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Unmasking the new food syndicate

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An agency of the central government is serving as administrative cover for an inter-connected group of international donor agencies, multinational corporations, international policy and advocacy groups, Indian industries and Indian non-government organisations, all bent on bringing the next wave of industrialisation to food and its sales.

The FSSAI communication to consumers highlights the look, texture, weight and size of vegetables. Good organic produce however is never uniform and is frequently ‘blemished’, which the FSSAI warns against buying.

This next wave of industrial food is based on existing and new genetic engineering and manipulation technologies, none of which there is adequate regulation for (nor, for some of these technologies, even recognition of). The justification created for claiming these technologies are needed is the shift from ‘hunger’ to the successors of ‘malnutrition’ which are: ‘hidden hunger’ and ‘micronutrient deficiency’. This shift is seen as having the potential to open up a vast and very lucrative new area of the food sector.

Because of the growing (slowly but steadily) tendency of consumers towards organically grown staple food crops and horticulture, and because of the growing opposition to genetically modified seed and food, the food industry in India is following a new strategy through this central government agency. The strategy includes:
1. Defining what ‘safe’ food is and defining what ‘nutrition’ is.
2. Strengthening and deepening the consumer markets for industrially grown and controlled crops from which processed and packaged food products are manufactured.
3. Protecting the businesses of Indian food (and beverage) companies and foreign food MNCs through legislation.
4. Consolidating the ‘back end’ of industrial retail and processed food – which is the interest of the agricultural biotechnology (agbiotech) corporations, the fertiliser and pesticides companies, the farming machinery industry, the food processing machinery industry, the food logistics sector.
5. Facilitating the further integration in India of the food and pharmaceutical industries through the promotion of food ‘fortification’ and food ‘supplements’.

Buy milk pasteurised, buy it packaged and buy it sealed says FSSAI. Milk is considered by the FSSAI’s international collaborators and local ‘nutrition coalitions’ to be the ideal medium for food ‘fortification’. Using what material? There are no answers.

The agency that has taken the responsibility for seeing this strategy through is the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). It was established under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (No.34 of 2006). The FSSAI is described as having been “created for laying down science based standards for articles of food and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption”.

The 2006 Act subsumed central acts like the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act 1954, Fruit Products Order 1955, and the Meat Food Products Order 1973. Other legislations like the Vegetable Oil Products (Control) Order 1947, Edible Oils Packaging (Regulation) Order 1988, Solvent Extracted Oil, De-Oiled Meal and Edible Flour (Control) Order 1967, Milk and Milk Products Order 1992 were repealed when the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 commenced.

It is during the last two years in particular that the FSSAI has become very much more visible and active. This heightened visibility is a result of the FSSAI using the powers it has directly through the 2006 Act, but also because of its widening alliances with the food and beverages industry, with the dairy and milk products industry and with the global ‘nutrition’ consortia.

Edible oils must be packaged says FSSAI. The oil ‘ghani’ is scarcely seen nowadays, but its produce was fresher and gave households more confidence about the purity of the produce than blended oils can. Edible oils from GM oilseeds or GM vegetable oil sources are being imported with no safety oversight whatsoever, but FSSAI’s insistence that packaged edible oil is ‘safe’ discriminates against oil pressed at small scale from local oilseeds that may be entirely organic.

Today the FSSAI is very close to becoming a single reference point for all matters relating to food safety and standards, and is also very close to becoming the most important arbiter of what is considered ‘nutrition’ and what is considered ‘safe food’ in India. Because of the growth in recent years of the processed and packaged food industry (not the same as agriculture, horticulture, collection of forest products, inland and coastal small fisheries) the importance of a single reference point agency increases even more.

The largest formal industry associations – CII, Assocham and FICCI – estimate that in 2017 the retail or store value of packaged and processed foods (and beverages) was about 2,048,000 crore rupees (about US$ 320 billion) in 2016. This enormous estimate is thought by the industry to be able to rise much more to around 3,400,000 crore rupees (about US$ 540 billion) by 2021-22 provided of course changes are made in regulation, called ‘ease of doing business’ (the calamitous benchmark of the World Bank). The FSSAI is to be seen as a critical part of the overall apparatus to reach this gigantic sum in the next five or six years.

It is entirely possible if the FSSAI and its accomplice government agencies and ministries are permitted by us to get away with it. The same industry associations (interest clubs of companies and investors) say that the FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) sector in India has grown in rupee terms at an average of about 11% a year for the last decade and that four out of every 10 rupees spent on FMCGs are spent on food and beverages.

With practically no remaining restrictions on foreign direct investment (FDI) in the food and retail sector, and with the former Foreign Investment Promotion Board (under the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance) being replaced as an ‘ease of doing business’ change with the Foreign Investment Facilitation Portal (under the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Ministry of Commerce and Industry) the central government has done its bit to level – dangerously for both consumer health and for environmental well-being – the playing field.

For cereals and pulses too the FSSAI wants consumers to buy packaged, uniformly sized and fortified produce. The don’ts are fair but the dos only fulfil the agbiotech-pharma agenda.

The web of inter-connections that together exert great power over the food industry – and because of it over agriculture, horticulture, forestry products and fisheries – can be seen in how the FSSAI is set up and which agencies it advises. Its administrative ministry is the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The FSSAI works closely with the Ministry of Women and Child Development (its object being the Integrated Child Development Services, ICDS, which provides food, pre-school education, and primary healthcare to children under 6 years of age and their mothers), with the Department of School Education and Literacy of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (its object being the Mid-Day Meal Scheme).

The FSSAI relies on the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (Ministry of Commerce and Industry) to bring in (through the FDI route) or encourage private sector units that will prepare and deliver the material for food ‘fortification’ and food ‘supplements’. It coordinates with the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries (Ministry of Agriculture) concerning the dairy industry – working directly with the National Dairy Development Board to ‘fortify’ milk. It synchronises its rules and regulations with the Ministry of Food Processing Industries, which is the single point of reference for an industry that has become gigantic.

Frozen foods are energy sinks and are the very antithesis of healthy meal ingredients. But FSSAI has a place for them in its advice to consumers.

Furthermore the FSSAI works in tandem with the Department of Biotechnology (Ministry of Science and Technology) and the Department of Health Research (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare) in a joint effort to bring in and to develop biotechnology, genetic engineering and gene modification, and to find ways to publicise justifications (contrary to the great mass of scientific study that show GMOs to be harmful to humans, animals, soil and insects) for the use of these technologies and methods.

Thus although the FSSAI is considered by the Union Government of India to be an agency that has replaced multi-level, multi-departmental areas of control to a single line of command, just like the Foreign Investment Facilitation Portal or the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, these are agencies which do their work in concert, and that concert is played to the tune of the global agbiotech industry, the global food retailers, the e-commerce merchants and all their Indian corporate partners, subsidiaries and otherwise serfs.

Where genetically modified seed and crop, genetic engineering and gene manipulation in food ingredients and therefore food products are concerned, the FSSAI adopts the principle of lying low and saying nothing. In this its behaviour is consistent with that of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC, under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, but over which the Department of Biotechnology has controlling influence) and the Indian Council of Medical Research (responsible for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research and which is administered by the Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare), both of which lie lower and say even less.

Even condiments and spices are passed by FSSAI as good to consume provided they are packed, packaged and sealed. In this way, the agency is preparing the ground for outlawing non-packaged, freshly ground and prepared foods and spices.

Such incoherence may partly explain why while the FSSAI collaborates with the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (which is under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry) towards its idea of ‘safe food’ and ‘nutrition’, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (also under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry) was asked by the Ministry of Environment to stop imports of GM soybean for food or feed without the approval of the GEAC.

The Coalition for a GM-free India has noted a string of imports of agricultural produce which should have been halted at the sea ports of entry and tested for whether they were GM/GE. The FSSAI has inspection sites at 21 locations including six sea ports. But the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) tested seed samples in Gujarat and found them to be genetically modified, while the Soybean Processors’ Association of India has raised serious concerns about the alleged import of GM soybean and farmers in Maharashtra complained about GM soyabean being cultivated for the last three years in Yavatmal.

There can be no excuse of any kind for these imports having taken place (and these are only the ones we have learnt about – seeds for planting can be imported via airfrieght at any international air cargo terminal in India). Till today, the Department of Consumer Affairs (Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution) has a well-publicised programme and campaign of consumer awareness – on such matters as maximum retail price, expiry date of food products, batch number and correct weight – but not on whether a food product has ingredients from GM crop and why it is important for a consumer to know this.

This is deliberately withholding information from consumers about food and food products that government agencies are certifying and permitting to be sold. While for organic foods there is a new regulation requiring quality assurance and traceability – under the Food Safety and Standards (Organic Foods) Regulations, 2017 – which attest to a product’s ‘organic status’ and its ‘organic integrity’, there is none whatsoever for products that have a GM ingredient.

“Essential nutrients”, “daily requirement”, “fight infections”, “strong and healthy”. The FSSAI uses the marketing gibberish of the infant and baby foods industry to daze consumers into believing that food ‘fortification’ is essential.

Under its ‘Safe and Nutritious Food’ programme, the FSSAI seeks to direct home consumers and institutional buyers of food products (such as company staff canteens) in all manner of standards relating to fresh, processed and packaged foods, edible oils, dairy products, meats and beverages. The FSSAI talks about standards for goat and sheep milk, chhana and paneer, whey cheese, cheese in brine, dairy permeate powder, refined vegetable oil, synthetic syrup and sharbat, coconut milk and coconut cream, wheat bran, non-fermented soybean products, processing aides for use in various food categories, limits for heavy metals, standards relating to pulses, millet, cornflakes, degermed maize, formulated supplements for children, honey, beeswax, additives in various food categories, tolerance limits of antibiotic and pharmacologically active substances.

But not a word about GMOs, over which we have had scarcely any regulation, and none at all about synthetic biology (also known as GMOs 2.0), which are not even close to being recognised as needing immediate regulation in India. Both generations of GMO survive by inventing and exaggerating claims of experimental science whose human, toxicological and environmental safety has not been studied thoroughly, by an absence of labelling to stringencies that are demanded of organic produce, by putting industry in control of food systems, by threatening biodiversity.

Some examples from elsewhere in the world are ‘probiotic yoghurt’ made out of engineered bacteria and other microorganisms which are intended to change bacteria inhabiting the human digestive tract, ‘gene sprays’ that can be sprayed directly onto crops in the feld to manipulate the genetics of pests and the terrible ‘gene drives’ which permanently ‘drive’ a genetic trait through a species to change the entire population forever by making it dependent on chemicals or to go extinct.

Warnings about allergies and additives. Why not about GM ingredients?

The FSSAI and its host ministry, the GEAC and its host ministry, every administrative apparatus of the Union Government and of the state governments are silent on this matter. They are just as silent on the question: of what materials are these so-called ‘fortification’ made?

The international donor agencies working with the FSSAI and being consulted by the agency on ‘safe food’, ‘nutrition’ and food fortification are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Clinton Health Access Initiative, the Coalition for Food and Nutrition Security, the Food Fortification Initiative, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, the Iodine Global Network, Nutrition International, PATH, the Tata Trusts, UNICEF, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organisation and the World Bank. Each has an agenda that goes far beyond ‘food safety’. One or more of them undoubtedly has the answer.

All the conditions that are pointed to (wasting, stunting, chronic under-nutrition, anaemia) as needing remedies from food ‘fortification’ and ‘supplements’ can be easily remedied through more sensible crop cultivation choices and diets that are agro-ecologically and culturally sound. But food has long been a means of control, and this is the work that FSSAI does beyond and behind the ‘safety’ and ‘standards’ part of its mandate.

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The struggle for the soul of food

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There is food. There is no food. There is no contradiction in there being food and not-food at the same time.

But the not-food is not ‘no food’, it is primary crop that has been passed to food industry, instead of directly to households, and in that industry it is converted into a raw material that is entirely different from the cereals, vegetables, pulses and fruit forms that we consider food and which farmers grow.

That conversion is the food industry, and the demands of that conversion include the use of ‘high-response’ crop varieties, livestock and aquatic breeds, enormous doses of synthetic agro-chemicals and the flattening of ecosystems.

The food industry makes plants grow by applying pesticides and herbicides that sterilise all other life, takes those grown plants and reduces them to components, re-mixes and alters those components, infuses them with deadly formulations of chemicals so that they withstand the treatment of the supply and retail chain, packages them and sells them as ‘food’. This is the not-food that a majority of households in countries now eat.

The industrial food model is predicated on waste, on a false economy of surplus production of commodities rather than on the basis of ecological sustainability, on a biological science that has hideously distorted the rhythms of life.

In the last few weeks, several incisive new reports describe the problems with the industrial food model, and I have drawn quotes from four here. These are not the first. But the conditions they now describe for an old malady are not what we have seen before.

There is a fifth, which I call a pseudo-report. It describes the problems differently, as if they were disconnected from the source of the problems which the other four reports correctly identify. The FAO State Of Food And Agriculture 2017 report refuses to acknowledge the macro-economic, corporate science and finance capital causes for the problems.

Here are the summaries, with links:

Whereas historically the organisations’ proposal for agrarian reform referred particularly to land distribution and to access to productive resources, such as credit, financing, support for marketing of products, amongst others, the integral or genuine agrarian reform is based on the defence and the reconstruction of territory as a whole, within the framework of Food Sovereignty. The broadening of the object of agrarian reform, from land to territory also broadens the concept of the agrarian reform itself.

“Therefore the contemporary proposal for integral agrarian reform does not only guarantee the democratisation of land, but also takes into consideration diverse aspects that allow families to have a decent life: water, the seas, mangroves and continental waters, seeds, biodiversity as
a whole, as well as market regulation and the end of land grabbing. Furthermore, it includes the strengthening of agro-ecological production as a form of production that is compatible with the cycles of nature and capable of halting climate change, maintaining biodiversity and reducing contamination.”

From ‘Struggles of La Via Campesina, for Agrarian Reform and the Defense of Life, Land and Territories’, La Via Campesina, 2017

The Industrial Food Chain is a linear sequence of links running from production inputs to consumption outcomes. The first links in the Chain are crop and livestock genomics, followed by pesticides, veterinary medicines, fertilizers, and farm machinery. From there, the Chain moves on to transportation and storage, and then milling processing, and packaging. The final links in the Chain are wholesaling, retailing and ultimately delivery to homes or restaurants. In this text we use ‘industrial’ or ‘corporate’ to describe the Chain, and ‘commercial foods’ should undoubtedly be associated with the Chain. Just as peasants can’t be comprehended outside of their cultural and ecological context, the links in the Chain – from agro-inputs to food retailers – must be understood within the market economy. All the links in the Chain are connected within the financial and political system, including bankers, speculators, regulators and policymakers. The Chain controls the policy environment of the world’s most important resource – our food.”

From ‘Who Will Feed Us? The Peasant Food Web vs The Industrial Food Chain’, ETC Group, 2017

A significant horizontal and vertical restructuring is underway across food systems. Rampant vertical integration is allowing companies to bring satellite data services, input provision, farm machinery and market information under one roof, transforming agriculture in the process. Mega-mergers come in the context of an already highly-consolidated agri-food industry, and are ushering in a series of structural shifts in food systems. Agrochemical companies are acquiring seed companies, paving the way for unprecedented consolidation of crop development pathways, and bringing control of farming inputs into fewer hands.

“The mineral-dependent and already highly concentrated fertilizer industry is seeking further integration on the back of industry overcapacity and a drop in prices; fertilizer firms are also moving to diversify and integrate their activities via hostile takeovers, joint ventures, and the buying and selling of of regional assets– with mixed results. Meanwhile, livestock and fish breeders, and animal pharmaceutical firms, are pursuing deeper integration with each other, and are fast becoming a one-stop shop for increasingly concentrated industrial livestock industry. Leading farm machinery companies – already possessing huge market shares – are looking to consolidate up- and down-stream, and are moving towards ownership of Big Data and artificial intelligence, furthering their control of farm-level genomic information and trending market data accessed through satellite imagery and robotics.”

From ‘Too big to feed: Exploring the impacts of mega-mergers, concentration, concentration of power in the agri-food sector’, IPES-Food, 2017

Power — to achieve visibility, frame narratives, set the terms of debate, and influence policy — is at the heart of the food–health nexus. Powerful actors, including private sector, governments, donors, and others with influence, sit at the heart of the food–health nexus, generating narratives, imperatives, and power relations that help to obscure its social and environmental fallout. Prevailing solutions leave the root causes of poor health unaddressed and reinforce existing social-health inequalities.

“These solutions, premised on further industrialization of food systems, grant an increasingly central role to those with the technological capacity and economies of scale to generate data, assess risks, and deliver key health fixes (e.g., biofortification, highly traceable and biosecure supply chains). The role of industrial food and farming systems in driving health risks (e.g., by perpetuating poverty and climate change) is left unaddressed. As well, those most affected by the health impacts in food systems (e.g., small-scale farmers in the Global South) become increasingly marginal in diagnosing the problems and identifying the solutions.”

From ‘Unravelling the Food–Health Nexus: Addressing practices, political economy, and power
relations to build healthier food systems’, The Global Alliance for the Future of Food and IPES-Food, 2017

a) Industrialization, the main driver of past transformations, is not occurring in most countries of sub-Saharan Africa and is lagging in South Asia. People exiting low-productivity agriculture are moving mostly into low-productivity informal services, usually in urban areas. The benefits of this transformation have been very modest.
b) In the decades ahead, sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, will face large increases in its youth population and the challenge of finding them jobs. Workers exiting agriculture and unable to find jobs in the local non-farm economy must seek employment elsewhere, leading to seasonal or permanent migration.
c) The world’s 500 million smallholder farmers risk being left behind in structural and rural transformations. Many small scale producers will have to adjust to ongoing changes in “downstream” food value chains, where large-scale processors and retailers, who are taking centre stage, use contracts to coordinate supply and set strict standards to guarantee food quality and safety. Those requirements can marginalize smallholder farmers who are unable to adjust.
d) Urbanization, population increases and income growth are driving strong demand for food at a time when agriculture faces unprecedented natural-resource constraints and climate change. These increases have implications for agriculture and food systems – they need to adapt significantly to become more productive and diversified, while coping with unprecedented climate change and natural resource constraints.”

From ‘The State Of Food And Agriculture. Leveraging Food Systems For Inclusive Rural Transformation’, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, 2017

Disband the ministry for women and children

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RG_WCD_20160830

Perhaps better known for her penchant to find ways to police social media, the ministry headed by Maneka Gandhi has accommodated NGOs and their agendas easily.

There have in 2016 been several occasions when the work of the Ministry of Women and Child Development has come into the public glare. Not for reasons concerned with the welfare of women and children but instead for the words and actions of its minister, Maneka Sanjay Gandhi, on matters such as abuse of women in social media and paternity leave.

It is however with regard to the subjects that this ministry is concerned with – women and children of Bharat – that the most serious questions arise. As a separate ministry it is only a little over ten years old, having earlier been a department in the Ministry of Education (as the Ministry of Human Resources Development was earlier known) and with the department having been created in 1985.

What does this ministry do? In its own words: “The Ministry was constituted with the prime intention of addressing gaps in State action for women and children for promoting inter-Ministerial and inter-sectoral convergence to create gender equitable and child-centred legislation, policies and programmes.” The programmes and schemes run and managed by the ministry deal with welfare and support services for women and children, training for employment and the earning of incomes, gender sensitisation and the raising of awareness about the particular problems faced by women and children.

The ministry says that its work plays “a supplementary and complementary role to the other general developmental programmes in the sectors of health, education, rural development etc” so that women are “empowered both economically and socially and thus become equal partners in national development along with men”.

In my view there are several problems afflicting this ministry, not only in terms of what it says its work is, but also in how it goes about its work. As was the case in other countries that were once called the Third World (later called “under-developed” or “developing” countries and now called “emerging markets”), the creation of such departments or ministries came about as an adjunct to the worldwide concern about population growth, and which in Bharat had been through a particularly contentious phase in the 1970s.

Programme promotion material from the WCD. Nice pictures of children, but where are the families they belong to?

Programme promotion material from the WCD. Nice pictures of children, but where are the families they belong to?

That in our case a department was turned into a ministry needs to be considered against a background that has become very relevant now, for the year was 2006 and the Millennium Development Goals (or MDGs) had gone through their first set of comprehensive reviews and ‘corrections’. It is relevant because the problems concerning how the Ministry of WCD is now going about its work has to do with the successor to the MDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Looking back even only as far as recent weeks, the view, conduct and agency of this ministry calls into question, in my view, the need for it to continue as a separate ministry. Do read TS Ranga who provides a trailer into the bewildering whims and fancies of the minister. And here is a short list of the very substantial problem areas:

1. “Healthy Food to Pregnant Women-Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS)”. This means provision of supplementary nutrition to children (6 months to 6 years), pregnant women and lactating mothers. A variety of measures are needed to ensure provision: ‘Take Home Ration’, a conditional cash transfer scheme to give maternity benefit, ‘Village Health and Nutrition Days’ held monthly at anganwadi centres, tackling iron deficiency anaemia, a national conditional cash transfer to incentivise institutional delivery at public health facilities.

2. “Universal Food Fortification”. Fortification of food items like salt, edible oil, milk, wheat and rice with iron, folic acid, Vitamin-D and Vitamin-A “to address the issue of malnutrition and to evolve a policy and draft legislation/regulation on micronutrient fortification”.

3. “Beneficiaries of Supplementary Nutrition Programme under ICDS”. The increase in the number of beneficiaries is linked to the “Development Agenda for 2016-2030 of the United Nations” (the SDGs). The ministry delivers three of six ICDS services through the public health infrastructure under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.

4. “National Plan of Action for Children 2016”. The draft plan is based on principles contained in the National Policy for Children 2013 and categorises the rights of the children under four areas. The draft is being developed by ministries, state governments, and civil society organisations.

5. “ICDS Being Completely Revamped To Address The Issue Of Malnutrition”. The ministry is undertaking a complete revamp of the ICDS programme as the level of malnutrition in the country continues to be high. The digitisation of anganwadis is being taken up for real-time monitoring of every child and every pregnant and lactating mother. The ministry wants supplementary nutrition to be standardised through both manufacturing and distribution.

A great deal about 'nutrition', but nothing about the agricultural environment which supplies the nutrition. Unless by 'nutrition' the WCD considers only what MNCs produce as supplements and food 'fortification'.

A great deal about ‘nutrition’, but nothing about the agricultural environment which supplies the nutrition. Unless by ‘nutrition’ the WCD considers only what MNCs produce as supplements and food ‘fortification’.

6. “WCD Ministry and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation sign Memorandum of Cooperation”. The memorandum is for technical support to strengthen the nutrition programme in Bharat and includes ICT-based real-time monitoring of ICDS services. The motive is for national and state capacities to be strengthened to deliver nutrition interventions during pre-conception, pregnancy and first two years of life. There will be technological innovation, sharing best practices and use of data and evidence.

7. “ICT enabled Real-Time Monitoring System of ICDS”. The web-enabled online digitisation “will strengthen the monitoring of the service delivery of anganwadis, help improve the nutrition levels of children and help meet nutrition goals”. This will help draw the nutrition profile of each village and address the problem of malnutrition by getting real-time reports from the grassroot level. It will start with a project assisted by International Development Association (IDA) in 162 high burden districts of eight states covering 3.68 lakh anganwadis.

8. “Draft National Policy for Women, 2016”. The policy is being revised after 15 years and is expeceted to guide Government action on women’s issues over the next 15-20 years. “Several things have changed since the last policy of 2001 especially women’s attitude towards themselves and their expectations from life”.

9. “Stakeholders Consultations Held For Policy On Food Fortification“. A consultation with stakeholders was held to evolve a comprehensive policy including draft regulations on micronutrient fortification.

What do these tell us?

a) The ministry does not consider either women or children to be part of a family, or an extended family, or a joint family, nor are they part of a village community consisting of peers and elders. The extremely essential months during which women conceive, the post natal period, and the life of the infant until the age of two or three is – under this view – to be monitored and governed by the ministry and its agents. There is in neither of the draft plans mentioned in the points above the briefest mention of culture or community.

b) Such a view, distasteful and profoundly disruptive as it is to the institution of family, has come about because of the influences upon the ministry. Women and children are seen in this view as factors of consumption even within the family, and the decisions pertaining to what they consume, how much and when are to be controlled for lengthy periods of time by implementers and partners of the ministry’s programmes and schemes, which themselves are shaped by an international list called the SDGs in whose framing these women, children and their families played no part.

c) Sheltering behind the excuse of delivering the services of the ICDS, the ministry through its association with the Gates Foundation plans to collect at an individual level the medical data of millions of infants and mothers, for use as evidence. By whom? By the partners of the Gates Foundation and its allies which are the multi-national pharmaceutical industry, the multi-national agriculture and crop science industry and the multi-national processed foods industry. Hence we see the insistence on biofortification, micronutrients, ready-to-eat take-home rations and the money being provided (by the government through cash transfers) to buy these substances. The ICDS budget for the duration of the Twelfth Five Year Plan which ends in March 2017 is Rs 1,23,580 crore – a gigantic sum distributed amongst several thousand projects with a few hundred local implementing agencies including NGOs.

d) These objectives alone are reason enough to have the officials concerned, including the minister, immediately suspended and charge-sheeted for conspiracy against the public of Bharat. It is far beyond shameful that the valid reasons of malnutrition and gaps in the provision of essential services are being twisted in a manner that can scarcely be grasped. The 10.3 million children and women that are in the ICDS ‘supplementary nutrition’ net today form potentially the largest legitimised medical trial in the world, but with none of the due diligence, informed consent and independent supervision required for such trials in the so-called developed countries.

e) The ministry is entirely in thrall to its foreign ‘development partners’ – UNICEF, World Bank, DFID, WFP and USAID. For this reason the ministry has had the closest and cosiest of arrangements, from amongst all central ministries, with non-government organisations (NGOs) foreign and national. The international bodies such as UNICEF and the World Food Program (WFP) and the large national aid agencies (Britain’s DFID and the USA’s USAID) provide programme funding to NGOs international and national who work with and advise the WCD ministry. In the 2000s this was in order to comply with the Millennium Development Goals, now it is for the SDGs, and this is why the policy view of the ministry aligns with the UN SDGs rather than with the needs of our families whether rural or urban.

What is the remedy? The ministry manages several programmes that are critical for a large number of families all over Bharat. However these are programmes that have much in common with the aims and programmes of three ministries in particular: the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, and the Ministry of Human Resources Development (for matters pertaining to regulation and policy, the Ministry of Law and justice). These three ministries become the natural recipients of the responsibilities borne thus far by the Ministry of Women and Child Development and when such a transfer of allied duties is effected, some of the most important years in the lives of the children and women of Bharat will not become data points and consumption instances for corporations but return to being families.

Written by makanaka

August 30, 2016 at 22:43

Lured by dirty GM, Europe’s politicians betray public

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RG_GMO_quote_20140603Feckless EU politicians – the shallow brats of Brussels – have struck a deal between themselves and the agri-bio-technology corporations to sweep away the obstacles to genetically engineered crops in the European Union. This group, greasy fingers firmly in each other’s pocketbooks, want to allow (under limited circumstances, they say) individual EU member states to prohibit the growing of GMO crops on their territory, but to boost GMO crops in the EU overall.

The so-called “compromise pact” is likely to make it easier for the manufacturers of GM crops to win approval while allowing some countries to ban them. Not surprisingly, as the British government slavishly follows the White House line on every matter (except fish-and-chips), the deal was welcomed by Britain, which in a typically obsequious statement said it hoped the pact would allow for more rapid approval of GM crops in the EU.

Oddly, France’s agriculture ministry welcomed the “good news”, which coincided with a decision by the French constitutional court to uphold a domestic ban on GM maize. Just as oddly, Germany praised the deal for allowing “opt-outs”, saying it opened the way for a formal ban in Germany.

RG_EU_GMO_pact_201405This pact came following what is called an indicative vote of EU Member State representatives – taken in a closed meeting (obviously). A formal vote will take place at a meeting of Environment Ministers on June 12 and if agreed – very likely it will be – it will then go to the European Parliament for approval.

That approval (or not) may come in an environment riven by weaknesses in the EU’s GMO assessment and approval system and pro-GMO bias at the centre of the European Food safety Agency (EFSA). There has also been chronic failure to implement an EU-wide and rigorous co-existence and liability regime – to date the EU has only produced non-legally binding recommendations for co-existence (of GM and non-GM crops).

The significance of all this is that it breaks the political stalemate that has largely prevented GMO crops from being grown in the EU. The proposal is based on the deceit that both pro- and anti-GMO countries can have want they want, and the unity of the EU Single Market can remain intact.

This is nonsense because under the proposed terms:

* Before banning an approved GMO crop EU Member States have to seek agreement from GMO companies to having their product excluded from a specific territory.
* If the companies refuse, Member States can proceed with the ban but only on grounds that to do not go against the EU approval and assessment of health and environmental risk – which means that if the EU-wide assessment gives the nod to GM, the country must concur despite its own assessment and public opinion.
* EU Member States nevertheless still have specific grounds for a ban which can include aspects like protection of nature reserves, areas vulnerable to contamination, and socio-economic impacts. So EU ‘unity’ can be overridden, provided smaller and weaker EU members states assert that right.

The 400 million mark in urban India

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Urban_India_400million_201405By the end of 2014 June, a group of cities will cross important population thresholds. This upward procession of population numbers – for districts, cities and states – is scarcely observed by administration or by citizens, but continues apace. There is – in India’s 4,041 statutory towns (large cities included) and 3,894 census towns – little by way of monitoring and regular assessment of their populations.

Such an attitude simply means that policies and measures drawn up by administrations, universities, civic groups and voluntary organisations are out-of-date the instant they are final – because they are based on the population recorded in 2011 by the Indian Census of 2011 (which fixes the population in March of that year).

Measures to control and lower growth rates of population has become a subject on which there appears to be an unmentioned taboo, just as the subject of migration has become taboo, for as long cities and urban areas continue to absorb citizens who are forced to consume more, the growth rate of GDP can be maintained.

The implications of India’s urban population rising unchecked are not forecast or discussed by central and state planning agencies, nor is this done regularly by the many think-tanks and academic research units. Industry does so only insofar as estimating the size of various markets, for example the processed food, consumer finance, vehicle purchasing numbers, or dwelling units.

In 2011 March, the Census of India recorded the country’s population as 1,210.2 million – the rural population at 833.1 million (up by 90.47 million from 2001) and the urban population at 377.1 million (up by 91 million from 2001). The population growth rate for India between 2001 and 2011 was 17.64%, but while the rural population grew over the decade by 12.18% the urban population grew by 31.8%.

At the overall urban growth rates, here are the new population marks to be seen in 2014 June for a set of cities that will be familiar to many:

* Rohtak in Haryana will have a population of 406,400 (it was 294,577 in the 2001 Census); Gaya in Bihar 500,800 (394,945); Patiala in Punjab 501,600 (323,884); Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh 502,800 (413,616); Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh 506,400 (335,293).
* Udaipur in Rajasthan 509,900 (389,438; Nanded in Maharashtra 601,800 (430,733); Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh 1,006,400 (641,583); Hubli-Dharwad in Karnataka 1,006,700 (786,195).
* Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh 1,019,900 (669,087); Durg-Bhilai in Chhattisgarh 1,115,600 (927,864); Asansol in West Bengal 1,310,600 (1,067,368); Jamshedpur in Jharkhand 1,430,600 (1,104,713).
* Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh 1,526,500 (1,203,961); Meerut in Uttar Pradesh 1,532,400 (1,161,716); Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh 1,607,900 (1,039,518); Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh 2,067,300 (1,458,416).

These increases show the immense scale of this residential transformation, as every year several million citizens move to cities and towns. For what we consider a bloc of urban population, there is a band – which is imprecise, rather than a particular forecast, which does not take into account variations in the growth rate after 2011 – that lets us estimate the annual addition to total urban population.

The upper bound is the 3.18% annual urban population growth rate of the 2001-2011 decade, while the lower bound is the 1.76% annual total population growth rate of the same decade. In 2014 June, the total urban population of India will be between 399 and 417 million. Here is the result:

RG_urban_population_201405

An agency that has been specifically given the task of stabilising the country’s population is the Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh, an autonomous society of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

The Kosh runs activities aimed that help states and districts find ways to stabilise their populations – this means, halt and where possible reverse the growth rates. But the Kosh is also limited in its aims (and possibly its abilities) by what the central government says is the need of sustainable economic growth, social development and environment protection – that ‘growth’ delusion again has intervened in so serious a matter as controlling population growth.

One of the aims of the Kosh is to “facilitate the development of a vigorous people’s movement in favour of the national effort for population stabilisation”. This cannot be done without a clear and firm statement that indefinite ‘growth’ must be abandoned as a central economic idea, for only then will population growth, environmental degradation and humane urban settlements take shape.

IPCC to world: stop and shrink, or perish

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RG_IPCC_WG2_201403

The language is clear and blunt. The message continues to be, as it was in 2013 September, that our societies must change urgently and dramatically. The evidence marshalled is, when compared with the last assessment report of 2007, mountainous and all of it points directly at the continuing neglect of our societies to use less and use wisely.

This Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) comes seven years after the last. It has said that observed impacts of climate change have already affected agriculture, human health, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, water supplies, and livelihoods. These impacts are occurring from the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the wealthiest countries to the poorest.

"There is increasing recognition of the value of social, institutional, and ecosystem-based measures and of the extent of constraints to adaptation". Image: IPCC

“There is increasing recognition of the value of social, institutional, and ecosystem-based measures and of the extent of constraints to adaptation”. Image: IPCC

“Climate change has negatively affected wheat and maize yields for many regions and in the global aggregate. Effects on rice and soybean yield have been smaller in major production regions and globally, with a median change of zero across all available data, which are fewer for soy compared to the other crops. Observed impacts relate mainly to production aspects of food security rather than access or other components of food security. Since AR4, several periods of rapid food and cereal price increases following climate extremes in key producing regions indicate a sensitivity of current markets to climate extremes among other factors.”

The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) contains contributions from three Working Groups. Working Group I assesses the physical science basis of climate change. Working Group II assesses impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability, while Working Group III assesses the mitigation of climate change. The Synthesis Report draws on the assessments made by all three Working Groups.

The Working Group II AR5 considers the vulnerability and exposure of human and natural systems, the observed impacts and future risks of climate change, and the potential for and limits to adaptation. The chapters of the report assess risks and opportunities for societies, economies, and ecosystems around the world.

Widespread impacts in a changing world. Global patterns of impacts in recent decades attributed to climate change, based on studies since the AR4 (in 2007). Impacts are shown at a range of geographic scales. Symbols indicate categories of attributed impacts, the relative contribution of climate change (major or minor) to the observed impact, and confidence in attribution. Graphic: IPCC

Widespread impacts in a changing world. Global patterns of impacts in recent decades attributed to climate change, based on studies since the AR4 (in 2007). Impacts are shown at a range of geographic scales. Symbols indicate categories of attributed impacts, the relative contribution of climate change (major or minor) to the observed impact, and confidence in attribution. Graphic: IPCC

“Differences in vulnerability and exposure arise from non-climatic factors and from multidimensional inequalities often produced by uneven development processes. These differences shape differential risks from climate change. People who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally, or otherwise marginalised are especially vulnerable to climate change and also to some adaptation and mitigation responses. This heightened vulnerability is rarely due to a single cause. Rather, it is the product of intersecting social processes that result in inequalities in socioeconomic status and income, as well as in exposure. Such social processes include, for example, discrimination on the basis of gender, class, ethnicity, age, and (dis)ability.”

"Risk of food insecurity and the breakdown of food systems linked to warming, drought, flooding, and precipitation variability and extremes, particularly for poorer populations in urban and rural settings." Chart: IPCC

“Risk of food insecurity and the breakdown of food systems linked to warming, drought, flooding, and precipitation variability and extremes, particularly for poorer populations in urban and rural settings.” Chart: IPCC

The Working Group 2 report has said that impacts from recent climate-related extremes (such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires) reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability. The impacts of such climate-related extremes include alteration of ecosystems, disruption of food production and water supply, damage to infrastructure and settlements, morbidity and mortality, and consequences for mental health and human well-being. The WG2 has starkly said that for countries at all levels of development, these impacts are consistent with a significant lack of preparedness for current climate variability in some sectors.

“Climate-related hazards exacerbate other stressors, often with negative outcomes for livelihoods, especially for people living in poverty. Climate-related hazards affect poor people’s lives directly through impacts on livelihoods, reductions in crop yields, or destruction of homes and indirectly through, for example, increased food prices and food insecurity. Observed positive effects for poor and marginalised people, which are limited and often indirect, include examples such as diversification of social networks and of agricultural practices.”

Here is how the Working Group II report, and it’s a hefty one indeed, has been organised.

"With increasing warming, some physical systems or ecosystems may be at risk of abrupt and irreversible changes." Chart: IPCC

“With increasing warming, some physical systems or ecosystems may be at risk of abrupt and irreversible changes.” Chart: IPCC

Volume 1 is called ‘Global And Sectoral Aspects’. Its sections and chapters are: Context for the AR5 (01-Point of departure, 02-Foundations for decision making), Natural and Managed Resources and Systems, and Their Uses (03-Freshwater resources, 04-Terrestrial and inland water systems, 05-Coastal systems and low-lying areas, 06-Ocean systems, 07-Food security and food production systems), Human Settlements, Industry, and Infrastructure (08-Urban Areas, 09-Rural Areas, 10-Key economic sectors and services), Human Health, Well-Being, and Security (11-Human health: impacts, adaptation, and co-benefits, 12-Human security, 13-Livelihoods and poverty), Adaptation (14-Adaptation needs and options, 15-Adaptation planning and implementation, 16-Adaptation opportunities, constraints, and limits, 17-Economics of adaptation), Multi-Sector Impacts, Risks, Vulnerabilities, and Opportunities (18-Detection and attribution of observed impacts, 19-Emergent risks and key vulnerabilities, 20-Climate-resilient pathways: adaptation, mitigation, and sustainable development).

Volume 2 is called ‘Regional Aspects’. Its chapters are: 21-Regional context, 22-Africa, 23-Europe, 24-Asia, 25-Australasia, 26-North America, 27-Central and South America, 28-Polar Regions, 29-Small Islands, 30-The Ocean. There is also ‘Summary Products’ which contains: a Technical Summary and WGII AR5 Volume-wide Frequently Asked Questions. There is ‘Cross-Chapter Resources’ which contains: a Glossary, WGII AR5 Chapter-specific FAQs, Cross-chapter box compendium. Finally there is ‘Edits to the Final Draft Report’ which contains: Changes to the Underlying Scientific/Technical Assessment, List of Substantive Edits.

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.

Scientists’ statement deflates the bogus idea of ‘safe’ GM

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ENSSER_GMO_statement_10More scientists, physicians and legal experts have signed the group statement issued by the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) on the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The number of initial signatories to the statement, titled ‘No scientific consensus on GMO safety’, was almost 100 on the day it was released, 2013 October 21, and has more than doubled since.

The ENSSER group has reminded us that crop genetic engineering is dominated not by ecological experts but by molecular biologists: “Many are not knowledgeable about ecological risks and – more importantly – they fail to recognise the limitations of their expertise.”

ENSSER_GMO_statement_13Regarding the environmental risk of GM crops, ENSSER has said, the negative effects now documented empirically have been predicted since about 25 years.

For instance, while naturally occurring Bt toxins come in a diversity of variants, GM crops necessarily have to choose one Bt toxin to be transferred, significantly enhancing the probability of resistance development. Such effects are analysed by community ecology researchers and not visible on the genetic level.

“So it is a shame that, more than 20 years after the international academic societies of ecologists and molecular biologists agreed on the complementarity of their competences, and the necessity to assess ecosystem impacts in a systemic fashion, today’s molecular biologists still do neither recognise nor respect the limits of their competencies (not to speak about the influence of funding). Ignoring one’s own blind spots is what can turn science into a social risk.”

ENSSER_GMO_statement_11Those who have signed the statement “strongly reject claims by GM seed developers and some scientists, commentators, and journalists that there is a ‘scientific consensus’ on GMO safety and that the debate on this topic is ‘over’.”

The signatories have said they “feel compelled to issue this statement because the claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist. The claim that it does exist is misleading and misrepresents the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of opinion among scientists on this issue. Moreover, the claim encourages a climate of complacency that could lead to a lack of regulatory and scientific rigour and appropriate caution, potentially endangering the health of humans, animals, and the environment”.

ENSSER_GMO_statement_16ENSSER members and non-members alike who have signed the statement have collectively said that science and society do not proceed on the basis of a constructed consensus, as current knowledge is always open to well-founded challenge and disagreement. They endorse the need for further independent scientific inquiry and informed public discussion on GM product safety and urge GM proponents to do the same.

Regarding the safety of GM crops and foods for human and animal health, a comprehensive review of animal feeding studies of GM crops found that most studies concluding that GM foods were as safe and nutritious as those obtained by conventional breeding were “performed by biotechnology companies or associates, which are also responsible [for] commercialising these GM plants”.

ENSSER_GMO_statement_12It is often claimed that “trillions of GM meals” have been eaten in the US with no ill effects. However, no epidemiological studies in human populations have been carried out to establish whether there are any health effects associated with GM food consumption. As GM foods are not labelled in North America, a major producer and consumer of GM crops, it is scientifically impossible to trace, let alone study, patterns of consumption and their impacts. Therefore, claims that GM foods are safe for human health based on the experience of North American populations have no scientific basis.

ENSSER_GMO_statement_15A report by the British Medical Association concluded that with regard to the long-term effects of GM foods on human health and the environment, “many unanswered questions remain” and that “safety concerns cannot, as yet, be dismissed completely on the basis of information currently available”. The report called for more research, especially on potential impacts on human health and the environment.

ENSSER_GMO_statement_14Likewise, a statement by the American Medical Association’s Council on Science and Public Health acknowledged “a small potential for adverse events … due mainly to horizontal gene transfer, allergenicity, and toxicity” and recommended that the current voluntary notification procedure practised in the US prior to market release of GM crops be made mandatory. The ENSSER group has said that even a “small potential for adverse events” may turn out to be significant, given the widespread exposure of human and animal populations to GM crops.

India’s 681 million hungry rural citizens

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RG_NSSO_68_MPCE_pic1What do and what can rural residents spend on food and the essentials of living in India? This chart gives us an indication. It is based on new data contained in the latest revelation (my word, not theirs) from the National Sample Survey Office and is titled ‘Key Indicators of Household Consumer Expenditure in India’ (the 68th Round of sampling, for those who follow the extraordinary programme of this sterling statistical organisation).

There is data enough in the volume to inform us, clearly and starkly, that the cumulative impact of several years of food price inflation is hurting households more with every passing quarter. Consider what this new data release tells us:

RG_NSSO_68_MPCE_pic3* That the average rural monthly expenditure per person was lowest in the states of Odisha and Jharkhand (around Rs 1,000) and also in Chhattisgarh (Rs 1,027).
* In Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, the rural monthly expenditure per person was about Rs 1,125 to Rs 1,160.
* In urban India (not shown in this chart, but I will add to this posting with an expanded update) Bihar had the lowest monthly expenditure per person (called monthly per capita expenditure by the NSSO and abbreviated to MPCE) of Rs 1,507.
* In Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, urban MPCE was between Rs 1,865 and Rs 2,060. These six were the six major states with the lowest MPCEs for both rural and urban citizens.

But those are averages, and in this data release, the NSSO has divided its usual ten deciles even further for the lowest and highest deciles. (The decile is the surveyed population divided into tenths, with these being classified by expenditure level.) Doing so gives us a better view of the elastic expense trends in the top ten per cent of the population, the class which is so pampered by the central government. For rural India then, the 5th percentile of the MPCE distribution was estimated as Rs 616 and the 10th percentile as Rs 710 – and these are all-India averages.

[The spreadsheet with the table and chart is here. You can find the highlights of the NSSO study here.]

RG_NSSO_68_MPCE_pic4About half the total rural population is thus estimated to have a MPCE below Rs 1,198. Only about 10% of the rural population reported household MPCE above Rs 2,296 and only 5% reported MPCE above Rs 2,886 (this is using what is called the ‘modified mixed reference period’ or MMRP, in which the person interviewed is asked to recall purchases made over two different lengths of time, for different sorts of goods). The bottom-line is that food accounted for about 53% of the value of the average rural Indian’s household consumption during 2011-12.

This included 11% for cereals and cereal substitutes, 8% for milk and milk products, another 8% on beverages and processed food, and 6.5% on vegetables. Among non-food item categories, fuel for cooking and lighting accounted for about 8%, clothing and footwear for 7%, medical expenses for about 6.5%, education for 3.5%, conveyance for 4%, other consumer services for 4%, and consumer durables for 4.5%.

This ought to be a ringing alarm about access to food for the country’s planners, who are otherwise obsessed with GDP growth and whether India is cosmetically dolled up enough to attract global finance capital. It hasn’t sounded even a muted gong, and even if it had, one stunning inference from this table has been ignored – that this is an indicator of food and multi-dimensional poverty and that millions of rural residents are unable to afford food and basic services.

How so? Look at the chart again. Imagine, at just above the line marking 2,000 rupees, a dotted red line at a level of around 2,070 rupees. That is the equivalent (before the recent fall in the rupee’s value against the US dollar) of USD 1.25 a day, which has (ill-advisedly) been cemented in development wisdom as a poverty line that can be applied in countries like India. Let’s accept that in order to focus on what the new NSSO data tells us.

RG_NSSO_68_MPCE_pic5At the Rs 2,070 level we see that for a relatively prosperous state like Haryana (a former Green Revolution state) about 50% of the rural population cannot spend, per person per month, this amount. The percentage of the rural population below and above this line is similar, more or less, for Punjab (also a former Green Revolution state) and for Kerala (which is not, but has income from economic migrants abroad).

But the entire rural populations of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha cannot spend this amount, because they do not earn it. How many is that? Using the 2001-2011 population growth rates (for rural populations of states) this means 98.96 million in rural Bihar, 20.65 million in rural Chhattisgarh, 26.52 million in rural Jharkhand and 36.19 million in rural Odisha are below this line. What of other states with large rural populations?

In Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, 90% of the rural population is below this line and that means 25.23 million in Assam, 49.90 million in Madhya Pradesh, 147.25 million in Uttar Pradesh, and 57.26 million in West Bengal. In Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, 80% of the rural population is below this line and that means 28.52 million in Gujarat, 30.66 million in Karnataka, 50.77 million in Maharashtra and 43.55 million in Rajasthan. In Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, 70% of the rural population is below this line and that means 39.64 million in Andhra Pradesh and 26.56 million in Tamil Nadu.

Taken together those rural populations are 681.72 million (more than twice the population of the USA). They are 78% of India’s 2013 rural population, almost eight out of ten rural citizens.