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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?

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India’s Sovereignty, Security and Freedom at risk-

Is the IB being used by foreign corporations to take over India’s vital seed sector?

The IB report has a special section on GMOs (genetically modified/engineered organisms). It clearly supports the introduction of GM crops into Indian agriculture.

The IB report makes specific mention of the Supreme Court cases which have beenfiled. It curiously also accuses civil society organisations and individuals of influencing 3 Committees that were officially mandated to assess GMOs. The IB report objects to these formal government reports, the Moratorium Orders of Shri Jairam Ramesh, the Parliamentary Standing Committee Report and the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee Report (TEC) because they find that on current evidence, GM crops have little to contribute to Indian agriculture, safe food and food security. These findings did not accord with the view of the PMO, when headed by the erstwhile Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. This report was initiated under the UPA Government.

IB objects to protection of Indian seed and food sovereignty?

In 1998, when Monsanto introduced Bt cotton illegally, without the statutory approvals from the GEAC, we had to file a case in the SC to defend the laws of the land, our Constitution, our Seed Sovereignty and Food Sovereignty. When open field trials were being conducted without appropriate and independent Biosafety assessments, and expertise inthese matters, the current cases in the Supreme Court were initiated in 2003 and 2005 to uphold the law: protect the environment and safety of our seeds and food from irreversible genetic contamination, protect smallholder farming in India, and the health safety of 1 billion citizens. The country faces a major threat from the multinational Seed/chemical industry, seeking control over our seeds, our agriculture and our food. This is the corporate focus. This is their AGENDA. Thousands of organizations and many multiples of thousands of individuals are committed to resisting this unacceptable corporate goal for India.

IB favors the foreign hand in the ‘making of India’s Bt brinjal’:

The IB report quotes a Dr Ronald Herring of Cornell University who promotes GMOs and the monopoly of Monsanto. It is ironic that the IB report relies on the evidence of Dr Herring with his antecedents in Cornell University, a hub of blind GMO promotion. It is the direct foreign hand along with USAID and Monsanto funding, behind the ‘making of India’s Bt brinjal’. Here is a real foreign hand that informs the IB report. Has the IB report been written then with foreign influence, for the benefit and profits of foreign corporations? Thestrategy of the global GMO seed industry with their patents & IPRs (Intellectual Property Rights) is to bend regulation and influence governments and regulators to approve GMOs, by-passing scientific, transparent and independent safety testing.

Outrageous insult to our Parliamentarians and Contempt of Court by the IB:

The PSC recommended a high-level enquiry into how Bt brinjal was approved by the Regulators for commercial release. The self-assessed safety-dossier by Mahyco-Monsanto was a cover-up as evidenced in independent assessments of the raw data by several leading international scientists.  It staggers belief that the IB find it possible to hand out an outrageous insult to the Parliamentary Standing Committee, by suggesting  that they have in effect been led ‘by the nose’ by activists and civil society groups and have no competence to address their official mandate on the subject. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the IB report has been influenced by those who have most to gain by undermining our seed and food sovereignty ie. the foreign corporations.

The IB report has also attacked the government decision made under our Biosafety laws to impose a moratorium on Bt Brinjal. It is thus attacking our Biosafety. This will only suit foreign interests.

The IB is guilty of contempt of court since it attacks the Technical Expert Committee set up by the Supreme Court to look into the issues of GMOs and Biosafety. The case is still being heard.

The IB fails to refer to the important other official report, the ‘Sopory Committee Report’. This report of 2012 commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture itself is a stinging commentary on what is wrong with GMO regulation in India. Ourregulatory institutions and the MoA have been indicted in this report for lies, fraud and lacking GMO expertise. And the truth with regard to massive contamination was revealed in this report.

NGOs saving Indian seed and food sovereignty:

The biggest foreign hand by STEALTH and official COVER-UP will be in GMOs/GM crops if introduced into Indian agriculture. All that stands between a corporate takeover of our seeds and agriculture is the committed and exemplary work by the not-for-profit sector that helped create an informed debate on GMOs and has postponed, even stopped government action from introducing them for over 15 years.  In conspiring with deeply conflicted institutions of regulation, governance and agriculture, of which there is incontrovertible proof, to introduce GM crops into India, the IB will in fact aid the hand-over of the ownership of our seeds and foods to Multi-NationalCorporations. This will represent the largest take-over of any nation’s agriculture and future development by foreign-hands and this time it will be no bogey foreign hand. This will be for real.  China is on record as saying that she will not allow her armed forces to eat any GM food. This not-to-be-imagined future will plunge India into the biggest breach of internal security; of a biosecurity threat and food security crisis from which we will never recover. The fallout of this mere 20 year-old laboratory technology is, that it is irreversible. This is what must give us sober ‘food for thought’ uncontaminated by GMOs, something the IB seems to be supremely oblivious of. GM crops have already demonstrated no yield gain, no ability to engineer for traits of drought, saline resistance etc and have some  serious bio-safety issues which no regulator wishes  to examine.

Indian Cotton in Foreign Hands, Indian farmers’ hard earned money expatriated to foreign lands:

India’s Bt cotton is an outstanding example of the above scenario. It was introduced into India’s hybrids, not varieties so our farmers would be forced to buy seeds each year. This ‘VALUE CAPTURE’ for Monsanto which was contrived and approved by our own government mortgaging the public interest has ensured that in a short 10 years, 95% of cotton seeds in the form of Bt cotton are owned by Monsanto. The damage to India’s organic cotton market and status is significant. India is the largest organic cotton producer/exporter in the world. It is Monsanto now that decides where cotton should be planted and when by our farmers, a role that the MoA has absconded or been eliminated from. The Royalties accruing to Monsanto that have been expatriated are approximately Rs 4800 Crores in 12 years,   (excludingother profit mark-ups). What would this figure be if GMOs and propriety seeds flooded our farms without Biosafety assessment and regulation? This is the arithmetic the IB should have done, instead of throwing an arbitrary figure of 2-3% loss of growth. The IB is thus conspiring with global corporate interests to hemorrhage India’s agricultural economy. More than 284000 Indian farmers have been pushed to suicide because of a debt trap, lack of government investment in smallholder farming and dependence on non-renewable, propriety seeds and chemicals sold by the corporations. We call for an investigation on the foreign influence in writing the GMO section in the IB report.

If India's intelligence agencies become instruments of global corporations working against the public interest and national interest of India, our national security is under threat.

This IB report is deeply anti-national and subversive of constitutional rights of citizens in our country.  It does India nocredit.

Signed:

 Vandana Shiva,               Aruna Rodrigues,                Kavitha Kuruganti

Navdanya

8100 25169                       98263 96033                         9393001550

An article by Tavleen Singh in the Indian Express is accurately named Environmental fraud, though it is rare for such transparency of intent to be declared upfront. I do appreciate the legitimate opportunity to pun "Environmental Fraud by Tavleen Singh" when introducing the article. Considering that the article is an umbrella attack on the legitimacy of environmentalists and an endorsement of policies known harmful to the environment, it is very shabby of Indian Express to not state the conflict of interest in this supposed "truth" being stated.

While I do not hold it against her and will address her arguments directly, I think it is important here to state that Tavleen Singh happens to be the partner of one of the promoters of Lavasa (his name is not required here, since the article is not about him). Lavasa township has come to much grief (and financial losses) due to legal action by environmentalists that had enough substance for the judiciary to put a halt to work on the site for a year. Thus, people with a vested interest in Lavasa having a dislike of environmentalists cannot be called unprejudiced or unmotivated. Additionally, Sharad Pawar, our agriculture minister, whose interests in GM seeds are identical to those this article promotes happens to the Godfather of said Lavasa project. While this in itself may or may not be intellectually incestuous, NOT being transparent about a connection makes one wonder if this is a case of "You scratch my back, I scratch yours and let us be discreet and pretend that it is all very neutral and deserved."

All quotes by Tavleen Singh from article linked above.

"Real environmentalists" / "serious environmentalists"

Reminds me of the "true Hindus" and "true Muslims". As if the rest are made of thermacol. The idea that her disagreement makes environmentalists real or fake is absurd. She is not required to like or agree with all of them for them to be real. Their actions make them environmentalists.

"one of our noisiest lady environmentalists actually declare in Davos that Indian farmers were rich until international seed companies like Monsanto arrived"

This is presumably Vandana Shiva, though the article does not name her. I have no idea what she said in Davos, but I believe that Indian farmers were better off before the seed corporations for several reasons:

  • Patented seeds mean that farmers cannot save their seeds to sow the next year's crop, leading to a direct annual expense for seeds, which also happen to be costlier. This in turn puts them at serious risk of bad debt - a leading cause of farmer suicides.
  • GM crops require more water. I am not inventing this. Monsanto says this. India is rapidly becoming water scarce with industries taking up a vast share of the water and irrigation being overallocated and iffy at best. Not that either manufacturing or agriculture have added jobs since 1995... Unless of course they are Sharad Pawar's pets doing sugarcane and getting a whopping 60% of available water for 6% of the crop.
  • Input costs for fertilizers and pesticides are higher for GM crops.
  • Most farmers in India are small and marginal farmers and cannot afford to plant waste strips of non-GM crops to try to avoid the "expected" resistance to pests that is the selling point of Bt seeds. The idea of these strips is to grow pests like the bollworm (for example) that have no resistance to Bt so that they can breed with Bt resistant pests from the "superstar" seeds and keep them killable. The crop on this land is wasted by design.
  • The resultant race of more GM, more fertilizers and more pesticides has resulted in diseases among humans and animals, which add to the burden of medical expenses compounded by low access.
  • The actual claims of productivity are severely contested per crop and with authoritative, independent research and are beyond the scope of this article to go into detail. It isn't without any evidence that developed countries are limiting or banning use of GM seeds. A simple google search will bring forth an avalanche if anyone is really interested.
  • Productivity itself has been seen to drop with lame excuses from Monsanto that may be good PR, but do nothing to actually change the production. Including in a "perfect" state like Gujarat, which supposedly reports great profits from GM. Monsanto blamed the farmers. Done.
  • Finally, do you know that Indian farmers have set world records for crop yields using organic farming that have left results from GM in the dust? The same traditional methods and bio fertilizers that had been systematically decimated by the British?

Enough said.

"Any farmer could have told this lady that the international seed companies are a welcome change from state-owned companies which have often sold them junk. But farmers have no voice on television and the lady fraud has a very loud one."

Leaving aside the personal comments about the lady environmentalist who sounds suspiciously like Vandana Shiva, Tavleen Singh is clearly ignorant about the 37th All Party Parliamentary Standing Committee on cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops - Prospects and Effects, which clearly states that the farmers explicityl detailed problems they faced because of GM crops and demanded a ban. Additionally, ALL MEMBERS of the All Party Parliamentary Standing Committee - across political parties - unanimously endorsed banning cultivation of GM crops in India. The report condemns the paid media report in Times of India promoting Monsanto with falsified information about prosperity of farmers. The members of the Committee physically went to those villages and saw that there was no such thing. How much more voice do you expect? Or is the gold standard of voice about performances in a corporate controlled media? Would Indian Express give space to an angry farmer trashing Monsanto, when their awards of excellence in journalism are sponsored by Mahyco?

I called up a few people who were present during the visit when outlandish tales of outright manipulating the committee came to my ears and can confirm that the government of Maharashtra made great efforts to prevent the All Party Parliamentary Standing Committee from speaking with farmers and tried to con them into meeting a few planted "farmers" - some of whom were input dealers - in a cosy circuit house. Farmers persisted and the Committee visited the villages reported to be prospering and chasing away money lenders and saw fields left barren. In front of the committee, farmers shouted down and chased away not money lenders, but representatives of Monsanto.

"There have been natural disasters in the Himalayas since the beginning of time. If this one was 'manmade' as they claim, then it was because the political leaders who have governed Uttarakhand have been careless about making contingency plans for natural disasters."

and

"Our two most sacred rivers have become sewers despite thousands of crores of rupees having been spent on 'cleaning' them. And yet, the only noise we hear from environmentalists is when a new dam is built. Have they noticed that it was the dams on the Ganga that stopped the whole of Uttarakhand from being washed away?"

and etc (this is getting boring).

First, I'd like to ask Tavleen Singh why she is writing an article about environmentalists instead of "seculars" and "NGOs" - after all, aren't all right wingers supposed to talk about that only?

If my question is absurd, so is the idea that all environmentalists are working on the same thing, namely hydel projects. There are people fighting dams and for more reasons than only the environment. There are people working to get rivers cleaned. Others fight to protect forests, marine life, fight drought, promote water renewal, whatever. Environment isn't one piddly subject that everyone is doing the same thing and from only one angle. Swami Nigamananda died when he fasted unto death in what is rumored to be a murder by political and mafia forces. He wasn't fighting dams, but the sand mafia and pollution. There are all kinds of people. Vijay Panjwani often updates from his legal activism to get judicial pressure for clean ups. To the best of my knowledge, no one has prevented her from taking up a concern she feels strongly about. If it is un-sewering the Ganga and not protecting roads from dog poop, so be it.

The blame for the tragedy has been consistently attributed to irresponsible construction work of which dams were a part. The greatest blame has been on the roads, actually due to the use of dynamite in cutting them creating fractures in the structure of the mountain. Hydel projects don't drop rom the sky. They need development of roads, as well as dam construction. They need construction materials which leads to further exploitation of the river banks. Dams already silt up the upstream while starving the downstream of silt leading to eroded banks and disturbed ecology.

Here is what happens to a construction made of reinforced concrete when subjected to reckless construction activity. Nowhere in the Himalaya, this is, but Katraj tunnel near Pune - a place that has little to do with floods and landslides. This news is not a month old yet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tUxN9nHco4

The page on Wikipedia about the environmental impact of dams is well referenced so I'm using this space for one last important piece of disinformation:

"Have they noticed that alternative sources of energy like solar, wind and bio-fuels have mostly failed?"

Failed?

Work on hydel power in India started in 1897, nuclear power started in 1948, renewable energy started in 1983.

India gets 57% of its electricity from coal, 19% from hydro electric power, 12% from renewable, 9% from natural gas and 3.75% from nuclear power.

The oldest dam in India is from the second century. That is older than several of the religions in this country. The first hydro electric power plant in India was in the year 1897 or fifty years before Independence. We currently produce approximately 39GW. We started chasing nuclear power when we were 11 months old. Several parts of current India were not India then. 4780MW to date and we call it the pride of the country and have gone into the international dog house for it. In contrast, our renewable energy production started in the 1980s and already accounts for 28GW or 12% of our electricity production, which Wikipedia assures me is more than the total production of electricity in Austria. In three decades.

India is rapidly growing in solar energy and fastest growing in the world in wind power. What failure?

The fundamental difference here is a difference in what Tavleen Singh sees as a good thing and what I see as a good thing. Projects she thinks are good for the country include Vedanta's bauxite mines and Lavasa and what not. I am not so sure we should be growing to suit the fastest runners. In my view, large projects have delivered comparatively little in comparison with robust grassroots efforts. I am also of the opinions that the super rich have done more to destroy economies and free enterprise than build them. I also think it is dangerous disinformation to club all large projects as one regardless of whether they are government or private. Masses cannot hold private enterprise accountable.

We are both entitled to our opinions. My expectation from media however is transparency and accuracy of information. People can decide for themselves if the information is correct.

Update: I forgot to address Tavleen's point about the Tehri dam that supposedly protected Haridwar. Tavleen Singh might be delighted to know that the Alaknanda blew through the Vishnuprayag Hydro electric project and the water that had backed up behind it wiped out Lambagarh market when it exploded out of the dam. Additionally, dams on Mandakini River such as Phata-Buyong HEP and Singoli-Bhatwari HEP badly damaged. Small dams on Madhaymaheshwer and Kali river are also badly damaged. It is worth considering a moment what the Tehri dam could have done to Haridwar if it too had given way. Perhaps water simply overflowing banks wouldn't be as bad.

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