Corporate Imperialism – The Only Reason for GMOs
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 23 Nov 2015
“Here’s what I’ll do as President. I’ll immediately implement Country of Origin Labeling because Americans should know where their food comes from. And we’ll let folks know whether their food has been genetically modified because Americans should know what they’re buying,”
— US President Barack Obama
20 Nov 2015 – President Obama’s campaign promise reassured the American people President Obama was on their side, looking out for their basic right to safe food. As his second term comes closer to an end, President Obama’s promise to protect American people from the established and yet-unknown effects of genetically modified food, lies un-fulfilled. What happened between the campaign trail and the taking of office? Did Obama change his mind on the importance of letting Americans know what they are eating? The President’s and the First Family’s food is organic. He has not changed his mind but his window to fulfil his promise of 2007 is closing fast. Or was that window sealed shut as soon as he took office? Is the most powerful person in the world not allowed to safely label the food his country eats, even if he wants to?
President Obama is currently trying to sell the American people on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). In a personal message on Medium.com, President Obama says about TPP:
“In other words, the TPP means that America will write the rules of the road in the 21st century. When it comes to Asia, one of the world’s fastest-growing regions, the rulebook is up for grabs. And if we don’t pass this agreement — if America doesn’t write those rules — then countries like China will. And that would only threaten American jobs and workers and undermine American leadership around the world.”
Asia has some of the oldest, richest cultures of the world. Nothing in Asia is “up for grabs”. Asia was not discovered by the World Trade Organisation – which gave multinational corporations unfettered access to the resources and labour of the global south. It is through the WTO that legal structures of entire countries were undermined and GMOs forced upon them. The TRIPS Agreement of the WTO, which allows patents on life and seeds – not recognised under Indian Law – was due for review in 1999. India, along with African nations, had called for No Patents on Life, and for Biopiracy to be made illegal in WTO and other International laws. Acting on behalf of the Biotechnology/Agrichemical Industry The United States has blocked this review and continues to do so 15 years on.
The Papal Bull of 1493 -Inter Caetera- and the concept of Terra Nullius allowed the Catholic Church, and the Empires of the time, to change the destiny of millions of people and their cultures around the world, by allowing Europe to grab what it wanted from faraway lands. Terra Nullius, Latin, meaning ‘empty lands’ or ‘lands that belong to no one’ was a novel concept. Cultures around the world saw people as belonging to the land, not the land belonging to ‘one’. The TPP, that President Obama is attempting to impose on the American people and people of other sovereign nations, is exactly the same as the Papal Bulls was 600 years ago. Today, however, it’s the corporations who are the Empire. In his encyclical – Laudato Si of 2015 – Pope Francis reminds us that it is we who belong to the land, we are of the earth.
The Empire defined the land it grabbed as Terra Nullius: lands defined as empty and our people not much more than slaves. India, a land rich in biodiversity and renewable natural resources reduced to a source of indigo and cotton to fuel the British Empire. Since then, Monsanto and Cargill have written ‘Papal Bulls’ of their own. The WTO, with the TRIPS Agreement written by Monsanto and the Agreement on Agriculture written by Cargill, was the beginning of a new Corporate Imperialism. This imperialism is articulated by President Obama in suggesting that the resources, economies and markets of Asia – where half of humanity lives – are “up for grabs”.
Trade Agreements like the TPP/TTIP/WTO, written in secret by Industry looking for raw materials, captive markets, lower labour costs and lower taxes, are what make it appear as though the land of South East Asia is “up for grabs” for palm oil plantations to the highest bribe; or that the Great Barrier Reef is just an obstacle on the fastest coal delivery route to China; or that the farmers and food security of India are disposable as long as there is a giant market for chemicals and patented seed. President Obama has a choice for his legacy – whether he protects the people that voted him into office, by blocking the Dark Act and fulfilling his promise, or not. Time, however, does not look to be on his side.
The Biotechnology/Industrial Agriculture sector in India, estimated at ₹ 2,500 crores, is threatened by the Election Manifesto 2014 of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), the only party to make a statement about GMOs in the run up to last year’s general elections. The manifesto stated: “GM foods will not be allowed without full scientific evaluation on the long term effects on soil production and biological impact on consumers”. Prime Minister Modi took office in May 2014. It took Biotech lobbyists less than a month to embarrass the BJP, forcing Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar to clarify that the BJP had not abandoned it’s Manifesto promise. The news of approvals was relentless even though the approvals had not been given by the ministry. This news was primarily spread by Biotech lobbyists. GEAC approvals for GM trials came more than a month after the lobbyist public lies.
Corporate Imperialism is pressurising the BJP to abandon the manifesto that provided them their landslide victory. Governments across the world have been genetically modified from ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ to Zamindars in the Corporate Empire – against the people and nature. Lie after lie is being told by Industry lobbyists, including the lobbyists installed in public institutions (Deepak Pental) to push the Terminator GM Mustard on India. Shrouded in secrecy, like the TPP, the data from the trials of GMO Mustard has not been released – in contempt of the highest legislative body in the country. Not only are the trials illegal, Pental has misused his academic position at Delhi University to further the commercial interests of Bayer and Monsanto at the cost of India’s national security and food security.
Bayer’s Illegal GM Mustard
Proclaimed industry lobbyists as an initiative of the Indian public sector for the benefit of farmers, ‘third party commercial interests’ are being cited, to keep secret the data from Pental’s GM Mustard trials. Pental’s Mustard is Bayer Mustard.
In 2002, Pro-Agro’s (Bayer) application for approval for commercial planting of GM Mustard was rejected. The seeds for this planting had arrived in India, from Belgium, 7 years prior to the application. The barnase/barstar gene system in Bayer’s 2002 GM Mustard is the same as Pental’s GM Mustard. It is a system to create male-sterile plants to prevent pollination, so that virile seeds can’t be made. This is terminator technology because it forces farmers to buy seeds from Bayer every season. It terminates the Seed Freedom and Seed Sovereignty of India’s Mustard farmers. This is an illegal trait according to the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001.
The other transgene – claimed to be a gene for increased yield – is for Glufosinate Resistance. Glufosinate is a herbicide just like Glyphosate (ingredient in Monsanto’s carcinogenic cocktail – RoundUp). Although banned in India, Bayer finds ways to sell Glufosinate, to the tea gardens of Assam and the apple orchards of Himachal Pradesh, illegally. Sales agents show the Glufosinate sales under the ‘other’ category to avoid regulation. These chemicals are finding their way into the bodies of our children without government approval.
Glyphosate is not very popular anymore with more and more countries banning it’s use and it’s health impacts being self evident. Glufosinate, however similar, does not suffer the bad PR of Glyphosate. Liberty Link, the only GMO herbicide tolerant gene other than Roundup Ready on the market, is the second trait in Pental’s ‘Third Party Commercial Interest’ Mustard. This is Bayer Genetically Modified Herbicide Resistant Terminator Mustard, cleverly branded Dhara Mustard Hybrid – 11 to suggest its a ‘desi’ hybrid and hide the fact that it’s Bayer’s patented, herbicide tolerant, terminator technology.
Extensive spraying of RoundUp in the United States and Argentina has left large expanses of land dead. It has also caused the emergence of Superweeds – resistant to RoundUp. Due to it’s failure to control weeds, coupled with a rising food and health rights movement globally, Glyphosate may well be on it’s way out. And along with it, RoundUp Ready seeds. The Glyphosate and genetic pollution will remain in our ecosystems. Bayer’s Herbicide Resistant Liberty Link technology, hidden in Pental’s Mustard as a yield increasing gene that doesn’t increase yield, is licensed to Monsanto.
Monsanto and Bayer have a long history. They made explosives and lethally poisonous gases using shared technologies and sold them to both sides of both the World Wars. Bayer was part of IG Farben, Hitler’s economic power and pre-war Germany’s highest Foreign Exchange earner, with offices in the United States and Switzerland.
Monsanto entered into a joint venture with IG Farben, Hitler’s supplier of Zyklon-B, a cyanide based pesticide used in concentration camps during the holocaust. Zyklon-B was used as evidence in the Nuremberg trials, finding IG Farben guilty of war crimes. Monsanto and Bayer also had a Joint Venture – MOBAY. Mobay supplied ingredients for Agent Orange in the Vietnam War. 20 million gallons of Mobay defoliants and herbicides were sprayed over South Vietnam. Children have been born with birth defects, adults have chronic illnesses and cancers, due to their exposure to Mobay’s chemicals. Monsanto and Bayer’s cross licensed Agent Orange resistance has also been cross developed for decades. Wars were fought, lives were lost, countries carved into holy lands – with artificial boundaries that suit colonisation and resource grab – while Bayer and Monsanto sold chemicals as bombs and poisons.
More recently, according to Monsanto’s website Bayer CropScience AG and Monsanto Co. have “entered into a series of long-term business and licensing agreements related to key enabling agricultural technologies”. This gives Monsanto and Bayer free access to each other’s herbicide and the paired herbicide resistance technology. Through cross licensing agreements like these, mergers and acquisitions, the biotech industry has become the IG Farben of today, with Monsanto in the cockpit. Monsanto’s attempted buy-out of Syngenta would have merely been an accounting and liability-reduction exercise within the much larger conglomerate of Industrial chemical agriculture and biotechnology. There is no competition between Big Ag and Biotech Corporations. In India, even the distribution channels of chemicals, seeds and the credit farmers take to buy these toxics, are the same for Bayer and Monsanto.
Monsanto’s website states the following about the long term agreements:
- Within the framework of these agreements Bayer CropScience will grant Monsanto a royalty bearing, non-exclusive license for its LibertyLink® herbicide tolerance technology for use in corn and soybeans, the two largest field crops in terms of acreage in the United States. The agreements provide Monsanto with an option to market corn and soybean seeds which contain both Monsanto’s Roundup Ready® and Bayer CropScience’s LibertyLink® technologies, which could provide farmers with additional weed management solutions. Monsanto and Bayer CropScience also amended certain existing agreements in the area of herbicide tolerance to provide each other more favorable terms.
- In the area of insect resistance, the two companies have also entered into a royalty-bearing agreement giving Bayer CropScience rights under certain Monsanto intellectual property. In addition, the companies amended other agreements related to insect-protection technologies, including Monsanto’s existing non-exclusive, royalty-bearing license for use of Bayer CropScience’s Dual Bt technology. This enables Monsanto to commercialize products containing multiple insect resistance genes with different modes of action.
- As part of the agreements, Monsanto and Bayer CropScience cross-licensed each other under their respective patent estates for RNAi technology, an important enabling technology for the development of new agricultural products.
Monsanto’s Bt-technology, licensed to Bayer, has failed miserably in India. Cotton crops have been decimated this year because of the failure of Bt-cotton. Farmers in Punjab have lost almost all their crop and the debts of the planting season hang around their necks.
As the Bt Crop was failing, Bayer saw an opportunity. Through questionable means, Bayer persuaded the state of Punjab to buy it’s pesticide ‘Oberon’ as a solution to the White Fly epidemic, selling over 33 crores worth of Oberon to desperate farmers with the aid of the Agriculture Department. The Oberon scam has left the following Bayer-cronies, from the Agriculture Department of Punjab, chargesheeted: Agriculture Director – Mangal Singh Sandhu, Joint Director Agriculture – Balwinder Singh Sohal and the Deputy Director (Cotton) – Parminder Singh. They have been charged under section 420 (cheating), section 409 (criminal breach of trust), 120 B (criminal conspiracy) and under section 13 (2) read with section (13 (1) (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Bayer has not been charged yet.
Monsanto’s Bt and RoundUp Ready technologies are failures. Bayer’s Bt and LibertyLink technologies are not perceived as failures, yet. Allowing the GMO Mustard will allow Bayer’s LibertyLink into the Indian market. Biosafety assessment aside, this will open the floodgates to herbicide tolerant varieties of other crops from other companies which, as we all know, are one giant toxic debt-trap for our farmers. Genetically Modified crops, by design, will lead to more farmer suicides.
Genetically Modified crops are based on farmers varieties. Their yield, resilience and taste have come from centuries of natural breeding by farmers. Plant varieties are constantly evolving, and farmers select the best varieties based on taste, resilience and yield. This continuum allows for better seeds, which give us better plants that provide even better seeds – a cycle that gives us better food. The biotech industry pirates these varieties, adds a toxic gene or a herbicide tolerant gene, and claims ownership. Every year farmers have to buy the same seed from the biotech industry. Then they have to buy the ancillary chemicals that GM seeds need and they have to irrigate, raising input costs astronomically. As the ‘pests’ and ‘weeds’ evolve, the GMO seed doesn’t, eventually succumbing to evolved superpests and superweeds. The farmers are left with no crop to sell and debt from the exorbitantly priced chemical inputs and GMO seeds. GMOs are killing our farmers with this debt trap while MoBay’s cash registers overflow.
The Biotech Industry – the Chemical-Military-Industrial complex of our times – is a singular global entity. They have no concern for what happens to the farmers crop once they have made the sale of their seeds and chemicals. Unless, of course, the farmer hasn’t used their seeds and their seeds have managed to pollute the farmer’s farm – then they sue the farmer! This was the case with Australian organic farmer Steve Marsh, whose field was contaminated by his neighbour’s GM Canola (Mustard family but lacking the medicinal properties of Mustard). The neighbour was later found to have been paid by Monsanto. These are not people interested in feeding a growing number of people on this planet with limited resources.
GM Mustard poses a grave risk of contamination to desi mustard, blocking the option for Indian farmers to cultivate organic desi mustard and earn a much higher price. A 2014 study shows “despite a cultivation and seed import ban of genetically modified (GM) oilseed rape in Switzerland, Monsanto and Bayer’s GM plants have been introduced into the environment there, confirming fears that once the GM genie has been let out of the bottle it can not be put back.” The approval becomes necessary for Monsanto and Bayer because of the contamination they are liable for.
Genetically Modified Mustard, if allowed into the Indian food system, will open the flood gates to Genetically Modified Foods in India. This is why MoBay is counting on GMO Mustard. GMO Mustard is central to MoBay’s future business in India. And GMOs are central to the Corporate Empire. ‘The Gene Revolution’, as Norman Borlaug called it, is a tool of colonisation.
Using the Scarcity of Oilseeds and Pulses Created by Green Revolution Monocultures to Impose GM Mustard
The Green Revolution, a brilliant marketing strategy to keep companies of war in business, was given the Nobel Peace Prize. The war chemicals of IG Farben and Monsanto given a Nobel Prize for Peace? Chemical agriculture has been a failure in every way imaginable. It has left our soils in ruin, left farmers in debt and destroyed 93% of our food diversity.
Borlaug and the first Green Revolution destroyed the diversity on the farms of India. More and more farmers started planting monocultures of Cotton, Rice, Wheat and Sugarcane. India’s productivity and exports of these commodities increased due to the increased cultivation. It did not increase because of the chemical intensive Green Revolution. Production of pulses and oil seeds – like mustard – decreased due to decreased cultivation.
In 2015, we have historically high daal (pulses) prices and high imports. In 1998, the WTO forced India to remove it’s Quantitative Restrictions on agricultural imports, which were necessary for India’s food sovereignty. The removal of these protections allowed for US-subsidised GMO Soya Oil as ‘Edible Oil’ to be dumped into the Indian market – in violation of India’s laws which do not allow the import of GM food, and the required labelling of the imports. The reduction of cultivation of pulses and oilseeds because of the expansion of rice and wheat monocultures, during the Green Revolution, and the spread of GM cotton and Hybrid corn during the second green revolution, has created these price rises. Reduced area under biodiverse ecological farming practices has undermined India’s food security.
Industry is now using the deficit in production of oil seeds to justify the illegal trials of illegal technology. They say Pental’s GMO Mustard will increase mustard yields. This is false. The yield comes from the original planting material used not from the GM transformation. Hybrids produced through non-GM conventional breeding would have the same yield. GM transformations merely introduce tolerance to proprietary toxic herbicides (Ht), make the entire plant toxic (Bt) or create sterile seeds (Terminator). In Dhara, the only traits that have been introduced into the original hybrid are GURT/Terminator and Herbicide Tolerance.
The GMO Mustard trials are shrouded in secrecy because they are illegal, breaking multiple laws. The field trials were not even conducted properly. When questioned about the lapses in execution of the mandated procedure of the trials, Deepak Pental, Director of the project, said “Although I was not personally present at the field trial sites, I do not think the experts in-charge did not follow standard procedures.” Deepak Pental, neither the “expert” nor “in-charge”. The article that quotes Deepak Pental also raises the concerns regarding the observed contamination, which is very high for three small field tests.
Pental’s trials go against the recommendations of the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) of the Supreme Court of India. The TEC has categorically said that there should be no GM in a crop of which India is the centre of diversity, like Mustard. The TEC has also said there should be no Herbicide Tolerant crops introduced in India, because they destroy biodiversity on farms.
Mustard is also India’s most cultivated oilseed, the biggest market, hence the corporate push for commercialisation of GM mustard, hiding behind public institutions. GM Mustard, like Bt-Cotton has been, will be a noose around the necks of India’s farmers. But unlike Bt-Cotton, it will also be a noose around the neck of everyone Indian who eats mustard in any form, any Indian.
The Corporate Empire is attempting to cement it’s grip on India. Every empire has met it’s end when the people have risen to crush it. Gandhi resisted the British Empire with the spinning wheel on one hand, and satyagraha and boycott on the other. GMOs are central to this PetroChemical Empire, the people are rising against this empire as well. Thousands of farmers in India have made a commitment to save and grow their desi mustard and boycott GM mustard if it is approved.
The Government of India (especially Prime Minister Modi) has an opportunity to protect our nation from this new Raj; to fulfil the promises of the BJP Manifesto; uphold, rather than undermine Bija Swaraj and Anna Swaraj; and defend the freedom of our farmers and of India. Protecting India from this Corporate Empire is true nationalism.
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TRANSCEND Member Prof. Vandana Shiva is a physicist, ecofeminist, philosopher, activist, and author of more than 20 books and 500 papers. She is the founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and has campaigned for biodiversity, conservation and farmers’ rights, winning the Right Livelihood Award [Alternative Nobel Prize] in 1993. She is executive director of the Navdanya Trust.
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