The Lok Sabha (the 15th Lok Sabha) of the Parliament of India has released the report of the Committee on Agriculture (2011-2012) on ‘Cultivation Of Genetically Modified Food Crops – Prospects And Effects’.
Cover of the report. Click for the full report (pdf, 6.35 MB)
The report stands as a comprehensive indictment of the genetically modified food crops industry and its attempts to wrest control of India’s foodgrain and commercial crops production. The Committee sought views and suggestions on the subject from the various stakeholders and 467 memoranda, most of them signed by several stakeholders were received. In all, the Committee received documents running into 14,826 pages. The Committee also extensively interacted with various stakeholders including state governments, farmers organisations, NGOs, and also with farmers and their families during study visits during this period. Altogether, 50 individuals and organisations gave oral evidence before the Committee. Verbatim records of the proceedings of the oral evidence runs into 863 pages.
This small extract is from pages 24 to 29 of the 532-page Committee report:
GM crops are released in environment only after stringent evaluation of food/biosafety protocols/issues. To have a holistic and comprehensive view on the pros and cons of application of bio-technology on agricultural sector the Committee took on record IAASTD Report as it is an authentic research document prepared after painstaking effort of four years by 400 scientists from all over the world. India is a signatory to this Report which has been extensively quoted in a subsequent Chapter of the present Report of the Committee. Amongst various recommendations germane to all spheres of agriculture and allied activities and sectors, the following recommendations on bio-technology caught the attention of the Committee in all context of their present examination:
Conventional biotechnologies, such as breeding techniques, tissue culture, cultivation practices and fermentation are readily accepted and used. Between 1950 and 1980, prior to the development GMOs, modern varieties of wheat may have increased yields up to 33% even in the absence of fertilizer. Even modern biotechnologies used in containment have been widely adopted. For example, the industrial enzyme market reached US$1.5 billion in 2000. Biotechnologies in general have made profound contributions that continue to be relevant to both big and small farmers and are fundamental to capturing any advances derived from modern biotechnologies and related nanotechnologies. For example, plant breeding is fundamental to developing locally adapted plants whether or not they are GMOs. These biotechnologies continue to be widely practiced by farmers because they were developed at the local level of understanding and are supported by local research.
Much more controversial is the application of modern biotechnology outside containment, such as the use of GM crops. The controversy over modern biotechnology outside of containment includes technical, social, legal, cultural and economic arguments. The three most discussed issues on biotechnology in the IAASTD concerned:
o Lingering doubts about the adequacy of efficacy and safety testing, or regulatory frameworks for testing GMOs;
o Suitability of GMOs for addressing the needs of most farmers while not harming others, at least within some existing IPR and liability frameworks;
o Ability of modern biotechnology to make significant contributions to the resilience of small and subsistence agricultural systems.
The pool of evidence of the sustainability and productivity of GMOs in different settings is relatively anecdotal, and the findings from different contexts are variable, allowing proponents and critics to hold entrenched positions about their present and potential value. Some regions report increases in some crops and positive financial returns have been reported for GM cotton in studies including South Africa, Argentina, China, India and Mexico. In contrast, the US and Argentina may have slight yield declines in soybeans, and also for maize in the US. Studies on GMOs have also shown the potential for decreased insecticide use, while others show increasing herbicide use. It is unclear whether detected benefits will extend to most agroecosystems or be sustained in the long term as resistances develop to herbicides and insecticides.
Biotechnology in general, and modern biotechnology in particular, creates both costs and benefits, depending on how it is incorporated into societies and ecosystems and whether there is the will to fairly share benefits as well as costs. For example, the use of modern plant varieties has raised grain yields in most parts of the world, but sometimes at the expense of reducing biodiversity or access to traditional foods. Neither costs nor benefits are currently perceived to be equally shared, with the poor tending to receive more of the costs than the benefits.
The Committee note with great appreciation the fantastic achievements of India’s farmers and agriculture scientists leading to an almost five times growth in food grains production in the country during last six decades or so. From a paltry 50 million tonnes in 1950 the Country has produced a record 241 million tonnes in 2010-11. In spite of this spectacular achievement that has ensured the food security of the nation, things continue to be bleak on several fronts. Agriculture sector?s contribution to GDP has slid down from 50% in 1950 to a mere 13% now, though the sector continues to provide employment and subsistence to almost 70% of the workforce. The lot of the farmer has worsened with increasing indebtedness, high input costs, far less than remunerative prices for his produce, yield plateau, worsening soil health, continued neglect of the agriculture sector and the farmer by the Government, dependence on rain gods in 60% of cultivated area, even after six and a half decades of Country’s independence, to cite a few. All these factors and many more have aggravated the situation to such an extent that today a most severe agrarian crisis in the history is staring at us. The condition of the farming-Community in the absence of pro-farmer/pro-agriculture policies has become so pitiable that it now sounds unbelievable that the slogan Jai Jawan – Jai Kisan was coined in India.
There is, therefore, a pressing need for policies and strategies in agriculture and allied sectors which not only ensure food security of the nation, but are sustainable and have in built deliverable components for the growth and prosperity of the farming community. It is also imperative that while devising such policies and strategies the Government does not lose track of the fact that 70% of our farmers are small and marginal ones. As the second most populous Country in the world, with a growing economy ushering in its wake newer dietary habits and nutrition norms, a shrinking cultivable area, a predominantly rainfed agriculture, the task is indeed enormous.
In the considered opinion of the Committee biotechnology holds a lot of promise in fructification of the above-cited goals. Several of conventional bio-technologies viz. plant breeding techniques, tissue-culture, cultivation practices, fermentation, etc. have significantly contributed in making agriculture what it is today. The Committee note that for some years now transgenics or genetical engineering is being put forward as the appropriate technology for taking care of several ills besetting the agriculture sector and the farming community. It is also stated that this technology is environment friendly and, therefore, sustainable. Affordability is another parameter on which policy makers and farming communities world over are being convinced to go for this nascent technology.
The Committee further note that in India, transgenics in agriculture were introduced exactly a decade back with the commercial cultivation of Bt. Cotton which is a commercial crop. With the introduction of Bt. Cotton, farmers have taken to cotton cultivation in a big way. Accordingly, the area under cotton cultivation in the Country has gone up from 24000 ha in 2002 to 8.4 million ha at present. Apart from production, productivity has also increased with the cultivation of the transgenic cotton. The Committee also take note of the claim of the Government that input costs have also gone down due to cultivation of transgenic cotton as it requires less pesticides, etc.
Notwithstanding the claims of the Government, the policy makers and some other stakeholders about the various advantages of transgenics in agriculture sector, the Committee also take note of the various concerns voiced in the International Assessment of Agriculture, Science and Technology for Development Report commissioned by the United Nations about some of the shortcomings and negative aspects of use of transgenics/genetical engineering in the agriculture and allied sectors. The technical, social, legal, economic, cultural and performance related controversies surrounding transgenics in agriculture, as pointed out in IAASTD report, should not be completely overlooked, moreso, when India is a signatory to it.
The apprehensions expressed in the report about the sustainability and productivity of GMOs in different settings; the doubts about detected benefits of GMOs extending to most agro-eco systems or sustaining in long term; the conclusion that neither costs nor benefits are currently perceived to be equally shared, with the poor tending to receive more of the costs than benefits all point towards a need for a revisit to the decision of the Government to go for transgenics in agriculture sector. This is all the more necessary in the light of Prime Minister’s exhortion on 3 March, 2010 at the Indian Science Congress about full utilisation of modern biotechnology for ensuring food security but without compromising a bit on safety and regulatory aspects. The present examination of the Committee, as the succeeding chapters will bear out, is an objective assessment of the pros and cons of introduction of genetical modification/transgenics in our food crops which happened to be not only the mainstay of our agriculture sector but also the bedrock of our food security.
Monsanto is bad because their chemicals cause long-term damage to life on this planet – despite the short-term benefits such as higher yields. Would you eat a plant that cannot be killed by Round-Up – a weedkiller which kills or damages all natural plants? They have engineered plants that can be sprayed with huge doses of Round-Up and live (for us to eat) while the weeds around them die.
Monsanto is bad for humanity for several reasons:
1. They use genetically modified seeds with something called terminator technology. When a harvest happens, the seeds produced by the new crops are rendered useless. Although in 1999, Monsanto agreed to not commercialize terminator technology. This means farmers have to repeatedly purchase these seeds.
2. Most crops Monsanto grows are heavily fertilized. In essence your eating pesticides, fertilizer, antibiotics etc.
3. They have uprooted countless agricultural traditions in places like India, Mongolia, Vietnam. For example in India sesame seed oil was once the way people made their money and cooked their food cheaper. Monsanto lobbied the Indian government to use soy bean oil (soy is their main product). This destroyed the economic stability of India’s subsistence farmers. It is awful for their economy, but also for their health. Immediate heavy intakes of soy can be extremely harmful for the body..I don’t know why, don’t ask. just Google it.
4. Monsanto because of its recent growth by buying out its competitors is imposing a monopoly on the world grain trade…this largest agricultural market in the world. The grain trade feeds cows, pigs, chickens, us, everything we eat comes from grain food. Monsanto by having a monopoly kills smaller businesses, makes us unhealthy, uproots local agriculture etc.
If you want to read more about where your food comes from, its economic effects, and the harmfulness of Monsanto read an AWESOME book called: Stolen Harvest .
This is a great article that hits the nail on the head
On March 26, President Obama signed H.R. 933 with a provision called the Monsanto Protection Act. Monsanto is a large agricultural corporation focused on providing genetically modified seeds to farmers and agribusinesses. They have created revenue by applying biotechnology techniques to the farming industry that include modifying DNA of seeds such as the “terminator seed” which will produce plants that will never yield fertile seeds. Monsanto has also created seeds that could endure pesticides and herbicides.
Food justice activists are furious with the backdoor signing of the Monsanto Protection Act for a number of reasons. The act would protect Monsanto from being sued for health damages caused by the use of their genetically modified crops. Additionally, if health damages were discovered by the use of GMO foods, then the United States government would not be able to ban them from consumption.
What these complaints do not address, however, is the fact that Monsanto’s practices with GMO seeds can do more than just hurt the public health; they can also destroy traditional farming methods in communities around the world.
Apparently, the large corporation has been able to disingenuously protect its malpractices by taking advantage of its multi-million dollar business of destroying cultural farming practices all over the world.
Monsanto created the genetically modified organism (GMO) seeds in order to monopolize the seed industry across the world and thus create more revenue. Technically, GMO is simply the result of a lab process that takes genes from one species and inserts them into another to obtain a certain characteristic of the seed. But what kind of projects have these profits been funding?
One way they have been able to monopolize the seed industry is by cutting a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). When countries are in debt, they can ask the IMF for loans to rejuvenate the economy. Some of the conditions of the IMF loan include sustainable practices the country must implement in order to revitalize the economy with western capitalistic development. However, one of the conditions of the IMF includes preferential access to markets by agricultural conglomerates such as Monsanto. Countries impacted by Monsanto include India, Mexico, Liberia and Paraguay.
This is an issue because farmers are not informed about the changed seed and suffer from inadequate water supply and expensive irrigation methods required. Instructions for the GMO seeds given to non-English speaking farmers across the world are of course printed in English. The seeds are also 10 times more expensive than natural seeds and can force farmers to take loans from local banks. Moreover, farmers are required to continuously buy the expensive seeds, as those provided by the conglomerate are infertile.
Even if the farmers required to use GMO seeds were given adequate instruction and could afford to purchase the expensive irrigation techniques required to grow the GMO seeds, this could be considered a form of cultural genocide. For thousands of years, communities in places like Mexico and India have been farming without the use of technologically modified seeds that require special instructions. They have prospered well without the monopolization of cotton, corn and rice. Monsanto is actively participating in an attempt to eliminate other countries’ inherited and culturally sound practices of growing seed and producing food.
President Obama likely did not think about the cultural impact of protecting Monsanto in its use of genetically modified seeds. Nor did he likely think about the amount of power he gave to Monsanto when signing the Monsanto Protection Act.
The IMF, the United States and Monsanto should come up with a way to use science and sustainability practices to ensure the health of all peoples, the earth and our individual cultures, rather than profit from greed and destruction.
Picture Credit: Maribel Hermosillo
Nothing changes — whatever familiar measures are announced after every food scandal, once the politicians, manufacturers and retailers have made their claims and counterclaims, and after we’ve gone through the ritual demands for transparency, traceability and labelling. What we really need to do is widen our focus from the contents of “beef” lasagne to the intersecting routes of the current global agricultural system.
It has been developed with the single goal of large-scale production for export, with centres of specialisation to maximise profits. In emerging countries, greater wealth has led to an increase in demand for meat, and therefore a need for agricultural land to feed livestock. In China, meat consumption per person has increased 55% in 10 years (1). To feed its battery hens, China has to import soya grown in Latin America; to grow food for human and animal consumption, it has started to grab land in Africa. Raw ingredients are grown in one continent, bought by another, and exported to a third, just like the global supply chains of manufacturing industry.
For several decades, the food industry has persisted with an approach that has damaged small farmers, biodiversity, soil, water resources, and the health of producers and sometimes consumers, without managing to feed the planet — in 2011 a billion people did not have enough to eat. The meat industry exemplifies the problem. It accounts for less than 2% of global GDP but produces 18% of greenhouse gas emissions and uses huge amounts of natural resources, land and agricultural produce. Should cereals be grown to feed people or to fatten livestock? It takes at least seven kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of beef, four for a kilogram of pork and two for a kilogram of chicken.
Pasture takes up 68% of all agricultural land (and 25% of it is already exhausted and infertile), while growing fodder takes up 35% of arable land: so in all, livestock requires 78% of all agricultural land. This dedication of land to the production of poor quality meat (plus further land demands for biofuels) directly affects the poorest. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s 2006 annual report says: “Feed production as well as imports have increased. Total feed imports have surged … giving rise to fears that the expansion of China’s livestock industry could lead to price hikes and global shortages of grains, as has been predicted many times in the past.” We know what happened next: food riots in 2008 in Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Indonesia and the Philippines, caused by the unprecedented rise in the cost of raw materials on the international market.
Pushing millions into poverty
Early in the financial crisis, political leaders should have banned speculation on basic foodstuffs, but didn’t. Despite a reduction in the real cost of cereal production, prices kept going up (2). In February 2011 The World Bank warned: “Global food prices are rising to dangerous levels and threaten tens of millions … The price hike is already pushing millions of people into poverty, and putting stress on the most vulnerable, who spend more than half of their income on food” (3).
Most cattle are grazed, and while a small herd of black and white Pie Noir cows chewing the cud in the shade of cider apple trees in the Breton countryside might not be a problem, environmental damage increases as herd density rises. In South America over the past few years, overgrazing has left the soil sterile and saturated with animal manure. Producers easily resort to illegal logging to clear fresh land, especially in Brazil, which is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of beef and leather, supplying 30% of the global market. It exports primarily to Russia and the EU. A 2009 Greenpeace report revealed that Brazil’s 200 million head of cattle were responsible for 80% of the deforestation of the Amazon (4) — 10m hectares of forest destroyed in 10 years, to the detriment of small farmers and native peoples. For 40 years Survival International has condemned the killing of indigenous people by ranchers in Brazil’s forests.
The Amazonian rainforest is being destroyed primarily to produce biofuel and cattle feed. According to the peasant movement Via Campesina: “Soybean monocultures … now occupy a quarter of all agricultural lands in Paraguay and … have grown at a rate of 320,000 hectares a year in Brazil since 1995. In Argentina, where soybeans occupy around half the agricultural land … 5.6 million hectares of non-agricultural land was converted to soya production between 1996-2006. The devastating impacts that such farms have had on people and the environment in Latin America are well documented and acknowledged” (5).
Cereals and oil-producing plants, cultivated and harvested in Latin America with the help of chemicals, are transported across the Atlantic to the huge silos of agribusiness multinationals in Europe, ready to be turned into concentrated feed for millions of battery-farmed pigs and chickens around the world — in 2005 they consumed 1,250m tons.
Factory farms supply processors and supermarkets internationally. The industry tries to minimise costs by “rationalising” the production and distribution chain, reducing the workforce, automating tasks, standardising products and mechanically recovering meat slurry for cheap processed meals. The system is there to meet the demands of agribusiness and the big supermarkets.
Processed food makers produce sausages as if they were assembling a car from components; and in a way, the animals they use have become artificial, the product of agricultural research, selectively bred to accelerate muscle development and boost reproductive performance, their vital organs reduced to the point where they are not able to function properly. They are extremely vulnerable to illness, and producers try to remedy this by heating the buildings in which they are raised, although this is often not enough to avoid infections, so they are given antibiotics. The liquid manure they produce, a dangerous mix of nitrogen and phosphorus, is disposed of by spreading on land that is already oversaturated. In Brittany, cyanobacteria pollution of groundwater, rivers and shores caused by the pig industry, is now endemic.
Traditional farming takes account of how much feed is available locally. Pastureland is nurtured, grass regrowth protected from too many hooves, and animal waste prevented from affecting soil and water quality. Animals are reared in symbiosis with cereal and vegetable crops: green waste with peas, lupins and field beans makes a balanced and healthy fodder, straw provides bedding for the animals, and manure fertilises the soil, completing the cycle. A new generation of farmers who want to produce local healthy food that does not damage the planet have been inspired by traditional practices; they have studied, tested, improved and modernised them, and some have moved into agroforestry, as recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, in which trees shelter crops from the wind and sun and contribute to soil fertility, while tree roots keep water at the base of the plants.
Translated by Stephanie Irvine.
Agnès Stienne is a graphic designer.
(1) “The State of Food and Agriculture”, FAO, Rome, 2009.
(2) See Jean Ziegler, “Speculating on hunger”, Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, February 2012.
(3) “Rising food prices have driven an estimated 44 million people into poverty”, The World Bank press release, Washington, 15 February 2011.
(4) “Slaughtering the Amazon”, Greenpeace International, 1 June 2009.
(5) “The World Bank funding land grabbing in South America”, open letter from Via Campesina, 7 July 2011.
This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.
Bolivian farmer in her quinoa field – (Bioversity International)
CHALLAPATA – Standing beneath the Bolivian sun, it takes just one long look at the quinoa fields stretching as far as the eye can see, to understand why the Andean people call quinoa the golden grain.
“We also call it chisiya mama, which means ‘mother of all grains’ in the Aymara language,” smiles Valentina Rodriguez, a farmer from the Cotimbora community, in southern Bolivia.
Known for centuries for resisting difficult climate conditions, quinoa has always been grown in this region, near the Uyuni Salt Flatsin, in a stretch of highlands situated more than 3,700 meters above sea-level.
“My grandparents grew it,” remembers Valentina. For a long time, the golden grain was only found in the Andes. Today it can be found in organic meals around the world. Rich in protein, amino acids, mineral nutrients, vitamins and gluten free, this “pseudo cereal,” as it is called because it bears resemblance to grass, is actually part of the same family as spinach, chenopodium.
Popular in the U.S., Northern Europe and Australia, quinoa and its nutritious benefits go far beyond a simple organic trend. The U.N. recently launched the International Year of the Quinoa, saying the plant could help boost food security globally as well as fight malnutrition. This is one more reason why the so-called “super grain” has become so popular since the end of the 1980s – a trend that is benefitting Bolivia, its number one exporter.
Bolivia exported more than 26,000 tons of quinoa in 2012, providing 46% of quinoa consumed in the world. “Around 52% of the production goes to the U.S., 12.5% to France,” says Lucio Tito, director of the Bolivian Institute for Agriculture and Forest Innovation (INIAF), who is expecting record revenues of about 80 million dollars in 2013.
These record numbers are linked to soaring quinoa prices. In January, the royal quinoa reached $3,200 per ton on the international market, tripling in price in six years. “Our ancestors would not believe their eyes,” says Ciprian Mayorga, a producer from Salinas de Garci Mendoza, near Uyuni, who recalls the 1970s when 50 kilograms of quinoa would sell for 40 pesos — against more than 800 pesos today. “Since 2005, quinoa revenues have allowed us to build a small house in the town and send our children to school. This was impossible before,” says the 67-year-old farmer, who adds, “The rise in price has changed everything in the countryside.”
Everyone wants a slice of quinoa pie
Thousands of Bolivians have returned to their hometowns in the country to participate in the quinoa boom. Around Challapata, there is quinoa everywhere. “Before, the land was reserved for livestock, but today, it’s all quinoa,” says Antonia Choqueticlla, a seamstress who has been growing quinoa plants since she was six years old. “Before, it wasn’t worth producing but now the whole family has started growing it,” says Juvenal Romero, an inhabitant of Challapata who up until 2008 worked in a foundry, four hours away. “In six years, quinoa fields have doubled in Bolivia, exceeding 104,000 hectares in 2012,” says Lucio Tito.
The intensification of crops, with the use of tractors, has worried researchers and authorities: “Farmers went from small, hand-planted plots on hillsides, to fully mechanized crops in the plains,” explains Thierry Winkel, an agro-ecologist from the French Institute of Research and Development (IRD), who led a study on the emergence of quinoa in the global economy. After four years of study, the IRD did not find any traces of soil depletion due to quinoa. “Yields are low, but this is mainly due to the climate and bad seeds,” says Winkel.
The National Association of Quinoa Producers (Anapqui) gives recommendations to its 2,000 members. For instance it advises producers to regularly rotate their land and to have a minimum of cattle per cultivated hectare. According to farmers, soil on the highlands that receive good manure can produce up to 30 quintals (3,000 kg) per hectare, against 10 (1,000 kg) otherwise.
“We remain vigilant in order to prevent the quinoa production from affecting our soils and our environment,” says Lucio Tito. According to him, Bolivia will limit the use of chemical products and excessive use of tractors in large properties. The INIAF is also aware that quinoa crops will continue to grow at the expense of other crops, which is something to keep an eye on. “In addition to the price increase, quinoa has the particularity of resisting climate change, a problem that is currently affecting potato crops,” explains Tito, who adds that quinoa can endure temperatures from -4 °C to 38 °C.
Quinoa is “highly adaptable” to different terrains, says the U.N. It is cultivated today in the U.S., Canada, England, The Netherlands, and since 2006, in the Loire Valley in France, far away from the Andean highlands.
Does this competition worry Bolivian producers? “All these varieties will never be able to rival our royal quinoa, that only grows around the Uyuni Salt Flats,” says the president of the Anapqui association.
Read the article in the original language.
Photo by – Bioversity International
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When you think of a farm, the first thing that most likely comes to mind is a red barn with chickens and turkeys roaming around the barn in search for insects to eat, some pigs taking mud baths, and cattle grazing freely. Today farmers have greatly distanced themselves from the traditional farming practices. When you hear of a farm, think again, they are “animal concentration camps” (Jim Hightower) not farms. Within these animal concentration camps cattle, chicken, turkeys, and pigs are some of species that are born solely to suffer through brutal abuses and later become our food, “parts of their tails, toes, genitals, ears and beaks are cut off without painkillers” (Gene Baur).
Thumping is a practice that is widely used in the U.S. to slam sick animals onto the concrete such as chicken, turkeys, and piglets until they are dead. Farmers claim is that, “this practice is the most humane way to euthanizing unusable pigs” (Ari Solomon). If thumping is so humane according to the farmers, then how come dogs and cats are not slammed onto concrete instead of putting them to sleep? The answer is that our “society cuddles and coddles certain animals while relegating others to the monstrosities of slaughterhouses”(Ari Solomon).
There is an obvious discrimination of species, just because one specie is much more cuddly than another doesn’t mean that they have to go through a brutal death. Most Americans love their meat, eggs, and milk; there is already a strong embedded culture of meat, egg, milk consumption in the U.S I think its to extreme to say “lets shy away from these products” because realistically we cannot make millions of Americans give up their meat diet. I believe the middle ground to this dilemma is with the technology today; the animals at the animal concentration camps should have a quick, effective, painless, ethical, death rather than making our food undergo severe stress