GMOs Pose More Risk Than We Think
By Brian Stoffel
The Motley Fool, 5 March, 2014
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have the ability to cause “an irreversible termination of life at some scale, which could be the planet.”This warning, as emotional and overstated as it sounds, isn’t coming from some anti-science zealot or conspiracy theorist.It is, instead, coming from Nassim Taleb, distinguished professor of risk engineering at New York University, author of best-sellers The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, and shrewd investor who made a fortune when “black swans” like September 11 and the Great Recession occurred.
Recently, he’s been making his feelings on GMOs crystal clear: they’re dangerous to the overall health of our planet. In a paper that’s available to the public, yet still in draft form, Taleb — along with two colleagues — lay out their case.
GMOs are historically different from their naturally occurring peers in that their genetic makeup has been altered in a laboratory before being planted in fields.
Often, these types of seeds are favored because of their ability to yield larger harvests and avoid certain pests or weeds that usually eat up some of their productivity.
Taleb’s primary concern isn’t that ingesting GMOs is necessarily bad for us; he’s instead focused on the monumental threat such technology has on our worldwide ecosystem. While Taleb agrees that the relative risk of any one transgenic seed ruining the ecosystem is incredibly small, people are still underestimating the risks involved.
That’s because, as humans, we are ill equipped to understand the mathematics behind such risks. Let’s say each GM seed that’s produced holds a 0.1% chance of somehow, in the intricately interdependent web of nature leading to a catastrophic breakdown of the ecosystem that we rely on for life. All by itself, it doesn’t seem too harmful, but with each new seed that’s developed, the risk gets greater and greater.
The chart below demonstrates how, over time, even a 0.1% chance of ecocide can be dangerous.
I cannot stress enough that the probabilities I am using are for illustrative purposes only. Neither I, nor Taleb, claim to know what the chances are of any one type of seed causing such destruction.
The focus, instead, should be on the fact that the “total ecocide barrier” is bound to be hit, over a long enough time, with even incredibly small odds. Taleb includes a similar graph in his work, but no breakdown of the actual variables at play.
As Taleb says, “Over time, something bound to hit the [ecocide] barrier is about guaranteed to hit it.”
Why be so worried if the level of threat isn’t known?
The crux of this argument hinges on the fact that GMOs represent a systemic, and not localized, risk. Because the wind will blow where it wants to, insects will go — and carry with them — what they please, and GM goods will surely be exported to countries throughout the world, the concept of being able to control GM traits in nature is impossible to guarantee.
As Taleb says, “There are mathematical limitations to predictability in a complex system, ‘in the wild,’ which is why focusing on the difference between local (or isolated) and systemic threats is a central aspect of our warnings.”
What it means for investors
Obviously, Monsanto (NYSE: MON ), Syngenta (NYSE: SYT ), Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW ), and DuPont (NYSE: DD) have a vested interest in the success of GMOs — as these four produce the vast majority of GMOs in use right now.
And if authorities start to heed Taleb’s warnings, it would cause investors in these four companies to take a serious hit.But the amount of revenue that each company derives from GMO activity varies quite a bit. Here’s how each company’s revenue total breaks down in their most recent annual reports.
Dow Chemical herbicides and pesticides account for 10% of total sales, and cannot be determined to be a by-product of GMO seeds or not.
Monsanto derives about 30% of its revenue from “agricultural productivity,” which is the word they use for herbicides. It’s hard to tell how much of that is sold because of the Roundup Ready GMO seeds that are sold. Either way, it’s clear that GMOs are a huge part of Monsanto’s business.
DuPont and Dow Chemcial, which have far more diverse business segments, are less exposed to sensitivities or possible regulations regarding GMOs.
Answering the critics
Unsurprisingly, Taleb has run into a fair share of criticism for his views.
But Taleb also addresses those concerns in his paper. Here’s how he responds to the most common critiques:
Humans have been modifying plants for years via selective breeding and tinkering with crops.
While this may be true, Taleb claims there’s a fundamental difference between this and GMOs. “There is no comparison between the [bottom-up] tinkering of selective breeding and the top-down engineering of taking a gene from an organism and putting it into another.”
Furthermore, Taleb claims that nature has never allowed such a systemic risk to evolve. “The planet took about close to zero risks of ecocide in trillions of variations over 3 billion years, otherwise we would not have been here.”
How about the risk of famine without GMOs?
This is “a deceitful strategy, no different from urging people to play Russian roulette in order to get out of poverty.” That’s because, as his probability shows, we’ll all end up dying in the end when we hit the ecocide barrier.
New technologies could solve these problems if they arise
The whole point is that these threats could lay dormant for years before they finally surface. When they do, they would be difficult to control, and could act fast.
Risk is inherent in everything. We can’t just be paralyzed by fear and not progress.
The risk of “generalized human extinction” is not inherent in everything. That’s because most consequences are localized, not systemic. And progress can be made using bottom-up techniques that have worked for eons.
There is no evidence that this type of ecocide could really happen
The precautionary principle — which is what Taleb calls his warning — is all about managing risk, not about waiting for it to surface. The fact that GMOs are a systemic entity is undeniable. Taleb is equally skeptical of all entities that carry systemic risk — like too-big-to-fail banks.
New organisms have been introduced into new ecosystems before and this hasn’t caused total collapse
Many of these new organisms — people often refer to potatoes or tomatoes being introduced into the Old World from the New World — were naturally occurring in nature, or the result of bottom-up tinkering.
Also, the fact that there’s no evidence showing that GMOs have so far caused system damage doesn’t mean it won’t eventually surface. We don’t, as Taleb says, argue that a game of Russian roulette is safer with each empty barrel we find. It is, in fact, more dangerous.
By no means am I as smart as Taleb when it comes to risk, and I don’t have a degree in agricultural sciences. I do find Taleb’s assertions to be a little alarmist.
At the same time, as someone who spends a quarter of every year working on a coffee farm in Costa Rica that transitioned from conventional farming methods to permaculture ones — and having seen the vast improvements in the overall ecosystem on the farm, I think it’s wise to, at the very least, give some credence to the concerns Taleb raises.
After all, it’s not that scientists are dumber than Mother Nature; it’s simply that Mother Nature has been around for about 300,000 times longer than us humans, and what she’s picked to stay around have obviously passed the test of time.
Couldn't resist licking my fingers after tasting a millet-based cooked food displayed at the Adivasi Food Festival, Bissamcuttak, Odisha, Feb 25, 2014.
"Over the past 50 years, we are seeing that diets around the world are changing and they are becoming more similar -- what we call the 'globalised diet,'" Colin Khoury, a scientist from the Colombia-based Centre for Tropical Agriculture told the BBC. "This diet is composed of big, major crops like wheat, rice, potato and sugar. It also includes crops that were not important 50 years ago but have become very important now, particularly oil crops like soybean."
While wheat has long been a staple crop, it is now a key food in more than 97 per cent of countries listed in UN data. And from relative obscurity, soybean has become 'significant' in the diets in almost three-quarter of the nations. The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA. (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/02/26/1313490111).
The decline in the crop diversity in the globalised diet limited the ability to supplement the energy-dense part of the diet with nutrient rich foods. Amid the crops recording a decline in recent decades were millets, rye, yams, sweet potatoes and cassava, reports BBC (Crop diversity decline 'threatens food security' (http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-26382067).
Well, this report is among the several others which have highlighted the threat food security as well as nutrition security faces from the 'globalised diet'. We are all responsible directly or indirectly for this decline. If I were to ask you to count the foods that you eat I bet you will not be able to name more than a few. Wheat, rice, tomato, cucumber, apple, banana … and you begin to reel out the names you know. Not many can name even twenty. Try a little harder, and you will end up probably with another ten. If you are a little more aware, you might struggle with a few more names. That’s it.
That’s how narrow and limited our food sense has come down to. The more we are urbanized, the chances are the less we know about our foods, and the rich food culture that prevailed in our country. The disconnect with the huge diversity of food over the ages has actually alienated the modern civilization from the virtues of the vast repository of biological wealth that existed. Modern living has snapped the symbiotic relationship that existed with nature. Not many know that India is a mega-diversity region with over 51,000 plant species existing, but with hardly a handful being cultivated.
When Laxmi Pidikaka, a tribal woman from southern Odisha explained to me the importance and relevance of each of the 1,582 food species that were displayed at the recently concluded Adivasi Food Festival held at Munda village in Rayagada district, I was left not only amazed with the richness of food around us, but came back with a feeling that how uneducated I was when it came to mankind’s basic requirement of food. Of the 1,582 food species (and that included different kinds of fish, crabs and birds that are part of the daily diet of some tribals), as many as 972 were uncultivated. Yes, you heard it right. Uncultivated foods.
A dozen tribes living in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra had gathered at the Adivasi Food Festival to celebrate their foods, which is basically an appreciation of the traditional food cultures linked to their age-old farming practices providing them nutritional security while protecting and conserving the nature’s bounty. Members from the Kondh, Koya, Didai, Santhal, Juanga, Baiga, Bhil, Pahari Korva, Paudi Bhuiyan and Birhor from more than 300 villages spread across the tribal heartland came to showcase their foods, and also spent the next day discussing how to protect the traditional farming system from the onslaught of the National Food Security Act that aimed at providing them with 5 kg of wheat, rice or millets.
“We don’t need your food security system,” Minati Tuika of Katlipadar village told me. “The more you open ration shops in our villages, the more you force us to abandon our own food security system built by our forefathers so painstakingly over the centuries. Please leave us alone.” But why was she so angry with what most policy makers and planners see as development? Don’t most educated elite think that tribals are uneducated and uncivilized, and therefore all out efforts must be made to bring them into the mainline?
“Don’t teach us what development is. We conserved and preserved our plants, our soil, our forests, and our rivers over the centuries. Now you want to take these away, and destroy them. And then you call it development.” Saying this, she hid her face. When I coaxed her to explain to me how the adivasis were living in tandem with the nature, and how the modern system was distancing them from their traditional cultures and the community control over resources, she agreed to first show me some plants that had multiple uses demonstrating the traditional skills of the community which preserved and used them without pushing them into the extinct category.
She showed me the Siali beans. Quite a big sized dry bean whose seeds are eaten after boiling or roasting, the branches are used to make ropes, and the leaves are used to make leaf plates. Kusum Koli leaves are used for fodder, fruits are eaten raw, wood is used as firewood, and oil is extracted from the seeds. The seed oil serves as a mosquito repellent and also treats certain skin diseases. Even the better know Mahuatrees have multiple uses. Leaves are used for fodder, flowers are used to make jaggery, liquor and porridge. Flowers are also consumed and often sold in the market, a kind of a curry is made from the fruits besides being used as fodder, and the seed provides cooking oil after extraction. All these are unfortunately classified as uncultivated plants in agricultural parlance, and therefore do not receive any attention.
Debjeet Sarangi of Living Farms, which organized the Adivasi Food festival, says it is aimed at deepening the communitarian ethos of the adivasi society and the shared knowledge systems. The event will highlight their sustainable way of growing food and its relationship with their ecology – land, plants, animals and forests. When I asked him whether this exercise didn’t aim at romanticizing the foregone, his response was curt: “That’s where we fault. These people are in complete harmony with their nature. Instead of brushing them as uncivilized, we have to learn from them. Whether we like it or not, the future of the humanity is hidden in these tribal cultures.”
I decided to take a walk to see the range of cooked foods displayed. At the entrance to the event itself participants were served a nutritious welcome drink. Made from ragimillet with a sprinkling of rice grains, the drink was certainly very tasty. Called Mandia jau in the local language, it is actually a ragigruel. Says Salome Yesudas: “I don’t know why people need to drink colas and other kinds of sodas when you have such healthy drinks available.” Considering that the sale of colas has been on a decline, it will be vertainly helpful if someone was to promote Mandia jau. The next time you visit my house, be prepared to taste this exotic drink.
I was at first a little apprehensive at tasting the cooked food displayed. More so, considering that I am a diabetic. But when Salome Yesudas, a nutritionist from Chennai, explained to me how most of these food dishes were based on different kinds of millets which are the preferred food for people suffering from lifestyle diseases, I couldn’t control dipping my fingers. Pancakes made from finger millet, foxtail millet, with a little jaggery; cakes from ragi and sesame, and then there were cooked dishes using sorghum, pearl millet, kodo millet, barnyard millet, red rice and with sprinklings of uncultivated fruits and seeds. Living Farms is now documenting the food recipes and has prepared a nutrition chart detailing the nutrition composition of uncultivated plants. They have also printed posters in English and Oriya on the vast varieties of foods available for a balanced diet, as well as for the summer and winter seasons.
Although the Adivasi Food Festival at Munda was not the first traditional festivals of food that I had visited but what makes me feel encouraged is the efforts being made by some civil society groups to bring back the lost traditions, including the culinary habits. It also clearly demonstrates that what India needs is not a centralized food security system but a multi-layered decentralized food security system based on the traditional practices in that particular region. Instead of providing the tribal populations with a monthly entitlement of 5 kg of wheat/rice/millets, the focus should be on strengthening the existing food system.
This is only possible if we are able to inculcate a feeling of pride in our traditional systems. The richness of our food culture, which is so intricately linked to the preservation of natural resources, is where it can all begin. I don’t know why our agricultural universities don’t talk about it; I don’t know why our food magazines and food shows never focus on the traditional foods; and I am certainly not surprised why our Planning Commission has no idea as to what the tribal cultures imbibe. #
Unable to comprehend the bizarre scenario, we asked a third umpire, an expert food analyst. to demystify the scenario. Agri scientist Devinder Sharma has earned the sobriquet Green Chomsky, for his work in the area of food trade and policy. He talked at length to ECO about past mistakes, present confusion and future uncertainty when it comes to food security. Food loss, he said, was the tipping point at which most of the planning and policy really toppled. Excerpts.
ECO: There has been a constant cry for quite some time now that agriculture needs to be throttled up, that we will face a food crisis due to the deficiency of crops. What do you think?
Sharma: I think we need to clear the air first. Out of the planets total population of 7.2 billion, according to the FAO, roughly 900 million go to bed hungry. So, the entire focus has been to increase productivity in order to maintain the food requirement in the year 2050. I think this is a totally wrong direction to work on. The US Department of Agriculture calculated that the food produced globally in 2012 was enough to feed 13.5 billion people. That means we are already producing food for double the existing population. At the same time we are being told that the population would rise to 9 billion by 2050 and therefore we need to produce more. Population is expected to be around 11 billion by the end of this century. But are we not at present producing food for 13.5 billion people? So where is the crisis on the food production front? Lets be therefore clear. There is no shortage of food. The world is in fact saddled with double the quantity that we need.
But then what do you make of the millions of hungry people?
Food mismanagement! At present, around 40 per cent of the worlds food is lost or wasted. If that loss is minimized, we will have food for each and every one. So, food loss is where the thrust should be, globally as well as nationally. The entire focus is on the wrong side when it should be about minimizing food loss.
How threatening is the food scenario since 40 per cent of all food is reportedly lost in India?
Who said that? Thats not correct. Everywhere in the media, people say food loss is 40 per cent. Its not according to me. Parliament had asked the Indian Council of Agriculture and Research (ICAR) to do an analysis on the post harvest losses in various crops. The ICAR entrusted this project to the Central Institute of Post Harvest Engineering and Technology (CIPHET). They came up with the report which says that in case of cereals, the post harvest loss is less than 6 per cent. Similarly, among the vegetables, the highest loss occurs in tomatoes which is around 12 per cent. In case of fruits, guava suffers the most with loss of around 24 per cent throughout the Food Supply Chain (FSC). However, in case of milk there hasnt been any wastage recorded, which is not amazing.
Well, in that case, where in the supply chain does food loss occur extensively?
With regard to food loss, there is something that hasn't been observed from a wider outlook. And that is the wastage at the level of processing. That is where the crux lies and nobody wants to talk about it. Because that is industrial wastage, I mean a wastage which everyone is OK with! Maximum food that I find being wasted is in the processing sector. And weve been given to believe that this sector will help minimize food loss.
If we look at the United States, more than 40 per cent of the food loss happens at the level of processing. And we believe that if FDI happens in our country, food loss will be minimized. But studies show that 50 per cent of fruits and vegetables rot in the American supermarkets!
With reference to India too, the Agriculture and Food Processing Minister went on record stating 0.6 per cent of the food stored has been wasted during storage. Thats a pretty arguable and a non-realistic figure. But it would surprise you to know that private food distribution companies such as Cargill and ADM waste 3 per cent of their stored food on an average. That means even they are not efficient, contrary to the general belief.
Now with FDI coming in the food market, are we looking at a significant improvement?
Improvements? Are you kidding me? Are they successful in their own backyards? I know there are problems in the storage sector and transportation in India. But the impression that I have been getting is that unless FDI retail comes to India, things will not improve. What rubbish? In America, FDI retail is not maintaining the backend processes; neither in Europe. Their government is doing that. Moreover in India, we have this wonderful system of milk co-operatives thats famous around the world for its efficiency. If the milk co-operatives can build up a highly efficient food value chain for a perishable product like milk, without the help of America or Europe, why cant we do the same for agriculture in India?
And its not that retail stores are new to us. For quite some time now, organized retail chains have been in operation in India. We have Reliance Fresh, Fair Price, Big Bazaar, Easy Day and so on. Their argument was the same. They also promised the same quality of infrastructure and transportation facilities that these foreign chains are now boasting. None of them has been able to develop that type of infrastructure. Theyre not interested; they only wanted to earn money.
But, going by the hype, there must be some ways in which the country will benefit from FDI?
Why do you think these foreign investors are lined up to invest in the country? So that we Indians can benefit? These retail chains havent been able to do wee bit of improvements in their country. How can you expect them to do anything here? In America, Walmart has completed 50 years now. And I think more than 60 per cent of the consumer products and agriculture products are being sold or procured or marketed by Walmart. That means the farmers over there should be thriving and prosperous. But thats not what it looks like. Studies show that before Walmart came in, for every dollar of produce that the farmer would sell, his income would be 70 cents. In 2005, the income came down to 4 cents. The income should have gone up now that they were no middlemen. Truth is Walmart in itself is the biggest middleman! American agriculture survives not because of Walmart but because of massive federal subsidies. Same goes for Europe. About 145 billion Euros have been provided to agriculture under the common agriculture policy. In a nutshell, if foreign organized retail comes to India, food loss will break records, farmers would get a lower price, food quality will go down and knowing that processed food is largely unhealthy, Indians will suffer.
Lets start from the first level of Food Supply Chain. At the ground level, how can farmers contribute and ensure that there is no food loss?
The only food loss that happens at this stage is during drying and threshing. Farmers leave their harvested crops to dry up under the sun. Thats where some wastage occurs. Washing, threshing and cutting are some more phases but you cannot compare them with the massive loss that happens in the processing sector. And if you ask me the reason for food loss at the farmers level, its because of the policies that devoid the farmer of any progress. Unites States develops some technology, Indian policymakers blindly implement the machines on our Indian farmers. Why do you force some foreign machines or technology on the Indian small farmers? These technologies were not developed for small farmers. Why cant you listen to what the small farmers need and then develop you own mechanisms that would help him? Instead we first develop a technology and then want the farmer to fit into it.
The government has never paid heed to the woes of farmers. Rather they have looked forward to the benefits of big companies. In Punjab, farmers have been lured in to buy tractors that have no commercial viability for most of them. For a tractor to be commercially viable, one needs at least 10 hectares of land. Now, the government has reduced that figure to 2 acres. Result is, every other farmer is buying tractors on loan from these companies in order to cultivate his small piece of land, which really does not require a tractor. Every second farmer in Punjab owns a tractor. Tractor has now become a symbol of suicide. Tell me what kind of policy is this? Instead of this, tractors should be leased out to farmers for their cultivating season at a reasonable price.
There are three organizations responsible for food storage in India, the Food Corporation of India, the Central Warehousing Corporation and the State Warehousing Corporation. Still, were left with millions worth rotten food grains every year. Why is that?
See, setting up of a warehouse is not rocket science. Unfortunately, we see it as a highly technical thing. Planning teams from India have gone to Argentina to understand how they store food. What rubbish! In 1979, a programme was launched by the Indian Government named Save Grain Campaign in order to prevent damage of food grains after the successful Green Revolution. The programme suggested that 50 major warehouses be set up in the country in different states. Imagine if that programme would have been implemented, there would have been no need to bring grains from different states and spend on transport. Food grains could have been distributed locally from the respective warehouse. But food storage has never received any priority. Well, even now there is apparently no priority. Its just glib talk.
Two three years back, the government had decided to construct Panchayat gharsin each of the roughly 265,000 panchayats. Now, this is ridiculous. Panchayats have always been known to operate from open premises. Instead of this, had they converted these panchayat ghars into food godowns, much of the food storage and distribution problem would have been solved by now. Then there would have been local production, local procurement and local distribution. This shows that there is no emphasis on food storage.
The media has shaken the thinking of the average person by showing images of food rotting owing to bad storage. But I doubt if this will even remotely affect the policymakers. Instead of stocking food grains in unhygienic places where they will eventually rot, they could have distributed the grains among the poor! But they did not. The policy makers are waiting for a food riot to happen! Only then, their conscience will wake up from its slumber!
What are your views on the Food Security Act? Is there any provision in it to combat food loss?
In my understanding, the Food Security Act is an opportunity lost. After 66 years of independence, the government finally decided to bring in a legal mechanism to provide food for the hungry. But in my understanding the National Advisory Council drafted a lousy bill; its faulty. This Food Security Act is only good for the dustbin. Why? Well, one-third of the worlds hungry people live in our country of 1.25 billion people. They are not hungry because there is shortage of food. They are hungry because there is a grave problem with food access and food distribution.
The bill aims at providing food to poor people for all times to come. If you make people dependent on a food dole, then you are not empowering them. Will the government go on providing subsidized food to these hungry people throughout their lives? Why not develop a system wherein the people can themselves become self-reliant in ensuring their food security? The question that needs to be asked is that out of the estimated 6.5 lakh villages in India, 5 lakh produce food. Why is it that the same food producing villagers live in hunger?
It would have been a better option to have two different programmes under the Act, one for rural areas and another for the urban parts. See, in a country like India, one size is not going to fit all. Time and again, the government is banking upon the same Public Distribution System (PDS) to deliver. The system had failed earlier.
If the government opted for something more sustainable, like a food grain bank, it would have been much better. This system was in operation on a large scale before the British came. A cluster of villages would have their own community controlled food grain bank system which would prevent prospective starvation. There are many villages in India where such community driven grain banks operate. There is no hunger in these villages. Why cant we operate this community driven grain bank scheme on a large scale? This is the only way to ensure that people become responsible for their own food security and this, in turn, will also boost local production and distribution.
At a time when 2,500 farmers quit agriculture daily and 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide in the last 17 years, this Food Security Act is nothing more than a vote security bill. On the one hand, farmers are dying and on the other, a huge population goes to bed hungry. Most of the hungry are in fact farmers. Am I the only one who thinks there is something seriously wrong? After all, providing subsidized food to the poor and hungry farmer is not the solution.
Roughly sixty per cent of the hungry in India are farmers; the government needs to make agriculture sustainable and economically viable for the farmers so that they he can first become food secure. In a country which has 60 crore farmers, the only way out is to link up agriculture with food security. Driving them out of agriculture and ensuring food security by food imports is a suicidal policy. India needs to do what Mahatma Gandhi had suggested. It needs a production system by the masses and not for the masses. #
Source: ECOEarthCare. Mar 2014. http://www.ecoearthcare.com/storyd.asp?sid=1032&pageno=2
Moily’s approval of GMO field trials
Anti Science, Anti farmer, Anti Democracy, and Anti people’s Seed and Food Sovereignty
By Dr. Vandana Shiva, 28th February 2014Media Release
Mr Moily, India’s Oil Minister, who is also India’s new Environment Minister, did what he was appointed to do – Approve field trials of 200 GMOs, of wheat, rice, corn, cotton produced by companies like Monsanto, Mahyco, Bayer, BASF in one fell swoop. This blind and blanket approval is anti-science, anti-people, anti-farmer, anti-democracy. It is a threat to our Seed Freedom and Food Freedom.
Most approvals granted by Mr. Moily are for GMOs which are bt crops or ht (herbicide tolerant) crops. Bt crops are engineered with a gene from the Soil Organism, Bacillus Thuringiensis to produce a toxin in the plant to control the Bollworm. Monsanto’s Bt Cotton (trade name Bollgard) and Bt Baigan are examples of such Bt crops. Herbicide Tolerant plants introduce a toxic gene to make the plant tolerant to the company’s proprietary herbicide. In the case of Monsanto, the HT crops are Roundup Ready soya, corn and cotton. Since crops with genes for producing bt toxin and herbicide resistant genes produce poisons,in lay language we could call these poison producing plants. That is why they need to be assessed for biosafety which means health and environmental safety in the context of GMOs. It is only when such safety can be guaranteed through lab and greenhouse tests should we allow open field trials which are precursors to commercialization.
Subverting India’s Biosafety
The Rules for Biosafety in India are contained in the 1989 RULES FOR THE MANUFACTURE, USE, IMPORT, EXPORT AND STORAGE OF HAZARDOUS MICRO ORGANISMS GENETICALLY ENGINEERED ORGANISMS OR CELLS
(notified under the EP Act, 1986).
Two Environment Ministers have been removed because they were implementing these rules in letter and spirit.
Jairam Ramesh was removed as Environment Minister after he put a moratorium on GM eggplant, the BT Brinjal, after listening to scientists, farmers, citizens in 7 public hearings organized across the country. The public hearings on Bt Baigan were the highest expression of science and democracy.
Jayanthi Natarajan was removed because she was upholding the Biosafety laws and she refused to sign on the dotted line with the Agriculture Minister, Shri Sharad Pawar, to allow GMO field trials in a joint affidavit to the Supreme Court in the GMO case.
Moily’s approvals violate all the scientific principles of Biosafety and Food Security. They are also sub judice, since the Supreme Court is hearing the matter.
Jayanti Natarajan was trying to ensure she does not do anything to undermine the independence of the judiciary. And this is why she was replaced by Moily, to bulldoze approvals before a robust Biosafety framework is evolved, just a few months before the elections.
The Government has also been trying its best to totally undo the Biosafety rules and replace them with industry friendly deregulation law drafted as the BRAI (Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India). This law could not be passed by parliament because of protests from citizens and Parliamentarians.
Since the Government, under pressure from the Biotech Industry has failed to change the law, it replaced Environment Ministers, and is now trying to subvert the legal process.
While the approvals have been given, in the name of science, the decision is against the science of Biosafety. Moily says safety will be ensured. Sharad Pawar says protocols will be followed.
But there are no detailed protocols evolved that cover all dimensions of the ecological, health and socio economic impact of GMOs. It was precisely to evolve such protocols and strengthen India’s Biosafety regulatory process that the Supreme court has appointed a Technical Expert Committee. The TEC recommended a 10 year moratorium on GMO approvals till scientifically robust protocols, independent and competent institutions to assess risks, and a strong regulatory system was evolved.
They also recommended that there be no GMOs in crops of which we are the centre of Diversity such as rice, brinjal, banana. Since India’s farms are small scale, with 80% of the land being less than 2 ha, the TEC also recommended no use of herbicide tolerant crops, since ht crops destroy everything green, and would destroy the food, fodder and medicinal plants on our small farms, threatening the livelihoods and food and nutritional security of the majority of India’s citizens.
Open Field Trials are not about Scientific Research, they are about commerce
The GMO approvals, the Minister says, are for Scientific Research and cannot be stopped. But Scientific Research is done in laboratories and greenhouses, not through a deliberate release of GMOs into the open environment. The open field trials are a precursor to the commercialization of GMOs. This is borne out by the fact that Monsanto’s shares have surged by 77% as soon as Moily’s decision was announced.
And as in the case of Monsanto’s illegal Bt cotton trials, Biotech Corporations can multiply the GMO seed and spread GMOs commercially.
Open field trials are not needed for the enhancement of scientific research on Biosafety. On the contrary, open field trials have a proven track record of introducing hazards into soil organisms, pollinators, and causing socio economic harm to farmers through genetic contamination.
There are 2 aspects of Biosafety-Health and Environmental Safety.
All tests on health impacts required for biosafety are done in labs. Open field trials are not a methodology for assessing toxicity, carcinogenicity, etc. Hence more lab research on health and safety aspects of GMOs should be done by scientific bodies and scientists independent of the biotech industries. This is how all assessment is done across the world. French scientists did a 2 year lab study on health and safety aspects of GMOs. This did not need the cultivation of GMOs in France. In fact France has a GMO ban. A ban on cultivation is not a block to research. Lab research has not been stopped the Supreme Court, or by the 2 Environment Ministers who were removed. One put commercialization on hold. The other put field trials on hold. This is not the blocking of research.
Environment impacts of GMOs include impact on soil organisms, on pollinators, on genetic contamination of non–GMO crops and wild relatives. Toxic impacts of GMOS on soil organisms can be carried out in greenhouses and laboratories. Navdanya’s research on the impact of bt cotton and soil organisms has shown 22% decline of soil microorganisms and degenerating soil health
EFFECT OF Bt-TRANSGENIC COTTON ON SOIL BIOLOGICAL HEALTH
Jagadish C. Tarafdar, Indira Rathore and Vandana Shiva
Applied Biological Research 14 (1): 00-00, 2012
Such impacts need to be assessed under Greenhouse conditions and not through a deliberate release in the open environment, since once a deliberate release takes place, there is no recall. For example a GMO Klebsiella Planticola was designed to convert straw into alcohol. If it had been released as an open field trial, it would have destroyed all crops. Dr Elaine at the University of Oregon did the comparison of the GMO and non GMO klebsiella in the lab with potted wheat plants , and found that the GM klebsiella had killed all the wheat plants, but the non GMO klebsiella had no impact. Can you imagine the harm and risks if open field trials had been used, instead of carrying out the experiment in the lab?
Similarly, when Cornell scientists wanted to study the impact of Bt corn on the Monarch butterfly, they did the study as a lab study by feeding larvae of the butterfly with Bt and non Bt corn pollen. The larvae fed Bt pollen died.
In the case of Bt corn, the cultivation was allowed in the US without proper Biosafety assessments. Today, the population of the Monarch Butterfly has been reduced by 75%.
Genetic Contamination from Open Field Trials is Inevitable, and has High Economic Costs
One of the approvals given by Moily is for Bayer to do an open field trial with genetically engineered cotton with herbicide resistant gene on grounds that this will provide pollination distances for cotton. Firstly, the TEC has recommended that herbicide resistant GMOs should not be allowed in India.
Secondly, studies on pollination distances can be based on the Non GMO variant of a variety. Such open field trials with GMOs will promote contamination of organic cotton as well as closely related species spreading toxic genes in the environment. In fact, the Navbharat 151 cotton seed sold in Gujarat had Bt traits, not because the seed was genetically engineered, but because cotton in Maharashtra was contaminated during Monsanto’s illegal field trials. The risks of such contamination are well established. Bayers field trials of rice in the US has led to the contamination of the rice with the consequence that the US has lost its rice exports. Bayer was forced to pay $ 750 million for the contamination from its rice trials.
Monsanto’s wheat trials in Oregon also led to contamination of wheat, and rejection of wheat exports from the US.
Both countries and farmers bear heavy costs due to contamination.
Canada’s canola exports have been rejected because of contamination.
Canadian Percy Schmeiser canola crop was contaminated by Monsanto’s GMO canola. Due to contamination from Monsanto’s GMO Canola, Australian farmer Steve Marsh lost his organic status, since GMOs are not allowed in organic. He has sued for damages.
Even though GMO corn is not approved in Mexico the Centre of Diversity of corn,corn in Mexico has been found to be contaminated by Bt corn through studies carried out by Berkeley scientist Ignacio Chapela.
CONTAMINATION FROM OPEN FIELD TRIALS IS A REALITY. AND THIS REALITY HAS ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES FOR FARMERS AND THE NATION, AND HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT IMPACT FOR ALL SOCIETIES.
The claim that the government has made that the approvals are for Scientific Research and Development is totally false.
We encourage more Research on GMOs, at the level of labs and greenhouses where the organism is contained, specially on their health and safety aspects .
India should have liability laws in place before the trials are approved, since open field trials can lead to contamination and serious economic losses for innocent farmers.
The UN The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety has already adopted a supplementary Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur protocol on Liability and redress.
GMOs have failed, and Alternatives exist
Most GMOs approved by Moily fall in the category of Bt crops, claimed to control pests, and Ht crops, claimed to control weeds.
However, in 2 decades of commercialization of Bt and Ht GMO crops, pests and weeds have not been controlled. Instead GMOs have created superpests and superweeds. Bollgard I with one Bt gene has had to be replaced by Bollgard II with two Bt genes, because of emergence resistance in the pink Bollworm. In the US, half the US farmland is overtaken by Superweeds that are resistant to Roundup. Now the corporations are planning to spread GMOs that are resistant to 2-4 D, an ingredient of Agent Orange.
There are ecologically sustainable, effective and proven technologies to control pests and weeds.
A technology is a tool. The GMO tools for pest and weed control have clearly failed. To promote a failed and hazardous technology, without assessment of its hazards, and without consideration of alternatives is ecologically, socially and scientifically irresponsible.
Moily’s illegal, un-scientific, undemocratic rush to grant approval for GMOs illustrates the pressure being brought on India to lose its GMO free status in food crops. This will undermine our science and democracy. It will harm our farmers, our citizens and our agriculture. It will threaten our health and environmental safety. It will rob of us our Seed Freedom and Food Freedom.
Indian Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture has cautioned the Government on GMOs. In a Democracy, the Executive must not bypass the Parliament.
In addition there is a Supreme Court case going on related to open field trials. The decision to approve GMOs is therefore sub judice.
The Supreme Court should put a stay on Moily’s approval of GMO open field trials in the name of scientific research, since once a GMO crop is cultivated in open fields, it will contaminate the ecosystem, it will contaminate our rice and wheats, our mustard and our cotton. Organic farmers will lose their organic status, organic consumers will lose access to safe GMO free food. India will loose her exports, since most countries are GMO free and do not accept GMO contamination.
To defend our Seed and Food Freedom, we will challenge this anti-science, anti democracy decision of the Government in every way democratic way possible.
Several hundred bottlenose dolphins, porpoises, and pilot whales are hunted and slaughtered in Taiji Cove annually. Among those slain so far this year were infant dolphins (whom the fishermen view as too small to be worth much in meat), and a rare albino dolphin.
On Jan. 24, activists held a rally in downtown Tokyo, decrying this abuse and calling on officials to stop the sale of marine animals to aquariums and as meat. They declared that the practice is tarnishing Japan's reputation, especially as Tokyo prepares to host the 2020 summer Olympic Games.
"The government had argued that the practice of dolphin hunting is part of Japanese tradition and food culture," said Noriko Ikeda, a member of Action for Marine Mammals who organized the demonstration. "But the reality is that most Japanese people do not know about dolphin hunting, and it is extremely rare to find Japanese people who wish to eat dolphins. The real problem is that this hunt is driven by a demand for live dolphins from aquariums wishing to put on dolphin shows."
Satoshi Komiyama, who is the leader of Action for Marine Mammals, noted that their group is relatively new, having arisen from a grassroots movement, and is indicative of a new uprising against these cruel practices. He remarked, "There have always been discussions about the pros and cons of dolphin issues in Japan. But arguments and discussions do not save dolphins. Now, we think action is important. Many foreign groups come to Japan and are active in protecting dolphins. However, since they are not permanent residents of Japan, there are various limitations and difficulties in regard to their activities here." If enough people protest, he remarked, "we have the potential to start a larger movement [based] right here in Japan."
Animal rights and rescue organization In Defense of Animals added that not only is dolphin hunting a cruel sport, it is also unhealthy for people. "How the Japanese government can knowingly allow the human consumption of dolphin meat is beyond reason," stated the group. "It contains dangerous levels of mercury and other industrial pollutants."
According to Carl Safina, Stony Brook University professor and founder of conservation group Blue Ocean Institute, it's notable that Japan's own slaughter guidelines for livestock are superior to that of the U.S.'s torturous factory farming, in that Japan requires animals to be killed in the quickest, most painless way possible, or else lose consciousness before being killed. Efforts must also be made to minimize anxiety and depression in the livestock.
None of these guidelines, however, apply to whale and dolphin killing, and since 2010, a new, more vicious killing method has been employed, one which involves piercing the animals' spinal cords with metal rods. Essentially, this results in a more prolonged, painful death for these highly intelligent mammals. The reason for doing so is because it apparently shortens the "harvest time" and makes the job easier for the fishermen.
The uproar over the slaughter has extended beyond that of mere animal rights and environmental groups: It drew a firm rebuke from U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, who on Jan. 17 tweeted, "I am deeply concerned by the inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing. The U.S. government opposes drive hunt fisheries."
And according to a report by Whales.org, "The treatment of dolphins in [these] hunts sharply contradicts current animal welfare standards employed in most modern and technologically advanced societies. The systematic mistreatment of dolphins, allowed and sanctioned by a highly developed country such as Japan, is in striking contrast to the European Union, the United States, and even existing Japanese livestock legislation."
This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
The European Greens select their top candidates for the 2014 European Elections in first ever EU-wide online election
Ska Keller, from Germany, and José Bové, from France, have been selected to lead the European Green Party in their upcoming European campaign. After closing the polls yesterday, the election result was presented at a press conference earlier this morning.
"I’m looking forward to an enthusiastic election campaign, for the whole of the European Union," Ska Keller said during today's press conference. "It will be our task as top candidates to bring a European dimension to the national Green campaigns."
"In our campaign, we Greens will be clear about what our Green alternatives are for Europe: a fair and Green way out of the crisis, putting youth unemployment on the top of the agenda, protecting the rights of refugees and migrants, fair trade not free trade, more ambitious climate targets, and more democracy," Keller said.
The European Green Party, which is a transnational political party consisting of 40 green parties from throughout the European Union, asked people whom shared their "values" to choose their party's two green leading candidates for the upcoming European Elections, which are held between 22 and 25 May later this year.
This was the first ever Europe-wide online election for a parliamentary group in the European parliament. But the election had quite a low voter turnout with only 22,676 people participating. It's therefore doubtful that the result is representative for the members of the green parties in Europe.
Genetically-modified seeds in India
By Iqbal Ahmed
The Nation, 19 January 2014
The devastating impact of Monsanto’s
Monsanto’s operation in India illustrates monopolization and manipulation of the market economy, tradition, technology, and misgovernance. The world’s largest producer of genetically engineered seeds has been selling genetically modified (GM) in India for the last decade to benefit the Indian farmers – or so the company claims.
In a country of more than 550 million farmers who are largely poor and uneducated and the agriculture market rife with inefficient business practices, the Indian government sought to reform the market by eliminating subsidies and loans to the farmers. The government reform did not help the farmers. With pressure from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Indian government has “forced market liberalization on India which means the elimination of government subsidies and government-backed loans to farmers.”
Enter Monsanto with its “magic” GM seeds to transform the lives of the poor Indian farmers. The U.S. agri-business giant took full advantage of its entry into the Indian market. It entered into an agreement with state governments including Rajasthan and Andhara Pradesh to introduce a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that dictated the terms of disseminating the GM technology in Indian market. For Monsanto, it is one thing to convince farmers to use artificial seeds for the purposes of enriching their lives, it is quite another to manipulate nature and technology to profit from them.
The irony is GM seeds have not been effective in India and the consequences are not as rosy as what Monsanto had promised to deliver. Scathing reports of mass suicides of Indian farmers broke out as recently as three years ago when scores of farmers took their own lives in order to escape the burden of high prices and failure of Monsanto’s GM seeds.
Monsanto offered its GM seeds to the farmers of India with hopes of reaping plentiful crops. Plain and mostly uneducated farmers thought Monsanto had come to provide a “magic” formula that would transform their lives. They had no idea what was coming. Monsanto’s seeds in India did not produce what the company had promised and farmers hoped. The expensive seeds piled up debts and destroyed farming fields. In many instances, the crops simply failed to materialize. The farmers were not aware that the GM seeds required more water than the traditional seeds. And lack of rain in many parts of India exacerbated the crop failure.
With no harvest, the farmers could not pay back the lenders. Burdened with debts and humiliation, the farmers simply took their own lives, some by swallowing poisonous pesticides in front of their families. To date, an estimated 200,000 farmers have committed suicide all over India. To add to the misery, wives inherited the debts along with the fear of losing their homes and lands. With no money coming in, they also had to pull their kids from the schools. The mass suicide among the Indian farmers is known as the “GM genocide.”
In its company website Monsanto declares that its pledge is “our commitment to how we do business.” And then there are the business philosophies with virtuous words like “integrity” and “transparency.” Monsanto’s business practices in India quite remarkably live up to the company’s motto. It purposefully leverages its power and influence in government to penetrate farming markets with motive but without morale.
Using its colossal market power, Monsanto craftily penetrated into the Indian markets. Monsanto convinced the Indian government that its GM seeds would produce better crops. According to a report by Farm Wars, one former Managing Director of Monsanto claimed that Monsanto manipulated research data “to get commercial approvals for its products in India.”
Indian regulatory agencies, instead of verifying the data, simply remained compliant with the findings of what Monsanto presented. “They did not even have a test tube to validate the data and, at times, the data itself was faked,” the Farm Wars report says. Government regulations worked in favor of Monsanto to monopolize the Indian seed market. For example, “Prime Minsiter’s Office” in India pressured various state governments to sign MOUs with Monsanto to privatize the seed market.
Through these “vested interests” with the Indian government, Monsanto eventually has monopolized the GM seed market for more than a decade.
Unable to purchase traditional seeds, the farmers had to pay a hefty price for the expensive GM seeds. Many farmers had to borrow money from the local lenders to buy Monsanto’s seeds. To cite an example of how expensive the GM seeds are, 100 grams of GM cost $15 to the farmers compared with $15 for 1000 grams of traditional seeds.
Vandana Shiva, a renowned scientist and activist in India, wrote that Monsanto had also planned to control water in India. Its aim was to control water supply through privatization. In other words, Monsanto sought to profit from water, a lifeline of Indian livelihood. By seeking control of water, Monsanto also seized the opportunity to benefit from the scarce water supply that plagues communities throughout India.
The failure of Monsanto’s GM seeds was palpable. The farmers held onto their hopes for better crops after they had planted the “magic” seeds. Their crops never came. Throughout the villages in India the harvest from the GM seeds failed. The parasites destroyed the so-called “pest-proof” GM seeds. Monsanto uses methods of manipulation and misinformation to reap their own benefits and profits at the cost of the farmers who rely on organic methods to grow their crops and animals, a tradition that existed in India for centuries. By a contractual clause, the farmers could not save Monsanto’s GM seeds for reuse after the first season.
Whether or not the farmers understood this legal binding would merit an examination to underscore the extent of Monsanto’s market power and conniving business practices. Misleading and forcing farmers to buy the GM seeds through government policy and market monopoly must be purged as part of reforming the Indian agricultural market.
Action Against GM seeds
Prince Charles does not like what Monsanto is doing or causing to the lives of farmers in India. He has expressed his contempt for the “bio-tech leaders” and “politicians” who have caused suicides among Indian farmers. His charity organization promotes “long-term benefits of sustainable agriculture” that would provide “decent returns” to the farmers.
Facing pressure from the anti-GM seed activists, NGOs, and local communities, the Indian government gave in. In 2010, Indian Environment Minister issued a temporary “moratorium” on Monsanto to introduce genetically engineered egg plant seeds in India. Only time will tell how long this policy effects will last.
In a country where money, politics, and business often go hand in hand, the farmers are at the mercy of their own fate.
Iqbal Ahmed is a public policy graduate student at George Mason University, Arlington, VA. He completed a study abroad program at Oxford University, UK in summer 2011 on European Union (EU) policies. Hes has written for Foreign Policy Journal, Journal of Foreign Relations, Foreign Policy in Focus, Global Politician, Eurasia Review, and NPR’s “This I believe.”
IPRs, Biopiracy, and Right to Food and Health
By Dr. Mira Shiva – IHES and Dr. Vandana Shiva – Navdanya/RFSTEMedia Release
US business chambers and advocacy organizations have asked the Obama administration to designate India as a Priority Foreign Country, which means it will be bracketed with countries that are the most serious violators of intellectual property rights (IPRs). The US imposes trade sanctions against countries included in the list.
There are major scientific, ethical and human rights problems associated with the US threats of trade sanctions related to IPRs.
The first problem is that these threats come from the same corporations, which created the pressure to introduce Intellectual Property Rights into a Trade Treaty through the US Govt.
As Monsanto admitted in the context of TRIPS “We were the patient, diagnostician and patient all in one.”
Most companies involved in patents on medicines and pharmaceuticals are also involved in patenting seeds. The same corporations who dominate the pharmaceutical, agrichemical and Seed Sector globally now want to dominate the Pharmaceutical and Seed Sector in India.
The second problem is that every step in the expansion of corporate intellectual property rights results in a shrinkage of people’s Right to Medicine and Health and the Right to Seed and Food.
What the US government is seeking through its threat is undermining the clauses in the Indian Patent Act, which protect the Rights of the people, while being TRIPS compliant.
The 1970 Patent Act of India excluded patents in agriculture, and product patents in medicine. The Act had to be amended when India signed the WTO agreements, including the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement of WTO.
India has already made significant changes in its Patent Laws because of the TRIPS requirements. Some of these changes include allowing product patents in Medicine, and allowing patents in Agriculture, through the implementation of Art 27.3.(b) of TRIPS.
Movements defending people’s rights in India came together as the Working Group on Patent Laws, through the initiative of late Shri B K Keayala.
Through the efforts of the working group, safeguards were introduced in the Amended Patent Law. These safeguards were based on a clear and scientific definition of what would not qualify as an invention. For example, Clause 3 on “What are not inventions” was strengthened.
The most significant articles in this Clause are Art 3(d) and Art 3(j).
Article 3(d) excludes as inventions “the mere discovery of any new property or new use for a known substance”.
Article 3(j) excludes from patentability “plants and animals in whole or in any part thereof other than micro-organisms but including seeds, varieties, and species, and essentially biological processes for production or propagation of plants and animals”.
Art 3(d) was the basis of the rejection of the patent application made by Swiss company Novartis for an ever greening of its patent on cancer medicine by the Indian Patent Appellate Board.
(See: Novartis loses patent battle in SC over cancer drug Glivet).
The US Government now wants India to drop a particular section (Section 3d) in the Indian Patent Act that allows rejection of patents on grounds that the product for which patent is sought is not significantly different from an existing product.
(See more at: http://www.domain-b.com/economy/Govt_Policies/20140226_organization.html#sthash.GCWUDaFH.dpuf)
The Indian Patent Appellate board has also rejected Monsanto’s patent application for Climate Resilient crops on grounds that it violates Art 3(d) of the Indian patent Act, since the claim is based on the discovery of a new property of a known substance, and hence is not an invention. It also violates Art 3(j) since it is for a biological process and is hence not an invention.
The third problem is that while the US threatens India, US Corporations like Monsanto engage in Biopiracy, which is theft and clearly not an invention.
(See more at: http://seedfreedom.in/monsantos-soybean-biopiracy/)
The fourth problem is that while the US threatens to take India to WTO, it is blocking the mandatory review of TRIPS.
Article 27.3(b) of the TRIPs Agreement states: “Parties may exclude from patentability plants and animals other than micro-organisms, and essentially biological processes for the production of plants or animals other than non-biological and micro- biological processes. However, parties shall provide for the protection of plant varieties either by patents or by an effective sui generis system or by any combination thereof.”
The TRIPS clause on patents on life was due for a mandatory review in 1999. India in its submission had stated, “Clearly, there is a case for re-examining the need to grant patents on life forms anywhere in the world. Until such systems are in place, it may be advisable to:
- (a) exclude patents on all life forms;”
Emmanuel Giboulot argues that the pesticide he is charged with refusing
to spray is harmful to beneficial pollinating insects and animals, and may
not even be effective at preventing the vine disease.
Organic Farmer Taken to Court for Refusing to Spray Pesticides
EcoWatch, 27 February 2014
The French agriculture ministry is prosecuting Emmanuel Giboulot, an organic winemaker, for failing to apply insecticide to his vines. The ministry wants insecticide to be sprayed to control the leafhopper Scaphoideus titanus—believed to be responsible for the spread of the grapevine disease—but Giboulot believes the pesticide is ineffective and damaging to pollinating insects such as bees, and insists the disease can be fought via more natural means.
Emmanuel Giboulot argues that the pesticide he is charged with refusing to spray is harmful to beneficial pollinating insects and animals, and may not even be effective at preventing the vine disease.
Emmanuel Giboulot appeared before a judge in the city of Dijon on Monday after defying an official order to treat his vineyard against an insect suspected of transmitting a devastating plant disease, and risks six months in jail for failing to take preventive measures against a bacterial vine disease. He was fined €1,000 for putting neighboring vineyards at risk. The court’s final verdict will be announced on April 7.
Giboulot, an organic and biodynamic winemaker, was found to be in violation of a directive to use pesticides to fight Flavenscence dorée, an infectious disease spread by the leaf hopper, Scaphoideus titanus that threatens the Côte-d’Or region of Burgundy. An estimated 30 acres of vines were destroyed by the disease in 2012.
“Would we give chemotherapy to someone as a preventive measure against a potential future cancer?” Mr. Giboulot asked.
He argues that the pesticide is harmful to beneficial insects and animals, and may not even be effective at preventing the vine disease.
“My father began converting to organic farming in the 1970′s, and we are now fully organic and biodynamic,” Giboulot is reported as saying. “I don’t want to undo decades of work applying a treatment where the effects on the health of the vines, and the public, are as yet unproved.”
The wine maker cultivates about 25 acres of vines, to produce Côte de Beaune and Hautes Côtes de Nuits wines.
The French agriculture ministry prosecuted Giboulot under article 251-20 of the rural code, for “failing to apply an insecticide treatment to his vineyard” in July last year. Vine growers in several regions, including Burgandy, are required by French law to use pesticides to control this disease.
The disease, which first appeared in the 1950s, threatens more than half the Burgundy region’s vineyards and that preventative treatment by pesticide is necessary. After the discovery of the disease in Burgundy’s Beaune region, the local administration ordered all vineyard owners in the Côte d’Or area to treat their vineyards with pesticides. But Giboulet argues that even Pyrevert, a pyrethrin-based pesticide product that organic farmers could use against the pest without losing their certification, has undesirable side effects.
“It kills not only the insect but also other fauna that are necessary for the natural balance in a vineyard,” Giboulet said. Pyrethrin, although made from chrysanthemum flower, is a neurotoxin that is also toxic to bees and aquatic organisms. Its synthetic cousins, pyrethroids, are more toxic and persistent. Last June another organic winemaker was prosecuted and convicted for not treating his vines, but was spared a prison sentence or fine after finally agreeing to spray against the disease.
Denis Thiery, a vine specialist at the French National Institute for Agronomic Research, also agrees, saying:
Even if Pyrevert is of natural origins, it is damaging for the environment. It is a neurotoxin that can affect not just insects, but birds, other animals, even the winemakers, depending on the doses used. In reality, the efficacy of these treatments against flavescence dorée, whether natural or conventional, is not great. Not all the insects are killed and the epidemic continues to spread quickly. But, like all epidemics, we don’t know if the situation would be worse without the treatment.
Giboulot believes there are more natural means of preventing the vine disease. “I am not trying to be radical,” he said. “I want to show people that there are options, and that we need to think about our own health and that of our customers.”
Unfortunately, there is no sure way to control this vine disease, but many agree vigilance and monitoring adult populations is key to reducing pesticide applications. In fact, French environmentalists argue that instead of ordering the sweeping use of pesticides, local authorities should monitor the disease, uproot affected vines and limit the mandatory use of pesticides to the areas under threat. Hot water treatments have been known to kill the eggs of Scaphoideus titanusas well as other pathogens. Sulfur and paraffin oil applications after bud break have also been suggested to control the pest.
France is the third-highest user of pesticides in the world after the U.S. and Japan, and the highest user in Europe. The country has pledged to reduce its pesticide consumption by 50 percent by 2018. This pledge is momentous in light of a 2013 study that found pesticide residues in 90 percent of French wines tested, including residues found in some organic wines, which had the French public alarmed.
Thirty-three chemicals found in fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides showed up in wines, and every wine showed some detectable trace of chemicals. (The study can be hound here in French). However, there are no EU toxicity limits for bottled wine, only for wine grapes before fermentation. Other reports have also identified several pesticide residues in wine. The health impacts of pesticide exposure to vineyard farmworkers is also a concern. According to a Pesticide Action Network-Europe report, “Published scientific analysis suggests that those exposed to pesticides in grape production suffer a higher incidence of allergic rhinitis, respiratory problems, cancers and chromosomal and nuclear abnormalities, as well as lower neurological capacities.”
While the organic wine market has grown—the share of organically produced French wines rose from 2.6 percent in 2007 to 8.2 percent by the end of 2012, according to the New York Times, contamination of organic vineyards from neighboring areas continues to threaten the industry. In the U.S., only wine made with organic grapes and naturally occurring sulfites can be labeled organic.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
Monsanto’s Soybean Biopiracy
Patent granted on screening biodiversity in soybean plants for climate adaptation and disease resistance.
26 February 2014, Munich – Today the European Patent Office in Munich (EPO) is granting a patent for Monsanto on screening and selecting for soybean plants being adapted to certain climate zones (EP 2134870). The plants are supposed to show a higher yield under various environmental conditions. The soybeans concerned are wild and cultivated species stemming from Asia and Australia. According to the patent more than 250 plants stemming from “exotic” species were screened for biodiversity in climate adaption and variations in maturity. The usage of hundreds of DNA sequences representing genetic variations are claimed by Monsanto for future conventional breeding in soybeans. The patent is also applied in other regions such as the US, Canada, China and South Africa, however the EPO seems to be the first to grant this scandalous patent. (www.no-patents-on-seeds.org)
70% of all commercial soybean cultivated in the US is dependent on 6 varieties: Mandarin, Manchu, Mandarin Ottawa, Richland, AK, Mukden.
This narrow genetic base makes the soy cultivation vulnerable to pests and disease. Through the patent on screening soybean diversity, Monsanto plans to monopolize the soy biodiversity in Asia.
Asia is home to soybean. What Monsanto calls “exotic” varieties are varieties native to Asia. According to Tommy Carter of USDA: ”Chinese farmers domesticated soybeans from 30 to 50 centuries ago. If we could understand how those ancient Chinese farmers did it, we could use similar techniques to get better research results from wild Asian varieties”. (http://cornandsoybeandigest.com/soybeans/genetic-diversity-offers-new-take-old-bean)
The soybean biopiracy follows an earlier case of Biopiracy of Indian wheat which the Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology had challenged in the European office along with other groups. The Biopiracy patent on wheat was subsequently withdrawn. This patent on the Biopiracy of Soybean also needs to be withdrawn.
Monsanto and the other 4 gene giants have taken more than 1,500 patents on climate resilient traits in crops (“Biopiracy of Climate resilient crops” – Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology – 2009).
The Indian patent office rejected a Monsanto patent on climate resilient crops.
It is time for the EPO to follow India’s examples and stop granting patents for Biopiracy.
It is time for the US government to stop issuing trade threats to India for ensuring that patents are not given for Biopiracy and frivolous and trivial modifications.
It is time for the International Community to complete the incomplete review
of the Monsanto Protection clause in the TRIPs agreement of WTO. Most countries have called for an end to patents on life, and an end to Biopiracy.
To renew our commitment to an agriculture based on diversity, free of poisons and GMOs, we are organising a Seed Solidarity Caravan through the biodiversity rich countries of Europe.
“We invite you to join the celebration of our seeds and biodiversity.
Join the journey for Seed Freedom.”
26th April – National Seed Festival, Peliti – Messochori Paranestiou in Greece
27th April – Caravan begins from Messochori
28th April – Arrival in Ancona, Italy
29th April – Ancona to Florence
30th April – Caravan continues from Florence to France
1st May – Arrival in Le Mas d’Azil, France
1 to 4th MAy – European Seed Festival organized by Kokopelli in Le Mas d’Azil, France
For Italy – email@example.com
For Greece – firstname.lastname@example.org
For France – email@example.com
Biopiracy of Turkey’s purple carrot
Austin, Texas, 20 Feb (Edward Hammond*) — Agribusiness giant Monsanto is marketing a purple carrot originating in Turkey over which it claims plant variety rights.
Anthonina is a Monsanto offering in the growing market for richly coloured carrots – red, gold, white and, in this case, purple, a colour particularly associated by health-conscious consumers with anthocyanin “antioxidants”, the natural plant pigments believed to protect against heart disease.
Most people think of carrots as being orange. That is mainly the result of work by Dutch plant breeders who, in the 16th and 17th centuries, bred carrots in that colour in order to indulge their royalty, giving rise to the wide adoption of orange varieties as being the customary colour for carrots.
How did Monsanto subsidiary Seminis, then, go back to a purple carrot if plant breeders haven’t paid much attention to them in 300 years? A program of intense plant breeding? No. Genetic engineering? No.
To bring a purple carrot to market, Seminis went to a part of the world where coloured carrots never stopped being cultivated – in this case, southern Turkey – and purchased some farmers’ seed.
After a simple process of selection, the company called this carrot its own, and has obtained plant variety rights (PVR) over it in both the United States (US PVPA Certificate 200400327) and Europe (European Union CPVO Certificate 20050779).
The US plant variety protection certificate shows how little innovation is necessary to appropriate somebody else’s seed under PVR laws.
The certificate reads: “During November 1999, a former Seminis representative, Mr. John Wester, purchased seeds of a landrace [farmer's variety], open-pollinated carrot variety at a farmers’ market in Adana, Turkey. He then sent this seed to the Seminis carrot breeder… The seed container … did not have a name on the package, so it was named ‘Turkey Black Carrot’…”
Then, as if embarrassed by its own claim, the company justified shopping for its intellectual property at farmers’ markets, describing the seed collection thus: “It is worth noting that this type of collection activity is similar to the ongoing activities of the USDA and any other seed collection conservatory where wild sources of germplasm are collected from remote isolated areas, as they can provide all kinds of new and exciting diversity.”
All kinds of new and exciting diversity, but in the Seminis case, it is not for conservation, but for intellectual property claims and profits.
(In the interest of accuracy, Seminis is not correct to suggest that Adana, a city with more than 1.5 million inhabitants at the centre of an agricultural heartland, is a “remote isolated area”.)
The process to turn the so-called “Turkey Black Carrot” farmers’ variety into Anthonina, intellectual property of Seminis, was not at all complicated.
Turkey Black Carrot was not bred with any other variety. Seminis simply planted the Turkish seeds and quickly selected the best carrots that cropped up for their purpose – mainly, plants that were slow to bolt and which had a desirable root shape and shade of purple colour.
The straightforward selection of Anthonina out of Turkey Black Carrot was completed over six generations grown in California between late 2000 and early 2004.
Seminis then applied for and received PVR in the United States and, later, Europe.
What more is known about the background of “Turkey Black Carrot”?
Seminis notes: “Mr. Wester left the employment of Seminis several years ago and it is unfortunate that we do not know where he is currently located.”
Apparently, Seminis would give Mr. Wester credit, but not the farmers who created the seed he collected.
Defenders of PVR would likely say that nothing is amiss with Monsanto’s appropriation of Anthonina, arguing that Turkish farmers can still plant “Turkey Black Carrot”.
No harm done? Not so. While it’s true that Turkish farmers can still plant their own carrots, that’s not the point.
The argument skirts critical issues:
First, Seminis did very little to make the carrot its own. Anthonina is essentially the same carrot that Turkish farmers created, especially with respect to the carrot’s most marketable feature – its colour. Monsanto owns PVR to what is fundamentally something it did not create.
Secondly, benefit-sharing appears to be completely absent. Having accessed, and continuing to utilise Turkish genetic resources (Turkey ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1997, two years before the carrot seeds were sent to the US), Monsanto’s use of Turkish purple carrot leads to no benefit for the farmers who created it.
In this unusual case, the key details of the origin of the seed were disclosed, documenting the underwhelming process by which Monsanto came to own the innovation of others.
More typically, however, plant variety rights’ applicants are less forthcoming, or are not asked to even disclose where they obtained their source seeds, an unacceptable fault in plant variety protection laws that leads to the theft of farmers’ resources and innovation.
[* Edward Hammond is Director of Prickly Research (www.pricklyresearch.com) and has worked on biodiversity issues since 1994.]
Sign the European Citizens’ Declaration: http://www.seedfreedom.eu/
Sign the Declaration on Seed Freedom: http://seedfreedom.in/declaration/
Link to Dr. Shiva’s Keynote Speech video: http://bit.ly/1gudvhE
at “Food Otherwise Conference”
A two day conference in Wageningen, the Netherlands, with leading thinkers and doers on the transformation of food and agriculture and a wide variety of workshops and excursions.
More and more farmers, consumers, scientists and civil society organisations are working towards sustainable and fair ways of producing food. They are forging new relationships between farmers and consumers. They offer creative, dynamic and diverse alternatives to large-scale, anonymous and industrialised food production and the increasing influence of transnational corporations.
- Olivier de Schutter, UN Rapporteur on the Right to Food
- Vandana Shiva, Indian scientist and activist
- Pablo Tittonell, professor Farming Systems Ecology Wageningen University
- Hanny van Geel, farmer and board member of La Via Campesina Europe
Organised by: AgriCultures Network
More information (Dutch):
Wagenings voedselbos in wording
de Gelderlander, 22 February 2014
Link to article: http://bit.ly/1fhhZpw
Nach unten für Deutsch und weitere Fotos scrollen
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Vandana Shiva: “Organic food helps to save soils!”
Nature & More, 13 February 2014
Press release, Nürnberg/Waddinxveen, February 13, 2014 – For a year now, the Save Our Soils campaign has been calling attention to the worldwide threat of soil loss. At BioFach in Nurnberg today, world famous human rights activist Vandana Shiva and German TV-cook Sarah Wiener, together with campaign initiator Volkert Engelsman, staged a guerrilla planting action on the BioFach grounds. Key message: the future of food depends on soils and seeds.
The inner court of the Nurnberg fair grounds provided the background for the guerrilla planting action. Vandana Shiva, Sarah Wiener and Volkert Engelsman lifted a number of tiles, filled the hole with fertile soil and planted two huge cabbages. Vandana Shiva, fighter for women’s and farmer’s rights: „In the fight against soil loss, we must work together worldwide! All nations are hit by the consequences, but the Southern hemisphere suffers the most. The good news is that millions of organic farmers and consumers are already helping to save our soils and seeds.”
Ecological farming offers a tremendous opportunity that we should graps with both hands, according to the campaign ambassadors. SOS-ambassador Sarah Wiener, Germany’s most famous tv-cook: “In ecological agriculture the soil is seen as a living organism, which must be taken care of. The soil will thank us for abandoning pesticides and fertilizers by yielding plants that are healthy and resilient.”
Vandana Shiva, Volkert Engelsman and Sarah Wiener: “Millions of organic farmers and consumers are already helping to save soils!”
Volkert Engelsman, CEO of Nature & More, was set on staging the action at BioFach: “Many decision makers and catalysts meet here. We must join forces to show that the future of food is in our hands, in the true sense of the word. Everyone, including growers, retailers and consumers, has the unique opportunity to make a conscious choice for organic food en thereby help to save soils. The only prior condition is that consumers are well informed and that transparency is provided!”
Engelsman amplified: “Looking at different aspects of sustainability such as CO2-emissions, biodiversity, water storage capacity and social stability, we find that they all meet in one place: the fertile soil, which is the foundation of our society and our food system. Save Our Soils wants to put this underestimated issue in the limelight. Time is running out. UN statistics show that every minute a surface of thirty soccer fields of fertile soil is lost.”
Contact in the Netherlands:
Nature & More
Tel.: +31-(0)180-635 563
„Rettet unsere Böden – Save Our Soils“- Pflanzaktion
Pressenmeldung, Nürnberg/Waddinxveen, 13. Februar 2014 – Der ökologische Landbau ist eine riesige Chance, wir müssen sie nur ergreifen, so die einhellige Meinung nach der „Rettet unsere Böden – Save Our Soils“-Pflanzaktion auf der BioFach. Ganz praktisch demonstrierten Sarah Wiener und Vandana Shiva, die beiden Patinnen der Kampagne, gemeinsam mit deren Initiator Volkert Engelsman, wieso mit Hilfe des ökologischen Landbaus jeder – Verbraucher wie Lebensmittelhandel – einen Beitrag zur Rettung der Böden leisten kann. Die Aktion ist Teil der von Nature & More und dem Weltdachverband der ökologischen Landbaubewegung (IFOAM) ins Leben gerufenen Kampagne „Rettet unsere Böden – Save Our Soils“, die mit prominenten Boden-Aktivisten, einem internationalen Aktionsbündnis, dem innovativen Soilmate und einer breiten Informationskampagne auf die weltweite Zerstörung der Böden aufmerksam macht.
Gesunde Böden sind die Grundvoraussetzung für gesunde Lebensmittel. Eine einfache Tatsache, aber leider im Bewusstsein der breiten Öffentlichkeit und der Lebensmittelbranche nicht wirklich präsent. Aus diesem Grund nutzt „Save our Soils – Rettet unsere Böden“ die BioFach als Weltleitmesse für Bio-Lebensmittel, um dieser unterschätzten Problematik mehr Öffentlichkeit zu geben, aber vor allem, um Lösungen aufzuzeigen. Denn die Zeit drängt: Eine Statistik der UN stellt fest, dass jede Minute (!) die Oberfläche von 30 Fußballfeldern an fruchtbarer Erde verloren geht. Die gute Nachricht ist, dass der ökologische Landbau ein großes Lösungspotential bietet. SOS-Patin Sarah Wiener erkläre dazu: „Gesunde Böden sind unsere Existenzgrundlage, 99,7 % unserer Lebensmittel haben dort ihren Ursprung. Und nur wenn der Boden gesund ist, sind es auch die Pflanzen, die aus ihm wachsen. Im ökologischen Landbau betrachtet man den Boden als lebendigen Organismus, der durch wachsende Fruchtfolge und Kompost mit Nährstoffen versorgt wird. Der Boden dankt den Verzicht auf belastenden Kunstdünger, Herbizide oder Fungizide mit gesunden Pflanzen.“
Sarah Wiener, Vandana Shiva und Volkert Engelsman machen auf der BioFach Boden gut
Der Innenhof des Nürnberger Messegeländes war Schauplatz für die Pflanzaktion, bei der die Akteure Bodenplatten lupften und mit saisonalem Bio-Grünkohl den vormals kahlen Boden zu neuem Leben erweckten. Gerade auf der Weltleitmesse für Bio-Lebensmittel ein Zeichen für die Bedeutung der Böden zu setzen, war vor allem Volkert Engelsmann, dem Gründer von Nature & More, sehr wichtig: „Auf der BioFach kommen viele wichtige Entscheider und Multiplikatoren zusammen. Deshalb ist es wichtig die Gelegenheit zu nutzen und zu zeigen: Wir haben es im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes in der Hand. Jeder Einzelne – Erzeuger, Lebensmittelhandel und Verbraucher – hat die Chance mit einer bewussten Entscheidung für Bio-Lebensmittel einen wesentlichen Beitrag zur Rettung unserer Böden zu leisten. Voraussetzung dafür sind informierte Verbraucher und ein aufgeklärter Handel.“ Dass die Rettung unserer Böden nur gemeinsam erreicht werden kann, betonte auch die Umweltaktivistin und Öko-Feministin Vandana Shiva: „Wir müssen uns im Kampf gegen die Bodenzerstörung zusammenschließen und zwar weltweit. Wir alle sind von den Konsequenzen betroffen, aber die Länder des Südens leiden schon jetzt am stärksten unter den Folgen. Aber das Gute ist: Millionen von Bio-Bauern/innen leisten bereits einen wichtigen Beitrag zu Rettung der Böden.“
Bereits vor der Pflanzaktion fand im Rahmen des Nachhaltigkeits Forum der BioFach die öffentliche Informationsveranstaltung „SOS2: Save our Soils and Seeds – Das Lösungspotential des ökologischen Landbaus und des Handles mit Ökoprodukten“ statt. Hier informierten und diskutierten Sarah Wiener, Vandana Shiva, Volkert Engelsman gemeinsam mit Prof. Dr. Ulrich Köpke vom Institut für ökologischen Landbau der Universität Bonn und Bernward Geier in einem öffentlichen Panel über die Möglichkeiten, Notwendigkeit aber vor allem das beeindruckende Lösungspotential des ökologischen Landbaus. Darüber hinaus war der Natur & More Messestand ein weiter wichtiger Anlaufpunkt, um sich über die Kampagne, ihre Aktionen und vor allem das Soilmate und seiner verbraucherorientierten Aufklärungskampagne zu informieren.
Weiter Informationen über die Messe hinaus finden Sie unter: www.rettetunsereboeden.de
Kontakt in Deutschland:
COLABORA c/o Bernward Geier
Statement on Seed Freedom Victory in Europe – Press Release
There is good news from Europe. Both the Environment committee and Agriculture committee of the European parliament have rejected the Seed Law proposed by the European commission.
This is a victory for biodiversity, for farmers and gardeners, for citizens, for democracy, and for Seed Freedom.
Last year after the group of experts of the International Commission on the future of food/Navdanya launched the Law of the Seed at Terra Futura in Florence, we started to work with European Parliament to build a campaign to stop the Seed Monopoly Law based on uniformity from being passed.
Law of the Seed
17 May 2013, Florence, Italy: Law of the Seed Launch Event
Campaign for Seed Freedom and Food Democracy in Europe
18 September 2013, European Parliament, Brussels, Belgium: The Law of The Seed & Draft EU Seed Legislation Press Conference
European Citizens’ Declaration for Seed Freedom and Food Democracy: http://www.seedfreedom.eu/
24 November 2013, Vienna, Austria: Seed Declaration of Vienna
22 January 2014, Brussels, Belgium: EU Seed policy and legislation – Challenges for Producers, Consumers and Citizens: Who will own the seeds
Conference Organized by Demeter International in cooperation with: Arche Noah, ECO PB , IFOAM EU Group, Kultursaat e.V. (tbc), Network Economy Group, SaatGut e.V. (tbc), Semences Paysannes
29 January 2014, European Parliament, Brussels, Belgium:
Hyperlink Green MEPs Press conference: Seed diversity and food security threatened by an overly concentrated EU seed market
European Citizens’ Declaration for SEED FREEDOM AND FOOD DEMOCRACY
New European legislation on the ‘Marketing of seeds’ is a threat to Food Security and Democracy
Join the European Citizens’ Declaration for SEED FREEDOM
AND FOOD DEMOCRACY.
This Citizens’ Declaration was launched on the 2nd October 2013 – Gandhi’s Birth Anniversary.
We are reminded that in the spirit of Gandhi, civil disobedience is necessary, when unjust laws undermine our common goods.
Seeds are a common good. They are a gift of nature and the result of centuries of hard work of farmers around the planet who have selected, conserved and bred seeds. They are the source of life and the first link in our food chain.
This common good is in danger. European legislation has been increasingly restricting access to seeds in the past decades, with industrial agriculture becoming the dominant model of farming. Only seed varieties which fit this model may be marketed in the EU. They must pass complicated and costly tests and registration procedures and their cultivation depends on chemicals. This legislation has dramatically reduced diversity of seed varieties which is seriously threatening our food security. Seeds are no longer in the hands of farmers and gardeners. A handful of global seed companies are controlling and monopolizing the market: The same six multinationals control 75% of all private sector plant breeding research; 60% of the commercial seed market and 76% of global agrochemical sales. (ETC Group).
The new legislative proposal of the European Commission is making things worse. It is further restricting and reducing agro-biodiversity and the free access to seeds for farmers and citizens, and encourages multinational seed companies to claim exclusive rights on the marketing of seeds. On the other hand seeds which carry a broad variety of pest resistance and the ability to adapt to climate change are increasingly excluded from the market or restricted to so called niche markets. This legislation not only affects Europe but the entire planet.
We firmly reject this seed monopoly law. At a time when the UN recognizes that the future of food is agro-ecological, local and diverse, the European Commission proposal will criminalize the growing and vibrant alternatives based on seed freedom and food democracy. At a time when consumers are making a choice for local, ecological, healthy, tasty, nutritious and chemical-free and GMO-free food, the proposed EU seed law is robbing consumers of their food freedom. 72% of the world’s food comes from small farms – We are not a niche – We are the future!
Make your voice heard!
Sign this appeal to:
Reject the European Commission “Seed Monopoly Law” and Demand your right to vibrant, healthy, chemical-free and GMO-free seeds and food.
In the spirit of Gandhi, call for civil disobedience against unjust seed laws and declare:
We will not recognise any law that illegitimately makes seed the exclusive private property of corporations, contradicts the overall objective of conservation and enrichment of diversity strengthens a failed system of industrial agriculture, and ignores vibrant and healthy alternatives creating sustainable communities and food security in all regions of the world.
“As long as the superstition remains that unjust laws must be obeyed, so long will slavery exist”. Mahatma Gandhi
Sign here: http://www.seedfreedom.eu/
While the global seed industry – which is the former war industry, the agrichemical industry, the Biotech industry – has been imposing laws based on uniformity and agrichemical inputs, the Seed Freedom movement has grown from the ecological and scientific awareness that diversity, resilience, quality are the basis of nature’s evolution, and that farmers breeding, and participatory and evolutionary breeding better suited for organic farming in times of climate chaos.
A false claim has been made that food security is based on intensive agrichemical inputs, uniformity and industrial monocultures. The reality is that biodiversity intensive, ecological systems produce more food.
To celebrate this victory for Seed Freedom, for diversity and farmers’ rights, to renew our commitment to an agriculture based on diversity, free of poisons and GMOs, we are organising a Seed Solidarity Caravan through the biodiversity rich Mediterranean countries of Europe.
We invite you to join the celebration of our seeds and biodiversity. Join the journey for Seed Freedom.
$ 1 trillion US Farm bill 2014: Business as usual. Subsidising Corporate welfare in the name of farming
An overview of the 2014 US Farm bill
After a lot of dilly-dallying, the US has finally passed the US Farm bill 2014. The earlier Farm bill 2008, which makes budgetary provisions for agriculture and food security, had expired in September 2012. Anyway, with US President Obama putting his signatures on Feb 7, the bill has come into existence. Probably to tide over the push and pulls from political opponents (backed by Corporate interests), this time the bill is for 10 years. The 2014 Farm bill makes a budgetary provision of almost $ 1 trillion ($956 billion to be exact), which includes $ 756 for food security programmes.
A cursory look at what the bill contains clearly shows that the emphasis once again is on the faulty industrial agriculture. It replaces old subsidies with new ones, raises the minimum price growers receive for certain crops, and of course has cut down the food stamps programme. While signing the bill, Obama said: "This bill helps to clamp down on loopholes that allowed people to receive benefits whether they were planting crops or not. And it saves taxpayers hard-earned dollars by making sure that we only support farmers when disaster strikes or prices drop. It's not just automatic."
But not everyone agrees. Dan Sumner, an economist at the University of California at Davis said: "Those programs could create problems. That’s the kind of assurances that the U.S. government is willing to provide that most farmers in the world, in fact, don’t have access to. With the backing of the government US farmers can produce more and export more. Ultimately, that drives down world prices and it’s a little tougher for farmers in developing countries to compete with that." (New US Farm bill reaps controversy, Voice of America. http://www.voanews.com/content/new-us-farm-bill-controversy/1847016.html).
Bulk of the budgetary allocation is actually for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programme (SNAP) that goes to provide food security to an estimated 47 million hungry. Although the SNAP budget has been cut by $ 8.7 billlion from what was earlier proposed, it still shows how crucial is this safety net in a country which calls itself the Mecca of market economy. $756 billion is proposed to be spent in the next ten years on feeding the hungry. Interestingly, the US had objected to India's paltry food security assistance of about US $ 20 billion a year at the recently concluded Bali WTO Ministerial. US finds nothing wrong in its own $ 75.6 billion/year support in the name of food security, but finds the Indian food security initiative to be WTO incompatible !
Regarding the farm incomes, the bill allows farmers to choose between Agricultural Risk Coverage (the Senate Program variable support levels) and Price Loss Coverage (the House program with fixed support levels) on a crop-by-crop basis. According to Daryll E Ray and Harwood D Schaffer of the Agricultural Policy Analysis Centre of the University of Tennessee "If prices remain high for the next 5 years, the ARC will provide most grain farmers with a superior level of coverage. On the other hand, if prices fall and remain there for a sustained period of time, the PLC will provide farmers with the best coverage. For both programs base acres and yields can be updated."
Accordingly "Reference prices for the PLC program are wheat, $5.50/bushel; corn, $3.70/bushel; grain sorghum, $3.95/bushel; barley, $4.95/bushel; oats, $2.40/bushel; long grain rice, $14.00/hundredweight (cwt).; medium grain rice, $14.00/cwt.; soybeans, $8.40/bushel; other oilseeds, $20.15/cwt.; peanuts $535.00/ton; dry peas, $11.00/cwt.; lentils, $19.97/cwt.; small chickpeas, $19.04/cwt.; and large chickpeas, $21.54/cwt.
"It is interested to note that in the previous counter-cyclical program, the target price for corn, barley, and grain sorghum were all the same—$2.63 per bushel. Now the reference price for corn is $3.70 while grain sorghum is $3.95, and barley is $4.95. Not coincidentally grain sorghum is important in House Agricultural Committee Chair Frank Lucas’ state of Oklahoma, while barley is important to House Agricultural Committee Ranking Member Colin Peterson’s northern tier farmers." #
Further reading: 1.New farm law is bad for Taxpayers and the Environment, Environment Working Group. http://www.ewg.org/release/new-farm-law-bad-taxpayers-and-environment
2.What others are saying about the farm bill, Environment Working Group.http://www.ewg.org/agmag/2014/02/what-others-are-saying-about-farm-bill
3.Finally, a Farm bill. Daryll E Ray and Harwood D Schaffer, University of Tennesseehttp://agpolicy.org/weekcol/706.html
EU Parliament Agriculture Committee rejects draft seed regulation
1st positive signal for Seed Diversity and Food Security
Press Release, Brussels, 11 February 2014
EU seed legislation
MEPs vote to send Commission back to the drawing board, as half-baked proposal rejected
The European Parliament’s agriculture committee today voted in favour of a resolution rejecting draft EU legislation on seeds and seed marketing. The Greens have been pushing for the proposal to be rejected and welcomed the outcome, with agriculture spokesperson Martin Häusling stating:
“In voting to reject this half-baked proposal from the Commission, MEPs have voted to put the interests of farmers, long term food security and agro-biodiversity first. We hope today’s vote will be confirmed when Parliament votes as a whole and that the Commission will be sent back to the drawing board.
“By moving from 12 directives to a single regulation, the Commission’s proposal would seriously restrict the freedom of operators working in specific sectors. Only seeds produced and sold for commercial use should be covered by any future legislation and this implies a narrower scope than what is now on the table. Most importantly, the legislation needs to truly accommodate high diversity seeds, like wind-pollinated and heterogeneous varieties and other locally-adapted seeds.
“EU seed legislation, notably the common seed catalogue, has had a negative impact genetic diversity: the uniformity and stability that the EU seed catalogue insists on are simply not natural characteristics of living things. The global and European decline in genetic diversity in crops is totally at odds with long-term food security. We need a broad range of genetic diversity in our crop populations to enable us to adapt to the tougher environmental conditions that climate change is already bringing. This is compounded by the domination of the sector by a handful of multinational agro-chemical corporations, which design seeds to be tailor-made for use with their own agro-chemicals (1). EU seed policies must be based on the principle of diversity, not corporate uniformity and agro-chemical inputs. We hope the Commission will come forward with new legislation to reflect this.”
(1) See the study on seed market concentration, commissioned by the Greens/EFA group: http://www.greens-efa.eu/seed-market-regulation-11542.html
A BIG THANK YOU to all Seed Defenders who signed the
European Citizens’ Declaration for SEED FREEDOM AND FOOD DEMOCRACY: http://www.seedfreedom.eu/
Genetically engineered maize 1507: Industry and EFSA disguise true content of Bt toxin in the plants
Seed Festival with Vandana Shiva in Iphofen, Germany on 15 February 2014
Our crop diversity is a Feast for both eyes and palate, it’s essential to our quality of life and a fundamental contribution to our ecosystem. The organisers of this Festival invite you to be part of one of the oldest community projects of mankind.You will be amazed by how colourful and varied the treasures of Nature and Gardens can be.Program:11.00 Opening with Vandana Shiva11.30 Benedikt Haerlin 1st part: Freedom of Diversity: is the EU legislation breaking the organic and conservation breeding into pieces?13.00 Anja Oetmann-Mennen: What we are living on: Diversity as fundament of agriculture and horticulture14.00 Benedikt Haerlin 2nd part15.00 Vandana Shiva Lecture
You are welcome to enjoy our rare fruit and vegetable varieties exhibition and the Seed Market of Diversity.
More information (German) photos and videos:
Act for Seed Freedom – Add your actions to the Seed Freedom Map and we’ll share them on Facebook and Twitter: http://bit.ly/SFMAP
Vandana Shiva comparte con la Red de Mujeres Rurales en Colinas de Cariari
Vandana Shiva comparte con la Red de Mujeres Rurales en Colinas de Cariari
La Red de Mujeres Rurales y otras organizaciones frente a piñeras en Siquirres
La Red de Mujeres Rurales y sus demandas
Vandana Shiva escucha a doña Emma de la RMR