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GM and its public sector servants in India

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[Continued from part one.]

The facade of sophisticated science carries with it an appeal to the technocrats within our central government and major ministries, and to those in industry circles, with the apparently boundless production and yield vistas of biotechnology seeming to complement our successes in space applications, in information technology, in nuclear power and complementing the vision of GDP growth.

Framed by such science, the messages delivered by the biotech MNC negotiators and their compradors in local industry appear to be able to help us fulfil the most pressing national agendas: ensure that food production keeps pace with the needs of a growing and more demanding population, provide more crop per drop, deliver substantially higher yield per acre, certified and high-performing seeds will give farmers twice their income, consumers will benefit from standardised produce at low rates, crops will perform even in more arid conditions, the use of inputs will decrease, and the litany of promised marvels goes on.

Yet it is an all-round ignorance that has allowed such messages to take root and allowed their messengers to thrive in a country that has, in its National Gene Bank over 157,000 accessions of cereals (including 95,000 of paddy and 40,000 of wheat), over 56,000 accessions of millets (the true pearls of our semi-arid zones), over 58,000 accessions (an accession is a location-specific variety of a crop species) of pulses, over 57,000 of oilseeds (more than 10,000 of mustard), and over 25,000 of vegetables.

And even so the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources reminds us that while the number of cultivated plant species is “relatively small and seemingly insignificant”, nature in India has evolved an extraordinary genetic diversity in crop plants and their wild relatives which is responsible for every agro-ecological sub-region, and every climatic variation and soil type that may be found in such a sub-region, being well supplied with food.

With such a cornucopia, every single ‘framed by great science’ claim about a GM crop made by the biotech MNCs must fall immediately flat because we possess the crop diversity that can already deliver it. Without the crippling monopolies that underlie the science claim, for these monopolies and licensing traps are what not only drove desi cotton out when Bt cotton was introduced but it did so while destroying farming households.

Without the deadly risk of risk of genetic contamination and genetic pollution of a native crop (such as, GM mustard’s risk to the many varieties of native ‘sarson’). Without the flooding of soil with a poison, glufosinate, that is the herbicide Bayer-Monsanto will force the sale of together with its GM seed (‘Basta’ is Bayer’s herbicide that is analogous to Monsanto’s fatal Glyphosate, which is carcinogenic to humans and destroys other plant life – our farmers routinely intercrop up to three crop species, for example mustard with chana and wheat, as doing so stabilises income).

Whereas the veil of ignorance is slowly lifting, the immediate questions that should be asked by food grower and consumer alike – how safe is it for plants, soil, humans, animals, pollinating insects and birds? what are the intended consequences? what unintended consequences are being studied? – are still uncommon when the subject is crop and food. This is what has formed an ethical and social vacuum around food, which has been cunningly exploited by the biotech MNCs and indeed which India’s retail, processed and packaged foods industry have profited from too.

When in October 2016 our National Academy of Agricultural Sciences shamefully and brazenly assured the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change on the safety of GM mustard, it did so specifically “To allay the general public concerns”. What followed was outright lies, such as “herbicide is used in the process only in hybrid production plot”, “The normal activity of bees is not affected”, “GE Mustard provides yield advantage”, “no adverse effect on environment or human and animal health”. None of these statements was based on study.

India grows food enough to feed its population ten years hence. What affects such security – crop choices made at the level of a tehsil and balancing the demands on land in our 60 agro-ecological sub-zones and 94 river sub-basins – is still influenced by political position, the grip of the agricultural ‘inputs’ industry on farmers, economic pressures at the household level, and the seasonal cycle. In dealing with these influences, ethics, safety and social considerations are rarely if ever in the foreground. Yet India is a signatory to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and its Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, whose Article 17 requires countries to prevent or minimise the risks of unintentional transboundary movements of genetically engineered organisms.

Neither the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), in the case of GM mustard, nor the Department of Biotechnology, the Department of Science and Technology (whose Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council in a 2016 report saw great promise in genetic engineering for India), the Ministries of Environment and Agriculture, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR, with its 64 specialised institutions, 15 national research centres, 13 directorates, six national bureaux and four deemed universities), the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) have mentioned ethics, consumer and environment safety, or social considerations when cheering GM.

This group of agencies and institutions which too often takes its cue from the west, particularly the USA (which has since the 1950s dangled visiting professorships and research partnerships before the dazzled eyes of our scientific community) may find it instructive to note that caution is expressed even by the proponents of genetic engineering technologies in the country that so inspires them. In 2016 a report on ‘Past Experience and Future Prospects’ by the Committee on Genetically Engineered Crops, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine of the USA, recognised that the public is sceptical about GE crops “because of concerns that many experiments and results have been conducted or influenced by the industries that are profiting from these crops” and recommended that “ultimately, however, decisions about how to govern new crops need to be made by societies”.

Practices and regulations need to be informed by accurate scientific information, but recent history makes clear that what is held up as unassailable ‘science’ is unfortunately rarely untainted by interests for whom neither environment nor human health matter.

[This is the second part of an article that was published by Swadeshi Patrika, the monthly journal of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch. Part one is here.]

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Environmental law and the dharmic principle

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RG_tree_om_blog_20160829The recent history of “global” approaches to the environment has shown that they began full of contradictions and misunderstandings, which have continued to proliferate under a veneer of internationalisation. To provide but a very brief roster, there was in the 1970s the “Club of Rome” reports, as well as the United Nations Conference on Human Environment in 1972 (which produced the so-called Stockholm Declaration). In 1992, the UN Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro) was held and was pompously called the “Earth Summit,” where something called a “global community” adopted an “Agenda 21.” With very much less fanfare also in 1992 came the Convention on Biological Diversity, and signing countries were obliged to “conserve and sustainably manage their biological resources through global agreement,” an operational conundrum when said resources are national and not international.

In 2000 came the “Millennium Summit,” at which were unveiled the Millennium Development Goals, which successfully incubated the industry of international development but had almost nothing to do with the mundane practice of local development. In 2015 came the UN Sustainable Development Summit, which released a shinier, heftier, more thrillingly complex list of sustainable development goals. During the years in between, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its associated satellite meetings (three or four a year) spun through every calendar year like a merry-go-round (it is 22 years old, and the very global CO2 measure for PPM, or parts per million, has crossed 400).

The visarjan (immersion) of Shri Ganesh. The idol is accompanied by huge crowds in Mumbai. Photo: All India Radio

The visarjan (immersion) of Shri Ganesh. The idol is accompanied by huge crowds in Mumbai. Photo: All India Radio

Looking back at some five decades of internationalisation as a means to some sort of sensible stock-taking of the connection between the behaviors of societies (ever more homogenous) and the effects of those behaviors upon nature and environment, I think it has been an expensive, verbose, distracting, and inconclusive engagement (but not for the bureaucratic class it sustains, and the “global development” financiers, of course). That is why I find seeking some consensus between countries and between cultures on “ecocide” is rather a nonstarter. There are many differences about meaning, as there should be if there are living cultures left amongst us.

Even before you approach such an idea (not that it should be approached as an idea that distinguishes a more “advanced” society from one apparently less so), there are other ideas, which from some points of view are more deserving of our attention, which have remained inconclusive internationally and even nationally for fifty years and more. Some of these ideas are, what is poverty, and how do we say a family is poor or not? What is economy and how can our community distinguish economic activity from other kinds of activity (and why should we in the first place)? What is “education,” and what is “progress”-and whose ideas about these things matter other than our own?

That is why even though it may be academically appealing to consider what ecocide may entail and how to deal with it, I think it will continue to be subservient to several other very pressing concerns, for very good reasons. Nonetheless, there have in the very recent past been some efforts, and some signal successes too, in the area of finding evidence and intent about a crime against nature or, from a standpoint that has nothing whatsoever to do with law and jurisprudence, against the natural order (which we ought to observe but for shabby reasons of economics, career, standard of living, etc., do not).

Clay cooking pots and decorative terracotta. A craftsman and his wares at a weekly market in Kerala.

Clay cooking pots and decorative terracotta. A craftsman and his wares at a weekly market in Kerala.

These efforts include Bolivia’s Law of the Rights of Mother Earth, whose elaborate elucidation in 2010 gave environmentalists much to cheer about. They also include the recognition by the UN Environment Programme, in incremental doses and as a carefully measured response to literally mountainous evidence, of environmental crime. This is what the UNEP now says, “A broad understanding of environmental crime includes threat finance from exploitation of natural resources such as minerals, oil, timber, charcoal, marine resources, financial crimes in natural resources, laundering, tax fraud and illegal trade in hazardous waste and chemicals, as well as the environmental impacts of illegal exploitation and extraction of natural resources.”  Quite frank, I would say, and unusually so for a UN agency.

Moreover, there is the Monsanto Tribunal, which is described as an international civil society initiative to hold Monsanto-the producer of genetically modified (GM) seed, and in many eyes the most despised corporation ever-“accountable for human rights violations, for crimes against humanity, and for ecocide.” In the tribunal’s description of its rationale, ecocide is explicitly mentioned, and the tribunal intends to follow procedures of the International Court of Justice. It is no surprise that Monsanto (together with corporations like Syngenta, Dow, Bayer, and DuPont) is the symbol of industrial agriculture whose object and methods advance any definition of ecocide, country by country.

This ecocidal corporation (whose stock is traded on all major stock markets, which couldn’t care less about the tribunal) is responsible for extinguishing entire species and causing the decline of biodiversity wherever its products are used, for the depletion of soil fertility and of water resources, and for causing an unknown (but certainly very large) number of smallholder farming families to exit farming and usually their land, therefore also exiting the locale in which bodies of traditional knowledge found expression.  Likewise, there is the group of Filipino investigators, a Commission on Human Rights, who want forty-seven corporate polluters to answer allegations of human rights abuses, with the polluters being fossil fuel and cement companies, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, and BP, and the allegations include the roles of these corporations’ products in causing both “global warming and the harm that follows.”

A 'gudi' and 'bhagwa dhvaj' hoisted by a home in Goa for Gudi Padwa, the festival which marks the beginning of the new year.

A ‘gudi’ and ‘bhagwa dhvaj’ hoisted by a home in Goa for Gudi Padwa, the festival which marks the beginning of the new year.

Such examples show that there is a fairly strong and active manifestation of the movement to recognise ecocide as a crime under international law. However, to find such manifestations, one has to look at the local level. There, the questions pertain more tangibly to the who, what, and how of the ecological or environmental transgression, and the how much of punishment becomes more readily quantifiable (we must see what forms of punishment or reparation are contained in the judgments of the Monsanto Tribunal and the Philippines Commission).

Considering such views, the problem becomes more immediate but also more of a problem-the products of industrialised, mechanised agriculture that is decontextualised from culture and community exists and are sold and bought because of the manner in which societies sustain themselves, consciously or not. It is easier to find evidence for, and easier to frame a prosecution or, the illegality of a corporation, or of an industry, than for the negligence of a community which consumes their products. So the internationalisation (or globalisation) of the idea of ecocide may take shape in a bubble of case law prose and citations from intergovernmental treaties but will be unintelligible to district administrators and councils of village elders.

My view is that searching for the concept which for the sake of semantic convenience we have called ecocide as an outcome of an “internationally agreed” idea of crime and punishment will ultimately not help us. I have such a view because of a cultural upbringing in a Hindu civilisation, of which I am a part, and in which there exists an all-embracing concept, “dharma,” that occupies the whole spectrum of moral, religious, customary, and legal rules. In this view, right conduct is required at every level (and dominates its judicial process too), with our literature on the subject being truly voluminous (including sacred texts themselves, the upanishads, various puranas, and works on dharma).

Perhaps the best known to the West from amongst this corpus is the Arthashastra of Kautilya, a remarkable legal treatise dealing with royal duties which contains a fine degree of detail about the duties of kings (which may today be read as “governance”). This treatise includes the protection of canals, lakes, and rivers; the regulation of mines (the BCE analogue of the extractive industries that plague us today); and the conservation of forests. My preference is for the subject of ecocide and its treatment to be subsumed into the cultural foundation where it is to be considered for, when compared with how my culture and others have treated the nature-human question, it becomes evident that we today are not the most competent arbiters, when considering time frames over many generations, about how to define or address such matters. The insistence on “globalising” views in fact shows why not.

(This comment has been posted at the Great Transition Initiative in reply to an essay titled ‘Against Ecocide: Legal Protection for Earth’.)

It’s time to confront the BJP on GM

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Eight months ago, they wrote to Manmohan Singh about GM and said decisions must be "based on sound science, principles of sustainability and intergenerational justice... we sincerely hope that vested interests would not be allowed to prevail".

Eight months ago, they wrote to Manmohan Singh about GM and said decisions must be “based on sound science, principles of sustainability and intergenerational justice… we sincerely hope that vested interests would not be allowed to prevail”.

The ability of the biotechnology industry to pursue its aims, regardless of the orientation of the central government, became clear on 18 July 2014 when the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) stated to the press that it has permitted field trials of genetically modified (GM) rice, mustard, cotton, chickpea and brinjal.

The brazen permission, with no details provided to the public of how the committee arrived at the decision (no agenda, minutes, attendance, notes, circulars), has been given by this committee despite the Supreme Court technical expert committee last year recommending an indefinite moratorium on the field trials of GM crops until government prepares a regulatory and safety mechanism, and despite the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, in its 2012 August report, advocating powerfully for a ban on GM food crops in India.

The decision to permit field trials is blatant bullying by a section of the so-called scientific and technical expertise of the Government of India, which has acted as the agent of the biotechnology industry in India and its multi-national sponsors. The permission also underlines how firmly entrenched the interests are of India’s biotech industry (which combines crops seed, pharmaceuticals and plant protection formulae) in that the industry has been able to get its way even though the manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party explicitly included a statement on GM.

The GEAC committee [pdf]

The GEAC committee [pdf]

A committee such as the GEAC is unconcerned with the socio-economic ramifications of such decisions (a trait it shares with the rest of the industry-sponsored ‘scientific’ and ‘technical’ rubber stamps that litter central government, their cozy seats filled with feckless Indians). But the reaction has been swift and damning, and none of it angrier than from within the ideological allies of the BJP.

The Swadeshi Jagran Manch has accused the BJP of “deceiving the people” for “neither the government nor the GEAC has disclosed as yet the contents of the promised scientific evaluation, if any, or what changed between April 7, 2014 (the day the BJP released its election manifesto) and July 18, 2014, when the field trials of GM food crops were approved”.

“The people of India who have elected the BJP to power are feeling deceived,” said the statement. “They voted the BJP to power on the promises the party made to the people of India in its 2014 manifesto and speeches made by the leaders during the election.” In its election manifesto the BJP had written: “GM foods will not be allowed without full scientific evaluation on the long-term effects on soil, production and biological impact on consumers.” Those long-term effects have not been studied, and both the Department of Biotechnology and the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change have – through their inaction – failed in their duties to the government by reminding it of its objectives concerning the safety of India’s people and environment.

How disconnected the work of the ministries and departments are from the concerns of farmers and consumers is obvious for, only a day before the despicable GEAC decision, Prakash Javadekar (Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change), told the Lok Sabha about India implementing the
Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing. “By promoting the use of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, and by strengthening the opportunities for fair and equitable sharing of benefits from their use, the Protocol will create incentives to conserve biodiversity, sustainably use its components, and further enhance the contribution of biodiversity to sustainable development and human well-being.”

GM seed, crops and food is not what the Nagoya Protocol means by “promoting the use of genetic resources” and this government’s statements about “fair and equitable”, about “sustainable development and human well-being” will prove to be as hollow and as cynical as the statements made, in such reckless profusion, by the Congress during both terms of the UPA. For an NDA government that has taken pride in recalling Deen Dayal Upadhya and Shyama Prasad Mookherjee, it is not too much to recall that in a letter dated 8 November 2013 (addressed to the then prime minister Manmohan Singh) 251 scientists and academicians had asked the former government to accept the final report submitted by the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee on modern-biotechnology regulation [archive containing the Supreme Court report here, 3.2MB].

“Never in the history of agriculture has a technology been so controversial as Genetic Engineering (GE)/Genetic Modification (GM) of crops,” the letter had said. “The unpredictability and irreversibility of Genetic Modification (GM) as a technology and the uncontrollability of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) in the environment, coupled with scientific studies pointing at the potential risk to human health and environment, has resulted in a controversy across the world around the safety as well as the very need for introducing such potentially risky organisms into food and farming systems. These concerns, incidentally, have been raised first and foremost by scientists who are free of vested interests, on scientific grounds.”

Member companies of the biotechnology lobbying group ABLE-AG

Member companies of the biotechnology lobbying group ABLE-AG

It became quickly clear that the Congress government couldn’t have cared less about the carefully considered concerns of a large group of scientists and academicians speaking in one voice. In early February 2014 Manmohan Singh, in his inaugural address at the Indian Science Congress said that India “should not succumb to unscientific prejudices against Bt crop” (in what read like a script prepared for him by the public relations agencies for Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, BASF and the rest of those who sit in the shadows behind the GEAC). At the time, the Coalition for a GM Free India had bluntly said Singh was wrong and was willfully misleading the country on the issue of genetically modified (GM) crops. Moreover, there is a growing body of scientific evidence on the adverse impacts of GM crops on human health, environment and farm livelihoods – compiled by the Coalition in a set of more than 400 abstracts of peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Technically, the companies which will benefit from the contemptible GEAC and its permission will have to get no objections from the states for field trials. The record of states is mixed – Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana have allowed confined field trials in the past; Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, West Bengal and Rajasthan have refused them. This disunited approach by the states only emboldens bodies such as the Association of Biotech Led Enterprises-Agriculture Group (ABLE-AG), which is the biotech industry’s frontline lobbying group in India. “This is what we have been asking for the past three years,” ABLE-AG said on 18 July, “to approve field testing of new crops and traits. (Former environment minister) M. Veerappa Moily paved the way for it and we hope the new government will be supportive.”

The 336 seats that are occupied in the Lok Sabha – what prime minister Narendra Modi said is the ‘mandir of lokniti‘ on the first day the new government began its work – were not won for deception and false promises. Modi must annul the GEAC permissions, his government must abide by the provisions of the Supreme Court Technical Expert Committee report, and it must act on the advice of the Parliamentary Standing Committee report. Lokniti expects and deserves nothing less.

Washington shakes an IPR fist at India

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As we had expected in 2013 December, the mutual back-slapping over the WTO ‘deal’ between Indian and the USA evaporated very quickly indeed in the face of American business aggressiveness. For the US industry, business and trade associations and lobbies, ‘partner’ means vassal, ‘deal’ means binding obligation, ‘priority’ and ‘sanction’ become weapons (which hurt the poor and vulnerable the most), and ‘trade’ itself means subservience.

And this is why this week, the last of 2014 February, the National Association of Manufacturers in the USA – which represents some 50 American business groups – asked the US Trade Representative to designate India a Priority Foreign Country in its 2014 report. “This designation appropriately would rank India among the very worst violators of intellectual property rights and establish a process leading to concrete solutions,” NAM said in a letter to US Trade Representative Michael Froman.

In its official foreign policy and business pronouncements on India, the government of the USA, its representatives and its agents adopt a tone reminiscent of the 1950s, when American foreign policy and its agricultural scientists joined forces to bulldoze a green revolution in India. Here and now too, the USA likes to hear itself make statements such as “the promise of the 21st Century depends squarely on a robust US-India commercial and strategic partnership” and “central to this partnership will be the co-development and sharing of our best technologies, as well as free-movement between our economies of our best minds and thinkers”.

But the US doesn’t do diplomacy. America’s manner and approach has always been, my way … or else. And that is why one of the most powerful factors influencing Indo-American business and trade connections, the US India Business Council, through its seniormost officer (Ron Somers, who had worked for the energy company Cogentrix in Karnataka), called “attention to India’s need to calibrate regulations to protect data, or inspire India’s future legislature to adjust its Patent Act to align more wholly with international norms particularly regarding incremental innovation”. The USIBC also bluntly said: “Everyone agrees that India needs to spend more on its healthcare system” and that “evolving ecosystems that reward and protect Intellectual Property will be crucial”.

These disagreements between India and the USA have surfaced anew because the USTR is holding public hearings for its annual report, scheduled to be issued in April. This report will be on countries that the US government thinks are “denying protection of IP rights or fair market access to US firms”. The USTR has said that “India is widely perceived in Washington as a serial trade offender, with US firms unhappy about imports of everything from shrimp to steel pipes they say threaten jobs, as well as a lack of fair access to the Indian market for its goods”.

This is among the most signal, and deliberate, failures of the two UPA terms of government – that its reckless and dangerous chasing of foreign direct investment and its reckless and dangerous opening of domains previously in the public sector to private interests have left Bharat and India in such a crippled state that we as a country tolerate such an insult. There is not the slightest hint of fairness in America’s bullying ways, for it wants nothing less than the capitulation of India’s pharmaceuticals industry, and it wants the handing over of insurance – from life insurance to automotive to weather – to its own freebooting companies whose practices have assisted the plunge of a sixth of America’s population into poverty over the last decade.

What may happen now? There are press reports that India may take the USA to face the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism if included by the USTR in the ‘Priority Foreign Country’ list for intellectual property rights. American industry and trade lobbies are putting pressure on their government to include India under this list. Thus far, the position held within the central government is that the demand (from the US companies) is “completely wrong” as India’s intellectual property rights are compliant with global laws, including that of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

It is concerning pharma that the American MNCs are most vociferous. US pharma companies had objected to India’s move to issue a compulsory license in 2012 to Hyderabad-based Natco Pharma to manufacture and sell cancer-treatment drug ‘Nexavar’ at a price over 30 times lower than charged by patent-holder Bayer Corporation.

A delegation from the US International Trade Commission (USITC), described as a quasi-judicial agency, has arrived intending to probe the impact India’s policies on trade and investment have on the American economy (the intention is to supply the USTR with ammunition and to prepare for a WTO dispute confrontation; the Americans involved perhaps cannot see or appreciate the irony of the USIBC also praising India for investing in the USA and creating jobs there).

The USITC has raised the Natco matter, and has also raised the rejection of patent to Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Sprycel and Novartis’ Gleevec. It has stated that Indian IPR laws are not Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) compliant under the WTO. The response of the government of India has been to ask all its officials to stay away from any interaction with the USITC delegation.

But we have stood firm till here. Swiss pharmaceuticals manufacturer Novartis AG had lost a legal battle for getting its blood cancer drug Gleevec patented in India and to restrain Indian companies from manufacturing generic drugs. The Supreme Court had rejected the multinational company’s plea last year in a judgement that was loudly and widely hailed in all countries of the South. This came as a blow to the US-EU pharma MNCs who see the very much larger populations of the South as new markets. Hence the threatening fist-waving by the US government.

The complaint by American companies that India refuses to implement laws to provide data protection and to provide patents for bio-pharmaceutical companies is framed in terms of being against the interest of Americans in terms of jobs and ‘fair’ competition in the global marketplace. To support such nonsense, the US Chamber of Commerce’s Global IP Centers issues what it calls an International Intellectual Property Index, which compares the IP laws and implementation of those laws of 25 countries. In the 2014 Index, India received the lowest overall score, with a score of 0 for ‘Membership and Ratification of International Treaties’ and 0.25 for ‘Trade Secrets and Market Access’.

India’s policy on generic drugs has so far refused to accept ‘evergreening’, a scheme used by pharmaceutical companies to continue having a patent over a drug – even after its patent has expired – by modifying it slightly. India’s decision to grant compulsory licenses (within Indian and WTO rules) to anti-cancer drugs by Novartis and Bayer has infuriated Big Pharma in the US. To retaliate, the USA banned Ranbaxy selling medicines from its fourth plant in the USA – so much for being ‘fair’ at home in America; why does Ranbaxy continue to want to do business there?

India’s generic drug policy is guided by the need to provide cheap medicines to a large population that cannot afford even a fraction of the international patent-protected prices of these medicines, as several authoritative civil society responses to the matter have competently pointed out. This is the practice the judiciary has supported and this is the practice that must not change under any circumstance and regardless of the threats and blandishments by Froman and his shylockian collaborators.

Of Elsevier, Monsanto and the surge for Seralini

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Support for the team of scientists led by Giles-Eric Séralini, a professor of molecular biology at Caen University (France), is growing quickly every day following the appalling (but unsurprising) turfing out of the famous Seralini study from the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology.

The industrial combines that work with governments, multilateral lending agencies, corrupt politicians, venal bankers and (to add to this merry list) scrupleless publishers have been hard at work in the last week. Through their public relations peons, they have swamped the world’s newspapers and television channels with reports claiming that the ‘retraction’ by the Elsevier journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology, of the Seralini study is a step forward for science and a step closer to helping end hunger.

The level of public awareness about the dangers of GM food and seed needs independent and credible science as a partner. Here, anti-GM protesters in Bangalore, Karnataka, India

The level of public awareness about the dangers of GM food and seed needs independent and credible science as a partner. Here, anti-GM protesters in Bangalore, Karnataka, India

This is the most virulently cynical twisting of the truth in a long and gory history of truth being twisted in order that the food and cultivation options of millions remain, not a choice of options but the diktat of the corporations (GM seed, poison pesticide, poison fertiliser).

What did the Seralini group find? Their toxicological study on GM maize and Roundup herbicide involving 200 rats was done over two years, and found an alarming increase in early death, large tumours including cancers, and diseases of the liver and kidney. The study, published in 2012 by this journal (which has condemned Elsevier to lasting infamy and driven a spike through the cankerous heart of the sponsored scientific journals ancillary industry) was not the first to show the effects of Monsanto’s packaged poison (farmers in every country know the truth), nor was it the only one to show adverse health impacts from GM feed or Roundup herbicide.

What then? At the end of 2013 November (about a fortnight ago) PRNewswire reported ‘Elsevier announces article retraction from journal Food and Chemical Toxicology’ (2013 November 28).

This immediately set off the mobilisation amongst the hundreds, then thousands, who had been following the course of the Seralini study and the repugnant reactions to it by the GM food and seed industry (Monsanto, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, BASF and their subsidiaries and national partners).

In an open letter to the editor of Food and Chemical Toxicology the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) bluntly said that the journal’s retraction of the Seralini team’s paper “is a travesty of science and looks like a bow to industry”. ENSSER reminded the worldwide audience that the Séralini group had found severe toxic effects (including liver congestions and necrosis and kidney nephropathies), increased tumor rates and higher mortality in rats fed Monsanto’s genetically modified NK603 maize and/or the associated herbicide Roundup. There it was, clear as day.

ENSSER went on: “Even more worrying than the lack of good grounds for the retraction is the fact that the journal’s editor-in-chief has not revealed who the reviewers were who helped him to come to the conclusion that the paper should be retracted; nor has he revealed the criteria and methodology of their reevaluation, which overruled the earlier conclusion of the original peer-review which supported publication. In a case like this, where many of those who denounced the study have long-standing, well-documented links to the GM industry and, therefore, a clear interest in having the results of the study discredited, such lack of transparency about how this potential decision was reached is inexcusable, unscientific and unacceptable. It raises the suspicion that the retraction is a favour to the interested industry, notably Monsanto.”

Elsevier is attempting to erase from the public record results that are potentially of very great importance for public health. The support for the Seralini study and studies like it will ensure that does not happen.

Elsevier is attempting to erase from the public record results that are potentially of very great importance for public health. The support for the Seralini study and studies like it will ensure that does not happen.

The Elsevier journal, coming under baleful condemnation from all quarters for its cowardly act, essayed a response meant to be collective but which mired itself in administrative cover-thy-bum murkiness and addressed none of the substantial matters raised by the open letters which are gaining supported every day. Unable to see the writing on the crumbing frankenfood wall, The Economist, that gormless right-wing leaflet despised by fish’n’chips vendors, stumbled in with an editorial titled ‘Fields of beaten gold: Greens say climate-change deniers are unscientific and dangerous. So are greens who oppose GM crops’.

With the retraction of the Seralini team paper by the Elsevier journal, the Economist’s leader gibbered feverishly, “There is now no serious scientific evidence that GM crops do any harm to the health of human beings. There is plenty of evidence, though, that they benefit the health of the planet. One of the biggest challenges facing mankind is to feed the 9 billion-10 billion people who will be alive and (hopefully) richer in 2050. This will require doubling food production on roughly the same area of land, using less water and fewer chemicals. It will also mean making food crops more resistant to the droughts and floods that seem likely if climate change is a bad as scientists fear.” As you can see, this specious and laughably binary argument is the kind that the CGIAR and its thought-control institutions (such as the International Food Policy Research Institute) have sloshed through governments in the South for the last decade, mostly successfully.

But the world’s scientists cannot be bought and cannot be bullied en masse. The Institute of Science in Society wrote and circulated an open letter on the retraction and also included in it a “Pledge to Boycott Elsevier” – this letter has now been signed by 454 scientists and 813 non-scientists from 56 different countries!

The ISIS letter to the feckless Elsevier journal has said, very firmly: “Your decision to retract the paper is in clear violation of the international ethical norms as laid down by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), of which FCT is a member. According to COPE, the only grounds for retraction are (1) clear evidence that the findings are unreliable due to misconduct or honest error, (2) plagiarism or redundant publication, or (3) unethical research. You have already acknowledged that the paper of Séralini et al (2012) contains none of those faults.”

Moreover, the ISIS open letter has addressed in one fiery sweep the GM food and seed industry and their craven partners in governments, the journal publishers and their smarmy influence brokers alike: “This arbitrary, groundless retraction of a published, thoroughly peer-reviewed paper is without precedent in the history of scientific publishing, and raises grave concerns over the integrity and impartiality of science.”

Elsevier is already notorious for having published six fake journals sponsored by unnamed pharmaceutical companies made to look like peer reviewed medical journals; this particular journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology, had recently appointed ex-Monsanto employee Richard Goodman to the newly created post of associate editor for biotechnology; Elsevier remains the target of a still-current boycott initiated by eminent mathematician, Sir Tim Gowers, as a protest by academics against the business practices of Elsevier, especially the high prices it charges for journals and books; and this now thoroughly invalidated journal had also retracted another study finding potentially harmful effects from GMOs.

Tiffin: GM in China, land in Colombia, soya republic, the dodgiest food prize

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1) China is the world’s biggest grain producer and maintains a standing policy that forbids growing GM grain. But China does allow imports of certain GM products. In 2012, China imported over 58 million tons of soybeans – mostly genetically modified. Public opinions on GM crops in China are polarised, with a great number of people holding suspicions toward GM products.
Rao Yi, a professor and dean of Peking University’s School of Life Sciences, said that while some GM-related concerns still need to be discussed, there are also rumors that need to be dispelled. Domestically-grown soybean is scarce in China, as China’s imports of GM soybeans rocketed to 58 million tons from less than 3 million tons in 1997. Many farmers have abandoned soybeans for other crops, as imported soybeans are cheaper. GM technology is the future of agriculture, said Fang Zhouzi, a biochemist and vocal supporter of GM technology, adding that it will be harder for China “to catch up with the USA” if China does not recognize this fact.

2) Cargill, the world’s largest food company, has been secretly amassing land from small farmers in eastern Colombia, despite a law prohibiting the practice. When the two countries signed a free trade agreement last year, Cargill emerged as the owner of 52,574 hectares where it grows corn and soybeans. The small farms in the isolated high plains of Vichada department in eastern Colombia were given to poor peasants in the 1990s under a scheme to convert ‘wasteland’ in an area that had become a stronghold for the lucrative cocaine trade. Colombian law prohibits any one person or entity from owning more than one “agricultural family unit” of this land in an effort to diversify land ownership in a country where most land is owned by a small wealthy minority.

3) The profound impacts of the agribusiness model know no borders between rural and urban. In rural areas and outer suburbs they are measured in terms of agrotoxin poisoning, displaced farmers (who swell the ranks of the urban poor), ruined regional economies, correspondingly high urban food prices, and contamination of the food supply. Ultimately, what we are looking at is a social and environmental catastrophe settling like a plague over the entire region. Wherever you live, you cannot ignore it.
The handful of people and companies responsible for this chain of destruction have names: Monsanto and a few other biotech corporations (Syngenta, Bayer) leading the pack; large landowners and planting pools that control millions of hectares (Los Grobo, CRESUD, El Tejar, Maggi, and others); and the cartels that move grain around the world (Cargill, ADM, and Bunge). Not to mention the governments of each of these countries and their enthusiastic support for this model. To these should be added the many auxiliary businesses providing services, machinery, spraying, and inputs that have enriched themselves as a result of the model.
To put some numbers on the phenomenon, there are currently over 46 million ha of GE soy monoculture in the region. These are sprayed with over 600 million litres of glyphosate and are causing deforestation at a rate of at least 500,000 ha per year.

4) The 2013 World Food Prize has gone to three chemical company executives, including Monsanto executive vice president and chief technology officer, Robert Fraley, responsible for development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Yet, GMO seeds have not been designed to meet the Prize’s mandate and function in ways that actually impede progress toward the stated goals of the World Food Prize.
Almost twenty years after commercialisation of the first GMO seeds, by far the most widely used are not engineered to enhance nutrient content, but to produce a specific pesticide or to resist a proprietary herbicide, or a combination of these traits. Even in reducing weeds, the technology is failing, for it has led to herbicide-resistant “super weeds” now appearing on nearly half of American farms.
This award not only communicates a false connection between GMOs and solutions to hunger and agricultural degradation, but it also diverts attention from truly “nutritious and sustainable” agroecological approaches already proving effective, especially in the face of extreme weather. Developed and controlled by a handful of companies, genetically engineered seeds further the concentration of power and the extreme inequality at the root of this crisis of food inaccessibility.

Formation of the ‘Big 6’ seed-biotech-crop companies

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Over the past 15 years, the world seed industry has consolidated through mergers and acquisitions. This graphic, extracted from a 2011 December USDA report, shows how the ‘Big 6’ got to the positions they now occupy (I have added colour to make it easier to distinguish each dominant conglomerate’s consolidation history).

Formation of the 'Big 6' seed-biotech-crop companies. Graphic from: Research Investments and Market Structure in the Food Processing, Agricultural Input, and Biofuel Industries Worldwide / ERR-130. Economic Research Service / U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) (Report Number 130, December 2011) (click for the full size png image, 652kb).

Over the past 15 years, the world seed industry has consolidated through mergers and acquisitions. This graphic, extracted from a 2011 December USDA report, shows how the ‘Big 6’ got to the positions they now occupy (I have added colour to make it easier to distinguish each dominant conglomerate’s consolidation history).

An excerpt from the USDA report has explained some of the features of changes to the seed industry which can be summarised as follows:

1. Among the largest firms in terms of total product sales, the close relationships between seed and agricultural chemicals industries have continued. This applies to the Big 6 firms in particular. These relationships may result partially from complementarity of product lines such as herbicide-tolerant seeds and chemical herbicides, or possibly from economies of scope in marketing as well. Chemical companies also realized GM crops with pest resistance traits would compete with the crop protection chemicals, which helped drive these companies’ interest first in biotechnology and eventually in seed, thus changing their business models to meet farmer demand for crop pest management as technological opportunities changed.

2. On the other hand, the “life science industry” model suggested a decade ago has not become the dominant paradigm. This model stemmed from the likelihood that technologies underlying pharmaceutical discovery were the same as those underlying gene discovery for seeds. Differences in business models and types of customer, however, prevented firms from combining both pharmaceuticals and agricultural biotechnology. Of the current Big 6 companies, only one — Bayer — has pharmaceuticals as its primary product line.

Detail from the graphic, 'Formation of the 'Big 6' seed-biotech-crop companies'

Even when Bayer expanded into the seed/biotechnology industry in 2002 with its acquisition of Aventis Crop Science, Aventis pharmaceuticals eventually became a component of Sanofi-Aventis pharmaceuticals, not Bayer. Monsanto, which entered pharmaceuticals in the mid-1980s with its acquisition of Searle, was briefly held by Pharmacia before the agricultural enterprise was spun off as the “new Monsanto”; Pharmacia retained the pharmaceutical business segments. When Novartis’s chemical and seed businesses were merged with Zeneca’s agricultural chemical business in 2000 to form Syngenta, the pharmaceutical portion of Novartis remained intact as a separate large pharmaceutical company. BASF and DuPont ended their relatively smaller pharmaceutical investments after 2000 and 2001, respectively, and Dow had already sold its pharmaceutical subsidiary Marion Merrell Dow to Hoechst in 1996.

3. Agricultural chemicals have been an important part of product sales for all the Big 6 companies. However, positions in markets for non-agricultural chemicals have not remained constant, with some companies shedding these nonagricultural products. Monsanto divested this portion of its business to Solutia in 1997. When Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz merged to form Novartis in 1996, nonagricultural chemicals were spun off to Ciba Specialty Chemicals, which eventually was acquired by BASF. In response to antitrust considerations, Bayer sold selected insecticides and fungicides to BASF in 2003. DuPont sold its polymers business in the early 2000s.

Germany and Iran, a long-running hypocrisy reprised by the blocking of India’s oil payments to Tehran

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The German government has stopped the government from India from paying for oil, bought from Iran, through a German bank. This action has been explained by the German government as halting its dealings with Iran, which America, Germany’s Nato ally, has placed under an economic blockade for allegedly pursuing a nuclear weapons programme.

The extreme but characteristic hypocrisy of Germany with regard to countries of the Middle East has once again come to the fore with this action. Ever since the outbreak, in 1991, of the American invasion of Iraq, Germany’s private sector role in providing engineering and technical know-how to countries of the Middle East – specifically Iran, Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) and Libya – has been exposed. (America’s own complicity in arming, supporting and dealing with all manner of governments is too well-known.) More on the German hypocrisy follows after a brief description of the immediate action.

New media have today reported that India has agreed to stop paying for its Iranian oil imports via Germany. Payments to a Hamburg-based bank handling international trade with Iran had been halted. The Handelsblatt business daily has reported that German chancellor Angela Merkel had intervened by instructing Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank, to stop clearing payments from India headed to the bank, known as EIH, which is under USA but not EU sanctions.

Reuters has reported that this action will end “a trade conduit that had drawn strong disapproval from the United States and Israel” and that “the decision was a result of consultations between Berlin and New Delhi, and not pressure from Chancellor Angela Merkel at home or abroad to disrupt the payment scheme”. The news bulletin has been picked up by a number of small and regional newspapers in the USA, going under the headline ‘Germany won’t funnel oil money from India to Iran’.

The initial response from India, according to a few early reports, is that India’s finance ministry is now considering routing its payment for Iranian oil through a European bank which is ‘more neutral’ than the European Iranian Trade bank (EIH). The Indian Express has said that so far, India has paid 1.5 billion euros through EIH to the Iranian central bank. The Indian Express quoted a finance ministry official as having said: “EIH can’t be a long-term solution. We are looking at banks in Europe where Iranian central bank has an account. We will also open an account with (that) bank. We will have to look for a neutral bank, which EIH is not.”

India depends on Iran for about 15% of its crude oil imports. Iran is India’s second-biggest oil supplier after Saudi Arabia. India had imported 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil from Iran in 2009-10 and about 178,000 bpd during April-September. India, Asia’s third-largest oil consumer, imports over two-thirds of its oil needs and depends heavily on volumes from the West Asia to power its economy. India and Iran have been negotiating for months on ways to resolve the payment deadlock on a long-term basis and salvage the trade, which is worth around US$12 billion annually.

So much for India’s oil dealings with Iran. What moral standing has Germany in such a matter? Let’s revisit the recent past to see what Germany’s current imperialist ally in Libya – the USA – has itself had to say on German interest in Middle Eastern and North African business opportunities.

Foreign energy in Libya. Map: Stratfor

Remember Rabta? This was reported to be the largest chemical weapons factory in the developing world, and in the 1990s it was estimated that the Rabta factory’s potential output was between 8.5 and 33 tons of mustard gas and nerve agent daily. The Rabta plant, about 65 km south of Tripoli, was seen as having been buit and operated with the assistance of western (i.e. from western Europe) companies. At the time, it was the USA which concluded that a West German company played a central role in the design and construction of the rabta plant. Ronald Reagan was US president then and Helmut Kohl the German chancellor. The company was Imhausen-Chemie, and both the company and the feckless German government of the day claimed that all it was doing at Rabta was making plastic bags.

Let’s turn to Germany and Iran. Germany has been intensely involved in the international effort to thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons development program. Yet, while Chancellor Merkel has vocally stated her opposition to Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon, Germany has continued to be Iran’s largest trading partner in the EU and – whatever shape the coalition government in Berlin has taken – it has been pro-business, favouring commercial ties over the West’s security interests – this is typical, after all, for the country that until last year was the world’s biggest expoert economy, business comes first, never mind who it’s done with and what it’s used for. Germany’s exports to Iran reached about US$426 million in September 2009, while its imports were about US$140 million. This has been reported by The Jerusalem Post (September 29, 2009) and by Tehran Times (December 17, 2009). Which are the major companies that have, with the full knowledge and encouragement of the German government, done business in and with Iran? Some of the best-known are Siemens, ThyssenKrupp, BASF, Bayer, Herrenknecht and MAN Ferrostahl.

It is tiresome to hear sanctimonoius claptrap about Germany’s replacement of the primitive nationalisms of the past with multilateral principles of an integrated Europe, as its lying and double-dealing officials assure the European Parliament and international fora every so often. The “forgetting of power” in the West German peace movements and in the political language of détente used by its over-intellectualised political commentators is plain rubbish, for what Germany does abroad is quite different from what it says at home in Europa.

Understanding Cancún

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The ETC group – the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration – describes itself and its work as being dedicated to the conservation and sustainable advancement of cultural and ecological diversity and human rights. Amongst the financiers, diplomats, agents, fixers, saboteurs, rogues, destructive multi-lateral banks, geoengineers, evil biotech corporations and assorted carpetbaggers, there are some NGOs who are taking the sensible route. The ETC Group is one of these.

They are at Cancún, Mexico, for the climate summit. There, they have released two hard-hitting new reports and a third, just as blunt, which was used at the Convention on Biodiversity meeting in Japan. These are:

‘The New Biomassters – Synthetic Biology and The Next Assault on Biodiversity and Livelihoods’, a groundbreaking report that lifts the lid on the emerging global grab on plants, lands, ecosystems, and traditional cultures. The New Biomassters is a critique of what OECD countries are calling ‘the new bioeconomy.’ Concerted attempts are already under way to shift industrial production feedstocks from fossil fuels to the 230 billion tons of ‘biomass’ (living stuff) that the Earth produces every year -not just for liquid fuels but also for production of power, chemicals, plastics and more. Sold as an ecological switch from a ‘black carbon’ (ie fossil) economy to a ‘green carbon’ (plant-based) economy, this emerging bioeconomy is in fact a red-hot resource grab of the lands, livelihoods, knowledge and resources of peoples in the global South, where most of that biomass is located.

In how many languages does the Cancún talkfest need to hear the word 'danger'?

‘Geopiracy: The Case Against Geoengineering’ examines the high stakes involved in the rapidly advancing field of geoengineering – the intentional, large-scale manipulation of the Earth’s systems by artificially changing oceans, soils and the atmosphere. More than a set of climate altering technologies, geoengineering is a political strategy aimed at letting the industrialized countries off the hook for their climate debt. This report will help civil society organizations navigate the coming global debates over the science and politics of climate-change techno-fixes.

In ‘Gene Giants Stockpile Patents on ‘Climate-Ready’ Crops in Bid to Become Biomassters’, the ETC Group says that under the guise of developing “climate-ready” crops, the world’s largest seed and agrochemical corporations are filing hundreds of sweeping, multi-genome patents in a bid to control the world’s plant biomass. ETC Group identifies over 262 patent families, subsuming 1663 patent documents published worldwide (both applications and issued patents) that make specific claims on environmental stress tolerance in plants (such as drought, heat, flood, cold, salt tolerance). DuPont, Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Syngenta and their biotech partners account for three-quarters (77%) of the patent families identified. Just three companies – DuPont, BASF, Monsanto – account for over two-thirds of the total. Public sector researchers hold only 10%.

The Group’s strength is in the research and analysis of technological information (particularly but notes exclusively plant genetic resources, biotechnologies, and [in general] biological diversity), and in the development of strategic options related to the socioeconomic ramifications of new technologies.

Another NGO-advocacy taking the sensible route is the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development, which is also at Cancún, Mexico, for the climate summit. ICTSD says that the fourth assessment report by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the Stern Review of the economics of climate change, the Bali Action Plan and multiple authoritative studies have all highlighted the critical role that economic instruments, markets, and regulatory tools will play in efforts to address climate change.

Who says 2°C more is 'safe' for us?

“Addressing climate change requires no less than a fundamental transformation in the way in which energy is sourced and used today – a redefinition of what we produce, trade and consume. In a globalized, interdependent world, such an enterprise requires bold and innovative policies and the enabling regulatory frameworks to support them.”

“Indeed, the concern for both climate and trade policy, is how to steer a global and local transition of such magnitude, without compromising development and growth prospects; and in the way, how to manage impacts on competitiveness in an equitable manner. This would require a range of deliberate policies and conducive international institutions to ensure that social primary goods are generated and that natural resource use is conducted in ways that don’t compromise their renewal and ensure the integrity of natural energy and biological functions.”

Laudable and good. The trouble is that the idea of a responsible economy – the current trade-finance-exploitation economy – is as daft as the ideas of “green growth” and “clean coal”. Such labels would be comical if they weren’t being bandied about by all those entities I described in the first paragraph. Lobbying groups, industry associations and banks are turning these – and others such as “fast-track climate financing” – into full-time consulting industries with their own revenue sources. Far away from the victims and the dishoused and the jobless, these groups are driven by the same profit motive that led to the 18th century colonial race for new territories and resources. A bicentennium later, the stage has changed and the threat of climate change has become living fact, but greed and exploitation are ever at the forefront.