Senior scientist condemns India's GM crop trial regulation
2.Why Bush is wrong in blaming Indians
3.Research on Bt cotton impact sought
4.Debt woes drive thousands of Indian farmers to suicide
EXTRACTS: Farmers and analysts say another blow was the introduction of genetically modified cotton seeds, notably St. Louis-based Monsanto Co.'s "Bt" seeds which... can be three times more expensive to maintain than traditional seeds. (item 4)
Monsanto's growth comes at the cost of farmers' lives. More than 2,00,000 have committed suicide as they were trapped in debt created by high-cost, non-renewable and unreliable seed. (item 2)
1.Trouble on the plate for Bt brinjal
The Indian Express, May 8 2008
Scientist P. Bhargava, special invitee to the regulatory body on GM crops, says Mahyco's field trial data on bio-safety "shocking". [Mahyco is Monsanto's Indian subsidiary]
NEW DELHI, MAY 6: The clearance for the first genetically modified food crop, Bt brinjal, may not be smooth going by the recent developments in the apex regulatory body. One of the Supreme Court-appointed special invitees to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has raised strong objections to the quality of data provided by Mahyco in the final trials for Bt brinjal before its commercial release. He has also asked for a review of data on Bt cotton approved in 2002.
"The lack of data on health and bio-safety is shocking," said P. Bhargava, molecular scientist who founded the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), now a special invitee to GEAC. He has asked for independent tests to determine safety rather than just the data that the company provided to seek clearance for the GM crop.
His letter to the GEAC chairman expressing strong reservations coincides with a protest in New Delhi on Tuesday by farmers from 15 states under the banner of 'Coalition for a GM-Free India' against allowing field trials for GM crops.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court had sought the appointments of eminent scientists Bhargava and M.S. Swaminathan to the government's regulatory panel, saying it would usher transparency in the regulatory process. Swaminathan is yet to attend a GEAC meeting. The appointments followed an interim order on a petition by Aruna Rodrigues alleging that the government was liberalising norms for allowing multinational companies to go in for open field trials of GM foods and crops in India.
Bhargava has attended one meeting so far. Though he does not have a vote in the 29-member GEAC, his views are to be considered. When contacted, GEAC chairman B.S. Parsheera said: "It will not be possible to review the earlier decisions. He is welcome to make his observations on the cases that come up in subsequent meetings. The committee will take his views into consideration but the law that is laid down will be followed."
After a moratorium of more than a year by the Supreme Court on any field trials of GM crops in the country, the government had given the green signal for large-scale field trials of Bt brinjal in February this year. It was accompanied by a whole battery of additional tests to determine health and biosafety of release of the first GM food crop.
The data has been presented to the GEAC after the first season of trials. In one of the tests to determine the presence of Bt protein in cooked brinjal, Bhargava has pointed to "glaring" discrepancies. According to him, the results conclude that the Bt protein is unstable and does not remain when the brinjal is roasted or cooked and hence is safe for human consumption. According to Bhargava, the data for this test shows "negative" for Bt brinjal when cooked. When seen for non-Bt brinjal, it says "positive". "This is absurd. It can only happen because it is the company that is doing the tests. They are the ones who are providing both the Bt and the non Bt brinjal to the lab. How do we know if they are actually providing the right samples?" he said.
In the last meeting, when he raised these objections and asked for more advanced tests like DNA fingerprinting, GEAC members told him that institutions such as the Indian Council for Agricultural Research and state agricultural universities are involved in the monitoring and evaluation of field trials of Bt cotton. "I don't hold any brief for any NGO. Any scientists will vouch for the tests that I am asking for," he said.
"We at Mahyco R&D Centre, as well as scientists at other government research institutions around the country, have done extensive studies to assess the impact of these insect-tolerant plants and they have so far shown positive results," said a company statement from Mahyco.
2.Why Bush is wrong in blaming Indians
By Vandana Shiva
The Asian Age, May 12 2008
President George W. Bush has a new analysis on the global rise in food prices. At an interactive session on the economy, President Bush argued that prosperity in countries like India has triggered increased demand for better nutrition. "There are 350 million people in India who are classified as middle class. That is bigger than America. Their middle class is larger than our entire population. And when you start getting wealthy, you start demanding better nutrition and better food. So demand is high and that causes the price to go up." While this fabricated story might work to divert the US political debate from the role of US agribusiness in the current food crisis (both through speculation and through diversion of food to bio-fuels) and might also present economic globalisation as having benefited Indians, the reality is that Indians are nutritionally worse off today than before globalisation. The poor are worse off because their food and livelihoods have been destroyed. The middle classes are worse off because they are eating worse, not better, as junk food and processed food is forced on India through globalisation. India is now the epicentre of the malnutrition of the poor who do not get enough and the malnutrition of the rich, whose diets are being degraded with Americanisation of food culture.
Indians eating less and worse
The myth that Bush is propagating is a "growth myth." While the Indian economy has grown, the majority of Indians have grown poorer because as a result of globalisation, they have lost their land and livelihoods. Most Indians are, in fact, eating less today than a decade ago. The per capita availability of food has declined from 177 kg per person per year in 1991 to 152 kg per person per year. The daily availability of food has declined from 485 gm to 419 gm per day.
Economic growth has gone hand in hand with growth in hunger. India is perceived as an economic superpower with almost nine per cent growth. However, because this growth is based on a large-scale takeover of land belonging to the tribals and peasants and destruction of the livelihoods of millions in agriculture, textiles and small-scale industries, poverty has grown.
Earlier, Indian farmers had seed security because 80 per cent of the seeds were their own, and 20 per cent came from the public sector seed farms.
Globalisation has forced India to allow biotech giants like Monsanto into the seed market. And Monsanto's growth comes at the cost of farmers' lives. More than 2,00,000 have committed suicide as they were trapped in debt created by high-cost, non-renewable and unreliable seed.
Indian farmers also had market security. They grew the diverse crops. They grew rice and wheat for the national food security system which provided them a remunerative price and provided the poor affordable food through the public distribution system
Globalisation has destroyed the securities of both the producer and the poor by integrating the local and domestic food economy with the speculative global commodity trade controlled by agribusiness.
Force Feeding is not Free Trade
While Indians are eating less, India is definitely buying more soya and wheat as a result of forced imports. Imports have been forced on India by the US agribusiness, aided by the pressure of WTO rules and the US government.
This is not "demand" from India, this is "dumping" bad food on India. In 1998, India was forced to import soya even though we had adequate edible oils. With nearly $200 per tonne of subsidies these imports amounted to dumping. Millions of India's coconut, mustard, sesame, linseed, groundnut farmers lost their market, their incomes and their livelihoods.
In 2005 India was forced to import wheat as part of the US-India agreement on agriculture. These are forced imports, designed to destroy domestic production to create markets for US agribusiness. This is force-feeding not free trade. The US wheat was declared unfit for eating but the US arm-twisted India to dilute health standards to import bad wheat. Destruction of domestic production worldwide can only result in food scarcity and food insecurity and when food moves into the hands of global agribusiness who see profits through price fixing and speculation, a food emergency is inevitable.
The absolute decline in food production arises from three factors. First, the transformation of ecological biodiverse systems to chemical monocultures, which produce more commodities but less food and nutrition for the household and for local economies.
Second, the shift from food crops to cash crops for exports.
Third, the vulnerabilities created by climate change to which industrial farming and globalised food systems make a significant contribution.
Food security requires a strengthening of local and domestic food economies, the defence of rural livelihoods and small farmers and the reigning in of the global grain giants and their price fixing. We need an anti-trust action against the agribusiness corporations which are at the heart of the current food crisis.
GM Food is problem, not solution
There is also an increasing reference to new seeds and genetically modified crops as a solution to the food crisis. However, GM crops are part of the food crisis. Bt. Cotton has destroyed food production in India and has pushed farmers to suicide. Cotton used to be grown as an intercrop with food crops. Now it is a monoculture. And with high costs of production and low prices of produce, farmers are trapped in debt and hunger. In any case, GM seeds do not produce more food. There are only two traits commercialised in 20 years ”” herbicide resistant crops, and Bt. toxin crops. Neither is a yield trait. In India we see high risks of crop failure with average yields of Bt. Cotton at 300-400 kg per acre. Not 1,500 kg per acre as advertised by Monsanto.
The present crisis is in part a consequence of transforming biodiverse systems to monocultures of globally traded commodities. With commodities getting transformed to feed and fuel, there is a shortage in food availability. Unless food sovereignty is put back in the equation, the crisis will continue to deepen.
Food Sovereignty is the answer
The current food emergency is a result of half a century of non-sustainable farming and one-and-a-half decades of trading unfairly in food. The United Nations has called an emergency meeting in early June to address the food emergency. Even the World Bank has called for an urgent response.
Will the response intensify non-sustainability and injustice, or will the global community use the crisis to strengthen sustainability, justice and fairness?
There are already signals that global agribusiness, which has created the crisis (both historically and currently), will use it to increase its stranglehold on the world food system. Lowering import duties has been one response of governments to deal with rising food prices. But lowering import duties encourages destruction of domestic markets and domestic production, thus aggravating the agrarian crisis. The crisis of rising food prices is a direct result of countries being forced by the World Bank, WTO and regional and bilateral agreements to import food from the US agribusiness.
The World Bank call to increase contributions to the World Food Programme by $500 million and President Bush’s call to Congress to add $770 million in food aid could become another subsidy to Cargill and ADM if the procurement is not based on creating fair markets for farmers at the local and regional levels.
The globalised system under corporate control is a guaranteed recipe for food disasters and food famines. We can either stop the damage through food democracy and rebuild food sovereignty by strengthening local economies or the corporate powers that have created the emergency will use it to deepen and expand their profits. While billions are condemned to starvation and death, they will use political leaders like President Bush to give a false spin on the causes of the food crisis.
Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust
3.Research on Bt cotton impact sought
The Hindu, May 11 2008
HYDERABAD: The Deccan Development Society and AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity have demanded that the State and Central governments order comprehensive scientific research into the adverse impact of the Bt cotton cultivation on human, animal and soil health. They advised the Government against depending on the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) for information as it relied on a handful of scientists whose loyalty to the farming community was questionable. In fact, a senior member of the GEAC was the president of ISAAA, a global biotech industry body.
Dismissing the biotech companies’ claim about the increase in yield after introduction of Bt cotton, they said that this was more due to increase in acreage and more farmers diversifying into cotton. “The adverse impact of the Bt cotton crops on human health is already showing up. It is time that the Government sheds its callous attitude and wakes up to the reality,” DDS representative and Coalition convenor P.V. Satheesh said.
Addressing a press conference here on Saturday, he said studies in Warangal, Adilabad and Nalgonda districts for five years revealed that Bt farmers secured 10 per cent less returns than those practicing non-pesticidal management techniques.
4.Debt woes drive thousands of Indian farmers to suicide
Associated Press, 11 May 2008
KOCHI, India (AP) ”” On the last night of his life, the farmer walked into his dusty fields, choked down pesticide and waited to die.
He owed more than $1,000 to banks and moneylenders and he had told his wife that if the cotton harvest was bad this year, he would kill himself.
Pandurang Chindu Surpam left the near-barren fields he worked with his sons to share a last meal with his family. Hours later, he died. He was 45.
Crushed by debts most Westerners would deem inconsequential, farmers like Surpam killed themselves at a rate of 48 a day between 2002 and 2006 ”” more than 17,500 a year, according to experts who have analyzed government statistics. At least 160,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1997, said K. Nagaraj of the Madras Institute of Development Studies.
The epidemic dates to the 1990s, and is generally attributed to a toxic blend of slashed subsidies, tougher global competition, drought, predatory moneylenders and expensive genetically modified seeds.
"It's one of the largest public health disasters to hit India since independence," said professor Charles Nuckols of Brigham Young University, an anthropologist who has studied Indian village life for decades.
In northern India, authorities have gone so far as to ban a type of cheap hair dye because it was being drunk to induce death by kidney failure.
But it is India's cotton belt, a land of searing temperatures and backbreaking work, that has been hit hardest by the suicides.
In rural Maharashtra state, farmers say things have never been harder. Owing more than they earn, these steadiest of workers have become gamblers of the highest stakes, betting their land ”” and their lives ”” on one more good crop.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has visited some of the widows, and the 2008 budget offers some debt relief.
But the farmers say their plight is largely being ignored as the country rushes to embrace the global marketplace. Few find it reassuring that India's agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar, doubles as the nation's top cricket official.
A decade ago, the government began cutting farm subsidies as it liberalized the managed socialist economy. The farmers' costs rose as the tariffs that had protected their products were lowered. It was a combination, analysts say, that made small farms even harder to sustain.
"Suicide is one of the symptoms of the larger agrarian crisis," said Srijit Mishra of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research.
Meanwhile, banking reforms forced farmers to be more dependent on private moneylenders. These generally allow the farmers only 11 months to pay back their loans at interest rates of more than 100 percent a year, or else they seize the land at a drastically reduced rate.
"It's not a nice business," said one village moneylender, who agreed to be interviewed if he was not identified because he was unlicensed. "But you earn a lot of money."
A soft-spoken man with a pencil-thin mustache, he runs a small grocery store and has made hundreds of loans to farmers. He has also seized some 125 acres in his decades-long career, which he took over from his father. He said the number of farmers unable to repay their loans has increased by roughly 30 percent in the last 10 years.
"When we loan them money, we are quite sure whether or not they can pay," he said, his long fingers crossed in his lap. "We know it's going to be our land eventually."
Farmers and analysts say another blow was the introduction of genetically modified cotton seeds, notably St. Louis-based Monsanto Co.'s "Bt" seeds which are resistant to boll worms. The seeds can be more productive and have become standard in much of Maharashtra but can be three times more expensive to maintain than traditional seeds.
For the widows, left to tend the crops and raise the children, the suicides are personal calamities with roots not in macroeconomics, but in homegrown problems ”” impossible debts, the loss of ancestral land, rapacious money lenders.
Surpam's widow, a stoic mother of three with a face toughened by the sun, blames her husband's suicide on the loans he had taken over the past two years, his first taste of debt. He borrowed 25,000 rupees ($625) from a bank and 20,000 rupees ($500) from private moneylenders to invest in his fields and to pay for his daughter's wedding, she said.
"He used to say we owe money and if anyone comes looking for us, it would be a dishonor," said his wife, Sumitra, who learned only after his death on April 1 how much he owed.
Surpam's three acres produced just $150 worth of cotton this year ”” not nearly enough to keep the moneylender at bay.
The suicide, Sumitra said, "was obviously because of the loan."
For Surpam and most other small farmers here, borrowing money is as natural as tilling the soil.
When a group of farmers in Kochi were asked recently by The Associated Press which of them was in debt, every hand in the room shot up.
The 2008 budget made special provisions for farmers, forgiving debts to state banks. The move was widely seen as an attempt to stave off rural discontent, which played a large role in toppling the previous government.
But the waivers apply only to farmers who own less than five acres, disqualifying millions. And they don't apply to loans by private moneylenders.
The Waghmere family of Bothbodan village owns slightly more than five acres, so their debt to the bank of more than 60,000 rupees ($1,500) won't be wiped clean.
Before Shanker Waghmere, 49, killed himself in 2005, "he kept talking about debts going up each passing day," said his 35-year-old widow, Shantabair.
With night falling on her crops and her three children fluttering behind her, the widow said she hopes she'll earn enough from this year's harvest to pay off her husband's debt, pay for her daughter's wedding, pay for her son's school.
She plans to buy a batch of seeds she heard grows better cotton.
She said she'll pay for them with a loan from a moneylender.