Food Democracy v. Food Dictatorship




G


enetically
engineered food was supposed to have heralded a second green revolution,
producing more food and improving food and nutritional security.
However, existing genetically modified (GM) foods are not providing
more food or nutrition. The spread of GM foods reflects the spread
of food dictatorship, not free and informed food choices. Contrary
to claims made by proponents, GM foods are undermining food and
nutritional security, food sovereignty, and food democracy. 



Food Security 



M


ost
of the current acreage under GM crops is planted with first generation
GM crops based on herbicide resistance or the introduction of Bt.
toxin genes for pest control. Neither of these traits is about increasing
 crop yields. Herbicide resistant genes allow higher tolerance
to herbicides, hence increased herbicide use. Bt. toxin in crops
is supposed to control the bollworm, but it is leading to the rapid
emergence of resistance as well as new pests. 


Increased
yield from genetically engineered crops is the most important argument
used by the genetic engineering industry. However, genetic engineering
has actually led to a decline in yields. Bill Christanson, a U.S.
soya bean farmer at the first conference on Biodevastation held
in St. Louis, the headquarters of Monsanto, in July 1998, said that
in Missouri, genetically engineered soya had a five bushel per acre
decrease in yield. Ed Oplinger, professor of Agronomy at the University
of Wiscousin, has been carrying out yield trials on soya bean for
25 years. On the basis of data he collected in 12 states that grow
80 percent of U.S. soya, he found genetically engineered soya beans
had 4 percent lower yields than conventional varieties. 


In
a study by Marc Lappe and Britt Bailey, in 30 out of 38 varieties,
conventional soya beans outperformed the transgenic ones, with an
overall drop in yield of 10 percent compared to conventional varieties


(

Against the Grain

, 1999). Dr. Charles Benbrook reported
a 6-7 percent decline in yields engineered for resistance to the
herbicide Roundup, on the basis of 8,200 university-based varietal
trials in 1998. If not reversed by future breeding enhancements,
this downward shift in soya bean yields could emerge as the most
significant decline in a major crop ever associated with a single
genetic modification.  


In
India, Bt. cotton yields have been dramatically less than promised
in the first year of planting. Surveys show that in Maharashtra
and Andhra Pradesh, non-Bt. varieties yielded ten quintals/acre,
while Bt  yields were two quintals/acre. In Madhya Pradesh,
non-Bt. varieties gave 7.05 quintals/acre while Bt. gave 4.01 quintals/acre.
In Karnataka, non-Bt. gene 7 quintals/acre while Bt. cotton yield
was 382 quintals per acre. GM crops are not giving increased yields
in farmers fields. Yields have declined by 50 to 60 percent. The
higher yields only exist in falsified corporate generated data. 



A
recently published paper in

Science

, February 7, 2003, by
Matin Qaim and David Zilberman, has been used to falsely claim that
yields of Bt. cotton in commercial planting in India in 2002 were
higher than in non-Bt. Cotton. This so called scientific study creates
two false impressions. It is not based on independently generated
scientific data from farmers fields, but on unverified “confidential
data” provided by the Monsanto-Mahyco corporation, which is
involved in selling Bt. cotton seeds. Secondly, while the study
is based on corporate data of the 2001 trials, it has been used
to falsely claim “success” and increased fields in the
commercial planting of 2002. However, all independent studies show
a drop in yields. Even the so called “expert group” that
accompanied Monsanto-Mahyco representatives to assess the commercial
planting falsified data. 


Second
generation crops such as “golden rice” and “protein
potatoes,” which are being offered as future promises for increasing
nutrition in the face of environmental critiques of herbicide resistant
and Bt. toxin crops, also fail in improving nutritional security. 


Under
the Indo-Swiss Technology Transfer agreement for vitamin A rice
(golden rice), genetically engineered rice produces 70 times less
vitamin  A than other sources of food. 


Similarly,
the recently announced protein potato will reduce protein availability
in India. As reported in the

New Scientist

(January 2, 2003)

,

the plan was presented at a conference in London by G. Padmanabhan
who, as director of India’s prestigious Indian Institute of
Science, had signed a secret deal with Monsanto, which his fellow
scientists of the Institute knew nothing about.

 


The
GM potato, which has amaranth genes, was developed by Asis Datta
of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, who had earlier
tried to sell and patent the same genetic engineering technology
by introducing amaranth genes into rice. Datta has also been on
the Department of Biotechnology committee, which gives grants and
Biosafety clearances. He is thus both the giver and receiver of
biotechnology funds and regulator and practitioner. Such conflicts
of interest are pervasive in agricultural biotechnology. 


The
genetically engineered potato that is now being offered as part
of an anti-hunger strategy has genes from amaranth. Amaranth is
available in huge quantities in the Indian Himalaya. Navdanya, our
organic movement, is increasing the use of amaranth products, such
as ready-to- eat cereals, flour, baked goods—beyond the traditional
use of amaranth as a fasting food. 


When
compared to bringing nutrition through grains like amaranth, genetically
engineered potatoes will create malnutrition because they will deny
to vulnerable children the other nutrients available in grain amaranth
and not available in potato. (The above table gives the comparative
nutrition from amaranth and potatoes.) Thus genetically engineered
potato will spread iron deficiency and calcium deficiency in children.
A much smarter option is to spread the cultivation and use of amazing
grains like amaranth. The ancient people of the Andes treated amaranth
as sacred. In India it is called “ramdana” or god’s
own grain. The root word “amara,” in both Greek and Sanskrit,
 means eternal or deathless. 


Datta
and Padmanabhan’s recipe for a GM potato is one of pushing
out the amaranth from cultivation and consumption  and spreading
a monoculture of potato cultivation and consumption. This is a recipe
for biodiversity erosion and hunger creation. It is a product of
what I have called a “monoculture of the mind.” 


In
any case, amaranth is not the only source of protein in India’s
rich biodiversity and cuisine. Our “dals,” pulses, and
legumes that are a staple with rice as dal- chawal and with wheat
as dal-roti are rich in protein. 


The
consumption of dals and pulses provides much higher levels of proteins
than genetically engineered potatoes can. Pulses are also necessary
for sustainable agriculture, since they are nitrogen-fixing crops
and provide an ecological alternative to chemical nitrogenous fertilizers.
Pulses have been made expensive by being made scarce through the
spread of green revolution mono-cultures of wheat and rice. In Punjab
alone, the area under pulses went down from 13.38 percent to 3.48
percent during 1966-67 to 1985-86. Traditional agriculture was based
on mixtures of cereals and pulses. New initiatives like Navdanya
are rejuvenating mixed cropping with pulses to increase both nutritional
security and ecological security. 


GM
foods are intrinsically linked to food dictatorship. The first level
of control comes from the fact that a handful of gene giants—Monsanto,
Syngenta, Aventis, Dow, Dupont—control agricultural biotechnology.
The second level of controlocomes from intellectual property and
patent monopolies over GM seeds and plants. The third level of control
is created by stifling freedom of information and choice. 



GM
crops are only spreading where farmers are denied freedom of information
and freedom of choice because of corporate control and dependency.
 GM foods are entering the food chain where consumers are denied
the right to know and the right to choose. U.S. farmers are the
most trapped under corporate control of inputs and marketing. 


U.S.
citizens have been denied food freedom and food democracy by corporations
preventing labeling of GM foods. 


In
Europe and Japan, consumers have freedom of choice and it is that
freedom which has prevented GM foods from flooding the market. 


In
Africa, a democratic process led to Zambia’s refusal to accept
GM food and the Zambian president condemned the FAO, WHO, and World
Food Program for being irresponsible in supporting the U.S. He said,
“We may be poor and experiencing food shortages, but are not
ready to expose people to ill-defined risks.” He pleaded that
Zambians not be used as guinea pigs. 


Southern
Africa has been made a victim of drought and famine under the joint
impact of climate change and structural adjustment programs. The
World Bank has forced countries to destroy and dismantle their food
security systems. Faced with severe drought, lack of food security
is creating conditions of famine. More than 300,000 people face
starvation. Famine caused by western powers is now being used to
market GMOs through food aid. Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique have
refused to accept GMOs in food aid. The WHO was mobilized to force
African countries to accept GM food. The U.S. government made the
force feeding of Africans with GMOs a major issue. When Colin Powell,
representing President Bush, kept insisting on African countries
importing GM food from the U.S. in the closing plenary of the Earth
Summit, he was heckled by both NGOs and governments. African farmers
had come to Johannesburg with alternatives—small scale, indigenous-based
on farmers rights to land, water, and seed. 


The
Earth Summit in Johannesburg 2002, organized ten years after the
Rio Summit, which gave us the Convention on Biological Diversity
and the Biosafety Protocol, was also reduced to a marketplace for
pushing biotech on Africa. Hundreds of African farmers and government
representatives condemned the U.S. pressure to force GM contaminated
food aid. As civil society representatives from Africa stated, “We,
African Civil Society groups, participants to the World Summit on
Sustainable Development, composed of more than 45 African countries,
join hands with the Zambian and Zimbabwean governments and their
people in rejecting GE contaminated food for our starving brothers
and sisters: 


“We
refuse to be used as the dumping ground for contaminated food, rejected
by the Northern countries; and we are enraged by the emotional blackmail
of vulnerable people in need, being used in this way. 


“The
starvation period is anticipated to begin early in 2003, so that
there is enough time to source uncontaminated food. 


“There
is enough food in the rest of Africa (already offered by Tanzania
and Uganda) to provide food for the drought areas. 


“Our
responses is to strengthen solidarity and self-reliance with in
Africa, in the face of this next wave of colonization, through GE
technologies, which aim to control our agricultural systems, through
the manipulation of seed by corporations. 



“We
will stand together in preventing our continent from being contaminated
by genetically engineered crops, as a responsibility to our future
generation.” 


The
dumping of GM food through food aid was the most controversial issue
at the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Instead of listening
to the voices of the people of Africa and respecting their food
sovereignty, Colin Powell chastised the governments of Southern
Africa saying, “In the face of famine, several governments
in Southern Africa have prevented critical food assistance from
being distributed to the hungry by rejecting biotech corn.” 


It
is not just Southern Africa where food aid is being used to create
markets for the Biotech industry. After a devastating cyclone in
India that killed 30,000 people, corn-soya blend was distributed
as food aid even though the people of Orissa eat rice. Our organization,
the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology had
the corn-soya mixture analyzed and found it to be genetically engineered,
in total violation of GM laws in India. The women and children welfare
programs financed by the World Bank are increasingly being used
to subsidize the biotech industry and open up markets for GM goods
through the back door. 


The
World Food Program has been distributing transgenic food for seven
years without informing recipient countries and often in violation
of the national laws of these countries. 


On
June 10, 2002, the Bolivian Forum on Environment and Development
found that a sample of USAID food aid tested positive for the presence
of Starlink maize, a GM corn not approved for human consumption,
due to health concerns over possible allergenic effects. Aid to
Columbia was found to be 90 percent transgenic. 


There
are major issues related to food aid being used to market biotech
products. First, there is the question of the growing hunger and
food scarcity as a result of the destruction of ecological security
and food security. The solution to food insecurity is to strengthen
ecological resilience of farming systems through biodiversity and
sustainable agriculture and the economic resilience of local communities
through food sovereignty.  


Second,
when countries facing scarcity want non-GM food, their choice needs
to be respected in genuinely humanitarian relief. There is enough
non-GM food in the world. Southern Africa needed a million tons
of food grain to tide over its food crisis: 1.16 million tons of
non-GM maize is available in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and South
Africa. More than double the amount is available on the world market.
The EU announced that it would provide Southern Africa with 30 million
Euro to access GM free food for aid. India has 65 million tons of
non-GM food stockpiled which can be provided for less than US$0.10
a kilo. Alternatives to GM food are plenty. Coercion in periods
of emergency is inhuman action, not humanitarian aid. 


Recently,
India rejected a shipment of 10,000 tons of corn for food aid because
it was contaminated with Starlink corn. 


The
paradox of India importing increasing amounts of food for aid, while
65 million tons rot in storage, shows that food insecurity is a
result of erosion of food sovereignty and food democracy, not of
food security. It is the democracy deficit that is allowing the
spread of GM foods. GM foods do not represent technological success,
but democratic failure. Food safety and food security is a democratic
challenge for North and South, for rich and poor, for producers
and consumers. The right to safe, good, and adequate food is a universal
human right and the basis of food democracy. No society can call
itself free if it operates in violation of food democracy. 








Vandana
Shiva is director of Research Foundation for Science, Technology and
Ecology. This article is from a talk presented at the Future of Life
Summit, February 2003.