by Chetan Chauhan - Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 26 October 2014
The environment ministry has allowed field trials of two varieties of genetically modified (GM) brinjal and mustard, almost 18 months after the previous government ordered a freeze on such tests.
In a reply to an RTI query early October, the ministry said on August 21, it permitted the Delhi University to hold trials for a mustard variety and Maharashtra-based Bejo Seeds Pvt Ltd to test Bt brinjal.
The decision does away with the uncertainty surrounding the biotech sector. Environment minister Prakash Javadekar had been saying the government had not taken a decision on field trials while maintaining “science cannot be stopped”.
There is a huge debate surrounding GM crops that are strongly resisted by organisations that question their safety and cite concerns that the country’s food security could be compromised due to monopolising farm biotech MNCs. The Supreme Court is hearing a public interest litigation that has sought a ban on open field trials.
The ministry’s nod came after the country’s biotech regulator, the genetic engineering appraisal committee (GEAC), approved trials of more than 30 varieties in two batches this year.
The go-ahead, a ministry official said, was an indication of the positive outlook of the Modi government towards the use of “science” to boost agriculture production.
The process of field trials, a necessary step to evaluate a GM technology’s efficacy and safety before commercial approval, had nearly come to a halt during the previous UPA regime.
The DU’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants, headed by former vice-chancellor Deepak Pental, got the permission to conduct trials for a new variety of GM mustard two years after filing an application with GEAC, the ministry said.
Nod for Bejo Seeds came after a year. Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh had imposed a moratorium on commercial release of Bt brinjal in 2010.
“Either the minister is being misled by the bureaucrats, or the public is being misled by the minister. For gains of few companies, people and farmers are being blindfolded. Mr Javadekar should come out in public and end this double-talk,” said Manvendra Singh, a Greenpeace campaigner who filed the RTI plea.
The UPA government’s decision to freeze trials was wrong as these were conducted in labs and that, too, after state governments’ permission, the official said. “The Supreme Court had never asked the government to impose the moratorium,” the official said.
Several states such as Haryana, Maharashtra and Punjab have asked agriculture universities to ensure that the GEAC safety conditions for field trials were complied with, the reply said.
GM crops are those in which genetic material is altered to provide some perceived advantage either to the producer or consumer, such as pest resistance or better nutrition.
That means losses can be profitable !
Well, don't blame me if I am saying something that doesn't exist in Economics 201 textbook. The fact is that the world's biggest e-retail giant Amazon has only last week posted its financial results for the US market. For the third quarter ending September 2014, it posted a 'gigantic' $544 million losses. And Amazon has already announced that the losses will continue for the fourth quarter also. In India, "our own e-commerce outfits are just through with our own holiday season, and they have turned up no surprises. They're not publicly listed so we don't know the numbers, but one can safely say that they would have lost huge sums of money because that's what they intended to do. Each one of them is making large losses and they all routinely go and get fresh rounds of money from venture funds or, as in Amazon's case, from a parent company." (No surprise: The plot thickens in country's e-retail story. Hindustan Times. http://bit.ly/1wD9AHT).
As per the latest balance sheet, Flipkart has accumulated losses of Rs 281-crore.
I tried to look deeper. Amazon, the world's biggest e-retail giant has been in business for some 20 years and has never made money. This means that losses are not only profitable, but are also sustainable. In a 3-part series International Business Times did look at various business practices being adopted by Amazon. I am particularly sharing this chart which tells you that while the revenues have continued to skyrocket, the net profit has remained more or less static thereby bringing in huge losses. How can any business remain business in such a depressing scenario? Well, certainly the plot thickens.
This chart gives you Amazon.com's revenue and profits between 2004-2014. Source: International Business Timeshttp://www.ibtimes.com/amazon-nearly-20-years-business-it-still-doesnt-make-money-investors-dont-seem-care-1513368
I asked economists and economic writers about this strange phenomenon. Everyone I asked told me it is a bubble that will soon burst. Some say that Amazon is surviving because the venture capitalists are funding it. The same holds true for Flipkart and Snapdeal. But this too defies any economic logic. Why should venture capitalists be funding a losing business enterprise? After all, no one has money to throw.
I am not sure about the future of Flipkart or Snapdeal, but the fact remains that if Amazon could survive with losses for nearly 20 years now, I see no reason why its Indian versions would not succeed. And if Flipkart also continues to be in business for even half the period that Amazon has been, and that too with huge losses year after year, it shows that the new business model successfully crafted by Amazon goes beyond what the likes of Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes and the tribe could have ever imagined.
It's time therefore to rethink the very concept of business. Business is not only about profits, a loss too is an asset. If this is true, it challenges the popular perception of what constitutes a successful business. In other words, if Amazon can demonstrate that losses are profitable and that too for 20 years, why shouldn't the other business follow the trend? Why do traditional businesses go bankrupt while e-retail continues to grow and expand? Have economists been hiding the real truth from us all these years? Whatever be it, the plot only thickens with every passing day. #
Potato dumped on the streets in Punjab. Not an unusual sight. -- Tribune photo
There has hardly been a year in memory when farmers have not thrown potato on the streets in protest against low prices. And yet, the government has allowed import of potato for the first time ever. While the official explanation is that the imports are to augment the domestic supplies and curb inflation, the fact remains that production of potato has been almost normal this year with an insignificant shortfall by a mere 2.3 per cent.
While the Ministry of Agriculture has directed Nafed to float tenders to ensure shipments reach by the end of November, potato crop from Punjab is expected to hit the market by the middle of November. The domestic market would be flooded by time the imports come in and I wouldn’t be surprised if farmers are once again forced to dump cartloads of potatoes on the highways. I therefore don’t understand the economic rationale of allowing the import of potato when there is hardly any drop in production. Experts say the Kharif crop has been good, and the winter crop that is expected in mid-November onwards is also expected to be normal. India is the third biggest producer of potato after China and Russia.
But then, under pressure from a strong lobby of economists, food inflation is coming in as a handy excuse to open up the Indian market for import of fruits, vegetables and milk products. This is exactly what European Union is demanding under ongoing negotiations of the bilateral Indo-European Union Free Trade Agreement.
The domestic potato chip, fries and flake industry is now pressing for removal of the 30 per cent import duty on potato to make the imports cheaper. Since Pakistan is not in a position to supply potato this year, and had resorted to duty-free potato imports continuously from India from March onwards with some 3,000 trucks crossing over daily from Wagah border, potato imports into India are expected mainly from Europe and Australia. The Economic Coordination Committee of Pakistan Cabinet has reportedly approved the duty-free imports of potato from India till Nov 15.
Potato is not the only victim of an ad hoc import-export policy. On a visit to a food processing unit in Sonepat district in Haryana, I was shocked when I was told that tomato paste is being imported in large quantities from China at a time when farmers were forced to throw tomatoes onto the streets for want of buyers. When food inflation was at its peak, reports of dumping of tomatoes by farmers had poured in from several parts of the country, including Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
With tomato prices crashing to Rs 2 (and at several places to Re 1 per kg) farmers had no choice but to feed it to cattle or to throw it away. Just in one month, between Aug 28, 2014 and Sept 28, 2014, India imported US $ 376,009 worth of dried tomato and tomato products (like paste, pulp and juice concentrate) from China, followed by US $ 94,057 worth of imports from Nepal, and US $ 44,160 from the Netherlands.
Not many know that the popular brands of tomato ketchup, tomato puree and even tomato juices that we consume at home are made from tomatoes imported from China, Nepal, Italy, USA and the Netherlands. In other words, we are inadvertently helping tomato farmers of the countries from where we import while our own farmers are left to die. The food processing industry obviously justifies the imports but what remains unexplained is if the objective of the industry is to source cheaper products from abroad why does the Ministry of Food Processing claim that agro-processing is a boon to Indian farmers?
Take the case of pasta. While huge quantities of wheat rots in godowns, Indian import of pasta from Italy has been growing at a phenomenal rate of 39 per cent per year. Since pasta is made from wheat, I don’t understand why efforts should not be made to produce pasta within the country rather than importing it. India’s import market for pasta has grown in ten years from Rs 3.39 billion in 2003-04 to Rs 17.22 billion in 2013-14. And again, pasta attracts an import duty of 40 per cent, and it is expected the import tariff would be reduced to 20 per cent after the Indo-EU FTA comes into effect.
How irrational food imports destroy domestic production is evident from the way India deliberately encouraged edible oil imports at the cost of its millions of oilseed farmers. These were small holders in the dryland regions of the country for whom oilseeds was a cash crop. Their livelihood has been snatched for the sake of economic benefit to edible oil producers in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil and United States.
It is true that edible oil import bill has multiplied over the past three decades. For the year ending 2012 (edible oil year is from Nov 2011 to Oct 2012, for instance), the imports touched 9.01 million tonnes valued at Rs 56,295-crore. Between 2006-07 and 2011-12, edible oil imports have risen by a whopping 380 per cent. Former Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar often used to stress on the need to increase oilseed production so as to reduce the edible oil imports.
But what was not being told was that India had attained near self-sufficiency in oilseeds production by 1994-95, importing only 3 per cent of its edible oil requirements. After 1994-95, the import tariffs were brought down systematically as a result of which the imports grew. Against a provision of 300 per cent import duties, India allows zero tariffs at resent. Imports are now more than 50 per cent of the domestic requirement. So much so, that after having destroyed its own Yellow Revolution, a strong lobby of economists has been battling for encouraging cultivation of environmentally-destructive palm oil plantations.
Worldwatch Institute has shown how palm oil monoculture adds to desertification, and also exacerbates global warming by releasing 10 times more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than tropical forests. Unmindful of the ecological damage, Ministry of Agriculture plans to bring in 1.03 million hectares of forests – mainly by cutting down lush green forests in Mizoram, Tripura, Assam, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka – and growing palm oil plantation to produce about four to five tonnes of edible oil. The economic rationale is beyond my comprehension. First destroy the oilseed producers, and then cut down forests to produce edible oils. A remarkable model of development indeed ! #
Grain, 7 October 2014
Since the global food crisis of 2008, there has been a massive wave of private sector investment in agriculture. More money flowing into agriculture means more innovation and modernisation, more jobs and more food for a hungry planet, say the G8, the World Bank and corporate investors themselves.
But does it?
Looking at the investments made by Indian billionaire Chinnakannan Sivasankaran – one of the most active private sector players in the global rush to acquire farmland – a worrying picture emerges of what happens when speculative finance starts flowing into food production.
Since 2008, the Siva Group and its myriad subsidiaries have acquired stakes in around a million hectares of land in the Americas, Africa and Asia, primarily for oil palm plantations. On paper, he’s now one of the world’s largest farmland holders.
But Sivasankaran’s also a land grabber and tax avoider. Like the majority of transnational investors in agriculture, his investments are channeled through a web of shell companies based in offshore tax havens. The companies he holds shares in are engaged in dubious land deals and kick back schemes, and seem more concerned with funnelling generous payments into the pockets of their directors than with producing food.
The alarming side effect of this type of investment is the commodification of land and the marginalisation of communities that rely on it. Wherever the Siva Group and its like go, they secure title to vast parcels of land by any means necessary – often without the meaningful consent of the affected communities. They then leverage these landholdings for cash and credit to turn still more deals.
Governments have so far done little, if anything to protect their people from this new wave of predatory investment. Their efforts have focussed more on providing investors with safeguards and incentives, while proposing only voluntary guidelines to keep corporate responsibility in check. The door is thus wide open for financial players like Sivasankaran to grab lands and make quick profits, undermining food systems and the livelihoods of farmers in the process.Read more: http://www.grain.org/article/entries/5048-feeding-the-1-percent Download full Report – pdf
by Chris Walker & Oliver Tickell – The Ecologist, 24 October 2014
Ghana’s government is desperate to pass a Plant Breeders Bill that would remove farmers’ ancient ‘seed freedom’ to grow, retain, breed and develop crop varieties – while giving corporate breeders a blanket exemption from seed regulations. Now the farmers are fighting back.
Farmers in Ghana are on the frontlines of a battle. The national parliament has just returned from its summer break – and the first item on their legislative agenda is the government’s controversial Plant Breeders Bill.
The proposed legislation contains rules that would restrict farmers from an age-old practice: freely saving, swapping and breeding seeds they rely on for their own subsistence, and to feed the country.
Under the laws, farmers that use seed varieties claimed under new intellectual property rights by individuals and companies anywhere in the world risk hefty fines or even imprisonment.
According to the Ghanaian government and its corporate backers, the new laws would incentivise the development of new seed varieties and ensure crops are safe and saleable.
Yet in recent months, farmers, campaigners, trade unions and faith groups have taken to the streets in the cities of Accra, Tamale and beyond.
They warn that the Bill would hand control of the country’s seeds to giant corporations like Monsanto. They fear the laws would allow corporations to exploit farmers, capture profit and push GM seeds in to the country’s food system. It’s why campaigners have dubbed the bill ‘the Monsanto Law’.
Resistance is fertile
“The economic impact on the lives of farmers will be disastrous”, says Duke Tagoe of Food Sovereignty Ghana (FSG). “The origin of food is seed. Whoever controls the seed control the entire food chain.”
He draws particular attention to the Bill’s “infamous” Clause 23, which states: “A plant breeder right shall be independent of any measure taken by the Republic to regulate within Ghana the production, certification and marketing of material of a variety or the importation or exportation of the material.”
According to Tagoe, the effect of PBB’s Clause 23 is to “allow corporations to limit what Ghana’s government can do, while Ghana’s government will lose power to limit what corporations can do within Ghana.”
“If Ghana passes the Plant Breeders Bill it gives away control of its agriculture, and gives away its control of its own food supply for nothing but empty promises. The Plant Breeders Bill makes a gift of Ghana’s land and agriculture to the Agribusiness TNCs. With this law, the TNCs can flood Ghana with GMOs and demand Ghana pay the price they set.”
A statement by FSG Chairperson Ali-Masmadi Jehu-Appiah added: “We have every reason to believe that Parliament is being blackmailed by USAID and the G8/G7 whose intention is to advance the interests of their agribusiness Trans National Corporations, TNCs. Their tool is the G8 New Alliance, G8NA. They clearly do not care about Ghana.
“IMF funds are almost certainly being held hostage waiting for passage of the Plant Breeders Bill. We know from the experience of other countries that Millennium Challenge Account payments are tied to GMOs and GMO related bills, such as our Plant Breeders Bill. We know promised money may be withheld from Ghana pending the coerced passage of the bill.”
Indigenous and peasant farmers unite
“The Plant Breeders Bill aims to replace traditional varieties of seeds with uniform commercial varieties and increase the dependency of smallholders on commercial varieties”, says the Ghana National Association of Farmers and Fishermen.
“This system aims to compel farmers to purchase seeds for every planting season.” Across the world, the group argues, farmers have got in to dangerous levels of debt at the hands of companies which have come to control their seed supply.
The ‘Civil Society platform on the Plant Breeders Bill’ was launched in Accra last Thursday by the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organisational Development (CIKOD) and the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana (PFAG).
Its aim is to follow the parliamentary debate – and pressure Government to drop the Bill in its entirety, or amend it to remove any measures injurious to agriculture in Ghana.
As Charles Nyaaba of the Peasant Farmers Association explained to Ghana Web, the platform would also promote alternatives to GMO and other industrial agriculture models:
“For instance, we are now trying to create seed banks, and those seed banks will be used to identify our indigenous foods that are getting lost in the system.”
The Platform would further be used to promote food sovereignty in Ghana and protect the rights of small-scale farmers to produce, select, exchange and sell their local seeds – and prevent possible contamination of their seeds by genetically modified (GMO) seeds from agribusiness.
Corporate ‘plant protection’ trumps farmers’ seed freedom
Ghana’s proposed seed laws are the latest manifestation of a worldwide push by corporations to takeover food systems. Currently, 70% of the world’s food is produced by small-scale farmers. But in recent decades they have lost land, markets and livelihoods to corporate investors.
In 2013, the World Bank announced that “Africa represents the ‘last frontier’ in global food and agricultural markets.” Global corporations are now moving in fast to buy up Africa’s formerly independent seed companies.
And governments, including the British and US, are using aid and the promise of corporate investment through benevolent-sounding programmes like the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition to leverage pro-corporate policy reforms in Africa. Giant agribusinesses including Unilever, Coca-Cola, Monsanto and Syngenta are already lining up for the spoils.
As part of this, Ghana, along with other African states, signed up to ‘plant variety protection’ (PVP) laws promoted under the highly-criticized International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) 1991.
But as FSG Chairperson Ali-Masmadi Jehu-Appiah explains, there is no legal requirement for them to do this: “Some MPs claim, or have been misled to believe, that Ghana must pass the UPOV-bill as it stands, to be in compliance with the World Trade Organization, the WTO.
“This is not the case. We do not need to be part of UPOV. Developing countries such as Ghana have full rights under the WTO to pass their own ‘sui generis’ bill. This simply means that Ghana can design a bill that will meet the specific needs of our country and protect Ghanaian farmers and Ghanaian plant breeders.”
Farmers worldwide resist corporate enclosure
Backing from corporate investors, aid donors, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has ensured that PVP has been on the agenda of governments worldwide.
Yet farmers are fighting back. The resistance to Ghana’s seed laws follows mobilizations in Europe, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere in Africa against the international UPOV regime.
Earlier this year, small-scale farmers across Europe successfully halted EU-wide plant variety protection laws. In September, Guatemalan farmers, indigenous groups, and women’s organizations won a victory when their congress repealed the country’s own Monsanto law after 10 days of widespread street protests.
The battle over control of seeds is key to the worldwide movement for food sovereignty: a vision for sustainable food grown for and by the communities that rely on it, not corporations. The onset of industrial agriculture has led to a 70% decrease in agricultural biodiversity worldwide.
That’s bad news for small-scale farmers needing to adapt to environmental and market changes. Yet farmers the world over are reclaiming their seeds and standing up for resilient, productive livelihoods in the face of corporate control.
UK Action: email your MP to contact International Development Secretary Justine Greening about the ‘Monsanto law’ in Ghana.
Chris Walker is a researcher on WDM’s Food Sovereignty campaign.
Oliver Tickell edits The Ecologist.
This article is based on an original article by Chris Walker published on New Internationalist under a Creative Commons licence, with additional reporting by The Ecologist.
British agriculture is headed for a doom. Time to shed the false pride and learn sustainable farming from India.
British agriculture has to undergo a radical transformation if it has to survive. Pic by Telegraph
Some years back I was at a dinner meeting hosted by the then British Secretary of State for International Development, Hilary Benn, in London. Among those present were a select group of leaders of charities and people’s organisations working on sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, environment and worker rights. The discussion was broadly on how Britain could extend help to developing countries in promoting sustainable agriculture and food security.
After the first round of discussions, Hilary Benn turned to me. Being the only outsider at the meeting, he asked me how I perceive Britain’s role in promoting sustainable agriculture in developing countries. In a sense the question related to my expectations from the DFID, the department responsible for promoting development and the reduction of poverty. If I recall correctly, I replied: “I don’t understand how UK can help India in promoting sustainable agriculture. Your own agriculture being ecologically and environmentally devastated, please tell me how is DFID qualified enough to teach us sustainable agriculture?”
It took some moments for Hilary Benn to understand the implications of what I was trying to say. He quipped: “Well, I get your point. In that case what do you expect British DFID to do?” My answer was simple. I told him that aid should be a two way channel. Instead of imposing the British development agenda, it was time DFID invited some farmers from India and make them go around the country educating farmers and educationists and thereby create awareness about the importance and need for sustainable farming practices.
As you would have guessed my suggestion never received a second thought. But if Hilary Benn, and also some of the agricultural experts present at the dinner, had actually ignored the national pride tag that they were wearing on their sleeves and launched a serious effort to resurrect British agriculture, the doomsday warning could have been easily averted. A study by the University of Sheffield warns of a serious 'agricultural crisis' unless dramatic action is taken. (Britain has only 100 harvest left .. http://ind.pn/1ySqLt9)
The Sheffield study only establishes what I have been saying for long. British agriculture is one of the most intensively farmed, and of course one of the most devastated. With cultivated soil turning infertile, researchers found that soils in urban parks and kitchen gardens were much healthier. "Allotment soil had 32% more organic carbon, 36% higher carbon to nitrogen ratios, 25% higher nitrogen and was significantly less compacted."
Britain, like many other countries, is encouraging people to farm in the available urban places. Citizens are allowed to apply for allotment plots -- small patches in urban centres where they can grow food for themselves and their families. Currently there is a waiting list of 90,000 people wanting allotment plots. Interestingly, unlike the corporate farms, the small scale producers know the importance of maintaining soil health and therefore tend the gardens to maintain an ecological balance. With the rural landscape turning unhealthy, the hope now rests on the urban farming.
But peri-urban agriculture may not be enough. Britain will sooner or later have to revert back to restoring its soil health. It is therefore high time that Britain sheds its false pride in agricultural superiority, and learns from countries which have shown an agro-ecological pathway. It's time DFID becomes a channel to draw from the expertise of ecological farmers from countries like India. There is nothing to feel ashamed. If only Hilary Benn had seen the merit in my argument, perhaps we could have identified a group of smart farmers from India who could have helped British agriculture to regenerate. It isn't too late even now.
Further reading: Climate change provides the right opportunity to reorient agriculture..http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.in/2014/09/climate-change-provides-right.html
No pesticides, No Bt, No Pestshttp://indiatogether.org/punukula-op-ed
by Simon McKeagney, Editor – TTIP2014.eu, 16 October 2014
Incoming Commission president Jean Claude Juncker is said to have decided to remove the controversial investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) from TTIP, citing that it is “too late” to win on the issue, and to send a clear signal to EU citizens that he has “heard them” a new news report says.
According to the Dutch journalist Caroline de Gruyter, writing for NRC Handelsblad, Trade Commissioner-elect Cecilia Malmström had threatened to resign over Juncker’s plans to exclude ISDS, but to date, this has not happened. The news sheds further light on the tug-of-war taking place within the Commission regarding investor rights in international trade agreements, as was demonstrated in Malmström’s parliamentary hearing in September.
The news also comes just 24 hours after outgoing Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht told Reuters that that “there will be no TTIP without an ISDS” at a meeting of EU trade ministers and US Trade Representative, Michael Froman, in Rome.
Lightning rod issue
De Gruyter is highly regarded as a journalist specialising in EU affairs, with sources close to Juncker. She claims that Juncker now sees ISDS as a “lightning rod” issue for TTIP opponents. Politically, Juncker believes it cannot be won as an issue, as those in favour are “not fighting back.” It is claimed that Juncker hopes the decision will improve the popular image of Brussels, which has taken a nose dive in recent years on the back of growing Eurosceptic sentiment.
In a Green Group hearing after the European Elections in July, Juncker already openly aired his discontent at ISDS proposals, saying:
“I don’t understand why great democracies would not have faith in the judiciary. We have courts which are able to deal with cases that are brought to them, and so I’m not really in favour of what one could call “private courts” or arbitration bodies which may sometimes reach good decisions but don’t always have to justify their decisions.”
The news is likely to be seen as a huge victory for civil society groups and NGOs, who have actively campaigned for the removal of the mechanism since last year. Growing public anger over TTIP resulted in tens of thousands taking to the streets last Saturday, in more than 400 protests across Europe.
More information as it comes in. Read more: http://www.ttip2014.eu/blog-detail/blog/ISDS%20out%20Juncker.html
Are seeds a commodity or a vital resource to be shared for the benefit of humanity like the water we drink or the air we breathe? In the near future, farmers might lose the right to plant their own seeds. In Europe, a regulation is emerging which will impose strict controls on the use of agricultural seeds. Behind this appropriation stand five corporations already governing half of the seeds market and looking to spread their stranglehold even further.
The documentary ‘La Guerre des Graines – The Seed War’ travels from India to France, and even the polar circle, to unveil a silent and unknown war whose outcome is critical – the status of our food independence! Through the making of this film the directors went to meet all the actors of this “war”, from environmental activists like Vandana Shiva to corporations and European politicians.
The film has been directed by Clément Montfort and Stenka Quillet.
Webpage [French]: http://blog.francetvinfo.fr/guerre-des-graines/
Seed Freedom Calendar Event: Launch of ‘The Seed War’ Documentary (English version of ‘La Guerre des Graines’)
Dear CBD Delegates,
The Gates Foundation has invested 15 million dollars in Dr James Dale’s GMO so-called ‘super-bananas’ developed at QUT in Australia. The project is being touted as philanthropy with a humanitarian purpose in combating micronutrient deficiency. The GMO bananas, grown in Australia, are currently in Iowa in the US undergoing what Scientific American calls ‘Market Trials’ – trials that have been designed for marketing purposes, NOT thorough clinical trials. It is not clear the GMO ‘super-banana’ is truly a humanitarian project, it is however a clear case of biopiracy.
Fe’i bananas (Musa troglodytarum L.) are a traditional food across the Asia-Pacific, found in an area ranging from Maluku in Indonesai to Tahiti and Hawaii in the Pacific. In 1788, Daniel Solander, accompanying botanist Joseph Banks and James Cook on the voyage of the Endeavour, noted several varieties of Fe’i bananas used in Tahiti. Artist Paul Gauguin’s paintings Le Repas (The Meal), La Orana Maria (The Virgin Mary) and Tahitian Landscape, painted in 1891, depict these red-orange bananas. In Indonesia they are known as pisang tongkat langit (sky cane bananas) because of the distinctive upright fruiting stem.
There are Fe’i banana varieties that are delicious when eaten raw, and others when baked or boiled. Federated States of Micronesia have in recent years had an ongoing program to promote and encourage the cultivation and consumption of these nutritious local banana varieties – use of which had been displaced by imported food cultures – for their high beta-carotene content. The Island Food Community of Pohnpei in FSM has seen the use of these varieties widely adopted in a campaign called ‘Let’s Go Local!’ The program has been so successful that the ‘Karat’ banana – so called for its orange flesh and high beta-carotene content – has been adopted as the state emblem of Pohnpei and stamps have been issued featuring the Karat banana.
Nutritional surveying of pacific Fei banana cultivars in Australia held in collection by the Queensland Department of Primary Industries that were collected 25 years earlier from Papua New Guinea included the high beta-carotene Asupina variety of Fei banana from which Dr Dale has taken the banana gene for beta-carotene. The Asupina is not a wild variety as Dr Dale has claimed – it is a domesticated Fei cultivar from PNG. Dr Dale’s globe trotting GMO bananas are a globe trotting case of biopiracy. Their gene for beta-carotene comes from the PNG Asupina variety. The traditional knowledge they have used comes from Micronesia and across the region. The Q-DPI collection from which they have sourced the Asupina variety should have been a collection held in public trust. Moreover, their gene for disease resistance comes from Maluku in Indonesia. Their GMO ‘super banana’ project on which Dr Dale holds multiple patents for ‘banana transformation’ now proposes to sell these purloined treasures back to the world as their patented product from which they can derive royalties and to which they can determine access is being offered up as an act of charity. Rather this is an act of biopiracy. It is an act of biocolonialism.
Dr Dale has given lectures in Indonesia supported by the Australian Embassy in Jakarta where he has claimed bananas are going extinct, selectively ignoring the many hundreds of biodiverse varieties of banana that are the collective living cultural heritage of Africans, Asians and Pacific peoples, the very diversity on which he has have based his GMO bananas, while his real purposes appear to be bioprospecting of local banana varieties. Gates Foundation has accrued its wealth from Microsoft’s aggressive pursuit of patent infringement and piracy of their software and technology, however, they do not hesitate to participate in the biopiracy of the banana biodiversity and traditional knowledge that is the cultural and biological heritage of generations of local communities and farmers in PNG and Micronesia.
Dr Dale and Gates Foundation must surely be aware that previous human feeding trials of so-called ‘Golden Rice’ in the US and in China have been plagued with violations of research ethics and are currently mired in international scandal. In Boston, Tufts University’s Institutional Review Board has suspended the lead Chinese researcher from the Tufts human trials of ‘Golden Rice’ from her permission to conduct human subject researcher after admitting there were serious irregularities and violations of ethics in the human feeding trials of ‘Golden Rice’ carried out in Hunan. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which published the Tufts study is reportedly retracting the article due to these violations of ethics. Nevertheless the Tufts study is positively referred to in the Australian government’s OGTR risk assessment for the GMO ‘super-bananas’.
Dr Dale himself admits that the GMO bananas are a door-opener designed to facilitate the uptake of many more GMO crops in Africa and globally. The GMO ‘super-bananas’ are an expensive distraction away from real solutions for vitamin A deficiency. We do not need to waste time and millions on GMOs when we have viable existing solutions based on biodiversity and available right now, not in 2020. Mantasa’s work with local communities has shown that there are many diverse sources of vitamin A to be found in local biodiversity. In Indonesia these include purslane Portulaca oleracea, 43 gm of which provides 568 IU of vitamin A, which is 11% of daily required intake of vitamin A as well as providing 15% of daily vitamin C and 1% of daily folate requirement. The leaves of Moringa Moringa oleifera provide 7564 IU of vitamin A which is 252% of daily vitamin A requirement, per 100 grams of fresh leaves. In fact, Tanzania, Uganda’s neighbour, has a program promoting the use of Moringa leaf in local diets to eliminate vitamin A deficiency. Ugandans also grow sweet potato, a staple food which is rich in vitamin A. The GMO banana project aims at 20 IU of vitamin A per gram of banana, a quite high amount, while Ugandans consume banana as a staple food. Excessive amounts of vitamin A can also be damaging to health as vitamin A is fat soluble and stored in the liver, excessive amounts can result in health problems such as liver damage. Moreover, bananas are widely used as an infant weaning food. GMO ingredients in baby food are a contentious issue in the West – why should Africans and Asians or any peoples be made to forcefeed their children with their patented GMOs?
A 2011 article in the New Yorker on the GMO bananas, in which the vitamin A bananas barely rate a mention, suggests that the GMO banana project’s larger ambition is to enter the international banana trade, setting itself up as the United Fruit Co. of the 21st Century. Perhaps that is why the GMO banana project is focused on India and Uganda – the first and second biggest producers of bananas (See: ‘We Have No Bananas’ in The New Yorker by Mike Peed, January 10, 2011). The New Yorker article suggests the real intended market for the GMO banana is the rich western consumer for whom bananas remain one of the most popular fruits.
The problem of expensive patented medicinces hindering access to affordable healthcare in poorer nations is serious. Packaging the fight against malnutrition in the form of a patented GMO ‘super-banana’ on which millions of dollars have been wasted owned by a few rich white men only threatens to exacerbate this problem. Moreover, malnutrition is a complex problem that cannot be solved by monocultural solutions whether of the mind or of the field, not by ‘Golden Rice’ nor the cartoon solution of GMO ‘super-bananas’.
This is why on Oct 2, 2014, Gandhi’s birthday Mantasa have launched a pledge of non-cooperation with the GMO ‘super-banana’ We say, ‘No GMO Banana Republic. Stop Banana Biopiracy!’
Maharashtra jeopardises India’s biodiversity & food sovereignty: Only state to permit GM Field trials in the country
IndiaGMInfo, 16 October 2014
Source: http://indiagminfo.org/?p=783Press Release
Farmers, Scientists, Activists demand an immediate halt of open GM trials that pose a threat to food safety and environment of the entire nation
Pune,16th October, 2014: On World Food Day today, farmers, scientists, consumer activists, environmentalists, celebrities and citizens from all walks of life joined hands to demand that open trials of controversial Genetically Modified (GM) crops in Maharashtra be stopped immediately. A public statement on the same with endorsements from a wide cross section of organisations and eminent individuals in the state was released today at a press conference in the city by the Coalition for a GM Free India along with farmer representatives and leaders from various people’s movements.
The public statement points to the growing scientific evidence as well as experiences of adverse impacts of GM crops to human health, biodiversity and the socioeconomic fabric of our country and demands an immediate stop to all environmental releases of GMOs including those in the garb of field trials.
Speaking at the occasion Rajesh Krishnan, Convenor, Coalition for a GM Free India stated, “Field trials of GM crops constitute a deliberate environmental release of unknown, untested and presumably unsafe organisms that are new in Nature. GMOs released into the environment in the garb of field trials pose various risks including contamination of wild gene pool,contamination of other crops,undetected entry into the food chain and jeopardizing trade security. In India, time and again, it has also been established that field trials have happened and are happening in violation of the meagre biosafety norms laid down. Hence any field trials being permitted is unscientific and a threat not just to the people of the state but the nation itself.”
Justice B.G Kolse Patil of Lokshasan, releasing the public statement along with others, condemned the manner in which the Maharashtra State Government has approved field trials of GM crops in the state when credible agencies like the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture and the Supreme Court appointed Technical Expert Committee (TEC) in its final report have recommended against any open release of GM crops, including for field trials, owing to the inherent risks with GM crops as well as the inadequacy of the current regulatory system. He opined, “The hurry with which these trials are being conducted with no information to, let alone consultations with, the public in the state when the Hon’ble Supreme Court is to hear the matter shows that this is neither in the interest of the people nor the country.”
With neighbouring Gujarat government also formally announcing its decision to disallow field trials of GM food crops in the state, Maharashtra becomes the only state where field trials of GM crops are currently taking place, in the country. “Maharashtra has been made into a laboratory of risky GM crops and all of us laboratory animals” said Tanmay Joshi of Coalition for a GM Free Maharashtra. He further stated, “The state committee set up to look at the GM field trials is a sham as it neither has biosafety experts like ecologists, health experts, toxicologists, socioeconomists etc in it who can assess the consequences of release of an untested GM crop into the open field nor does it have the intent to scrutinise the need for such risky crops.”
“It has been conclusively shown that GM crops are a tool in the hands of Multinational seed companies to take control of our food and farming through their proprietary seeds.” stated Sunithi S.R, National Convenor of National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM). Pointing to the Indian experience with Bt cotton, the only GM crop allowed for commercial cultivation, she said, “ Within 12 years of its approval, cotton, a symbol of our freedom struggle, is now completely in the hands of Monsanto, the American multinational seed giant. It controls more than 95% of our cotton seed market through its proprietary Bt cotton. Through aggressive marketing and with the able support of our own government agencies it has monopolised the cotton market leaving the farmer no option but to buy its costly seeds year after year. One shudders at the thought of the same happening with all our food crops putting our food security and seed sovereignty under threat.”
Monsanto leads the list of GM crop developers in India the field trials of which have been approved by GEAC. 15 of the 47 field trials approved this year are for crops promoted by the Monsanto – Mahyco (Monsanto’s Indian affiliate) family. This includes a Herbicide Tolerant and insect resistant (HT/Bt) Maize which is undergoing advanced trials in Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth (MPKV), Rahuri in Ahmednagar district and another Herbicide tolerant ( HT) Maize in Vasant Rao Naik Marathwada Krishi Vidyapeeth, Parbhani of Maharashtra. The Coalition has written to Shri. Prakash Javadekar, the Minister for Environment, Forests & Climate Change and the District Collector of Ahmednagar pointing to the rampant violations reported by media at this trial site and demanded that the GM crop trial be stopped immediately.
The current field trials at MPKV Rahuri comes as a U-turn on an earlier decision by the University not to provide its campuses for trials of GM crops. This decision was taken in 2009 after hundreds of farmers and consumers led by eminent farmer leaders like N D Patil and Vijay Jawandhia, along with members of the Coalition for a GM-Free India, confronted the University for conducting a similar GM Maize trial of Monsanto. On April 2nd 2009, after instituting an Inquiry Committee and holding deliberations, the University promised the citizens that it will not take up transgenic crop trials henceforth. This was also informed to the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the nodal agency for any approval of environmental release of GMOs in the country, by Monsanto and recorded in the minutes of their meetings 98 and 100.
“At this juncture, citizens demand to know from the University what fresh evidence they have to show that these GMOs are needed and safe, for them to go against their own promise to conduct such trials, while most emerging evidence shows greater risk.” asked Pandurang Shitole of the Gram Nirman, an organisation working towards sustainable rural livelihoods. He also stated, “It is completely unacceptable that public sector organisations, funded by public money, take up such trials on behalf of corporations like Monsanto. Our NARS (National Agricultural Research System)’s universities and their research stations are repositories of India’s germplasm wealth. This is a generous gift from our farmers to other farmers and the nation. All of this is being jeopardized through irresponsible open-air trials of GMOs.”
Madhav Pandit, Secretary of Maharashtra organic Farmers Federation ( MOFF) pointed to the fact that real alternatives to problems of farmers are being sidelined by the promotion of such false promises like GM crops. He stated, “GM crops are a continuation of the treadmill technologies that our farmers have been pushed into thanks to the policies of the successive state and central governments”. He hoped, “The new government in place will promote ecological farming which is socially just, economically viable and ecologically sustainable. This along with proper support for backward and forward linkages in farming is the only way to get our farmers out of the distress which has made Maharashtra the farm suicide capital of the country”.
The speakers urged the Maharashtra state govt as well as the Central Government to heed the voice of people and experts and immediately halt all GM crop field trials in the states. They also announced that they will continue to mobilise public opinion on the issue until this is done.
Notes to the Editor:
1. The public statement to stop GM field trials in Maharashtra http://indiagminfo.org/?p=781
3. Letter to the District collector Ahmednagar can be accessed at http://indiagminfo.org/?p=780
4. http://www.downtoearth.org.in/node/3433; http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/gm-corn-trials-in-kolhapur-stopped/442350/
For More Info:
1. Tanmay Joshi, Coalition for a GM Free Maharashtra,
Mob: 8087502186, email:email@example.com
2. Rajesh Krishnan, Coalition for a GM Free India,
Mob: 09845650032, email:firstname.lastname@example.org
India’s Agriculture Minister Shree Radha Mohan Singh releases new book “Wealth per Acre” on true costs of industrial and ecological farming, by Dr. Vandana Shiva and Dr. Vaibhav Singh.The book is published by Natraj Publishers.
Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) – 8 October 2014
Most comprehensive study reveals glyphosate and AMPA in the environment over 9 years and across 38 states Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji
Please circulate widely and repost, but you must give the URL of the original and preserve all the links back to articles on our website. If you find this report useful, please support ISIS by subscribing to our magazine Science in Society, and encourage your friends to do so. Or have a look at the ISIS bookstore for other publications
The most comprehensive research to date on environmental glyphosate levels exposes the widespread contamination of soil and water in the US, as well as its water treatment system. Looking at a wide range of geographical locations, researchers from the US Geological Survey (USGS) analysed 3 732 water and sediment samples and 1 081 quality assurance samples collected between 2001 and 2010 from 38 states in the US and the district of Colombia. They found glyphosate in 39.4 % of samples (1 470 out of 3 732) and its metabolite AMPA (aminomethylphosphonic acid) in 55 % of samples . Water samples included streams, groundwater, ditches and drains, large rivers, soil water, lakes, ponds and wetlands, precipitation, soil and sediment, and waste water treatment plants.
These results are to be expected when the use of glyphosate has steadily increased in the US (and similarly in Canada) over the years, particularly since the introduction of genetically-modified crops tolerant to the herbicide. The rise of glyphosate-resistant weeds also means that farmers need to spray more chemicals than before in order to protect their crops (see  Monsanto Defeated by Roundup Resistant Weeds, SiS 53). Glyphosate accounted for 32-36% of all pesticide (insecticides, herbicides and fungicides) use in the US in 2007 according to EPA data . It is the top pesticide in agriculture and the second for home and garden and commercial settings. Agricultural use has gone up from 3 180 tonnes (of active ingredient) in 1987 to 82 800 tonnes in 2007. Non-agricultural use of the herbicide has also risen steadily in the US, from 2 270 tonnes in 1993 to 9 300 tonnes in 2007 (Figure 1). The common use of glyphosate in urban areas is also exacerbated by the impervious surfaces of cities, resulting in substantial pesticide inputs to urban drainage systems. Until recently data had been lacking on glyphosate occurrence in the environment, though studies published over the last couple of years are raising concerns. Detecting glyphosate in surface waters, rain and even groundwater, contradicts the producers’ claim that its chemical propensity to bind to sediment will prevent it from leaching into groundwater supplies (see  GM Crops and Water – A Recipe for Disaster, SiS 58).
Data collection had previously been limited not only by glyphosate’s high solubility and polarity which make its detection more difficult, especially at environmentally relevant levels, but also due to the official line taken by authorities that glyphosate is safe. This makes assessment of its presence in our environment less of a priority, and hence left unstudied and unregulated. The safety claim has also encouraged farmers to overuse glyphosate, mostly sprayed on crops “post-emergence” or after crops and weeds have emerged from the soil and often applied repeatedly throughout the season, especially with the rise of glyphosate-resistant weeds. In addition, they are liberally used on non-GM crops as a dessicant (drying agent) to facilitate harvesting (see  How Roundup® Poisoned my Nature Reserve, SiS 64).
To address the lack of knowledge in this area, researchers at the USGS began developing their own methods in the 2000s, using solid-phase extraction and liquid chromatography/mass spectroscopy, which is able to detect both glyphosate and its metabolite AMPA at levels as low as 0.02 μg/l (0.02 part per billion, ppb) for both compounds.
The results are shown in Table 1. Glyphosate and AMPA were most frequently detected in soil, followed by drains and ditches, rain and large rivers. For soil and sediment, and soil water a total of 45 soil and sediment samples were collected from seven sites in Mississippi and Indiana, with both glyphosate and AMPA being detected at least once in samples from all seven sites. Both were detected in 90 % of sediment samples with concentrations frequently above 10 μg/kg, with an average of 9.6 μg/kg. In 116 soil samples glyphosate and AMPA were detected in 34.5 % and 66.5 % respectively. Large rivers showed average levels of 0.03 μg/kg in 53.1 % of samples tested. Least frequent but detectable levels were found in groundwater samples, with 5.8 % and 14 % of samples testing positive for glyphosate and AMPA respectively.
Glyphosate is claimed by biotech proponents not to leach into groundwater supplies, but this work and a previous study performed in Catalonia, Spain have both detected its presence in groundwater supplies , a major source of drinking water.
The present study also found an increase in concentrations over time, showing higher levels from 2006-2010 compared to earlier years (2001-2005), consistent with rises in both agricultural, home and commercial use of the herbicide. Temporal patterns however, were not recorded and these likely change with agricultural seasons.
The study highlights the ubiquitous contamination of the environment with glyphosate herbicides at ever increasing levels. This herbicide is highly toxic to humans, farm animals, and wildlife, and at levels as low as 0.1 ppb; there is indeed a strong case for halting its use altogether (see  Ban GMOs Now, Special ISIS report).
Table 1 Concentrations of both glyphosate and its metabolite AMPA in US environment
- Battaglin WA, Meyer MT, Kuivila KM, and Dietze JE. Glyphosate and Its Degradation Product AMPA Occur Frequently and Widely in U.S. Soils, Surface Water, Groundwater, and Precipitation. Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA) 2014, 50, 275-290. DOI: 10.1111/jawr.12159
- Sirinathsinghji E. Monsanto Defeated By Roundup Resistant Weeds. Science in Society 53, 40-41, 2011.
- 2006-2007 Pesticide Market Estimates, 3.4 Amount of Pesticides Used in the United States: Conventional. US Environmental Protection Agency. http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/pestsales/07pestsales/usage2007_2.htm
- Sirinathsinghji E. GM Crops and Water – A Recipe for Disaster. Science in Society 58, 8-10, 2013.
- Mason, R. How Roundup Poisoned My Nature Reserve, SiS 64, to appear
- Ho MW and Sirinathsinghji E. Ban GMOs Now, ISIS, London, June 2013,http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Ban_GMOs_Now.php
by Mayank Aggarwal - DNA India, 10 October 2013
Joining ranks with nearly ten other big states, Gujarat government has now decided not to allow field trials of any Genetically Modified (GM) food crops within its boundaries. The decision is a significant one as it comes from the home state of prime minister Narendra Modi which he was leading till few months ago.
Now with Gujarat also saying no to field trials of GM crops, Maharashtra remains the only state where field trials are undergoing.
The NDA government under Modi in July 2014 had stopped field trials of 15 GM crops which were given a go-ahead by Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Union environment ministry on opposition from two wings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh — Swadeshi Jagran Manch and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh. However, ministers in NDA government have given enough indications of favouring GM crops during their public appearances even if they have not said it officially.
The decision by Gujarat government was revealed in a letter to one Kapil Shah of Jatan Trust who had written to Gujarat government’s agriculture minister on the issue. The letter by Gujarat government to Shah said stated that following deliberations on requests seeking NOC (No Objection certificate) for GM crops field trails, “a decision has been taken to not grant NOC for food crops”.
But as per the letter from the Gujarat government’s department of agriculture and co-operation, NOC could be given to non-food grain crops like cotton.
“It is a welcome and a very responsible decision. With their decision, Gujarat government joins 10 other states. It is actually a big-big decision with a national and international impact,” Kapil Shah told dna.
The NOC is a statutory requirement from the state governments for conducting open air trials. With this, Gujarat joins other states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana who have denied permissions for field trials of GM crops.
Shah, whose organisation Jatan has been working for the promotion of ecological farming in Gujarat has repeatedly raised concerns on the open air experiments of risky GM crops. He is also a member of the newly constituted committee of Gujarat government to draft the organic farming policy.
“It is a great relief for farmers and consumers of the state given that there is growing evidence on the adverse impacts of GM crops on human health, environment as well as farm livelihoods. Any open trials could become a potential source of contamination of our food and seed supply,” Shah said.
At present in India, government has only allowed commercial use of Bt Cotton which is grown in over 10 million hectares across the country. Since March 2014 GEAC has cleared 60 proposals of field trials of GM crops involving GM varieties of rice, wheat, maize, cotton, brinjal, mustard, potato, sugarcane and chickpea across the country.
Open field trials of GM crops has been a contentious issue in India in the past several years. Apart from opposition from farmers and activists, a parliamentary standing committee has also warned against it.
Letter by Gujarat government to Kapil Shah of Jatan Trust
Dept. of Agriculture and Cooperation
Date: 30/ 09/2014
Shri. Kapilbhai Shah,
JATAN Sansta, Vinoba Ashram, Gotri
Vadodara: 390 021
Subject: Regarding Trials of Genetically Modified Crops
This office has received your letter dated 11/09/2014 addressed to Hon. Agricultural Minister regarding the subject mentioned above. In this reference I am instructed to inform you that after due thinking (consideration) based on the various presentations received by this office, it is decided that NOC will not be given to food crops and NOC to non-food crops only will be given. Due action is taken accordingly.
(B. M. Jadav)
Dept. of Agriculture and Cooperation
Examiner.com, 21 October 2013
There is no scientific consensus on the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods and crops, according to a statement released today by a growing list of more than 90 scientists, academics and physicians.
The statement comes in response to recent claims from the GM industry and some scientists, journalists, and commentators that there is a “scientific consensus” that GM foods and crops, which are engineered in a lab to make their own pesticides or to withstand large applications of herbicides, were generally found safe for human and animal health and the environment. The statement calls these claims “misleading”, adding, “this claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist.”
“Such claims may place human and environmental health at undue risk and create an atmosphere of complacency,” states Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, chairperson of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) and one of the signatories.
The statement draws attention to the diversity of opinion over GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in the scientific community and the often contradictory or inconclusive findings of studies on GMO safety. These include toxic effects on laboratory animals fed GM foods, increased pesticide use from GM crop cultivation, and the unexpected impacts of Bt insecticidal crops on beneficial and non-target organisms. In spite of this nuanced and complex picture, a group of like-minded people makes sweeping claims that GM crops and foods are safe. In reality, many unanswered questions remain and in some cases there is serious cause for concern.
Prof C. Vyvyan Howard, a medically qualified toxicopathologist based at the University of Ulster and a signatory to the statement, said:
“A substantial number of studies suggest that GM crops and foods can be toxic or allergenic. It is often claimed that millions of Americans eat GM foods with no ill effects. But as the U.S. has no GMO labeling and no epidemiological studies have been carried out, there is no way of knowing whether the rising rates of chronic diseases seen in that country have anything to do with GM food consumption or not. Therefore this claim has no scientific basis.”
The signatories to the statement call for the compliance to the precautionary approach to GM crops and foods internationally agreed upon in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and UN’s Codex Alimentarius.
Commenting on the statement, one of the signatories, Prof Ernst-Ulrich von Weizsäcker, Co-Chair of the United Nations Environment Programme International Resource Panel (UNEP) and Co-President of The Club of Rome, said:
“The future of food and agriculture is one of the great challenges of humankind of the 21st century. The claim of scientific consensus on GMO safety is misleading and misrepresents diverse and inconclusive scientific evidence. The full range of scientific research needs to be taken into account, in open, transparent and honest debates which involve the broader society, when decisions of global concern are being made. This is a responsibility of scientists and science.”
Another signatory to the statement, Prof Brian Wynne, associate director and co-principal investigator from 2002-2012 of the UK ESRC Centre for the Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics, Cesagen, Lancaster University, said:
“It is misleading and irresponsible for anyone to claim that there is a consensus on these important issues. Many salient questions remain open, while more are being discovered and reported by independent scientists in the international scientific literature. Indeed answering of some key public interest questions based on such research have been left neglected for years by the huge imbalance in research funding, against thorough biosafety research and in favour of the commercial-scientific promotion of the technology.”
Andy Stirling, professor of science and technology policy at Sussex University and formerly a member of the UK government’s GM Science Review Panel, said:
“The main reason some multinationals prefer GM technologies over the many alternatives is that GM offers more lucrative ways to control intellectual property and global supply chains. To sideline open discussion of these issues, related interests are now trying to deny the many uncertainties and suppress scientific diversity. This undermines democratic debate – and science itself.”
This statement is released one week after the World Food Prize was awarded to employees of Monsanto and Syngenta. This award has provoked outrage worldwide and stands in stark contrast to recent rulings in several countries restricting or banning the field release or commercialization of certain GM crops. These include 9 countries in Europe and Mexico, but also developing countries like Bangladesh, Philippines, and India where an indefinite moratorium on field release trials was recommended by the Technical Expert Committee of the Supreme Court unless certain conditions are met including proper safety testing.
Furthermore, GMO approvals are under legal challenge in Argentina and Brazil due to questions over the scientific basis of approvals. Most if not all of them underline the lack of proof of safety and insufficient testing.
Signatories of the statement also include prominent and respected scientists, including Dr. Hans Herren, a former winner of the World Food Prize and this year’s Alternative Nobel Prize laureate, and Dr. Pushpa Bhargava, known as the father of modern biotechnology in India.
The document is now open for further signatures and can be viewed at www.ensser.org
ENSSER Statement: No scientific consensus on GMO safety: http://www.ensser.org/increasing-public-information/no-scientific-consensus-on-gmo-safety/
IndiaGMInfo, 9 October 2014
Source: http://indiagminfo.org/?p=774Press Release
Coalition for a GM Free India urges Mr. Prakash Javadekar, the Minister for Environment, Forests & Climate Change to stop open air GM trials in the country.
New Delhi: October 9, 2014: In the latest development on the raging debate around open trials of the controversial Genetically Modified (GM) crops in India, the Gujarat state govt communicated formally that No Objection Certificate (NOC), will not be given for any GM food crops in the state. The NOC is a statutory requirement from the state govts for conducting open air trials. Gujarat thus joins other states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana etc who had denied permissions for field trials of GM crops. The communication from the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Govt of Gujarat, was in response to a letter by Mr. Kapil Shah of Jatan, an organisation working for the promotion of ecological farming in the state, raising concerns on the open air experiments of risky GM crops. Talking about field trials the letter said that “after due consideration based on the various presentations received by this office, it is decided that NOCs will not be given to food crops.”
Welcoming the decision by the state government and terming it a very responsible one Kapil Shah stated, “It is a great relief for farmers and consumers of the state given that there is growing evidence on the adverse impacts of GM crops on human health, environment as well as farm livelihoods. Any open trials could become a potential source of contamination of our food and seed supply”. Mr Shah, a plant breeder and geneticist by training and a member of the newly constituted committee by the state govt. to draft the organic farming policy, also added, “It is a victory of people’s movements in Gujarat including farmers unions, scientists, consumer and environmental groups who had been fighting to stop open releases of GM crops in the state in the garb of field trials.”
The decision by Gujarat has once again highlighted the widespread opposition to open air trials of GM crops. Particularly disturbing is the recent flurry of field trial approvals by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF& CC), the nodal agency for any environmental release of GMOs in the country. GEAC had granted approvals for 47 such trials involving GM varieties of rice, wheat, maize, sorghum, cotton, brinjal, mustard, potato, sugarcane and chickpea across the country.
The Coalition for a GM Free India congratulated the Gujarat state govt for being responsive to the demands of its people and responsible to science. “It is heartening that a leading agricultural state like Gujarat has recognised that field trials of GMOs are the first environmental release of untested, unknown new organisms in nature and has decided to take a precautionary approach towards it” said Rajesh Krishnan, Convenor, Coalition for a GM Free India. He further stated that this decision is also in line with the recommendations by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture as well as the Supreme Court appointed Technical Expert Committee. Both had strongly advised against any open release of GMOs due to the scientific evidence on its adverse impacts as well as the inadequacy of the existing regulatory system.
“There is no dearth of scientific evidence to show that GM crops pose a serious threat to human health and biodiversity” said Kavitha Kuruganti of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture ( ASHA), lead author of the compilation titled “ADVERSE IMPACTS OF TRANSGENIC CROPS/FOODS – A COMPILATION OF SCIENTIFIC REFERENCES WITH ABSTRACTS”. The second edition of the compilation had more than 450 peer reviewed papers about the deleterious effects of GM crops .
The latest study pointing to problems with GM crops comes from Monsanto scientists. The study published by Brazilian scientists along with scientists from Monsanto, the US seed giant and the leader in biotech seeds, as co-authors has acknowledged that transgene insertions in GM crops can have unintended effects. The study shows how GM (HT Bt) soybean produced by Monsanto, resistant to herbicides containing glyphosate and capable of producing a Bt insecticide, helps the growth of certain non-target pest insect, causing considerable damage to the soybean crop . Citing the growing scientific evidence as well as public opposition Ms Kuruganti further stated, “GEAC’s mindless approval of GM crops is blatantly unscientific and undemocratic.”
With Gujarat also saying no to field trials of GM crops Maharashtra remains the only state where field trials are undergoing.The Coalition had earlier written to Prakash Javadekar pointing to the rampant violations at these GM trials of Monsanto in his home state as reported by media and demanded him to immediately stop all GM trials.
In the light of the new scientific evidence on adverse impacts of GM crops, the experiences with Bt cotton along with the increasing opposition from state governments the Coalition for a GM Free India urged Mr Javadekar, the Minister for Environment, Forests & Climate Change, to heed to voice of people as well as recommendations from credible agencies like the Parliamentary Standing Committee and the Supreme Court-appointed TEC and immediately stop all open field trials. The Coalition also demanded a comprehensive analysis of the Bt cotton, the only commercially cultivated GM crop in India, experience before promoting it further.
Notes to the Editor:
1. The official response ( in Gujarati) from Gujarat Govt http://indiagminfo.org/?p=771
For More information:
1. Kapil Shah, Jatan, Mob: 9427054132, email: email@example.com
2. Rajesh Krishnan, Coalition for a GM Free India, 9845650032, firstname.lastname@example.org
by Dr. Vandana Shiva – The Asian Age, 8 October 2014
Double standards in the WTO rules are exposed when India’s subsidies of $12 bn to its 500 mn farmers are considered ‘trade distorting’, while US subsidies of $120 bn to its 2 mn farmers are not
The conflict between “free trade” and food rights came to the fore again at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations in September, when India did not back down from its stance that a permanent solution be found for food security issues before signing the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).
The TFA is designed to push free trade further, with heavy losses to India’s food security. The US had challenged India at the WTO’s Bali Ministerial in 2013, on the ground that the Food Security Act adopted by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime would increase India’s food subsidies beyond levels allowed by the WTO.
The rules allow subsidies at 10 per cent of the value of agricultural produce. Oddly, the base year for India has been fixed at 1986-88. India, justifiably, is demanding that this date be changed to reflect the reality of food prices today. Double standards in the WTO rules are also exposed when one realises that India’s subsidies of $12 billion to its 500 million farmers are considered “trade distorting”, while US subsidies of $120 billion to its 2 million farmers are not. India’s subsidies are $25 per farmer, while US subsidies amounts to $60,000 per farmer — that’s 2,40,000 per cent more than Indian subsidies. Yet the US is threatening India and demanding the removal of support to its small and marginal farmers.
These are not rules of trade, but rules of manipulation written during the Uruguay Round of Trade Negotiations which led to the establishment of the WTO, by agribusiness corporations seeking to profit from India’s large food and agriculture market. The WTO debate on food and agriculture subsidies is actually intended to force India to stop supporting its farmers through procurement at the minimum support price (MSP) so that 1.25 billion Indians, including the 810 million covered by the Food Security Act, become a market for multinational corporations.
The US has claimed that India has doubled the MSP in the last 10 years. What is hidden from the public view is the fact that costs of production have gone up more than 10 times. Inspite of MSP, farmers are not able to recover their production cost. In 2011-12, the cost of production of rice in Punjab was `1,700 per quintal, while MSP was `1,285. In the same year, the cost of production of wheat was `1,500, while MSP was `1,110. In Haryana, the cost of production of rice was `1,613, while MSP was `1,350.
In the Northeast, the cost of production has risen by 53 per cent between 2008-2009 and 2011-12, while MSP has risen by only 20 per cent. A negative economy translates into debt and un-payable debt translates to suicides. Debt is due to dependence on MNCs who sell costly seeds and chemicals.
The WTO rules are, in fact, written by corporations for transforming public goods into globally traded commodities and capturing our economies for their profits. Monsanto, now the world’s biggest seed giant, wrote the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) Agreement of WTO, which opened the floodgates for patenting seeds and life forms. It has blocked the mandatory review of Article 27.3 (b) since 1999 wherein governments, including India, have called for “no patents on life”. Cargill, the world’s grain giant, wrote the rules of the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA) and would be the biggest beneficiary if India stops procuring from its small farmers.
Food is a fundamental right, a basic need, and the livelihood of a majority of Indians. The rules governing it should be rules of sustainability and justice, not rules for the profit of a handful of seed and food multinationals.
It is time to review both, the TRIPs agreement and the agriculture agreement of the WTO, because they are destroying the planet, the livelihoods of our farmers and denying the poor and the vulnerable the Right to Food. One just has to look at the evidence. Since trade liberalisation was forced on us by the WTO in 1995, 3,00,000 farmers have committed suicide because of debt due to purchase of costly seeds and chemicals. Every fourth Indian is hungry. And every second Indian child is stunted.
Average calorie intake in rural areas has declined from 2,221 kcal in 1983 to 2,020 kcal in 2009-10; protein intake has dropped from 62 gm to 55 gm per day in the same period.
In urban areas the calorie intake stood at 1,946 in 2009-10, a decline from 2,089 kcal in 1983. Protein intake declined to 53.5 gm from 57 gm in the same period. These are direct consequences of the rules of trade liberalisation, which have transformed food from a right to a commodity for trade and profits.
Addressing the twin epidemics of farmers’ suicides and hunger requires rewriting the rules of trade on the basis of sustainability and justice. India’s refusal to dismantle its food security system to further benefit MNCs is an opportunity to start redefining global trade on the basis of people’s rights rather than corporate profits.
Seed sovereignty is the foundation of food sovereignty. Farmers’ suicides are linked to seed monopolies and high costs of seed. Seed must be put back in the farmers’ hands through creation of village seed banks and capacity-building in participatory and evolutionary breeding to deal with climate change.
Internationally, seed sovereignty requires ensuring that the mandatory TRIPs’ review of Article 27.3 (b) is completed. For food sovereignty we need to ensure that farmers do not fall into debt and are able to earn a dignified and fair income. While we need to defend our right to support farmers through MSP, it is evident that MSP is no longer covering costs of production. The government has, in fact, frozen MSP in 2013-2014. The alternative is to reduce costs of production by reducing dependence on chemicals and corporate seeds through ecological farming. This is why organic farming based on the principle of agroecology has become an imperative for food sovereignty.
The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust
Acquisition of Africa’s SeedCo by Monsanto, Groupe Limagrain: Neo-colonial occupation of Africa’s seed systems
Addis Ababa 7 October 2014
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) is deeply concerned about the recent acquisitions by multi-national seed companies of large parts of SeedCo, one of Africa’s largest home-grown seed companies. Attracting foreign investment from the world’s largest seed companies, most of who got to their current dominant positions by devouring national seed companies and their competitors through mergers and acquisitions, is an inevitable consequence of the fierce drive to commercialise agriculture in Africa.
The deals in question involve French seed giant Groupe Limagrain, the largest seed and plant breeding company in the European Union, who has invested up to US$60 million for a 28% stake in SeedCo. In another transaction, SeedCo has agreed to sell 49% of its shares in Africa’s only cottonseed company, Quton, to Mahyco of India. Mahyco is 26% owned by Monsanto and has 50:50 joint venture with the gene-giant to sub-license its genetically modified (GM) bt cotton traits throughout India. Interestingly, Mahyco also specialises in hybrid cotton varieties, unlike Quton, who also produces open-pollinated varieties (OPVs) of cottonseed.
These acquisitions follow close on the heels of Swiss biotech giant Syngenta’s take-over in 2013 of Zambian seed company MRI Seed, whose maize germplasm collection was said at the time to be amongst Africa’s most comprehensive and diverse. Taken together, this means that three of the world’s largest biotechnology companies, Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta, all now have a significant foothold on the continent in markets for two of the three major global GM crop varieties: maize and cotton.
SeedCo, like so many other seed companies around the world, began life as a farmer-led and owned organisation to improve the availability of quality maize seed in 1940. Today it describes itself as Africa’s largest seed company, operating in 15 countries across the continent and has significant market shares in Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. SeedCo also has access to government and donor-funded input subsidy programmes in Zambia and Malawi and has set its sights on potentially lucrative markets in Nigeria and Ghana. In July 2014, SeedCo and Limagrain began discussions with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) for a collaborative research project on maize lethal necrosis in Africa.
The creation of an predominantly privately owned seed industry in Africa is a vital component of the Green Revolution push, which equates agrarian transformation in Africa with the adoption of commercial (corporate) certified seed and other expensive inputs such as fertilizer. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), for example, claims to collaborate with 80 small and medium sized seed companies across Africa and has also organised public-private-partnerships between seed companies and public research institutions. How many of these newly established entities will remain independent of global seed industry players remains to be seen.
Multinational capture of local seed companies is a process that has long been underway in South Africa, a country much further down the Green Revolution path than any other in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 1999 and 2000 Monsanto purchased two of the country’s largest seed companies, Carnia and Sensako, and the Missouri based company now enjoys a dominant position in South Africa’s commercial seed market. In 2012 the largest domestic seed company, Pannar Seed, was taken-over by US firm Pioneer Hi-Bred, itself a subsidiary of the DuPont chemical company. The purchase not only gave Pioneer access to Pannar’s vast maize germplasm collection and agro-dealer network in South Africa, but also the company’s long established footprint in 23 other countries across the continent. Even the smaller South African companies are now seen as fair game, with Link Seed being taken over by, ironically, also Limagrain in 2013.
Apart from the concerns raised above, there are numerous worrying implications arising from these deals. What, for example, will be the implications of Mahyco’s (and thus Monsanto’s) involvement in the cotton seed sector in Africa through its SeedCo interests given their focus on hybrid and GM cotton seed, as opposed to SeedCo’s current focusonOPVs? Under what terms will Limagrain’s involvement in the proposed public private partnership with CIMMYT (and future project’s that its stake in SeedCo)inevitable bring? Monsanto’s involvement with public research bodies in Africa through the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project has been uncovered as bio-piracy instead of benevolence. Further, how will Limagrain benefit from SeedCo’s involvement in input subsidy schemes in Malawi and Zambia? From the outside this appears to be another case of scarce African agricultural budgets being used to subsidise the multinational seed industry.
AFSA believes that solutions to Africa’s agricultural challenges can be found in the collaboration between its small-scale farmers and public researchers, with the former taking the lead in setting the research agendas and objectives. A key part of public investments in R&D and extension should include identifying, prioritising and supporting work around participatory plant breeding, participatory variety selection, farmer-managed seed certification and quality assurance systems, identifying and supporting the development of locally important crops on the basis of decentralised participatory R&D, farmer to farmer exchanges and so forth. The encroachment of the international seed industry, which focuses almost exclusively on genetically uniform varieties, subject to UPOV 1991 style intellectual property protection, takes us further away from this agricultural vision and closer to neo-colonialism of Africa’s food systems.
Contact: Dr Million Belay Co-ordinator of AFSA email@example.com
Αστικός Αγρός Χαλανδρίου, Σάββατο, 4 Οκτωβρίου 2014
Πώς φανταζόμαστε τον παράδεισο; Η ίδια η λέξη προέρχεται από την αρχαία περσική λέξη “παρντές”, που σημαίνει “περίκλειστος κήπος”. Ο παράδεισος λοιπόν είναι ένας κήπος…
Για πρώτη φορά στο ιστολόγιο αυτό δεν θα γράψουμε για τον δικό μας αγρό, αλλά για μία φάρμα, ένα αγρόκτημα που επισκέφθηκε πρόσφατα ένα μέλος μας (η Ελενα Γκώγκου, εκπροσωπώντας το Πελίτι, στα πλαίσια του Φεστιβάλ της Γης, Bhoomi festival 2014) . Πρόκειται για το αγρόκτημα της Navdanya, στο Ντέραντουν της βόρειας Ινδίας.
Το 1996 όταν ξεκίνησε, ήταν ένας τόπος όπου καλλιεργούνταν μόνο ευκάλυπτοι, και το χώμα ήταν εξαντλημένο από τη μονοκαλλιέργεια. Από τότε μέχρι σήμερα, χάρη στην ενθάρρυνση της βιοποικιλότητας, το χώμα είναι πλούσιο και καρπερό, και στη φάρμα έχουν διασωθεί 5000 ποικιλίες φυτών – μέσα σ’ αυτές 3000 ποικιλίες ρυζιού, 150 ποικιλίες σιταριού, 15 ποικιλίες κεχρί, 150 ποικιλίες φασολιών, και άλλα. O στόχος της φάρμας είναι αφενός η διάσωση παραδοσιακών ποικιλιών οσπρίων και λαχανικών, η διάσωση της παλιάς αγροτικής/καλλιεργητικής γνώσης, και αφετέρου η προώθηση της οικολογικής γεωργίας – τόσο στους αγρότες που “την ξέχασαν” όσο και σε νέους ανθρώπους που άρχισαν την αναζητούν.
Οικολογική γεωργία σημαίνει καλλιέργεια που σέβεται τη γη: δεν τη φορτώνει με δηλητήρια (πού ακούστηκε παράδεισος με λιπάσματα και φυτοφάρμακα, εξάλλου;), εκτιμά τις φυσικές διαδικασίες (η φάρμα ήταν γεμάτη αράχνες που γευμάτιζαν χαρωπές τα βλαβερά έντομα, και κομμάτια χωραφιού που προετοιμάζονταν με χλωρή λίπανση ψυχανθών για μετέπειτα σπορές) και τη βιοποικιλότητα (παντού έβλεπες παραδείγματα επωφελών συγκαλλιεργειών – ρύζι με κεχρί, κατηφέδες με μελιτζάνες, κτλ). Οικολογική γεωργία σημαίνει επίσης να εκτιμάς την ευφυία της φύσης και του ανθρώπου - κάτι που η συμβατική βιομηχανική γεωργία δεν κάνει: θεωρεί τη γη σαν ένα ανενεργό υπόβαθρο, ένα δοχείο που πρέπει να γεμίσει με ουσίες για να παράγει, και θεωρεί τον γεωργό σαν έναν χαζό κουφιοκέφαλο που πρέπει να του υποδειχθούν τα υλικά και οι διαδικασίες που πρέπει να ακολουθήσει. Στην οικολογική γεωργία ο άνθρωπος συνεργάζεται με τη σοφία της φύσης του (η οποία προέρχεται από την μακρόχρονη παρατήρηση στο πεδίο) και με τη σοφία της γης, του χώματος, και του ίδιου του φυτού. Στη συμβατική γεωργία ο άνθρωπος είναι είτε ο “ειδικός” (ο γεωπόνος – πάροχος επιστημονικής γνώσης και υλικού) είτε ο διεκπεραιωτής (των διαδικασιών που ορίζει ο ειδικός). Μπορούμε εύκολα να δούμε πού εδράζει η αυτάρκεια, η αξιοπρέπεια, η ανεξαρτησία, ο σεβασμός, πού εδράζει η εξάρτηση, οι σχέσεις εξουσίας, η αλαζονεία, η γνώση, η ασφάλεια, κ.ο.κ. Και μπορούμε εύκολα να σκεφτούμε, με τους όρους αυτούς, τι θα προτιμούσαμε να περιέχει ο δικός μας παράδεισος!
Η οργάνωση Ναβντάνυα (της οποίας αναπόσπαστο μέρος είναι η εν λόγω φάρμα) δημιουργήθηκε από το όραμα μία κοινωνίας όπου όλοι οι άνθρωποι και οι μορφές ζωής έχουν τη δική τους εγγενή αξία και δικαίωμα στη ζωή και την πλήρη ανάπτυξη (σε όλο τους το δυναμικό). Οπου η διαφορετικότητα, η ποικιλότητα είναι η βάση για την αρμονική συνύπαρξη, την ειρήνη, και τη βιωσιμότητα. Οπου η διατήρηση και η προστασία της βιοποικιλότητας είναι ένα βασικό ανθρώπινο καθήκον, μία ευθύνη που τη μοιραζόμαστε όλοι.
Για το λόγο αυτό, στη φάρμα λειτουργεί ένα “Πανεπιστήμιο της Γης”, όπου έρχονται άνθρωποι από όλο τον κόσμο να παρακολουθήσουν μαθήματα, όπως “Αγρο-Οικολογία από το Α στο Ω” (A-Z Agro-Ecology), το οποίο διαρκεί ένα ολόκληρο μήνα, και δίνει σε συμπυκνωμένη μορφή τα βασικά στοιχεία και πρακτικές της Οικολογικής Γεωργίας, παντρεύοντας διάφορες θεωρίες και πρακτικές όπως η περμακουλτούρα, η φυσική καλλιέργεια, η βιοδυναμική, κ.α.
Στη φάρμα λειτουργεί και μία όμορφη Τράπεζα Σπόρων – γίνονται πλέον πολλές συζητήσεις για την ονομασία αυτή: κάποιοι λένε οτι η λέξη τράπεζα σε παραπέμπει στα γνωστά τραπεζικά συστήματα που διέλυσαν τις κοινωνίες μας πρόσφατα, οπότε θα πρέπει ίσως να βρούμε μία άλλη πιο ταιριαστή ονομασία: Οικία Σπόρων, Καταφύγιο Σπόρων ίσως… Ο συγκεκριμένος χώρος μέσα στη φάρμα σου δίνει πράγματι την αίσθηση ενός ιερού, έχει την ομορφιά και τη γαλήνη ενός ναού. Εκεί , μέσα σε μεταλλικά κουτάκια (αλλά και μέσα σε κούφιες νεροκολοκύθες, και σε ψάθινα κουτάκια επιχρισμένα με πηλό) φυλάσσονται χιλιάδες ποικιλίες σπόρων από διατροφικά και φαρμακευτικά είδη φυτών. Οι τοίχοι είναι ζωγραφισμένοι με παραδοσιακό τρόπο και χρώματα.
Για την αγάπη της Γης, μια έμπνευση για όλους μας.
While Indian farmers are forced to dump tomatoes in the streets, Indian food processing industry merrily imports cheaper tomato paste from China
Not able to get the right price for tomatoes, farmers often resort to throwing away the produce -- The Hindu pic
Some decades back, soon after the Ministry of Food Processing was set up in prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's tenure, I was speaking at the M S Swaminathan Foundation in Chennai. While most speakers were busy hyping the importance of food processing in reducing food wastage, which I am not in disagreement, I stressed on the need to ensure that the nascent food industry focuses more on sourcing local farm produce in processing rather than importing the food concentrate. Illustrating the point I made, I gave an example of the orange juice being made available in tetra-packs.
At that time, I remember one of the popular orange juice brands had it written on the tetra-pack: "Made from freshly picked up oranges from California."
I am sure you will agree that if the orange concentrate is to be imported from California, all the talk of reducing food wastage becomes meaningless. Soon after my viewpoint was carried prominently by the media, the processing house at least dropped this sentence from their juice cartons.
Yesterday, on a visit to a food processing unit in Sonepat district in Haryana, I was shocked when I was told that tomato paste is being imported in large quantities from China. In fact, most of the big brands of tomato ketchup and tomato puree are using imported paste and pulp from China. This is happening at a time when farmers are repeatedly being forced to throw tomatoes onto the streets for want of buyers. This year too, when food inflation was at its peak, reports of dumping of tomatoes by farmers had poured in from several parts of the country, including Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
With tomato prices crashing to Rs 2 (and at several places to Re 1 per kg) farmers had no choice but to feed it to cattle or to throw it away.
This was happening at a time when the tomato processing industry was merrily importing tomato paste and up mainly from China. While politicians, TV commentators, editorial writers stressed on the need to strengthen food processing, not many know that the existing tomato processing industry was relaying heavily on cheaper import of pulp and paste. This is not the first year for such imports, a review of reports on Google showed that such imports are continuing over the years.
Not many know that the popular brands of tomato ketchup, tomato puree and even tomato juices that we consume at home are made from tomatoes imported from China, Nepal, Italy, USA and the Netherlands. In other words, we are inadvertently helping tomato farmers of the countries from where we import while our own farmers are left to die.
Just in one month, between Aug 28, 2014 and Sept 28, 2014, India imported US $ 376,009 worth of dried tomato and tomato products (like paste, pulp and juice concentrate) from China, followed by US $ 94,057 worth of imports from Nepal, and US $ 44,160 from the Netherlands. Some more research, and I find that in 2010 when traders were eyeing the market opportunities in Pakistan arising from devastating floods, the Indian processing industry was busy importing tomato paste from China. A news report in the Economic Times (Oct 20, 2010) quoted Pradeep Chordia, managing director Chordia Food Products Ltd saying: "We can't afford the high local prices so we imported 80 per cent of our requirement of tomato paste from China this year."
Another food processor, Akshay Bector of the Ludhian-based Rs 400-crore Cremica Group said: "There is a cost advantage in buying from China versus India where prices fluctuate." This company supplies to McDonalds, Taj Group, ITC Group, Jet Airways, Indian Airlines, and chains such as Barista, Cafe Coffee Day, Pizza Hut, Domino and Papa John's.
Go back a little more, and you find a lot of Indian companies importing tomato paste way back in 2005, and even before. No wonder, tomato farmers in India have been at a great disadvantage for several years now, if not decades.
I therefore have three suggestions:
1. Ministry of Food Processing should encourage food processors to mention on the label the place from where the raw material is being sourced. Traceability is now an important trade issue.
2. It should be made mandatory for the food processing units to source the raw material that is available in India, from domestic sources. This is the only way to develop the back-end infrastructure that will help reduce farm wastage.
3. A minimum support prices should be announced for tomato which should serve as a floor price for the markets.
Deepak Chopra congratulates Vandana Shiva for leading the crusade against GMO.
However to avert near mass extinction of our species & of life on our planet we need a critical mass of sanity & love in action.