|Actions against Monsanto, GMOs and Indo-U.S. farm deal (25/3/2006)|
1.Action plan to defend India's food security
EXCERPTS: On May 10, to coincide with the 149th anniversary of the first movement of Independence of 1857, action would be taken to boycott Monsanto's Bt cotton seeds and launch "Asha Yatras" (Pilgrimages of Hope) in regions where Bt Cotton aggravated farmers' suicides. (item 1)
"What we have gained for nuclear security is what we have lost for food security, seed security, livelihood security and freedom of our farmers." (item 2)
1.People's Initiative to defend country's food security
*Action plan to defend food and farming from threat of genetically modified organisms *On May 10, action will be taken to boycott Monsanto's Bt cotton seeds
NEW DELHI: At a two-day meeting on "Food Safety and Food Rights: Emerging Challenges to Health, Nutrition and Farmers Livelihood", farmers' organisations, environmental groups, scientists and health and nutrition experts have decided to launch an action plan to defend the country's food security.
Addressing a joint press conference here on Thursday, Director of Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology Vandana Shiva and farmers' representative Krishnavir Chaudhary said the plan intended to defend India's food and farming from the threat of genetically modified organisms (GMO), processed and junk foods, the Indo-U.S. Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture and the proposed Integrated Food Law.
On April 8 - the day of global resistance against GMOs - a movement for GMO-free, patent-free villages would be launched. Navdanya, Bhartiya Krishak Samaj, Khethi Virasat and other sustainable agriculture and farm organisations would participate.
On May 10, to coincide with the 149th anniversary of the first movement of Independence of 1857, action would be taken to boycott Monsanto's Bt cotton seeds and launch "Asha Yatras" (Pilgrimages of Hope) in regions where Bt Cotton aggravated farmers' suicides.
"Farmers would be offered hope through distribution of open-pollinated varieties of diverse crops and training on ecology and organic farming," Dr. Shiva said.
The participants at the conference also decided to launch a People's Initiative in agriculture as an alternative to Monsanto-Walmart-led Indo-U.S. Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture, "which was reducing India's food and farming systems to a market for U.S. agribusiness, threatening farmers' livelihood, biological and food diversity, food safety and health safety."
The People's Initiative would monitor the U.S.-India Agreement, spread knowledge about GMOs, defend farmers' rights to seed and food sovereignty and defend citizen's right to safe, healthy, nutritious, adequately affordable and culturally-appropriate food.
Task forces were being set up to undertake research and build campaigns for spreading knowledge of food and farming that protects environment, farmers' livelihood and public health.
2.Indo-US farm research deal raises concerns
Following the India-US nuclear deal, now concerns are being raised whether the Indian government has sold out the interests of Indian agriculture in its eagerness to get a favourable nuclear deal.
Critics say a new bilateral agreement on farm research and education is the beginning of an all-American invasion into our backyard.
"What we have gained for nuclear security is that we have lost for food security, seed security, livelihood security and freedom of our farmers.
"With biotechnology and our research institutions sold out to this, agriculture as we know it will be extinct," said PV Satheesh, South Against Genetic Engineering.
Proponents of the new India-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture say it will focus on biotech research and education, food processing and marketing.
That should answer several problems faced by the Indian farmer today.
"There is great opportunity for the Indian farmer to increase his prosperity through this. I think there are adequate safeguards for the Indian farmers. There is no need to worry.
"We have to look at it as somebody providing the technology, how to use it to increase competitiveness, and take a greater share in the world agricultural trade," said VR Kaundinya, Monsanto Group.
Experts say the first green revolution that was assisted by the United States in itself is not an unqualified success story.
It increased yields and made India self-sufficient. But it also promoted a cost-intensive model of agriculture with chemical fertilizers and pesticides that degraded soils and made farming unviable in the long run.
"We are not in a situation that forced us to enter into the Green Revolution 30 years back, when there was an acute food shortage in the 60s.
"Today there is no food shortage and we have a surplus. The crisis of the farmer is the major issue. The model should address this crisis," said G Ramanjaneyulu, Scientist, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.
Concerns on GM crops
Critics fear the new agreement will:
Shift focus of research to genetically modified transgenic crops and animals.
Pave the way to open Indian markets to US agribusiness and GM products.
Commercialise agriculture with the direct participation of corporates, leaving the small Indian farmer even more marginalised.
In the name of research, US will get free access to India's genetic resources.
And US will aggressively push India towards a patent regime in agriculture.
Already, American companies have attempted to patent basmati rice, turmeric and neem. Now every Indian crop could potentially become the patented property of an American company.
They say the Indian farmer has never really had a voice in choosing the model of agriculture promoted in the country and this time was no different.
The key issues are who will benefit from the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture and who will take this initiative.
If it is meant for the 65 crore farmers, most of them living on the edge in a perennial agricultural crisis, then there was no public debate or consultation whatsoever on what India's farmers want and what is good for them.
The other worrying aspect is the implication of the presence of two American multinationals, one Monsanto, a seed company and two Walmart, one of the biggest supermarket chains, on the board of the initiative.
Agriculturists point out that the agriculture scape of India and the US are vastly different.
While in the US, the holding size is anywhere between 100 acres and one lakh acres, in India, 85 per cent of the farmers have small holdings below 5 acres.
Against less than 10 lakh farmers in US, Indian agriculture is labour intensive with 65 crore people depending on it.
Besides agriculture in the US is subsidised to the extent of 200 per cent, something unimaginable in India.
Worries on US interests
Some scientists are worried the priorities of research could now be dictated by American interests.
"The MNC voice will prevail. They will direct, dictate, monitor, supervise, control our research.
The American model has failed. And now we are thinking of a second Green Revolution, which will be much worse.
"At least in the first Green Revolution, there was public research domain. Now it is going into private hands," said KR Choudhary, Agricultural Economist.
Some farmers say industry has to take a more pro-active role in developing agriculture and protecting farmers' interests.
"Today lab-to-land transfer is negligible. So when industry comes between farmer and market, industry has the advantage of forward and backward linkages.
"Industry will be able to tell what kind of research is required because ultimately industry has to look to marketing," said Chengal Reddy, Federation of Farmers' Associations. [a rich farmer lobby closely aligned with Monsanto]
Critics point to the experience with genetically modified Bt cotton, introduced in India in 2002.
The seed itself cost Rs 1,850 for an acre against Rs 450 for a hybrid variety. Rs 1250 out of that went towards royalty.
Four years later, the debate is still open on whether it is indeed a solution or yet another new problem.
3.GM Crops in India
Even after more than a decade of its introduction, the health and environmental safety implications of transgenic or genetically modified (GM) crops are yet to be determined conclusively. In the backdrop of this uncertainty serious concerns have been expressed by a large segment of scientists and environmentalists all over the world regarding the appropriateness of commercial cultivation of GM crops. As far as India is concerned, anxieties have been further aggravated by the inadequacies inherent in the regulatory framework and the lackadaisical manner of its implementation. The loopholes embedded in the biosafety regulation in India and the gross lack of preparedness of the country to deal with large-scale commercial application of a potentially dangerous technology like transgenics have been blatantly exposed with the experience of Bt cotton the only GM crop "officially" approved for commercial cultivation in this country. These issues have been discussed at length in the article by Lianchawii (EPW, September 24, 2005) and the subsequent discussion by Reji K Joseph (EPW, December 3, 2005). In the backdrop of the concerns expressed in the aforesaid articles, the present attempt is to analyse the appropriateness or otherwise of the policy stance taken by the government of India (GoI) on the issue of GM crops, particularly in the light of certain latest developments.
It may be recalled at the outset that ever since its introduction in March 2002, Bt cotton has always been at the centre of controversy for one reason or the other. The latest one has been triggered by an unprecedented step taken by the government of Andhra Pradesh. In January 2006, a case was filed by this state government against the biotech major Monsanto under the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act (MRTP Act) for charging abnormally high trait values or royalties on its Bt cotton seeds. Notably, of the Rs 1,850 spent by the farmers on a 450 gm packet of Monsantos Bollgard cotton seeds, Rs 1,250 accrues to the company as royalty. While this has resulted in a significant increase in the cost of cultivation of Bt cotton in India, according to the information revealed by the AP government, for the same 450 gm of seeds Monsanto charges (the equivalent of) Rs 108 in the US and only Rs 34 in China. It has further been pointed out that while the Monsanto and its subsidiaries in India charge an exorbitant price of Rs 1,850 for just 450 gm of seeds, they pay a meagre amount of around Rs 250 to the seed growers for as much as 750 gm of seeds.
While the huge difference between seed cost1 has played a significant role in the adverse economics of Bt cotton compared to non-Bt hybrids, a number of other factors have also contributed to the observed poor performance of this maiden GM crop of India. It may be recalled here that the principal reason behind the introduction of Bt cotton in India was its purported ability to make the cotton plant resistant to bollworms the most dreaded cotton pest of India. However, several empirical studies being undertaken by distinguished civil society organisations (like the Gene Campaign,2 Greenpeace, the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA),3 Deccan Development Society (DDS),4 etc) in different parts of the country during the past three years of commercial cultivation of Bt cotton in India have revealed that:
The observed poor performance of Bt cotton in India may be attributable to a great extent to the inappropriateness of Bt technology in the context of this country, if the findings from scientific research undertaken by the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), Nagpur, are to be believed. The results from field experiments being undertaken as early as 2003 by Keshav R Kranthi and others in this premiere government research organisation on eight Bt-cotton Bollgard hybrids commercially grown in India has been reported in a recent research article published in the July 25 edition of Current Science.5 Their research has clearly revealed that the Bt cotton "hybrids" being grown in India are inadequate for effectively controlling the bollworm, particularly beyond 110 days after sowing.
The study has further indicated that the poor performance of Bt cotton in controlling bollworms in this country may also be attributed to the fact that they are being grown as hybrids here, as against the true breeding varieties, grown elsewhere in the world, including the US, China and Australia. It has further been pointed out that although the Bt cotton varieties in the US succeeds in causing 99-100 per cent mortality in tobacco budworm, the major cotton pest in the US, the same Bt technology is not likely to succeed in India where the major target pest is a bollworm and not a tobacco budworm.
However, in spite of having such clear-cut scientific evidence, regarding the inadequacies and inappropriateness of Bt technology in the context of India, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the countrys apex body for approving GM crops, has not taken any initiative whatsoever to stall its commercial cultivation altogether. Instead, during April-May 2005, the GEAC granted fresh approval for commercial cultivation of Bt cotton in the north Indian states of Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana. Sanction has also been given for 13 new varieties of Bt cotton hybrids. Furthermore, except for Andhra Pradesh, approval has been renewed in all the other five states, which were already under Bt cotton cultivation since 2002.
While on the one hand, the GEAC has continued to promote Bt cotton, on the other, efforts are on at the highest level of policy-making in New Delhi to put in place a full-fledged policy framework, in the form of the (draft) National Biotechnology Development Strategy,6 in order to provide a big push for the proliferation of (not only Bt cotton but all) transgenic crops in the country in future.
A close scrutiny of the draft biotech strategy document clearly reveals that it is aimed at speeding up the process of approvals for commercial cultivation of transgenic crops in the future, without even taking care of their environmental and health safety aspects adequately.7 While the gross regulatory failure observed in the case of Bt cotton underscores the necessity of putting in place a more rigorous and accountable regulatory framework for governing the commercial release and cultivation of GM crops, the draft policy document instead proposes the establishment of an independent National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority as the single window clearance body, with the aim of speeding up the approval of transgenic crops. This is indeed a unique proposal, given the fact that such a single-tier approval system does not exist elsewhere. Even the US has a three-tier system for approval of transgenic crops.
Notably, an attempt has been made by the powers that be in the aforesaid policy framework to push through the transgenic agro-technology on the pretext of achieving a number of noble objectives, such as, increase in agricultural yield, economic well-being of farm families, food security of the nation, security of national and international trade in farm commodities, etc.8 This, despite the fact that the credentials of GM technology in terms of fulfilling these crucial objectives have not yet been proved conclusively. On the contrary, there is a plethora of evidence, which indicates the potential regressive impact of genetic engineering in all these respects.9
As far as yield is concerned, several empirical studies in India have revealed poorer performance of Bt cotton compared to their non-Bt counterparts. A similar dismal performance of GM crops on the yield front has been observed elsewhere in the world too. On the basis of an extensive review of relevant scientific and other evidence relating to the performance of genetic engineering, an Independent Science Panel Report,10 published in 2003 concluded, "The consistent finding from independent research and on-farm surveys since 1999 is that GM crops have failed to deliver the promised benefits of significantly increasing yields "
Given the lack of satisfactory yields, along with the high costs of GM seeds and other costs of cultivation, there exist ample grounds to apprehend that the promotion of GM crops may end up worsening the economic conditions of numerous small and marginal farmers of India, rather than improving them. This, in fact, has already been proved to be true in case of Bt cotton in different parts of India (especially in Andhra Pradesh), where cultivation of this GM crop has resulted in grave financial losses and suffering to thousands of farmers, often forcing them to commit suicide.
Coming to the question of food security, even if it is assumed, for the sake of argument, that GM crops will help to boost the yield of Indian agriculture, will it guarantee two square meals for the entire population of the country? Perhaps not. Because, the principal constraint in realising the right to adequate food in India is economic accessibility or affordability, and not physical availability.11 Moreover, there is every possibility that the monoculture-based GM technology, by endangering the biodiversity of India, may end up threatening the livelihood a large section of the agrarian community of the country, still practising traditional/organic farming.
Another major source of anxiety surrounding transgenic crops is the threat of contamination of non-GM crops by their GM counterparts. Given the ground realities of agricultural conditions prevailing in India, segregation of GM and non-GM crops and implementation of the rigorous system of "identity preservation" (IP) and "traceability" would be virtually impossible to implement in a situation of co-existence of GM and non-GM agriculture.12 Hence, farmers would not actually be in a position to exercise their freedom of practising (non-GM) agricultural technology of their own choice.
Even if it was assumed for the sake of argument that IP was possible to implement in India, the excessive operational costs involved in the implementation process would make agriculture such an expensive activity that it would be out of the reach of most of (small and marginal) farmers of the country. Moreover, even after investing huge money for IP, the non-GM farmers would still be confronted with the acute risk of rejection or loss of premium prices (more so in case of "certified organic" products) in the export as well as domestic markets owing to the high possibility of contamination from GM crops. Hence, Indian agricultural exports may also turn out to be a vulnerable and risky venture in a situation where GM and non-GM crops coexist.
However, in case India refrains from paving the way for the further promotion of transgenic crops, it may be in an advantageous position on the external trade front, if the current global market trends are anything to go by. The markets for certified organic foods in various developed countries, for instance, have been projected to grow in the coming years at a stupendous rate ranging from 10-15 per cent to 25-30 per cent. With public opinion against GM crops gaining increasing momentum in different parts of the world (including in some major trading partners of India like the EU, Japan or even the US), global market prospects are likely to get increasingly better in the future for any non-GM agricultural product and not only for certified organic produce.
To sum it up, there is not enough economic justification to pave the way for the cultivation of transgenic crops in India. Hence, instead of taking recourse to GM crops whose environmental and food-safety implications have not yet been proved conclusively anywhere in the world as the only means to bring about a "second green revolution", a prudent approach on the part of policy-makers in India at this juncture would be to put a moratorium on the further commercial cultivation of transgenic crops in the country.
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1 The cost of Bt cotton seeds is three to four times higher than that of non-Bt hybrids of cotton.
2 See Suman Sahai and Shakeelur Rehman, 'Bt Cotton Performance 2003-04: Fields Swamped with Illegal Variants', 2004, available at www.genecampaign.org.
3 See www.csa-india.org for various studies on Bt cotton.
4 See Abdul Qayum and Kiran Sakkhari, 'Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh: A Three-Year Assessment', Deccan Development Society, Andhra Pradesh Coalition in Defence of Diversity and Permaculture Association of India, 2005.
5 See K R Kranthi, S Naidu, C S Dhawad, A Tatwawadi, K Mate, E Patil, A A Bharose, G T Behere, R M Wadaskar and S Kranthi, 'Temporal and Intra-plant Variability of Cry1Ac Expression in Bt-cotton and Its Influence on the Survival of the Cotton Bollworm, Helicoverpa armigera (Hübner), Noctuidae: Lepidoptera)', Current Science, Vol 89, No 2, July 25, 2005, pp 291-98.
6 After release by the science and technology minister Kapil Sibal, on April 1, 2005 the draft 'National Biotechnology Development Strategy' was kept in the public domain by putting it on the department of biotechnology (DBT) website for the next six weeks. The last date for receiving the feedback from the public was May 16, 2005. According to an announcement made by Sibal, the draft was supposed to be finalised after all the suggestions had been reviewed. The finalisation is still awaited.
7 For details see Agriculture Today, 'The National Biotechnology Policy: Need for a Radical Overhaul', June 2005, pp 5-8.
8 See 'Report of the Task Force on Application of Biotechnology in Agriculture' submitted to the union ministry of agriculture in May 2004 by M S Swaminathan, chairman, Task Force on Agricultural Biotechnology, available at http://agricoop.nic.in/TaskForce/tf.htm. Notably, the draft 'National Biotechnology Development Strategy' has accepted all the recommendations of the aforesaid task force while formulating the policy framework for agro-biotech.
9 For details see Kasturi Das, 'GM Crops in India: Why Open Pandora's Box', 2004, available at http://www.eldis.org/cf/search/disp/docdisplay.cfm?doc=DOC17560&resource=f1.
10 Independent Science Panel, 'The Case for a GM-Free Sustainable World', published by Institute of Science in Society, London and Third World Network, Malaysia, 2003.
11 Kaushik Ranjan Bandyopadhyay, 'The Right to Adequate Food', The Hindu, February 10, 2003.
4.DEMAND TO MAKE PUBLIC THE INDO-US AGRICULTURE DEAL
Dr Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign, Dr Suneelam of the Madhya Pradesh Kissan Sangharsh Samiti and Sri Yudhvir Singh , Secretary of the Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements said today that the Indo- US agriculture deal announced by President Bush in Delhi was a one sided affair in which India would gain little and give away a lot. Charging the government with maintaining an illegitimate secrecy regarding the terms and conditions of the deal with the Americans, the representatives of the three leading organizations working in agriculture said that the governments actions suggest that the deal with the Americans is not in favor of India. The three demanded that the Indo- US agriculture deal be placed in Parliament for discussion and circulated to the public so that the views of stakeholders and citizens could be taken before finalizing the agreement. Public consultations have been conducted on draft laws like the Biodiversity Act, Farmers Rights Act, Patent Act and the Seeds Bill, so why not now?
Dr Suman Sahai said that it appeared that the government was paying in agriculture for the gains it was seeking in the nuclear sector. The "Second Green Revolution" that was announced was in fact opening up India to genetically engineered crops and foods which the US promotes aggressively and which is rejected in most other parts of the world.
In addition, the Americans are getting unhindered access to the countrys vast genetic wealth in agriculture, without any certainty that this will be ever paid for, how it will be used and what kind of IPRs will be demanded.
In order to force open the wall of secrecy surrounding the agriculture deal, Gene Campaign has demanded information on the details of the Indo- US pact under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
Dr Suneelam, MLA from Multai and leader of the Madhya Pradesh Kissan Sangharsh Samiti said that it is a tragedy that even 60 years after independence, governments are very willing to sacrifice agriculture and farmer interests to obtain real or perceived gains in other sectors. Today, when their city counterparts get easy credit at 4% interest, farmers still have to pay 12 to 18 % interest on loans taken from cooperative banks. Dr Suneelam added that it is cause for great concern that huge American multinationals Wal-Mart and Monsanto, are on the board of the Indo- US Initiative on Agriculture Research and Education. This creates a playing field that is far from level.
Sri Yudhvir Singh said that the Indo US pact dealing with agriculture is an anti farmer deal and will not be accepted by the farmers of India. He said that a resolution was passed at the Kissan Rally organized on 21 March, 2006 ,that the farmers will not accept any agriculture deal with the US. Accusing the government of working against the interest of farmers to gain favor with the Americans, Sri Singh said that the wheat import issue was another clear example of government favoring the Americans. The chief beneficiaries as exporters of wheat to India will be huge American corporations like Cargill and Dow. Sri Singh said that there was enough wheat and there was no need to import any.
Dr Suneelam, Sri Yudhvir Singh and Dr Sahai expressed grave concerns about the following issues with respect to the India- US agriculture deal:
Wal-Mart and Monsanto are on the board of the Indo- US deal. Monsanto has been elevated from a seed company to a representative of the US government. There is a conflict of interest here with its position as a seed company.
The most important focus of the Agri deal is developing genetically engineered crops, animals and fish. This will force the dissemination of GE foods in India, which are being rejected in most parts of the world.
The deal will allow the Americans to have unhindered access to the rich and valuable genetic diversity stored in India's Gene banks. It is not clear whether they will pay for this genetic wealth.
Under the guise of collaborative research, Wal-Mart and Monsanto will be able to use the universities and Krishi Vigyan Kendras which serve as extension agencies for farmers, to take their products to farmers in many parts of India. Wal-Mart and Monsanto have said they are keen to use their position on the Board to enter into retailing in agriculture and agricultural trade.
India is paying for this deal. The US government has made clear that it will not invest any money. India has already committed 400 crores ,out of which about 300 crores will be used for genetic engineering and biotechnology products.
IPR (intellectual property rights) is on the agenda, so it is feared that Indias liberal IPR regime will come under pressure. It is feared that the Americans will insist on genes being made patentable under the Indian Patent Act. With that seeds can be patented through the back door.
The Indo- US pact has been born in complete secrecy and none of the major stakeholders have been consulted. Negotiated directly by Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and Dr Mangla Rai, DG, ICAR, the program has been finalized with the Americans, without any participation of the Planning Commission. The scientific community , State governments, farmers organizations and civil society have all been excluded.