India has its own problems with genetically modified (GM) crops and health claims, providing further evidence of a worldwide agenda. But the global GM push is having tragic consequences for the country’s small farmers – and in both cases, India’s bureaucrats have a lot to answer for.
India’s small farmers are in the throes of a terrible epidemic. According to a 2011 New York University School of Law Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) report, one farmer committed suicide every 30 minutes in 2009 alone – a total of 17,638 suicides in one year. Even these figures are probably hugely underestimated. In the last 15 years, more than 300,000 small farmers may have committed suicide, and the numbers continue to rise.
This grisly tally is overwhelmingly due to permanent indebtedness, the result of several factors including Indian agrarian reform, rising supply prices, crop failure, lack of government support and restricted access to good loans. Another, inevitably controversial, factor is Monsanto’s Bt cotton, which is engineered to produce a toxin produced by Bacillus thuringiensis. Bt toxin makes the cotton plant toxic to its major insect pest complex, notably the cotton bollworm, and its introduction to India in 1995 was accompanied by grand claims of increased yield, reduced water and pesticide requirements and bumper profits for farmers.
The reality was virtually the opposite of Monsanto’s claims. Independent studies of Bt cotton revealed that both yields and profits were lower compared with conventional crops, while pesticide use was initially virtually identical – and increased enormously once Bt-resistant pests developed. Furthermore, the GM seeds were far more expensive than conventional strains, could not be saved and required irrigation – a luxury lacked by 90% of Indian small farmers. With all this occurring against a background of plummeting commodity prices as a result of ‘free trade’ policies, Indian farmers were driven to suicidal despair.
There’s a saying in India to the effect that the British introduced bureaucracy, but India perfected it in the post-colonial era – and the Food Safety and Standards Association of India (FSSAI) is doing its best to prove the saying correct. The FSSAI has announced that any so-called ‘proprietary’ foods not covered by India’s Food Act must undergo a regulatory ‘new product approval’ process. In other words – and stop us if you’ve heard this one before – proprietary foods will be banned unless specifically allowed.
Approval will depend on product labels being deemed sufficiently accurate by the government. At a stroke, then, the FSSAI has enacted what amounts to a health claims regime in India, along much the same lines as the version cooked up in the European Union (EU) and increasingly exported worldwide. And while the victims to date have been big boys like Complan and Kellogg’s we suspect it won’t be long before the Indian public becomes as information-starved as their EU counterparts.
India, “The mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition,” according to Mark Twain, has its own unique problems with GM. But in the eagerness of an over-reaching bureaucracy to impose Western-style agricultural technology and commercial free speech restrictions in India, we see clearly the emergence of a truly worldwide, pro-corporate, anti-nature hegemony – with unelected bureaucrats leading the charge. Campaigning efforts must recognise and begin to address the threat from the ‘grey men and women’ if things are to change.
Rapidly developing economies such as those found in the BRICS grouping of countries, are especially susceptible to the prospect of economic growth by transnational corporations hungry to get a piece of the new action. Having fought hard for their independence, countries like India are at grave risk of becoming a low-cost playground for transnationals. These are the very companies that continue to maintain their bases in the Western countries that represented the main global colonisers back in the days of Empire. The old dog has learned new tricks. And these companies mastered the art of controlling the destiny of new 'colonies'. This is the era of corporate imperialism. The only real hope for the achievement of fundamental human rights and freedoms will be mass awareness of the issues and rejection of these companies by the people at large.
Updated: 6 Feb 2013
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