The following bulletin was originally posted on Thu, 12 Jun 2003 21:23 but neither we nor anyone else on the list that we've checked with seems to have received it! We're therefore reposting it and are investigating why for the past few weeks the delivery of list messages has been seriously delayed, sometimes by many hours and in this case for days.
This also gives us the chance to update the story of the BBC's reporting out of India of the GM potato story. As we noted in the original bulletin, "AgBioIndia details how the false claims the BBC has leapt on came from an Indian bureaucrat who has clung onto her job via a whole series of fanciful fabrications favouring GM crops and the biotech industry."
More has emerged since, as reported in the Indian press. The BBC report claimed the GM potato was "expected to be approved in India within six months".
But the Indian press has reported that, "...no request has so far been received from developers for field trials or commercialisation of GM potato and... it cannot be approved in the current year. This statement of the GEAC [the regulatory committee] runs counter to the statement made by the secretary of biotechnology, Dr Manju Sharma in a recent interview to the BBC that GM potato would be released for commercial cultivation within six months." http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=36215
This comes on top of the fact that the central claim made in the BBC story about the ability of the GM "protato" to counter malnutrition was exposed as fraudulent in the Indian press back in March, ie 3 months ago. (GM Potato Cannot Solve Malnutrition Problems : Experts http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=30)
So why did the BBC not check out any of the claims that formed the basis of a story run as headline news in the UK, and which was picked up elsewhere around the world?
The answer would seem to lie with the BBC's science correspondent Pallab Ghosh who conducted the interview at the heart of the "India 'to approve GM potato'" story. Ghosh's story hung purely upon the discredited claims of Manju Sharma and claims about the potential of GM crops by the chief executive of Dupont in India, Dr Balvinder Singh Khalsi. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/2980338.stm
Although in his and other BBC reports, Devinder Sharma was used as an add on to provide "balance", this is how Devinder Sharma's criticisms were framed by Ghosh in one of his reports: "So far, the main opposition to GM comes from an educated elite who fear environmental damage, loss of biodiversity and foreign control over India's food supply. Many ordinary people though are more open-minded. Here, science is still seen as a route to prosperity and a better quality of life. For a country with an ever increasing population, the "technical fix" GM seems to be offering is a tempting one indeed." http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/2982726.stm
Pallab Ghosh's timing was perfect. Just the day before, Ghosh had reported on the latest Nuffield report claiming benefits for the South from GM crops but, given that the report was basically a rerun of the previous Nuffield report by a Working Party whose pro-GM views are already well known, it commanded relatively little media attention compared to the recent ActionAid report warning about the problems of GM crops in the Third World. But then the following morning the PRotato story was suddenly everywhere.
This is not the first time that Ghosh has launched a story of value to the GM lobby that fell seriously below the normal standards of BBC journalism. It was Ghosh who was behind the BBC's reports that the BMA was reviewing its position on GM. Ghosh's claims again hit the headlines but the BMA issued a press release which clearly showed the story had not even been checked with them. http://ngin.tripod.com/310103g.htm
The BMA labelled parts of Ghosh's report "wrong" and "totally incorrect". Due to this and other complaints Ghosh's online version of the story had to be revised. The revised version still contained the comment by Ghosh that, "Since the [BMA's] report was published the main piece of research that first raised the BMA's concerns has been discredited." This would appear to be a smear of Pusztai's research. The reality, of course, is that a year after the BMA's original report in 1999 Pusztai's research was successfully peer-reviewd and published. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/2711801.stm
Stories where the central facts have been subjected to so little critical scrutiny might seem surprising from someone who is the current Chairman of the Association of British Science Writers, a group of 800 science journalists and communication specialists in the UK. In that role Ghosh has commented critically, in evidence given before the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology committee, on the standard of reporting to be found even in science journals:
"I personally am concerned about some of the quality of material that is published in scientific and medical journals, partly out of the competition between them, and there is an awful lot of supposed on-line material that gets published. As a science correspondent I quite often find myself having to convince news editors, that even though something has been published in a journal it does not mean that the BBC ought to be doing it, and I feel I should not really be having to have those conversations." http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld200203/ldselect/ldsctech/23-viii/3012802.htm
But the science story Ghosh reported out of India contained claims that had certainly not been reported in a peer-reviewed journal and clearly Ghosh subjected the claims to almost no critical scrutiny. Compare this to his treatment of Dr Arpad Pusztai. With regard to the latter, Ghosh told the Select Committee that in his reporting "part of that judgment was whether it [Pusztai's research] had been published or not and also a realisation that even the most eminent researcher could make a mistake and things should not be overstated until it has been properly scrutinised." http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld200203/ldselect/ldsctech/23-viii/3012802.htm
This is what Dr Pusztai has said about Ghosh's coverage: "[he] came up to Aberdeen after the RS [Royal Society] and the Science and Technology Committee's sitting [in 1999] and he was all smiles and extremely accommodating but when the interview went out on the BBC he twisted everything out of context. So much so that I decided not to have anything more to do with the BBC."
One interesting point about Ghosh's role at the ABSW is that it brings him into close contact with the ASBW's President, Dame Bridget Ogilvie. Dame Bridget is on the advisory board of the controversial lobby group Sense about Science. http://ngin.tripod.com/190303d.htm
She was also a co-signatory to a letter attacking the BMA's position on GM crops authored by the highly controversial GM supporter, Sir Peter Lachmann FRS, who has been accused by the editor of the Lancet of trying to intimidate him out of publishing Pusztai's research. http://ngin.tripod.com/rs.htm
Ghosh's BMA story made reference to both Lachmann and to Sense about Science - the latter reference forming part of the 'complaint' over accuracy in the BMA's press release. GHosh's online version of the story made it seem that Lachmann was actually a spoekesman for the BMA. This was later amended to make it clear that Lachmann was "A vocal proponent of GM" and merely "a BMA member"! http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/2711801.stm
The over-cosy relationship with the science establishment and its lobbyists, together with a taste for GM fairytales, amongst certain UK science correspondents - Ghosh at the BBC, Henderson at The Times, Connor at The Independent and Coghlin at New Scientist, stand out in this regard, although there are other contenders - risk damaging the reputation of the whole profession.
We hope you receive this bulletin!!
GM WATCH daily: http://www.ngin.org.uk
--- This AgBioIndia Bulletin (second item below) reflects understandable anger and resentemnt at BBC reports out of India that have involved the hyping of discredited, and in part ludicrous, claims.
Let's not forget that this nonsense went out in the main BBC headlines in the morning of the 11th June. The AgBioIndia Bulletin reports how questions posed to Devinder Sharma by the BBC were cras and ill-informed. As the bulletin notes, even his inclusion was merely to provide a pretence of balance.
Shantu Sharma (first item below) reflects the same sense of disgust. Shantu directs us to an article in the Financial Express by its highly regarded senior agricultural correspondent, Ashok B Sharma, back in March
"New Delhi, March 16: The genetically modified (GM) potato developed in India contains only 2.8 per cent protein content which is not enough to solve the problems of malnutrition in the country, said Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI) director Dr SM Paul Khurana." (GM Potato Cannot Solve Malnutrition Problems: Experts)
The article, unlike the BBC's coverage, is incisive.
AgBioIndia details how the false claims the BBC has leapt on came from an Indian bureaucrat who has clung onto her job via a whole series of fanciful fabrications favouring GM crops and the biotech industry.
The global GM lobbyists have already launched a sinister campaign projecting GM potato to solve all problems of malnutrition in the world. These GM lobbyists feel that by projecting GM potato as a means to solve malnutrition problems, they would gain public sympathy for GM technology. Knowing fully well that GM potato crop has not undergone any largescale field trials under the regulatory authourity in India, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, they are projecting wrong information that the GM potato crop would be approved in India within six months.
Potato is a winter crop in India. Season for sowing and harvesting potato in India is from October to February. As the largescale field trials are not conducted so far, where is the chance for approval of GM potato within six months?
Regading the nutritive value of GM potato - This has been questioned by leading scientists in India. The director of the Potato Research Institute in India has questioned the nutritive value of GM potato. I would suggest you to OPEN THIS URL and read the text in detail and ALSO CIRCULATE FOR THE ON-GOING DEBATE
GM Potato Cannot Solve Malnutrition Problems : Experts
Media launches media blitz for GM crops
The AgBioIndia Bulletinhttp://www.agbioindia.org
13 June 2003
BBC appears to be the new 'loudspeaker' for the discredited biotechnology industry. In the past two days, BBC has been screaming about the virtues of a wonderful GM potato that has been developed in India, and which is likely to be the answer to growing malnutrition in the developing world. BBC, which is funded by British tax payers, has certainly no business to be riding the multinational bandwagon. But then, times are changing, aren't they? And so is the BBC. But the damage has been done.
Many of the BBC radio channels interviewed Devinder Sharma, seeking his reaction to what is being falsely claimed by the Indian scientists. But invariably, his views were merely carried to provide the precarious 'balance' to a completely one-sided story. His views appeared merely as a sound bite at the end, so as to maintain the sanctity of objectivity !!
Take, for instance, BBC Radio Breakfast show [5 Live]. The interviewer, who was busy discussing the football star Beckham, suddenly turns around and asks Devinder Sharma, who is on a phone line from New Delhi: "When will the civil society stop treating the multinational companies as wicked?" Mr Sharma was quick to react, saying that "it would depend on the multinational corporations as to when do they stop acting wickedly".
The next question goes something like this: "GM potato has 30 per cent protein and a lot of essential amino acids that could help fight malnutrition from India." Mr Sharma answers "This is completely wrong. The GM potato that is in the process of development, does not contain more than 2.5 per cent protein, which is just 0.5 per cent protein more than what potato contains on an average. So how can you remove India's malnutrition with this."
Gone are the days when intrepid journalists would tear apart scientific establishments for making a false statement. Whether it is the CNN or BBC or the Sky News, the unwritten principle is not to question the officials. A few months back, in the first week of February, the American media had gone ga-ga over a shoddy study on Bt cotton published by two researchers from the University of California and the University of Bonn. The news reports, based on an unscientific paper published in Science, claimed that Bt cotton yields 80 per cent higher than the cotton hybrids.
If only the media had followed the rich traditions of journalism, the first and foremost question should be: Why are the scientists presenting a faulty protein percentage for GM potato? After all, there is a huge gap between the projected 40 per cent protein and the actual 2.5 per cent protein? Why are the scientists creating a hype to justify the utility of Bt cotton? Why are the scientists presenting unscientific data to promote Bt cotton? Aren't such claims scandalous? If so, then why shouldn't the scientific community be dammed for such criminal violation of public trust in the name of science and technology?
Mrs Manju Sharma, the Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology, Govt of India, however continues to make false statements. Not surprising therefore that she continues to get extension after extension for the job she is holding. Four extensions to be exact. Let us take a look at what she has been saying and you will understand the reasons for her being where she is:
1. Five years back, she said that India was growing a large number of transgenic crops. In reality, she didn't know the difference between transgenic crops and the high-yielding crop varieties.
2. Three years back, she said at a conference at the MS Swaminathan Foundation, Chennai that Bt cotton will increase cotton yields by 80 per cent. She didn't even know that Bt cotton was genetically modified for pest resistance and not increasing crop yield. No where in the world does Bt cotton give 80 per cent higher yield than the traditional varieties. Even in China, where a large acreage is under Bt cotton, there is no significant difference in crop yield.
3. In May 2003, while addressing a USAID sponsored conference on GM crops in New Delhi, Mrs Manju Sharma said that GM potato in the making has 40 per cent more protein !!
She has been quoted as saying that she would try to push the GM potato as part of the mid-day meal programme for feeding the school children. She did not not utter a word, not even a word of sympathy for the farmers, when potato growers were reported to be dumping potatoes (for failure of buyers) on the busy streets in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra. Why didn't she ever think of asking the government to include the normal potatoes in the mid-day meal programme? After all, the potatoes that were dumped on the streets (just by way of demonstration of the glut that the farmers were faced with) too had 1.98 per cent protein, only less by 0.5 per cent that the GM potato contains, which she touts as a major development !!
Now what do you do with such 'scientifically-illiterate' science administrators? They actually help create more malnutrition by diverting the financial resources to meaningless research, resources that should have otherwise gone to develop high-yielding varieties of pulses/legumes. No wonder, the biotechnology industry finds in her a strong ally !!
Why doesn't the media question the veracity of claims in the light of the existing ground realities? Why is the media quiet on unscientific claims? Well, don't ask us, you probably know the answers. Media too is looking for a finger in the pie.
We bring you below, a strong view point on the fake GM answer to the growing problem of malnutrition and nutritional deficiency in India. Also presented is the USDA allocation of $ 110 million for export enhancement programme, which includes creating awareness about GM foods/crops.
1. Notice Board: USDA announces $ 110 million to promore GM food and farm products overseas
2. GM potato hoax: Future of GM foods rests on lies
USDA Announces $110 million to promote GM Food and agricultural products overseas.
WASHINGTON, June 6, 2003 - Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman today announced fiscal year 2003 allocations of $110 million to 65 U.S. trade organizations to promote U.S. agricultural products overseas under the Market Access Program (MAP). The 2002 Farm Bill provides for significant increases to MAP, more than doubling funding to $200 million annually by 2006, the first increases to the program since 1996. "Increased trade opportunities for American agriculture products benefit not only the food and agriculture sectors, but the economy as a whole," said Veneman. "The Market Access Program helps promote U.S. products and build new markets overseas."
Veneman said that exports are expected to reach $56 billion this year, which support 840,000 jobs and that for every $1 billion more, 15,000 new jobs are created.
MAP uses funds from USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation to enter into agreements with U.S. agricultural trade organizations, state regional groups and cooperatives. The CCC funds are used to share the costs of overseas marketing and promotional activities for both brand and generic promotions targeting marketing constraints and opportunities. Examples of activities conducted with MAP funding include consumer promotions for retail products, seminars and workshops to educate overseas customers about agricultural biotechnology and food safety, training and assistance to foreign processors and manufacturers on the utilization of U.S. product ingredients and market research. MAP is administered by USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service.
All program applicants undergo a competitive review process based on four weighted criteria - the degree to which the applicant contributes resources to the program, historic export performance, projected export goals and achievement of past export goals. MAP is one of several USDA programs included under a unified application and review process designed to ensure the most effective and results-oriented utilization of government resources available to the agriculture industry for developing overseas markets for U.S. products.
2. GM Potato Hoax : Future of GM Foods Rests on Lies
Lies about GM Potato to solve 3rd World Hunger
New Delhi: The BBC reported today that, "the commercial growing of a genetically modified potato is expected to be approved in India within six months. The protein-rich genetically modified potato could help combat malnutrition in India. Its developers say the "potato" could help tackle nutrition problems amongst the country's poorest children".
First it was the "Golden Rice Hoax" to sell genetically engineered foods as a solution to hunger and poverty and blindness due to Vitamin A deficiency. We showed that greens and fruits and vegetables that could be grown in every backyard provided hundreds of times more Vitamin A than "golden rice". Now we are being sold a "Protein Potato" hoax as part of anti-hunger plan formulated in collaboration with government institutes, scientists, industry and charities. The potato is claimed to contain a third more protein than normal, including essential high-quality nutrients, and has been created by adding a gene from the protein-rich amaranth plant.
However the claims of the developers of GM potato are laced with lies and is suspected to be violative of the biosafety regulations in India.
1. Lies about solving Problem of Hunger and Malnutrition
BBC reported Dr. Manju Sharma, Head of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), saying that "the GM potato. reduce the problem of malnutrition in the country". She plans to incorporate it into the government's free midday meal programme in schools.
However, inserting genetically engineering genes for proteins from amaranth into potatoes, and promoting potato as a staple for mid-day meals for children is a decision not to promote amaranth and pulses (the most important source of protein in the Indian diet). Amaranth contains 14.7 gms of protein per 100 gm of grain, compared to 6.8 gm/100gm in milled rice and 11 gm/100gm in wheat flour and 1.6 gm/100 gm in potato.
When compared to bringing nutrition through grains like amaranth, genetically engineered potatoes will in fact create malnutrition because it will deny to vulnerable children the other nutrients available in grain amaranth and not available in potato.
Thus genetically engineered potato will in fact spread iron deficiency and calcium deficiency in children. The ancient people of the Andes treated amaranth as sacred. In India it is called "Ramdana" or God's own grain. The root word "amara", in both Greek and Sanskrit means eternal or deathless. A much smarter option is to spread the cultivation and use of amazing grains like amaranth.
In any case, amaranth is not the only source of protein in India's rich biodiversity and cuisine. Our "dals", pulses, legumes that are a staple with rice as dal-chawal and with wheat as dal-roti are also very rich in protein. The consumption of dals & pulses provides much higher levels of proteins than GM potatoes can.
The poor Indian children would get full balanced diet in dals, pulses and amaranth instead of getting malnourished by consuming "protein rich" GM potatoes.
Not yet cleared by GEAC: BBC reported that the GM potato would be cleared for commercial cultivation in next six months. It also reported Dr. Manju Sharma, saying, "the potato is in its final stages of regulatory approval which she was very confident of getting". However in response to our phone call, GEAC authorities said that till today Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has not received any request for large-scale field trials of GM potato from DBT or developers of the GM Potato. It is under the jurisdiction of GEAC to clear large-scale commercial trials of GM crops.
In India potato is a winter crop and the winter season starts around November. Since there is no application in GEAC till today, it is almost clear that DBT and the developers of GM potato have bypassed GEAC for regulatory trials and would straight get clearance for commercial planting. In that case DBT through its agency Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) would repeat the blunder committed in the case of Bt. cotton when it cleared large scale open field trials of Bt. cotton usurping the jurisdiction of GEAC. In violation of the biosafety regulation and the EPA Rules of 1989 on GMOs, the RFTSE went to the Supreme Court of India against RCGM and DBT as well as other regulatory agencies.
So far India has not cleared any GM food. Early this year India sent back a consignment of two shiploads of 10,000 tons of GM corn soya blend imported by CARE-India and Catholic Relief Services. This was made possible because of a major mobilisation of women's groups against the GM import, organized as the National Alliance of Women for Food Rights under the movement of Diverse Women for Diversity. Like the two charity organisations tried to force feed the GM corn soya blend to poor Indian children on the name of relief programme, Head of the DBT as well as developers of GM potato plans to force feed the poor school children with GM potato and subsidizing the biotech industry and thus treating poor Indian children as guinea pig.
GM Potato, Death Trap for Indian Farmers: This year several potato growers of Uttar Pradesh and other parts of country committed suicides because of over production and no buyers. While the farmers are spending Rs. 255/quintal on production, potatoes are being sold for Rs. 40/quintal, leaving farmers at a loss of Rs. 200 for every quintal produced. Per hectare the costs of production are between Rs. 55,000/ha to Rs. 65,000/ha, of which Rs. 40,000 is the cost of seed alone.
The crisis for potato growers, like the crisis for producers of tomatoes, cotton and oil seeds and other crops is directly related to World Bank and W.T.O. driven trade liberalisation policies, of which the new Agricultural policies is a direct outcome. The policies of globalisation and trade liberalisation have created a potato crisis, in particular, because of the shift from diversity and multifunctionality of agriculture to monocultures and standardisation, chemical and capital intensification of production, and deregulation of the input sector, especially seeds leading to rising costs of production.
The impact of the new agriculture policy has been to promote a shift from food grains to vegetables and perishable commodities. While grains can be stored and consumed locally, potatoes and tomatoes must be sold immediately. A vegetable centred policy thus decreases food security and increases farmers vulnerability to the market.
The genetic uniformity and monoculture of potato through introduction of GM potato would be disastrous for Indian farmers and could lead to more suicides due to increased cost of production and vulnerable market due to withdrawal of state from effective price regulation leading to collapse in prices of farm commodities.
Genetically engineered potatoes is not the solution for malnutrition and hunger in the country which is mainly created because of monocultures & industrial agriculture. The protein solution for India's poor lies in rejuvenating our rich biodiversity and food culture. India is nutritionally better off without the pseudo solution to hunger offered Dr. Manju Sharma and the developers of the GM potato.