Indian Food And Agriculture Under Attack – Monsanto And The Mustard Seed

Indian Food and Agriculture Under Attack

H/t reader squodgy:

“Seems Monsatan has been part of John Perkins’ Hitmen Group for decades…

Monsanto and the Mustard Seed By Vandana Shiva

(Article in full down below.)

And they’re still at it, destroying economies, cultures, health…who needs war when Monsatan’s about?

Indian Food and Agriculture Under Attack

In 2013, India’s former Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar accused US companies of derailing the nation’s oilseeds production programme. Similar claims had been made before. For instance, we could revisit the 1998 mustard oil tragedy. At the time, Rajasthan Oil Industries Association claimed that a “conspiracy” was being hatched to undermine the mustard oil trade and charged that the “invisible hands of the multinationals” were involved (see the article ‘Monsanto and the Mustard Seed’).

India was almost self-sufficient in edible oils by the mid-1990s. Its farmers met 97% of domestic need. However, its edible oil import bill has increased dramatically since then. By 2013, India was the world’s second biggest importer of edible oils. Food and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma notes that between 2006-07 and 2011-12 alone edible oil imports rose by 380%.

Sharma asserts self-sufficiency was not palatable to international financial institutions, and that, under pressure from the World Bank, India began to reduce the import tariffs on edible oils and imports then began to increase. The impact has been felt by millions of farmers. Instead of paying Indonesian, Malaysian, American and Brazilian farmers from where India imports edible oils, he argues the effort should be to support domestic farmers.

India meets more than half its cooking oil requirements through imports, with palm oil shipped from Indonesia and Malaysia and soybean oil from the US, Brazil and Argentina. Notwithstanding the environmental damage resulting from industrial-size mono-crop plantations (see this on palm oil in Indonesia and this on soy in Brazil), soybean imports are expected to grow even more and further threaten domestic cultivation.

In an editorial piece for Kisan Ki Awaaz (National Voice of the Farmers) in November 2015, Kishan Bir Chaudhary highlights the trend to undermine indigenous production by noting the move to completely wipe out India’s soybean cultivation. The large-scale import of soybean meal is being contemplated at cheap prices from South America, China and USA, which would flood the Indian market. This is despite there being a more than adequate quantity of soybean meal available from locally produced soybean.

Currently, the import of soybean meal is freely permitted, with a low customs duty. Soybean prices in the exporting countries are between 30% to 40% lower because of huge subsidies. This could leave few outlets for indigenous production.

Although current laws do not permit the import of any GMO-based food or feed item into India, the fear is importers may ship in GMO soybean and soybean meal at cheap rates, which will get cleared at ports without testing for the presence of GMOs.

Chaudhary notes India’s soybean farmers are under pressure due to: the import of GM cheap soybean meal; a clamour for the import of soybean itself; the discouragement of soy cultivation by political leaders; and the active involvement of foreign seed and pesticide companies in promoting GM Soy cultivation.

He calls for an immediate ban on soybean imports as well as for customs officers to uphold the law of the land with regard to prohibiting the import of GMOs by carrying out proper checks in government laboratories.

With risks of GM entering India via imports clear, we are also currently witnessing the push to get GM mustard (and other crops) commercialised and grown in Indian fields. The justification being put forward for this if that GM mustard is a high-yielding crop, but, more importantly, it would diminish the reliance on edible oil imports.

These arguments are little more than smokescreens to divert attention from 1) the actual reality of increased import costs and the associated running down of indigenous agriculture, which stem from trade policies driven by the vested interests of global agribusiness, and 2) myths about the efficacy of GM. Such Trojan horse logic is being used to ease the entry of GMOs into India.

And such entry is at risk of being done by by-passing proper processes and procedures in what Aruna Rodrigues calls a case of “unremitting fraud” and by side-lining four high-level reports advising against the adoption of these crops in India (the ‘Jairam Ramesh Report’ of February 2010, imposing an indefinite moratorium on Bt Brinjal; the ‘Sopory Committee Report’ [August 2012]; the ‘Parliamentary Standing Committee’ [PSC] Report on GM crops [August 2012]; and the ‘Technical Expert Committee [TEC] Final Report’ [June-July 2013]).

As far as the claim GM producing better yields, Devinder Sharma points out that in the US, crop yields of GM soy have been found 4% to 20% less than non-GM varieties. Whether it concerns soy, mustard or just about any other GM crop, the claims that GM produces increased yields is a myth.

“If GM cannot increase yields even in the US, where high-input, irrigated, heavily subsidized commodity farming is the norm, it is irresponsible to assume that it would improve yields in the Global South, where farmers may literally bet their farms and livelihoods on a crop.”

The above quote is from the report GMO Myths and Truths, which provides evidence in support of Sharma’s claims.

And farmers have indeed ‘bet’ their farms and livelihoods on a crop – and have lost (see this report from India’s The Statesman newspaper) or are being taken for a ride (see this on GM cotton, illegal royalties and financial distress).

Where, therefore, is the logic in promoting GM varieties which produce less than existing improved varieties that are not genetically modified?

Improving production should not be based on a supposed GM techno quick-fix, which the pro-GMO lobby would like us to believe in. The answer lies in adopting appropriate trade policies that favour indigenous production and local farmers and which, as Devinder Sharma notes, provides assured procurement and assured prices to farmers.

The fact that GM is not wanted or required, leads us to question why GMOs are being forced into the country (and are in fact already being consumed in terms of cotton seed oil). But it doesn’t take a genius as to why this might be.

Rajesh Krishnan, Convenor of Coalition for a GM-Free India argues that GM mustard is a backdoor entry for various other GM crops in the regulatory pipeline.

He adds:

“GM mustard hybrid has been created mainly to facilitate the seed production work of seed manufacturers whereas farmers already have a choice of non-GM mustard hybrids in the market, in addition to high yielding non hybrid mustard varieties. There are non-GM agro-ecological options like System of Mustard Intensification yielding far higher production than the claimed yields of this GM mustard… This is clearly one more GMO that is unwanted and unneeded and is being thrust on citizens in violation of our right to choices, as farmers and consumers.”

Little wonder then that most state governments have been unwilling to take up field trials.

From research institutesregulatory agencies and decision-making bodies riddled with conflicts of interests to strings-attached trade deals and nuclear agreements and pressure from the World Bank, the answer to why India is trying to pursue the global agribusiness-backed GM route is plain to see.

* * *

Monsanto and the Mustard Seed:

The Monsanto Roundup–The ‘Mustard Oil Conspiracy’

By Vandana Shiva

India–In July 1998, protests erupted across India when the government announced plans to import 1 million tons of US soybeans to be used as oil seeds. Critics complained that there was no guarantee that these shipments would not be contaminated with genetically engineered (GE) soybeans. Besides, the Agriculture Ministry argued, the imports were unnecessary: India already had an abundant source of edible oils right here at home–mustard seed oil.

“Sarson” (mustard) is central to our Indian culture. The yellow mustard flower is the symbol of spring. Songs on the theme of sarson are an integral part of folk culture. Mustard oil is the olive oil of Bihar, Bengal, Orissa and East Uttar Pradesh and is used for flavoring and cooking.

Mustard is not just an edible oil. It is an important medicine in the indigenous Ayurvedic system of healthcare. It is used for therapeutic massages, muscular and joint problems. Oil with garlic and turmeric is used for rheumatism and joint pains. Mustard oil is also used as a mosquito repellent.

Mustard seed can be processed locally, making it available to the poor at low cost. It is an integral part of India’s food economy, having been integrated into cropping patterns over the centuries. Clearly, as long as India had mustard seed, there was no market for US soybeans.

The “Mustard Oil Tragedy”

In early August an unparalleled mass-poisoning tragedy began to unfold in Delhi. The authorities determined the illnesses were caused by the adulteration of mustard oil with seeds of a weed called Argemone mexicana–as well as diesel oil and industrial wastes.

The symptoms included swelling of the feet, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal swelling, liver toxicity, kidney damage, breathlessness due to retention of fluids in the lungs and death due to heart failure. By early September, the official death toll was 41, and 2,300 people had been affected.

On August 27, 1998 the government announced that it was banning the sale of mustard seed oil. It simultaneously announced a policy to import foreign soybeans free of protective trade tariffs. The justification was the mustard oil tragedy.

On September 4, the government banned the sale of all unpackaged edible oils, thus ensuring that all household and community level processing of edible oils was stopped. With this edict, edible oil became fully industrialized. This in effect was the total destruction of the food culture of India and the food economy of the poor who depend on unpackaged oil since it is cheaper and they can buy it in small quantities.

Who Gains, Who Loses?

When a crime takes place, the first question asked is who has a motive? Who could gain from the crime?

The mustard oil tragedy is unlike any other. First, while typical cases of adulteration are restricted to particular, local brands and remote, marginalized regions, the mustard oil tragedy simultaneously affected nearly all brands and India’s capital, Delhi, was the worst-affected region.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan stated the mass-poisoning would have been impossible without an organized conspiracy. The adulteration was intended to kill people conspicuously. The Rajasthan Oil Industries Association claimed that a “conspiracy” was being hatched to undermine the mustard oil trade and charged that the “invisible hands of the multinationals” were involved.

The mustard oil tragedy forced India to import soybeans that could be contaminated with GE soy. The soybeans, engineered by Monsanto Corp., contain a bacterial gene that confers tolerance to Monsanto’s herbicide Round up. These soybeans were not genetically engineered to produce better taste or bigger yields: the sole purpose of Round up Ready Soy is to sell more chemicals for seeds tailored to survive Monsanto’s chemicals.

Because the US has been unable to sell its soy to Europe (owing to consumer rejection of GE soybeans and a demand for labeling all GE foods) the US is desperate to dump its GE soy on countries like India. The mustard oil tragedy thus served as a perfect “market opening” for US agribusiness corporations. Now they can make us completely dependent on their soybeans for our edible oil requirements.

If traders cannot sell mustard oil, they will not buy mustard from farmers, and farmers will stop growing mustard. This will lead to the extinction of a crop that is central to our farming system and food culture. Ironically, Calgene (now owned by Monsanto) has patented the Indian brassica mustard seed. Therefore we could find ourselves dependent on Monsanto’s patented mustard seeds.

In effect, the free import of oilseeds sounds a death knell for the entire domestic edible-oil industry.

Gene Games: A Bad Mix

Genetic engineering is a new kind of food adulteration that takes place at the genetic level and is hence invisible. Genetic engineering allows food adulteration to be done internally by introducing genes for toxins from bacteria, viruses and animals into crops. Genetic engineering is adulterating foods with toxins from rats and scorpions. The new “Verminator” technology uses genes for toxins from rats.

Health professionals are concerned that the mass consumption of GE foods could make treating infections more difficult because most GE foods contain antibiotic-resistant genes. Further, foreign viruses and bacteria from genes introduced into GE foods could interact with bacteria and viruses in our bodies to create “super viruses.”

Since genetically engineered foods use genes from animals and microorganisms, this can also violate the ethical and religious principles of Jews and Muslims who need to avoid foods with substances from specific animals, or of vegetarians who want to avoid substances from any animal. Mixing animal and plant genes should be totally banned both for health reasons and ethical reasons.

Products derived from genetic engineering should carry a label stating that they are made from GE crops. New invisible forms of “food adulteration” and biological pollution should be subjected to specific safety tests so consumers can be provided safe food that is free of GE hazards.

In the aftermath of the mustard oil tragedy, the Pure Food Campaign has begun to conserve and propagate indigenous oil seed crops in all their diversity. The Pure Food Campaign will promote the consumption of chemical-free, GE-free, unadulterated, pure organic foods.

Domestic mustard oil processing and distribution should be carried out with full safeguards so that the ban can be lifted and consumer confidence can be rebuilt. The government must announce a high purchase price for domestic mustard to ensure that the ban does not have a lasting negative impact on our farmers.

Vandana Shiva is director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in New Delhi, India and the author of Stolen Harvest.

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