From the Green Revolution to GMOs: Toxic Agriculture Is the Problem Not the Solution

Colin Todhunter

Why did the European Food Safety Authority claim that glyphosate was not ecotoxic? This is the question environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason poses in her new 23-page report which can be accessed in full here.

In places, the report reads like a compilation of peer-reviewed studies and official reports that have documented the adverse impacts of chemicals used in modern agriculture.

Only a brief outline of Mason’s report is possible here. Readers are urged to consult the document to grasp more detailed insight into the issues she discusses as well as the evidence cited in support of her arguments and claims.

Mason argues that the European Commission has consistently bowed to the demands of the pesticide lobby. In turn, she notes the fraudulent nature of the assessment of glyphosate which led to its relicensing in Europe and thus the continued use of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup.

This ongoing support for the pesticide lobby flies in the face of so much evidence pointing to the detrimental effects of Roundup and other agrochemicals on the environment, living organisms, soil, water and human health.

These chemicals have become integral to an increasingly globalised process of agro-industrialisation. Mason discusses the nature of modern farming by referring to the endless cornfields of Iowa. One hundred years ago, these fields were home to 300 species of plants, 60 mammals, 300 birds and thousands of insects. Now, there is almost literally nothing – except corn – in what amounts to a biological desert. The birds, bees and insects have gone.

It’s a type of farming where so much toxic agrochemicals are used that they have ended up in soils and sediment, ditches and drains, precipitation, rivers and streams and even in seas, lakes, ponds, wetlands and groundwater. A type of agriculture that is responsible for undermining essential biodiversity, human health and diverse, nutritious diets.

The report takes us further afield, to the Great Barrier Reef to discuss the destruction of coral by Monsanto’s Roundup and Bayer’s insecticide clothianidin. It is interesting that the pesticide industry and the media tend to blame global warming for the degradation of the reef. Although there have been efforts to grow new corals, Mason states that pesticide runoff from farmland means that corals will continue to be destroyed.

She touches on the role of agrochemicals in relation to the decline of the Monarch butterfly and the now well-documented ecological Armageddon due to the dramatic plunge in insect numbers: insects which are vital to soil health and the food web. Numerous studies and reports are presented as well as warnings from scientists and whistleblowers like Henk Tennekes and Evaggelos Vallianatos about the impacts of toxic chemicals in food and agriculture.

Indeed, since the late 1990s, Mason notes that various scientists have written in increasingly desperate tones about biodiversity loss and the impact on humanity as well as the emerging fungal threats to animal, plant and ecosystem health.

Mason also reveals insight into her own struggles with a local authority in Wales over the destruction of her nature reserve due to the council’s spraying of Roundup in the vicinity. Despite numerous open letters and e-mails to UK and European agencies documenting the impacts of this herbicide (some of this correspondence is contained in the report, with responses), her evidence has been ignored and it remains ‘business as usual’.

That’s because global agrochemical conglomerates exert huge political influence at state and international levels. For instance, back in 2017, the Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food was heavily critical of these companies and accused them of the “systematic denial of harms”, “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” and heavy lobbying of governments which has “obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions”. The authors noted the catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society in general.

At the time, one of the report’s authors, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, said:

The power of the corporations over governments and over the scientific community is extremely important. If you want to deal with pesticides, you have to deal with the companies…”

Her co-author, Baskut Tuncak, the UN’s special rapporteur on toxics, added:

While scientific research confirms the adverse effects of pesticides, proving a definitive link between exposure and human diseases or conditions or harm to the ecosystem presents a considerable challenge. This challenge has been exacerbated by a systematic denial, fuelled by the pesticide and agro-industry, of the magnitude of the damage inflicted by these chemicals, and aggressive, unethical marketing tactics.”

In noting the severity of the issue and the driving forces that perpetuate and profit from the chemical-intensive corporatised global food regime, Mason quotes Vandana Shiva:

The ecological crisis, the agrarian crisis, the food crisis, the health and nutrition crisis, the crisis of democracy and sovereignty are not separate crises. They are one. And they are connected through food.

The web of life is a food web. When it is ruptured by chemicals and poisons that come from war, and rules of ‘free trade’ that is a war declared by corporations against the earth and humanity, biodiversity is wiped out, farmers are killed through debt, and people die either because of hunger or because of cancer, diabetes, heart problems, hypertension and other environment and food related chronic diseases.

Everyone is paying a very high price for corporate greed and dictatorship and collusion of corporate states to spread the toxic empire of corporations in the name of ‘reforms’.”

Pesticides include herbicides, insecticides, termiticides, nematicides, rodenticides and fungicides. Today, the pesticide industry is valued at over $50 billion and there are around 600 active ingredients. Herbicides account for approximately 80 per cent of all pesticide use.

Of course, Vandana Shiva’s main focus is on India and the ongoing undermining of its indigenous agriculture by foreign corporations. The potential market for herbicide growth alone in India is huge: sales have probably now reached over $800 million per year in that country, with scope for even greater expansion. And have no doubt the global agrochemical industry has made India a priority.

From cotton to soybean, little wonder we see the appearance of illegal genetically modified (GM) herbicide-tolerant seeds in the country. These seeds are designed not only to push GM into India across a range of food crops but, ultimately, to drive the growth of the herbicide market in India, as they have in South America.

The detrimental health impacts there as a result of the widespread use of Roundup are now well documented along with the displacement of indigenous peasant agriculture to make way for commodity monocropping agro-exports. At the same time, in certain cotton cultivation areas of India, we have seen a push to break traditional weeding practices (‘double-lining’ ox ploughing), seemingly with the intention on nudging farmers towards taking up herbicide-tolerant seeds.

Little wonder too that we currently see industry-connected lobbyists (masquerading as objective scientists or independent ‘science communicators’) residing abroad and encouraging farmers in India to plant these illegal GM seeds in what appears to be an orchestrated campaign. Numerous high-level reports have stated that GM is unsuitable for India. Having lost the debate, the GM/agrochemical lobby has now resorted to a tactic of illegal cultivation.

While touting the supposed virtues of GM agriculture, these lobbyists also spend much of their time promoting the merits of its godparent, the Green Revolution, in an attempt to justify the roll-out of GM seeds and associated herbicides. But emerging academic research indicates that the Green Revolution in India did next to nothing in terms of increasing productivity, despite the well-perpetuated myth that it saved lives and helped avert famine.

In fact, in Punjab, the cradle of the Green Revolution in India, this ‘green dream’ has turned into a toxic environmental and human health nightmare.

India produces enough food to feed its population. It does so without GM and could do so agroecologically without synthetic chemicals – without ‘nuking’ nature and without destroying human health. While the agrochemical lobby continues to spin the message that India and the world  need its proprietary inputs to feed the world and eradicate hunger, the reality is – as noted by Hilal Elver and Baskut Tuncak – that we do not.

If we want to look at the causes of hunger and malnutrition, we must first address the deleterious impacts of the water-guzzling, chemical-dependent Green Revolution, so eloquently described by Bhaskar Save in his open letter to officials in 2006 and extremely pertinent given India’s current water emergency; the global capitalist food regime and its undermining of regional food security and food sovereignty; the lack of income to purchase sufficient food; and various other issues, including an erosion of land rights, debt, poverty and food distribution problems.

No amount of genetic engineering or chemicals can address these issues. And no amount of industry-inspired spin can divert attention from the root causes of malnutrition and hunger and genuine (agroecological) solutions.


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Simon Hodges
Simon Hodges
Jul 5, 2019 1:40 PM

Simon Hodges Over the next decade, the climate crisis is going to be used as the categorical imperative for the roll out of global GMO and extensive bioengineering and geoengineering as the scientists of neoliberal corporate capitalism propose to take full technocratic control over the weather and nature in order to save us all. In the face of crisis, GMO offers to greatly enhance the carbon capture of plants and trees on a global scale. There are risks of adopting and applying such technologies but it will be presented as a fait accompli that we have now reached the climate emergency crisis stage where it will be stated that the risk of not rolling out a GMO approach far outweighs the risks of their global roll-out and implementation. There will be no rational alternative apparently than to adopt a portfolio of approaches to dealing with climate change in order to… Read more »

Rhys Jaggar
Rhys Jaggar
Jul 5, 2019 8:21 AM

a ‘Green Revolution’ is a term deserving precise definition. It seems to me that ‘Green’ here is a throwaway sound bite. There is a smaller, more silent true green revolution occurring. Lots of little people are learning that food grows very well without damaging soil through tilling and digging and that water retention improves through such practices too. People are learning that applying compost as a covering mulch is sufficient to sustain soil fertility and as a result are focussing on how to mulch and compost properly. It is of course anathema to say that feeding ourselves organically will employ large numbers of smallholders, since that rejects agricultural robots who must create more unemployed. The 0.1% can never be rich enough and the 99.9% can never be sufficiently servile. Psychopathic senior doctors embrace such inhumanity with alacrity. For them, creating a market of sick people secures their livelihood, whereas creating… Read more »

Jul 5, 2019 3:33 AM

Back to India bashing under the guise of GMOs. China doesn’t exist, nor Pakistan, Brazil or Indonesia.

Jul 5, 2019 6:25 AM
Reply to  Antonym

India is a bit of a problem in the overall scheme of things because they are so many and who knows what they could get up to when more angry. I guess that’s why we all have a bit of a stake in India. Their caste system is like a chain around their ankles plus their fanatic love for religion, which pits Hindus and Moslems against each other, is not a recipe for success, either.

It has been said elsewhere that glyphosate kind of seals soils after some years of use which explains the many floods while wells run dry.

Russia has decided against the chemicals and GMO. The Russian/Chinese Axis is not to be disregarded. In 50 years scientists can study the differences, if any.

Tim Jenkins
Tim Jenkins
Jul 5, 2019 12:31 PM
Reply to  Wilmers31

Good comments Wilmers,

but, generally speaking it is considered largely wiser when someone is a demonstrable Troll of old, (that is commanded to distract, project & transfer any conversation away from the matter in hand, in line with his bosses ‘brief’), it is best not to feed them anything other than a dose of Round-Up of values under EU Law, for the few shillings & shekels, synonymous with Antonym’s profession …

just a thought 😉

Farm boy
Farm boy
Jul 5, 2019 10:21 PM
Reply to  Wilmers31

I just cant take this. Urban idiots who want to build future policies. Glyphosate does not seal off the soil. I have an organic farm, and an organic farm. The organic land that has not seen an artificial input ever…is very hard soil. Organic requires tillage, and its ruined the soil, no structure. As to comments on compost , where to ya find enough manure to do this, transport it, pay for it…not feasible outside of a small vegetable operation. My zero till conventional fields have much better soil. I dont like giving money to Bayer….I avoid it, use minimal inputs. From my experience in grain farmer, if you want to starve people, just force agriculture to go organic. If you dont starve, it will ruin your cushy ,soft urban lives as food will be expensive, and eat up a bigger chunk of your income. So, come see my farm… Read more »

Tim Jenkins
Tim Jenkins
Jul 7, 2019 9:00 AM
Reply to  Farm boy

I’m not one of those likes or dislikes:

may I first ask how many years have you been at ‘it’ ?

and how many years experience of farming you had before trying organic ?

and most importantly where is your location in this godforsaken world ?

Jul 5, 2019 1:40 AM

You can discount all the Global Warming hysteria for the hoax it is. The main problem with it lies in the distraction from serious issues like this. It is worrying what has happened to wildlife at the bottom of the food chain. When you drove down the coast on a warm sunny day, you had to clean the windscreen afterwards because it was covered with squashed tiny insects. That never happens now. Germany is supposed to have lost 75% of its insect population. Bees may have declined to an even greater extent. The poor little critters are totally fu**ed up by agricultural spraying. I can’t remember the last time I saw a sparrow. You used to see them every day. You see odd things like cormorants instead. Far fewer things like frogs. It’s as if the countryside is sterile. GMO Frankenfoods could be the means of bringing about the population… Read more »

The Thinker
The Thinker
Jul 4, 2019 10:37 PM

Thank you for the article and link to the wider report, it made for very interesting reading. I am just musing over it and thinking back to all the research and reading I have done over the years around horticulture and the importance of soil structures. I have a relative with Parkinson’s and was looking at ways to improve their wellbeing, and it became apparent to me that the human body needs the trace elements of certain minerals found in food, the soil it’s grown in and the water and sun it needs to flourish. Over much time, the soil structures have been damaged and the minerals leeched out by products like Monsanto’s/Bayer. Those minerals now exist less in GMO crops, forced crops and soil and so the body is deficient. I’m sure it’s not the only culprit, but to my mind has definitely contributed to brain health deterioration and… Read more »

Jul 4, 2019 4:48 PM

I prefer to use the term biocide. An ecosytem or network of symbiotic life relation may express through what to us are toxic conditions – and often does. The corporate takeover of ‘Ecospeak’ is to seek to make a destructive agenda sustainable by inducing people or populations to take the pain, the toxicity and sickness and burden – either by loss of voice or power to speak or act against it or by parasitical indoctrination of self denial as ‘salvation’. But this is merely delaying the inevitable as the persistence in lies or stories that are not true but which demand sacrifice of true to pass off in its place. I wrote on Big Ag and Big Pharma today Adulterated Sustenance and a false sense of security https://willingness-to-listen.blogspot.com/2019/07/adulterated-sustenance-and-false-sense.html The underlying principle or should I say lack of principle is our core issue – corporate influence is overwhelming any educational, political… Read more »

Tim Jenkins
Tim Jenkins
Jul 5, 2019 1:04 PM
Reply to  binra

Excellent comment, Brian and on the blogspot, logic dictates … “The science or logical consistency of true premise, cannot take place or bear fruit, when all communication and information is ‘marketised and weaponised’ to a mindset of possession and control.” You might like to review the Lindsay article on “the people’s voice” , next in line for your pointers, because of the same elementary need to focus on where to begin within the realms of any longterm equitable solution: coz’ I got a sudden rush of frustration & irritation at a whole load of people, including BigB … who seem to have forgotten ‘D’ notices & censorship and how dis May’s first move was to close down Justice Leveson’s offer of his services. Wholly fed up with repeating myself ’till blue in the face regarding … I best breathe some mountain air, without pesticides here, first … **L E V… Read more »

Tim Jenkins
Tim Jenkins
Jul 5, 2019 1:25 PM
Reply to  Tim Jenkins

So to say, hoist by their own Petard,
as demonstration of science for others to learn from, with a placard attached . . .

Tim Jenkins
Tim Jenkins
Jul 5, 2019 1:15 PM
Reply to  binra

correction: seriously, Hang them as scarecrow …