Category Archives: Genetically Modified Issues and Ethics

Dirty white gold – Opinion – Al Jazeera English

Dirty white gold – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

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Two new films about GM in India, Lakshmi devi dasi

 May 2012 by

video: Bitter Seeds Trailer

GMWatch.org

1.”Bitter Seeds: The Plight of India’s Farmers”
2.”Bitter Seeds” at the San Francisco Film Festival
3.Telling suppressed stories: “Cotton For My Shroud”NOTE: You can see the trailer for “Bitter Seeds” here
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=QZtKB_KuASc
For films available in full online
http://www.gmwatch.org/gm-videosb/27-gm-in-india


1.”Bitter Seeds: The Plight of India’s Farmers”
by grtv
http://tv.globalresearch.ca/2012/04/bitter-seeds-plight-indias-farmers-trailer“Bitter Seeds” explores the future of how we grow things, weighing in on the worldwide debate over the changes created by industrial agriculture. Companies like the U.S.-based Monsanto claim that their genetically modified (GM) seeds offer the most effective solution to feeding the world’s growing population, but on the ground, many small-scale farmers are losing their land. Nowhere is the situation more desperate than in India, where an epidemic of farmer suicides has claimed over a quarter million lives. Every 30 minutes one farmer in India, deep in debt and unable to provide for his family, commits suicide.Following a U.S. complaint to the World Trade Organization, India had to open its doors to foreign seed companies. Within a few years, multinational corporations had taken over India’s seed market in a number of major crops. Now only GM seeds are available at the shops, requiring India’s farmers to pay an annual royalty. The GM seeds are much more expensive; they need additional fertilizers and insecticides and must be re-purchased every season. While large farms have prospered, the majority of farmers find it increasingly more difficult to make a living off their land.“Bitter Seeds” follows a season in a village at the epicenter of the crisis, from sowing to harvest. Like most of his neighbors, cotton-farmer Ram Krishna must borrow heavily in order to afford the mounting costs of modern farming. Required by a money-lender to put up his land as collateral, he gambles on everything he has.

When his crop is attacked by pests, Ram Krishna must do whatever he can to avoid losing the family land. Adding to his burden is another duty – his daughter has reached marrying age, and he must find the money for an expensive dowry. Ram Krishna has just become a candidate for joining the ranks of the farmers who commit suicide in despair.

Weaving in and out of Ram Krishna’s story is that of his neighbor’s daughter. Manjusha, a college student, is determined to become a journalist and tell the world about the farmers’ predicament. Her family opposes her plans, which go against village traditions. Manjusha’s ambition is also fueled by her personal history – her father was one of the suicide victims. When a newspaper reporter agrees to look at her writing, Manjusha takes on Ram Krishna’s plight as her first reporting project. Armed with a small camera from the production team, her video becomes part of the film.

The film follows the seeds salesmen from the remote village in the state of Maharashtra to their company’s headquarters. Interviews with seed industry executives (including Monsanto’s) and their critic, Vandana Shiva, flesh out the debate.

“Bitter Seeds” features compelling characters to tell a deeply moving story from the heart of the worldwide controversy about the future of farming.

“Films like this can change the world.” – Alice Waters

“A tragedy for our times, beautifully told, deeply disturbing.” – Michael Pollan

“Better than a Batman movie…with real villains making up their own lines.” — Peter Sellars


2.“Bitter Seeds” at the San Francisco Film Festival
http://www.sfbg.com/pixel_vision/2012/04/18/your-consideration-short-takes-sfiff-week-one

The gargantuan San Francisco Film Festival opens this week… SFIFF is still tops, and we’re here to guide you through it:

“Bitter Seeds” (Micha X. Peled, U.S., 2011) Just what we all needed: more incontrovertible evidence of the bald-faced evil of Monsanto. This documentary on destitute Indian cotton farmers follows an 18-year-old girl named Manjusha, a budding journalist who investigates the vast numbers of farmer suicides since the introduction (and market stranglehold) of “BT” cotton — which uses the corporation’s proprietary GMO technology — in the region of Vidarbha. Before BT took over in 2004, these cotton farmers relied on cheap heritage seed fertilized only by cow dung, but the largely illiterate population fell prey to Monsanto’s marketing blitz and false claims, purchasing biotech seed that resulted in pesticide reliance, failing crops, and spiraling debt. It’s a truly heartbreaking and infuriating story, but much of the action feels stagey and false. Should Indian formality be blamed? Considering the same fate befell Peled’s 2005 documentary China Blue, probably not. Still, eff Monsanto.
Sat/21, 3:45pm, FSC. Tues/24, 8:50pm, PFA. April 26, 6:15pm, Kabuki. (Devereaux)


3.Telling suppressed stories
SRAVASTI DATTA
The Hindu, April 18 2012
http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/metroplus/article3328007.ece

Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl’s “Cotton For My Shroud” is an honest and heart-wrenching account of the hapless condition of Vidarbha’s farmers

The husband-wife duo Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl, armed with a camera and “an iron soul”, set forth to Vidarbha to film the stories of farmer families who had lost their sons, brothers and husbands to suicides due to mounting debts, to render visible the issues of the marginalised small farmer and bring back into focus the forgotten stories of Vidarbha’s farmer suicides. Their film “Cotton for my Shroud” was screened last week at Suchitra Film Society. “Since 1995, a quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide, most of whom were cotton farmers from Vidarbha in Maharashtra,” inform the filmmakers.

The couple began filming “Cotton For My Shroud” in 2006 when Vidarbha had recorded the highest number of suicides. They were supported in their endeavour by Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, an NGO actively involved in advocacy on farmers’ issues.

The suicide of a farmer wasn’t just another statistic for them, but a precious life lost due to faulty government paradigms. It took them almost five-and-a-half years to put the film together. “It was difficult to bury the ghosts and sweep the film under the carpet, as if nothing had ever goaded us to visit Vidarbha. We owed a lot to the people who had opened their hearts and hearths to two outsiders in their moment of grief. We could not betray their trust. As we previewed and digitised the footage, we re-lived the horror that had unfolded before our eyes in 2006,” write the former journalists in an email interview.

In “Cotton…”, the line “If one farmer kills himself, we can call it a suicide. But when a quarter of a million kill themselves, how can the government call it suicide? It is genocide,” reveals that justice delayed is no less a crime. “Torn between aggressive marketing of supposedly ‘better varieties’ of transgenic crops by the State and his traditional wisdom of low-cost and eco-friendly agriculture, the farmer is forced to buy BT cotton, which results in an unending cycle of debt.”

The couple hold the government, multinational corporations and even certain sections of the media responsible for the condition of the cotton farmers in Vidarbha. “The farmers felt betrayed by the government extension agencies that are supposed to guide the farmers, they feel violated by the multinational corporations that are poisoning their land with chemicals, and genetically modified cotton seeds that do not live up to the tall claims made by Monsanto. They have lost respect for the media too for they feel that most of the media has been bought over by powerful politicians and multinationals.”

“Cotton…” won the Rajat Kamal for the Best Investigative Film at the 59th National Film Awards. But the government-funded Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF), the couple inform, chose not to show it. They had even organised a special screening for parliamentarians at the Constitution Club, for which they had invited the parliamentary standing committees on agriculture and rural development.

“Only Basudev Acharya had attended the screening; the other MPs were too busy to watch it.” Nandan and Kavita faced many daunting challenges while filming “Cotton…”. “The shopkeepers and agents of Monsanto-Mahyco were hostile but could not do much to stop us. The police and the Guardian Minister of Yavatmaal district did their best to stop us from going to film the funeral of Dinesh Gugul at Village Mendoli. He was killed when the police opened fire at the farmers at the Cotton Mandi at Wani, on 6 December 2006. We argued with the police officers, but the seasoned, shrewd police-wallahs sent us to the Mandi where an angry mob of farmers charged at us and almost smashed our camera. We were asked to meet the Guardian Minister at the Circuit House. As soon as we entered the Circuit House, a curfew was clamped at Wani. We finally reached Mendoli, defying the curfew.”

The couple has contacted schools and colleges to screen the film and attempts are being made at translating “Cotton…” into other regional languages. “We are trying to raise some contributions for making the Marathi and Hindi versions of the film to take it to the villages where we filmed. There is a demand for Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Odiya versions as well.”

From Ecologist: Monsanto, Bayer and Dow face trial for ‘systematic human rights abuses’

Monsanto, Bayer and Dow face trial for ‘systematic human rights abuses’

Matilda Lee

16th November, 2011

Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal accuses biotech giants Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, Syngenta, DuPont and BASF of promoting dangerous pesticides including endosulfan, paraquat and neonicotinoids

The world’s major agrochemical companies, Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, Syngenta, DuPont and BASF, will face a public tribunal in early December accused of systematic human rights violations.

They are accused of violating more than 20 instruments of international human rights law through promoting reliance on the sale and use of dangerous and unsafe pesticides including endosulfan, paraquat and neonicotinoids.

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT), an international opinion tribunal created in 1979, will hear expert testimony from scientists, medical doctors and lawyers to prove the charges. Victims who have been injured by these products – from farmers, farmworkers, mothers and consumers from around the world – will also testify to the causes and nature of their injuries.

The cases will be heard over a four-day trial in Bangalore, India beginning December 3. While the Tribunal has no legal weight, and cannot force sanctions on companies, it aims to expose and raise awareness of large-scale human rights violations.

Pesticides Action Network (PAN) International, a global network comprised of 600 organisations in 90 countries, has spent years collecting information to bring about the indictments and is seeking justice for more than 25 specific cases – such as Silvino Talavera, an 11-year-old from Paraguay who died days after breathing in a cloud ofMonsanto’s RoundUp herbicide sprayed by a crop duster. The trial will also hear evidence of the link between pesticide use and a decline in bees.

The corporations, known as the ‘Big 6’ control 74 per cent of the global pesticide market, as well as dominating the global seed market.

Bayer reject the allegations saying they are a ‘wholesale distortion of the role of pesticides in our society.’ Monsanto, Syngenta and Dow, after being contacted by the Ecologist, were unavailable for comment.

Pesticide poisonings

An estimated 355,000 people are believed to die each year from unintentional toxic chemical poisoning, according the World Health Organization, many of these from use or exposure to pesticides and other agrochemicals. Nick Mole from PAN UK said the trial would give a voice to the otherwise voiceless victims of pesticides.

‘The pesticide industry is massive and incredibly powerful. It is difficult to prove corporate manslaughter even when these products are killing hundreds of people a year,’ he said. ‘We’ve spoken to people who have been abused and we are allowing them to give voice to their individual stories. We will be presenting the outcome of the Tribunal to the corporations and will be inviting their response,’ he said.

It is hoped that the verdict, to be delivered on December 6, will lead to greater discussions at UN institutions on holding agrochemical corporations accountable for crimes relating to the impact of their products.

The PPT grew out of the work by Italian Senator Lelio Basso, and serves as a grassroots, ad hoc court to consider charges and to issue verdicts on complaints of human rights violations submitted by victims or their representative groups.

Since 1979, the PPT has held 35 sessions exposing various forms of human rights abuses in cases from the Bhopal disaster, Tibet sovereignty and the intervention of the US in Nicaragua.

Useful link:

Pesticide Action Network UK

India files biopiracy lawsuit against Monsanto, says biotech giant is stealing nature for corporate gain more

Wednesday, September 28, 2011 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer

Learn more:http://www.naturalnews.com/033714_biopiracy_Monsanto.html#ixzz1aOtGwLiB

(NaturalNews) Representing one of the most agriculturally bio-diverse nations in the world, India has become a primary target for biotechnology companies like Monsanto and Cargill to spread their genetically-modified (GM) crops into new markets. However, a recentFrance 24report explains that the Indian government has decided to take an offensive approach against this attempted agricultural takeover by suing Monsanto for “biopiracy,” accusing the company of stealing India’s indigenous plants in order to re-engineer them into patented varieties.

Brinjal, also known in Western nations as eggplant, is a native Indian crop for which there are roughly 2,500 different unique varieties. Millions of Indian farmers grow brinjal, which is used in a variety of Indian food dishes, and the country grows more than a quarter of the world’s overall supply of the vegetable.

And in an attempt to capitalize on this popular crop, Monsanto has repeatedly tried to commercially market its own GM variety of brinjal called Bt brinjal. But massive public outcry against planned commercial approval of Monsanto’s “frankencrop” variety in 2010 led to the government banning it for an indefinite period of time.

But Monsanto is still stealing native crops, including brinjal, and quietly working on GM varieties of them in test fields, which is a clear violation of India’s Biological Diversity Act (BDA). So at the prompting of various farmers and activists in India, the Indian government, representing the first time in history a nation that has taken such action, has decided to sue Monsanto.

“This can send a different message to the big companies for violating the laws of the nation,” said K.S. Sugara, Member Secretary of the Karnataka Biodiversity Board, toFrance 24concerning the lawsuit. “It is not acceptable … that the farmers in our communities are robbed of the advantage they should get from the indigenous varieties.”

You can watch the fullFrance 24video report of India’s lawsuit against Monsanto here:
http://www.france24.com/en/20110921…

Farmers and active members of the public in India have been some of the world’s most outspoken opponents of Monsanto’s attempted GM takeover of agriculture. Besides successfully overturning the attempted approval of Bt brinjal, these freedom fighters have also successfully destroyed several attempted Monsanto GM test fields.

Learn more:http://www.naturalnews.com/033714_biopiracy_Monsanto.html#ixzz1aOsxr8h6

Deccan Herald: Compromising Agriculture GM crops by backdoor

By Basudev Acharya
Apart from issues related to seed monopoly and rural livelihood, there are serious biosafety concerns the world over.
Across the world, there is huge controversy around the introduction of genetically modified/engineered (GM/GE) crops. On one hand there are a few biotech crop developers and scientists recommending the use of GM technology as solution for food security and on other there are concerns about its impact on human health, environment and socioeconomy.

Added to that is the unpredictability and irreversibility of genetic engineering and the uncontrollability of GM crops once let out in the environment. One of the major concerns about GM crops is that they only serve the purpose of multinational seed giants. All GM technologies come along with Intellectual Property Rights and patent tags of multinational seed companies which would ensure their monopolies as has happened in the case of Bt cotton, the only GM crop commercially cultivated in India.

While there were 619 varieties of Bt cotton approved for release until Aug 2009 in the country, 514 of them are owned by Monsanto, the US multinational seed giant, which also holds a global monopoly in the total seed sales of Bt cotton.

One has already seen how Monsanto has armtwisted the state governments in India to increase the cotton seed prices this season. Bt Brinjal, the first GM food crop to have reached commercialisation stage in our country, also had a Cry 1Ac gene owned by Monsanto and licenced to Mahyco for developing Bt Brinjal. There is a threat of GM crops becoming the tool for control of the seed and thereby the agriculture sector by multinational seed corporations.

Apart from issues related to seed monopoly and rural livelihood, there are serious biosafety concerns being debated world over. Different studies have consistently indicated the possible ill-effects of GMs on health and environment. There is a clear need for an independent report on various effects of GM crops, including long term studies and chronic toxicity studies. Biosafety concerns must be addressed before any open air release of GM crops including field trials.

It is in this context that one should look at the growing debate on GM crops in India. The crisis in Indian agriculture needs no further statement, but to attribute it to just technology lag and promote technofixes, like GM crops, as the only solution to it is not only myopic but also criminal and this is precisely what the Indian government seems to be doing.

The debate in India on GE crops started with Bt cotton, the only commercially approved GE crop in the country (March, 2002) and had become loud and visible around the approval of Bt Brinjal.

During public consultations organised by the Union ministry of environment and forests last year on Bt Brinjal, there were concerns raised by farmers, civil society, and health and environment experts against GM crops and also against the existing regulatory system in the country, the government then rolled back the approval validating these concerns.

Field trials 
While Bt Brinjal is under moratorium, numerous GM crops are being released in to the open fields in the name of field trials, which could lead to contamination of our regular crop varieties by these GM crops whose biosafety is yet to be ascertained. Efforts are also on by GM crop developers like Monsanto to push herbicide tolerant corn and cotton in India. Field trials of these crops have been happening and are expected to come up for commercialisation soon.

Recommendations submitted by the Swaminathan Task Force on Agri-Biotechnology, whose report was accepted by the government in 2004, clearly stated that India should  adopt  such technologies as genetic engineering only where alternatives do not exist. It also categorically rejected technologies that would be detrimental to agriculture labour like the herbicide tolerant crops.

To top it all the government is proposing a new regulatory system for GM crops called the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) which is supposed to be tabled in the monsoon session. From what one has seen of the media leaked versions of its drafts, BRAI is going to lower the bar for approvals of GM crops. The problems with the proposed bill starts with the grave conflict of interest where the regulator is proposed to be located in the ministry of science and technology which also has the mandate  to promote GM crops in the country.

The last version seen in the media paints the picture of a centralised technocratic body with pretty much no role for the elected representatives of the people of this country. It did not have longterm biosafety assessments and also maintains the current system of letting the GM crop developer do the biosafety assessment.

It also proposed to circumvent the Right to Information Act, 2005, and went even to the extent of proposing imprisonment and fines for those opposing GM crops without scientific evidence. Thus the BRAI that government plans to put in place, at its onset looks like a non transparent, unquestionable authority.

Given that the existing regulatory system is defunct, what needs to be immediately done is stopping the release of any GM crop in to our environment be it for commercialisation or for research. We should not fail to ask fundamental questions like whether there is a need for this technology and whether safer and sustainable alternatives exist for a proposed product.

This is what the existing and proposed regulatory systems for GM crops fail to do in India and the fact is that for any GM crop that is being developed in any part of the word right now, there exists ecological alternatives which are economically and socially sustainable.

(The writer is the chairman of parliament’s standing committee on agriculture)

The Suicide Belt: Thousands of Cotton Farmers in India are Killing Themselves in Their Fields (story by Trevor Aaronson and Photographs by Angshuman Ghosh)

” I am humbled by the passion and efforts by the alternative media on covering this issue.  Please take time to read this story and support the activists involved. Thank you, may we live in harmony – Kamla Vishvas.”

The Suicide Belt

Thousands of cotton farmers in India are killing themselves in their fields.

Story by Trevor Aaronson and Photographs by Angshuman Ghosh

Gokal Landkar sits beneath the mango tree from which his father hanged himself a week earlier.

VIDARBHA REGION, India — The reminders are still here as Gokal wipes tears from his face. There’s the white headscarf with gold trim, next to a pair of cracked and worn sandals. The rope is here, too, snaking along the ground next to a large mango tree, a perfect noose tied at its end.

Five days ago, Gokal’s father hanged himself from the mango tree. His name was Motiram Baban Landkar, and Gokal and his two brothers don’t know how old he was when he died. In this part of rural India, birthdays go unnoticed and age matters little. The three sons can agree only that their father was about as old as the mango tree, and he took his life on May 31 to escape a debt of about $850.

He is one of nearly 200,000 Indian farmers, many of them cotton growers, to commit suicide since 1997. In fact, suicide among farmers in India has become so prevalent that officials in New Delhi keep a tally. Hanging and consumption of poison are the common methods of death, and most farmer suicides have occurred in India’s cotton belt, which extends from Hyderabad north to Nagpur, at the geographical center of India, and east to the state of Gujarat.

Many in India blame a combination of climate change, globalization and the U.S. corporation Monsanto for pushing to suicide thousands of subsistence farmers.

“Ten years ago,” Gokal says, ”farming was easy.”

Now it’s deadly, and with the worst drought conditions India has seen in decades, this year’s December cotton harvest could be one of the deadliest.

* * *

Kishor Tiwari works from a small, two-room office in Yavatmal, the largest city in an area of the country that has witnessed more farmer suicides than any other. Tiwari, a fast-talking former engineer, is attempting to document as many of those deaths as he can. As founder of the Vidharbha People’s Agitation Committee, Tiwari has made a full-time job of raising awareness of cotton farmers’ plight.

Kishor Tiwari has dedicated his life to raising awareness of farmer suicides in India.

On an afternoon in June, with the annual monsoon rains already two weeks late in what scientists believe is a symptom of climate change, Tiwari motions to one of his assistants. “This is the suicide man,” he says. The man hands Tiwari a white ledger. Inside, on dog-eared pages, there’s a line for every suicide: name, date, place of death.

Tiwari then points to a map next his desk. “We are here,” he says, placing his right index finger on the map. He then draws a large circle with the finger. “This is the cotton area,” he says. Tiwari looks back, making sure everyone is watching. He draws another large circle away from the first one. “This is the non-cotton area.” He pauses, leveraging the silence for effect. “The suicides,” he finishes, “are mainly in the cotton-crop area.”

Dressed in black pants and a white button-down shirt, Tiwari walks barefoot into the next room. “Come, come,” he says. There, he has a floor-to-ceiling chart illustrating the numbers of suicides his organization has confirmed in this area of Vidarbha from 2001 to 2008. The years and numbers are in Sanskrit, and Tiwari begins to read each aloud. “In 2001, 52 suicides,” he says, then rattles off the numbers in machine-gun procession, each number representing the suicides of the following year: “104, 148, 447, 445, 1,448, 1,246, 1,267.”

Tiwari believes St. Louis, Missouri-based agribusiness giant Monsanto is the primary reason for the suicides, and to understand why he believes this, it’s instructive to appreciate first how drastically the cotton-seed business has changed in India.

Cotton seed has historically been among farmers’ lowest expenses. During the harvest, cotton growers would cultivate crop seeds and save them for the following season. As a general practice, they also would swap seeds with neighboring farmers, ensuring through natural selection that subsequent generations of cotton seed would be best suited for the region. Although local cotton did not provide the same potential yields as cotton seed from the Americas, it had adapted to India’s unique climate — an intense monsoon season followed by months of drought.

Monsanto helped to abolish this practice. At the turn of the century, the company introduced a genetically modified cotton plant that produces bacteria known as Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, a commonly used pesticide against bollworm. When Bt cotton seed first came to market nationwide in 2002 under the trademark Bollgard, a box recommended for one acre of farmland was 1,400 rupees, about $35, a substantial amount for a farmer who in a good year will earn a few hundred dollars to support his family. Although government-regulated prices have been halved to 750 rupees per box — a predatory pricing lawsuit filed by the state of Andhra Pradesh forced Monsanto and the federal government to lower the prices — the input costs of Bt cotton are still more than the average farmer can afford to spend out of pocket.

What’s more, unlike with traditional seeds, farmers aren’t able replant seeds harvested from the crop. Doing so not only would violate a farmer’s legal agreement with the seed company but would be impractical as well. Because Bt sold in India is only available in hybrid seeds, replanting the next generation of seeds is a genetic crapshoot. Hybrids genetically segregate with every generation, with only one-third of seeds showing the same genetic traits of the parent. While hybrids can offer yield benefits for farmers, they primarily offer Monsanto greater control of intellectual property through this genetic segregation. As a result, farmers must buy new seeds year after year.

Despite the high costs of Bt cotton and the problems associated with the seed, advertising campaigns and government promotion of Monsanto’s technology initially helped persuade Indian farmers to take out loans and buy the genetically modified cotton seed.

On a macro level, Bt cotton has been a success in India. Since its introduction, national cotton production has doubled. But on a micro level, when examined from farm to farm, Monsanto’s technology has clearly offered mixed results.

Because the genetically modified Bt trait is only readily available in hybrid seeds, the crop requires more water than traditional Indian seeds. Affluent farmers with irrigated fields can fully exploit the technology and profit from increased yields, and these farmers are success stories for Monsanto.

But still 60 percent of India’s 90 million farmers own less than two and a half acres of land, and for them, the situation is vastly different. Subsistence farmers own rain-fed lands whose success depends entirely on the generosity of the monsoon. During this current period of unpredictable rains and increasing drought, these farmers have, like their more affluent counterparts, adopted drought-intolerant Bt cotton, which has resulted in reports throughout the region of crop failure and disappointing yield levels. Although boxes of Bt cotton have a warning label that instructs farmers to use the seed only in irrigated fields, the warning is in English, which few farmers can read.

Now, only a few years after the introduction of genetically modified seeds, Bt cotton has become so universal, and so much more profitable for the seed companies that license Monsanto’s technology, it’s the only type of seed available to farmers at stores. Consequently, every year as Indians await the monsoon rains, farmers line up to sign loan paperwork. In less than a decade, cotton seed in India went from a negligible cost to one requiring a bank loan.

“Fifty percent of farmer expenses now come from the cost of the seed,” Tiwari, the activist, says.

Whereas previous generations of cotton farmers could recover from crop failure — they would face a year of hardship from reduced income but could find means to plant again the following year — India’s subsistence farmers today are playing a game of agrarian roulette. Here’s the familiar pattern: To purchase Bt cotton, the farmer must take out a seed loan from the State Bank of India. If the crop fails due to a poor monsoon — a noteworthy potential given Bt cotton’s design for use in irrigated fields — the farmer will not be able to pay back the loan and will be denied a second loan. The farmer then will turn to an unregulated private moneylender who charges usurious rates, sometimes as high as 100 percent. A second crop failure, or even an underperforming crop, can place the farmer in a hole so deep that many turn to suicide.

In fact, the number of farmer suicides in India spiked in 2006, and has remained steady since, following implementation of a government program to pay as much as 10,000 rupees in compensation to families affected by farmer suicide. Suddenly, indebted cotton growers were worth more as corpses than as patriarchs.

Gajanan Bhindarwa cradles cotton seeds containing Monsanto’s genetically modified Bt trait.

That’s what happened to Vithal Bhindarwa, whose six-acre cotton farm was near the two-lane highway that runs from Hyderabad to New Delhi. His crop failed in late 2008, and he owed 28,000 rupees to the State Bank of India and even more to a private moneylender. Bhindarwa’s wife and children did not know the debt existed, and one evening in December, the farmer stepped out of his two-room home and swallowed poison he had reserved for rats trolling in the soybean field. ”We were told it would produce good results, the Bt cotton, so everybody took a loan,” says his son, 23-year-old Gajanan, now head of the family.

Today, according to one of Monsanto’s own studies, 95 percent of farmers in India have expenditures greater than income. These farmers are upside down on loans, but instead of walking away from farms as Americans have walked away from homes, thousands are hanging and poisoning themselves.

* * *

Sekhar Natarajan, Monsanto’s head of India operations, lives in Mumbai, about 425 miles west of the farmlands where these suicides are occurring, and oversees a business that generates more than $70 million in annual revenue from sales in the Indian heartland.

Sitting at a desk in his office, Natarajan bristles at the claims his company is somehow responsible for suicides among subsistence farmers.

“I like to start out by saying that, as an Indian, whenever I hear about the suicide of farmers, it pains me, because it’s a human life that we’re talking about,” Natarajan says. “Farmer suicide is a very painful subject, and it’s a subject that is important for India as a country to clearly understand. It’s not one single cause. A farmer commits suicide as a last resort, to keep up his honor and commitment which he’s unable to do.

“I would disagree with the fact that genetically modified seeds are the cause of suicide, because these suicides happen in non-cotton areas also,” he continues. “Cotton farmers are in fact benefiting from technology because we believe risk is reduced. A cotton farmer who does not use technology has a higher risk profile than a cotton farmer who uses technology, assuming the seeds are the same value. That being the case, we think we reduce risk. To that extent, we add positively to this whole debate about how much of a pressure is on farmers. This is a holistic subject, and I really think the statements directly linking us are unfounded in my opinion.”

Monsanto has funded three studies attempting to prove the company isn’t responsible for the suicides. Those studies linked farmer suicides to a variety of social ills, including alcoholism, gambling and the use of credit to finance weddings and dowries. One study, by the International Food Policy Research Institute, concluded farmer suicides had so many possible contributors in addition to Bt cotton that any conclusive links to a single contributor were impossible to form.

* * *

Despite the Monsanto-funded studies, it’s clear from the ground level that had India not moved its cotton industry to genetically modified seeds so quickly, and instead confined the technology to the larger, irrigated fields for which it was designed, the agrarian suicide crisis wouldn’t exist at the level it does today. Critics of Monsanto in India allege this imprudent agrarian policy is the result of government corruption and the U.S. company’s gaming of the system.

“If you can bribe someone in the regulatory agency, you get what you want,” says Suman Sahai, a geneticist in New Delhi and activist against seed patents.

“I’ve seen too many scientists start to speak against their mind and their conscience just for money from Monsanto,” says Vandana Shiva, a well-known environmental activist in India.

Sahai and Shiva can’t provide evidence to support their claims, and Monsanto officials are quick to brush off such charges, saying their business in India complies with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a U.S. law that prohibits bribery of foreign officials.

Even so, Monsanto has demonstrated tremendous skill at influencing public officials in India. Among the best examples is C.D. Mayee, a New Delhi scientist who was co-chair of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee when Monsanto sought approval for Bt cotton in 2001.

Mayee granted that approval in 2002, and four years later, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, an organization whose major funders include Monsanto, appointed Mayee to its board of directors. Mayee saw no conflict of interest in being paid to promote the same technology he was charged with regulating. “ISAAA is engaged in a noble mission globally and this is the first time an Indian has had the honor of being on its board,” Mayee told The Times of India at the time of his appointment.

Mayee voluntarily stepped down as India’s regulator of genetically modified agriculture in May. However, as a member of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Mayee remains an influential government official in India and still serves on ISAA’s board.

During a June interview in his New Delhi office, when asked if he regrets having approved Bt cotton given that a rural credit crisis and a rise in farmer suicides followed introduction of the technology, Mayee remains emphatic in his support of Monsanto’s technology.

“Let me find you something,” he says, rooting through his briefcase. Mayee hands over two papers he recently submitted to academic journals. Both examine how India has benefitted from the genetically modified seed. “Cotton production in India has doubled as a result of Bt technology,” he says. “Therefore, how can Bt cotton be responsible for suicides?”

Asked why he believes his opinion should be viewed credible when he sits on the board of an organization funded by Monsanto, Mayee abruptly ends the interview without explanation.

* * *

It was a Sunday morning when Motiram Baban Landkar hanged himself in Vidarbha’s Akola District. His three sons had all left the village. Shivlal and Shantaram had gone to the market, and Gokal attended a wedding.

Motiram had tea with his wife in the early daylight hours and said nothing of

Motiram Baban Landkar never told his sons that the family was in debt due to seed loans.

what he’d planned. He walked five minutes from the village to his farm, crushing the parched earth with every step. He tied the rope, first around a sturdy branch of the mango tree and then around his neck.

About an hour later, a neighboring farmer found him hanging there and called police. They cut down the body and left behind the rope, scarf and sandals.

“Every day we come here, since it happened,” says Motiram’s middle son, Gokal.

A few days after the suicide, Gokal and his brothers learned of the debts — first from a private moneylender, then from a bank official. They’d known money was tight; they just didn’t realize the family owed money. Their father handled all finances for the combined family of 22 people.

“If we went and earned money somewhere, we would hand him the money and he would take care of all the food and vegetables for the family,” Gokal says. “We had no right to ask daddy where he got his other money from, so we didn’t know about the debts.”

Inside their small home in the village, Gokal says he blames the high cost of seed for pushing his father to suicide. Had he not taken out seeds loan, Gokal says, the debt would not have existed.

Sitting next to Gokal are his two brothers, and napping on his lap is his 3-year-old daughter Lakshmi. When asked what’s next for his family now that his father is dead, Gokal buries his face in his hands. Lakshmi looks up from his lap, half-asleep.

“We have to survive,” he says. ”But living without him is impossible.”

When the monsoon rains finally arrive in early July, one month late, farmers in Vidarbha are disappointed. The news gets worse in the following weeks. The government says rain levels are 29 percent below average this year, and halfway through monsoon season, 177 farming districts are declared drought zones.

Indian cotton farmers are expecting a deadly harvest.

Research for this story was supported in part by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

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India: Farmers destroy DuPont’s GM rice trials

India: Farmers destroy DuPont’s GM rice trials

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1. India: Farmers destroy transgenic rice
2. Farmers nix GM rice trials: KRRS activists oppose open-air experiment of DuPont’s rice strains

Farmers destroy GM rice trials by DuPont in India – video:



1. Farmers destroy transgenic rice
Staff Reporter
The Hindu
Nov 18, 2010
http://www.hindu.com/2010/11/18/stories/2010111864270600.htm

BANGALORE: A transgenic rice variety, currently under trials at the Krishi Vignan Kendra of the University of Agriculture Sciences (UAS) in Doddaballapur taluk, near here, was destroyed by farmers on Wednesday.

A group of sickle-wielding farmers, owing allegiance to the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), barged into the 30-acre KVK premises at Hadonahalli, where the hybrid rice Seed Production Technology (SPT) developed by DuPont is undergoing ‘event selection trials’ on a one-acre area, and committed the act.

About 30 activists entered the fenced one-acre area around 8.40 a.m., and destroyed the crop in about an hour’s time before the Doddaballapur Rural police arrested them.

75 p.c. loss

An official at KVK estimated that the farmers destroyed about 75 per cent of the crop. Following the incident, the UAS has decided to destroy the remaining crop and cancel the field trial.

“The UAS has undertaken the trial clandestinely, and farmers in the neighbourhood have been kept in the dark.

“We will not allow field trials of transgenic crops developed by multinational companies in our area,” KRRS leader and veterinarian C.S. Srinivas, told The Hindu. For, there is always a fear of contamination, he said.

The event selection trials have been approved by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee .

According to a Greenpeace activist, SPT technology is a proprietary technology of DuPont that allows increase of large quantities of genetically male sterile female inbred parent seed.

A top UAS official said that the project came to the university through Union Department of Biotechnology for a period of one year, and that the university was only a facilitator and regulator of bio-safety on field.

“It is unfortunate that the incident took place when the paddy was ready for harvesting over the next 7 to 10 days.”

Display boards put up at the field on information about the trials said that the paddy had been sown between July 20 and July 23, and transplanted on August 12.

The duration of the crop is 140 days.

The trial is being monitored by Head, Department of Genetics and Plant Breeding at UAS Shailaja Hittalmani, while N. Rajanna is the Programme Coordinator.

A few farmers owning land in close proximity to the research station also said that they had been asked not to grow paddy during this season.

“I normally grow paddy, but the university authorities asked me not to raise paddy crop this season. We were not told the reason,” N. Srinivas, who owns two acres adjoining the KVK, said and added that the authorities had informed about the possible crossing if he raised paddy during this season.

Meanwhile, vice-president fo the KRRS Venkata Reddy said that the genetically modified rice field trials had major violations and that the local panchayat was not informed. Though the Hadonahalli Gram Panchayat president H.A. Nagaraju acknowledged that information of the field trials had not been given to the panchayat, he, however, said KVK had benefited farmers in the vicinity.

Sixteen farmers who were arrested on charges of trespassing and destruction of property were later released on bail.


2. Farmers nix GM rice trials
KRRS activists oppose open-air experiment of Dupont’s rice strains
Deccan Herald
Doddaballapur, Nov 17, DHNS
http://www.deccanherald.com/content/113755/farmers-nix-gm-rice-trials.html

Hundreds of farmers on Wednesday sent out a strong warning to the multinational seed corporations trying to take control over the country’s seed sector, by stopping the field trial of Dupont’s genetically modified (GM) rice here.

The open-air experimental trial was being conducted at the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), under GKVK by the multinational seed major. Hundreds of farmers from the area, owing allegiance to the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, assembled at the KVK and staged a protest demonstration against the field trials of GM crops.

The trials were recently permitted by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, the nodal agency for GM crop releases in India, at its 103rd meeting held in New Delhi on 29th September, 2010. Dupont, the second largest seed corporation in the world after Monsanto, is developing a GM rice strain using a transgenic seed production technology (SPT), that can be used for commercial hybrid seed production.

“The farmer will oppose any such open releases of GM crops as they are a step towards surrendering our agriculture to US multinational companies who are out to control our seed and thereby our agriculture,” KRRS vice-president Venkata Reddy, who led the protest, declared.

Addressing the farmers, he said GM rice posed a threat to farmers and consumers due to the health and environmental implications it entailed, as borne out by many scientific studies across the world.

Earlier in the year, Bt brinjal, the first GM food crop to reach the commercialisation stage, was put under an indefinite moratorium by the Union Environment Ministry, owing to strong opposition from all sections of society.  Since then, seed companies and their backers in the government have been trying to push for open-air experiments of a variety of GM crops, including GM rice.

Reddy highlighted the major violations in the field trial at the KVK and said no information was given to the local panchayat on the conduct of the trials as required by the existing rules.

“People in the region had been kept in the dark about such dangerous experiments with no information boards placed outside the field trial areas to warn people about the experiment. There was also free access to the trial plot which, in the absence of any a warning, could lead to the seeds going out of the trial region and thereby mixing up and contaminating other regular rice varieties which farmers in the region cultivated,” he said.

Apprehensive of such a threat, the Kerala government had banned any open releases, including experiments, of GM rice, Reddy said and urged the Karnataka government to declare the State GM-free. He also urged public sector research institutions in Karnataka to desist from getting into ventures with MNC seed companies that posed a grave risk to the farmers.

Insecticides from Genetically Modified Corn Found in Adjacent Streams

Monsanto is famous for dumping the byproducts of their chemical and biopiracy enterprise into the backyard of unsuspecting neighborhoods, and ecologies. Take for instance, Anniston Alabama, where Monsanto, whose chemical spin-off is now called Solutia,  dumped millions of tons of PCBS into a land fill near their western Anniston plant.  PCBs contaminate the soil, air, and water. Some residents near the site have PCB contamination in their bodies at levels hundreds of times higher in parts per million (ppm) than the “recommended” non-toxic dose. A series of lawsuits were brought by Anniston residents. One, Owens v. Monsanto settled in April 2001 for $43 million dollars. More recently, Tolbert v. Monsanto Co. et al., and the state court case, Abernathy v. Monsanto Co. settled for 600 million. This is only one small example on an astonishing roster of disasters such as Aspartame, Agent Orange, rBGH, and Bollgard. One only has to only search Monsanto on Wikipedia to find ample examples of their environmental, sociopolitical track record.

Now, the “Cary Institute aquatic ecologist Dr. Emma Rosi-Marshall and colleagues report that streams throughout the Midwestern Corn Belt are receiving insecticidal proteins that originate from adjacent genetically modified crops.”

The tissue of  BT corn,  is  genetically modified to express insecticidal proteins known as Cry1AB. This protein  wards off  European corn borer, a common pest to corn farming. Now the dissolved Cry1Ab protein is showing up in streams and headwaters. What do these proteins do if ingested by frogs, fish, humans….anyone? 

 There have been no long-term studies performed on rats or humans, regarding the effects of BT Cotton before it entered the market, nor after. See the article here:

Insecticides from genetically modified corn found in adjacent streams.

One reason, is that this “technology” is very young, another is that Monsanto is not “required” to do long-term testing before the product enters the market.

In fact, it might interest my readers to note that the FDA doesn’t even require a watch dog “approval” of new GM crops.  From their own website,

“The FDA established an informal process by which firms can inform the Agency that they have completed a food or feed safety assessment. FDA requests that firms submit a summary of their assessment to the Agency. It is our expectation and experience that all firms have complied with this request for all plant varieties that have been commercialized to date. This process has worked well to date and permits the Agency to identify and resolve any safety or regulatory issues before products reach the market.

The Agency encourages developers to consult early in the development phase of their products, and as often as necessary. When a firm has accumulated the information that it believes is adequate to ensure that the product complies with the relevant provisions of the FD&C Act ..”

..it is thus approved to enter the market, where you an I and every living thing, become the guinea pig in a long-term studies.  The burden of proof is only on the company producing the genetically modified organism. 

As critical thinkers, do you see a conflict of interest in allowing a profit motivated multinational to do their own testing of their products? Why would it be in their interest to omit data, or craft data in such away that achieves a favorable final result?  By the way on January 6, 2011 a recorded First Quarter Earnings conference call reveals that Monsanto’s sales have increased 13%. In 2010 Monsanto net sales were 10.50 billion.

Don’t despair. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. So, whose going to push?

Inshallah, KV