When rich companies with politically-connected lobbyists and seats on government-appointed bodies bend policies for their own ends, we are in serious trouble. In the US, many senior figures from the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) industry have moved with ease to take up positions with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In 1998, senior Monsanto figure Phil Angell stated in the New York Times Magazine that Monsanto should not have to vouch for the safety of biotech food and that its interest is in selling as much of it as possible, while assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.
The revolving door between top figures at Monsanto and positions at the FDA, however, makes it very difficult to see just how the safety of biotech food can be independently guaranteed. As will be shown, this may well have important implications for India.
The onus has been placed on the likes of Prof Seralini at the University of Caen in France to test previously independently untested GMOs that are already on the market. Consequently, he has been accused of ‘deceit’ simply because his research has raised serious questions about GMOs and health. A prominent figure within the industry recently told me that ‘anti-GM brigade’ (which apparently includes Professor Seralini) comprises ‘disgusting enemies’ of poor farmers by trying to block a safe product of a ‘frontier technology.’
Little mention there of the tens of thousands of ‘poor farmers’ who took their own lives because of this frontier technology. Little mention too of farmer suicides as a result of falling global commodity prices due to policies that have benefited the same US agribusiness companies. If there is a disgusting enemy, surely it is profiteering corporate-controlled terminator seed technology that has resulted in mass suicides and the destruction of traditional farmer-controlled agricultural practices developed over thousands of years.
The GMO agenda represents the so-called ‘Green Revolution’s’ second coming. Environmentalist Vandana Shiva notes that after the Second World War, chemical weapons’ manufacturers turned their attention to farming. ‘Dwarf seeds’ were purposively created to specifically respond to their chemicals and agriculture soon became transformed into a chemical-dependent industry that has, among other things, negatively impacted biodiversity.
This type of agriculture has proved extremely lucrative for the oil and chemicals manufacturing industries and has served to maintain sestern hegemony, not least via ‘structural adjustment’ policies and the consequent uprooting of traditional farming practices in favour of single-crop export-oriented policies, dam building to cater for what became a highly water intensive industry, debt and dependency.
Apart from tying poorer countries into an unequal system of global trade and reinforcing global inequalities, the corporate hijacking of food and agriculture has had many other implications, not least where health is concerned.
Dr Meryl Hammond of the Campaign for Alternatives to Pesticides told a Canadian parliament committee in 2009 that a raft of studies published in prestigious peer-reviewed journals point to strong associations between chemical pesticides and a vast range of serious life-threatening health consequences.
But anyone who questions the safety of GMOs can expect a bumpy ride. The same prominent GMO sector figure referred to earlier says that certain ‘scientific jokers’ (credible scientists like Seralini) would not be allowed to set foot in the ‘real world of science’ in North America and that they have an impact in countries like India because of ‘ignoramuses.’
But can we expect much better of an industry that has a record of smearing people who criticise it? Not only that, sections of the industry have bullied farmers with lawsuits in North America, have been charged with and often found guilty of contaminating the environment and seriously damaging health with PCBs and dioxins and have been complicit in concealing the deadly impact of GM corn on animals. The industry has also been associated with bribery, linked with human rights violations in Brazil and will not label its foods in the US as containing GMOs.
India’s Knowledge Initiative on agriculture was drawn up with the full and direct participation of representatives from various companies, including Monsanto, Cargill and Walmart. Unsurprisingly, the pressure is now building to release GM food onto the market. It is interesting that the Supreme Court has not banned open field trials of GM food crops. Contamination of traditional crops by GM crops thus remains a serious issue.
In 2001, Don Westfall, a leading biotech industry figure, was quoted in the Toronto Star as saying that the hope of the industry is that over time the market is so flooded with GMOs that there’s nothing you can do about it. Open field planting is but one way of achieving this. The European Commission has already suspected GMO contamination in exported basmati rice from India.
Robert Fraley, a senior Monsanto figure in 1996, was quoted at the time in Farm Journal as stating that what we are seeing is not just a consolidation of seed companies, but a consolidation of the entire food chain. As US agribusiness seeks to “consolidate the entire food chain,” it is clear that it’s not just our health that is at stake, but the global control of food, countries and populations too.