Dinosaurs mating: Peasants crushed underfoot

Submitted: Sep 19, 2016
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

 ...The subsequent history of industrial societies does not justify complacency about their capacity to assure an equitable distribution of the fruits of increased productivity. The relationship between industrialism and democracy looks more and more tenuous and problematical. If we insist on a law of historical development, we might be justified in concluding that "societies based on large-unit production have a verifiable historical tendency to become increasingly ... hierarchical over time," in the wrods of Lawrence Goodwun. "Supporting evidence is so pervasive," Goodwyn adds, "that this may now be taken as law" --a "direct counter-premise to the idea of progress." -- Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics, Norton, p. 157.

 

 

 

9-18-16

Wall Street Journal

Bayer’s Monsanto Purchase Could Offset European Regulatory Concerns

Europe has banned genetically modified crops; next-generation technologies now subject to review

Christopher Alessi

http://www.wsj.com/articles/bayers-monsanto-purchase-could-offset-european-regulatory-concerns-1474206087

 

FRANKFURT— Bayer AG’s big push into the U.S. agrochemical market with its planned acquisition of Monsanto Co. could help it offset a growing problem on its home turf: increasingly stringent European regulation.

The oversight has been driven by fierce public resistance in the European Union to pesticides and other crop-protection chemicals. Most genetically modified crops are banned throughout Europe, and EU officials are debating whether to do the same with next generation genetic technologies.

“The single biggest challenge [in the EU] is regulation on the crop protection side,” said Liam Condon, the head of Bayer’s crop science division, in a recent interview. “It’s taking longer and longer to bring products to market.”

The regulatory environment, along with low crop prices in North America, has helped drive a wave of consolidation in the agrochemicals industry.

Bayer’s planned tie-up with Monsanto, valued at $66 billion including debt, comes as rivals Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Co. arepursuing a merger and after Swiss pesticide group Syngenta AGagreed earlier this year to be acquired by China National Chemical Corp.

 

“Consolidation has been a topic around for a while because productivity and R&D was going down [and] new technologies require investment,” Mr. Condon said.

The one major player in the agriculture sector that so far has remained on the sidelines is German competitor BASF SE, the world’s largest chemicals company by sales.

The head of BASF’s crop division, Markus Heldt,said earlier this month that BASF potentially would be interested in acquiring smaller business units that Bayer and Monsanto may need to divest themselves of in response to competition concerns.

But BASF’s agriculture division would likely still be significantly smaller than Bayer’s after the planned merger, experts say.

The Bayer-Monsanto deal would allow the two companies to pool resources to increase research and development and investment in technology, with the prospect of bringing new seed and crop products more quickly to market, said David Zaruk, a professor at Université Saint-Louis in Brussels.

Mr. Zaruk said smaller seed and crop companies in Europe mostly have been priced out of the market and must team up with multinationals to get their products out because of the hundreds of millions of euros it can cost to comply with regulatory standards.

Even Bayer and Monsanto separately “were ultimately too small” to innovate and succeed in the European market, he said.

Graeme Taylor, public affairs officer at industry-lobbying group European Crop Protection Association, said, “There’s a huge challenge for the industry in terms of innovation. It costs the best part of €200 million ($223.1 million) and 11 years to successfully bring a new product to market.”

Mr. Taylor said the process for getting pesticides and herbicides approved for use in the EU had been “hijacked by politics,” in lieu of science. He cited the example of glyphosate, a weed killer that has faced protracted regulatory review.

Activists and others opposed to crop chemicals have lobbied Brussels to restrict glyphosate because they argue it is carcinogenic. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization concluded in a report in May that glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through diet.”

Public fear of glyphosate, which Monsanto produces and sells, helped fuel resistance to Bayer acquiring Monsanto by some European environmental activists.

The pesticide industry “has been deceiving the public for years that these poisonous chemicals are ‘safe’,” said Angeliki Lysimachou, an environmental scientist at the European division of the Pesticide Action Network, in an email. “The bigger the company, the further it will go to deceive people and increase its profit.”

Bayer has a more-positive reputation than Monsanto among the European public, although it also makes glyphosate products, in part because it is known for products beyond agrochemicals such as pharmaceuticals. Outside Europe, Bayer is also a major manufacturer of genetically modified crops, in which new genes are introduced into an organism.

All of the major agriculture companies, including Bayer and Monsanto, are exploring new breeding technologies, in which a plant’s own genes are rearranged. “That could change how a plant reacts to mites, for example,” Mr. Zaruk said.

But unlike in the U.S., approval of the technique is on hold in Europe.

 

9-14-16

Washington Post

Bayer agrees to buy Monsanto in $66 billion deal that could reshape agriculture

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/bayer-agrees-to-buy-monsanto-in-66-billion-deal-that-could-reshape-agriculture/2016/09/14/4599de48-7aa6-11e6-ac8e-cf8e0dd91dc7_story.html

 

Seed and chemical giants Bayer and Monsanto said Wednesday that they will merge to become one of the world’s biggest agriculture giants, a $66 billion mega-deal that could reshape the future of farming and enhance their influence over the planet’s food supply.

 

Bayer, the German firm better known for pharmaceuticals such as Aleve and Alka-Seltzer, said it will spearhead the largest all-cash buyout in history in hopes of taking over St. Louis-based Monsanto, the world’s largest supplier of genetically modified seeds.

The merger marks one of the most prominent signs yet of the broadening acceptance of genetically modified foods, a bogeyman for environmental activists that has nevertheless redefined the capabilities for crops in the United States and worldwide.

The deal would also further strengthen the companies’ grips on vital seeds, pesticides and farm technologies, a concerning turn that critics said could raise prices, reduce choice and stifle innovations needed to feed a growing world.

“These companies make the case that they need to get bigger to help them respond to climate change, changing diets, growing populations . . . but so much of their research focuses on the big commodity crops that make the most money,” said Pat Mooney, executive director of the ETC Group, a Canada-based environmental advocacy group.

 “They’re just so narrowly focused,” Mooney said, “that there’s a general feeling they can’t get us to the innovations we need.”

The deal is likely to draw intense scrutiny from antitrust regulators, who will assess whether the merger would unfairly lead to higher prices and fewer choices for farmers’ most important building blocks. The new company would preside over roughly one-quarter of the world’s seed and pesticide supplies.

Justice Department investigators have in recent years launched investigations into “possible anticompetitive practices” in the Monsanto-led U.S. seed industry, although a formal investigation was closed in 2012 without pursuing charges.

Regulatory crackdowns have dashed several high-profile mega-mergers this year, including a $160 billion deal between pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Allergan.

The Bayer deal — the largest corporate mega-merger in a year full of them — is also likely to meet congressional resistance. Calling the merger “a threat to all Americans,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Wednesday urged regulators to block the deal and reopen an investigation into Monsanto’s massive influence over the seed and chemical markets.

“These mergers boost the profits of huge corporations and leave Americans paying even higher prices,” Sanders said in a statement.

Genetically modified seeds dominate U.S. farming and are used in the growing of more than 90 percent of corn, cotton and soybean crops. But their use remains a major driver of environmental protests in Europe and has led to political action at home. In July, President Obama signed into law a bill requiring food companies to label products that include genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

With its rapid development and fierce protection of genetically engineered seeds and pesticides, Monsanto has been made into an arch-villain for some environmental and consumer activists, who worry that the chemical underpinnings of “Frankenseeds” threaten human health and allow laboratories to play God.

The advanced seeds have also provided for a range of benefits, including stronger pest resistance, streamlined weed control and more efficient harvests around the world.

Years of research have revealed no proof that genetically engineered crops pose risks to human health. A National Academies of Sciences expert panel concluded in May that there was “no substantiated evidence” that the crops had endangered our bodies or hurt the globe.

“Asking whether GMOs are safe is like asking whether toys are safe,” said Rick Amasino, a University of Wisconsin professor of biochemistry who participated in the report. “Most people would recognize that as too broad a question. You can’t lump all chemicals into one bin.”

“Farmers don’t have to use these things. They have a choice,” Amasino added. “Industry is giving farmers something that, I suspect, farmers want.”

Dana Perls, a senior campaigner on food and technology with Friends of the Earth, said agricultural juggernauts such as Monsanto have crafted institutional blocks that prevent small farmers from freely choosing how to grow their crops.

“This further consolidation over our food system removes even more power from people to control their agriculture, and to choose what we can and can’t consume,” Perls said. The deal, she added, would “make it even more difficult to make sure that what comes onto the market is safe for people and the environment.”

The deal would be the largest German takeover yet of an American firm. Known in the United States largely for its health-care products, Bayer would emerge from the deal further focused on its business in agriculture chemicals, crop supplies, and compounds that kill bugs and weeds.

Bayer first made a $62 billion offer for Monsanto in May and has increased its bid over months of negotiations. The all-cash deal is valued at about $128 a share and is larger than the previous record, the $60 billion merger between brewers Anheuser-Busch and InBev in 2008.

Sales in 2015 at Bayer, which has 117,000 employees, totaled roughly $51 billion, about 30 percent of which came from its crop division. Sales at Monsanto, which employs 20,000 and also develops such products as the weed-killing herbicide Roundup, totaled $15 billion last year.

The companies portrayed the merger as a landmark agreement that would help them invest more in researching and developing chemicals for the global harvesting of vegetables, corn and other crops. The deal, they added, would also help them save $1.5 billion through cost-cutting, added purchasing power and other “synergies” within three years.

“The whole agricultural industry around the world is basically going through a transformation. It’s the last big industry in the world to be digitized,” said Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s chief technology officer. “This allows us to make more investments, have more capabilities and build better products for farmers, that they can use to grow crops with higher yields . . . and farm better, farm smarter.”

Both companies said that they would seek antitrust approval in 30 global jurisdictions, possibly including emerging markets for seeds and pesticides such as China, India and Brazil. Bayer has committed to paying a $2 billion antitrust breakup fee if the deal falls apart.

Asked whether they were worried about regulatory challenges from a new U.S. administration, Monsanto chief executive Hugh Grant said on a call Wednesday that the companies were “much more focused on the innovation horizon than the political horizon.”

David Balto, a former Federal Trade Commission policy director who works with farmers and consumer groups, said there was a strong chance that the Justice Department regulators would crack down on the deal.

“Antitrust cops are learning they’re cops,” Balto said. The companies “have chosen to do a deal in the year of merging dangerously. They are in for a tough time.”

A growing Bayer-Monsanto giant could also block out smaller competitors, said Matthew Crisp, the chief executive of Benson Hill Biosystems, an agricultural technology firm.

“Large companies’ model of innovation . . . has served as a barrier to entry for smaller companies interested in developing more choice for farmers,” Crisp said.

Monsanto’s St. Louis headquarters will become the companies’ commercial headquarters for North America, but it’s unclear how the mega-deal might affect jobs there. Grant said on a call Wednesday that the merger would help the city become a “global center” for the seed business, adding, “This is good news for St. Louis.”

Shares of Bayer and Monsanto climbed less than 1 percent on Wednesday, a reflection of investors’ timidity over a potential antitrust block. Jim Nelson, a portfolio manager at Euro Pacific Asset Management, said that “some Bayer shareholders want the company to focus on the pharmaceutical business, and not go off into Monsanto’s signature GMO-seed business, which they view as a risk.”

The $100 billion global market for seeds and pesticides has grown increasingly competitive, as farmers duel for crop and market share on a planet whose population is expected to grow more than 30 percent by 2050, to 9.7 billion.

Tensions have escalated further because global crop prices have fallen for three years in a row, squeezing profits and forcing the seed and agriculture industries to cut costs and trim their workforces. Monsanto said last year that it would lay off 12 percent of its employees, or 2,600 jobs.

Rival seed and chemical giants, including Dow Chemical, DuPont and Syngenta, have launched their own mega-deals in recent months as part of an accelerating race to consolidation.

Diana Moss, president of the American Antitrust Institute, said that rapid tightening could weaken the inventiveness of an industry focused on advancing the world’s food supply.

“It is vitally important to have competing, head-to-head, research-and-development programs in this market,” Moss said. But with this deal, “we would go from six competitors in agricultural biotechnology down to four. That would have significantly harmful effects on the pace of innovation.”

 

8-25-16

Ecowatch

Illegal Herbicide Use on GMO Crops Causing Massive Damage to Fruit, Vegetable and Soybean Farms

Ken Roseboro

http://truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/illegal-herbicide-use-on-gmo-crops-causing-massive-damage-to-fruit-vegetable-and-soybean-farms

Last year, Kade McBroom launched a non-GMO soybean processing plant in Malden, Missouri, and was optimistic about the potential to serve the fast-growing non-GMO market.

But now McBroom sees a potential threat to his new business from herbicide drift sprayed ongenetically modified crops. This past spring,Monsanto Co. started selling GM Roundup Ready Xtend soybean and cotton seeds to farmers in Missouri and several other states. The seeds are genetically engineered to withstand sprays of glyphosate and dicamba herbicides. The problem is that the Xtend dicamba herbicide designed to go with the seeds has not yet been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), leading many farmers to spray their GMO soybeans and cotton with older formulas of dicamba -- illegally.

May Not Be Able to Grow Non-GMO Soybeans

While Monsanto's GMO crops can tolerate sprays of dicamba, other crops can't. As a result, dicamba, which is known to convert from a liquid to a gas and spread for miles, is damaging tens of thousands of acres of "non-target" crops in southern Missouri and nine other states, mostly in the South. An estimated 200,000 acres are affected in Missouri alone, though the EPA puts that number at 40,000. Non-GMO and even GMO, soybeans that aren't dicamba resistant are damaged as well as peaches, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe and other crops.

"Farmers are so mad," said McBroom, who has spoken with several farmers in his area about the problem. "I'm assuming there will be lawsuits."

Two farmers who grow non-GMO soybeans for Malden Specialty Soy told McBroom that they may be forced to grow dicamba tolerant GMO soybeans to protect their farms from dicamba drift.

"When my suppliers say 'I'm going to have to quit growing non-GMO soybeans and start planting dicamba beans just to protect myself' it becomes an issue," he said. "They don't want to go that route, but they may not have a choice."

For now, McBroom says his business is fine, but warns: "If they don't get this under control it will be a threat."

Peach Producer Lost 30,000 Trees

The dicamba drift problem extends beyond non-GMO soybeans to many other crops. Missouri's southern "Bootheel" region is known for its agricultural diversity. Farmers grow a wide range of crops including cotton, rice, wheat watermelon, tomatoes, cantaloupe, peaches, sweet potatoes, peas, popcorn and peanuts. Many of those crops are threatened by dicamba drift.

"At its core, this is a concern for the diversity in southeast Missouri agriculture," McBroom said. "This is affecting everyone that isn't growing dicamba tolerant crops including non-GMO crops, fruits, vegetables and home gardens."

Bader Peaches, Missouri's largest peach producer, is suffering massive losses according to owner Bill Bader. "We will lose 30,000 trees," he said.

Bader, who also grows soybeans on his farm in Campbell, Missouri, estimates his yield loss on the beans may be as much as 40 percent.

Bader estimates that 400-500 farmers in his region have been affected. "If they don't get compensation 60 percent will be out of business in two years," he said.

Who is to blame for the problem? "We need to go after Monsanto. These farmers are being hung out to dry," Bader said.

University of Arkansas weed specialist Bob Scott agrees. "This is a unique situation that Monsanto created," he said in an interview with National Public Radio.

Monsanto responded by saying that they introduced the new GMO seeds because they promised farmers better yields. The company also said that farmers were warned to not use the older dicamba formulations and that their new formula will have lower volatility to reduce the drift threat

GMO-Herbicide Treadmill Continues; Loss of Farmer Choice

Soybean and cotton farmers in the South face significant weed problems, particularly with palmer's amaranth or "pig weed," which has developed resistance to glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. Monsanto developed the Xtend system with dicamba to address the resistance, allowing the company to continue keeping farmers on a GMO-herbicide treadmill.

But the effectiveness of the dicamba GMO system -- like that of the Roundup Ready GMO system -- is likely to be short-lived. A University of Arkansas study published earlier this year found that pigweed plants would develop resistance to dicamba in just three generations.

This year farmers grew an estimated 2 million acres of dicamba tolerant GMO soybeans. The biotech giant aims to increase that to 15 million acres, a troubling prospect to Kade McBroom.

"If 2016 is a preview of the dicamba era, anybody not growing dicamba resistant crops is in trouble, plain and simple," he said.

One of the worst parts of this whole debacle is that farmers -- by being forced to grow dicamba resistant GMO soybeans -- are losing the choice of what they can grow. Ironically, Missouri passed a "Right to Farm" measure in 2014 that protects farmers' right to grow what they want. Now, the rich agricultural diversity of southern Missouri could turn into an industrial monoculture of GMOs and toxic herbicides.

"If this keeps up, 'right to farm' will become more like the right to farm dicamba tolerant crops," McBroom said. "Neighbors are determining what the people around them can and can't grow. When you start taking options away from farmers, you start taking away opportunities."

 

9-14-16

Bend Bulletin

In biggest-ever U.S. harvest, farmers will likely lose money

David Pitt

http://www.bendbulletin.com/business/4658396-151/in-biggest-ever-us-harvest-farmers-will-likely-lose

MAXWELL, Iowa — Pale green and 8 feet tall, tightly packed corn stalks reach to the horizon throughout the Midwest in what is likely to be the biggest harvest the U.S. has ever seen.

Aside from a sense of pride in breaking the previous record by nearly a billion bushels, farmers won’t benefit. They’ll lose money on virtually every cob.

It’ll be the third consecutive year in which most corn farmers will spend more than they’ll earn. The growing has been too good and the resulting glut of corn depressed prices to a decade-low. It’s a similar story for soybeans, the second most common Midwest crop.

As a result, farmers are cutting costs, dipping into savings or going further into debt. Federal crop insurance and payments that help protect farmers when prices fall too low offer some protection, yet many farmers and their spouses supplement income with off-the-farm jobs. The drop in farm profits raises questions about agriculture’s boom-and-bust cycles and why people adhere to what at times is seemingly not a sustainable business model.

“I am 67 years old and when we examined my Social Security records recently, I had a 12-year stretch when I didn’t pay myself one single dime,” said Wayne Humphreys, who grows corn and soybeans and raises hogs in southwest Iowa. “We lived on my wife’s salary. Everything else went to the farm.”

Corn and soybean prices reached their height in 2012 but have since plunged, resulting in a 42 percent drop in farm income. For the nation’s roughly 2 million family farms, the average household income will be $118,890, but only about a fifth will come from the farm itself, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said recently.

To get by, nearly a third of U.S. farms have to borrow money, and borrowing has increased because farmers need to finance operating costs and near-historic low interest rates make borrowing inexpensive. But banks are reporting an increase of past-due loans, an indication that borrowers are struggling to repay in a time of tight profit margins.

The current situation isn’t like the 1980s, when foreclosures contributed to the loss of 292,000 farms over a 10-year period. Some of that was caused by farmers who borrowed heavily during the 1970s’ low-interest rates then defaulted due to the combination of higher interest rates and collapsed crop prices.

The less-established farmers who rent expensive farmland or went into debt to purchase land or new equipment are “the ones I worry about,” said Harold Wolle, a fifth-generation family farmer from south-central Minnesota.

But sixth-generation Iowa farmer Grant Kimberley, who farms with his father, cautions that all is not well for those who’ve been doing this for a while, either.

“It’s getting to a tougher stage even for farms that are more established. Everybody’s feeling it now, especially guys like my dad. He’s 65 years old and has done really well and built things up, but we hope this doesn’t last forever because you hate to see a lot of those gains they’ve made over the years virtually get eroded,” Kimberley said.

To protect themselves, many farmers have diversified their operations — and sometimes, their crops — so when corn and soybeans aren’t profitable, other aspects of the farm may be.

 

9-30-15

Mother Jones

No, GMOs Didn't Create India's Farmer Suicide Problem, But…

Tom Philpott

http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2015/09/no-gmos-didnt-create-indias-farmer-suicide-problem

Since the mid-1990s, around 300,000 Indian farmers have killed themselves—a rate of about one every 30 minutes, which is 47 percent higher than the national average. The tragedy has become entangled in the rhetorical war around genetically modified seeds.

Some anti-GMO activists, including Indian scientist and organic-farming champion Vandana Shiva, have blamed the high suicide rates directly on biotech seeds—specifically, cotton tweaked by Monsanto to contain the Bt pesticide, now used on more than 90 percent of India's cotton acreage. Shiva has gone so far as to declare them "seeds of suicide," because, she claims, "suicides increased after Bt cotton was introduced."

GMO enthusiasts, by contrast, counter that Monsanto's patented seeds are a boon to India's cotton farmers: They've boosted crop yields, driven down pesticide use, and alleviated rural poverty, a 2010 paper by the pro-industry International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) argued.

India's shift to industrial farming left the majority of the nation's cotton farmers increasingly reliant on loans to purchase pricey fertilizers, pesticides, and eventually high-tech seeds.

So which is it? According to a recentpeer-reviewed paper from a team led by Andrew Gutierrez, a professor emeritus at the University of California-Berkeley's department of environmental policy, science, and management, the situation is way too complicated to be aptly described by sound bites in a rhetorical war.

For their analysis, the team looked closely at yields, pesticide use, farmer incomes, and suicide rates in India's cotton regions, both before and after the debut of Bt seeds in 2002.

They found that on large farms with access to irrigation water, genetically modified cotton makes economic sense—paying up for the more expensive seeds helps control a voracious pest called the pink bollworm in a cost-effective way.  

But 65 percent of India's cotton crop comes from farmers who rely on rain, not irrigation pumps. For them, the situation is the opposite—reliance on pesticides and the higher cost of the seeds increase the risk of bankruptcy and thus suicide, the study finds. The smaller and more Bt-reliant the farm in these rain-fed cotton areas, the authors found, the higher the suicide rate. (An analysis that largely jibes with Shiva's, apart from her heated rhetoric.)

Even so, the paper does not present Bt cotton as the trigger for India's farmer-suicide crisis. Rather, it provides crucial background for understanding how India's shift to industrial farming techniques starting in the 1960s left the majority of the nation's cotton farmers increasingly reliant on loans to purchase pricey fertilizers, pesticides, and hybrid seeds, and eventually GM seeds, making them vulnerable to bankruptcy when the vagaries of rain and global cotton markets turned against them.  

The authors note that cotton has been cultivated in India for 5,000 years, and until the emergence of the slavery-dependent cotton empire in the southern United States in the early 1800s, "India was the center of world cotton innovation." In the 1970s, Indian cotton farmers turned to hybrid seeds that delivered higher yields as long as they were doused with sufficient fertilizer. Until then, the pink bollworm—the pest now targeted by Bt seeds—"was not a major pest in Indian cotton," they write. But higher-yielding plants draw more insect pests, and so the new hybrid seeds also triggered an increasing reliance on insecticides. Bollworms evolved to resist the chemical onslaught and many of their natural predators (other insects) saw their populations decline, giving the bollworms a niche. Hence when Monsanto's bollworm-targeting Bt seeds hit the market in the early 2000s, they were essentially an industrial-ag solution to a problem that had been caused by industrial agriculture.

As an alternative to Bt seeds, the paper shows, small-scale farmers can successfully plant varieties of cotton that ripen quickly, before bollworm populations emerge. As for the irrigated cotton farms that are now successfully using the Bt trait, the authors note that India's large farms, like many of California's, are tapping underground water that's "unregulated and unpriced," at rates much higher than natural recharge. They're courting a problem that may make the feared bollworm look tame by comparison: "the impending collapse of ground water levels for irrigated cotton."

 

3-9-16

Global Research

The Seeds Of Suicide: How Monsanto Destroys Farming

Dr. Vandana Shiva

http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-seeds-of-suicide-how-monsanto-destroys-farming/5329947

Note: Originally published in April 2013

Monsanto’s talk of ‘technology’ tries to hide its real objectives of control over seed where genetic engineering is a means to control seed,

“Monsanto is an agricultural company.

We apply innovation and technology to help farmers around the world produce more while conserving more.”

“Producing more, Conserving more, Improving farmers lives.”

These are the promises Monsanto India’s website makes, alongside pictures of smiling, prosperous farmers from the state of Maharashtra. This is a desperate attempt by Monsanto and its PR machinery to delink the epidemic of farmers’ suicides in India from the company’s growing control over cotton seed supply — 95 per cent of India’s cotton seed is now controlled by Monsanto.

Control over seed is the first link in the food chain because seed is the source of life. When a corporation controls seed, it controls life, especially the life of farmers.

Monsanto’s concentrated control over the seed sector in India as well as across the world is very worrying. This is what connects farmers’ suicides in India to Monsanto vs Percy Schmeiser in Canada, to Monsanto vs Bowman in the US, and to farmers in Brazil suing Monsanto for $2.2 billion for unfair collection of royalty.

Through patents on seed, Monsanto has become the “Life Lord” of our planet, collecting rents for life’s renewal from farmers, the original breeders.

Patents on seed are illegitimate because putting a toxic gene into a plant cell is not “creating” or “inventing” a plant. These are seeds of deception — the deception that Monsanto is the creator of seeds and life; the deception that while Monsanto sues farmers and traps them in debt, it pretends to be working for farmers’ welfare, and the deception that GMOs feed the world. GMOs are failing to control pests and weeds, and have instead led to the emergence of superpests and superweeds.

The entry of Monsanto in the Indian seed sector was made possible with a 1988 Seed Policy imposed by the World Bank, requiring the Government of India to deregulate the seed sector. Five things changed with Monsanto’s entry: First, Indian companies were locked into joint-ventures and licensing arrangements, and concentration over the seed sector increased. Second, seed which had been the farmers’ common resource became the “intellectual property” of Monsanto, for which it started collecting royalties, thus raising the costs of seed. Third, open pollinated cotton seeds were displaced by hybrids, including GMO hybrids. A renewable resource became a non-renewable, patented commodity. Fourth, cotton which had earlier been grown as a mixture with food crops now had to be grown as a monoculture, with higher vulnerability to pests, disease, drought and crop failure. Fifth, Monsanto started to subvert India’s regulatory processes and, in fact, started to use public resources to push its non-renewable hybrids and GMOs through so-called public-private partnerships (PPP).

In 1995, Monsanto introduced its Bt technology in India through a joint-venture with the Indian company Mahyco. In 1997-98, Monsanto started open field trials of its GMO Bt cotton illegally and announced that it would be selling the seeds commercially the following year. India has rules for regulating GMOs since 1989, under the Environment Protection Act. It is mandatory to get approval from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee under the ministry of environment for GMO trials. The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology sued Monsanto in the Supreme Court of India and Monsanto could not start the commercial sales of its Bt cotton seeds until 2002.
And, after the damning report of India’s parliamentary committee on Bt crops in August 2012, the panel of technical experts appointed by the Supreme Court recommended a 10-year moratorium on field trials of all GM food and termination of all ongoing trials of transgenic crops.

But it had changed Indian agriculture already.

Monsanto’s seed monopolies, the destruction of alternatives, the collection of superprofits in the form of royalties, and the increasing vulnerability of monocultures has created a context for debt, suicides and agrarian distress which is driving the farmers’ suicide epidemic in India. This systemic control has been intensified with Bt cotton. That is why most suicides are in the cotton belt.

An internal advisory by the agricultural ministry of India in January 2012 had this to say to the cotton-growing states in India — “Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers.”

The highest acreage of Bt cotton is in Maharashtra and this is also where the highest farmer suicides are. Suicides increased after Bt cotton was introduced — Monsanto’s royalty extraction, and the high costs of seed and chemicals have created a debt trap. According to Government of India data, nearly 75 per cent rural debt is due to purchase inputs. As Monsanto’s profits grow, farmers’ debt grows. It is in this systemic sense that Monsanto’s seeds are seeds of suicide.

The ultimate seeds of suicide is Monsanto’s patented technology to create sterile seeds. (Called “Terminator technology” by the media, sterile seed technology is a type of Gene Use Restriction Technology, GRUT, in which seed produced by a crop will not grow — crops will not produce viable offspring seeds or will produce viable seeds with specific genes switched off.) The Convention on Biological Diversity has banned its use, otherwise Monsanto would be collecting even higher profits from seed.

Monsanto’s talk of “technology” tries to hide its real objectives of ownership and control over seed where genetic engineering is just a means to control seed and the food system through patents and intellectual property rights.

A Monsanto representative admitted that they were “the patient’s diagnostician, and physician all in one” in writing the patents on life-forms, from micro-organisms to plants, in the TRIPS’ agreement of WTO. Stopping farmers from saving seeds and exercising their seed sovereignty was the main objective. Monsanto is now extending its patents to conventionally bred seed, as in the case of broccoli and capsicum, or the low gluten wheat it had pirated from India which we challenged as a biopiracy case in the European Patent office.

That is why we have started Fibres of Freedom in the heart of Monsanto’s Bt cotton/suicide belt in Vidharba. We have created community seed banks with indigenous seeds and helped farmers go organic. No GMO seeds, no debt, no suicides.

Vandana Shiva is a philosopher, environmental activist, and eco feminist.Shiva, currently based in Delhi, has authored more than 20 books and over 500 papers in leading scientific and technical journals. She was trained as a physicist and received her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Western Ontario, Canada. She was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1993. She is the founder of Navdanya http://www.navdanya.org/

 

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