Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Just a few bits of info

I'm not a scientist. I'm not a food expert. I'm not even sure I'm wholly receptive to the new and the un-tried/ un-tested. And I'm slow to forgive.

That said, consider then, these few pieces of information.

This firm was responsible for making and selling Agent Orange, to the US army during the Vietnam war. This potent chemical not only destroyed a lot of Vietnam's forest cover, but also had horrible consequences for human beings.
Birth defects. Neuropathies. Fatalities.
The thing was, they - the army, and most probably the firm, knew how it could affect people. They didn't care.

But that was war, right? And all's fair in love and war.

But when the war was over?

Compensation to victims? Bah!
No, they just concentrated on doing the Vietnamese another favour, selling them seeds that led to crop failure and consequent economic ruin.

Really, why does one need war at all, when there's the whole wide third world waiting to embrace genetically modified seeds, a sector over which the said firm has significant control through patents?

Cancer? 'Bah!' they say. Their argument is, if it could cause cancer, why would so many countries give them licenses and approvals?

Protests? Boycotts?
'Bah-bah!', they say. Actually, they don't. They just refuse to acknowledge that there are any protests. Just a 'lack of awareness' in very few places.

Like the USA?

Yeah, like the USA. And Canada, yes. Germany too... and some other European nations, but that doesn't mean a thing, does it?

Hide facts? Them?

Get reporters fired? No way!

Why are they doing so well in India?
What do you mean 'why'?
Which other country in the world would give unstinting support and approval to bt cotton seeds in one state, when another state has just banned the same product?

Committies? Inquiries? Reports?
Oh, yes, yes, yes. All of those.

But the said firm is not likely to be held responsible or made to compensate farmers, any time soon, not while we continue to judge the success of a given product by looking at how many people buy it, or of an agri-technology by counting how many acres are covered by it.


Suhail said...

This may be redundant for you, but helpful to other readers here. Recently I came across this PBS frontline documentary discussed on SepiaM which touches this topic while talking abt farmer suicides in Andhra. There are some other great documentaries in their S.Asia section.

Neela said...


Great report in Frontline. I have a few questions though:

1. How is acreage under the crop increasing? Has this growth in acreage/sales come from new territories? How are same territory sales (territories they sold to last year or the year before) doing?

2. What kind of regulation exists to make sure that the seeds are at least of OK quality? For e.g. consumer goods have to subscribe to certain quality standards. So is there a Board of Quality or something that regulates this?

3. What measures are farmers carrying out to educate themselves about this? Caveat emptor and all that.


m. said...

im cheering wildly for you!

monsanto, syngenta, dow, bayer, exxon,de beers etc are perenially on my shit list. if youre interested in the Agent Orange story, Down To Earth (a fantastic publication by the Center for Science & Environment) did a superb write up in their 15 March 2004 issue.

Some of the things they brought up:
1. The US National Academy of Science accepts only 13 diseases linked to AO exposure, but Vietnamese scientists have found plenty more.

2. the US "war veterans" received USD180 million as compensation. the vietnamese (4 million victims) got nada.

and btw, Dow was another of the companies commissioned to produce AO. surprise surprise.

m. said...

the eu was extremely uneasy about BT food, and resisted buying the US companies offerings. the us naturally did some big time arm twisting in trade and tariff terms, im not sure, but i think they eventually succeeded in revoking the EU ban.

when bt cotton came to india, it was sold illegally in the black market and dumped, even before the govt finished testing it, let alone passing a verdict on acceptability. after that, the assessment reports were totally superfluous - genetic contamination. is a *huge* threat.

plus these seeds are the kind that cannot be resown. each year the farmer is compelled to buy new seeds for the next season. thus monsanto creates a sustained, monopolistic market.

the farmers already get terrible deals from the govt in terms of loans. getting a loan to grow indigenious varieties is extremely difficult: one of the conditions is that youre "progressive" and use HYV and a certain amount of chemical fertilisers. tis a matter of time before someone is bribed and bought over, making that "BT".

caveat emptor? the farmers have no choice. so they can be accutely aware of how theyre being taken for a ride and oppressed but theres just not much they can do about it.

when you have a country of a billion plus, already staggering under gross human rights violations, its a nightmare to invite a company like monsanto (notorious for multiple human rights violations) to have a field day there.

Annie Zaidi said...

suhail, wish the govt would see those doucmentaries... or maybe they have... that's the really depressing thought.
neela, the acreage is calculated by the firm through the number of seed packets it sells and the govt through surveys. may i add that the surveys are mostly conducted after comlpaints of losses begin pouring in?
regulations in india are still incomplete and not yet competant to deal with genetic engineering. they're making new laws but they're not very stringent for manufacturers and dealers. lookat gene campaign's website for details
farmers in india find it hard to educate themselves. many aren't even literate. they believe what they hear from others. the only legal recourse they have is at the local consumer court.
m. - dow... that's another can of worms. btw, terminator technology is not really approved in india. but i do hear reports of farmers being sold terminated seeds.

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