by Dr. Vandana Shiva – Huffington Post Italia, 10 December 2014
In 1962, Rachel Carson published a groundbreaking expose on the harmful effects of cancer-causing pesticides like DDT. Almost immediately, she found herself the target of a nasty smear campaign orchestrated by the poison’s manufacturer, a company based in St. Louis.
This company subjected Carson and her book, “Silent Spring”, to withering attacks. It went so far as to publish a spoof of her work, titled “The Desolate Year”, that portrayed a world without cancer-causing agents like DDT as a nightmare world overtaken by famine and insects. Despite these attacks, “Silent Spring” went on to sell millions of copies and win the National Book Award. Today, it is widely celebrated as the book that birthed the environmental movement.
Carson’s antagonist – the Monsanto Company – did not win any awards for “The Desolate Year.” The dreadful scenarios outlined in its caustic manifesto failed to occur when the US banned DDT in 1972. Today, the screed has largely been forgotten. But Carson’s experience with Monsanto is an important story to remember because, four decades later, Monsanto continues to wield these ruthless tactics against a new generation of activists.
The debate over Monsanto’s pesticides continues, but it has expanded to include a troubling new product line – Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). If anything has become clear in the debate over the dangers of GMOs, it is this: GMO companies like Monsanto will do or say anything to deny the growing number of credible concerns about its products.
This includes launching aggressive attacks like those Carson endured. Whenever confronted with effective criticism, the GMO industry and its apologists typically seek to “kill the messenger” rather than debate the facts.
In August, New Yorker writer Michael Specter published a terribly flawed piece clearly intended to undermine my credibility as one who speaks out against GMOs. Oddly, he failed to interview any other critics of GMOs, making it seem as if I am the only scientist expressing serious concerns about them. How ridiculous!
Equally troubling was Specter’s reliance on myths perpetuated by Monsanto and its allies to downplay the controversy – and hype the supposed benefits – of GMOs. Navdanya International has published an informative and comprehensive rebuttal of Specter’s piece here. I encourage readers to use it as a resource in the ongoing debate over GMOs.
In addition to exposing Specter’s personal attacks on me personally, the rebuttal also shines a light on Specter’s shoddy research. Specifically, it dismantles his pro-GMO arguments by clearly demonstrating that they are rooted in easily disproven falsehoods.
For instance, Specter embarrassingly evokes India’s 1943 Bengal Famine to bolster his case for GMOs, asserting that GMOs could have averted a food shortage. He seems to be completely unaware of the fact that famines often occur in places with adequate food supply. In fact, such was the case in 1943, when Britain was exporting food from India while three million Bengalis starved to death.
As the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen clarified decades ago, a lack of political and economic entitlement to food – rather than a lack of food supply – is often the cause of famine. The Bengal Famine was not caused by a shortage of food. It was caused by an imbalance of power.
This same imbalance of power is what profit-hungry multinational corporations like Monsanto tend to impose on farmers and citizens around the world. Farmers in India’s cotton belt, burdened by heavy debt due to Monsanto’s expensive seed pricing scheme, are committing suicide in alarming numbers. If GMO corporations like Monsanto wanted to help the poor, they could start by lifting the debt burden off of these farmers.
Of course, anyone who dares to challenge immoral GMO monopolies quickly finds him or herself accused of fomenting famine. In this respect, not much has changed since Rachel Carson’s time. But this baseless old famine canard failed to stop Carson, whose work led to a US ban on DDT in 1972. It will also fail to stop those of us working to raise public awareness of the dangers posed by GMOs and pesticides in the 21st century.
Related post: Setting the Records Straight on GMOs
The conference (COP20) is the 20th yearly conference on global warming and was hosted by one of the countries worst affected by climate change. Delegates from around 200 countries managed, after more than 30 hours of extended talk, to reach an agreement on a draft text that will form the basis for a global agreement on how to combat global warming by next year. Many hoped that such a global climate agreement would be reached at COP15 back in 2009 when Copenhagen hosted the conference. Hopefully such a global climate agreement will instead be reached in December next year in Paris – six long years later.
The Lima deal lays out how each nation will present their own plans for curbing global warming, preferably during the first half of next year. The deal commits all countries – both developed and developing countries – to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The draft text says that all countries have “common but differentiated responsibilities” to prevent global warming. This means that the Lima deal marks the first time all nations have agreed to cut carbon emissions – both rich and poor countries, North and South.
The draft says that wealthy and developed countries would assist poorer developing countries to fight global warming by offering climate aid and investing in clean energy technology. Countries already threatened by global warming – such as small island states – have been promised financial aid in a “loss and damage” programme.
“As a text it's not perfect but it includes the positions of the parties,” said Pulgar-Vidal, conference chairperson. “I think for the first time ever the world can contemplate a global deal applicable to all and Lima has helped that process,” the UK’s energy and climate change secretary, Ed Davey, said in response to the agreement.
Critics warn that Lima agreement fails humanity and the earth, and that it will result in a weak climate deal in Paris.
“We were deeply concerned that these talks would fail to deliver a fair and ambitious outcome as we watched events here in Lima this week,” said Jagoda Munic, chairperson of Friends of the Earth International. “Our concerns have proven to be tragically accurate. This text is desperately lacking in ambition, leadership, justice and solidarity for the people worst hit by the climate crisis.”
“The only thing these talks have achieved is to reduce the chances of a fair and effective agreement to tackle climate change in Paris next year,” said Asad Rehman, Friends of the Earth’s International Climate Campaigner. “We have the ingenuity and resources to build the low carbon future we so urgently need – but we still lack the political will.”
Rehman also notes how poorer nations once again was “bullied” by richer nations to accept a climate deal that further weakens climate justice. For example: several rich nations, such as USA and China, both whom are currently the world’s top polluters, opposed plans for a review process that would compare and assess climate pledges and emission reduction targets. And the agreed draft text in the Lima deal only says that climate pledges will be reviewed one month ahead of COP21 in Paris next year. Also, the draft only say that nations “may” (and not “shall”) include measureable information showing how they intend to meet their emissions targets.
“With the world speeding towards catastrophic climate change, wealthy industrialised nations who have contributed most to our polluted atmosphere must take the lead in tackling this threat,” Rehman said in a statement.
Dr. Vandana Shiva Convocation address at the Indian Institute of Technology (Banaras Hindu University) in Varanasi
The Times of India, 16 December 2014Nation faces challenge to knowledge sovereignty
VARANASI: Eminent environmental activist and founder of Navdanya Dr Vandana Shiva said that the nation faces new challenges related to knowledge sovereignty, specially in the form of unethical, unscientific and unjust intellectual property rights leading to bio-piracy of indigenous knowledge on the one hand and monopolies over biodiversity and seed on the other.
Delivering the convocation address at the third convocation of the Indian Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University (IIT-BHU) at Swatantrata Bhawan on Monday, Shiva said, “Today, MNCs are trying to make seed saving by farmers illegal through IPR monopolies and defining seed as their invention. They are collecting super profits through royalties on seeds evolved by nature and farmers.”
Shiva added that she started Navdanya in 1987, when she heard the corporations spell out their vision of total control on life through genetic engineering and patents on life and seeds and a ‘free trade’ agreement. According to Shiva, seed freedom includes farmer’s rights to save, exchange, breed, sell farmers varieties that have been evolved over millennia without interference of the state or corporations.
They largely take place in developing countries who have done little to contribute to the climate change challenge; an unfortunate and noted dichotomy.
Last year, as COP began in Poland, the tragic and devastating super typhoon Haiyan wrecked havoc in the Philippines. In what became one of the highlights of a dull and ineffectual round of climate talks, Philippines climate negotiator Yeb Sano’s pleaded emotionally to the western world to take the climate threat seriously. He has since become an inspirational environmental advocate and darling of the youth climate movement and environmental NGO’s. The Philippine government was however less amused and banned him for taking part in this years climate summit as a negotiator.
This year, a week ago as negotiators were settling into long talks at the COP20 in Lima, another devastating typhoon hit the Philippines state, casting another blow on several of the regions still recovering from Haiyan. Typhoon Hagupit (known locally as Ruby) made landfall on the evening of Saturday 6th of December with wind speeds of 125mph, slowly moving west with widespread heavy rains and torrential downpours passing very close to the capital Manila. In the region of a million people were forced to evacuate their homes in preventive measures. Fortunately the this years response was strongly coordinated and the death toll has so far been low, with only 21 people confirmed dead and 920 people injured. Whilst still serious, this is nothing like the 6,300 lives lost during Haiyan.
Yeb Sano took to Twitter to encourage world leaders to strike a deal and Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, rerouted his visit to Lima to and headed to the Philippines where he assisted the local Greenpeace office with visiting affected areas bringing relief and aid. Yeb Sano is joined him. Writing in EcoWatch, Mr Naidoo said: “I am joining Greenpeace Philippines and Yeb to visit the worst hit areas, document the devastation and SEND a clear message from climate change ground zero to Lima and the rest of the world that the ones that are responsible for the majority of emissions will be held accountable by the communities that are suffering the impacts of extreme weather events linked to climate change”.
At the time of writing it is yet unclear if a meaningful outcome has been reached in Lima as talks had been extended well into Saturday.
The recent bilateral agreement between the Obama administration and the Chinese government set targets for limiting and then reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For the first time, China agreed to set a peak for its greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 and to reduce them in the decades following. China's reluctance to set such targets in the past has been a key stumbling block to reaching an international agreement, more significant since China became the world's largest emitter of carbon pollution in the last few years. This bilateral agreement has given new impetus to the likelihood of using the UN process to reach a new and more far-reaching agreement.
Similarly, the foot-dragging of U.S. negotiators has been another key roadblock to an international agreement. New steps taken by the Obama administration include the agreement with China, which sets a target of serious reductions by 2025 for the U.S.; new EPA rules for new and existing power plants limiting their carbon pollution; continued commitment to renewable energy which started with the 2009 stimulus bill; and heightened attention in Obama's 2013 Inaugural and State of the Union speeches.
While the bilateral agreement by itself is not enough, it does lay the basis for both the US and China to play a more positive role in international negotiations.
This gathering takes place against the backdrop of continuing increases in temperature worldwide.
There is a developing three-part alliance bringing pressure to reach an international agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The three parts of this de facto alliance are:
- First, the massive environmental movement demanding action on climate change, highlighted by the 400,000 strong September People's Climate March in New York City, alongside support marches around the world of many more tens of thousands of protesters, totaling over 600,000.
- Second, the continuing signs from the natural world that climate change is real, is affected by human activity, and is already causing destruction and economic losses.
- And third, the growing realization by policymakers and some economic heavyweights that action must be taken.
These three forces have combined to create an atmosphere of excitement in the international negotiations, a welcome shift from the failures of previous gatherings in Bali, Cancun, and Copenhagen.
There are significant issues and problems facing the negotiations, including many related to India.
Moreover, given the rapidly developing problems from climate change, including some unexpected ones, the danger of approaching tipping points, and the sometimes apocalyptic uncertainties of climate change, it is highly unlikely that even the most aggressive agreement possible will adequately address the need for a worldwide shift to renewable energy, and will not touch the need for a fundamental restructuring of the capitalist world economy.
Food That's Harmful: There is enough scientific evidence to show that GM foods are harmful for human health
In another study, Paul Winchester, a professor of clinical Paediatrics at Indiana University's School of Medicine, and also a practising neonatologist at the Riley Hospital for Children, found in one study that baby rats exposed to Atrazine, an herbicide that is banned in European countries, were born with no birth defects. But they developed problems including infertility, kidney and prostate problems, cancer and shortened lifespans as adults - and passed them on to their offspring.
Atrazine, a persistent pesticide, is widely used in India.
This study published in 2009 is shocking indeed. So far we were made to believe that the harm pesticides cause is immediately apparent. But Dr Winchester's study goes much beyond and explains how pesticides can have long-term problems in humans. Unaware of the long-term impact of some of the pesticides, I thought it would be useful to share this disturbing news report. I am sure you will agree on the urgent need for more long-term studies to ascertain the effects of pesticides before the approval for its application is given.
Why I am talking about the long-term hitherto unknown health impacts of chemical pesticides is in the light of a recent statement that Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar made in Parliament claiming that there is no scientific evidence to say that genetically-modified foods are harmful to the soil, environment and human health. Genetically-modified crops produce their own toxins within the plants and therefore are a kind of a biological pesticide. The point I am trying to make is that if the harmful impacts of chemical pesticides are now being unearthed after some 70 years of its extensive use worldwide, isn't it too early to give a safety certificate to genetically modified foods, and the harm they do to your health?
In reality, there is no scientific evidence to prove that genetically-modified foods are not harmful for your health. What Prakash Javadekar did not tell Parliament was that the all-powerful GM industry has so far ensured that there is only one human clinical trial so far. In other words there are no medical experiments conducted so as to ascertain what damage to human health can be caused by GM foods. If you don’t want to know how harmful GM foods are, how will you know the harm it can cause to your health?
Let us say that tomorrow you go to a hospital complaining of a severe pain in your stomach. The doctor can go on experimenting with all kinds of medicines but there is no way to find out whether the pain is linked to a GM food you ate. This is because there is no analytical investigation procedure perfected by the medical science to assess or quantitatively measure the presence of a foreign gene in your body and what changes it can cause.
Ever since Dr Arpad Pusztai of the Rowett Research Institute in Scotland in 1998 found that GM potatoes when fed to rats in laboratory caused lesions in the gut wall of the animal, all those scientists who dared to publish the negative results of such scientific experiments were at the receiving end of the powerful GM lobby. Instead of conducting more scientific studies to know more about the dangers and thereby clear the mist, most of these scientists were suspended, gagged and eventually lost their jobs.
Nevertheless, let us look at some of the research studies that point to the hidden health dangers that you need to know. After all, it’s you and your family’s health that is at stake.
1. In one of the only three long-term studies on GM crops, undertaken at Urbino in Italy, scientists found that rats fed with GM Roundup Ready Soy continuously for 24 months showed significant changes in liver, pancreas and testes.
2. In 2012, Prof Gilles-Eric Seralani at the University of Caen in Normandy in France published a research paper that created a scientific uproar across the globe. In this landmark study, he fed rats for two years, which is the normal lifespan of rats, with GM corn treated with a popular weed killer Roundup. The result was shocking. These rats developed mammary tumours, much bigger in size than what we normally see, and also liver and kidney diseases. This was the first time a study had been conducted on rats for their full lifespan, which corresponds to about 80 years in human life. Normally, scientific feeding trials are conducted for 90 days, like in India, which corresponds to about 20 years of human life
3. A long-term multi-generational feeding study for the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety in 2008 showed GM food causing low fertility and significant drop in body weight of the rats.
In another study conducted by a Russian scientist Dr Irina Ermakova, rats fed with GM soya showed a high mortality rate, stunted growth and had smaller body organs compared with the normal healthy rats fed on normal diet. Many such studies conducted by the GM companies Monsanto and Aventis also showed similar results which were later swept under the carpet.
Interestingly, the only published human clinical trial conducted at the University of Newcastle in 2004, showed that the transgenic gene passed through the human stomach and small intestines. In other words, as I said earlier, whether it causes insinuating pain in your stomach or not is something that has never been ascertained. This study was conducted for the Food Standard Agency in Britain.
I had therefore expected Prakash Javadekar to launch a comprehensive scientific study to know of the health and environmental impacts of GM crops before jumping to a hasty conclusion. Since there is no crisis on the food front that India is faced with, there could have been no better opportunity to silence the critics as well as to build confidence among the consumers about the safety of GM foods by launching a long-term multi-generation study. After all, if chemical pesticides impacts can be passed on to third generation, we need to be sure that GM foods do not cause health damage to our grandchildren.
The Brisbane declaration finally had a paragraph that supported strong and effective action to address climate change, consistent with sustainable economic growth and certainty for business and investment, a reaffirmed G-20 resolve to adopt the recommendations, protocol and legal instruments agreed at the 21st Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change scheduled to be held in Paris in 2015.
The G-20 reluctance to address the global concerns over climate change comes a few days after US President Barack Obama and the Chinese President Xi Jinping, heading the two biggest polluting countries, announced a so-called promising US-China agreement on greenhouse gas emission. Accordingly, while China will make its best efforts to peak its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, the US has set-up a target of reducing its emissions by 28% in 2030 from the commitments it made for the 2005 level.
While the US media has hailed this as a ‘potentially landmark climate change agreement’ in reality it is a sweet deal benefit both the polluting countries. The Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, has in an analysis shown that both the US and China have worked out a mutually convenient programme of inaction that allows both the countries the freedom to pollute.
China has to do nothing to limit or reduce its emissions for the next 16 years, by which time its per capita emissions would reach around 12-13 tons. The US, which had a target to reduce emissions by 17 per cent by 2020, will now get a breather and its per capita emissions will also equal 12 to 13 ton by 2030. In other words, both US and China have crafted a self-serving deal while the world not only mutely looks on, but also applauds.
In contrast, India’s per capita emissions which hover around 1.6 ton of carbon dioxide equivalent at present, is not expected to exceed 4 ton by 2030.
Since both US and China are responsible for more than 40 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions, the freedom to pollute unhindered for the next 16 years has serious implications for the global climate. Needless to say worst impact of the resulting climate change is being felt by developing and least developed countries, who have hardly any role in the acerbating the crisis. Rising temperatures is leading to serious climate disruptions, resulting in melting of glaciers and the rising of ocean levels. The impact is going to be catastrophic on food and water, with many experts pointing to escalating political crisis within and among nations as a consequence.
One-third of the global greenhouse gas emissions actually come from agriculture and forestry. According to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which governs the 15 agricultural research centres, “reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint is central to limiting climate change.”Food production system, including deforestation and land-use changes, account for the release of 12,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere every year. Such a huge contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is not only leading to climatic aberrations but also necessitates adaption and mitigation technologies for the small farmers who face the brunt.
Considering the role agriculture plays in climate change, a pro-active stand on food security from G-20 was expected. Although food security figured prominently in the Seoul Development Consensus in 2010, and did get a push with the development of an Action Plan on Food Price Volatility and Agriculture under the French presidency in 2011, everything ended with the formation of the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS). Except for the usual rhetoric and an unsuccessful attempt to create food reserves in western Africa, food security has for all practical purposes disappeared from the G-20 agenda.
In the 2013 declaration, G-20 did emphasis on the central theme of food security. The G-20 Food Security and Nutrition Framework do recognize “the importance of boosting agricultural productivity, investment and trade to strengthen the global food system to promote economic growth and job creation.” However, except for the usual talk of assistance to smallholder agriculture to boost productivity, the Framework does not talk of addressing the systemic problems that has led to global agriculture turning into a major villain of climate change. The Framework itself reads well, and does mention that business as usual may not be the right approach but still the underlying emphasis is on more of the same.
The CGIAR does admit that the food-related emissions and the impact of climate change will profoundly alter the way we grow food crops, but the G-20 Framework talks of integrating smallholders into markets. In a way, integrating farmers with global markets and bringing in more investments to enhance productivity – which is what the World Economic Forum too desires – only shows that no lessons have been learnt from the climate debacle. Intensive farming is what led to agriculture becoming the biggest contributor to climate change, and therefore it is futile to accept that more intensive farming will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in future.
As temperatures rise, and water becomes scarce, irrigated wheat yields in developing countries are feared to fall by 13 and rice by 15 per cent by the year 2050. CGIAR also estimates that production of crops like potato, banana, and other cash crops will dramatically slump. Several other studies, including those by Indian Agricultural Research Institute, too points to a bleak farming scenario in the years ahead. But strangely, while the international effort, especially by the donor agencies, is to provide financial support to civil society groups for mitigation and adapting small farmers to the effects of climate change there is no mention of any serious effort to suitably make systemic changes in the way crops are being farmed.
While it is true that the G-20 has great convening and coordinating power over other international actors, it isn’t in a position to disregard some of the principles that have failed to enhance food security. In 2008, the same prescription of linking crop production to global markets led to the global food crisis sparking food riots in 37 countries and creating food deficiencies in several parts. Moreover, the entire thrust of the food security and climate change deliberations seem to be industry-driven with hardly any space for reinventing the sustainable agro-ecological methods of farming.
The G-20 Framework on Food Security therefore needs to be redrawn based on the recommendations of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) which was an inter-governmental effort under the co-sponsorship of FAO, GEF, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO and World Bank. This report, submitted in 2008, calls for a radical change in the ‘business as usual’ approach. #
जानी-पहचानी अनदेखी Dainik Jagran, Nov 29, 2014
Navdanya International, 9 December 2014
Michael Specter’s story in The New Yorker about Dr. Vandana Shiva’s work to protect public health from the effects of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) skewed the facts and fell short of the magazine’s usually high standards for fairness. In the piece published in the August 20th issue (and in a subsequent podcast on The New Yorker’s website), Specter makes it clear that he does not approach the topic simply as a journalist, but also as a strong believer in GMOs. He makes no secret of the fact that he considers opposition to GMOs to be unfounded.
But Specter makes his case by ignoring a great deal of evidence that directly contradicts his opinions. By ignoring important facts and questions – scientific, economic and legal – he allows his personal biases to undermine journalistic balance. The end product is a story that mirrors the false myths perpetuated by Monsanto Company on its website and does a true disservice to New Yorker readers.
Instead of allowing readers to weigh both sides of the argument and decide for themselves, Specter decides for them. He erases one side of the debate in order to tip the scales in favor of GMOs. Readers of his piece, “Seeds of Doubt,” could easily come away with a false impression that the debate over the utility and safety of GMOs is settled. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The dangers posed by GMOs are a mainstream concern, and the debate over their safety and value to society is far from over. Specter’s failure to acknowledge this undermines his argument in support of GMOs and harms The New Yorker’s reputation for quality journalism.
Specter roots his critique of Dr. Shiva in easily disproven myths that are commonly repeated by the biotech industry, Monsanto Company and other GMO producers (Monsanto et al.), and their supporters. Below, we illuminate his major errors and omissions, providing links to supporting research and articles that refute them. We encourage those who took the time to read Specter’s article to give equal time to the facts and voices he chose to ignore completely.
Error #1: Distorting the Relationship Between GMOs and Famine
Specter roots his attack on Dr. Shiva’s activism in a commonly repeated industry myth about the relationship between GMOs and famine. Just as Monsanto once claimed that a world without the carcinogenic pesticide DDT would be a world overrun by death and bugs, the GMO industry now claims that opposition to GMOs could lead to famines. In repeating this line, Specter specifically invokes India’s Bengal Famine of 1943.
However, as any student of famines knows, the Bengal Famine did not result from a shortage of food. As the work of Nobel Prize-winning Harvard economist Amartya Sen and others have clarified, the famine in Bengal – like many other famines – took place at a time when the country had adequate food production.
“Famines often take place in situations of moderate to good food availability, without any decline of food supply per head,” Dr. Sen wrote in Ingredients of Famine Analysis: Availability and Entitlements.
“Undernourishment, starvation and famine are influenced by the working of the entire economy and society – not just food production and other agricultural activities,” Dr. Sen observed in Famines and Other Crises. “People suffer hunger when they cannot establish their entitlement over an adequate amount of food.”
In Churchill’s Secret War, Madhusree Mukerjee documents how Winston Churchill’s well-documented disdain for the Indian people resulted in callous indifference toward the famine in Bengal. Mukerjee, a former editor at Scientific American and a recipient of the Guggenheim fellowship, takes Sen’s analysis a step further, arguing that Churchill allowed the famine to happen as part of a strategy to maintain the British Raj’s control over India.
There is no question that Churchill, who considered Indians to be “a beastly people and a beastly religion” and who referred to Mahatma Gandhi as a “malignant subversive fanatic,” repeatedly ignored pleas to address the famine. Instead, the British exported grain from India while millions of Indians starved to death.
Churchill’s unconscionable behavior drew a rebuke from Lord Wavell, the British Viceroy of India, who called it “negligent, hostile and contemptuous.” The Bengal Famine of 1943, it should be noted, was not the first famine to unfold while India was under British control. As Mike Davis documented in Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of The Third World, Britain had long employed the practice of exporting food while millions of Indians starved. Writes Davis:
“Between 1875–1900—a period that included the worst famines in Indian history—annual grain exports increased from 3 to 10 million tons.”
By completely ignoring the causes of the Bengal Famine, Specter misleads readers with this reference. In many cases, including the case he cites, famine occurred despite abundant food production. The problem was that a callous dominant force controlled the food supply and failed to act in the best interests of people.
Just as the British exported rice and imposed exorbitant taxes while the people of Bengal suffered, Monsanto et al. today impose on poor farmers exceedingly high royalties fees for its seeds. This forces them deeper into poverty and makes it harder for them to feed their families.
If Monsanto wanted to reduce hunger, it would not be doing so much to impose deeper poverty on farmers through its overpriced monopolistic seed scheme that perpetuates unsustainable dependency. Specter’s assertion that profit-hungry corporations are the antidotes to famine makes zero sense to anyone who has studied famine.
Further, Specter’s assertion appears to be based on the debunked myth that genetically engineered seeds increase crop yields. A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists – “Failure to Yield” – found that such claims are overstated. Instead, according to the report, which is based on an analysis of peer-reviewed scientific literature, “Most of the gains are due to traditional breeding or improvement of other agricultural practices.” Even in the US, non-GMO crops have shown better yield improvements than GM crops, according to research conducted by the US Department of Agriculture and the University of Wisconsin.
This report and others show that when genetically engineered products are stacked up against other agricultural methods and technologies, they are only a minor contributor to productivity. Other methods are more important.
If anything, GMOs and monocultures may actually increase the risk of famine and ecocide because they disrupt our natural food system in unprecedented ways, in violation of the Precautionary Principle. From a recent report published by the Extreme Risk Initiative at the New York University (NYU) School of Engineering:
“Invoking the risk of famine as an alternative to GMOs is a deceitful strategy, no different from urging people to play Russian roulette in order to get out of poverty. The evocation of famine also prevents clear thinking about not just GMOs but also global hunger. The idea that GMOs will help avert famine ignores evidence that the problem of global hunger is due to poor economic and agricultural policies. Those who care about the supply of food should advocate for an immediate impact on the problem by reducing the amount of corn used for ethanol in the US, which burns food for fuel consuming over 40% of the US crop that could provide enough food to feed 2/3 of a billion people.”
Notably, Monsanto is a top producer of GMO corn designed to streamline the conversion of a food staple into ethanol (rather than alleviate world hunger).
Conclusion: Specter’s embrace of the GMO industry’s famine canard ignores a Nobel Prize-winning economist’s research into the root causes of the Bengal Famine, as well as other famines. In addition, the assertion that GMOs increase crop yields (and thus food supply) is exaggerated. In particular, it ignores the availability of other methods, such as conventional crop breeding, that are more successful at increasing productivity. Finally, as the NYU paper indicates, contributing to monocultures of a few crops that are not primarily used for food, much less food that helps malnourished people, likely increases – rather than decreases – food insecurity. This very well-reasoned argument is completely ignored. Additionally, it should be noted that the European public has widely rejected GMO food products – while creating societies with less food insecurity than the United States.
“We strongly object that the image of the poor and hungry from our countries is being used by giant multinational corporations to push a technology that is neither safe, environmentally friendly, nor economically beneficial to us. We think it will destroy the diversity, the local knowledge and the sustainable agricultural systems that our farmers have developed for millennia, and that it will thus undermine our capacity to feed ourselves.” – Statement at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations by the Representative of every African nation, except South Africa, in 1998
Error #2: Obscuring Vast Difference Between GMO and Natural
Specter also repeats the false claim that what GMO companies like Monsanto are doing to our food and plants is not fundamentally different than what has been done for centuries. He writes: “Nearly all of the plants we cultivate – corn, wheat, rice, roses, Christmas trees – have been genetically-modified [sic] through breeding to last longer, look better, taste sweeter, or grow more vigorously in arid soil.”
But the vast differences between breeding methods that use processes that commonly occur in nature and those used in GMO corporation laboratories is substantial. For one thing, GMO foods often introduce proteins not previously in the food supply into our foods. The proteins come from organisms such as bacteria that normally cannot place their genes into our food crops, yet they enter our bodies when we consume these GMO foods. We do not fully understand their effects on human health. This is especially true because the regulatory systems do not thoroughly test their safety. In the US, the very companies that want to commercialize these products conduct most of these tests.
“There is no comparison between tinkering with the selective breeding of genetic components of organisms that have previously undergone extensive histories of selection and the top-down engineering of taking a gene from a fish and putting it into a tomato,” say the authors of the NYU Extreme Risk Initiative paper. “Saying that such a product is natural misses the process of natural selection by which things become ‘natural.’”
Dr. George Wald, awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1967, raised the alarm on these concerns long before consumers became aware of them:
“Recombinant DNA technology [genetic engineering] faces our society with problems unprecedented not only in the history of science, but of life on the Earth…Up to now living organisms have evolved very slowly, and new forms have had plenty of time to settle in. Now whole proteins will be transposed overnight into wholly new associations, with consequences no one can foretell, either for the host organism or their neighbors. It is all too big and is happening too fast. So this, the central problem, remains almost unconsidered. It presents probably the largest ethical problem that science has ever had to face.”
These unanswered questions and ethical problems have resulted in widespread public concern over GMOs. Over 90% of Americans believe GMO products should be labeled, and a majority says they would avoid buying them if they were. As a result, Monsanto et al. have spent millions of dollars to kill proposals for GMO labeling.
Monsanto et al. have not been as successful in Europe. Notwithstanding that millions of tons of animal feed are sold to Europe every year, labeling laws coupled with scientific review based on the Precautionary Principle, in tandem with widespread public skepticism of GMO products, have made it nearly impossible for GMO products to be sold there.
The refusal of European citizens to serve as guinea pigs for Monsanto has hampered the company’s efforts to expand there. Clearly, it is not only activists who have expressed legitimate concern about GMOs. Governments and scientists also clearly perceive the difference between natural products and GMOs, and taken steps to guard against potential dangers.
Yet Specter completely glosses over this issue, making an oversimplified comparison to essentially equate GMOs with natural products and wipe out a key concern of GMO opponents with one clever sentence. But according to the World Health Organization, “Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.”
In a podcast accompanying Specter’s piece on the New Yorker website, Specter goes so far as to deny that organic foods are healthier than GMO foods, a claim that is challenged by many peer-reviewed studies.
Conclusion: Specter’s comparison between modern biotechnological engineering and other types of crossbreeding or hybridization is completely misleading. Many experts, including a Nobel Prize winner, have articulated why GMOs are not typically found in nature and represent uncharted scientific territory. Specter’s oversimplification of the differences between natural and GMO products misinforms readers.
Error #3: Denying the Debate Over GMO Health Dangers
Specter’s piece accepts as fact the false argument that GMOs pose no threat to public health and safety. He ignores credible research and serious questions about the health risks posed by GMOs.
For example, in 2013, a group of nearly 300 scientists from the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSEER) signed a public statement calling on GMO companies, commentators and journalists to stop repeating the false claim that a “scientific consensus” considers GMOs safe.
“We feel compelled to issue this statement because the claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist,” they wrote. “The claim that it does exist is misleading and misrepresents the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of opinion among scientists on this issue. Moreover, the claim encourages a climate of complacency that could lead to a lack of regulatory and scientific rigor and appropriate caution, potentially endangering the health of humans, animals, and the environment.”
The Center for Food Safety has done an excellent job of highlighting the potential risks of GMOs on human health, including toxicity, allergic reactions, antibiotic resistance, immuno-suppression, cancer and loss of nutrition. Monsanto et al. and their supporters typically deny any link between GMOs and negative health effects, saying there is no scientific evidence to prove it.
Yet, as the Center for Food Safety points out, “the [FDA] also does not require any pre-market safety testing of GE foods. The agency’s failure to require testing or labeling of GE foods has made millions of consumers into guinea pigs, unknowingly testing the safety of dozens of gene-altered food products.”
Specter raises the common claim that no one has been harmed by consuming genetically engineered foods despite many years of widespread use in the US. But as with other possible food health risks, long-term harm to public health can only be determined by doing epidemiological studies, as have been done for numerous other possible health risks. Yet these studies have never been done for genetically engineered foods.
The paper on GMOs issued by the Extreme Risk Initiative at the NYU School of Engineering pokes more holes in the idea that, because we don’t fully understand GMO risks, they must not exist: “A lack of observations of explicit harm does not show an absence of hidden risk … To expose an entire system to something whose potential harm is not understood because extant models do not predict a negative outcome is not justifiable; the relevant variables may not have been adequately identified.”
In addition to the possible dangers posed by the GMOs due to superseding natural genetics, there is an added risk from pesticides. As the New York Times, Reuters, Forbes and many others have confirmed, GMO crops have resulted in the increased use of pesticides and herbicides.
From Reuters: “Genetically engineered crops have led to an increase in overall pesticide use, by 404 million pounds from the time they were introduced in 1996 through 2011, according to the report by Charles Benbrook, a research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University.” Dr. Benbrook’s paper can be found here.
This increased use of dangerous toxins on crops poses known risks to human health. Highly credible studies have linked exposure to pesticides to a host of major human illnesses, including many cancers, endocrine disruption, reproductive harm and autism.
Recent research from the University of California at Davis found that “mothers who lived within roughly one mile of where pesticides were applied were found to have a 60 percent higher risk of having children with any of the spectrum of autism disorders, such as Asperger’s syndrome,” according to the Sacramento Bee.
“The weight of evidence is beginning to suggest that mothers’ exposures during pregnancy may play a role in the development of autism spectrum disorders,” said Kim Harley, associate director of University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health.
The UC Davis study was the most recent study to establish a possible link between pesticide exposure and autism. Clearly, serious questions have been raised and there is more research to be done. Yet Specter fails to mention any of this.
Conclusion: Once again, Specter omits or ignores important research that raises questions about the health and safety of GMOs. By doing this, he obscures the fact that the concerns Dr. Shiva and others express about the dangers of GMOs are rooted in credible research and legitimate scientific inquiry. Specter’s reliance on the classic “straw man” fallacy is what one expects from polemicists writing at Fox News or Breitbart, but is troubling for a journalist who writes for a reputable publication.
Error #4: Erasing the Link Between Monsanto Seeds and Cotton Farmer Suicides in India
Specter denies any link between Monsanto and the epidemic of farmer suicides in India, attributing their deaths mainly to the financial stresses of farming. His explanation mirrors the explanation Monsanto has posted on the section of its website dedicated to denying any link to the farmer suicides. And just like Monsanto, Specter ignores a key fact: Monsanto’s role in creating the debt and financial stresses that drive many farmers to suicide.
“Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt (GMO) cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers.” – Memo from the Indian Ministry, quoted in the Hindustan Times
The marketing of GMO seeds in India has resulted in farmers widely planting them without adequate information about their use and value. Specter greatly exaggerates the GMO seeds’ effect on crop yields when authorities there have attributed most yield gains to other technologies, such as increased irrigation.
These seeds are extremely expensive compared to normal seeds, but they come with the promise of unrealistic results. When these promises prove false, an alarming number of these farmers – drowning in debt significantly worsened by Monsanto’s pricing scheme – end their lives by drinking pesticides.
As the brother of one suicide victim in Maharashtra, the heart of India’s cotton-growing country, told award-winning reporter Andrew Malone in 2008:
“He was strangled by these magic seeds. They sell us the seeds, saying they will not need expensive pesticides but they do. We have to buy the same seeds from the same company every year. It is killing us. Please tell the world what is happening here.”
Monanto entraps Indian farmers in an expensive seed monopoly scheme, driving up their levels of indebtedness. Specter and others have tried to shift the blame for these suicides on “debt,” but given Monsanto’s role in helping to create that debt, this does not absolve the company of responsibility.
In attacking Dr. Shiva’s advocacy for these farmers, Specter cherry-picks the data in order to deny the suicide epidemic altogether. Most flagrantly, he uses the national average of farmer suicides in India to dispute the notion that the number of suicides has increased. Yet, as Dr. Shiva points out in her rebuttal to Specter, the suicide epidemic is focused in the cotton-growing regions of Vidarbha in Maharashtra state – where Monsanto’s expensive Bt Cotton (a GMO strain) has taken root.
From a July 2014 story in The Hindu newspaper:
“With the highest number of farmer suicides recorded in the year 2013, Maharashtra continues to paint a dismal picture on the agrarian front with over 3,000 farmers taking their lives. According to a recent report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a total of 3,146 farmers killed themselves in the state in 2013. Maharashtra repeated this performance despite the state registering 640 less farm suicides than 2012.”
From a paper published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry in 2008:
“[The] majority of suicide cases are from cotton growing areas. The cotton farmers in India paying more prices for inputs like seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, electricity, water, and labor whereas the price of cotton has gone down along with decreased productivity.“
Specter’s failure to acknowledge the fact that the farmer suicide epidemic is centered in the cotton-growing region, where Monsanto’s significantly more expensive Bt GMO cotton seeds now dominate, is a telling omission. Prices have increased exponentially since the introduction of Monsanto’s GMO Bt cotton seeds.
As the Indian Ministry of Agriculture put it: “Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt (GMO) cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers.”
In addition to driving up farmer debt by making the cost of seed significantly higher, Monsanto’s GMO cotton seeds increase pressure on farmers because these GMO crops need more irrigation in order to grow. In dry regions where water is scarce, this mix of increased seed prices and increased reliance on irrigation can devastate farmers. As the Times of India reported in September, Indian agriculture experts are urging farmers to abandon the GMO seeds and return to natural cotton, which is more affordable and less dependent on irrigation.
Unlike Specter, the Indian government and other reputable press organizations have taken the Monsanto link to the farmer suicide epidemic seriously. Shifting the blame to “indebtedness” does not absolve Monsanto in the least. Instead, it repeats Specter’s use of a specific tactic – oversimplification – to dismiss concerns that contradict his opinion.
Micha Peled’s award-winning documentary on the subject, Bitter Seeds, is mentioned by Specter in passing. We encourage people to watch the film in order to hear from Indian farmers in their own words and understand their perspective on the suicide epidemic and its root causes.
Conclusion: Yet again, Specter ignores facts and evidence that contradict his opinion in order to mock the serious concerns expressed by credible observers, including the Indian government, and makes evident his lack of journalistic balance and objectivity.
In Conclusion: Monsanto vs. Dr. Shiva
Michael Specter’s New Yorker piece seems clearly intended to impugn the motives and character of Dr. Shiva. As we have shown in the preceding pages, he systematically excises important facts, studies and journalistic reports giving the false impression that concerns over Monsanto’s monopolistic business practices and GMO products are unfounded. The opposite is true.
Specter goes so far as to express sympathy for Monsanto, writing that “the gulf between the truth about GMOs and what people say about them keeps growing wider” and that Monsanto “is simply not that powerful.” What he fails to mention is that Monsanto has spent tens of millions of dollars to kill laws that would require GMO foods to be labeled in US grocery stores. The company’s power to defeat common-sense laws that most Americans support in principle – and thus keep people in the dark about whether they are ingesting GMOs – undermines Specter’s portrayal of Monsanto as misunderstood and ineffectual.
In addition to downplaying unsavory facts about Monsanto and GMOs, Specter also did his best to undermine Dr. Shiva’s academic credentials. In fact, New Yorker editor David Remnick apologized to Dr. Shiva after Specter erroneously wrote that Dr. Shiva only had a bachelor’s degree in physics. In fact, she has a master’s degree in physics and a PhD in the philosophy of science. As such, she takes into account the scientific facts against GMOs and – unlike Monsanto – also weighs the moral questions.
Malicious stories about people who the GMO industry considers threats are nothing new or unexpected. Monsanto has a long history of attacking its critics. In 1962, when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring – a landmark book about the destructive effects of pesticides often credited with launching the environmental movement – Monsanto went on the offensive. The company published a parody of Carson’s work titled “The Desolate Year.” It mocked Carson, portraying Earth as “a hungry world overrun by bugs” without DDT (a scenario that failed to unfold after the government banned DDT in 1972). Yet even today, decades after her death, Monsanto defenders like Rush Limbaugh continue to attack Carson for raising awareness of DDT’s dangers.
Specter is not the first journalist to come after Dr. Shiva nor will he be the last. Our goal in putting together this response is to highlight the manner in which GMO companies and their supporters demean their critics by ignoring facts, setting up “straw man” arguments and engaging in perfidious attacks. They pretend to have the weight of truth and science on their side but, as we have shown, they ignore many important facts and questions.
As Specter himself acknowledges, Dr. Shiva articulates serious concerns that are shared by many people around the world. This is why attacks on her will not succeed. In the end, Dr. Shiva is simply one voice among tens of millions of other voices speaking out in defense of nature, health and justice.
“Much of what she says resonates with the many people who feel that profit-seeking corporations hold too much power over the food they eat. Theirs is an argument worth making,” wrote Specter.
Rest assured Dr. Shiva’s work will continue. Attempts to ridicule or silence her will not have the intended effect. Instead, they will only increase her visibility and thus her ability to speak forcefully on behalf of those struggling to survive the capitalistic monopolies of Monsanto et al.
Terje Traavik, GenØk-Centre for Biosafety, Norway, Professor Emeritus of Gene Ecology and of Virology, Faculty of Health Sciences, UiT – the Arctic University of Norway;
Pushpa Mittra Bhargava, architect of molecular biology and biotechnology in India. Founder of the Centre of Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad India. Supreme Court appointee on the Genetic Engineering approval committee and recipient of Padma Bhushan, the highest honour given by the President of India;
Hans Herren, President of the Millenium Institute. Co-Chair of report International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology (IAASTD);
T.V. Jagadisan, scientist and former managing director of Monsanto India;
Irina Ermakova, Institute of Ecology and Evolution,Academy of Sciences;
Miguel A. Altieri, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, UC Berkeley, President of the Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology (SOCLA);
Alexander Baranoff, N.K. Koltzov’s Institute of Developmental Biology Russian Academy of Sciences; former President of the National Association of Genetic Safety;
Marcello Buiatti, genetics chair at U of Florence. Board member of ENSEER, European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility;
Piero Bevilacqua, leading historian in agriculture, Sapienza University of Rome;
Stephanie Seneff , Senior Research Scientist, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory;
Dr. Michael Antoniou, Head of Gene Expression and Therapy Group, King’s College, London;
Philip L. Bereano, Professor Emeritus, Technology and Public Policy, University of Washington Seattle;
Carlo Leifert, Professor for Ecological Agriculture School of Agriculture, Newcastle University;
Dr Mae-Wan Ho, Institute of Science in Society, UK;
Wolfgang Sachs, Wuppertal Institute, Germany;
Anuradha Mittal, Oakland Institute,
Jerry Mander, International Forum on Globalisation ;
Dave Murphy, Food Democracy Now!;
Dr. Medardo Avila Vazquez, Pediatrician and Neonatologist,; Universitaria de Ambiente y Salud Médicos de Pueblos Fumigados, Argentina;
Nnimmo Bassey, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nigeria;
Ana Broccoli, Agroecologist, Argentina;
Dr Brian John, GM-Free Cymru (Wales);
Nadya Novoselova, National Association for genetic safety, Russia;
Devon G. Peña, The Acequia Institute;
Michael O’Callaghan, Global Vision Foundation, Switzerland;
Alena Sharoykina, National Association for genetic safety, Russia;
Anthony Samsel, Research Scientist, Deerfield, NH;
Henry Rowlands Sustainable Pulse, Global GMO Free Coalition.
Dr. M. Jahi Chappell : Director of Agroecology and Agriculture Policy, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), USA
Professor Clare Kremen : Faculty Co-Director and Professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at University of California, Berkeley, USA
Carla Sarrouy: Senior Research Technician, Warwick Crop Centre, School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick, UK
Dr Brian John, GM-Free Cymru (Wales);
Michael O’Callaghan, Global Vision Foundation, Switzerland;
Claire Bleakley, GE Free NZ in Food and Environment, NZ;
Howard Vlieger, Iowa, USA;
Tony Del Plato, GEAN;
Ken Roseboro, The Organic & Non-GMO Report, USA;
Pamm Larry, LabelGMOs, USA;
Diana Reeves, GMOFree USA;
Frances Murrell, MADGE Australia;
Zen Honeycutt, MOMS Across America, USA;
Organic Systems, New Zealand;
Earth Open Source, UK;
Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment (SAFE);
Washington Biotechnology Action Council;
Robert Adjutant, USA;
Simon Dunn, USA;
Jeannie Edwards, USA;
Jared Maines, USA;
Deborah Ludwig, USA;
Lorenzo Anzalone, USA;
Acasia Bobd, USA;
Stephanie Florentino, USA;
Kornelija Janaviciute, UK;
Courtney Bergman, USA;
Morina Kim, USA;
Allen Goddard , South Africa;
Richard Derwitsch , USA;
Deana Jewett, USA;
Salman Khan, Germany;
Peter Waligora, USA;
Tajkia Zaman, USA;
Tammy Morgan, USA;
Albert Ward, USA;
James Dailey, J Dailey Inc., USA;
Manuel Fraire, USA;
Margit Mueller-Merkey, USA;
Elaine Wilson, USA;
Tanjs Olsen, Transition Denmark, Member of Board, Denmark;
Joe Calabria, USA;
Tracy Mani, USA;
Teresa Lynne, Canada;
Warren Peters, USA;
Jodie Bruning, RITE for Safer Pesticides Evaluations, New Zealand;
Janet McNall, USA;
Suzanne Case, Administrator, GMO Free Illinois on Facebook, USA;
Lucio Meleleo, Salento Bike, Italy:
Helen Anderson, Australia;
Deborah Ludwig, West Virginia USA;
Tim Ramsay, UK;
Kelli Ormsby, O Daisy Acres, Pennsylvania USA;
MicheL Logé, France;
Delwyn Pillay, Environmental Management & Projects Coordinator, Citi-Zen Gardens, South Africa;
Daniela Balsamo, Italy.
Dawn.com - 8 December 2014
ISLAMABAD: International agencies have started providing imported hybrid corn and wheat seeds to Pakistan to replace its indigenous varieties free of cost.
This generosity has met more resistance instead of being welcomed by most agriculture scientists and small farmers. Besides other fears linked with the imported seeds produced by multinational companies, the experts are against replacing Pakistan’s indigenous seeds of corn and wheat.
They argue that the move will give complete control of Pakistan’s agriculture sector to multinational companies. “We are particularly worried about cross-pollination. Sown side by side, the imported seeds can easily cross pollinate with local varieties and contaminate Pakistan’s indigenous seeds. This is particularly true for corn which is a highly cross-pollinating crop,” said a senior official at the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC).
Agriculture scientists and farmers also believe that seeds produced in other countries might not be compatible with Pakistani environment.
The agriculture experts at PARC fear that seeds produced in a foreign environment/country could bring in new pest and crop diseases as witnessed in the past with imported banana and cotton.Say imported seeds can cross pollinate with local varieties and contaminate them
Their reasons carry more weight since Pakistan lacks the resources, facilities and trained manpower to test the imported seeds. “Pakistan has no bio-safety laws or regulatory bodies to monitor and regulate the imported seeds for its germination quality to ascertain if it is free of foreign crop diseases or genetically modified or non-genetically modified,” said Agriculture Forum Pakistan Chairman Dr Ibrahim Mughal.
He added: “Pakistani farmers also lack space to grow imported varieties on a trial basis. Trials are run at least 300 metres away from the regular crop to prevent contamination of other crops.”
Besides the fact that Pakistan might not have indigenous seeds to fall back upon in case imported varieties replace locally produced seeds, one of the biggest concerns among the farmers’ community and agriculture scientists is that hybrid and genetically-modified seeds can pass into the system unnoticed like it did with Pakistani Basmatti rice in 2012 as pointed out by the European Union. The EU issued five warnings to Pakistan when it found traces of genetically-modified organism in Basmatti in 2012.
International agencies and foreign aid organisations in Pakistan argue that the imported hybrid seeds will give better yield and help Pakistan ensure its food security. Hybrids are produced by deliberate cross-pollinating two different parent varieties from same species of crops. They can only be used or sown once, increasing the dependency on the producers of hybrid seeds.
The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre is one such agency providing imported seeds to both public and private sector seed organisations.
Its country head Dr Mohammad Imtiaz asserts that the mission was to replace 25 to 50 years old seed varieties being used by small farmers in Pakistan with the best quality imported hybrid seeds.
“Quality seed is grown in Mexico. About 50 to 100 grams is imported and provided to research institutions in the agriculture sector. They tested quality in field. The trials are conducted for five to six years before being approved by the government and sold to farmers in the markets.”
According to Dr Imtiaz, imported seeds have already been provided to flood-hit areas and tribal regions where food requirements were becoming a priority.
When contacted, Director General Federal Seed Certification Dr Shakeel Ahmed argued that importing seeds produced by multinational companies in foreign environments was nothing new.
“International agencies have been supplying seeds to Pakistan since the country came into being,” he added.
But agriculture scientists and producers wondered what was the purpose of spending significant amounts on local research if at the end farmers were to be sold imported seeds rather than developing local varieties.
“Imported coarse varieties from India and China have virtually destroyed local Basmati and other varieties. By importing cotton and corn, are we not repeating the same problem?” Dr Mughal added.
Dr Shahida Wizarat, the head of the economics department at the Institute of Business Management, Karachi, said, “The government needs to reject all seeds imported from countries such as Philippines, India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh etc.” If not, she added, the government should ensure at least years of trials before commercialising the imported seeds.
She added: “Why are developed countries selling hybrid and genetically-modified seed varieties to Pakistan, which they would not allow to be consumed in their own countries?”
The Seed (Amendment) Act 2014 allows import of genetically-modified and hybrid seed varieties. However, the Act does not cater to any health or environmental hazards that imported genetically-modified and hybrid seeds may cause.
Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2014
Spirituality and Health, November 2014
Photography and quotes from the book Sacred Seed: A Collection of Essays, a compilation of original essays inspired by physicist and environmental leader Dr. Vandana Shiva. Reprinted with permission. To purchase, click here.
Compare it with the 7 per cent additional installment of Dearness Allowance (DA) to Central government employees in September over the existing rate of 100 per cent of the basic pay/pension to compensate for price rise, you realize the step-motherly treatment being meted to the majority farming population in the unorganized sector. Employees are getting 107 per cent DA allowance today.
In addition, as per a Centre government notification, whenever the DA crosses 50 per cent, there will be an automatic increase by 25 per cent in allowance such as Children Education Allowance, Travelling Allowance, Conveyance Allowance, Cash Handling Allowance, Risk Allowance, Bad Climate Allowance, Hill Area Allowance, Remote Locality Allowance and Tribal Area Allowance, among others. Agreed, not all employees get all these allowances but they do get some of these. In other words, the Central and State government employees are completely insured against any and all kinds of price rise.
The private sector employees too get a guaranteed income which incorporates all these allowances plus they receive hefty bonuses and shares.
But when was the last time you heard of a Children Education Allowance, a Bad Climate Allowance or a leave travel allowance or for that matter any of the above mentioned allowances being given to farmers? They are expected to meet all their expenses, including children education, daughter’s marriage, bad weather etc from the MSP they get. And the MSP is being kept nearly frozen for all practical purposes by successive governments to keep food prices in check. In other words, the entire burden of rising prices is being very conveniently passed onto to the farmers. The farmers must live in poverty and hunger to keep the middle class happy.
No wonder, several studies show that more than 58 per cent of the 600 million farmers sleep empty stomach. Ironically, the people who produce food for the country themselves go hungry.Several times in the past, Parliament has been informed that the average monthly income of a farming family (comprising 5 people plus) in the country stands at a paltry Rs 2,115. This includes about Rs 900 per month from non-farm activities like MNREGA. In many States, including the frontline agricultural States of Punjab and Haryana, the minimum wages for workers are higher than the daily farm income. Interestingly, while the Central Government Employees Federation is demanding a minimum monthly wage of Rs 15,000 for contract workers/other unorganized sector employees; and a minimum monthly salary of Rs 26,000 to the lowest aid employees of the Central Government, there is no talk at all of providing an enhanced minimum monthly package to the farmers.
In other words, it is the country farming population – comprising 600 million people -- that forms the neo-untouchable class.
An interesting analysis has been provided by the former Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh. When it comes to farmers, there is hardly a difference between the UPA and NDA. Accordingly, while the average cumulative increase in the paddy and wheat MSP during the Congress-led UPA, between 2004 and2014, was Rs 70 per year. During the previous NDA regime 1998-2004, it was only Rs 11. What he says is a stark pointer to the continuous apathy and neglect of the farming sector under successive governments.
As of this is not enough, there is more worrisome news that awaits farmers. Ministry of Food has already directed State Governments to refrain from providing any additional bonus over the MSP announced the Centre. Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and Rajasthan governments, which provided a bonus of Rs 100-200 per quintal for the past few years, have been warned not to do so in future. In case they don’t stop the practice, the Centre will not undertake food procurement operations in those States.
What is however not being told is that the MSP benefits only 30 per cent of the farmers. Even in the case of wheat and rice, where the Food Corporation of India makes procurement from the mandis at the support price, the network of mandis is only available in 30 per cent farmers. In the remaining 70 per cent of the cultivable areas, there are no mandis as a result of which farmers have to resort to distress sale year after year. Farmers in Punjab and Haryana are in the privilege category considering the he network of mandisand procurement centres as a result of which they at least get the assured price for their produce.
Even in western Uttar Pradesh, the lack of mandis and procurement centres forces farmers to transport wheat and paddy to the nearest mandis across the border in Haryana. Like the previous Congress regime, the new BJP government in Haryana has also banned the entry of paddy flowing in from Uttar Pradesh. The plight of the UP farmers who now face the prospects of distress can well be ascertained.
Let us not forget that while MSP is announced for some 24 crops, in effect it benefits only wheat and rice farmers for it is only in these two crops that procurement is made every year. In a case filed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Gurnam Singh of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Haryana) has petitioned how lack of procurement hits farmers. Last year, while the MSP for sunflower was fixed at Rs 3,700 per quintal, but it was purchased for Rs 2,600-2,900 per quintal. It was added that while 48,000 quintals of sunflower arrived at the Shahbad mandi for sale, and considering the average loss of Rs 500 per quintal, it resulted in Rs 4 crores loss to farmers.
The same holds true for all crops, including sugarcane for which the State governments fix a fair price. The industry has been demanding market prices for sugarcane, which means lower prices in effect, to sustain the industry. Similarly, a strong lobby of economists is demanding the withdrawal of procurement operations in wheat and rice which effectively means doing away with MSP. The argument is that it is because of MSP that the government is forced to buy and stock huge quantities of food grains. These economists are telling that the farmers would benefit if the markets are allowed to make purchases. But what is not being told is that already 70 per cent of India’s farmers are dependent on private markets, and it is in these areas that bulk of the farm suicides take place.
Withdrawing the MSP would only force farmers to abandon agriculture in big numbers and migrate to the cities looking for menial jobs. Modi government therefore must take a realistic view of agriculture sector and makes efforts to bring prosperity in the countryside. Grow in India is no less important than Make in India. #
Source: Why "Grow in India" too is important... Deccan Herald, Nov 11, 2014.http://www.deccanherald.com/content/440805/why-quotgrow-indiaquot-too-important.html
- Gandhi, Globalization and Earth Democracy Workshop was held at the India International Centre on November 20th, 2014 and organised by Navdanya in collaboration with Shumei International Institute, Japan.
- Earth Democracy: tree plantation drive – Navdanya in collaboration with Shumei international and Dr. Rajendra Prasad school.
Mr. Akira Miyawaki, Dr. Vandana Shiva along with 70 children planted 30 plants of diverse species to strengthen the Garden of Hope. This was an initiative by the children to nurture and protect Mother Earth.
This is exactly what we were taught in our Economic 101 class. These textbooks have not been updated ever since these were written and prescribed for economic students. The ups and downs witnessed in the past ten years when economic growth peaked to 9.3 per cent between 2004-05 and 2009-10, and then subsequently slid to 5.3 per cent after 2010-11, and in both the periods unemployment soaring, only shows that return to high growth, if that happens, does not automatically translate to job creation.
Jobless growth is a real threat.
In the past decade, India’s annual GDP growth had been at an average of 7 per cent. Even between 2005 and 2009 when the average rate of growth was 8.5 to 9.3 per cent, a Planning Commission study shows that 14 crore people had left agriculture. Normally those who abandon farming should be joining the manufacturing sector. But even in the manufacturing sector, 5.3 crore jobs were lost. So where have these 14 crore people who quit farming and believed to trudge to the cities actually gone? My understanding is that most of these who abandoned agriculture actually stayed back in the village to become landless workers.
This is corroborated with the data coming from the National Sample Survey Organisation. The NSSO survey indicates that India's labour force was between 44.0 crore to 48.4 crore in 2011-12. The lower number indicates people who looked for work every day, while the higher points to those who joined the workforce at some point in the year. This means roughly 2.5 crore people who were looking for jobs remained unemployed. But more significantly, the NSSO tells us that only 18 per cent of those who got jobs were on a regular wage. The remaining were daily workers or contract labour or self-employed.
More recently, CRISIL, the global analytical company has in a study shown since 2007, over 3.7 crore farmers had abandoned agriculture and migrated into the cities to look for daily wage work. But in the two years – between 2012 and 2014 – when economic growth had remained sluggish, an estimated 1.5 crore have returned back to the villages in the absence of job opportunities. In other words, even the daily wage opportunities waned.
In the past ten years, when growth remained on an average pretty high – exceeding 7 per cent for the ten year period 2004-2014, only 1.5 crore jobs were created. In a country where more than 1 crore people join the employment queue every year, more than 15 crore jobs should have been created considering the high growth rate India witnessed. But with only 1.5 crore jobs created in ten years, or a mere 10 per cent of the expectation, the big question remains – will high growth result in more jobs as CII projects?
I think CII is completely off the mark. Its projection of a high growth to create more employment is aimed at seeking more financial sops and perks from the government. Let me explain. Between 2004-2005 and 2014-15, a ten year period of high economic growth averaging 7 per cent per year, the industry was given tax concessions to the tune of Rs 36-lakh-crore. These tax concessions are listed in the budget documents under the head Revenue Foregone. These massive tax concessions were doled out to the industry on the premise that it will increase industrial activity, increase exports and of course create more jobs.
Interestingly, when India was on a very high growth trajectory between 2004-05 and 2009-2010, industrial production had slumped to minus 7.20 per cent in Nov 2009. In the present year 2014, the industrial growth in the quarter ending Oct 2014, is at a paltry 2.5 per cent. Manufacturing sector on the other hand is completely in the dumps. Manufacturing sector has declined showing a growth of only 0.2 per cent in 2013-14, compared to 1.1 per cent growth a year earlier. The story of exports from India is also not cheering enough. By Oct 2014, exports from India contracted by 5 per cent due to a fall in shipments of engineering goods, gems and jewellery and pharmaceuticals. This has further widened the trade deficit indicating that more and more imports were coming in.
So if the industrial output has remained sluggish, the exports have not jumped as expected and the high growth has failed to translate into increased job opportunities, the question that needs to be asked is where has the Rs 36-lakh-crore incentive that was given to India Inc gone? If this huge subsidy given to corporate was instead invested in removing poverty, India could have easily wiped out poverty for the next 72 years. Any country that can remove poverty for 72 years will actually be able to make poverty history.
It’s therefore all a case of misplaced priorities. It is quite obvious that job creation comes in handy to seek massive financial and infrastructure support from the government.
The only bright spot in India’s growth story is actually agriculture. In 2013-14, farmers produced a record harvest of 264.4 million tonnes of foodgrains. Production of oilseeds reached a record high of 34.5 million tonnes, a jump of 4.8 per cent. Maize production increased by 8.52 per cent to reach a level of 24.2 million tones. Pulses production reached an all-time high of 19.6 million tones, an increase of 7.10 per cent over the previous year. Cotton production too touched a record high.
But strangely, its agriculture that is on the chopping block. Not forgetting that agriculture is the biggest employer, with some 52 per cent of the population directly or indirectly involved with agriculture, the thrust of the PriceWater house report should have been on how to make agriculture more profitable by bringing more money into the hands of farmers. There is a desperate need to boost public and private investments into agriculture and by gradually turning the village landscape into smart villages, the entire rural economy can be revived. This will cut down on rural-urban migration and create permanent jobs rather than push farmers to abandon farming and become casual labour in the cities. #
Where are the jobs? DNA Mumbai, Dec 3, 2014.http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/column-where-are-the-jobs-2040718
रोजगारविहीन विकास की कहानी Amar Ujala, Nov 28, 2014http://www.amarujala.com/news/samachar/reflections/columns/story-of-jobless-development-hindi/
Despite high growth, where are the jobs? Deccan Herald. Dec 16, 2014.
by Dr. Vandana Shiva – The Asian Age, 2 December 2014
“The pattern of double standards, of privatising profits and socialising disaster runs through the pattern of corporate rule being institutionalised since the Bhopal tragedy”
December 3, 2014, marks the 30th anniversary of the terrible Bhopal gas tragedy, which killed more than 3,000 people almost immediately, another 8,000 in the following days, and more than 20,000 in the last three decades.
Despite the tragedy of humongous proportions, the people of Bhopal are still fighting for justice despite the apathy they continue to face.
Bhopal was a watershed moment. The tragedy woke up the world to industrial, chemical violence. The chemicals being manufactured at the Bhopal plant had their roots in warfare.
Bhopal gas tragedy was a political, economic, legal watershed for India and the planet. It was a toxic tragedy at two levels the leakage of a toxic gas from a plant producing toxic pesticides, the continued presence of 350 metric tonnes of hazardous toxic waste from the now-defunct Union Carbide India Ltd’s plant in Bhopal, combined with a toxic influence of corporations on courts and successive governments. Legally, Union Carbide and the US courts escaped liability and responsibility for the damage, setting a precedent of governments shrugging their duty to protect their citizens, taking away citizens’ rights and sovereignty in order to make settlements with corporations, letting them off lightly.
The cases brought by the victims to US courts were dismissed on the grounds that the appropriate platform was the Indian legal system, though other cases involving US corporations and foreign victims were being heard in US courts. In 1999, when the victims again approached the US federal court seeking compensation for the 1984 incident as well as for the alleged ongoing environmental contamination at and around the Bhopal plant site, the case was dismissed again.
In 1989, the Indian Supreme Court approved a settlement of the civil claims against Union Carbide for $470 million. The state forcefully took over the representation of the victims on the principle of parens patriae (Latin for “parents of the nation”) — “a doctrine that grants the inherent power and authority of the state to protect persons who are legally unable to act on their own behalf”.
A criminal lawsuit against Union Carbide and Warren Anderson, its former CEO, continues since 1989. In June 2010, a court in India handed down a verdict in the case. It found Union Carbide India Ltd. and seven executives of the company guilty of criminal negligence (this came after the September 1996 order that had reduced their charges). The company was required to pay a fine of Rs 500,000 ($10,870) and the individuals were each sentenced to two years in prison and fined Rs 100,000. On August 2, 2010, the Central Bureau of Investigation filed a petition with the Supreme Court seeking to reinstate the charges of culpable homicide against the accused. In May 2011, the Supreme Court rejected this petition and declined to re-open the case to reinstate harsher charges. However, after the protests of the Bhopal survivors in November 2014, the government promised to strengthen the “curative petition” that Dow Chemical was already facing in the Supreme Court. The petition is designed to address inadequacies in the 1989 settlement on the basis that the correct figures for dead and injured were not used. The Indian government is seeking an additional amount of up to $1.24 billion, but Bhopal survivor groups, quoting the Government of India’s published figures (Indian Council of Medical Research, epidemiological report, 2004), say the required settlement amounts to $8.1 billion.
On February 6, 2001, Union Carbide Corpo-ration became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dow Chemical Company following an $11.6 billion transaction approved by the boards of directors of Union Carbide and the Dow Chemical Company. Owning means owning both, assets and liabilities. However, Dow would like to disown the Bhopal gas disaster. While Dow wants immunity from liability in the case of deaths and diseases caused by Union Carbide in Bhopal, it has accepted liability for harm caused to workers of Union Carbide in the US.
In January 2002, Dow settled a case brought against its subsidiary UCC by workers exposed to asbestos in the workplace and set aside $2.2 billion to address future liabilities.
The case was filed before the acquisition of Union Carbide by Dow. Dow refuses to address the death and damage caused by Union Carbide in India.
This pattern of double standards, of privatising profits and socialising disaster runs through the pattern of corporate rule being institutionalised since the Bhopal tragedy. Dow, along with Monsanto, is involved in pushing hazardous, untested GMOs on society, along with the same war-based chemicals such GMOs rely on.
On October 15, 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency, in spite of protests from citizens and scientists, gave final approval to Dow’s Enlist Duo genetically engineered corn and soya resistant to round-up and 2,4-D, or 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, which was one of the ingredients in Agent Orange, the Vietnam War defoliant that was blamed for numerous health problems suffered during and after the war.
As this chemical arms race unfolds, more and more communities and countries are making the democratic choice to become GMO free. In the mid-term elections of November 2014, Maui County of Hawaii voted to become GMO free. Dow and Monsanto immediately sued Maui to stop the law banning GMO cultivation.
The 30th anniversary of Bhopal gas tragedy should catalyse actions worldwide for justice for Bhopal and for all victims of an economy based on toxics. It should strengthen our resolve to create toxic-free food and agriculture systems, and to defend our freedom to be free of poisons.
The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust
“We are convinced that it’s necessary to respond to dramatically altered global energy markets, technical innovation, and more diverse customer expectations with a bold new beginning,” said E.ON Supervisory Board Chairman Werner Wenning in a statement.
This move by E.ON is largely due to Germany’s Energiewende – the country’s transition away from nuclear and fossil fuels and towards clean, sustainable and renewable energy. E.ON is Germany’s largest utility and the company has done massive investments in fossil fuels, such as coal and gas, but also renewable energy, from generally hydro and offshore wind farms, in Germany and across Europe. Energiewende therefore plays a huge role for E.ON’s decision, and is part of this “dramatically altered energy market” that Wenning is talking about in his statement.
“E.ON’s existing broad business model can no longer properly address these new challenges,” Wenning said.
While E.ON will focus on renewable energy technologies and solutions, the new separate and independent company will take over E.ON’s former fossil fuel assets, energy trading, exploration and production globally. They have not yet named this new fossil fuel company but said that the spin-off will take place after 2016.
E.ON has around 60.000 employees and has said that there will be no job cuts following this decision. About 40.000 employees will remain with E.ON while the other 20.000 will transition to the new company. “We firmly believe that creating two independent companies, each with a distinct profile and mission, is the best way to secure our employees’ jobs, E.ON SE CEO Johannes Teyssen said.
This decision by E.ON will clearly add credibility to Energiewende and boost Germany’s renewable energy sector while encouraging further investments in renewables. But will it give E.ON customers access to clean energy and, more importantly maybe, will it be a blow to the fossil fuel industry? Damian Kahya who is the editor of Energydesk, Greenpeace's energy and climate blog, says no.
“Even when the deal goes through, the power you get will come from coal or gas because EON will still buy power from the open market. Indeed, it will probably buy power from the 'new company' and then sell it to you,” Kahya writes.
“EON has set up a really good deal for new, fossil fuel-heavy, company, which it will hold a minority stake in (for a while at least). What it's done is keep all of the debt with the parent firm, the EON that does renewables and the like - and left the new company, which owns the gas and coal plants, almost entirely debt-free. Because the new firm also holds EON’s existing hydro and nuclear stakes it may actually generate more money from renewables than the parent company.”
E.ON currently has €31 billion in net debt and this split makes sense economically as it will make it easier for both the new E.ON and the new fossil fuel company to attract investors. Kahya explains:
“Investors who like to put their money somewhere safe didn’t necessarily see EON as a safe bet (the share price has fallen over the past five years) but the company wanted their money to build power grids and offshore wind turbines, safe investments backed by the government. On the other hand the fossil fuel bit of the firm was essentially competing against itself in an effort to stave off competition from clean energy. EON is part of a EU lobby group which has actively campaigned against subsidies for renewables. In splitting the company EON’s created a firm which your pension fund can buy into — an outfit which owns regulated power grids and subsidy-funded offshore wind farms and dominant positions supplying power to consumers.”
This move by E.ON – to dump nuclear and fossil fuels in favour of renewables – might not dramatically change either the renewable or fossil fuel industry. But it’s still good news and it might point towards a new trend where large national energy companies starts to divest, or at least separate themselves away, from fossil fuels.
Vermont Right to Know GMOs, 14 November 2014
The Right to Know Coalition would like to thank anyone who was able to make it so much for joining us for Vandana Shiva’s inspiring talks! It was incredible to have the opportunity to hear in person from one of the world’s most prominent and dedicated activists on the issue of genetically engineered food and its impact on our global food supply and the sovereignty of farmers around the world.
If you didn’t catch her motivating words, or just want to revisit them, video’s of both of Dr. Shiva’s presentations are now online for you to watch and share:
CLICK HERE to see or share Dr. Shiva’s Burlington presentation.
CLICK HERE to watch her Vermont Law School presentation.
All the members of the VPIRG, Rural Vermont, NOFA-VT and Cedar Circle Farm, were gratified and humbled by Dr. Shiva’s assessment that our grassroots victory here in Vermont has great significance for other activists around the world. That means no pause in our work to ensure that our GMO Food Labeling law is implemented on schedule and true to the legislative intent of giving Vermonters the right to know what is in their food. It also means that we have to martial the legal expertise and financial support to defend our law from the corporate interests that seek to strike it down.
RT News, 22 November 2014
Monsanto, which has just paid out $2.4 million to US farmers, settling one of many lawsuits it’s been involved in worldwide, is also facing accusations that its seeds are to blame for a spike in suicides by India farmers.
The accusations have not transformed into legal action so far, but criticism of Monsanto has been mounting, blaming the giant company for contributing to over 290,000 suicides by Indian farmers over the last 20 years.
The author of a documentary on Indian farmers’ suicides, Alakananda Nag, who has interviewed dozens of the relatives of those who have taken their lives, links the rise in the suicide rate to the use of GMO seeds. She believes small farms are particularly vulnerable.
“The large farms certainly have the funds to support themselves and get on, but the smaller ones are really ones that suffer the most,” Nag told RT. “Monsanto definitely has a very big hand to play. A few years ago it was illegal to grow GMO crops in India. It’s not like the suicide did not exist back then. It did, but I think there was definitely a sharp rise in the [suicide] numbers once [GMOs] were allowed.”
The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice has estimated that in 2009 alone 17,638 Indian farmers committed suicide, or one suicide every 30 minutes.
Farmers’ widows, such as Savithri Devi from India’s southern state of Telangana, explain just how tough things can get for those trying to grow enough crops to earn a living.
“[My husband] initially put a bore well, then started cultivation, but we didn’t get enough water from the bore well and there were no rains, too,” Devi told RT. “So he again tried to deepen the bore well, but it didn’t work. So he borrowed money. His depression eventually led him to committing suicide. He drank pesticide and died.”
The legalization of GMO in 2002 has only added to the stress experienced by Indian farmers, according to the head of the Council for Responsible Genetics, Sheldon Krimsky.
“The people would give out the loans if they believed these seeds would give the greatest yields,” Krimsky told RT. “So they are not going to get a loan if they don’t go with the GMOs. And many of them felt coerced to take the GM seeds. The GM crops have not done as well in all regions of India… [That has led to] much greater indebtedness with the GM crops that did not perform as well.”
The problem with GMO seeds in India is that they are often “not bred for that area, for rain-fed agriculture, so they fail more frequently,” Dr. Vandana Shiva, an Indian environmental activist and anti-globalization author, told WeAreChange.com.
She also says the problem is most acute in the regions where cotton is grown. Small farms there increasingly have to compete with multinational agribusiness corporations.
Big firms use biotech cotton seeds to gain higher yields, while smaller ones are trying to do the same.
“Generating high yields with [biotech] cotton seeds also requires much higher amounts of water than other cotton cultivars. For farmers who lack access to proper irrigation and whose farms are primarily rain-fed, the crop often fails,” a report by Center for Human Rights and Global Justice says.
Monsanto, meanwhile, denies that its seeds have contributed to the hardships of the Indian farmers.
“Despite claims by those who oppose GMO crops, research also demonstrates there is no link between Indian farmer suicides and the planting of GMO cotton,” the company says on its website, where an article is titled: “Is Bt or GMO Cotton the Reason for Indian Farmer Suicides?”
The US company cites several studies to support its claim, including a 2008 report published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, a Washington-based think tank. The study argues that there is no evidence for an increased suicide rate following the 2002 introduction of biotech cotton.
Monsanto, which is the world’s largest producer of genetically engineered seed, has been involved in high-profile lawsuits globally over its products.
A number of human rights advocates have warned that GMOs have not been studied thoroughly enough to evaluate their potential risks.
Fears over GMOs possible impact have given rise to a worldwide March against Monsanto movement. Their annual protests against the spread of GMO have seen hundreds of thousands of people on all continents participating.
VIDEO – Seed of Suicide? Indian farmer widows blame GMO giants for fatal crop failures
Scotland produced 10.3 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity from renewable energy sources in the first half of 2013. Nuclear energy, which had previously been Scotland’s main source of electricity, only generated 7.8TWh over the same period. Other fossil-fuel sources then followed, with 5.6TWh of electricity generated from coal and another 1.4TWh from gas-fired power stations.
The energy policy of the Scottish government is that 100 percent of all electricity consumed in Scotland by 2020 should come from renewable energy sources. The majority of renewable energy in Scotland comes from wind and hydro. Onshore wind generated more than half of all renewable electricity output in Scotland in 2013. Hydro power contributed almost one third of renewable electricity output. Experts say that other renewable energy sources, such as biomass, have a substantial potential for growth in the future.
Environmental campaigners and leaders in the green energy sector have hailed this as an historic event and urged increased commitment towards renewables in Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Niall Stuart, chief executive of the industry body Scottish Renewables, said that “the renewables industry has come a long way in a short space of time” and that there is still “plenty of potential” for more. Besides fighting climate change, Stuart also said that renewables will decrease the country’s reliance on imported energy while supporting communities across Scotland with more jobs and investment.
“The announcement that renewables have become Scotland's main source of electricity is historic news for our country and shows the investment made in the sector is helping to deliver more power than ever before to our homes and businesses,” Stuart added. “This important milestone is good news for anyone who cares about Scotland's economy, our energy security and our efforts to tackle climate change.”
Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland, said that this “represents a major step on the way to Scotland becoming a 100 per cent renewable nation” and added that “last month, while nuclear reactors were forced to shut because of cracks, Scotland's renewables were quietly and cleanly helping to keep the lights on in homes across the country.”
“Put simply, renewables work and are helping to cut climate change emissions and create jobs in Scotland.”
The greenhouse gases and air pollution from Europe’s industry mainly comes from coal-fired power plants located predominately in Germany and Eastern Europe. The majority of the damage costs between 2008 and 2012 were caused by just 1 percent of Europe’s industrial facilities.
The EEA research show that 26 of the top 30 industrial facilities that are polluting the worst and causing the highest damage are power-generating facilities which are primarily fuelled by dirty coal and lignite. Eight of the top 30 facilities are located in Germany and six are in Poland – two countries that rely heavily on coal. Germany and Poland are followed by Romania which has four of the dirtiest facilities; three are located in Bulgaria and the United Kingdom, two are in Greece; and the Czech Republic, Estonia, Italy and Slovakia all have one each.
The combined cost for air pollution in Europe is equal to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Finland or half the GDP of Poland – a country which has opposed tougher EU and IPCC climate targets. The EEA calculated the costs of air pollution on health costs, damage to buildings, reduced agricultural yields, lost working days from sickness caused by air pollution, among other things.
“While we all benefit from industry and power generation, this analysis shows that the technologies used by these plants impose hidden costs on our health and the environment,” Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director, said. “Industry is also only part of the picture – it is important to recognise that other sectors, primarily transport and agriculture, also contribute to poor air quality."”
Another EEA report released earlier this month calculates the human costs of air pollution in European cities. The study show that while various policies have indeed improved air quality overall, air pollution continues to be a major environmental health hazard in Europe. EEA calculates that air pollution is responsible for causing workers to go sick, resulting in higher costs for health care systems. According to the environmental agency, air pollution is responsible for an estimated 400 000 premature deaths in Europe in 2011.
"Air pollution is still high in Europe," EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx said. "It leads to high costs: for our natural systems, our economy, the productivity of Europe’s workforce, and most seriously, the general health of Europeans."
The two reports from EEA will come in handy for EU policymakers who are currently reconsidering proposals to tighten air pollution laws put forward last year by the former European Commission. According to documents obtained by Reuters, the new conservative European Commission, led by Jean-Claude Juncker, is considering to weaken or even scrap these proposed new air quality laws.
But when we move from the liberal-sounding fundraisers in the North to actual activity in the South, very different pictures emerge. The population controllers are still imposing their ideology on the very poorest women, denying them choice and control, and killing many.
In India, populationism is official government ideology, and campaigns to reduce the number of poor people are official government policy. Government programs pay per capita bounties to doctors who sterilize women en masse. Unsafe operations are performed by ill-trained doctors, using poor equipment in unsterile conditions. So-called health-care workers get just over $3 for each woman they persuade to be sterilized, creating a strong motivation for clinics to process large numbers as quickly as possible.
As Simon Butler and I discussed in Too Many People, when birth control programs are motivated by population-reduction goals, the inevitable result is a focus on meeting numeric objectives and driving up the totals, regardless of the desires or needs of the ‘targets.’
Blackmail, bribery, and coercion target the very poorest women. In India today, women who agree to the operation are paid the equivalent of $23, which is more than most rural women earn in a month — if they can find work at all. As Kerry McBroom, director of the Reproductive Rights Initiative at the Human Rights Law Network in New Delhi, says, “The payment is a form of coercion, especially when you are dealing with marginalised communities.”
Yet another tragedy, caused by just such population reduction programs, is reported this week in the Guardian.
“Eight women have died in India and dozens more are in hospital, with 10 in a critical condition, after a state-run mass sterilisation campaign went tragically wrong.
“More than 80 women underwent surgery for laparoscopic tubectomies at a free government-run camp in the central state of Chhattisgarh on Saturday. Of these, about 60 fell ill shortly afterwards, officials in the state said. …
“The Indian Express daily said the operations in Chhattisgarh were carried out by a single doctor and his assistant in about five hours.”
The death-toll has since risen to ten, and 14 more women are reported to be in serious condition.
This is not an isolated incident. The health ministry admits to paying compensation for 568 deaths resulting from sterilization between 2009 and 2012, a figure that independent observers believe substantially understates the number of women who have actually died to help state officials meet arbitrary population quotas.
Similar programs, with similar results, have killed or maimed poor women on every continent. As David Harvey says, “Whenever a theory of overpopulation seizes hold in a society dominated by an elite, then the non-elite invariably experience some form of political, economic, and social repression.”
Ecosocialists support unrestricted access to all forms of birth control. We defend women’s absolute right to choose whether to use birth control, and which kinds to use, free from all forms of coercion. We oppose birth control programs based on populationist ideology because they consistently violate those fundamental principles.