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Recolonising India: Gross Maladministration and the Illegal Entry of GMOs

Colin Todhunter

Despite five high-level reports (listed here) in India advising against the adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops, the drive to get GM mustard commercialised (which would be India’s first officially-approved GM food crop) has been relentless. Although the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has given it the nod, GM mustard remains held up in the Supreme Court mainly due to a public interest litigation by environmentalist Aruna Rodrigues.

Rodrigues argues that GM mustard is being undemocratically forced through with flawed tests (or no testing) and a lack of public scrutiny and that unremitting scientific fraud and outright regulatory delinquency has taken place. She is seeking a moratorium on the environmental releasee of any genetically modified organism (GMO) in the absence of: comprehensive, transparent and rigorous biosafety protocols; biosafety studies conducted by independent expert bodies; and access to biosafety protocols and data in the public domain.

On Friday 24 August 2018 and in relation to the ongoing court proceedings surrounding GM mustard, Rodrigues filed an additional court application concerning the ongoing illegal imports of GM seed, GM soy cultivation in Gujarat and the presence of GMO imports in processed foods and oils. All of this represents a back-door entry of GMOs into India.

The application is scathing about what it calls proof of ultimate ‘regulatory delinquency’ and of the regulators and attendant government ministries mortgaging the public interest.

This new 78-page submission to court asserts that the GEAC has provided cover for the illegal trade in imports of GM processed foods, including huge quantities of GM seeds as well as processed and crude soy oil. The GEAC is also accused of deliberately allowing the contamination of India’s food chain with untested GMOs, thereby potentially endangering the health of Indians.

In addition to the illegal cultivation of herbicide-tolerant (HT) soybean in Gujarat, there have also been reports of HT cotton illegally growing in India (insecticide-containing Bt cotton is the only legally sanctioned GM crop in India).

Interestingly, this 2017 paper discusses how cotton farmers have been encouraged to change their crop planting practices, leading to more weeds appearing in their fields. The outcome of this change in terms of yields or farmer profit is no better than before. These changes, however, coincide with illegal HT cotton seeds appearing on the market: farmers are being pushed towards a treadmill reliance on illegal cotton seeds genetically engineered designed to withstand chemical herbicides.

The authors, Glenn Stone and Andrew Flachs, say that traditional planting practices and ox-plough weeding are:

…being actively undermined by parties intent on expanding herbicide markets and opening a niche for next-generation genetically modified cotton.”

They observe:

The challenge for agrocapital is how to break the dependence on double-lining and ox-weeding to open the door to herbicide-based management…how could farmers be pushed onto an herbicide-intensive path?”

In 2018, the Centre for Science and Environment tested 65 imported and domestically produced processed food samples in India. Some 32 per cent of the samples tested were GM positive: 46 per cent of those imported and 17 per cent of those samples manufactured in India. Out of the 20 GM-positive packaged samples, 13 did not mention use of GM ingredients on their labels. Some brands had claims on their labels suggesting that they had no GM ingredients but were found to be GM positive.

The situation has prompted calls for probes into the workings of the GEAC and other official bodies who seem to be asleep at the wheel or deliberately looking the other way.

But this wouldn’t be the first time: India’s only (now legal) GM crop cultivation – Bt cotton – was discovered in 2001 growing on thousands of hectares in Gujarat. The GEAC was caught off-guard when news about large scale illegal cultivation of Bt cotton emerged, even as field trials that were to decide whether India would opt for this GM crop were still underway.

In March 2002, the GEAC ended up approving Bt cotton for commercial cultivation in India. To this day, no liability has been fixed for the illegal spread.

The tactic of contaminate first then legalise has benefited industry players elsewhere too. In 2006, for instance, the US Department of Agriculture granted marketing approval of GM Liberty Link 601 (Bayer CropScience) rice variety following its illegal contamination of the food supply and rice exports. The USDA effectively sanctioned an ‘approval-by-contamination’ policy.

In her evidence submitted to court, Aruna Rodrgues argues that what is happening must invite the gravest charges. At least four institutions stand accused of unconscionable gross maladministration: The GEAC, Ministry of Commerce, the Food Safety Standards Authority, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade the Directorate of Plant Protection and Quarantine & Storage.

Corruption at the core of the global GM project

Corruption and illegality go hand in hand with the global GM project. For instance, a jury in San Francisco recently found that Monsanto had failed to warn former groundsman Dewayne Johnson and other consumers of the cancer risks posed by its weed killers. It awarded him $39 million in compensatory and $250 million in punitive damages.

The jury’s verdict found not only that Monsanto’s Roundup and related glyphosate-based brands presented a substantial danger to people using them but that there was “clear and convincing evidence” that Monsanto’s officials acted with “malice or oppression” in failing to adequately warn of the risks.

The warning signs seen in scientific research about the dangers of glyphosate dated back to the early 1980s and have only increased over the decades. However, Monsanto worked not to warn users or redesign its products but to create its own science, designed to appear independent and thus more credible, to show they were safe.

To have Roundup removed from the market or its use heavily restricted would pull the rug from under much of Monsanto’s GM endeavour to date, which has relied on the roll-out of two crop traits: herbicide tolerance and bt insecticide. Monsanto genetically engineered crops to withstand direct spraying of Roundup (HT trait): these seeds and the herbicide are huge money spinners for the company. It comes as little surprise to many therefore that the company would use all means necessary to protect its product and its bottom line.

Glyphosate-based herbicides are widely used around the globe. Residues are commonly found in food and water supplies, and in soil, air samples and rainfall. Regulators, however, have failed to heed the warnings of independent scientists, even brushing aside the findings of the World Health Organization’s top cancer scientists who classified glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen”.

Another trial will take place in October in St Louis involving roughly 4,000 plaintiffs whose claims are pending with the potential outcomes resulting in many more hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in damage awards. They all allege that their cancers were caused by exposure to Monsanto’s herbicides and that Monsanto has long known about, and covered up, the dangers (it is no coincidence that in Argentina, where glyphosate is liberally sprayed on GM HT crops, there has been dramatic increases in birth defects and cancers).

Unsurprisingly, many in India have called for a ban on HT tolerant crops. The Supreme Court appointed TEC Committee recommended a ban on HT crops (2013) and the Swaminathan Task Force Report (2004) recommendation was that HT crops are completely unsuited to Indian agriculture. Health dangers aside, in a country of small farms where multi-cropping is common, sanctioning the liberal spraying of herbicides on GM HT crops would be grossly negligent. Even in the US, with its huge farms and mono crop expanses, the spraying of the herbicide dicamba is causing big problems for farmers, many of whom claim the chemical has drifted onto their fields, damaging crops that are not genetically modified to withstand it.

But India’s regulators and attendant ministries have tried to introduce GM mustard which is tolerant to another herbicide, glufosinate (contained in Bayer’s brand ‘Basta’), a neurotoxin even more toxic than glyphosate.

Prof. Dave Schubert (Salk Institute for Biological Studies) in his document ‘A Hidden Epidemic’, says that we have reached the point where the evidence against probable carcinogen, glyphosate (active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup), is “directly analogous with DDT, asbestos, lead and tobacco, where industries were able to block regulatory actions for many years by perpetually muddying the waters about their safety with false or misleading data.”

Where GM is concerned, we are witnessing an unnecessary gamble with the genetic core of food, the environment and human health. Unnecessary because the US authorities themselves have conceded that GM crops have failed to achieve desired benefits. For example, regarding drought tolerance, the USDA has admitted that Monsanto’s drought-tolerant corn performs no better than existing drought-tolerant varieties of non-GM corn.

Regarding yields, in 2016 the US National Academies of Sciences concluded, “The nation-wide data on maize, cotton, or soybean in the United States do not show a significant signature of genetic engineering technology on the rate of yield increase.”

In India and Burkina Faso, Bt cotton has not been a success. Moreover, a largely non-GMO Europe tends to outperform the US, which largely relies on GM crops. In general, “GM crops have not consistently increased yields or farmer incomes, or reduced pesticide use in North America or in the Global South (Benbrook, 2012; Gurian-Sherman, 2009)” (from the report ‘Persistent narratives, persistent failure’).

“Currently available GM crops would not lead to major yield gains in Europe,” says Matin Qaim, a researcher at Georg-August-University of Göttingen, Germany.

Consider too that once the genetic genie is out of the bottle, there may be no way of going back. For instance, Roger Levett, specialist in sustainable development, argues (‘Choice: Less can be more, in Food Ethics, Vol. 3, No. 3, Autumn 2008):

If some people are allowed to choose to grow, sell and consume GMO foods, soon nobody will be able to choose food, or a biosphere, free of GMOs. It’s a one-way choice… once it’s made, it can’t be reversed.”

HT crops have also led to serious problems (as set out here) in countries where they are used.

Moreover, non-GM alternatives can outperform GM, yet officialdom in India seems to be facilitating the contamination of agriculture with illegal GMOs.

And what of India’s only legally permitted GM crop to date? The peer reviewed study “Deconstructing Indian cotton: weather, yields and suicides” concludes that “annual farmers’ suicide rates in rainfed areas are inversely related to farm size and yield and directly related to increases in Bt-cotton adoption (i.e. costs)”.

Despite evidence of the failure of Bt cotton, Aruna Rodrigues notes that for the regulators it nevertheless strangely remains the official template of ‘success’ for other GM crops.

GMO based on a fraud

GM has not delivered as promised, is not ‘substantially equivalent’ to non-GM counterparts and poses unique risks (previously discussed here).

And the corporations behind the roll-out of GM have done little to inspire confidence. According to Steven Druker, we can see that GMOs were approved fraudulently in the face of scientific warnings: clear, early warnings right from the start of possible harm. As the latest application to India’s Supreme Court states:

These early warnings have been confirmed and reinforced up to the present time, through independent studies; this despite great difficulties faced by scientists, which include ‘persecution’, and sackings, nothing short.”

There are major uncertainties concerning the technology (not least regarding its precision and health safety aspects), which are brushed aside by industry lobbyists with claims of ‘the science’ is decided and the ‘facts’ about GM are indisputable. Such claims are merely political posturing and part of the plan to tip the policy agenda in favour of GM. Tipping that agenda also involves corruption and the subversion of democratic institutions.

Following the court decision to award in favour of Dewayne Johnson, attorney Bobby Kennedy Jr said the following at the post-trial press conference:

…you not only see many people injured, but you also see a subversion of democracy. You see the corruption of public officials, the capture of agencies that are supposed to protect us all from pollution. The agencies become captured by the industries they are supposed to regulate. The corruption of science, the falsification of science, and we saw all those things happen here. This is a company (Monsanto) that used all of the plays in the playbook developed over 60 years by the tobacco industry to escape the consequences of killing one of every five of its customers… Monsanto… has used those strategies…”

He then went on to say glyphosate is ubiquitous in the food supply and is related to so many terrible life-threatening conditions, which he listed.

Given the failure or lukewarm performance of GM technology, the risks to health and the environment and the devastation caused by India’s only legal GM crop to date, many might be wondering why Indian authorities are facilitating the entry of (chemical-dependent) GMOs into the food system.

Why is there so much support for a technology mired in fraud that has to date created more problems and risks than benefits?

Why – despite increasing support for highly productive, sustainable zero-budget farming in places like Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka – is a bogus technology being pushed?

Why, based on India’s unnecessary and rising import bill, is unadulterated (non-GM) food, self-reliance and food security an anathema to policy makers?

In other words, whose interests are ultimately being served: the public, the farmers or those of transnational agrocapital?


12 Comments

  1. vexarb says

    Rob, taking BigB’s reply together with Eric Zeusse’s latest article on the inherent tendency of Capitalism to morph into Dictatorship, l would not be surprised to find unbroken tendencies to Nazism in Bayer families — as in the Bush family.

    • Robbobbobin says

      Bayer is now an enormous public conglomerate consisting of scores of acquired public and private corporations, many of them acquired wholly coincidentally by having previously been acquired by the target corporations that Bayer has since acquired before Bayer was even on their corporate horizons. Many of the corporations within the Bayer conglomerate retain their own executive lineups and supervising boards. Thousands of independent shareholders world wide, many of them major investment, insurance and pension funds, etc., vote on the financial, business and ethical performances of those executives and boards.To them and to the many bodies world wide tasked with regulating such matters, the most basic premises of your position on them, which suggests a significant remaining, specifically Nazi (National Socialist German Workers’ Party) influence rules their bog-standard, 21st century fascistic, plug’n’play, executive-think business ethic, would look like 100% pure, adolescent, tinfoil paranoia. Way to go.

      Incidentally, Zeusse’s article is entitled and his text repeatedly posits that it is a “free market” that inevitably produces “dictatorship” (in itself a loose reworking or rediscovery [?] of Aristotle’s 23 century old political analyses positing that a “degenerate democracy” leads to oligarchy, slackened off and brought up to date for the era of modern industrial capitalism, with some early 20th century anarchism thrown in for good measure). If Zeusse uses the “free market” as his base, with its specific, now closely-associated “Chicago School” intellectual baggage of Hayek, Friedman & Co, it does clarity of communal thought no service to wobble off into specifying Zeusse’s “free market” as denoting the many faceted monster of “Capitalism” in general as that base instead.

  2. rilme says

    GMOs are not so much about agriculture and feeding people, but about piracy. Pirates kill people and steal the gold. USUK (and they do) pirates, such as monsatan, patent life itself. This enables them to steal all the food (legally they own it). Ten thousand years of farmers developing channa means nothing to these pirates: they tweaked it, they own it!

    Remember this the next time the USA bleats about its “intellectual property”.

  3. Antonyl says

    Where GM is concerned, we are witnessing an unnecessary gamble with the genetic core of food.
    Is (Bt) cotton a core food?

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  4. Robbobbobin says

    ‘…brushing aside the findings of the World Health Organization’s top cancer scientists who classified glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen”.’

    Bayer/Monsanto may yet get away with their claim that glyphosate is “harmless” because, in its pure form, there’s some evidence to suggest that it is. However, in its pure form it is more or less useless for agricultural purposes and to get it into a form that works as planned in the field several additives are required. These mostly harmless additives seem to be, individually and/or collectively, catalyst/s for the toxicity of the commercial formulations. I can’t cite the report concerned as I apparently failed to index it in any way, but it’s out there somewhere (by now probably with some further replicatory research (or not)) but it seemed to be pukka in its methodology, etc., so anyone with sufficient interest and more time than me might care to look it out and see where it went, if anywhere, because it’s probably unlikely that Bayer/Monsanto will. Meantime, if any B/M exec offers to drink a glassful of the stuff, as I understand from a different source has happened, make sure someone tells them that we’re all too concerned for their wellbeing to watch them doing it with the hundred proof stuff and would far prefer that they downed a glassful of the “more dilute”, therefore certainly (?) less toxic, off-the-shelf Roundup formulation instead.

    • rilme says

      “In its pure form” is an odd sort of argument. A chunk of lead, or even plutonium, sitting on the table isn’t very dangerous, but as tetraethyl lead or plutonium dust they have shortened millions of lives. What does roundup dust do to mammals that inhale it?

      • Robbobbobin says

        “Purest form” is exactly what means. Unadulterated. What did you think it meant?

        The original report (which I really can’t be bothered helping relocate, so stunning is the lazy, “meme”-fed ignorance of the average soundbite BTLer anywhere) pointed out that toxicology tests on unadulterated glyphosate showed it to be “relatively harmless” but also relatively useless as an agricultural or even home gardening product because it needs various equally “relatively harmless” but quite specifically formulated adjuvants to control dispersal, cell penetration and other such factors in order to work in those environments. However, when those specific adjuvants are added in the appropriate, specific formulations, the resultant products are far from harmless, as the same toxicology tests on those augmented products, also reported in the same research paper, show.

        The point is simple: the politicians and judges who arbitrate public policy are in general every bit as lazy and pig ignorant outside of their greasy pole legislatures or grabby law offices as is the average BTLer and the historical record of big business lobbying in those milieu clearly indicates that IF pukka toxicology tests show that unadulterated glyphosate is basically harmless THEN there’s a very good chance that Bayer/Monsanto will present those tests and only those tests (despite the serious contradictions that arise when commercial formulation is factored in, even if those contradictions are known within B/M) to the relevant legislatures and courts. And they might well get away with it: any questions about additives will be brushed aside on the grounds that they, too, are harmless and “already well tested” (which it seems they are) as demonstrated by their being in common use everywhere since ever.

        Given the aforementioned average lazy pig ignorance of anything more than the simplest outlines of fields outside of their own, and their equally high regard for their own areas of “competence”, those legislatures and courts are thus likely or very likely to give “the active ingedient” glyphosate (and thence “Roundup Ready” formulations using it using “already well tested” additives) a free pass, which clearly it should not have. That is, unless the added adjuvant danger is as clearly presented as the “benign glyphosate” case is likely to be.

        Now tell me: what is in this response that was not clear or easily deduced from the original post (and a little armchair Googling done to help locate and fact-check the original paper it references)? This: sweet fuck all, that’s what.

        So: if anyone wants to avoid glyphosate-assisted agriculture but they are too fucking lazy to get off their arse and do their bit of fact-schlepping on potentially useful pointers to help keep them at bay, why should I care? Answer is: after wasting literally decades of my life just re-spelling out in time consuming detail the (now far more) imminent dangers of this sort of environmental shit (than when I started), in fucking multi-quadruplicate, over and over and over and OVER, I finally don’t care. “They” obviously want to eat new recipe glyphosate porridge for breakfast, so bring it on. Better yet, tell me where the mill’s stock is listing so I can invest in it for high returns and get a new, widescreen, extreme high-wattage, huge carbon and cadmium footprinted tv, solely for use in our sunny little breakfast nook, to watch the early morning news of them squirming and writhing themselves to glyphosate heaven while I’m plating up our organic Weetbix.

        Incidentally, your plutonium and lead analogies are more loose crap. Elemental plutonium or lead ground up and left lying around as dust will poison just as well or better than any octane-or-whatever enhancing compounds of them, whereas it seems, from the research paper I left it to the terminally outraged to help locate and perhaps verify, that glyphosate needs quite specific formulations of additives to reach its full potential as a useful BTL-denizen killer.

        At least I have learned one thing from being a heavy-duty Jeremiah for so many wasted years: I now know how many inattentive, secretly own offspring and habitat despising cretins it takes to make one misanthropic curmudgeon. Fucking millions of them. Or, more accurately, if the research turns out to be solidly based, millions plus the number whose eyes read “glyphosate” but whose lazy, shitfor brains regurgitated “Roundup”. No wonder even just half-smart corporate lawyers fool and/or co-opt so many of the world’s pompous, corrupt-ass legislative committees and presiding judges so much of the time.

        Mumble mumble mutter mutter fuckwits mumble mumble mutter mutter shitfors mumble mumble…

  5. BigB says

    Colin’s rhetorical questions don’t require an answer …but, for the lineal descendents of Nazism at Bayer should suffice.

    Personally, I hope not to see the day when my local curry house has these additions to the menu:

    Chlorinated chicken massala (with added antibiotics and growth hormones)
    GM Liberty Link 601 (Bayer CropScience) pilau rice
    Monsanto Roundup (HT trait) channa (chickpea) bhaji
    ‘Approval-by-contamination’ milk kulfi

    Nice!

    • Robbobbobin says

      “Colin’s rhetorical questions don’t require an answer …but, for the lineal descendents of Nazism at Bayer should suffice.”

      Ah! So genetic inheritance is predictive. I’ll try to arrange a seance to summon up Descartes to see if, from his post-death position of omniscience on the other side of the Pearly Gates, he agrees. Meanwhile it might be a good idea to set up some sort of valid experiment to see if any malevolence in the reconstituted Bayer of today has a genetic origin or if it is just part of the current capitalistic imperative that is dumped on any organised business in hock to a bank. Wouldn’t want to be fanning the flames of the movement consecrating guilt by metaphorical association. In this rational forum that would be sooo pre-Enlightenment. As Trump said to Putin just the other day, it would be just another witch hunt <|:-o)

      • BigB says

        Genetic determination is the smallest part of who we are. Then there is the interaction with the culture and the environment. Now, in the hyper-aggressive medium of corporate domination and exponential capital accumulation: there you have a means of extremising hereditary that transcends both genes and environment?

        And yes, Cartesian materialism enables it, but the taking of poor Rene’s name is merely emblematic. Duality preceded Rene in human cognition by, well, how long have you got! He merely codified it with an unfortunate self-reflexive pseudo-statement …riddle me this – I think: therefore I am …I do not think: therefore I am not …where have I gone! 😉

        • Robbobbobin says

          “Genetic determination is the smallest part of who we are.”

          No arguing with homo sapiens’ hubris.

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