The corporate war on traditional farming is nowhere fiercer than in India, writes Colin Todhunter. After decades of the ‘Green Revolution’ that have impoverished the nation’s soils, water, biodiversity and cultivators alike, agribusiness is poised for its final strike. But now the small scale farmers who produce most of the country’s food are rediscovering ancient agroecological alternatives.
Every time a farmer commits suicide, the government says he was burdened by debt. What is the key reason for the debt? The farmers are dying because they follow the schemes of the government. This is the real injustice.
US Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders recently tweeted: “It is no mystery why Monsanto fights against our right to know about GMOs in food – business is booming for this huge chemical company.”
Supporters of GMO are fond of telling everyone that this technology will ‘feed the world’ and those who oppose it are below the standards of common decency.
But Sanders hits the nail on the head by implying commercial interests and huge profits take precedence over concern for the public good. Labelling would lead to consumers rejecting food containing GMOs.
Monsanto makes huge annual profits, and, as its front men, CEO Hugh Grant and VP Robb Fraley are amply rewarded. Grant brought in just under $12m in 2015. Fraley raked in just under $3.4m. In January 2015, Monsanto reported a profit of $243m (down from $368m the previous year).
In the meantime, millions of India farmers live on a knife-edge thanks to them having been encouraged to experiment with the Monsanto’s GM cotton. Read about the case of Bharat Dogra here whose shift to GM cotton as a result of heavy pressure from company sales agents proved disastrous. His case is not a one-off.
A strong link has been discovered between economic distress among Indian farmers and the planting of Monsanto’s GM cotton.
With a legal obligation to maximise profits for shareholders, Monsanto seems less concerned with the impacts of its products on public health (whether in Argentina or the US) or the conditions of Indian farmers and more concerned with roll-outs of its highly profitable disease-associated weed-killer (Roundup) and its GM seeds.
The key corporate message: ‘there is no alternative’
The negative impacts on health or the debt that Indian farmers
find themselves getting into appears to be of concern to rich transnational companies only when it becomes a public relations nightmare. If the issue can be successfully managed through slick PR and an assortment of media and scientist mouthpieces to confuse the issue or attack and smear critics, it’s business as usual.
And to ensure it remains ‘business as usual’, part of the message is that there is no alternative to the chemical-intensive, GMO model of farming.
Despite talk by company bosses of GMO being just being one option from a mix of possible options that include for example organic and agroecology, the companies they head or their associates have done everything possible (including bribery and fakery) to ensure their model dominates.
They have achieved this by smearing certain scientists, capturing trade bodies and negotiations, incorporating themselves within government policy and regulatory agencies. They have used the concept of ‘commercial confidentiality’ to justify a lack of transparency. They have funded universities, media outlets and research with the ultimate aim of privileging their model of agriculture ahead of others, which they or their supporters seek to attack, discredit and marginalise (see this).
Green Principles on GMOs and the herbicides used to manage them.
The Australian Greens believe that:
- Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), their products, and the chemicals used to manage them may pose significant risks to natural and agricultural ecosystems.
- GMOs have not been proven safe to human health.
- Scientific evidence produced independently from the developers and proponents of the GMO must be undertaken and form the basis for assessing and licensing of GMOs. GMO assessments must be broad, independent and scientifically robust.
- The precautionary principle must be applied to the production and use of GMOs.
- Living organisms such as plants, animals and micro-organisms are not inventions. Patents on life are unethical and against the public interest.
- The Australian government must prohibit the use of ‘terminator’ technologies (Gene Use Restriction) that prevent seeds from germinating when planted.
- Farmers and consumers have a right to grow and consume non-GMO foods.
- Everyone has a right to know if foods contain any ingredients made using GM techniques, through the comprehensive labelling of those products.
The Australian Greens want:
- A moratorium on the release of GMOs into the environment until there is an adequate scientific understanding of their long term impact on the environment, human and animal health. This includes the removal as far as possible of all GMOs from the Australian environment and food supply while the moratorium is in place.
- Mandatory clear and obvious labelling of all foods containing any ingredient, additive, processing aid or other constituent produced using GMOs.
- A ban on patenting all living organisms, including plants, animals and micro-organisms, and naturally occurring DNA code sequence information.
- A rigorous peer-reviewed approach to assessing and licensing of GMOs which sets objective benchmarks, standards and quality assurance systems in advance of the use and release of GMOs.
- A strengthened, transparent, precautionary regulatory and monitoring system which prevents GMO contamination.
- Assessment and research processes that ensures GMOs are safe for the environment, and that derived foods are safe for consumption.
- Fulfilment by Australia of its responsibilities under the Convention on Biological Diversity. This includes signing and ratifying the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol on the safe international transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms.
- Certification of all imported seed, food and other products as GM or GM-free through stringent independent testing.
- Balanced, accurate, complete and high quality information to be made available to the public, on the environmental, economic and social aspects of the genetic manipulation of living organisms.
- Publicly funded agricultural research and development to prioritise sustainable production methods not genetic manipulation.
- Legal liability for adverse effects arising from planting, harvesting, distribution, sale of GMOs to lie with growers using GMO and licence holders.
- A moratorium on GMOs in the wild
- No patents on living organisms
- Mandatory labelling
GMOs equals Monsanto.