged access to policy makers.

So how can the pro-GMO lobby assert with any degree of credibility that it is a bunch of activists curtailing or defining choice when it has been powerless to prevent any of this, either at ‘field level’ in places like India or within governments and international bodies?

As Stone and Flachs describe, it is Monsanto – a Fortune 500 company with all its influence and wealth (not ‘anti-GMO activists’) – that has taken its brand of corporate activism (imperialism) to farmers to expand its influence and boost its bottom line:

“Beginning with 500 farmer programs in 2007, Monsanto India targeted a range of farmers through an herbicide research program… They also conducted more than 10,000 farm demonstrations directed at small and large farmers in 2012 to raise awareness of Roundup® and discourage knockoff products.. These efforts build on Monsanto’s didactic activities since the late 1990s. For instance, in Andhra Pradesh the Meekosam Project placed Monsanto employees in villages to demonstrate products and promote hybrid seeds and chemical inputs…”

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

Whether it involves the destruction of indigenous agriculture in Africa or the ongoing dismantling of Indian agriculture at the behest of transnational agribusiness, where is the democratic ‘choice’?

Ukraine’s agriculture sector is being opened up to Monsanto. Iraq’s seed laws were changed to facilitate the entry of Monsanto. India’s edible oils sector was undermined to facilitate the entry of Cargill. And Bayer’s hand is possibly behind the ongoing strategy behind GM mustard in India. Through secretive trade deals, strings-attached loans and outright duplicity, the global food and agribusiness conglomerates have scant regard for democracy, let alone choice.

As Michel Chossudovsky outlines in his book The Globalization of Poverty (2003), the ongoing aim is to displace localised, indigenous methods of food production and allow transnational companies to take over, thereby tying farmers and regions into a system of neoliberal globalization. Whether it involves the undermining or destruction of what were once largely self-sufficient agrarian economies or what we are currently seeing in India, the agenda is clear.

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

These natural assets (‘the commons’) should be under common stewardship and managed in the common interest by local people assisted by public institutions and governments acting on their behalf because that’s the bottom line where genuine choice is concerned.

And how can we move towards this? It is already happening: we should take inspiration from the many successful agroecological projects around the world.

The Bayer-Monsanto Merger Is Bad News for the Planet

Bayer and Monsanto have a long history of collusion to poison the ecosystem for profit. The Trump administration should veto their merger not just to protect competitors but to ensure human and planetary survival.

Two new studies from Europe have found that the number of farm birds in France has crashed by a third in just 15 years, with some species being almost eradicated. The collapse in the bird population mirrors the discovery last October that over three quarters of all flying insects in Germany have vanished in just three decades. Insects are the staple food source of birds, the pollinators of fruits, and the aerators of the soil.

The chief suspect in this mass extinction is the aggressive use of neonicotinoid pesticides, particularly imidacloprid and clothianidin, both made by German-based chemical giant Bayer. These pesticides, along with toxic glyphosate herbicides (Roundup), have delivered a one-two punch against Monarch butterflies, honeybees and birds. But rather than banning these toxic chemicals, on March 21st the EU approved the $66 billion merger of Bayer and Monsanto, the US agribusiness giant producing Roundup and the genetically modified (GMO) seeds that have reduced seed diversity globally. The merger will make the Bayer-Monsanto conglomerate the largest seed and pesticide company in the world, giving it enormous power to control farm practices, putting private profits over the public interest.

As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D.-Mass.) noted in a speech in December before the Open Markets Institute, massive companies are merging into huge market-dominating entities that invest a share of their profits in lobbying and financing political campaigns, shaping the political system to their own ends. She called on the Trump administration to veto the Bayer-Monsanto merger, which is still under antitrust scrutiny and has yet to be approved in the US.

A 2016 survey of Trump’s voter base found that over half disapproved of the Monsanto/Bayer merger, fearing it would result in higher food prices and higher costs for farmers. Before 1990, there were 600 or more small independent seed businesses globally, many of them family owned. By 2009, only about 100 survived; and seed prices had more than doubled. But reining in these powerful conglomerates is more than just a question of economics. It may be a question of the survival of life on this planet.

While Bayer’s neonicotinoid pesticides wipe out insects and birds, Monsanto’s glyphosate has been linked to over 40 human diseases, including cancer. Its GMO seeds have been genetically modified to survive this toxic herbicide, but the plants absorb it into their tissues; and in the humans who eat them, glyphosate disrupts the endocrine system and the balance of gut bacteria, damages DNA and is a driver of cancerous mutations. Researchers summarizing a 2014 study of glyphosates in the Journal of Organic Systems linked them to the huge increase in chronic diseases in the United States, with the percentage of GMO corn and soy planted in the US showed highly significant correlations with hypertension, stroke, diabetes, obesity, lipoprotein metabolism disorder, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, hepatitis C, end stage renal disease, acute kidney failure, cancers of the thyroid, liver, bladder, pancreas, kidney and myeloid leukaemia. But regulators have turned a blind eye, captured by corporate lobbyists and a political agenda that has more to do with power and control them protecting the health of the people.

The Trump administration has already approved a merger between former rivals Dow and DuPont, and has  signed off on the takeover of Swiss pesticide giant Syngenta by ChemChina.  If Monsanto/Bayer gets approved as well, just three corporations will dominate the majority of the world’s seed and pesticide markets, giving them enormous power to continue poisoning the planet at the expense of its living inhabitants.

The Shady History of Bayer and the Petrochemical Cartel

To understand the magnitude of this threat, it is necessary to delve into some history. This is not the first time Monsanto and Bayer have joined forces.  In both world wars, they made explosives and poisonous gases using shared technologies that they sold to both sides. After World War II, they united as MOBAY (MonsantoBayer) and supplied the ingredients for Agent Orange in the Vietnam War.

In fact corporate mergers and cartels have played a central role in Bayer’s history. In 1904, it joined with German giants BASF and AGFA to form the first chemical cartel. After World War I, Germany’s entire chemical industry was merged to become I.G. Farben. By the beginning of World War II, I.G. Farben was the largest industrial corporation in Europe, the largest chemical company in the world, and part of the most gigantic and powerful cartel in all history.

A cartel is a grouping of companies bound by agreements designed to restrict competition and keep prices high. The dark history of the I.G. Farben cartel was detailed in a 1974 book titled World Without Cancer by G. Edward Griffin, who also wrote the best-selling Creature from Jekyll Island on the shady history of the Federal Reserve. Griffin quoted from a book titled Treason’s Peace by Howard Ambruster, an American chemical engineer who had studied the close relations between the German chemical trust and certain American corporations. Ambruster warned:

Farben is no mere industrial enterprise conducted by Germans for the extraction of profits at home and abroad.  Rather, it is and must be recognized as a cabalistic organization which, through foreign subsidiaries and secret tie-ups, operates a far-flung and highly efficient espionage machine — the ultimate purpose being world conquest . . . and a world superstate directed by Farben.109

The I.G. Farben cartel arose out of the international oil industry.  Coal tar or crude oil is the source material for most commercial chemical products, including those used in drugs and explosives.  I.G. Farben established cartel agreements with hundreds of American companies. They had little choice but to capitulate after the Rockefeller empire, represented by Standard Oil of New Jersey, had done so, since they could not hope to compete with the Rockefeller/I.G. combination.

The Rockefeller group’s greatest influence was exerted through international finance and investment banking, putting them in control of a wide spectrum of industry. Their influence was particularly heavy in pharmaceuticals.  The directors of the American I.G. Chemical Company included Paul M. Warburg, brother of a director of the parent company in Germany and a chief architect of the Federal Reserve System.

The I.G. Farben cartel was technically disbanded at the Nuremberg War Trials following World War II, but, in fact, it merely split into three new companies — Bayer, Hoescht and BASF — which remain pharmaceutical giants today. In order to conceal its checkered history, Bayer orchestrated a merger with Monsanto in 1954, giving rise to the MOBAY Corporation. In 1964, the US Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit against MOBAY and insisted that it be broken up, but the companies continued to work together unofficially.

In Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation (2007), William Engdahl states that global food control and depopulation became US strategic policy under Rockefeller protégé Henry Kissinger, who was Secretary of State in the 1970s. Along with oil geopolitics, these policies were to be the new “solution” to the threats to US global power and continued US access to cheap raw materials from the developing world. “Control oil and you control nations,” Kissinger notoriously declared. “Control food and you control the people.”

Global food control has nearly been achieved, by reducing seed diversity and establishing proprietary control with GMO seeds distributed by only a few transnational corporations led by Monsanto; and by a massive taxpayer-subsidized propaganda campaign in support of GMO seeds and neurotoxic pesticides. A de facto cartel of giant chemical, drug, oil, banking and insurance companies connected by interlocking directorates reaps the profits at both ends, by waging a very lucrative pharmaceutical assault on the diseases created by their toxic agricultural chemicals.

Going Organic: The Russian Approach

In the end, the Green Revolution engineered by Henry Kissinger to control markets and ensure US economic dominance may be our nemesis. While the US struggles to maintain its hegemony by economic coercion and military force, Russia is winning the battle for the health of the people and the environment. Vladimir Putin has banned GMOs and has set out to make Russia the world’s leading supplier of organic food.

Russian families are showing what can be done with permaculture methods on simple garden plots. In 2011, 40% of Russia’s food was grown on dachas (cottage gardens or allotments), predominantly organically. Dacha gardens produced over 80% of the country’s fruit and berries, over 66% of the vegetables, almost 80% of the potatoes and nearly 50% of the nation’s milk, much of it consumed raw. Russian author Vladimir Megre comments:

Essentially, what Russian gardeners do is demonstrate that gardeners can feed the world – and you do not need any GMOs, industrial farms, or any other technological gimmicks to guarantee everybody’s got enough food to eat. Bear in mind that Russia only has 110 days of growing season per year – so in the US, for example, gardeners’ output could be substantially greater. Today, however, the area taken up by lawns in the US is two times greater than that of Russia’s gardens – and it produces nothing but a multi-billion-dollar lawn care industry.

In the US, only about 0.6 percent of the total agricultural area is devoted to organic farming. Most farmland is soaked in pesticides and herbicides. But the need for these toxic chemicals is a myth. In an October 2017 article in The Guardian, columnist George Monbiot cited studies showing that reducing the use of neonicotinoid pesticides actually increases production, because the pesticides harm or kill the pollinators on which crops depend. Rather than an international trade agreement that would enable giant transnational corporations to dictate to governments, he argues that we need a global treaty to regulate pesticides and require environmental impact assessments for farming. He writes:

Farmers and governments have been comprehensively conned by the global pesticide industry. It has ensured its products should not be properly regulated or even, in real-world conditions, properly assessed. … The profits of these companies depend on ecocide. Do we allow them to hold the world to ransom, or do we acknowledge that the survival of the living world is more important than returns to their shareholders?

President Trump has boasted of winning awards for environmental protection. If he is serious about protecting the environment, he needs to block the merger of Bayer and Monsanto, two agribusiness giants bent on destroying the ecosystem for private profit.

• This article was originally published on Truthdig.com.