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A surge in America’s GM-free imports

10 May

 “Although corn and soybean go primarily into cattle and poultry feed, consumers increasingly want milk and food products to be free of GM ingredients”.

A Bloomberg report continues: “A growing demand for organics, and the near-total reliance by U.S. farmers on genetically modified corn and soybeans, is driving a surge in imports from other nations where crops largely are free of bioengineering. Imports such as corn from Romania and soybeans from India are booming, according to an analysis of U.S. trade data released Wednesday by the Organic Trade Association and Pennsylvania State University.

Organic imports US 2014“Sales of foods certified by the U.S. as free of synthetic chemicals or genetic engineering reached $35.9 billion in 2014, an 11% increase over 2013 and about 5.1% of U.S. grocery spending. The organic sector’s average annual growth of about 10% is triple that of overall food sales, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture and trade association data.

“According to trade data compiled by the US Organic Trade Association and the Pennsylvania State University, the rising demand for organic foods has pushed up the import bill for corn and soybean, the two most important GM crops being cultivated in America. Although corn and soybean go primarily into cattle and poultry feed, consumers are increasingly wanting milk and food products to be free of GM ingredients”.

Straws in the wind?

The New York Times also reported in January that Monsanto’s earnings fell 34% in the first fiscal quarter as South American farmers cut back on planting corn, reducing demand for the company’s biotech-enhanced seeds. The company said its business was also affected by reduced cotton planting in Australia and a shift in timing for its chemical business.

devinder utube 6Analyst Devinder Sharma notes that: “US imports of organic soybean from India has more than doubled to $73.8 million in 2014. He called on the two pro-GM scientists to debate independent scientific findings as opposed to focussing only on industry funded research. His views were supported by two other spokesmen, one from Maharashtra, where open field crop trials of brinjal, maize, rice, chickpea and cotton are taking place and another from India’s Greenpeace: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klW7fD1wb7s

As US imports more organic foods on consumer preference, Indian biotech companies are ‘pushing for GM crops’

Sharma reports that public opinion as seen in grocery sales data indicates a gradual shifting to foods grown without the use of chemicals and GM. However, in India, four State Governments – Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Punjab – have allowed field trials of GM crops. He sees pressure mounting on other State Governments to fall in line. The biotech industry led by the Association of Biotec Led Enterprises (ABLE) has reportedly written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to expedite the regulatory process for clearing the field trials.

Competing lobbies: the biotech industry v Soybean Processor Association

ajit-singh2Resistance from the Soybean Processor Association of India (SOPA) led former Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh to oppose research trials of GM soybean. The industry claimed that importers preference for Indian soymeal would be lost once contamination from GM crops becomes obvious. India is at present the biggest exporter of rice; Sharma comments that allowing GM rice field trials, even if excluded from areas such as Orissa where it is believed to have originated, would risk contamination. He emphasises that utmost caution should be exercised before the country is opened up for field trials of GM crops which:

  • have, in most cases, led to the doubling in the application of chemical herbicides like glyphosate; use has increased to over 283.5 million pounds in 2012;
  • have led to the emergence of superweeds in some 60 million acres of crop land
  • and, to date, have shown no increase in crop productivity.

Sharma notes that the annual increase in sales of foods free of synthetic chemicals and GM ingredients in the US indicate a rising preference for organically produced foods and that in the White House Michelle Obama grows only organic food in the sprawling gardens and is known to serve organic food to guests, ending:

The consumer preference for GM-free foods in the US is growing rapidly. We hope that this commercial imperative will eventually lead to the winding down of the industry’s drive to grow GM crops.

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Fifty years of ‘green revolution’ productivity entailed excessive use of fertilisers, pesticides and insecticides

9 Dec

ds ndtv dialogue

Extract: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7w-09kz0TRc

See the long and interesting film: Sonia Singh’s discussion with the Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, former special Ambassador (under UPA government) of PM on climate change Shyam Saran, agricultural analyst Devinder Sharma and environmentalist Sunita Narain, here.

Fifty years of increased ‘green revolution’ productivity has entailed excessive use of fertilisers, pesticides and insecticides leading to a slow accumulation of toxins within the water, soil, food and ultimately people, of the Punjab region.

In 2009, a Greenpeace report carried out by scientists from the University of Exeter, found that water from local wells in Faridkot contained dangerously high levels of nitrates, suspected to be from the overuse of synthetic nitrate fertilisers in surrounding agricultural land.

punjab pesticide spraying

A year earlier, another study, ‘Metal exposure in the physically and mentally challenged children of Punjab, India’, by scientists from the Micro Trace Minerals Laboratory in Germany, also found elevated levels of a wide variety of heavy metals in local children. Two years later, the Pulitzer Centre’s website again focussed on a report from scientists who believe that excessive pesticide use in the region over the past 30-40 years has led to the accumulation of dangerous levels of toxins such as uranium, lead and mercury which are contributing to increased health problems in rural communities.

Devinder Sharma points out that Stanford University, in collaboration with the China Agricultural University, has compared prevailing farming systems with alternative approaches.

Laura Seaman reports on the Stanford Report, September 8, 2014, which was conducted for three years between 2009 and 2012, and spread over 153 locations in the intensively-farmed regions of Eastern and Southern China.

Led by Professor Peter Vitousek, the study provides a route to reduce the contribution of agriculture to raising global temperatures. Its findings support Devinder Sharma’s repeated contention that the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, which accounts for 25% of the total emissions, is to change the existing cropping systems to more ecologically sustainable farm practices. Sharma concludes:

“I see no reason why we can’t have an agriculture which does not devastate soil health, which does not contaminate the ground water, which does not lead to drying of water aquifers, which does not cause environmental pollution, which does not create super weeds and super bugs, which does not contaminate the food chain, which does not lead to global warming . . . It is certainly possible. All it needs is a political will”.

India’s Environment Minister puts field trials of GM crops ‘on hold’

30 Jul

swadeshi jagran manch header .

New Delhi Television online reports that the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM) and the Bharatiya Kisan Sanghfarmers – met India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar yesterday to protest against the permission given by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) on July 18 to field trials of 15 GM crops, including rice, mustard, cotton, chickpea and brinjal.

They cited reports by a parliamentary standing committee on agriculture and a Supreme Court-appointed “Technical Expert Committee” to demand that the decision on going ahead with the field trials be deferred.

The Environment Minister, in a statement issued later by the SJM said “the decision about field trials of GM crops had been put on hold.”

On the SJM website the press release gives a number of reasons for its opposition to this technology:

  • there has been no proper scientific evaluation about the probable long term impact of GM Crops on human health and soil, as the technology, which involves introducing a ‘foreign’ gene, is dangerous because once introduced, it is irreversible;
  • there has been no scientific study to prove that GM technology does increase productivity, as is claimed by the promoters of the technology;
  • the environmental costs might outweigh any benefits that the introduction of such a technology brings;
  • a few multinational corporations, principally Monsanto, have a virtual monopoly on the GM technology; if a country’s food production becomes overly dependent on seeds and other inputs from a handful of such companies, it will compromise its food security.

SJM told the Minister that the government should not rely on the biased and manipulated reports of vested interests among the industry and should institute enquiries about the potential impact of GM food crops on the health of the soil, human and other species, to ensure that no harm is done to traditional gene pool /biodiversity of the nation, soil, food security and health of the people of India.

 

Read more about the SJM’s approach on the LWM website

Answering the corporate-political voices which advocate GM crops as the solution to ‘world hunger’

21 Apr

And asking if the developing world, as it moves towards adopting the standard American diet, will see its destructive nature and pull out.

mark bittmanDr Brian John, of GM Free Cymru, draws attention to an article by Mark Bittman (right), an American food journalist, author, and columnist for The New York Times. It opens:

“It’s been 50 years since President John F. Kennedy spoke of ending world hunger, yet . . . the situation remains dire. The question “How will we feed the world?” implies that we have no choice but to intensify industrial agriculture, with more high-tech seeds, chemicals and collateral damage.

“Yet there are other, better options. Something approaching a billion people are hungry, a number that’s been fairly stable for more than 50 years, although it has declined as a percentage of the total population . . . Feeding the world” might as well be a marketing slogan for Big Ag, a euphemism for “Let’s ramp up sales,” as if producing more cars would guarantee that everyone had one”. It doesn’t work that way”.

The United States has a percentage rate of hunger close to that of Indonesia

usa hunger       Bittman’s points summarised:

  • The world has long produced around 2,700 calories per day per human, more than enough to meet the United Nations projection of a population of nine billion in 2050, up from the current seven billion.
  • There are hungry people not because food is lacking, but because not all of those calories go to feed humans (a third go to feed animals, nearly 5% are used to produce biofuels, and as much as a third is wasted, all along the food chain).
  • Chemical Concern adds that many landless people have too low an income to buy available food.

The current system is neither environmentally nor economically sustainable

  • It is dependent on fossil fuels and routinely resulting in environmental damage,
  • geared to letting the half of the planet with money eat well while everyone else scrambles to eat as cheaply as possible,
  • will become scarcer for the poor, because demand for animal products will surge, and they require more resources like grain to produce;
  • there is not the land, water or fertilizer — let alone the health care funding — for the world to consume Western levels of meat.

We must stop assuming that the industrial model of food production and its accompanying disease-producing diet is both inevitable and desirable.

Bittman: Let’s at last recognize that there are two food systems, one industrial and one of small landholders.

“The small-holder system is not only here for good, it’s arguably more efficient than the industrial model”.

etc group logoHe points out that according to the Ottawa based ETC Group, the industrial food chain uses 70% of agricultural resources to provide 30% of the world’s food, whereas what ETC calls “the peasant food web” produces the remaining 70% using only 30% of the resources. An ETC poster:

etc poster

Bittman continues: “(Though) high-yielding varieties of any major commercial monoculture crop will produce more per acre than peasant-bred varieties of the same crop, by diversifying crops, mixing plants and animals, planting trees — which provide not only fruit but shelter for birds, shade, fertility through nutrient recycling, and more — small landholders can produce more food (and more kinds of food) with fewer resources and lower transportation costs (which means a lower carbon footprint), while providing greater food security, maintaining greater biodiversity, and even better withstanding the effects of climate change.

“Yet obviously not all poor people feed themselves well, because they lack the essentials: land, water, energy and nutrients. Often that’s a result of cruel dictatorship (North Korea) or war, displacement and strife (the Horn of Africa, Haiti and many other places), or drought or other calamities. But it can also be an intentional and direct result of land and food speculation and land and water grabs, which make it impossible for peasants to remain in their home villages. (Governments of many developing countries may also act as agents for industrial agriculture, seeing peasant farming as “inefficient.”) . . .

“The result is forced flight to cities, where peasants become poorly paid laborers, enter the cash market for (increasingly mass produced) food, and eat worse. (They’re no longer “peasants,” at this point, but more akin to the working poor of the United States, who also often cannot afford to eat well, though not to the point of starvation.) It’s a formula for making not only hunger but obesity: remove the ability to produce food, then remove the ability to pay for food, or replace it with only one choice: bad food . . .

“Supporting, or at least not obstructing, peasant farming is one key factor, but the other is reining in Western-style monoculture and the standard American diet it creates . . .

“But if the standard American diet represents the low point of eating, a question is whether the developing world, as it hurtles toward that nutritional nadir — the polar opposite of hunger, but almost as deadly — can see its destructive nature and pull out of the dive before its diet crashes. Because “solving” hunger by driving people into cities to take low-paying jobs so they can buy burgers and fries is hardly a desirable outcome”.


Read the full article here: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/10/15/opinion/how-to-feed-the-world.html

A disturbing lack of official information in the public domain about organophosphates

13 Aug

The subject of hyperactive children, once more in the headlines, recalls the research finding which supports the hypothesis that organophosphate exposure, at levels common among US children, is a factor and warrants further research.

Toxicology journal coverAn email message from Peter Evans, Chairman of the OP Action Group North West, included a reflection on the recent research into neurobehavioral problems following low-level exposure to organophosphate pesticides, led by Dr Sarah Mackenzie Ross, a consultant clinical neuropsychologist & honorary senior lecturer at University College London – see the UCL post. Its findings were published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology and the abstract said:

“The majority of well designed studies found a significant association between low-level exposure to OPs and impaired neurobehavioral function which is consistent, small to moderate in magnitude and concerned primarily with cognitive functions such as psychomotor speed, executive function, visuospatial ability, working and visual memory”.

He said that farmer Margaret Percival recently rang the Health and Safety executive in Liverpool for the latest advice regarding organophosphate sheep dips.

The HSE assists employees to prosecute an employer in the event of ill-effects arising from the use of OPs but is unable to provide employers with any advice concerning the “safe” use of OPs. She was referred to the Veterinary MD in Northern Ireland but initially no one there could assist. The following day she was promised that an effort would be made to acquire leaflets that provide recommendations to farmers using OP sheep dips.

The questions that arise are these:

  • What is being done in other countries?
  • Is there an effective alternative to OP sheep dip being used abroad?
  • What action is being taken abroad to tackle/control sheep scab (if any)?

Other groups affected include:

  • Gulf War Veterans, who were exposed to pesticides on a daily basis during their tour of duty to protect them from pests such as sand flies, mosquitoes and fleas which carry infectious diseases
  • airline pilots and cabin crew, who can be exposed to organophosphates in engine oil.

A chilling reminder from Peter Evans implies that very few people will be unaffected. He points out the perils accompanying the current use of OPs in the growing, transport and storage of food:

  • in the holds of ships bringing produce from abroad,
  • as an insecticide during the growing process,
  • in warehouses,
  • and supermarkets where the air conditioning is employed to distribute OPs around the store every 3 weeks to kill insects and other pests.

Time for the precautionary principle to come into play – better late than never.

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“At last a non-GM success is in the news headlines!”

1 Aug

CHEM non-gm superwheat.A Cambridge reader wrote these words some time ago, sending a link to a BBC report saying that the Cambridge-based National Institute of Agricultural Botany scientists used cross-pollination and seed embryo transfer technology to transfer some of the resilience of the ancient ancestor of wheat into modern British varieties to produce a new strain.

The NIAB’s website adds:

“(The Institute) has recreated the original rare cross between an ancient wheat and wild grass species that happened in the Middle East 10,000 years ago. The result is a ‘synthetic’ wheat which, when crossed with modern UK varieties, could offer new sources of yield improvement, drought tolerance, disease resistance and input use efficiency”. . .

“The synthetic wheat programme involves crossing durum pasta wheat with wild goat-grass using traditional crossing techniques in the glasshouse combined with tissue culture in the research laboratory to guarantee seed germination. The resulting hybrid plants produce the ‘synthetic’ seed which is then used in crossing programmes with current varieties.

Dr Phil Howell“Senior plant breeder Dr Phil Howell (opposite) says: “Based on early-stage trials, we’re confident that the performance gains and level of potentially valuable variation observed, through this novel step of re-synthesising the original wheat plant, points to a major transformation in the wheat improvement process.

“Yield increases of up to 30% have been produced in early field trials, despite the past few years being cold, wet seasons where lack of sunlight depressed yield”.

The BBC report notes, however, that it will take at least five years of tests and regulatory approval before the synthetic wheat is harvested by farmers.

For more information download NIAB’s Synthetic Hexaploid Wheat flyer here

U.S. pharmaceutical companies lobby politicians to curb India’s generics industry drugs

3 Jul

 

The Huffington Post reports that the Obama administration and members of Congress are pressing India to curb its generic medication industry at the behest of U.S. pharmaceutical companies. Zach Carter – the Post’s senior political economy reporter – recalls that before Indian companies rolled out generic versions priced at $1 a day, AIDS medication cost about $10,000 per person per year.

Last week, a House subcommittee held a hearing on international trade disputes with India which heard Pfizer’s complaints about Indian policies that have fostered the country’s billion-dollar generics industry.

cipla logoIn 2001, Indian generic drug manufacturer Cipla’s supply of HIV and AIDS drugs brought the cost of medication down to $1 a day, which, health experts say, saved millions of lives this past decade.

However, as India’s generic industry – which sells its drugs in many ‘industrialised’ countries – has cut into profits for Pfizer and other U.S. and European drug companies, these companies have sought to impose ‘aggressive’ patenting and intellectual property standards in India, granting the firms monopoly pricing power over new drugs.

There have been two recent landmark court decisions:

nevaxar drugLast year, India’s Patents Office issued a ‘Compulsory Licence’ under the Indian Patent Act, in compliance with the TRIPS agreement of the World Trade Organisation, permitting a generic manufacturer, Hyderabad-based Natco Pharma, to produce a cheaper version of a liver and kidney cancer drug, Nevaxar, patented by Bayer AG which was charging $5,000 a month for the drug, while only servicing about 2% of the population that needed it. The generic version was priced at $157 a month.

India’s Supreme Court has also rejected a patent on a Novartis leukemia drug called Gleevec (or Glivec), clearing the way for cheaper generic production. Novartis had filed for a patent on an updated version available in pill form, a practice known as “evergreening,” and frowned upon by the World Health Organization. India’s highest court turned down the application on the grounds that the delivery format did not constitute a legitimate innovation. Betwa Sharma wrote in May: “Manish Sarvaiya, 42, who suffers from chronic myeloid leukemia, is thrilled with the judgment because he can now continue to purchase his monthly supply of anti-cancer drugs from CPAA for 1,850 rupees a month or about $20”.

bill clinton aidsFormer President Bill Clinton also adopted hostile policies during his presidency toward the introduction of generic AIDS medications in Africa, only relenting when activists disrupted campaign events over the issue.

Clinton later came to regret this and continues to be very active on international AIDS relief efforts through the Clinton Global Initiative.

But note the example of Japan, said to be the world’s second largest market for pharmaceuticals, which prefers to trust its own manufacturers and is resisting the advances even of ‘branded generics’, Big Pharma’s compromise offering.