Agrarian Crisis and Malnutrition: GM Agriculture Is Not the Answer

Colin Todhunter

M.S. Swaminathan is often referred to as the ‘father’ of India’s Green Revolution. In 2009, he said that  no scientific evidence had emerged to justify concerns about genetically modified (GM) crops, often regarded as stage two of the Green Revolution.

In a December 2018 paper in the journal Current Science, however, it was argued that Bt insecticidal cotton (India’s only officially approved commercial GM crop) is a failure and has not provided livelihood security for mainly resource-poor, small and marginal farmers.

The paper attracted a good deal of attention because, along with scientist P C Kesavan, Swaminathan was the co-author.

They concluded that globally both Bt crops and herbicide-tolerant crops are unsustainable and have not decreased the need for toxic chemical pesticides, the reason for these GM crops in the first place. Attention was also drawn to evidence that indicates Bt toxins are toxic to all organisms.

Kesavan and Swaminathan mounted a general critique of the GM paradigm. They noted that glyphosate-based herbicides, used on most GM crops in the world, and their active ingredient glyphosate, are genotoxic, cause birth defects and are carcinogenic. They also asserted that GM crop yields are no better than that of non-GM crops.

The authors concluded that genetic engineering technology is supplementary and must be need based. In more than 99% of cases, they said that time-honoured conventional breeding is sufficient.

In fact, Kesavan and Swaminathan argued that a sustainable ‘Evergreen Revolution’ based on a ‘systems approach’ and ‘ecoagriculture’ would guarantee equitable food security by ensuring access of rural communities to food.

Part of the pushback against Kevasan and Swaminathan has come from Dr Deepak Pental, developer and promoter of GM mustard at Delhi University. He responded to their piece with an article in September 2019, again in Current Science.

He argued that Kesavan and Swaminathan have unequivocally aligned themselves with overzealous environmentalists and ideologues, who have mindlessly attacked the use of GM technology to improve crops required for meeting the food and nutritional needs of a global population that is predicted to peak out at 11.2 billion.

Pental added that the two authors’ analysis of modern breeding technologies is a reflection of their ideological proclivities.

By resorting to such statements, Pental was drawing on industry-inspired spin: criticisms of GM are driven by ideology not fact and GM is required to ‘feed the world’.

Both assertions are baseless but are employed time and again across the globe by the pro-GM lobby in an attempt to discredit inconvenient scientific findings and campaigners who forward valid criticisms.

In response to Pental, Andrew Paul Gutierrez, Peter E. Kenmore and Aruna Rodrigues hit back with a piece in a November 2019 edition of the same journal, ‘When biotechnologists lack objectivity’. In it, they argue:

The need to counter Pental is critical because of his influence as part of a lobbying force for unbridled legislation for GE technologies and as a purveyor of scare tactics that food security in India will be compromised without them.”

They continue:

We question his failure to consider whether genetically modified crops (GMOs) are safe for human and ecological health, increase yield and quality, are rigorously tested using proper risk assessment biosafety protocols, and whether biosafety research level (BRL) mechanisms for GMOs field testing under various programmes are being implemented? These are the major themes of our rebuttal.”

The authors indicate the adverse impacts on human health of GMOs and associated agrochemical inputs and the very real risk of gene flow and other ways by which non-GM crops and seeds can be contaminated by their GM counterparts:

Genetic contamination is of special concern in India which has rich genetic diversity of crops/plants, and yet there are ongoing efforts to release GMO herbicide tolerant mustard (Brassica juncea) in India, which is a centre of diversity and domestication of over 5,000 wild and domesticated varieties of mustard and the wider ‘family’ of brassicas that includes 9,720 accessions… We must question why regulators would ever consider approval of GMOs of native species (e.g. of Desi cottons, brinjal eggplant, mustard, rice, among others).”

As alluded to in the above extract, India has a wealth of plant species that have evolved and been adapted over millennia. The country has good-quality traditional seeds which are ideally suited for local soils, climates and pests. And these seeds are less resource-intensive.

We must therefore question why Pental’s GM mustard is being pushed so hard when it does not out-yield certain mustard species that India has already.

While touching on serious conflicts of interest within regulatory bodies, the authors also discuss Bt cotton and GM mustard, the commercialisation of which is currently held up due to a public litigation case with Aruna Rodrigues acting as lead petitioner.

They provide data to highlight the myth of Bt cotton success in India. However, GM promoters continue to peddle the story of Bt cotton success and aim to drive the full-scale introduction of GM crops into Indian agriculture on the back of this false narrative.

The authors explain that the current GM Bt cotton hybrids in India were indeed developed as a ‘value capture’ mechanism that enabled the seed industry to side-step intractable legal intellectual property rights: the interests of poor farmers were sacrificed for corporate commercial benefit.

In the article, data is also presented for GM mustard and the authors argue that it shows no yield advantage and its testing and evaluation have involved protocol violations.

In India, various high-level reports have advised against the adoption of GM crops. Appointed by the Supreme Court, the ‘Technical Expert Committee (TEC) Final Report’ (2013) was scathing about the prevailing regulatory system and highlighted its inadequacies and serious inherent conflicts of interest. The TEC recommended a 10-year moratorium on the commercial release of all GM crops.

Kesavan and Swaminathan, in their piece. also criticised India’s GM regulating bodies due to a lack of competency and endemic conflicts of interest and a lack of expertise in GM risk assessment protocols, including food safety assessment and the assessment of environmental impacts.

They also questioned regulators’ failure to carry out a socio-economic assessment of GM impacts on resource-poor small and marginal farmers and called for “able economists who are familiar with and will prioritize rural livelihoods, and the interests of resource-poor small and marginal farmers rather than serve corporate interests and their profits.”

As we have seen with the push to get GM mustard commercialised, the problems described by the TEC persist. Through her numerous submissions to the Supreme Court, Rodrigues has asserted that GM mustard is being pushed for commercialisation based on flawed tests (or no tests) and a lack of public scrutiny.

In effect, she argues, there has been unremitting scientific fraud and outright regulatory delinquency. It must also be noted that this crop is herbicide-tolerant (HT), which, as stated by the TEC, is wholly inappropriate for India with its small biodiverse, multi-cropping farms.

Rodrigues has for a long time contended that GM ‘regulation’ in India occurs in a system dogged by serious conflicts of interest: funders, promoters and regulators are basically one and the same. She argues that agricultural institutions and numerous public sector scientists working within these bodies along with a powerful lobbying force are joined at the hip in pushing for GM.

GM Silver bullet misses the target

If the pro-GM lobby is genuinely concerned about ‘feeding the world’, it should really be questioning why the world already produces enough to feed 10 billion people but over two billion are experiencing micronutrient deficiencies (of which over 800 million are classed as chronically undernourished); why we are seeing rising rates of obesity, diabetes and a range of other health-related conditions; and why, post-Green Revolution, the range of crops grown has narrowed and the nutrient content of food and diets has diminished.

The answers lie with the practices, processes and toxic inputs that are integral to the prevailing model of chemical-intensive, industrial agriculture and the dynamics of the globalised capitalist food system.

Throughout the world, this model has become tied to agro-export mono-cropping (often with non-food commodities taking up prime agricultural land), sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF ‘structural adjustment’ directives, the outcomes of which have included a displacement of a food-producing peasantry, the consolidation of rapacious global agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries into food deficit areas.

Global food insecurity and malnutrition are therefore not the result of a lack of productivity.

As for India, although it fares poorly in world hunger assessments, the country has more than enough food to feed its 1.3 billion-plus population and with appropriate policy support measures could draw on its own indigenous agroecological know-how to do so.

Where farmers’ livelihoods are concerned, the pro-GM lobby says GM will boost productivity and help secure cultivators a better income.

This too is misleading and again ignores crucial political and economic contexts. For instance, to gain brief insight into the nature of India’s agrarian crisis and why farmers are leaving the sector, let us turn to renowned journalist P Sainath who says:

The agrarian crises in five words is: hijack of agriculture by corporations. The process by which it is done in five words: predatory commercialisation of the countryside. When your cultivation costs have risen 500 per cent over a decade, the result of that crisis, that process in five words: biggest displacement in our history.”

Little surprise, therefore, that even with bumper harvests, Indian farmers still find themselves in financial distress.

India’s farmers are not experiencing financial hardship due to low productivity. They are reeling under the effects of neoliberal policies, years of neglect and a deliberate strategy to displace smallholder agriculture at the behest of the World Bank and global agri-food corporations. And people are not hungry in India because its farmers do not produce enough food. Hunger and malnutrition result from various factors, not least poor food distribution, lack of infrastructure, (gender) inequality and poverty.

However, aside from putting a positive spin on the questionable performance of GM agriculture, the pro-GM lobby, both outside of India and within, has wasted no time in wrenching these issues from their political contexts to use the notions of ‘helping farmers’ and ‘feeding the world’ as lynchpins of its promotional strategy.


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Nov 15, 2019 8:01 AM

“it should really be questioning why the world already produces enough to feed 10 billion”

Actually, the UN reports, “24 billion tons of fertile land lost every year” and The Agricultural and Rural Convention have said that, “With increasing population growth, the amount of arable land available for each person is continually dropping. Currently, each human being has only 2000m² at his or her disposal; in 1961, that figure was 4000m². The amount of arable land available per person will decrease to 1500m² by 2050.” However, those figures don’t take into account land lost through increased flooding from sea level rise, extreme weather destroying crops, homes of those growing crops being destroyed. All this and the “problem” supposedly tackled by the green revolution continues unabated: Overpopulation.

menechem golan
menechem golan
Nov 13, 2019 7:36 PM

i have many friends in tel aviv the water has added boron,they will not be getting 5g and monsanto is not used for terminator seed agent orange or round up ready glypho.
in fact many farms are pretty close too organic also the borders are closed so zero issues like we see in sweden and londonistan.
the world really is upside down down side up.

on the subject of round up glypho they say that it is so safe that many of the goyim can drink it as it helps with the population problem issues

Nov 14, 2019 12:45 AM
Reply to  menechem golan

Green New Zealand has 108 approved GMO crops including golden rice; India is stuck at 11 thanks to court cases initiated by people mentioned ATL. http://www.isaaa.org/gmapprovaldatabase/approvedeventsin/default.asp?CountryID=NZ&Country=New%20Zealand

Nov 13, 2019 2:25 PM

There is an open letter to Greta Thunberg on Global Research. It is the second such letter, with the first one never having received any kind of response. The reasons for that are manifold. One of them is quite simply disturbing – with Greta being an abused fake and going along with it. Both letters come from ‘Planetary Movement for Mother Earth‘. It is however this second open letter that has the potential to open a lot of eyes and ears to the truth about the present war against humanity with Greta being its loud speaker. Yes, the species is under threat from extinction. But for reasons Greta and her manipulated crowd never mention. They simply repeat the lies that have been shoved into the people’s minds everywhere. Greta is the prime suspect for a Manchurian candidate. She represents the destruction of Earth for profits. Not preaching to the choir,… Read more »

Nov 13, 2019 2:20 PM

Agrarian crisis and malnutrition: I read this and thought that the two major parties had published their pseudo-green manifestos and fully costed them to internalise all externalities: calculated across space and time (for all global and inter-generational costs). LabourGND have promised that this is the election that will “decide the planet’s future” – and they are not wrong. Not to be outdone: Bojo the Clown has used his imperious command of language to promise a green revolution to end the “groundhoggery” of Brexit: based on the world’s first nuclear fusion plant by 2040; to avoid “more political self-obsession and onanism” from Corbyn. His choice of vernacular just about sums it up: for both parties. But the election is not the subject of Colin’s excellent article: is it? Our election has nothing to do with what happens in India – or anywhere else – or does it? If we are going… Read more »

Francis Lee
Francis Lee
Nov 13, 2019 6:31 PM
Reply to  BigB

”And like it or not: by voting for parties that are ‘pro-business’ we are complicit in its activities. And hope to share in its profits. ” Yep, that’s the problem. This means of course that we are all on a handcart to hell as the system is on right on course to hit the buffers of economic, political, psychological and ideological endgame. This is inevitable, but how many have even recognised the problem, let alone attempting to find a solution? The evidence is clear enough. We can observe the ruins of ancient civilizations all around us and wonder why the inhabitants didn’t know better than to carry on down a road which led extinction. There seems to be a design flaw in the human personality which predisposes itself to self-destruction through deliberate self-deception. Is there any reason to think that this will change? My heart says yes, but my head… Read more »

Nov 15, 2019 1:31 PM
Reply to  Francis Lee

Frank: Look at hoe we got on on the other forum about Corbyn’s ‘principled populism’. We are completely unaware in this country of the background brute physical reality of the earth system. We believe that because Corbyn is a ‘principled populist’ we can impose the econometrics of growth on a clearly contracting global economy. It has nothing to do with the personality of the man. The underlying principles of ‘sustainable growth’, decoupling, and a ‘just transition’ to an equitable lifestyle globally are physically impossible. If everyone in the world were to have the equivalent lifestyle as we do in the UK: the ecosystems would collapse. Source: the Labour party (LabourGND). Amidst an amount of narrative construction that makes it seem feasible we can transition to ‘actual zero’ in five years. That is why I highlighted the impossibility of doing this whilst also replacing our rattling nuclear fleet: which accounts for… Read more »

Toby Russell
Toby Russell
Nov 14, 2019 8:03 AM
Reply to  BigB

This …: “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” … set against this …: We in the UK house the major accumulation and credit centre of the TMSS. Where dark money flows onshore and offshore. And we never talk about it. Maybe in private: but never in public fora at election time. And like it or not: by voting for parties that are ‘pro-business’ we are complicit in its activities. … makes for a discouraging prognosis, no? In the interest of optimism – which I assert is required for the needed work of radical change – I disagree with the first quote (I believe you do, too), not because it is entirely wrong, but importantly wrong, in my view. In other words, it’s a symbiosis, not a dichotomy. Individual- and group-level consciousness co-create each other,… Read more »

Nov 15, 2019 2:14 PM
Reply to  Toby Russell

I do disagree with the quote. And I do agree with you. Marx missed his own dialectic. We can change society by not buying into it. But we have to be honest: the material/idealist dialectic is extremising the public consciousness. And maybe in ways that we would not notice. But we are required to validate ever more growth and ever more extractivism every five years in the UK. Which we do without demur or critical appraisal of what this is doing to us or where it will lead. So we – by and large – are fully allied to the green corporate agenda …based on a popularity contest between Boris and Jeremy. Whoever gets in will implement a form of the GND: Boris based on ‘natural capital’ and Labour on their own fantastical proposals on ‘Actual Zero’ by 2025. Which is science fantasy that needs no debunking. How many in… Read more »

Toby Russell
Toby Russell
Nov 17, 2019 9:47 AM
Reply to  BigB

On my mind a lot at the moment is how far out the permutations of the concept of Natural Law radiate. Of course it must be in every direction to the very edges of reality. My logic is simple, as always, and not remotely original: we are where and what we are naturally. The quality of our collective being is the natural consequence of all those billions upon billions of decisions that led us to this moment. More pithily, we get the environment and challenges we co-create and thus deserve. And while blame is pointless, and while our necessary responsibility for our actions is almost moot in this context, I detect flowing out from this gentle observation, that our collective unreadiness to confront the content of your comment somehow means that confrontation and opposition are not as effective as compliance … of a particular, compassionately defiant flavour. I once fervently… Read more »

Nov 13, 2019 1:36 PM

The mindset behind GM pharming is the same mindset that segregates, ousts, manipulates, destroys and lies for profit.
Follow the money and you will find out that the conspiracy is all-encompassing.

herbicides = cancer
herbicides = cancer
Nov 13, 2019 2:29 PM
Reply to  nottheonly1

“lies for profit”

I guess destroying humans (and humanity) is the real goal. Compared with it, Profit is a really minor objective.
Breaking humanity with all the diseases, caused by these business processes, speeds up Full Spectrum Dominance, and Indian rulers are being played for fools.

Brian Steere
Brian Steere
Nov 13, 2019 1:22 PM

Deceits need be recognised as untrue. Don’t give deceivers attention excepting correction. To engage in the frame of a deceit becomes a way to propagate it. The power to hide, deceive and deny. What kind of ‘growth’ comes of lies given power? A self-inflation running ahead of its debts. By the time consequence catches up, even more complex deceits package debts into new scams. No wonder the desperation for sustainability. Sold to the living as if THEY are to blame for the lack of it. But it remains that we have to buy or accept it. Deceits seek to lock us in to choices made under false premises and false promises. They do the very thing we sign up to protect against or escape from. And in more ways than we probably realise, we deceive ourselves. In a time of pervasive deceit.Find the basis within yourself for vigilance and discernment… Read more »

Godfree Roberts
Godfree Roberts
Nov 13, 2019 10:42 AM

Sometimes, old-fashioned democracy saves the day:

After launching a propaganda campaign in 2016 about the benefits of genetically modified maize and soybeans, the PRC government promised farmers that the seeds would be available by 2020.

But Congress found[1] half the country opposed to GM, (eleven percent considered it ‘a bioterrorism weapon aimed at China’) so Beijing withdrew the legislation before it came to a vote.

I wonder what happened in the World’s Biggest Democracy (where two million children starve to death every year)?

[1] Public perception of genetically-modified (GM) food: A Nationwide Chinese Consumer Study. Kai Cui & Sharon P. Shoemaker. npj Science of Food volume 2, Article number: 10 (2018)

Rhys Jaggar
Rhys Jaggar
Nov 13, 2019 10:24 AM

The paradigm ‘care for the soil and the plants will care for themselves’ has been lost in the fertiliser age.

The difference between soluble minerals and biologically available minerals has been forgotten.

The mining of fertility has come at the expense of building it.

Start asking GM executives and their lobbyists why their own sterilisation is not critical to their ventures: it is the most pertinent question on earth….one they will be outraged by having to answer.

Make them answer it and when they do, come down on them like a megaton of organic cow dung.

johny conspiranoid
johny conspiranoid
Nov 13, 2019 7:40 AM

Its a loan sharking scam using patent law.

Nov 13, 2019 5:52 AM

The NGO ISAAA is in favor of GMOs; they show a list of 32 approved plants http://www.isaaa.org/gmapprovaldatabase/cropslist/default.asp

and on their list of counties with approvals India has only a few http://www.isaaa.org/gmapprovaldatabase/countrylist/default.asp

Why disadvantage India?