Owing seeds of discontent: on BRAI bill

http://www.hindustantimes.com/editorial-views-on/Edits/Owing-seeds-of-discontent/Article1-919795.aspx

The UPA government has confirmed its disdain for agriculture by insisting on introducing the Bio-technology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, 2012. The Bill has faced opposition in every session since the monsoon session of 2011 when it was first scheduled for introduction since it plans to provide a single-window clearance to Genetically Modified (GM) crops.

Despite the moratorium on Bt Brinjal, there have been many attempts to cast aside concerns on GM crops and it is clear that the regulatory system proposed within the Bill is one such effort. An analysis of the Bill reveals its real intent to blatantly defend the interests of agri-businesses by promoting this technology with very limited checks.

The Bill also sidesteps the precautionary approach laid down by the Cartagena Protocol on bio-safety for national laws to regulate GMOs. While the preamble of the Bill claims that it adheres to the principles of bio-safety, an in-depth reading proves that it does not follow the protocol in letter and spirit. There is a clear conflict of interest in the Bill: it is championed by the ministry of science and technology, which is at the forefront of promoting GM crops and has also made significant investments to do the same.

One of the main reasons why Jairam Ramesh, the former minister for environment and forests, put a moratorium on Bt Brinjal was the lack of long-term bio-safety assessment studies. But the BRAI proposals have no provision for independent long-term bio-safety assessments, making this proposed regulatory system no better than the existing Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) mechanism. The BRAI Bill also has no provision for the people to raise their concerns at different points of decision-making, which makes it undemocratic. Worse, the Bill goes a step further to override the Right to Information Act by making the BRAI the final authority to decide whether any information, including bio-safety studies, need to be made public.

Given the nature of damage that can be caused by GMOs, the liability should be high enough to act as a deterrent. The Bill states that the penalty for an unauthorised field trial will be imprisonment of not less than six months and a fine of R2 lakh. This is negligible considering the potential harm field trials could cause. The standard of liability laid down by this Bill is also not in conformity with the law laid down by the Supreme Court on the issue of absolute liability for hazardous activity. Furthermore, the Bill does not conform to the polluter pays principle laid down by the Supreme Court.

The BRAI proposal takes away the power of states to decide on open releases of GM crops in the name of experiments. Given that agriculture and public health are subjects under the state list and since the open release of GM crops poses a threat to both, taking away the powers of the states on this is in breach of the Constitution’s federal structure.

It is high time that the government listened to the legitimate concerns being raised on GM crops and the BRAI Bill, and ensured that such anti-people laws are not brought to Parliament. The BRAI proposal should undergo a pre-legislative consultation to suitably amend the provisions of the Bill.

Bhupender Yadav is a Rajya Sabha MP and a lawyer. The views expressed by the author are personal.

దిగుబడులకు బీటీ దెబ్బ: జి.వి. రామాంజనేయులు

http://www.andhrajyothy.com/EditorialShow.asp?qry=2012/aug/26/edit/26edit3&more=2012/aug/26/edit/editpagemain1&date=8/26/2012

ముఖాముఖి

జన్యుమార్పిడి పంటలపై మరిన్ని పరిశోధనలు, సరైన నియంత్రణ వ్యవస్థ లేకుండా ఫీల్డ్ ట్రయల్స్‌కు అనుమతించకూడదని పార్లమెంటరీ స్థాయీ సంఘం చేసిన సిఫార్సులపై దేశవ్యాప్తంగా చర్చ జరుగుతోంది. ఈ నేపథ్యంలో జన్యు మార్పిడి పంటలకు సంబంధించిన అంశాలపై పరిశ్రమవర్గాలు చెబుతున్న దానికి, పరిశోధనలలో తేలుతున్న నిజాలకు మధ్య చాలా వ్యత్యాసం కనిపిస్తుంది. ఈ నేపథ్యంలో జన్యుమార్పిడి పంటలకు సంబంధించిన వాస్తవాలు, భ్రమలపై అధ్యయనం చేస్తున్న ‘సెంటర్ ఫర్ సస్టేయనబుల్ అగ్రికల్చరల్’ సంస్థ ఎగ్జిక్యూటివ్ డైరక్టర్ జి.వి. రామాంజనేయులుతో ఈ వారం ముఖాముఖి..

బీటీ విత్తనాల వల్ల అనేక ప్రయోజనాలు ఉన్నాయని కంపెనీలు ప్రచారం చేస్తున్నాయి. కాని పరిశోధనలలో తేలుతున్న నిజాలు వేరే విధంగా ఉంటున్నాయి..?
బీటీ విత్తనాలు కరువు పరిస్థితులను కూడా తట్టుకొని నిలబడతాయని.. దిగుబడి ఎక్కువ వస్తుందని.. ఈ పంటలకు కలుపు మందులు వేయాల్సిన అవసరం లేదని.. పురుగులు ఎక్కువ రావనే ప్రచారం జరుగుతోంది. కాని ఈ ప్రచారం నిజం కాదు. బీటీ విత్తనాల వల్ల దిగుబడి బాగా పెరిగిందనేది పూర్తి అవాస్తవం. ఉదాహరణకు బీటీ పత్తిని తీసుకుందాం.

2001 నుంచి 2005 దాకా మన దేశంలో పత్తి దిగుబడి 78 శాతం పెరిగింది. దీనిలో కేవలం ఆరు శాతం విస్తీర్ణంలో మాత్రమే బీటీ విత్తనాలను వేశారు. ఇదే విధంగా 2006-11 సంవత్సరాల మధ్య చూస్తే- మొత్తం విస్తీర్ణం 80 శాతం పెరిగితే- దానిలో దిగుబడి రెండు శాతం పెరిగింది. ఈ రెండింటి «ఆధారంగా చూస్తే దిగుబడి పెరగటానికి బీటీ విత్తనాలు మాత్రమే కారణం కాదని అర్థమవుతుంది. అదనంగా సాగు కిందకు వచ్చిన భూమి పెరగటం మొదలైన ఇతర కారణాలు చాలా ఉన్నాయి.

వాస్తవానికి ప్రపంచవ్యాప్తంగా బీటీ విత్తనాలు వేసిన ప్రాంతాల్లో దిగుబడులు తగ్గిపోతున్నాయి. ఇక బీటీ విత్తనాలు పురుగులను తట్టుకుంటాయని చేస్తున్న వాదనలో కూడా నిజం లేదు. పురుగులు బీటీ విత్తనాలను తట్టుకొనే శక్తిని పెంచుకున్నాయి. మన ఆంధ్రప్రదేశ్ ఉదాహరణనే తీసుకుంటే- గులాబీ రంగు తొలిచే పురుగును బీటీ పత్తి విత్తనాలు తట్టుకోలేకపోతున్నాయని మోన్‌శాంటోనే ప్రకటించింది. ఇదే విధంగా బీటీ విత్తనాలు కాయి తొలిచే పురుగులను కూడా తట్టుకోలేకపోతున్నాయి.

బీటీ పత్తికి సంబంధించి కంపెనీలు గుజరాత్‌ను ఒక రోల్ మోడల్‌గా ప్రచారం చేస్తూ ఉంటాయి. గుజరాత్‌లో నిజంగానే బీటీ పత్తి విజయం సాధించిందా?
గుజరాత్ ప్రభుత్వ నివేదికల ఆధారం చూస్తే పత్తి సాగు చేసే ప్రాంతం దాదాపు 45 శాతం పెరిగింది. అదనంగా సాగులోకి వచ్చిన ప్రాంతం 43 శాతం పెరిగింది. వీటికి తోడుగా హైబ్రీడ్ పత్తి వేసిన ప్రాంతం కూడా పెరిగింది. ఈ కారణాల వల్ల గుజరాత్‌లో దిగుబడి పెరిగింది తప్ప- బీటీ విత్తనాల వల్ల మాత్రమే కాదు. ఇక్కడ మనం ఒక విషయాన్ని తప్పకుండా చెప్పుకోవాలి. చాలా సార్లు జన్యు మార్పిడి పంటల వల్ల కలిగే ప్రయోజనాలను ప్రచారం చేసేవారు- తమ వద్ద ఉన్న సమాచారాన్ని పూర్తిగా అందించరు. తమకు అనుకూలంగా కనిపించే కొంత సమాచారాన్ని ఇస్తారు. దీనిని చూస్తే- అంతా సజావుగా ఉన్నట్లు అనిపిస్తుంది. కాని ఇది నిజం కాదు.

బీటీ వంకాయ ఫీల్డ్ ట్రయల్స్‌కు సంబంధించి పెద్ద వివాదం నడుస్తోంది కదా. దీని వెనకున్న కథ ఏమిటి?
బీటీ వంకాయ విత్తనాల వల్ల కలిగే దుష్ఫరిమాణాలను జాగ్రత్తగా అధ్యయనం చేయకుండా అనుమతించవద్దని ప్రభుత్వం ఏర్పాటు చేసిన నిపుణుల కమిటీ సిఫార్సు చేసింది. ఆంధ్రప్రదేశ్‌తో సహా పది రాష్ట్రాలు బీటీ వంకాయ ఫీల్డ్ ట్రయల్స్‌ను అనుమతించబోమని ప్రకటించాయి. అయితే మనం ఇక్కడ ఒక విషయాన్ని గమనించాలి. జన్యు మార్పిడి పంటల వల్ల వచ్చే లాభనష్టాలను సమీక్షించటానికి మన దగ్గర సరైన నియంత్రణా వ్యవస్థ లేదు. ఉదాహరణకు బీటీ పత్తినే తీసుకుందాం. దీని లాభనష్టాలను 2005లో చివరి సారి సమీక్షించారు. ఆ తర్వాత ఎప్పుడూ మళ్లీ సమీక్ష జరగలేదు.

బీటీ పత్తి వల్ల అనేక దుష్ఫరిణామాలు ఏర్పడుతున్నాయని ఈ లోపులో అనేక పరిశోధనలు వచ్చాయి. ఉదాహరణకు వరంగల్ జిల్లాలో బీటీ పత్తి ఆకులు తిని పశువులు మరణించాయని కొన్ని పరిశోధనలు చెబుతున్నాయి. ఇలాంటి వాటిని ప్రభుత్వం వెంటనే పరిగణనలోకి తీసుకోవాలి. చాలా సార్లు ప్రభుత్వం ఈ చర్యలు తీసుకోదు. పైగా జన్యుమార్పిడి పంటలపై పరిశోధనలకు పెద్ద ఎత్తున నిధులను కేటాయించి, తామే పరిశోధనలు చేస్తామని ప్రకటిస్తోంది కూడా. ఈ మొత్తం వ్యవహారం వెనక పెద్ద పెద్ద కంపెనీల లాబీయింగ్ కూడా ఉంటుంది.

మన కన్నా ముందే కొన్ని దేశాలలో జన్యు మార్పిడి పంటల పరిజ్ఞానం ప్రవేశించింది కదా. వారి అనుభవాలేమిటి?
ప్రపంచంలో పన్నెండు దేశాల్లో మాత్రమే జన్యు మార్పిడి పంటలను వేస్తున్నారు. వారి అనుభవాలు కూడా అంత సంతృప్తికరంగా లేవు. అమెరికాలో తాజాగా చేసిన పరిశోధనలలో- ఈ పంటల వల్ల దిగుబడి బాగా తగ్గుతోందని తేలింది. అంతే కాకుండా ఈ పంటలను తట్టుకొనే చీడ పురుగులు తయారయ్యాయి. వీటిని సూపర్ వీడ్స్ అని పిలుస్తున్నారు.

దీనికి తోడు పేటెంట్స్ పేరిట మొత్తం విత్తన మార్కెట్ అంతా కొన్ని కంపెనీల చేతిలోకి వెళ్లిపోతుంది. ఈ ప్రక్రియ మన దేశంలో కూడా ప్రారంభమయింది. ఉదాహరణకు మన దేశంలో బీటీ పత్తి విత్తన మార్కెట్‌లో 98 శాతం మాన్‌శాంటో చేతిలోనే ఉంది. ఇక్కడ ఇంకో ఆశ్చర్యం కలిగించే విషయాన్ని చెబుతాను. బీటీ విత్తనాలకు సంబంధించిన అంశాలలో కంపెనీని ప్రభుత్వం నియంత్రించాలి. కాని పరిస్థితి ఆ విధంగా లేదు. చాలా సార్లు కంపెనీయే ప్రభుత్వంపై కేసులు పెట్టింది.

ఈ పరిస్థితిని చక్కదిద్దటానికి ఉన్న మార్గాలేమిటి?
ప్రత్యామ్నాయ వ్యవసాయ పద్ధతులపై ప్రభుత్వం శ్రద్ధ చూపించాలి. పరిశోధనలకు నిధులను కేటాయించాలి. పరిశోధనాశాలలకు అవసరమైన మౌలిక వసతులు కల్పించాలి. వీటిన్నింటితో పాటుగా నియంత్రణ వ్యవస్థను కట్టుదిట్టం చేయాలి. ఈ విత్తనాలకు సంబంధించిన అంశాలలో కొందరిని బాధ్యులను చేయాలి. ప్రస్తుతం ఈ పద్ధతి లేకపోవటం వల్ల ఇటు ప్రభుత్వం కాని, ఈ విత్తనాలను అనుమతించిన రెగ్యులేటర్ కాని, తయారు చేసిన కంపెనీ కాని బాధ్యత తీసుకోవటం లేదు. దీని వల్ల సామాన్య రైతులు నష్టపోతున్నారు.
– ఇంటర్వ్యూ : సి.వి.ఎల్.ఎన్. ప్రసాద్

GM crops are no way forward

Satyarat Chaturvedi

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article3812825.ece?css=print

Food security is not about production alone; it is also about bio-safety, and access to food for the poorest

We are predominantly an agricultural economy, with the agricultural sector providing employment and subsistence to almost 70 per cent of the workforce. There have been some remarkable contributions from the agriculture sector to food grain production in the last six decades, when from a meagre 50 million tonnes in the 1950s, the country has been able to produce a record 241 million tonnes in 2010-2011. Despite these achievements, the condition of the farming community is pitiable considering that 70 per cent of our farmers are small and marginal, and there is a complete absence of pro-farmer/pro-agriculture policies which has led us to an environment of very severe agrarian distress.

Pros and cons

In this situation, food security has been one of the main agendas of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government and also one that the government has been struggling with. There is a strong opinion among policymakers that biotechnology holds a lot of promise in achieving food security and that transgenic crops, especially, are a sustainable way forward. But given the opposition and controversies surrounding Genetically Modified (GM) crops and the differences of opinion among stakeholders, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture decided to take on the mammoth task of an objective assessment of the pros and cons of introducing GM crops.

We expect the observations in our report to answer the big question on the role of GM crops in achieving food security. We hope the recommendations will be acted upon at the earliest. The committee felt this was all the more necessary in the light of the Prime Minister’s exhortation at the Indian Science Congress about the full utilisation of modern biotechnology for ensuring food security but without compromising on safety and regulatory aspects.

The lessons

In India, the only commercialised GM crop is Bt cotton. Industry and the Central government have painted a picture of success about it — saying it has led to an increase in production and that the costs of cultivation have gone down. But the ground reality is starkly different. This was evident during the extensive interactions of the committee with farmers in different cotton growing regions around the country during study visits in March 2012.

Besides analysing the facts and figures provided by government agencies and listening to eminent cotton scientists, the committee’s consultation with farmers in Vidharbha helped us conclude that the Bt cotton saga is not as rosy as made out to be. In Vidharbha, the per-acre investment in cultivating traditional varieties, or even pre-Bt hybrids, could be less than Rs. 10,000. That was certainly the case until the first half of the previous decade. But for Bt cotton, even the un-irrigated farmer is spending upwards of Rs. 15,000-18,000 or even more per acre. And irrigated farmers complain of input costs exceeding Rs. 45,000 per acre. While the investment and acreage rose dramatically, the per acre yield and income did not increase in equal measure and actually fell after initial years. Indeed, the Union Agriculture Minister spoke of Vidharbha’s dismal yields on December 19, 2011 in the Rajya Sabha.

It was clear that at least for the rain-fed cotton farmers of our country, the introduction of Bt cotton offered no socio-economic benefits. On the contrary, it being a capital intensive practice, the investment of farmers increased manifold thus exposing them to greater risks due to massive indebtedness. It needs to be remembered that rain-fed farmers constitute 85 per cent of all cotton growing farmers.

Added to this, there is desperation among farmers as introduction of Bt cotton has slowly led to the non-availability of traditional varieties of cotton. The cultivation of GM crops also leads to monoculture and the committee has witnessed its clear disadvantages. The decade of experience has shown that Bt cotton has benefited the seed industry hands down and not benefited the poorest of farmers. It has actually aggravated the agrarian distress and farmer suicides. This should be a clear message to policymakers on the impact of GM crops on farming and livelihoods associated with it.

The risks

From the various deliberations to which the committee was privy, it is clear that the technology of genetic engineering is an evolving one and there is much, especially on its impact on human health and environment, that is yet to be understood properly. The scientific community itself seems uncertain about this. While there are many in this community who feel that the benefits outweigh the risks, others point to the irreversibility of this technology and uncontrollability of the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) once introduced in the ecosystem. Hence, they advocate a precautionary approach towards any open release of GMOs.

One of the concerns raised strongly by those opposing GM crops in India is that many important crops like rice, brinjal, and mustard, among others, originated here, and introducing genetically modified versions of these crops could be a major threat to the vast number of domestic and wild varieties of these crops. In fact, globally, there is a clear view that GM crops must not be introduced in centres of origin and diversity. India also has mega biodiversity hotspots like the Eastern Himalayas and the Western Ghats which are rich in biodiversity yet ecologically very sensitive. Hence it will only be prudent for us to be careful before we jump on to the bandwagon of any technology.

The committee’s findings on the GEAC-led regulatory system for GM crops show that it has a pro-Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and pro-industry tilt. It has also come under the scanner due to its inefficiency at the time of Bt Brinjal approval and for behaving like a promoter of GM crops rather than a regulatory body mandated to protect human health and environment from the risks of biotechnology. The DBT, whose mandate is to promote GM crops and fund various transgenics research, has a nominee as the co-chair of the GEAC, who gives the final approval for environmental and commercial release of GM crops.

The current regulatory system is shameful and calls for a complete makeover. While the government has been toying recently with the idea of a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority, the committee dismisses this and instead recommends an all-encompassing Biosafety Authority. While the committee has also evaluated international regulatory systems on GM crops, it recommends the Norwegian Gene Technology Act whose primary focus is bio-safety and sustainable development without adverse effects on health and environment, as a piece of legislation in the right direction for regulating GM crops in India.

The committee strongly believes that the problem today is in no measure comparable to the ship-to-mouth situation of the early 1960s. Policy and decision-makers must note that the total food grain production rose from 197 million tonnes in 2000-2001 to 241 million tonnes in 2010-11. A major argument by the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation before the committee in favour of GM crops was their potential to ensure the country’s food security. But the issue of food security is not about production alone; it also means access to food for the poorest. Moreover, there is no evidence as yet that GM crops can actually increase yields.

The committee, therefore, recommended the government come up with a fresh road map for ensuring food security in the coming years without jeopardising the vast biodiversity of the country and compromising with the safety of human and livestock health.

The committee unanimously feels that the government should take decisive action on the recommendations of this report and rethink its decision of introducing transgenics in agriculture as a sustainable way forward.

(Satyarat Chaturvedi is spokesperson, Indian National Congress, and member of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture)

 

Crops, Cancer And Climate Change: The Corporate Hijack Of Science

By Colin Todhunter

http://www.countercurrents.org/todhunter200812.htm
20 August, 2012
Countercurrents.org

When rich companies with well-positioned, politically-connected lobbyists fund their own research and distort outcomes for their own ends, like some giant pharmaceutical company tinkering with our food or using poisonous pesticide, we are in serious trouble. Due to the corporate takeover of science, our rights and freedoms are currently in the process of being destroyed.

In a genuine ‘age of reason,’ science would provide clear answers to issues and the public would be able to engage in open, honest debate over the rights and wrongs of policies. Instead, corporate interests have used their junk science and PR machines to muddy the waters and engage in fear-mongering so that public debate has too often become distorted and campaigns of deliberate misinformation have become commonplace.

‘Scientific’ debate is now often played out in full public glare and acrimony has become the norm, particularly when someone’s huge profits are threatened. Corporate greed leads to debate being stifled whereby scientists and various groups who do not support particular corporate stances are made to look like they are the ones who are pushing dogma based on self-interest and not the other war around.

No wonder, therefore, that the public is sometimes left feeling confused. Even when the weight of credible scientific evidence is overwhelming, powerful companies are highly skilled in creating ambiguity and controversy through their spin machines. Think back to how the tobacco companies set out to fool the public. Of course, having access to huge funds helps.

ExxonMobil gave $2.9m to US groups that were set up to misinform the public about climate change, and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) reportedly offered scientists money to publish articles critical of the International Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 climate change study. The AEI had received more than $1.6m from Exxon. A couple of years ago, Greenpeace revealed that the American Petroleum Institute, which includes oil giants ExxonMobil, Shell and BP, had encouraged its members to send employees to rallies against a climate change Bill that required large utilities to use greater renewable energy sources.

The aim of such campaigns is to deceive the public by giving the impression of serious scientific doubt coupled with popular dissent over proposed policies. Money talks. The public listens.

Another tactic used to sway public opinion involves big companies trying to whip up the belief there is some kind of conspiracy or unscrupulous group that is working against them and, by implication, the population in general — because, as we all know, these poor victimized rich corporations have our common interests at heart!

Those who say that global warming is taking place, for instance, or that GMOs pose a danger, are dismissed as having an ideological axe to grind against those corporations that want to keep on burning fossil fuels, controlling the world food supply and raking in massive profits — all for the benefit of humankind you understand.

Lazy journalism, corporate backed internet bloggers or those with an agenda in the media also contribute to the process. Stories can be twisted any which way and two newspapers can slant the same evidence to produce entirely different takes. Propaganda masquerades as ‘serious’ journalism, and ‘experts’ from well-funded corporate backed think-tanks are wheeled onto our screens to put forward points of view based on methodologically unsound junk science. Too often, science is a football to be kicked around and a victim of corporations that have scant regard for the public interest.

If corporate ideology fails, however, it’s always nice to know that there is good old fashioned bullying to rely on. For example, a WikiLeaks cable highlighted how Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) were being forced into European nations by the US ambassador to France who plotted with other US officials to create a ‘retaliatory target list’ of anyone who tried to regulate GMOs.

The corporate takeover of science has led to many terrible but highly profitable practices. The issue goes far beyond the advertising industry referring to dodgy science to con the public into buying an anti-aging cream, a fat reducing food supplement or a wonder-beauty product. Think of US-based agribusiness concerns and their aim to control the food supply and the 2,50,000 suicides by indebted Indian farmers who were duped or forced to buy seeds year after year from one centralised corporate entity.

Backed up by their selective scientific findings and spin machines, powerful corporations have placed at their mercy farmers who are no longer able to grow their own foods and harvest their own seeds. Think also of seasonal flu vaccines, pesticides and the collapse of the honeybee population and psychiatric pharmaceuticals. The corporate misuse and abuse of science has damaged the overall reputation science while swelling private coffers to bursting point.

Think too of the cancer industry. Despite massive public screening campaigns, decades of scientific research often funded by the very dug companies that profit from managing rather than eradicating cancer and talk of cures, cancer rates continue to soar.

In the 2009 documentary The Idiot Cycle, it is claimed that the world’s top cancer causing culprits include the companies Bayer, BASF, Dow, Dupont, Monsanto, Syngenta, Novartis, Pfizer, among others. The allegation is that chemical manufacturers are profiting from the production of cancer-causing products and then some of the same companies are investing in profitable cancer treatments.

On top of this, some of these companies are now developing genetically modified crops which have never been adequately tested for long-term health impacts like cancer. The onset of the disease is frequently 15 to 20 years down the road for victims.

Gilles-Eric Seralini, professor of molecular biology at the University of Caen in France, says it is absurd that only three months of testing allowed GM corn to be approved in over a dozen nations. Upon reviewing Monsanto’s raw ‘research’ data, he and his team found, among other problems, liver damage and physiological changes into a pre-diabetic condition among the rats which had eaten Monsanto’s GM corn. And that’s just from three months of eating such food.

In the US, animal and dairy products are highly contaminated with a wide range of hormones, pesticides and other industrial chemical carcinogens, some of which are very important risk factors for reproductive cancers – testicular cancers in men, breast cancers in women and leukemia in children. The use of the IGF1 growth hormone in milk has been associated with breast, prostate and colon cancer.

The usual tactic by officialdom is to individualise health issues by advising people to change their behaviour. While in certain cases individual behaviour may indeed minimise risks, there is not much the individual can do in terms of many of the major cancers that have increased in recent decades. By adopting a ‘blame the victim’ strategy, attention is diverted away from the practices of large corporations that cause cancer and ill health.

Credible science adheres to a certain methodological rigour, and its findings are at least subject to some form of established system of peer reviewed scrutiny, however imperfect that may be. The biggest challenge science faces is becoming more adept in getting its message out but most of all remaining independent from outside vested interests. A failure to do so is resulting in it being hijacked by corporate agendas and our rights and freedoms being eroded.

Colin Todhunter : Originally from the northwest of England, Colin Todhunter has spent many years in India. He has written extensively for the Deccan Herald (the Bangalore-based broadsheet), New Indian Express and Morning Star (Britain). His articles have also appeared in various other newspapers, journals and books. His East by Northwest website is at: http://colintodhunter.blogspot.com

 

 

Neither a myth nor a panacea: Organic farming can not just feed the world but is easy on the environment too and hence more sustainable

Neither a myth nor a panacea
Organic farming can not just feed the world but is easy on the environment too and hence more sustainable
Rajinder Chaudhary

http://www.tribuneindia.com/2012/20120822/edit.htm#7

ORGANIC farming is neither coterminous with the non-usage of chemicals nor homogenous. Besides, the non-usage of chemicals, it has many other components. What goes under the rubric of organic farming can vary from farming dependent on external inputs (some times provided by some of the same corporations that supply chemical inputs), practising mono-cropping similar to one practised by conventional farming, looking for a year-round supply of ‘tomatoes’ to those using no external or minimal external inputs other than labour, insisting on mixed cropping and combining animal husbandry etc with farming, respecting nature and producing only seasonal crops to the point of excluding mono-cropping from the definition of organic.

This diversity within the ‘organic’ is often ignored in comparative studies while amongst practising ‘organic’ farmers, one will find wide diversity going up to the point that each one gives a different name to it! This diversity should be acknowledged in all comparative studies. The moment we do this, we will realise that comparing individual crop yields does not make much sense as contrary to the conventional practice, practising organic ‘wheat’ growers are often growing no less than 6-7 crops in the same field at the same time. An organisation in Wardha refuses to treat any farmer producing less than 10 different crops in his/her fields as an organic farmer.

But all this should not be read to mean that comparisons of yields and income are not important or that organic performs poorly on these counts. A conference organised by the FAO in 2007 had some 350 participants from more than 80 countries, including five inter-governmental institutions, 24 research institutions and 31 universities. ‘Recognising the need to increase agriculture productivity by 56 per cent by 2030’, it evaluated the available data to determine whether organic agriculture could offer an alternative system. It concluded that ‘organic agriculture has the potential to secure a global food supply … but with reduced environmental impacts’.

Then there is the case of Cuba, which in the mid-nineties in the post-Soviet phase, devoid of petroleum products, had no choice but to go organic and it is no worse for that. Nutritional status as well as rural employment are reported to have improved.

It is a well-known fact that conventional agriculture is in crisis. Father of Indian Green Revolution M.S. Swaminathan himself calls conventional agriculture ‘exploitative agriculture’. This ‘exploitative agriculture’, according to a Planning Commission report, has ‘damaging impacts on environment, human and animal health, soil and water resources’. … The rural economy is in ruins because of over-dependence of outside inputs in agriculture such as seed, fertilisers, pesticides, growth-promoting chemicals etc.’ Another Planning Commission study reports that according to official reports, ‘it appears that nearly 2/3rd of our agricultural land is degraded or sick to some extent’.

So, one has to certainly look for alternatives. If there are various ‘organic’ alternatives available that claim to work wonders, one must. study and evaluate them seriously rather than brush these aside as ‘misinformation’. We must devote a significant part of resources going into agriculture research into these alternatives too. Way back in 2001 a Planning Commission committee had recommended that ‘all the state governments may be advised to consider experimentation and demonstrations on government farms on 50:50 area basis on organic farming and other forms of farming’. How many mainstream agriculture research institutes in India have implemented this? Without having done this, to claim that non-chemical farming does not work out is ‘misinformation’!

The writer is a Professor, Department of Economics, M. D. University, Rohtak


We should not forget that prices which consumers pay are not what farmers get

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/We-should-not-forget-that-prices-which-consumers-pay-are-not-what-farmers-get/articleshow/15589487.cms

Union steel minister Beni Prasad Verma’s claim, that he was happy with inflation as higher food prices have helped farmers, borders on the ludicrous. A few weeks back P Chidambaramalso attracted flak when he said that consumers have to pay more for sugar, rice and wheat as procurement prices are raised to benefit farmers. Linkages between high food prices and farmers’ welfare is dubious because there is a substantially large and growing gap between the prices that farmers get for their produce (or farm gate prices) and the final retail food prices paid by consumers. In fact, in the case of perishable products like vegetable and fruits, farmers are lucky to get even one-fourth of the final retail prices.

And even in the case of procurement prices paid by the government the gains go mainly to the medium and large farmers in a few states from where most of the foodgrain stocks are procured. Small and marginal farmers, who have less than two hectares of land but account for four-fifth of the farm holdings, are net purchasers of food and hardly make any gains from rising procurement prices. The brunt of the burden of high food prices falls on the poor, who spend the major part of their incomes on buying food. So the truth is high food prices deliver few gains to most farmers and hurt the poorest income groups the most.

In fact ministers like Verma, who have a poor understanding of farmers’ welfare, are the reason why the agricultural economy remains fettered by regulations which, while depriving farmers of just reward for their hard work, also raises food prices for consumers. The reality is that antiquated agriculture and antiquated retail practices are producing a growing gap between demand and supply for food items. While that results in food inflation for the consumer, it can hardly be seen as beneficial for farmers.

This sort of zero-sum game, where pain for the consumer is seen as translating into gain for the farmer, is dull and unimaginative. Verma’s remark is characteristic of the tone-deafness of the UPA administration, which accounts for its dipping popularity despite pretensions of batting for the aam admi. An alternative approach would mean doing what it takes to improve agricultural productivity, requiring among other things opening up to FDI in retail.