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How To Dominate Food System?

Pushing GM Food Crops

Bharat Dogra

Recent years have witnessed remote controlled, non-transparent and almost conspiratorial efforts to somehow introduce GM food crops in India. These efforts should be seen as the culmination of long-term efforts of multinational companies to dominate India's food system.

In fact if one looks at the trends in world food and agriculture in recent decades then these have been dominated by the increasingly desperate efforts by huge multinational companies to increase their dominance of the world food and farming system. The way in which patents were incorporated into the WTO agenda and so in a very clever way almost all countries were forced to change their patent laws in keeping with the interests of developed countries provides a glaring example of the high-powered forces at work to implement this agenda of dominance. The new patent laws helped the food and farming giants to tighten their grip on plants and seeds resources of the developing countries.

Genetic erosion of their plant wealth has also proved very expensive for farmers, particularly those based in developing countries. Due to the combined impact of destruction of natural forests, and the introduction of green-revolution type agriculture, which replaced local varieties over large areas by new monocultures, genetic erosion has been taking place on a massive scale even in the countries which have been the original source of much of the plant diversity. Soon thousands of varieties of plants were lost to these countries forever. However, already several of these had been stored carefully in the labs and gene banks of the developed countries whose scientists had been engaged in these collections for several years. Suddenly, in the time span of a few decades, the natural advantage which some parts of the world had enjoyed for millions of years appeared to have been reversed.

It was noticed about two to three decades back that the nature of the seed industry was changing in several countries, particularly the rich western countries (although similar changes were soon noticed also in several developing countries). The seed industry had earlier been based on small firms. These firms were now being gobbled by big companies, especially companies which already had big stakes in agri-chemical industry—within a single decade, chemical corporations spent over $10 billion in buying up seeds companies. In fact the American Seed Trade Association even organized a special symposium on 'How to sell your seed company.' Apprehensions were rightly voiced that a small number of giant companies will control seeds as well as agri-chemicals, and that the production of seeds can be given such an orientation as to require high and increasing amounts of agri-chemicals. According to one widely quoted estimate at least 27 corporations had initiated 63 programmes to develop herbicide tolerant crops. Already a few multinational companies control a very considerable part of the international seeds sector and pesticides.

These trends were strengthened further by the developments in the controversial technology of genetic engineering. A very important part of genetic engineering research has been devoted to herbicide-tolerant plant varieties, for example cotton which is tolerant to a herbicide called bromoxynil.

Soon the genetic engineering companies shifted to the even more obnoxious technology of introducing pesticide properties within the plants. About these trends, the Independent Science Panel has said, "Bt proteins, incorporated into 25% of all transgenic crops worldwide, have been found harmful to a range of non-target insects. Some of them are also potent immunogens and allergens. A team of scientists has cautioned against releasing Bt crops for human use".

Despite this clear view, shared by many eminent scientists, the main company involved is willing to go to any length—bribery, coercion, lies, manipulations to spread its obnoxious technology because its objective is not food security, its objective is only to tighten its grip on food and farming system.

Genetic engineering is so important in this quest for dominance as this complex and expensive technology is concentrated to a large extent in the hands of a few giant multinational companies and their subsidiaries. The story that started with snatching the plant resources of tropical / developing / poor countries, then proceeded with new patent/IPR laws gets completed with genetic engineering. This is the carefully manipulated route which these companies, blessed by their governments in several cases (particularly the USA), have followed in their race for dominance of the world food system.

It is good that several eminent scientists are now coming forward to warn their governments against the potentially disastrous impacts of this quest for dominance by powerful multinational companies.

In a review of recent trends titled 'Food Without Choice' (The Tribune) Prof Pushpa M Bhargava (who was nominated by the Supreme Court of India in the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee to protect safety concerns), internationally acclaimed authority on this subject, drew pointed attention to the "attempt by a small but powerful minority to propagate genetically modified (GM) crops to serve their interests and those of multinational corporations (MNCs) (read the US), the bureaucracy, the political setup and a few unprincipled and unethical scientists and technologists who can be used as tools". Further he has warned, "The ultimate goal of this attempt in India of which the leader is Monsanto, is to obtain control over Indian agriculture and thus food production. With 60 percent of our population engaged in agriculture and living in villages, this would essentially mean not only a control over our food security but also over our farmer security, agricultural security and security of the rural sector".

As people's consciousness about the hazards of GM crops grew, many US products were refused by its trading partners. This alarmed GM giants, and gave them additional reason to push GM crops in important developing countries so that alternative sources for supply of non-GM products, or products not contaminated by GM crops cannot emerge. The crucial thing to understand is that the US Govt. and the big GMO (Genetically modified organisms) companies there have established close links so that there are unwritten directives from the highest levels not to deny clearance to GMOs on environment, health and related grounds. Henry Miller, who was formerly in charge of biotechology at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA, USA) says, "In this area, the US government agencies have done exactly what big agribusiness has asked them to do and told them to do".

This support given by the governments further greatly increases the power of MNCs to push their hazardous products and technologies in their quest for dominance.

On the one hand many eminent scientists are rejecting these crops and their view is supported by the adverse reports from farmers. On the other hand the GE companies have invested billions and billions in using genetic engineering to tighten their grip on world food and farming system and squeezing it for record profits. In order to be able to do so, they've to make very serious hazards acceptable. They are investing billions in making their blatant lies appear as scientific truth. Their campaign is particularly strong in big countries like India because they want to destroy the capability of leading farming countries, to supply GMO-free food to the world market. Only then these companies will be able to sell their hazardous crops and seeds, as there will be no alternatives.

So the stakes are very high for those giant multinational companies. But they are even higher for India's people and farmers as their very survival, their future and the future of their children is threatened by GM crops. So people have no option but to prepare for a big struggle along Gandhian lines to expose the lies of the GMO companies and to protect the food system.

Frontier
Vol. 48, No. 34, Feb 28 - Mar 5, 2016