All posts by Colin Todhunter

Illegal Bt Brinjal In India: A Call To Initiate Criminal Proceedings Against Regulators And Corporations

What is the point in central government orders and carefully thought out regulatory norms if government officials and regulators act with blatant disregard? This is precisely what we now see happening in India where genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are concerned.

India has the greatest brinjal germplasm in the world with 2,500 varieties, including wild species. Following news in April that (genetically engineered) Bt brinjal is being illegally cultivated in Haryana, prominent campaigner and environmentalist Aruna Rodrigues says:

These varieties are now under threat of irreversible contamination (cross-pollination) because of cumulative acts over time of senseless and criminally irresponsible regulatory oversight. More properly expressed: a virtual vacuum in GMO regulation.

The cultivation of Bt brinjal (aubergine/eggplant) contravenes the indefinite moratorium that currently exists on the commercial release of Bt brinjal in India.

The moratorium has been in place since 2010 following a unique four-month scientific enquiry and public hearings regarding field trial data and crop developer Mayhco’s application for the commercialisation of Bt brinjal. Back then, the decision to reject commercialisation was supported by advice that the then Minister Jairam Ramesh received from several renowned international scientists.

At the time, Ramesh’s decision to place a moratorium on Bt brinjal was founded on what he called “a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach.” The moratorium is still in place and has not been lifted. All the environmental and health hazards acknowledged at the time remain.

Legal notice issued

On 12 May 2019, Prashant Bhushan, public interest lawyer in the Supreme Court of India, issued a legal notice in a letter to Harsh Vardhan, Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The letter discusses the violation of the moratorium on the commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal. Given the gravity of the matter, the letter is also to be distributed to the prime minister, the minister of agriculture and all members of parliament.

The letter also includes a lab report: a definitive test carried out at accredited laboratory SGS in Ahmedabad, which states that the brinjal sample from Haryana sent to it tested positive for a plant GMO: the test confirms that the brinjal in question is genetically modified.

Aruna Rodrigues paid for the test herself and says:

When this news about the cultivation of Bt brinjal came out in April – knowing our regulators bent of mind, intent, conflict of interest and undiluted support of the biotech industry, knowing they probably welcome this – I decided to get a definitive test done at an accredited lab. I paid for it of course. It is civil society that is keeping a watchful eye on the biosafety of India, not the government.

She adds that the planting of Bt brinjal in Haryana is an egregious violation of a central government order:

This is not only an illegal planting of a GMO food that has not been approved, but a gross violation of an active central government indefinite order. This raises the violation to a different level and order of magnitude. It is the most serious breach of India’s biosafety, brinjal genetic diversity and therefore biosecurity of India.

In a similar vein, Prashant Bhushan’s letter discusses blatant regulatory malfeasance regarding Bt cotton, herbicide-tolerant cotton seeds (now also illegally available in the country) and the illegal import of other GM seeds of various food crops. He also informs the minister in some detail about the issues surrounding Bt Brinjal and the reasons for the moratorium in 2010. Bt cotton is India’s only legal GM crop (a Mahyco-Monsanto venture): that too involved a strategy of illegally cultivate then approve. It’s an industry tactic.

Bhushan notes:

ln the fourteen years since the filing of a PIL (Aruna Rodrigues v Union of lndia) for a moratorium on GMOs in 2005, there has been a disregard for the most basic norms governing the regulation of GlVlOs in lndia.

Further on in his letter, he states:

l am constrained to say that we are looking at a collective failure of our regulatory bodies and connected institutions, with the final blame falling squarely on the apex regulator, the GEAC (Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee) in your Ministry, the body solely responsible for all environmental releases of GMOs. The illegal planting of Bt brinjal demonstrates the vacuum that exists in the oversight of GMOs in lndia.

Bhushan makes it clear that the current situation represents the most dire and unconscionable violation of lndia’s constitutional safeguards of its biosecurity and biosafety with potentially irreversible consequences:

These matters justify criminal proceedings being initiated against individuals and corporations that have participated in and facilitated the illegal sale and cultivation of Bt brinjal. ln the event of any contamination, the GEAC/others may be in contempt of the supreme court’s order of “No contamination”. Any delay on the part of your ministry in taking swift and strict action to stop the spread of Bt brinjal may not only be illegal but constitute contempt as well.

Source of seeds

So, just where did these Bt Brinjal seeds come from?

In a report in the Hindustan Times (12 May), it is stated that the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) says it had not stored any GM seeds from the field trials conducted prior to the moratorium in 2010. Mahyco and the two universities (Tamil Nadu Agricultural University and University of Agricultural Sciences in Karnataka) involved in the trials were in possession of the seeds.

The newspaper reports that minutes of GEAC meetings held in February and May of 2010 reveal the committee decided that NBPGR would store Bt brinjal seeds from all three seed developers and take affidavits from the company and institutions confirming that all seed stock has been deposited with NBPGR. But this was never done.

Bt brinjal has been grown in Bangladesh since 2013. The seeds could have come from there or might be old seeds that were supposed to be deposited with NBPGR. Further ‘event identification’ (involving an analysis of the construct of the genetically modified organism) tests might be able to determine the original source.

In a letter (11 May) to Minister Harsh Vardhan, the Coalition for a GM Free India stated:

For any illegal cultivation of Bt Brinjal found in India, the crop/event developer should be held responsible… and it is clear that Mahyco and the two state agriculture universities have to be investigated immediately.

Of course, as Prashant Bhushan implies, it’s not just the crop developers who should eventually have their day in court.

The GMO biotech sector has not been able to mount a convincing argument for the introduction of GM crops in India, whether it has involved Bt brinjal in 2010 or the ongoing case in the Supreme Court concerning GM mustard. Aruna Rodrigues’s many submissions to the Supreme Court have shown that the crop developer’s field trials and the overall case for GM mustard have failed to establish a need for this crop and are based on scientific fraud and unremitting regulatory delinquency.

But the push for GM continues unabated because Indian agriculture presents a potentially massive cash cow for the industry. It’s a case of any which way, as Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, notes:

The biotech industry’s strategy of ‘leak illegal seeds first, contaminate and spread the cultivation and present a fait accompli’ for obtaining approval is well known.

It’s exactly what happened with Bt cotton in India.

Read Prashant Bhushan’s letter here.

Bt Brinjal Illegally Growing in India: Who Is Really Pulling the Strings?

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

Campaigner Aruna Rodrigues explains:

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

She went on to say that India is a centre of origin of brinjal with the greatest genetic diversity and that contamination was a certainty. Rodrigues added:

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

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

Despite this, the illegal cultivation of Bt brinjal has recently been discovered in the state of Haryana. In response, the Coalition for a GM Free India held a press conference in Delhi on 25 April 2019 demanding immediate action from state and central governments.

Afsar Jafri, agriculture trade policy analyst, argued that there was good reason why India opted to impose an indefinite moratorium on Bt brinjal and that all the environmental and health hazards acknowledged at the time continue to remain intact.

Kapil Shah, founder of Jatan Trust in Gujarat, said:

This is clearly a failure of concerned government agencies that illegal Bt brinjal is being cultivated in the country. The regulatory body Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee behaves as a promotional body than a regulator and therein lies a major problem.

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) was created as the apex regulatory body to protect the environment, nature and health from the risks of gene technology. Shah added that when illegal GM soy cultivation was discovered in Gujarat in 2017 and a complaint lodged with GEAC, the response was slow and “dangerously lackadaisical”.

Dr Rajinder Chaudhary of Kudarti Kheti Abhiyan in Haryana stated that the discovery of Bt brinjal cultivation demonstrated a failure of departments of horticulture and agriculture to remain vigilant about such hazardous seeds entering seed supply chains:

It is also a failure of the central regulators for not creating extensive awareness about hazards of Bt brinjal and why a moratorium has been placed on the same. If civil society groups can get to know about this, why can’t alert government agencies?

Sridhar Radhakrishnan of Thanal Agroecology Centre in Kerala said that India could not afford to allow this Bt brinjal cultivation to continue or spread. He argued that it represented a bio-hazard that had to be contained and destroyed:

GEAC should ascertain and confirm that illegal Bt brinjal cultivation is indeed happening and find out the full extent of such cultivation… no penal action should be taken against farmers who have been duped into cultivating these illegal seeds… there should be deterrent penal action against seed suppliers and against the crop developer company whose seeds are being illegally spread.

Brief history of GMO contamination in India

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

One of the reasons for advising against GM adoption is that India’s GMO regulating bodies lack competency, are riddled with endemic conflicts of interest and lack expertise in GMO risk assessment protocols, including food safety assessment and the assessment of environmental impacts.

India’s first and only legal GM crop cultivation – Bt cotton – was discovered in 2001 growing on thousands of hectares in Gujarat, spread surreptitiously and illegally by the biotech industry. News of large-scale illegal cultivation of Bt cotton emerged, even as field trials that were to decide whether India would opt for this GM crop were still underway. In March 2002, the GEAC ended up approving Bt cotton for commercial cultivation in India: approval-by-contamination.

In 2005, biologist Pushpa Bhargava noted that unapproved varieties of several GM crops were being sold to farmers. In 2008, it was reported that illegally cultivated GM okra was growing in India and poor farmers had been offered lucrative deals to plant ‘special seed’ of all sorts of vegetables.

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

During the press conference in Delhi, trade policy analyst Afsar Jafri said India and other countries are part of the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, which requires prior informed consent for any transboundary movement. He said that India should therefore put pressure on Bangladesh at the highest level to ensure that there is compliance and that their seed producers and others are warned about smuggling into India any transgenic material from Bangladesh.

In 2017, the illegal cultivation of GM Herbicide-tolerant (HT) soybean was reported in Gujarat.

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

The authors, Glenn Stone and Andrew Flachs observe:

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

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

In 2018, Rohit Parakh of India for Safe Food indicated that GM seeds are being imported into India:

Commerce Ministry’s own data on imports of live seeds clearly indicates that India continues to import genetically modified seeds including GM canola, GM sugar beet, GM papaya, GM squash and GM corn seeds (apart from soybean) from countries such as the USA… with no approval from the GEAC as is the requirement.

In 2018, the Centre for Science and Environment tested 65 imported and domestically produced processed food samples in India. Some 32 per cent of the samples tested were GM positive. Some brands had claims on their labels suggesting that they had no GM ingredients but were found to be GM positive.

We also have bogus arguments about GM mustard being forwarded by developers at Delhi University and the government. And USAID has been pushing for GM in Punjab and twisting a problematic situation to further Monsanto’s (now Bayer) interests by trying to get GM soybean planted in the state.

Given the issues surrounding GM crops (including the failure of Bt cotton in the country), there is good reason to be concerned, not least about the technology placing an economic noose on subsistence farmers for the sake of profits, as we have witnessed with Bt cotton.

A decade ago, rigorous consultations and lawful practices and procedures were adhered to when assessing Bt brinjal. If legitimate outcomes and scientific-based decisions are ultimately to be ignored and flouted at will, then we may ask what is the point of carrying out such assessments?

With regulators who seem to be wilfully “lackadaisical” and compromised, we may also ask: who is really pulling the strings?

As the 2019 Indian General Election Takes Place, Are the Nation’s Farmers Being Dealt a Knock-Out Blow?

In 1830, British colonial administrator Lord Metcalfe said India’s villages were little republics that had nearly everything they could want for within themselves. India’s ability to endure derived from these communities:

Dynasty after dynasty tumbles down but the village community remains the same. It is in a high degree conducive to their happiness, and to the enjoyment of a great portion of freedom and independence.

Metcalfe was acutely aware that to subjugate India, this capacity to ‘endure’ had to be broken. Since gaining independence from the British, India’s rulers have only further served to undermine village India’s vibrancy. But now a potential death knell for rural India and its villages is underway.

There is a plan for the future of India and most of its current farmers don’t have a role in it. Successive administrations have been making farming financially unviable with the aim of moving farmers out of agriculture and into the cities to work in construction, manufacturing or the service sector, despite these sectors not creating anything like the number of jobs required.

The aim is to displace the existing labour-intensive system of food and agriculture with one dominated by a few transnational corporate agribusiness concerns which will then control the sector.  Agriculture is to be wholly commercialised with large-scale, mechanised (monocrop) enterprises replacing family-run farms that help sustain hundreds of millions of rural livelihoods, while feeding the urban masses.

So why would anyone set out to deliberately run down what is effectively a productive system of agriculture that feeds people, sustains livelihoods and produces sufficient buffer stocks?

Part of the answer comes down to India being the largest recipient of World Bank loans in the history of that institution and acting on its ‘advice’. Part of it results from the neoliberal-driven US-Indo Knowledge Agreement on Agriculture. Either way, it means India’s rulers are facilitating the needs of (Western) capitalism and all it entails: a system based on endless profit growth, crises of overproduction and market saturation and a need to constantly seek out and expand into new, untapped (foreign) markets to maintain profitability.

And as a market for proprietary seeds, chemical inputs and agricultural technology and machinery, India is vast. The potential market for herbicide growth alone, for instance, is huge: sales could reach USD 800 million this year with scope for even greater expansion. And with restrictions on GMOs in place in Europe and elsewhere, India is again regarded as a massive potential market.

A few years ago, influential ‘global communications, stakeholder engagement and business strategy’ company APCO Worldwide stated that India’s resilience in weathering the global downturn and financial crisis has made governments, policy-makers, economists, corporate houses and fund managers believe that the country can play a significant role in the recovery of the global economy in the years ahead.

Decoded, this means corporations moving into regions and nations and displacing indigenous systems of production and consumption. And where agriculture is concerned, this predatory capitalism hides behind emotive, seemingly altruistic rhetoric about ‘helping farmers’ and the need to ‘feed a burgeoning population’ (regardless of the fact this is exactly what India’s farmers have been doing).

Prime Minister Modi is certainly on board. He has proudly stated that India is now one of the most ‘business friendly’ countries in the world. What he really means is that India is in compliance with World Bank directives on ‘Ease of Doing Business’ and ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’: facilitating environment-destroying policies and forcing working people to take part in a race to the bottom based on ‘free’ market fundamentalism.

None of this is a recipe for national sovereignty, let alone food security. Renowned agronomist MS Swaminathan recently stated:

Independent foreign policy is only possible with food security. Therefore, food has more than just eating implications. It protects national sovereignty, national rights and national prestige.

Despite such warnings, India’s agrarian base is being uprooted. In a recent interview, Director of Food First Eric Holt-Giménez notes that when Cargill, Bayer or Syngenta say they need to expand the use of GMOs or the other latest technologies so they can feed the world, they’re really talking about capturing the market that’s still controlled by peasant agriculture. To get those markets they first must knock out the peasantry.

Looking at the Industrial Revolution in England, historian Michael Perelman has detailed the processes that whipped the English peasantry into a workforce ‘willing’ to accept factory wage labour. Peasants were forced to leave their land and go to work for below-subsistence wages in dangerous factories being set up by a new, rich class of industrial capitalists. Perelman describes the policies through which peasants were forced out of agriculture, not least by the barring of access to common land. A largely self-reliant population was starved of its productive means.

Today, we hear seemingly benign terms like ‘foreign direct investment’, ‘ease of doing business’, making India ‘business friendly’ or ‘enabling the business of agriculture’. But behind the World Bank/corporate-inspired rhetoric lies the hard-nosed approach of modern-day capitalism that is no less brutal for Indian farmers than early industrial capitalism was for English peasants.

GDP growth has been fuelled on the back of cheap food and the subsequent impoverishment of farmers: the gap between farmers’ income and the rest of the population has widened enormously. While underperforming corporations receive massive handouts and have loans written off, the lack of a secure income, exposure to international market prices and cheap imports contribute to farmers’ misery.

Farmers must also contend with profiteering seed and chemical companies, corrupt middlemen, high interest loans and debt and the overall impacts of the corporate-inspired US-Indo Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture that flung open the sector to US agribusiness. Up to 400,000 farmers have taken their lives since 1997 and millions more are experiencing economic distress.

As independent cultivators are bankrupted, the aim is that land will eventually be amalgamated to facilitate large-scale industrial cultivation. Those who remain in farming will be absorbed into corporate supply chains and squeezed as they work on contracts dictated by large agribusiness and chain retailers.

Even the scaling up of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) across Andhra Pradesh is a cause for concern. For instance, the involvement of BNP Paribas Bank (which has funded numerous questionable projects, including in India), the Gates Foundation (with its staunch commitment to GMOs and gene editing technology and its cosy relationship with global agribusiness) and the potential illegal accessing of agrobiodiversity and traditional knowledge by foreign entities does not bode well.

There are also serious concerns about farmer’ interests being ignored. In effect, ZBNF seems to be focused more on global export chains, the further commodification of agriculture, facilitating consumerism and the involvement of unethical international finance. Even here it seems Western interests are being handed the reins.

If British rule, the impacts of the Green Revolution and neglect and mismanagement of the countryside since independence all served to undermine rural India and its inhabitants, Western agricapital now seems intent on delivering a knock-out blow. The timely reminder as voting in the 2019 Indian General Election gets underway is that certain leading politicians have been all too willing to facilitate the process.

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

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

The documents states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five high-level reports: no to GMOs

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

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

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

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

GMOs in the food system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India’s Agrarian Crisis: Dismantling “Development”

In his 1978 book India MortgagedT.N. Reddy predicted the country would one day open all sectors to foreign direct investment and surrender economic sovereignty to imperialist powers.

Today, the US and Europe cling to a moribund form of capitalism and have used various mechanisms to bolster the system in the face of economic stagnation and massive inequalities: the raiding of public budgets, the expansion of credit to consumers and governments to sustain spending and consumption, financial speculation and increased militarism. Via ‘globalisation’, Western powers have also been on an unrelenting drive to plunder what they regard as ‘untapped markets’ in other areas of the globe.

Agricapital has been moving in on Indian food and agriculture for some time. But India is an agrarian-based country underpinned by smallholder agriculture and decentralised food processing. Foreign capital therefore first needs to displace the current model before bringing India’s food and agriculture sector under its control. And this is precisely what is happening.

Western agribusiness is shaping the ‘development’ agenda in India. Over 300,000 farmers have taken their lives since 1997 and many more are experiencing economic distress or have left farming as a result of debt, a shift to (GMO) cash crops and economic liberalisation.

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

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

India’s agrarian crisis

India is currently witnessing a headlong rush to facilitate (foreign) agricapital and the running down of the existing system of agriculture. Millions of small-scale and marginal farmers are suffering economic distress as the sector is deliberately made financially non-viable for them.

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

The plan is to displace the existing system of livelihood-sustaining smallholder agriculture with one dominated from seed to plate by transnational agribusiness and retail concerns. To facilitate this, independent cultivators are being bankrupted, land is to be amalgamated to facilitate large-scale industrial cultivation and remaining farmers will be absorbed into corporate supply chains and squeezed as they work on contracts, the terms of which will be dictated by large agribusiness and chain retailers.

US agribusiness corporations are spearheading the process, the very companies that fuel and thrive on a five-year US taxpayer-funded farm bill subsidy of around $500 billion. Their industrial model in the US is based on the overproduction of certain commodities often sold at prices below the cost of production and dumped on the rest of the world, thereby undermining farmers’ livelihoods and agriculture in other countries.

It is a model designed to facilitate the needs and profits of these corporations which belong to the agritech, agrochemicals, commodity trading, food processing and retail sectors. A model that can only survive thanks to taxpayer handouts and by subsidising the farmer who is squeezed at one end by seed and agrochemical manufacturers and at the other, by powerful retail interests. A model that can only function by externalising its massive health, environmental and social costs. And a model that only leads to the destruction of rural communities and jobs, degraded soil, less diverse and nutrient-deficient diets, polluted water, water shortages and poor health.

If we look at the US model, it serves the needs of agribusiness corporations and large-scale retailers, not farmers, the public nor the environment. So by bowing to their needs via World Bank directives and the US-Indo Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture, what is the future to be for India?

A mainly urbanised country reliant on an industrial agriculture and all it entails, including denutrified food, increasingly monolithic diets, the massive use of agrochemicals and food contaminated by hormones, steroids, antibiotics and a range of chemical additives. A country with spiralling rates of ill health, degraded soil, a collapse in the insect population, contaminated and depleted water supplies and a cartel of seed, chemical and food processing companies with ever-greater control over the global food production and supply chain.

But we don’t need a crystal ball to look into the future. Much of the above is already taking place, not least the destruction of rural communities, the impoverishment of the countryside and continuing urbanisation, which is itself causing problems for India’s crowded cities and eating up valuable agricultural land.

So why would India want to let the foxes guard the hen house? Why mimic the model of intensive, chemical-dependent agriculture of the US and be further incorporated into a corrupt US-dominated global food regime that undermines food security and food sovereignty? After all, numerous high-level reports have concluded that policies need to support more resilient, diverse, sustainable (smallholder) agroecological methods of farming and develop decentralised, locally-based food economies.

Yet the trend in India continues to move in the opposite direction towards industrial-scale agriculture and centralised chains for the benefit of Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and other transnational players.

The plan is to shift hundreds of millions from the countryside into the cities to serve as a cheap army of labour for offshored foreign companies, mirroring what China has become: a US colonial outpost for manufacturing that has boosted corporate profits at the expense of US jobs. In India, rural migrants are to become the new ‘serfs’ of the informal services and construction sectors or to be trained for low-level industrial jobs. Even here, however, India might have missed the boat as jobless ‘growth’ seems to have arrived as the effects of automation and artificial intelligence are eradicating the need for human labour across many sectors.

If we look at the various Western powers, to whom many of India’s top politicians look to in order to ‘modernise’ the country’s food and agriculture, their paths to economic prosperity occurred on the back of colonialism and imperialism. Do India’s politicians think this mindset has disappeared?

Fueled by capitalism’s compulsion to overproduce and then seek out new markets, the same mentality now lurks behind the neoliberal globalisation agenda: terms and policies like ‘foreign direct investment’, ‘ease of doing business’, making India ‘business friendly’ or ‘enabling the business of agriculture’ embody little more than the tenets of neoliberal fundamentalism wrapped in benign-sounding words. It boils down to one thing: Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and other transnational corporations will decide on what is to be eaten and how it is to be produced and processed.

Alternatives to development

Current policies seek to tie agriculture to an environmentally destructive, moribund system of capitalism. Practical solutions to the agrarian crisis must be based on sustainable agriculture which places the small farmer at the centre of policies: far-sighted and sustained policy initiatives centred on self-sufficiency, localisation, food sovereignty, regenerative agriculture and agroecology.

The scaling up of agroecological approaches should be a lynch pin of genuine rural development. Other measures involve implementing land reforms, correcting rigged trade, delinking from capitalist globalisation (capital controls) and managing foreign trade to suit smallholder farmers’ interests not those of foreign agricapital.

More generally, there is the need to recognise that genuine sustainable agriculture can only be achieved by challenging power relations, especially resisting the industrial model of agriculture being rolled out by powerful agribusiness corporations and the neoliberal policies that serve their interests.

What is required is an ‘alternative to development’ as post-development theorist Arturo Escobar explains:

Because seven decades after World War II, certain fundamentals have not changed. Global inequality remains severe, both between and within nations. Environmental devastation and human dislocation, driven by political as well as ecological factors, continues to worsen. These are symptoms of the failure of “development,” indicators that the intellectual and political post-development project remains an urgent task.

Looking at the situation in Latin America, Escobar says development strategies have centred on large-scale interventions, such as the expansion of oil palm plantations, mining, and large port development.

And it is similar in India: commodity monocropping; immiseration in the countryside; the appropriation of biodiversity, the means of subsistence for millions of rural dwellers; unnecessary and inappropriate environment-destroying, people-displacing infrastructure projects; and state-backed violence against the poorest and most marginalised sections of society.

These problems, says Escobar, are not the result of a lack of development but of ‘excessive development’. Escobar looks towards the worldviews of indigenous peoples and the inseparability and interdependence of humans and nature for solutions.

He is not alone. Writers Felix Padel and Malvika Gupta argue that adivasi (India’s indigenous peoples) economics may be the only hope for the future because India’s tribal cultures remain the antithesis of capitalism and industrialisation. Their age-old knowledge and value systems promote long-term sustainability through restraint in what is taken from nature. Their societies also emphasise equality and sharing rather than hierarchy and competition.

These principles must guide our actions regardless of where we live on the planet because what’s the alternative? A system driven by narcissism, domination, ego, anthropocentrism, speciesism and plunder. A system that is using up oil, water and other resources much faster than they can ever be regenerated. We have poisoned the rivers and oceans, destroyed natural habitats, driven wildlife species to (the edge of) extinction and have altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere to the point that runaway climate change seems more and more likely.

And, as we see all around us, the outcome is endless conflicts over fewer and fewer resources, while nuclear missiles hang over humanity’s head like a sword of Damocles.

 

From Late Victorian Holocausts to 21st Century Imperialism: Crocodile Tears for Venezuela

On 26 February, Stephen Hickey, UK political coordinator at the United Nations, delivered a statement at the Security Council briefing on Venezuela that put the blame for the situation in that country on its government. He said that years of misrule and corruption have wrecked the Venezuelan economy and that the actions of the “Maduro regime” have led to economic collapse.

He continued by talking about the recent attempts to bring ‘aid’ into the country:

… use of deadly violence against his (Maduro) own people and other concerning acts of aggression to block the supply of desperately needed humanitarian aid are simply repugnant… the Maduro regime’s oppressive policies affect… innocent civilians, including women and children, who lack access to essential medical and other basic supplies…

He then went on to talk about journalist Jorge Ramos being reportedly detained, later to be released and deported:

As with the lack of freedom given to journalists, other essential freedoms – such as democratic ones – are simply not present in Venezuela… We stand with… Juan Guaidó in pursuit of our shared goal to bring peace and stability to Venezuela.

We can but wonder what Hickey thinks about the illegal and arbitrary detention and needless suffering of Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for the best part of a decade courtesy of his own government.

Hickey argued that the only way to achieve peace and stability is by democratic transition through free and fair presidential elections, as demanded by ‘interim President Guaidó’ and the National Assembly, in line with the Venezuelan Constitution.

He stated:

Until this is achieved, the current humanitarian crisis caused by the Maduro regime’s corrupt policies will continue… nothing short of free and fair presidential elections will do.

In the meantime, Hickey called for additional sanctions against individual members of the Venezuelan government who he said had benefited from corrupt policies.

He concluded that:

The Venezuelan people deserve a better future. They have suffered enough at the hands of the Maduro regime.

Something for Hickey to consider

Here are a few facts for Stephen Hickey. In 2018, Maduro was re-elected president. A section of the opposition boycotted the election but the boycott failed: 9,389,056 people voted; 16 parties participated and six candidates stood for the presidency. Maduro won 6,248,864 votes, or 68 per cent. Renowned journalist John Pilger says that on election day he spoke to one of the 150 foreign election observers who told him the process had been entirely fair. There was no fraud and none of the lurid media claims stood up.

So what of the unelected Juan Guaidó whom Hickey calls the “interim president”?

Pilger notes that the Trump administration has presented Guaidó, a pop-up creation of the CIA-front National Endowment for Democracy, as the legitimate President of Venezuela. Guaidó was previously unheard of by 81 percent of the Venezuelan people and has been elected by no one.

And what of the people who are behind him (not ordinary Venezuelan people, but his backers in Washington)? Pilger says:

As his “special envoy to Venezuela” (coup master), Trump has appointed a convicted felon, Elliot Abrams, whose intrigues in the service of Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush helped produce the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s and plunge central America into years of blood-soaked misery.

Talking about the Western media biased reporting on Venezuela, Pilger adds that the country’s democratic record, human rights legislation, food programmes, healthcare initiatives and poverty reduction did not happen:

The greatest literacy program in human history did not happen, just as the millions who march in support of Maduro and in memory of Chavez, do not exist.

None of this happened in the warped world of Stephen Hickey either. He paints a wholly distorted picture of the situation in Venezuela, one which lays the blame for economic woes and their consequences at the door of Maduro and his ‘corrupt regime’. But this is a tried and tested strategy: bring a country to its knees and apportion blame on the political leaders of that country.

Countries like Venezuela have, to a large extent, been trapped by their colonial legacy and have very often become single commodity producers – in this case oil – and find it difficult to expand other sectors. In effect, they have found themselves extremely vulnerable. The US can squeeze the price of the commodity upon which such countries rely, while applying sanctions and cutting off financial lifelines. It then becomes that much easier to lay the blame for the consequences on a ‘corrupt regime’.

Prof Michael Hudson has outlined how debt and the US-controlled international monetary system has backed Maduro into a corner. He argues that Venezuela has become an oil monoculture, with revenue having been spent largely on importing food and other necessities, which it could have produced itself. In the case of food at least, many countries in the Global South have been adversely affected by the ‘globalisation of agriculture’ and have had their indigenous sectors undermined as a result of WTO policies and directives, debt and US-supported geopolitical lending strategies.

However, this is all an inconvenient truth for the likes of Hickey and the Western media. Talking about the BBC, John Pilger notes that it is “too difficult” for that media outlet to include any of this in its reporting:

It is too difficult to report the collapse of oil prices since 2014 as largely the result of criminal machinations by Wall Street. It is too difficult to report the blocking of Venezuela’s access to the US-dominated international financial system as sabotage. It is too difficult to report Washington’s “sanctions” against Venezuela, which have caused the loss of at least $6 billion in Venezuela’s revenue since 2017, including $2 billion worth of imported medicines, as illegal, or the Bank of England’s refusal to return Venezuela’s gold reserves as an act of piracy.

None of this is up for debate by the BBC or Hickey. He sits in the UN talking about, freedom, democracy and the rights and suffering of ordinary people, while failing to acknowledge the US or the UK’s own role in the denial of freedom and the perpetuation of suffering across the world.

From Syria to Iraq, the ‘squeezing out of life’

According to former French foreign minister Roland Dumas, Britain had planned covert action in Syria as early as 2009. And writing in The Guardian in 2013, Nafeez Ahmed discussed leaked emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor, including notes from a meeting with Pentagon officials, that confirmed US-UK training of Syrian opposition forces since 2011 aimed at eliciting the “collapse” of Assad’s regime “from within.”

But this is where Britain and the West’s concerns really lie: facilitating the geopolitical machinations of financial institutions, oil companies, arms manufacturers and profiteers. And it is no different this time around with Venezuela. Ordinary people are mere ‘collateral damage’ left dying in or fleeing war zones that the West and its allies created. The West’s brutal oil and gas wars are twisted as ‘humanitarian’ interventions for public consumption.

In 2014, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray told a meeting at St Andrews University in Scotland that Libya is now a disaster and 15,000 people were killed when NATO (British and French jets) bombed Sirte. The made-for-public narrative about that ‘intervention’ began with some tale about Gaddafi killing his own people, which turned out to be false. Now we are hearing similar about Maduro.

As far as Iraq is concerned, Murray said that he knew for certain that key British officials were fully aware that there weren’t any weapons of mass destruction. He said that invading Iraq wasn’t a mistake, it was a lie.

Over a million people have been killed via the US-led or US-backed attacks on Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. But this is the plan: to turn countries into vassal states of the US, or for those that resist to reconstruct (destroy) them into fractured territories.

Any eulogies to morality and humanitarianism must be seen for what they are: part of the ongoing psychological operations being waged on the public to encourage people to regard what is happening in the world as a disconnected array of events in need of Western intervention. These events are not for one minute to be regarded by the public as the planned brutality of empire and militarism.

Tim Anderson (author of The Dirty War on Syria) argues that where Syria was concerned Western culture in general favoured its worst traditions: “the ‘imperial prerogative’ for intervention… reinforced by a ferocious campaign of war propaganda.” We are now seeing it again, this time with Venezuela.

We might well ask who is Donald Trump, John Bolton or for that matter Stephen Hickey to dictate and engineer what the future of Venezuela should be? But this is what the US with the UK in support has been doing across the globe for decades. Control of oil is key to current events in Venezuela. But there is also the subtext of destroying any tendencies towards socialism across Latin America (and elsewhere) as well as the need of Western capital to expand into or create new markets: Washington’s hand-picked puppet Juan Guaido will facilitate the process and usher in a programme of ‘mass privatisation’ and ‘hyper-capitalism’.

In many respects, the US has learned its imperialist playbook from its former colonial master, the UK. In the book ‘Late Victorian Holocausts’, the author Mike Davis writes that millions in India were dying of starvation when Lord Lytton (head of the British government in India) said, “There is to be no interference of any kind on the part of government with the object of reducing the price of food”. He dismissed any idea of feeding the starving as “humanitarian hysterics”. There was plenty of food, but it was held back to preserve prices and serve the market.

Indian writer and politician Shashi Tharoor, notes a speech to the British House of Commons in 1935 by Winston Churchill who said that the slightest fall from the present standard of life in India means slow starvation and the actual squeezing out of life, not only of millions but of scores of millions of people. And that after almost 200 years of British rule. According to Tharoor, this “squeezing out of life” was realized at the hands of Churchill in the six to seven million Indian deaths in the WW2 Bengali Holocaust.

Despite Hickey’s crocodile tears, hundreds of thousands in various countries are still dying today due to the same imperialist mindset. Humanitarian hysterics are for public consumption as the “squeezing out of life” continues regardless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rejection of Dr Mason’s complaint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oil, empire and agriculture

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

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

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

Norman J Church (2005)

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

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

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

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

Jason Hickel (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soil on a doughnut diet

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

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

But in reality, they have no real idea about the long-term impacts their actions have had on soil and its complex networks of microbes and microbiological processes. Soil microbiologists are themselves still trying to comprehend it all.

That much is clear in this article, where Brian Barth discusses a report by the American Society of Microbiologists (ASM). Acknowledging that farmers will need to produce 70 to 100 per cent more food to feed a projected nine billion humans by 2050, the introduction to the report states:

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

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

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

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

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

Feeding the world? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Referring to India, Stuart Newton’s states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stomach-Churning Violence of the Agrochemical Oligopoly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For instance, findings published in the journal ‘Translational Psychiatry’ provide strong evidence that gut bacteria can have a direct physical impact on the brain. Alterations in the composition of the gut microbiome have been implicated in a wide range of neurological and psychiatric conditions, including autism, chronic pain, depression, and Parkinson’s Disease.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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