Devinder Sharma KOs Alex Avery (1/5/2003)

1 May 2003

Devinder Sharma KOs Alex Avery

final part of an ongoing debate between Devinda Sharma and Alex ("The Big Up Himself") Avery
From: "Devinder Sharma" <[email protected]>
Subject: Re: Bt cotton
Date: Wed, 30 Apr 2003 08:50:24 +0530

To: Alex Avery

Advocacy and Freedom

 Ever since the days of the green revolution, agricultural scientists have maintained that there is no alternative to using pesticides. They forced the farmers to use all kinds of potent chemicals saying that there is no escape but to use more pesticides. Such was the 'advocacy' from scientists, that poor farmers were made to believe that pesticides were absolutely essential. They discarded their time-tested ways of controlling pests and moved to harmful pesticides, causing damage to their own health in the bargain. The damage done by pesticides to the environment needs no elaboration.  

When Rachel Carlson wrote 'Silent Spring', Normal Borlaug called her 'an evil force'. I remember vividly what he had told me when I had interviewd him on the subject for the newspaper that I was then working with. Today, the same scientific community criticises pesticides. Not because of the harm it does, but because there is no lucrative industry behind pesticides now.  

That was a time when agricultural scientists were riding the bandwagon of the chemical industry. They represented the commercial interests of the chemical industry (which you now brand as fraudulent companies -- most of these are in America, by the way). I am glad there were scientists like David Pimental who did say that 99 per cent of the pesticides sprayed go into the environment. But his was a minority voice. Scientists went on advocating the use of pesticides under one pretext or the other. I am sure you too or your colleagues were earlier an advocate of the 'chemical agriculture'.  No wonder you are now advocating the new 'promising technology' !  

Since mid-1980s, the chemical industry moved into life sciences. The scientists also moved along. Is it just a coincidence that agricultural scientists too have begun to advocate the new 'promising technology' because it really is promising? Isn't it a fact that the scientists are doing exactly what the industry wants them to do?  

And look at some other similarities. Time magazine had a cover story sometimes in 1940s, after the World War II, saying that DDT is fine with me. Two decades later, the world became wiser and started finding fault with DDT. America led the opposition to DDT. It took some two to three decades for scientists to realise that DDT was harmful !!  

Before I move to a similar story from Time magazine, let me tell you about another scientific fraud. Remember the application of 'agent orange' in Vietnam? Well, scientists had said that it was harmless to human beings and caused no damage to environment. A report in The Guardian in March 2003 brings out the shocking truth. Some 500,000 people have died because of exposure to agent orange and another 600,000 are suffering in silence even today. Where are those scientists who gave a clean chit to agent orange? Isn't the heavy human toll criminal? Why shouldn't those scientists who said that agent orange is perfectly safe, be hanged? And why not? Will you advocate for strong punishment to the scientists?  

You will not. The reason is simple. You are NOT an advocate for a 'promising technology'. You are an advocate for the biotechnology industry. How can you raise your voice against scientists responsible for the agent orange debacle? The same company (or its collaborators) now funds much of your research work. You will lose your livelihood, Mr Alex. Your voice therefore is stifled. You talk of freedom but in reality you are the prisoner of the funding institutions.  

Not only you, no scientist on AgBioView will have the courage to stand up against those who were responsible for the agent orange tragedy. We all know why.  

Time magazine again has a cover story -- this time on the virtues of golden rice. Can you see the similarity? No you will not, for the simple reason that you are 'advocating' a new technology despite being blind to the existing ground realities. Golden rice provides choices for the hungry, so goes the arguement. Those who say this have no idea as to what causes hunger. And this includes the scientists who go on an 'advocacy' campaign for a faulty technology !!  

A third of the world's 800 million hungry live in India. Not because of shortage of food, but because of faulty international and national policies that perpetuate hunger and deprivation. Genetic engineering is a classic example of the misplaced emphasis. Back to Golden rice and hunger, in India the 12 million people who suffer from Vit A deficiency live mainly in the marginal areas of western Orissa and Jharkand in northwest. Interestingly, these are the areas that produce a surplus of rice year after year and yet people go hungry. Why? because they cannot buy the rice that is available. If these people cannot buy the normal rice, please tell me how will they buy golden rice? And given a choice, they are not asking for golden rice or platinum rice (maybe the next promising technology !!) but normal rice. Given a choice, all they need is food. And food is rotting in India, while we go on diverting public money to service the biotechnology industry and that too in the name of hunger !!  

Let me also make another point that you have raised (out of sheer arrogance). Our farmers are not poor because they do not have choices or because they do not know how to farm. They are poor because of the massive subsidies in the OECD countries and their own breed of economists who mislead the world with faulty prescriptions. American agriculture dominates because of the stupendous subsidies that are pumped into an environmentally-inefficient sector. Take rice, for example. The total output of American rice is worth US $ 1.3 billion. And yet, the federal support to farmers amounts to US $ 1.4 billion. This depresses the world prices, as a result of which developing country farmers suffer. Hunger in South therefore is the direct fallout of the faulty policies that the west perpetuates. Agriculture in America (or in Europe) is therefore on an artificial respiratory system. Withdraw the subsidies, and American agriculture will fall flat. Your own farmers will join the ranks of 34 milion Americans already below the hunger line !!  

In conclusion, I am pasting below a [link to a] recent analysis of mine that I did sometimes in November 2002. I am afraid I will not have any more time to educate those who refuse to learn. My only suggestion is try to read, understand and analyse before you go into meaningless discussions and cheap diatribe: http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/2397.htm

Best wishes

Devinder Sharma

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