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The Narendra Modi government has allowed 21 new varieties of GMO crops for field trials in India. This decision was made based on the recommendations of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). This is the new GEAC. The old GEAC had the first item listed under "Main functions" on its page as "To permit the use of GMOs and products thereof for commercial applications." This one has "approval of activities involving large-scale use of hazardous living microorganisms and recombinants..." and they are making decisions that will impact our food, here. This is rather like the world's nuclear "watchdog" being created to promote nuclear power.

It is rather strange that a body implies evaluation, but is actually created to proliferate. This GEAC rejected 1 application out of 28 it received. In a world where more and more countries are banning GM crops, India naturally is fertile grounds for yet another reject of the West, where opposition to genetically modified food is increasing. And of course, it helps that if anything can be centralized and made money out of, Indias political cartels will have takers.

In a country where farmers quit farming as a full time profession at a rate that amounts to 2000 less farmers each day over a decade and over a quarter of the country is below an insanely low poverty line, replacing seeds collected from harvests to seed next years crops with expensive genetically modified varieties that need to be purchased each year alone is an economic nightmare, even if GM crops were safe, which I'm going to show below that they are not. It is no coincidence that there are very few suicides among rice and wheat farmers in comparison with cotton farmers whose lives have been devastated by BtCotton.

First, raising some quality concerns. GM crops are not reversible. They introduce new traits into the ecology of the fields where millions of lifeforms live in a symbiosis. The impact of changed traits of crops on other life forms including essential microorganisms in the soil to beneficial insects and contamination of adjacent fields or wild plants is impossible to determine when there are no long term tests of any sort including direct impact on humans. The assumption that it is safe is naive at best and unleashes irreversible changes which cannot be erased with an "oops. Sorry, we thought..." in the future if uncontrolled hybrids emerge.

Additionally, when GM seeds like these - that are resistant to specific poisons are grown in a region, the adaptations of pests to survive result in pests of the region becoming more and more resistant to pesticides and requiring greater applications of chemicals to control crops (including on the GM crops). This has happened in India. In Modi's own Gujarat. India approved Bt Cotton in 2002. In 2010, it failed pest tests in Gujarat. By 2013, the five year decline in cotton production was being blamed on everything from lack of innovation to climate change by GM apologists in media. Anything but GMO. By 2014, Modi who was CM in Gujarat when above failure happened is Prime Minister and opening more crops like wheat, rice and maize for GM field trials.

And guess what Monsanto did? It blamed the farmers for not following the "fine print" like planting refuge areas. A refuge area is basically a strip of ordinary cotton planted around the main crop of BtCotton. Guess why? Because when pests susceptible to the Bt gene die, the ones that survive are those that are resistant to it. So the idea is that they will breed with the pests from the normal cotton and thus lose some of their resistance. And if this doesn't happen (and tough to imagine how that would work effectively given that species breed to become stronger and survive and most of the field is Bt allowing most pests to find their Bt resistant dates on hand, without going to the other crops), it is apparently the farmer's fault. In other words, GM is not responsible...

Of course, that isn't what they had said when promoting BtCotton.

It [traditional methods of farming] has been a complete failure, because you have to modify infrastructure, you have to re-educate them as to how to modify their farming practices themselves. But with biotech, the technology is in a seed. All you have to do is give them the seed.

Because of course the guy with the powerpoint presentation understands agriculture better than the guy who doesn't even understand English and is too dumb to read instructions.

While there is little evidence of safety on various issues, the evidence that GM crops are not safe is mounting.

About a year and a half ago, a farmer in Oregon, USA found some wheat growing in an empty field. He tried to kill it with a herbicide. IT DIDN'T die. Astonished, the farmer sent the wheat to the Oregon state University for testing and it was found that it was genetically modified wheat containing Monsanto's a Roundup resistant CP4/maize EPSPS gene. The USDA confirms this. When this happened, there was no GM wheat approved for use anywhere in the world. Field trials had ended in 2005 on the wheat that was not expected to be viable for more than 2 years. Do the math.

Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto, Robb Fraley tried damage control "It seems likely to be a random, isolated occurrence more consistent with the accidental or purposeful mixing of a small amount of seed during the planting, harvesting or during the fallow cycle in an individual field." However, that doesn't solve the problem that wheat had turned into what basically amounted to a weed. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan postponed wheat imports from the region to avoid the contamination.

This basically shows that GMO food crops are not a choice as advertized. Seeds propagate, and the best intentioned organic farmer may still end up with GM contaminants.

Speaking of GM maize, in Hesse, Germany, many cows in a slaughterhouse died when they were fed Syngenta’s genetically engineered maize cow food. The remaining cattle were slaughtered on the decision of the authorities to... you guessed it... prevent spread of contamination. Syngenta withdrew the "protein" (not one of the better associations with this word) after being charged for covering up livestock deaths including those on the farm of a tenacious farmer who participated in trials and his cattle developed diseases and five cattle died. Syngenta paid him forty thousand euros basically as hush up money and other cover ups, including in tests. In India, maize is not cattle feed, but consumed by humans for the most part. Remember your "makki roti and sarson saag"? Now Modi sarkar has allowed field trials on GM maize in India.

A research paper published by Dr. Judy Carman last year showed marked increase in abdominal inflammation and on an average a 25% heavier uterus among female pigs fed GM feed. In 2009, American Academy Of Environmental Medicine called for Immediate Moratorium on Genetically Modified Foods stating a whole list of health risks related with GM food.

Citing several animal studies, the AAEM concludes "there is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects" and that "GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health."

I could go on listing studies that have clearly shown the danger, but then what is my voice in the face of an all party (including BJP MPs) Parliamentary Standing Committee that overcame attempts of the state government to prevent them interviewing farmers and recommended against GM in its report?

2

There is some debate on whether Hindi should be used officially as a government language, that is meeting resistance from anti-Hindi quarters who see it as marginalizing the non-Hindi population of India. On the other hand, there are those who think that English marginalizes most people of India, since effective communicators in English are a minuscule part of the population. Both views have merit and the government will certainly need to communicate in one or more languages, none of which will be acceptable to the entire population, given India's regional and economic diversity.

On a related note, it is rather distressing to see that there is little focus on the development of the regional languages of India. Today, quality education is increasingly available solely in English. Students who study in regional languages are forced to adapt to English to pursue higher studies and employment.

Whether government communication happens in Hindi isn't as important to the larger picture, as the development of education in regional languages. Most of the time, the citizens of India are rarely paying attention to official channels of communication by the government, and their needs of understanding government communication are adequately met by media in every language of their choice.

However, day to day opportunities for improving conditions are another story altogether.

One evening, around the campfire at the Indian Homeschooling Conference, a homeschooling parent, who is a foreigner married to an Indian described property disputes they were having with villagers where they had built their home. They were on the side of the right, and the court ruled in their favor, but after the entire case being heard in Marathi, the judge pronounced the judgement in English. "I wanted to scream," she said. "Speak in Marathi, so that this crowd of twenty people understand what exactly is being said! Tell them that we have not broken laws and are harming no one, so that the threat of hostility to our family ends!"

This is one among many ways in which how a country operating in a language most people don't understand clearly leaves behind citizens while it chases the ideal existence.

Today, we speak of India as a wannabe world power. We speak of our economy and market and democracy and more, yet our standards of living compare unfavorably with some of the worst developed third world countries. We have a large population that is a burden to progress instead of asset, because most of the time, people don't really know what is "officially" going on, though everyone is a master of "everyone knows", bribes to get stuff done, and plain old jugaad.

While the processes of the country operate in a language most people don't understand, access to them will remain limited to the few who speak the language (or actively find other ways of interfacing). While access to knowledge remains restricted to languages other than the mother tongue of citizens, the instinctive absorption of information, trivia and a hundred other forms of knowledge that come from exposure beyond training in an alien language will remain elusive.

It isn't just languages, but languages are gateways to culture. As traditions die out, and large scale displacement accompanies development, is it not important to sit up and take note of the hundreds of Indian dialects already vanished and prevent more from going the same route? With disappearing languages are disappearing histories, disappearing bodies of knowledge. Will a focus on revival of languages aid access to indigenous knowledge that has evolved in the circumstances it will be applied in? It cannot be possible that a continuous civilization spanning thousands of years brought only religious knowledge to the world that is worthy of keeping.

[Inserted update] Harini Calamur points out in her edit in DNA: The Eligibility of Language:

The 2013 survey of Ethnologue, a website that catalogues the languages of the world, declared that there were 7,016 languages and dialects. In the case of India, Ethnologue has this entry “The number of individual languages listed for India is 461. Of these, 447 are living and 14 are extinct. Of the living languages, 63 are institutional, 130 are developing, 187 are vigorous, 54 are in trouble, and 13 are dying.” 

India seems to have got into a rut of seeing its citizens as a liability. Yet, the density of the population itself proclaims that India is a place where life can and does thrive. How is it possible that centuries of practices that allowed life to thrive are seen as so unimportant as to not merit efforts to keep alive and evolve further? How is it that our focus of language and learning is so externalized, that we are desperately applying solutions that evolved in another place to use us to build the empires of others and ignoring that which made India fertile and prosperous enough to be an attraction through the centuries?

If we look at developed countries today, they all operate in languages citizens know. Be it English speaking countries or France, Germany, China, Japan... They have their traditions, they have their unique practices and indigenous knowledge. They have entire sections of the internet buzzing with active users, advanced knowledge translated effortlessly because their languages were considered important enough to make knowledge available in. Citizens do not need interpreters to seek knowledge for themselves. Compare the French or Spanish versions of Wikipedia with Hindi or Marathi. Compare the quantity and quality of education in each language. See regional WordPress users timidly using minimal installs, while Indian software coders write fancy themes and plugins in English alone.

But open content volunteers are still making an effort to extend the knowledge to more and more people, while governments remain content to operate in English. It is intellectual inequality that appears to train some people for jobs, and others for joblessness. Where are the excellent educators in regional languages? Where are the efforts to raise the intellectual potential in regional languages? What would happen if there were ministries for languages at the state and center tasked with ensuring flow of information to all citizens in languages they understand?

And not just regional languages, but languages of different abilities as well! Where has Doordarshan's news for the deaf gone? Why are there no braille newspaper versions sponsored by government funds if necessary? Why can't newspapers be forced to supply braille editions - subscription only, if necessary - and news channels forced to broadcast at least news highlights, if not more in sign language?

Access to knowledge grows people. Access to knowledge in languages people understand grows more people.

Imagine a country with the size of India and the size of its population able to seek and grow knowledge in the language they are at ease with. Wouldn't our intellectual capital grow? Wouldn't more people engage with development more effortlessly? What would happen if agricultural colleges provided translations of important knowledge in the mother tongue of farmers? If economic theories were available in every citizen's mother tongue? Forget all that, we don't even have laws accessible in regional languages easily. Laws citizens are expected to obey - without having access to read them to know what they say. How would lawlessness decrease, if the word of the law never reached the ears of the common man in a language he understands?

In my view, more important than nitpicking about what language the government uses, it is important that excellent and advanced education be made available in regional languages. It is important that the government takes an interest in world knowledge being made available to Indians in regional languages by forming various task forces that translate it. Teams contributing translations to public sites like Wikipedia, special knowledge banks of important works in other languages and more.

Language isn't merely a symbol of unity or supremacy, it is the breathing thread that weaves citizens together. Important weaves must be woven with threads that connect people.

So, the real question isn't whether the government should tweet and update Facebook in English, Hindi or both, the real question is why official government documents are not available in ALL the regional languages of India.

1

Funny how Indian media, quick to mourn the "environment for investment" after the Supreme Court judgment on generics last year seems unwilling for their investees to face the criticism for their views. Indian media seems to find it diffcult to report such "identity politics".

In a crass yet frank admission, Bayer CEO Marijn Dekkers said the company’s new cancer drug, Nexavar, is not “for Indians,” but “for western patients who can afford it.” The statement came in the wake in a recent ruling by an Indian court that certain life-saving drugs could be produced and distributed at 97% of the brand-name price.

While Dekkers’ earnest admission is contemptible on a certain level, the ideological defense mounted by bourgeois media and others reveals a deeper level of truth:

intellectual property, patent, medicine, generic medicine
New cancer drug is not for poor Indians but Westerners who can afford it.

‘Of course we want to make sure people have access to life-saving drugs,’ sycophants and beneficiaries of capitalism emphatically explain, ‘yet widespread violations of intellectual property rights erases the incentive to invest incredible resources into developing these drugs in the first place… Eventually, everyone [who is still alive] will benefit from adhering to the exclusive rights of intellectual property.’

Such apologism for Bayer unwittingly implicates the wider system: ‘in order to produce life-saving drugs, we need to restrict access via pricing measures, dooming many to unnecessary suffering and death, so that we can make a profit and do it again.’ Of course, ‘everyone’ will ‘eventually’ receive hypothetical benefits over the long-run.

What will they promise next? Flying cars and elixirs to restore youth?

Bayer’s sordid history and the cancer industrial complex

Bayer was founded in 1863 in Barmen, Germany. In 1899, it trademarked aspirin. The previous year, it trademarked heroin and marketed it as a children’s cough medicine “without side-effects.”

During World War I, the company turned its attention toward the manufacturing of chemical weapons and even founded a “School for Chemical Warfare.”

Following the war Bayer joined with other chemical manufacturing firms to form Farben, the largest company in Germany at the time and the largest contributor to Hitler’s election campaign.

During the Second World War, Farben used slave labor in many of it factories and mines. Working with the Nazi regime, Farben owned the patent to Zyklon B, the cyanide-based gas used to murder over a million people in concentration camps throughout occupied Europe, which it produced without any odorant. In 1946, the Nuremburg Tribunal concluded that without Farben, WWII would not have been possible.

Only 13 of the 24 Farben board members indicted on crimes against humanity were sentenced to prison, and those who did received sentences which were, in the words of the prosecutors, “light enough to please a chicken thief.” Additionally, many of the Nazi-supporting executives and managers returned to the “new” companies that Farben’s assets were divided into in 1952.

Today, Bayer is a huge conglomerate with three primary divisions: Bayer HealthCare, which makes drugs and medical equipment; Bayer MaterialScience, which produces polymers and plastics; and Bayer CropScience, which produces pairings of GM crops and agricultural chemicals. Essentially, Bayer is three large companies, two of which produce or use materials which cause medical conditions like cancer, one which produces cures for medical conditions like cancer – but only for people who can can afford it.

The political economy of intellectual property

India is not the only country attempting to product generic versions of patented drugs at a significantly lower cost. South Africa recently caused a row after a similar court ruling allowing for the low-cost local manufacturing and distribution of internationally-patented drugs. In both cases, western capital has threatened punitive actions and even more restricted access to new drugs in the future.

The controversy of local manufacturing of drugs highlights some of the contours of global contradictions. In this case, the bourgeoisie of a small handful of ascendant Third World countries are feeling more at liberty to challenge the economic hegemony of trilateral imperialism. Western imperialism, for its part, is feeling evermore threatened and determined to maintain its hegemony.

Economically speaking, patents and intellectual property is a type of monopoly capital. When joined with other forms of finance capital, i.e., insurance companies which typically pay the bulk of expensive treatments for those privileged enough to be covered, such monopoly capital allows for the circulation and concentration of capital in the core at the expense of the periphery. Hence, not only do intellectual property rights necessarily restrict access to life-saving medicine for those who cannot afford it, they are part of a system which creates the very conditions whereby the world’s masses are typically poor in the first place.

You can’t patent a solution

It is clear that a real solution to global health will not found within the modern capitalist-imperialist system. After all, under capitalism if pharmaceutical companies can not restrict access to their drugs to secure a profit, they have no purpose to exist and would actually fail as a company. The very business model of the drug companies is predicated within a larger system in which a majority of people will not be able to afford their products or services.

A real solution must be sought through a new governing economic principle: democratically and rationally producing and distributing the satisfaction of wants and needs. Such an economic system can only be instituted through revolution: the overthrow of capital-imperialist productive and social relations – intellectual property rights and all – and the economic and political ascendancy of the world’s exploited and oppressed masses.

- Nikolai Brown

Reblogged from the anti-imperialism blog

Sources

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/01/26/bayer-pharmaceutical-ceo-cancer-drug-only-for-western-patients-who-can-afford-it/

http://www.ip-watch.org/2013/03/05/bayer-will-appeal-india-compulsory-licence-on-its-cancer-drug/

http://www.gmwatch.org/gm-firms/11153-bayer-a-history

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-31/drug-patent-threat-opens-division-on-how-to-fight-back.html

Dear Bayer,

How is this for a stereotype?

Indians are a superstitious lot and "medicines" by pesticide manufacturers are abhorrent to them. Clearly, you can see the pesticide influence in the CEOs thoughts.

Besides, generics are cheaper.

Hope your drug gets copied a lot.

Congratulations on insulting a leading medical tourism destination.

Cheers.

A poor Indian who can't afford your drug.

The core theme of theme of Track I of the Symbiosis International University International Deegate Conference was Development Partnership. The panel headed by Amb Ronen Sen(Former Indian Ambassador to Russia, Germany,UK, & USA) included Amb Shyam Saran(Chairman Research and Information Systems for Developing Countries, National Security Advisory Board, HE Mr. Lyonopo Rinzin Dorje(Foreign Minister of Bhutan & Mr.Abhay Thakur (Joint Secretary North in the MEA)

HE Mr.Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje, Foreign Minister of Bhutan
HE Mr.Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje, Foreign Minister of Bhutan at the Symbiosis International University conference

HE Mr Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje opened the discussion by highlighting the strong, mutually beneficial partnership between India and Bhutan which was initiated by Pt Jawaharlal Nehru's visit to the country. The partnership was further strengthened when India provided assistance in building the first national highway which enabled Bhutan open doors to the outside world. Despite India's prevailing economic conditions they financed the first two five year plans and are currently providing support of Rs 45 billion for the 11th five year plan. He added that Bhutan would look forward to deepen the mutual partnership it has with India.

Ambassador Shyam Saran at the <strong class='StrictlyAutoTagBold'><figcaption class=Symbiosis International University" src="http://res.cloudinary.com/aamjanata-com/image/upload/h_599,w_665/v1389011626/shyam-saran_omnwek.jpg" width="620" height="558" /> Ambassador Shyam Saran , Chairman , Research and Information Systems for Developing Countries addressing the audience

Amb Shyam Saran carried the discussion forward by elaborating the philosophy and the transformation of India's Development Partnership Program has undergone over the years . One of the key aspects highlighted by him was the lack of of effective methodology of evaluation that could gauge the impact of the program on the sister developing nations.

This was followed by an overview on the functionality and achievements of the Development Program Administration by Mr. Abhay Thakur- Joint Secretary North Region, MEA.