The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left out

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The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left out

Postby admin » Sun Jan 24, 2016 7:14 am

The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left out)
by Jonathan Latham, PhD
September 8, 2015



“Reading the emails make(s) me want to throw up” tweeted the Food Babe after reading a lengthy series of them posted online by the NY Times on Sept 5th.

The emails in question result from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and are posted in the side bars of a front-page article by Times reporter Eric Lipton (“Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O. Lobbying War, Emails Show”). The article is highly disturbing, but, as the Food Babe implied, the Times buried the real story. The real scoop was not the perfidy and deceit of a handful of individual professors. Buried in the emails is proof positive of active collusion between the agribusiness and chemical industries, numerous and often prominent academics, PR companies, and key administrators of land grant universities for the purpose of promoting GMOs and pesticides. In particular, nowhere does the Times note that one of the chief colluders was none other than the President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

All this is omitted entirely, or buried in hard-to-notice side bars, which are anyway unavailable to print readers. So, here is the article Eric Lipton should have written.

First, The Lipton Story

The Lipton article seems, at first sight, to be impressive reporting. Lipton describes how Kevin Folta, Chair of the Dept. of Horticulture at the University of Florida secretly took expenses and $25,000 of unrestricted money from Monsanto to promote GMO crops. On behalf of the biotech industry, or via the PR firm Ketchum, Folta wrote on websites and attended public events, trainings, lobbying efforts and special missions.


Parts of this were already known, but Lipton digs up further damning evidence and quotes from Folta. They include an email to Monsanto that solidly contradicts Folta’s previous denials of a relationship with Monsanto and the biotech industry: “I am grateful for this opportunity and promise a solid return on the investment,” Folta wrote after receiving the $25,000 check, thereby showing both a clear understanding of his role and the purpose of the money. The article goes on to similarly expose Bruce Chassy (Prof Emeritus, University of Illinois) and David Shaw (Mississippi State University). It also discusses, presumably for “balance”, agronomist and GMO critic Charles Benbrook, then at Washington State University, who unlike the others openly acknowledged his funding.

What Lipton Missed

But readers of the emails can find facts that are much more damaging to perceptions of academic independence than that contained in the main article. For one thing, the money Folta received is insignificant besides the tens of millions his university was taking from Syngenta (>$10million), Monsanto(>$1million), Pioneer (>$10million), and BASF (>$1million). Money that it’s hard to believe did not have a role in protecting Kevin Folta as he roamed zealously (and often offensively) over the internet, via his twitter account, blog, podcast, and OpEds, squelching dissent and ridiculing GMO critics wherever he went.

Also missing from the main Times article is a sense of the extensive and intricate networking of a small army of academics furthering the interests of Monsanto and other parts of the chemical, agribusiness and biotech industries. Folta rarely acted alone. His networks are filled with economists, molecular biologists, plant pathologists, development specialists, and agronomists, many of them much more celebrated than Kevin Folta, but all of them in a knowing loop with industry and the PR firms. Their job was acknowledged openly in emails (“We are all bad-ass shills for the truth. It’s a pleasure shilling with you.” Or, as Folta himself put it: “I’m glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like.”). More generally, the group’s role was to initiate academic publications and other articles and to firefight legislative, media and scientific threats to the GMO and pesticide industries, all the while keeping their industry links hidden.

The academics identified by these emails as cooperating with industry and PR firms include:

Profs. Bruce Chassy (University of Illinois) and Alan McHughen (University of California, Riverside) who worked together to destroy the credibility of Russian scientist and GMO critic Irina Ermakova. They persuaded the journal Nature Biotechnology to interview Ermakova about her research and describe it. This interview was followed by a detailed critique of her research (about which none of the authors were expert). Ermakova was neither told of the critique nor given a chance to answer it. This whole elaborate subterfuge required her to be sent a dummy proof of the article she thought she was publishing in the journal.

Prof. Calestuous Juma (Harvard University) longtime advocate of GMOs for Africa.

Prof. Wayne Parrott (University of Georgia) a serial intervener in academic GMO debates.

Prof. Roger Beachy (Danforth Center, formerly USAID). Beachy is the principal living exponent of a classic biotech strategy: to respond rapidly to a report or publication critical of some aspect of the technology with a multi-author “rebuttal” [Disclaimer: the inaugural report of the Bioscience Resource Project (on the genome damage caused by genetic engineering) was met, even before formal publication, with both barrels from 23 professors, including Roger Beachy (Altpeter et al 2005)].(2)

Prof. Ron Herring (Cornell) who has helped to promote GMOs in India and fought to defuse the farmer suicide debate in India.

Prof. CS Prakash (Tuskegee University) is the convener of the influential listserv AgBioWorld. AgBioWorld was the all-important conduit for a petition signed by three thousand scientists calling for the retraction of a 2001 scientific paper showing GMO contamination of Mexican corn (Quist and Chapela 2001). As detailed in an article called The Fake Persuaders, the scientists who initiated the petition, and made inaccurate and inflammatory statements about the authors, were not real people. However, their emails could be traced back to servers belonging to Monsanto or Bivings, a PR company that was working with Monsanto at the time.

Prof. Nina Fedoroff (Penn State) is the most prominent of all of the scientists looped into all of the Times emails. Nina Fedoroff was the 2011-2012 President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The AAAS is the foremost scientific body in the US. During her Presidency, Fedoroff, who is also a contributor to the NY Times, used her position to coordinate and sign a letter on behalf of 60 prominent scientists. This letter was sent to EPA as part of an effort to defeat a pesticide regulatory effort. The real coordinator was Monsanto but Fedoroff participated in phone conferences and email exchanges with them (including with the prominent lobbyist Stanley Abramson) and gets credit in the emails for “moving the ball far down the field”. Yet Nina Fedoroff is not once named in the main article and nowhere at all is her position noted.

So the story that academia’s most vocal GMO defenders, and some of its most prominent scientists, are copied into these emails is missing. The focus on individuals like Folta occludes a demonstration, for the first time ever, of long-suspected and intricate coordination and cooperation among them.

Also looped in to various of the emails are supposedly independent individuals and organisations who speak in favour of biotechnology, self-reportedly out of personal passion. These include Dr Steve Savage, Karl Haro von Mogel of Biofortified, Mischa Popoff (of the Heartland Institute) and Jon Entine (then affiliated with George Mason University and now head of the Genetic Literacy Project and a Forbes Magazine columnist). All are revealed, by the emails but not the article, as biotech insiders.

Cooperation among academics is not a crime. But these emails show, as in the EPA letter example, that a company (usually Monsanto, but also Dow and Syngenta and a PR firm, often several of them, plus sometimes the biotech lobbyists BIO or CropLife America) were invariably looped in to these emails, and further, that initiatives usually began with one of these non-academic entities, and were shepherded by them. Only rarely is there even a suggestion from the emails that the various academics were out in front, though that was always the intended impression of the result.

But perhaps the biggest of all revelations within these emails is the connivance of senior university administrators, especially at Cornell University. The NY Times article focuses on the misdeeds of Mississippi State University Vice President David Shaw. But, looped into one email string, along with the PR firm Ketchum and Jon Entine are various Cornell email addresses and names. These are ignored by Lipton, but the email addresses belong to very senior members of the Cornell administration. They include Ronnie Coffman (Director of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Science) and Sarah Evanega Davidson (now director of the Gates-funded Cornell Alliance for Science).

The Alliance for Science is a PR project and international training center for academics and others who want to work with the biotech industry to promote GMOs. It is funded ($5.6 million) by the Gates Foundation. Its upcoming program of speakers at Cornell for September include Tamar Haspel (Washington Post reporter), Amy Harmon (New York Times reporter) and Prof. Dan Kahan (Yale Law School). These speakers are the exact ones mentioned in a proposal worked out between Kevin Folta and Monsanto in a series of email exchanges intended to enhance biotech outreach. These email exchanges also propose setting up “Ask Me Anything” events to be held at universities around the country with Kevin Folta as [one] of the panelists.

On Sept 10th the Cornell Alliance for Science is hosting an event in downtown Ithaca (home town of Cornell). It is called “Ask Me Anything About GMOs” and Kevin Folta is a panelist. Somehow or other Davidson’s Cornell Alliance for Science read Monsanto’s lips, perfectly.

Your right to know

Let me speculate at what is really going on behind the scenes of Lipton’s article.

Earlier this year, a newly-formed US group called US Right to Know (USRTK) set in motion Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests directed at 14 (now 43) prominent public university scientists it suspected of working with (and being paid by) the biotech industry and/or its PR intermediaries. Now, if these 43 academics had nothing to hide, this request would not have attracted much attention and hardly any emails would have been forthcoming. However, the USRTK FOIA requests triggered a huge outcry in various quarters about the “harassment” of public scientists. The outcry has led to OpEds in the LA Times and the controversial removal of scientific blog posts defending USRTK, and much else besides, as reputedly tens of thousands of emails (from these FOIA requests) have landed on the desks of USRTK.

What would a good PR company recommend to its clients in such a situation? In order to preempt the likely upcoming firestorm, it might recommend that various media outlets run ahead of USRTK to publish a version of events in which academic small-fry like Kevin Folta, Bruce Chassy and David Shaw (of Mississippi State) are the villains. Making them the fall guys lets others off the hook: high-profile scientists like Nina Fedoroff and Roger Beachy; the pro-biotech academic community in general; and prestigious Ivy League institutions like Cornell University.

These much bigger fish are who the NY Times should have harpooned. Since they did not, or perhaps would not, let us hope that USRTK will make better use of those emails, ideally by posting all of them online.


(1) Others Professors cc’d into emails include : Peter Davies (Cornell), Carl Pray (Rutgers), Tony Shelton (Cornell), Peter Phillips (University of Saskatchewan), Prabhu Pingali (Cornell), Elizabeth Earle (Cornell), Peter Hobbs (Cornell), Janice Thies (Cornell) and Ann Grodzins Gold (Syracuse), Martina Newell-McGloughlin (UC Davis).

(2) Later published as A. K. Wilson, J. R. Latham and R. A. Steinbrecher (2006) Transformation-induced Mutations in Transgenic Plants: Analysis and Biosafety Implications. Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews 23: 209-237


Altpeter F. et al (2005) Particle bombardment and the genetic enhancement of crops: myths and realities. Molecular Breeding 15: 305–327.

David Quist and Ignacio H. Chapela (2001) Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico. Nature 414: 541-543
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Re: The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left

Postby admin » Sun Jan 24, 2016 7:24 am

Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O. Lobbying War, Emails Show
SEPT. 5, 2015



Monsanto Asgrow brand soybeans. Monsanto, the world's largest seed company, and its industry partners have relied on academics to push their case for genetically modified crops. Credit Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

WASHINGTON — At Monsanto, sales of genetically modified seeds were steadily rising. But executives at the company’s St. Louis headquarters were privately worried about attacks on the safety of their products.

So Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, and its industry partners retooled their lobbying and public relations strategy to spotlight a rarefied group of advocates: academics, brought in for the gloss of impartiality and weight of authority that come with a professor’s pedigree.

“Professors/researchers/scientists have a big white hat in this debate and support in their states, from politicians to producers,” Bill Mashek, a vice president at Ketchum, a public relations firm hired by the biotechnology industry, said in an email to a University of Florida professor. “Keep it up!”

And the industry has.

Corporations have poured money into universities to fund research for decades, but now, the debate over bioengineered foods has escalated into a billion-dollar food industry war. Companies like Monsanto are squaring off against major organic firms like Stonyfield Farm, the yogurt company, and both sides have aggressively recruited academic researchers, emails obtained through open records laws show.

Kevin Folta, the chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida, is among the scientists who have been recruited in the debate over bioengineered foods. Credit Tyler Jones/University of Florida

The emails provide a rare view into the strategy and tactics of a lobbying campaign that has transformed ivory tower elites into powerful players. The use by both sides of third-party scientists, and their supposedly unbiased research, helps explain why the American public is often confused as it processes the conflicting information.

The push has intensified as the Senate prepares to take up industry-backed legislation this fall, already passed by the House, that would ban states from adopting laws that require the disclosure of food produced with genetically modified ingredients.

The efforts have helped produce important payoffs, including the approval by federal regulators of new genetically modified seeds after academic experts intervened with the United States Department of Agriculture on the industry’s behalf, the emails show.

Charla Lord, a Monsanto spokeswoman, said the company’s longstanding partnership with academics helped demystify the science. “It is in the public interest for academics to weigh in credibly, not only to consumers but to stakeholders like lawmakers and regulators as well,” she said.

But even some of the academics who have accepted special “unrestricted grants” or taken industry-funded trips to help push corporate agendas on Capitol Hill say they regret being caught up in this nasty food fight.

“If you spend enough time with skunks, you start to smell like one,” said Charles M. Benbrook, who until recently held a post at Washington State University. The organic foods industry funded his research there and paid for his trips to Washington, where he helped lobby for labels on foods with genetically modified ingredients.

On the other side, the biotech industry has published dozens of articles, under the names of prominent academics, that in some cases were drafted by industry consultants.

Monsanto and its industry partners have also passed out an undisclosed amount in special grants to scientists like Kevin Folta, the chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida, to help with “biotechnology outreach” and to travel around the country to defend genetically modified foods.

A Florida Professor Works With the Biotech Industry

Kevin Folta, chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida, began to correspond regularly with executives at Monsanto in early 2013. He soon teamed up with the company and other industry representatives to defend their genetically engineered crop technologies as they lobbied Congress and other government authorities. Dr. Folta has said he worked as an independent scientist. But Monsanto helped cover his costs. SEPT. 5, 2015

“This is a great 3rd-party approach to developing the advocacy that we’re looking to develop,” Michael Lohuis, the director of crop biometrics at Monsanto, wrote last year in an email as the company considered giving Dr. Folta an unrestricted grant.

Dr. Folta said that he had joined the campaign to publicly defend genetically modified technologies because he believes they are safe, and that it is his job to share his expertise. “Nobody tells me what to say, and nobody tells me what to think,” he said, adding, “Every point I make is based on evidence.”

But he also conceded in an interview that he could unfairly be seen as a tool of industry, and his university now intends to donate the Monsanto grant money to a food pantry. “I can understand that perception 100 percent,” he said, “and it bothers me a lot.”

Players in a Safety Debate

The moves by Monsanto, in an alliance with the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, are detailed in thousands of pages of emails that were at first requested by the nonprofit group U.S. Right to Know, which receives funding from the organic foods industry.

The New York Times separately requested some of these documents, then made additional requests in several states for email records of academics with ties to the organics industry.

There is no evidence that academic work was compromised, but the emails show how academics have shifted from researchers to actors in lobbying and corporate public relations campaigns.

The fight between the competing academics is not focused on questions about the safety of genetically engineered seeds themselves. The sides are fighting mainly over the safety of herbicides used in so-called genetically modified organism, or G.M.O., crops. The organic food proponents argue that herbicide use has surged, and that some of these herbicides may be unsafe. The biotech companies say that data relating to herbicide use on genetically engineered crops is being misinterpreted — and that these new crops, more resistant to pests and disease, are helping to feed the world.

Charles M. Benbrook's research at Washington State University was supported by organic food companies. Credit George Robinson

So far, the anti-G.M.O. community has been winning the public relations war. Major brands like Chipotle and original Cheerios have moved to reduce or eliminate their use of genetically engineered ingredients, based in part on a marketing judgment that this is what the American public wants. That poses a threat to companies like Monsanto, which had $15.9 billion in global sales last year.

“Misinformation campaign in ag biotech area is more than overwhelming,” Yong Gao, then Monsanto’s global regulatory policy director, explained in an April 2013 email to Dr. Folta as the company started to work closely with him. “It is really hurting the progress in translating science and knowledge into ag productivity.”

Dr. Folta is among the most aggressive and prolific biotech proponents, although until his emails were released last month, he had not publicly acknowledged the extent of his ties to Monsanto.

He has a doctorate in molecular biology and has been doing research on the genomics of small fruit crops for more than a decade. Monsanto executives approached Dr. Folta in the spring of 2013 after they read a blog post he had written defending industry technology.

“We really appreciate independent scientists working to educate the public,” Keith Reding, a microbiologist who helps Monsanto manage its relations with regulatory agencies, wrote in an April 2013 email to Dr. Folta.

A few weeks later, the Council for Biotechnology Information — controlled by BASF, Bayer, Dow Chemical, DuPont and Monsanto — asked Dr. Folta and other prominent academics if they would participate in a new website, GMO Answers, which was established to combat perceived misinformation about their products. The plan was to provide the academics with questions from the public, such as, “Do GMOs cause cancer?”

“This is a new way to build trust, dialogue and support for biotech in agriculture that will help explain in an independent voice what GMOs are,” an executive at Ketchum wrote to Dr. Folta.

But Ketchum did more than provide questions. On several occasions, it also gave Dr. Folta draft answers, which he then used nearly verbatim, a step that he now says was a mistake.

A Mississippi State Administrator’s Ties to Monsanto and Dow

David R. Shaw, vice president for research and economic development at Mississippi State University, has received a steady stream of research support from Monsanto, as well as grant money. Monsanto and Dow Chemical have asked him to help move their agendas in Washington, emails show.

“It was absolutely not the right thing,” he said, adding that he now insists that he write his own responses.

Kate Hall, a spokeswoman for the biotechnology council, said that the scholars were free to revise the scripted responses, and that the group offered these draft answers in only a few dozen cases, compared with the nearly 1,000 responses on GMO Answers to date.

Dr. Folta, the emails show, soon became part of an inner circle of industry consultants, lobbyists and executives who devised strategy on how to block state efforts to mandate G.M.O. labeling and, most recently, on how to get Congress to pass legislation that would pre-empt any state from taking such a step.

While Dr. Folta was not personally compensated, biotech companies paid for his trips to testify in Pennsylvania and Hawaii. “I should state upfront that I have not been compensated for any testimony,” he said at a public hearing in Hawaii, before adding, “The technology is safe and is used because it helps farmers compete.”

Dr. Folta routinely gave updates on his travels — and his face-to-face encounters with opponents of genetically modified crops — to the industry executives who were funding his efforts.

“Your email made my day!” wrote Cathleen Enright, an executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, after Dr. Folta gave her a written update on the October 2014 legislative hearing in Pennsylvania. “Please send all receipts to us whenever you get around to it. No rush.”

In August 2014, Monsanto decided to approve Dr. Folta’s grant for $25,000 to allow him to travel more extensively to give talks on the genetically modified food industry’s products.

“I am grateful for this opportunity and promise a solid return on the investment,” Dr. Folta wrote in an email to one Monsanto executive.

A soybean chipper placing soybeans into cells at a Monsanto research facility in Creve Coeur, Mo. Monsanto engineers designed the chipper to shave a tiny tissue sample off a seed to analyze its genetics. Credit Tom Gannam/Reuters

Dr. Folta is one of many academics the biotech industry has approached to help it defend or promote its products, the emails show.

The company, in late 2011, gave a grant for an undisclosed amount to Bruce M. Chassy, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, to support “biotechnology outreach and education activities,” his emails show.

In the same email in which Dr. Chassy negotiated the release of the grant funds, he discussed with a Monsanto executive a monthslong effort to persuade the Environmental Protection Agency to abandon its proposal to tighten the regulation of pesticides used on insect-resistant seeds.

“Is there a coordinated plan to maintain pressure and emphasis on EPA’s evolving regulations?” Eric Sachs, the chief of Monsanto’s global scientific affairs group, wrote in a related email to Dr. Chassy. “Have you considered having a small group of scientists request a meeting with Lisa Jackson,” referring to the E.P.A. administrator at the time.

In an interview, Dr. Chassy said he had initiated the fight against the E.P.A. plan before Monsanto pressed him. But he conceded that the money he had received from the company had helped to elevate his voice through travel, a website he created and other means.

“What industry does is when they find people saying things they like, they make it possible for your voice to be heard in more places and more loudly,” he said.

Dr. Chassy eventually set up a meeting at the E.P.A., with the help of an industry lobbyist, and the agency ultimately dropped the proposal.

In 2013, Monsanto also asked David R. Shaw, the vice president for research and economic development at Mississippi State University, to intervene with the Department of Agriculture to help persuade the agency to approve a new type of genetically modified soybean and cottonseed designed by Monsanto.

A University of Illinois Professor Joins the Fight

Bruce M. Chassy, now a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, is another academic who was recruited to help out with GMO Answers. Shortly before he retired from his full-time research position — while he had a grant from Monsanto — he worked closely with the company to lobby the Environmental Protection Agency. SEPT. 5, 2015

Organic farmers argued against this move, convinced that approval of the new seeds would lead to an increase in potentially harmful herbicide use. Monsanto wanted Dr. Shaw, whom the company has supported over the last decade with at least $880,000 in research grants for projects he helped oversee, to refute these arguments, the emails show.

“Our Regulatory Affairs and Government Affairs groups feel it is important that USDA hear from folks like you on the key issues since there is a high probability that many negative voices will be heard during these calls,” said a June 2013 email from John K. Soteres, then Monsanto’s head of weed resistance programs. “Your voice not only counts from the standpoint of presenting scientifically based viewpoints but also to a degree from a numbers standpoint.”

Dow Chemical made a similar pitch this year, with one company executive first reminding Dr. Shaw in an email about the industry’s financial support for the university. Then the executive asked Dr. Shaw to intervene with the Agriculture Department to urge it to approve Dow’s new genetically modified cottonseed, which was designed to be treated with a Dow-produced herbicide.

Dow’s and Monsanto’s requests to the Agriculture Department have since been approved. Dr. Shaw declined to comment. But a university spokesman, Sid Salter, described Dr. Shaw as “a highly ethical researcher.”

Why Not ‘Mommy Farmers’?

At times, the scientists themselves questioned whether they were the best advocates for the companies.

“What the situation requires is a suite of TV spots featuring attractive young women, preferably mommy farmers, explaining why biotech derived foods are the safest & greenest in the history of ag and worthy of support,” wrote L. Val Giddings, a senior fellow at Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a nonprofit food policy research group in Washington, in an October 2014 email to a Monsanto lobbyist. The company was debating how to defeat labeling campaigns last year in Colorado and Oregon.

Dr. Folta, included in the email chain, agreed.

Washington State Professor Allies With Organics Industry

Charles M. Benbrook, formerly the chief scientist at the Organic Center, left the nonprofit organization in 2012 after concluding that he could get more traction for his research, which has questioned G.M.O. crop safety, by joining a university. His organic foods industry funders went with him. Here are some documents and emails related to this effort, obtained by The New York Times. SEPT. 5, 2015

“We can’t fight emotion with lists of scientists,” Dr. Folta wrote to Lisa Drake, the Monsanto lobbyist. “It needs a connection to farming mothers.”

But Ms. Drake flatly rejected their arguments. Monsanto had already run television ads with mothers who were farmers. They fell flat.

“Doesn’t poll as well as credible third party scientist,” she said. “I know hard to believe, but I have seen the poll results myself, and that is why the campaigns work the way they do.”

Emails and other documents obtained by The Times from Washington State, where Dr. Benbrook served until earlier this year, show how the opponents of genetically modified foods have used their own creative tactics, although their spending on lobbying and public relations amounts to a tiny fraction of that of biosciences companies.

The organic foods industry has a direct financial interest to raise consumer concerns, because federal law requires that any product labeled organic in the United States be free of ingredients produced from genetically modified seeds. So if consumers move away from G.M.O.-based sources, they sometimes switch to organic alternatives.

Like the biotech companies, organic industry executives believed they could have more influence if they pushed their message through academics.

“I am a business guy, not a scientist,” said Gary Hirshberg, the chairman and former president of Stonyfield Farm, which produces organic yogurt, who leads an industry lobbying effort called Just Label It. “So of course it helps to have an academic scientist explain it.”

That is why Dr. Benbrook, who had served as chief scientist at the Organic Center, a group funded by the organic foods industry, resigned his job and sought a university appointment, he said.

“I was working for an organization affiliated and funded by the industry, and people were just not listening,” he said.

At Washington State, Dr. Benbrook was supported by many of the same financial backers, including Organic Valley, Whole Foods, Stonyfield and United Natural Foods Inc. The companies stayed closely involved in his research and advocacy, helping him push reporters to write about his studies, including one concluding that organic milk, produced without any G.M.O.-produced feed for the cows, had greater nutritional value.

At least twice, Mr. Hirshberg’s group also paid for Dr. Benbrook to go to Washington so he could help lobby against a federal ban on G.M.O. labels. And his research suggesting that herbicide use in G.M.O. crops has surged has been a central part of the organic industry’s argument for mandatory labels.

Dr. Benbrook, whose research post at Washington State was not renewed this year, said the organic companies had turned to him for the same reasons Monsanto and others support the University of Florida or Dr. Folta directly.

“They want to influence the public,” he said. “They could conduct those studies on their own and put this information on their website. But nobody would believe them. There is a friggin’ war going on around this stuff. And everyone is looking to gain as much leverage as they can.”

A version of this article appears in print on September 6, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Emails Reveal Academic Ties in a Food War. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe
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Re: The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left

Postby admin » Sun Jan 24, 2016 8:11 am

Farmer Suicides and Bt Cotton Nightmare Unfolding in India
by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
Institute of Science in Society



The largest wave of farmer suicides and ecological nightmare unfolding around Bt cotton

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho exposes the “fudged” data and false claims of ‘successes’ that have perpetrated the humanitarian disaster

A fully referenced version of this report has been submitted to Shri Jairam Ramesh, Environment Minister of India, urging him to stop growing Bt cotton and other GM crops in India; it is posted on ISIS members’ website (details here) and can be downloaded here

Please circulate widely and repost, but you must give the URL of the original and preserve all the links back to articles on our website

The Bt cotton killing fields

As the cotton growing season drew to a close in the state of Andhra Pradesh, farmer suicides once again became almost daily occurrences. Officially, the total number of suicides within a six-week period between July and August 2009 stood at 15, but opposition parties and farmers’ groups said the true total was more than 150 [1]. Opposition leader N. Chandrababu claimed in a speech that he had the names and addresses of 165 farmers who ended their lives because of the distress caused by the drought.

By November, similar reports were coming from another cotton growing state Maharashtra. Farmers of Katpur village in Amravati district sowed Bt cotton four years ago. Instead of the promised miracle yields, huge debts have driven many to suicide, and cattle were reported dying after feeding on the plants [2] (see [3] Mass Deaths in Sheep Grazing on Bt Cotton, SiS 30).

One ray of hope was that the 5000-odd farmers of the Maharashtra village have decided to shun Bt cotton, and are now growing soybean instead. Some have also taken to organic farming.

“We were cheated by the seed companies. We did not get the yield promised by them, not even half of it. And the expenditure involved was so high that we incurred huge debts. We have heard that the government is now planning commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal. But we do not want Bt seeds of any crop anymore,” said farmer Sahebrao Yawiliker.

Successive studies in Maharashtra have concluded that indebtedness was a major cause of suicides among farmers [4].

Within a week, two farmers in neighbouring villages in Wardha district killed themselves. Their Bt cotton crops were devastated by lalya, a disease that caused the cotton plants to redden and wilt [5]. The first farmer, 55 year old Laxman Chelpelviar in Mukutban, consumed the pesticide Endoulfan when the first picking from his six-acre farm returned a mere five quintals and an income of Rs15 000, way below his expenses of Rs50 000. The second farmer, 45 year old Daulat Majure in Jhamkola, was discovered by his mother hanging dead from the ceiling. The cotton yield from his seven-acre farm was a miserable one quintal, worth Rs3 000.

Agricultural scientists said lalya points to a lack of micronutrients and moisture content in the soil. Lalya develops with pest attacks, moisture stress and lack of micronutrients in the soil. The plant’s chlorophyll decreases with nitrogen deficiency, resulting in another pigment, anthocyanin, which turns the foliage red. If reddening starts before boll formation, it results in a 25 percent drop in yield, said a scientist from the Central Institute of Cotton Research at Nagpur, who wished to remain anonymous. “Lalya is here to stay.” He declared.

According to the agricultural scientists, the disease has its roots in the American Bt technology that India imported. Almost all of the 500-plus Bt seed varieties sold in India in 2009 are of the same parentage, the American variety Coker312 Bt cotton, a top CICR scientist said. They are F1 hybrids, crossed with Indian varieties.

Coker-312 (initially from Monsanto) showed high susceptibility to attacks by sucking pests like jassids and thrips. The thrips disperse within plant cells, while jassids suck the sap as they multiply under a leaf’s surface, forcing the plant to draw more nutrients from the soil, aggravating the soil’s nutritional deficiency.

Another characteristic of Bt cotton that depletes the soil is that the bolls come to fruition simultaneously, draining the soil all at once. In a region like Vidarbha, plants wilt in two or three days. “It is like drawing blood from anemic woman.”

“If such a technology mismatch continues, soil health and farmers’ economy will take a further hit,” a top ICAR scientist with years of experience in cotton research was reported saying [5]. “The state needs to take up soil and water conservation efforts on a war footing in Vidarbha.”

India has about ten million ha under hybrids and Bt cotton, much high than in China (6.3 m ha), US (3.8 m ha) and Pakistan (3.1 m ha). Unlike India, 79 other countries use self-seeding and non-Bt hybrids.

The cotton crisis and successive crop failures due to declining soil health goes hand in hand with the imported GM (genetic modification) technology, which is energy and input intensive, the report [5] concluded.

Other effects of Bt cotton the Indian scientists could have mentioned are the resurgence of secondary pests and especially the new exotic mealy bug pest introduced with the Bt cotton, as well as the reduced yields of other crops on land cultivated with Bt cotton [6] (see Mealy Bug Plagues Bt Cotton Fields in India and Pakistan, SiS 45).

A recent scientific study carried out by Delhi-based Navdanya compared the soil of fields where Bt-cotton had been planted for three years with adjoining fields planted with non GM cotton or other crops [7]. The regions covered included Nagpur, Amravati and Wardha of Vidharbha, which account for the highest Bt cotton planting in India, and the highest rate of farmer suicides (4 000 per year).

In three years, Bt-cotton was found to reduce the population of Actinomycetes bacteria by 17 percent. Actinomycetes bacteria are vital for breaking down cellulose and creating humus.

Bacteria overall were reduced by 14 percent, while the total microbial biomass was reduced by 8.9 percent. Vital soil enzymes, which make nutrients available to plants, have also been drastically reduced. Acid phosphatase which contributes to the uptake of phosphates was lowered by 26.6 percent. Nitrogenase enzymes, which help fix nitrogen, were diminished by 22.6 percent. The study concluded [7] that a decade of planting with GM cotton, or any GM crop with Bt genes could lead to total destruction of soil organisms, “leaving dead soil unable to produce food.”

After some respite in the post loan-waiver year of 2008, farmer suicides have begun to climb again [5]. The number of suicides in the six worst-affected western Vidarbha districts in 2009 was approaching 900. November saw 24 famers take their own lives in Yavatmal alone.

“Crop survival this year is only 44 percent in some blocks,” said Sanjay Desmukh, Yavatmal collector. “Rains have been scanty.”

Official records underestimate the real extent of suicides

According to Indian government records, 182 936 farmers committed suicide in India between 1997 and 2007 [8]. Nearly two-thirds occurred in five states, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, with one-third of the country’s population. The count has been rising even as the numbers of farmers are diminishing. As many as 8 million quit farming between 1991 and 2001, and the rate of quitting has only risen since.

These official figures tend to be huge underestimates. The records are collated by the National Criminal Records Bureau, a wing of the Ministry of home Affairs; but the numbers reported to the Bureau by the states are often massaged downwards. For example, women farmers are not normally accepted as farmers, as by custom, land is never in their names, although they do the bulk of the work in agriculture.

P. Sainath, the rural affairs editor of The Hindu and author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought, refers to the suicides as “the largest sustained wave of such deaths recorded in history”, and attributes it to India’s “embrace of the brave new world of neoliberalism.”

The rate of farmers’ suicides has worsened particularly after 2002 (the year GM crops were introduced to India, although Sainath does not say so). Between 1997 and 2001, the number of suicides was 78 737, or 15 747 a year on average. Between 2002 and 2006, the number was 87 567, or 17 513 a year on average.

Indebtedness the cause

Those who have taken their lives were deep in debt (as successive studies in Maharashtra confirmed [4]). Peasant households in debt nearly doubled in the first decade of the neoliberal “economic reforms” [8], from 26 percent of farm households to 48.6 percent, according to the National Sample Survey data. But in the worst affected states, the rate of indebtedness is far higher. For example, 82 percent of all farm households in Andhra Pradesh were in debt by 2001-02.

Furthermore, those who killed themselves were overwhelmingly cash crop farmers growing cotton, coffee, sugarcane, groundnut, pepper, and vanilla. Suicides were fewer among those that grow food crops such as rice, wheat, maize and pulses.

Giant seed companies have been displacing cheap hybrids and far cheaper and hardier traditional varieties with their own products. A cotton farmer buying Monsanto’s GM cotton would be paying far more for seed. Local varieties and hybrids were squeezed out with enthusiastic state support.

In 1991, farmers could buy a kilogram of local seed for as little as Rs7 or Rs9 in today’s worst affected region of Vidarbha. By 2003, they would pay Rs350 (US$7) for a 450 gram bag of hybrid seed. By 2004, Monsanto’s partners in India were marketing a 450 grams bag of Bt cotton seed for between Rs1 650 and Rs1 800 ($33 to $36). This price was brought down by government intervention overnight in Andhra Pradesh, where the government changed after the 2004 elections. The price dropped to around Rs900 ($18), still many times higher than 1991 or even 2003.

Health and food costs sky-rocketed while farmers’ income crashed, and so did the price they got for their cash crops, thanks to subsidies to corporate and rich farmers in the US and EU. These subsidies on cotton alone destroyed cotton farmers not only in India but in African nations such as Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali and Chad.

As costs rose, credit dried up and debt went out of control, and the tides of suicides washed over India.

To add to the farmers’ plight, the unsustainable farming practices are coming home to roost. More than 1 500 farmers in the state of Chhattisgarh committed suicide, driven into debt by crop failures due to falling water levels, which dropped from 40 feet to below 250 feet in just the past few years [9].

More “sinister” GM crops

But there is yet a more “sinister reason” for the mass suicides: GM crops, notably Bt cotton. Millions of Indian farmers had been promised undreamt of harvests by switching to planting GM seeds. They borrowed money to buy the exorbitant seeds, only to find their crops failing miserably, leaving them with spiralling debt from which the only exit is suicide. British journalist Andrew Malone writing for the Mail [10] reported an estimated 125 000 farmers had taken their own lives directly as the result of GM crops; the crisis being branded “GM genocide” by campaigners. It is perpetrated by powerful GM lobbyists and prominent politicians all over the world who persist in claiming that GM crops have transformed Indian agriculture and producing greater yields than ever before.

Malone described how he travelled to Maharashtra in the suicide belt to find out for himself who is telling the truth. There he witnessed the cremation of the body of the farmer in a cracked barren field near his home 100 miles from Nagpur in central India.

Death by insecticide

“As flames consumed the corpse, Ganjanan, 12, and Kalpana, 14, faced a grim future. While Shankara Mandauka had hoped his son and daughter would have a better life under India’s economic boom, they now face working as slave labour for a few pence a day. Landless and homeless, they will be the lowest of the low.” Malone wrote.

Shankara drank insecticide to end his life 24 hours earlier. He was in debt for two years’ earnings and could see no other way out of his despair.

“There were still marks in the dust where he had writhed in agony. Other villagers looked on – they knew from experience that any intervention was pointless – as he lay doubled up on the ground, crying out in pain and vomiting.”

Neighbours gathered to pray outside the family home. Nirmala Mandaukar told how she rushed back from the fields to find her husband dead. “He was a loving and caring man,” she said, weeping.

Shankara’s crop, Bt cotton, had failed twice. Like millions of other Indian farmers, he switched from traditional seeds to GM seeds, beguiled by the promise of bumper harvests and future riches. He borrowed money to buy the GM seeds. But when the harvests failed, he was left with mounting debts and no income.

“Simple, rural people, they are dying slow, agonizing deaths. Most swallow insecticide – a pricey substance they were promised they would not need when they were coerced into growing expensive GM crops.” Malone wrote. “Pro-GM experts claim that it is rural poverty, alcoholism, drought and ‘agrarian distress’ that is the real reason for the horrific toll. But as I discovered during a four-day journey through the epicentre of the disaster, that is not the full story.”

In one village, he found 18 farmers had committed suicide after being “sucked” into GM debt. Village after village, families told how they had fallen into debt on being persuaded to buy GM seeds. Famers paid £10 for 100 g of GM seeds, a thousand times the cost of traditional seeds. The GM salesmen and government officials promised farmers that these were ‘magic seed’ that yield better crops without parasites and insects.

Far from being magic seeds, the GM crops were devastated by bollworms. They also required double the amount of water.

When rains failed for the past two years, many GM crops simply withered and died.

In the past when crops failed, farmers could still save seeds and replant them the following year. But with GM hybrid seeds, they have been unable to do that.

Suresh Bhalasa was another farmer cremated the same week, leaving a wife and two children. His family had no doubt that their troubles began the moment they were encouraged to buy Monsanto’s Bt cotton.

“We are ruined now,” said the 38-year-old widow. “We bought 100 grams of Bt cotton. Our crop failed twice. My husband had become depressed. He went out to the field, lay down in the cotton and swallowed insecticide.”

Monsanto admitted that soaring debt was a “factor in this tragedy,” but said that cotton production had doubled in the past seven years. A spokesman blamed other reasons for the recent crisis, such as “untimely rain” or drought, and that suicides have always been part of the rural Indian life.

Malone’s findings on GM cotton and farmers suicides confirm what we reported in 2006 [11] (Indian Cotton Farmers Betrayed, SiS 29); when organic cotton was already providing farmers a lifeline [12] (Message from Andra Predesh:Return to organic cotton & avoid the Bt cotton trap, SiS 29; see also [13] Stem Farmers’ Suicides with Organic Farming, SiS 32).

Yield ‘jump’ due to Bt cotton?

However, the findings by journalists and activists on the ground were contradicted by a discussion paper [14] of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) of the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research). The CGIAR describes itself [15] as a “strategic partnership” of 64 members supporting 15 international centres working in collaboration with many hundred of government and civil society organizations as well as private businesses around the world.

Based on the analysis of information from a variety of official and unofficial sources, published and unpublished studies, the IFPRI paper [14] concluded that “there is no evidence of a “resurgence” of farmer suicides in India in the last five years, and that Bt cotton technology has been “very effective overall in India.”

It stated that Bt cotton is “neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the occurrence of farmer suicides.” Nevertheless, “in specific regions and years, where Bt cotton may have indirectly contributed to farmer indebtedness, leading to suicides, its failure was mainly the result of the context or environment in which it was planted.”

These conclusions absolve Bt cotton from having played any part in the farmers suicides, laying practically all the blame on inappropriate rainfall and drought, with no mention of the exorbitant price of GM seeds compared with traditional seeds; nor of failed harvests or of increased pesticide use.

Actually, the data presented showed that the two states with the largest planted areas of Bt cotton, Maharashtra (1 840 000 ha) and Andhra Pradesh (830 000) in 2006 (Table 7 of IFPRI paper) were also the ones with the highest suicide rates that year.

The following year’s harvest in Maharashtra was no better despite the hype of a ‘bumper crop’ by the state government suspected of intending to boost the image of Bt cotton and to depress the price [16]. Farmers were reporting huge losses. One Bt cotton farmer harvested 80 quintals (1 quintal = 100 kg) in 45 acres and expected to harvest a further 80 quintals at most. As cotton seed is about one-third lint, the actual lint yield was less than 12 kg/acre or 32.5 kg/ha. The state had projected a total production of 7 000 000 bales (1 bale = 170kg), but the Divisional Commissioner of Amravati said it would not exceed 4 000 000 bales. In the end, the official record on the Indian Government’s Cotton Corporation of India database was 5 000 000 bales [17].

The most dubious claim in the IFPRI paper [14] was in a graph showing that the average yield of cotton for all India shot up from about 300 kg/ha to 500 kg/ha in the five years after Bt cotton was introduced in 2002, an increase attributed largely to Bt cotton. But when the average cotton yields by region were plotted, no such jump was evident; and even less so when the average yields by states were plotted (see Figure 1). Maharashtra, the state with the largest area of Bt cotton, had the lowest yields.

Without a proper statistical analysis, it is impossible to tell if the trend before and after the introduction of Bt is different; furthermore, there is no evidence Bt cotton is responsible for any yield ‘jump’.

The official Indian Government data [17] do not present yields from Bt cotton separately from those of non-Bt cotton. The IFPRI paper [14] provided some information on the number of hectares planted with Bt cotton in its Table 7 for the years 2002 to 2006. In 2004, 500 000 ha were planted with Bt, representing 5.69 percent of the total8 786 000 ha of cotton land. If Bt cotton were solely responsible for the increase in yield to 470 kg/ha reported that year, the 5.69 percent of land planted with Bt cotton would have had to yield a miraculous 2 460.5 kg/ha, because the extrapolated yield without Bt cotton, according to the old curve would have been only 350 kg/ha.

Clearly other factors were responsible for the increase in yield that apply to cotton crops in general, Bt and non-Bt, as was pointed out by a researcher of the Coalition for a GM-Free India [18]: an enormous increase in irrigation, good rainfall (for rain fed crops), increase in use of fertilizers and hybrid seeds (including Bt hybrids with indigenous varieties) and lack of pests.

But are the reported increases in yields reliable?

Illusory Bt cotton yield increase

Figure 1 Yield jump due to Bt cotton. Top, average cotton yields for all India 1980-2007; middle, average cotton yields for different regions 1975-2007; bottom, average cotton yields for states, 1975-2007 (redrawn from [14])

Questionable reliability of data

The reliability of the Indian Government’s database [17] is open to question. For example, the production of the whole of India for 2008 was recorded at 31 500 000 bales, giving an average yield of 567 kg/ha. But according to the later estimate by American agencies, the 2008 production was 23 000 000 bales [18], or an average yield of only 414 kg/ha. Data from other countries such as the United States and China also showed that yields of cotton have stagnated since the introduction of Bt cotton.

Massive failures of Bt cotton crops in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra were widely reported in the first year of introduction [19-22] (Bt cotton fails in India, Science in Society 16). The Khargone district in Madhya Pradesh facing a severe drought reported 100 percent Bt cotton failures compared with 20 percent failures of non-Bt cotton. The Vidarbha cotton belt in the adjoining state of Maharashtra reported more than 30 000 ha damaged by root rot with over 70 percent of the crop areas affected. Farmers in both areas were demanding compensation.

In 2005, in advance of a deadline for a decision on license renewal, Greenpeace India and the Sarvodaya Youth Organization released two versions of a report on Bt cotton prepared by the Joint Director of Agriculture of Warangal District, Andhra Pradesh (AP). The data in the original report, commissioned under a memorandum of understanding between the AP government and Monsanto-Mahyco, revealed a comprehensive failure of Bt cotton in AP. The second visibly tampered-with version exaggerated the yields, thereby substantially reducing Monsanto’s compensation to farmers [23] (India's Bt Cotton Fraud, SiS 26).

Local scientists and farmers accused the State Agriculture Department scientists of “fudging data” on Bt cotton performance [24]. “For example, 4 is made into 14 quintals yield, and figures are similarly concocted to show reduced pesticide use.”

Monsanto commissioned a study using a market research agency for the 2004 season (see below), which claimed that Bt cotton yield was up by 58 percent on a country wide basis, resulting in a 60 percent increase in farmers’ incomes; and in Andhra Pradesh, a 46 percent yield increase and a 65 percent reduction in pesticide costs gave a 42 percent increase in income to farmers. Every one of those claims was directly contradicted by independent research on the ground [25].

A notorious paper by Martin Qaim (University of Bonn) and David Zilberman (University of California, Berkeley) was published in the top journal Science, claiming outstanding (80 percent) yield increases from Monsanto’s GM cotton; and projected the results as relevant to farmers throughout the developing world [26]. The paper drew a storm of protest, as it derived all its data from Monsanto, and its findings were completely at odds with the reports coming from Indian farmers. Dr. Devinder Sharma, a food policy expert, called Qaim and Zilberman’s paper a “scientific fairytale” [27].

These Bt fantasies were contradicted by independent studies.

Independent studies contradict claims of Bt yield jump

Agricultural scientists Dr Abdul Qayum and Kiran Sakkhari conducted an independent study on Bt cotton on a season-long basis for three years in 87 villages of the major cotton growing districts of AP - Warangal, Nalgonda, Adilabad and Kurnool - and found against Bt cotton on all counts [28].

· Bollgard (Monsanto’s Bt cotton) failed miserably for small farmers in terms of yields; non-Bt cotton surpassed Bt in yield bynearly 30 percentwith 10 percent less expense

· Bollgard did not significantly reduce pesticide use; over the three years, Bt farmers spent Rs 2 571 on pesticides on average, while the non-Bt farmers spent Rs2 766

· Bollgard did not bring profit to farmers; over the three years, the non-Bt farmers earned on average 60 percent more than Bt farmers

· Bollgard did not reduce the cost of cultivation; on an average, the Bt farmers had incurred 12 percent more costs than non-Bt farmers

· Bollgard did not result in a healthier environment; researchers found a special kind of root rot spread by Bollgard cotton, infecting the soil so that other crops would not grow.

Another report, The story of Bt cotton in Andhra Pradesh: Erratic processes and results [29] published by the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), documented the controversial events surrounding the failures of Bt cotton during its first three years of commercial cultivation in Andhra Pradesh.

In the first year (2002-2003), the popular non-Bt hybrid yielded on average 276 kg/ha compared with 180 kg/ha from Bt-cotton (an increase of 53 percent). The average net return for non-Bt farmers was Rs2 147 compared with Rs518 for Bt farmers, an increase of 314 percent. Some 71 percent of farmers on Bt cotton suffered a net loss compared with only 18 percent of farmers who planted non-Bt cotton. Similar surveys carried out in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh by New Delhi based Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology confirmed the dismal results of Bt cotton; farmers who planted Bt cotton suffered a net loss of Rs 3 300 per acre, whereas those growing non Bt hybrids and desi varieties (indigenous non Bt cotton) gained Rs10 750 and Rs 8 250 respectively. These trends were confirmed in a third study by non-government organization, Gene Campaign.

Monsanto-Mahyco, however, conducted its own survey, which presented positive findings for Bt cotton.

In the second year (2003-2004), Monsanto-Mahyco commissioned a survey by a market research agency A C Nielson, which came up with the appropriately positive report. However, a season-long monitoring by Deccan Development Society, Permaculture Association of India and Andhra Pradesh Coalition in Defence of Diversity (APCIDD) returned quite different findings. It showed that Bt crops did not significantly reduce the cost of pesticides, they required more insecticide sprays for controlling sucking pests than non-Bt crops, and Bt crops led to a 9 percent reduction in yield and less net profit for farmers (see Table 1).

Table 1. Monsanto Commissioned study vs independent study

In the third year, the areas planted with Bt expanded again, to six times the previous year, as conditional approval was granted by the GEAC for commercial release for RCH2 Bt, a Bt hybrid with an indigenous variety of Rasi Seeds, for South and Central India.

Mass Bt crop failures were detected early in the season in Warangal district. The government had sent out 50 teams of experts to visit the fields and compile a report, but no information was forthcoming. By November 2004, the agricultural officials in Warangal admitted that out of 20 000 ha of Bt cotton grown in the district 65 percent was damaged by wilt, where the flowers, bolls, and the plants dried up resulting in very low yields. In contrast, only 15 percent of the non-Bt crops were damaged.

Qayum and Sakhari continued a fourth successive year of study on Bt cotton in Andhra Pradesh for the APCIDD, the Deccan Development Society and the Permaculture Association of India [30]. They compared the performance of Bt cotton with non-Bt cotton, and organic (NPM, non-pesticide management) cotton and the corresponding economic returns to farmers.

The previous report [29] from 2002-2005 covered the Bt cotton hybrids MCH162 and MCH184 introduced by Mahyco-Monsanto. These hybrids were found to have “failed miserably” as small farmers could neither reduce pesticide use nor cost of cultivation, and some diseases similar to Rhizotaria root rot and bacterial leaf blight had widely spread first in Bt hybrid cotton, which later infected the non-Bt hybrids. As a result of the report and extended agitation by farmers in the region, GEAC and the Government of Andhra Pradesh imposed a ban on the cultivation of Mahyco-Monsanto hybrids in the state during 2005-2006.

Between 2004 and 2006, a number of new hybrids were released for cultivation in Andhra Pradesh. These include RCH 20, ProAgro368, Bunny and Mallika, in addition to Rasi’s RCH-2. So the study for 2005-2006 analysed the performance of all the Bt hybrids in nine villages in three districts, Warangal, Adilabad and Nalgonda [30].

The results showed that NPM cotton and non-Bt cotton cost less than Bt cotton by 22.83 percent and 16.66 percent respectively and resulted in better net economic return by 35.35 percent and 8.81 percent respectively. There were only slight differences in yields with Bt cotton hybrids ahead of non-Bt and NPM cotton by 6.09 and 6.6 percent respectively. The greatest savings were in the cost of seeds. Bt-hybrid seeds cost Rs1 750 per acre compared with Rs481.8 for non-Bt hybrid seeds, and Rs473.7 NPM-hybrid seeds.

Incidentally, the average yield over the five years 2002-2006 for Andhra Pradesh according to state record was 328 kg/ha [30]. But the figures from the government database [17] gave an average of 485 over the same period, an inflation of 48 percent.

While the incidence of American bollworm – the pest that Bt cotton protects against – was low throughout the study area irrespective of whether Bt, non-Bt or NPM cotton was grown, other important pests, the sucking pests, were rampant. The incidence was higher in Bt cotton fields and extended to longer duration, so Bt farmers had to spray once or twice more than non-Bt farmers, while NPM farmers did not have to use insecticides at all. These findings confirmed results obtained earlier, which we reported in detail [31] (Organic Cotton Beats Bt Cotton in India, SiS 27).

In 2007, a study on Bt cotton in Vidarbha documented that it has failed in the region [32]. Suman Suhai, director of Gene Campaign, told The Hindu that despite knowing that Bt cotton would not work in rain fed areas, the government had introduced it in Vidarbha, and as a result the high input costs of Bt cotton had increased indebtedness in an area already heavily indebted. The study showed that 70 percent of small farmers had already lost their landholdings as collateral for loans that they could never repay.

Suhai said seed dealers encouraged farmers to buy far more fertilizer and pesticide than was needed, raising their input costs. They promised farmers 12 to 15 quintals per acre when the actual harvest was in the range of three to 5 quintals per acre. At the same time cotton price came down with the import of Chinese cotton. On average, farmers who adopted Bt cotton lost Rs1 725 per acre.

The study further revealed that many farmers adopted Bt cotton because they believed it was a “government seed”, instead of being privately produced and marketed. They also adopted it because the government was activity promoting it. Local officials like the Agriculture Commissioner of Amravati were aware of the failures of Bt cotton, but the state agriculture department continued to promote it.

The study also collected evidence of other effects of Bt cotton on plants and animals: cattle deaths in areas where they grazed in harvested Bt cotton fields [3]. Women working in cotton fields had complained of rashes (see [33] (More Illnesses Linked to Bt Crops, SiS 30), and mango trees that were not flowering. But the government has turned a deaf ear to those reports to this day.

Vandana Shiva has roundly condemned the IFPRI paper in her critique [34], exposing all its false claims. More recent field studies in Vidarbha carried out by her organization Navdanya showed a 13-fold increase in pesticide use by farmers since Bt cotton was introduced in 2004.

A 2008 survey comparing Bt cotton with organic cotton showed that organic producers earned on average Rs6 287/acre, nearly ten times as much as the Rs714/acre income of Bt cotton farmers.

These problems with Bt cotton are not unique to India. We reviewed GM cotton failures around the world at the beginning of 2005 [35] (GM Cotton Fiascos Around the World, SiS 26), notably Indonesia, China, and The United States.

Independent study in US confirms Bt cotton failures

A 4-year study [36] by researchers at the University of Georgia and the US Department of Agriculture confirms that the use of GM cotton did not provide increased return to farmers in the United States. On the contrary, it may decrease income by up to 40 percent [37] (Transgenic Cotton Offers No Advantage, SiS 38).

The researchers grew a number of different cultivars of cotton at two locations in the state of Georgia. The transgenic varieties consisted of two main traits, herbicide tolerance and Bt biopesticides, alone and variously combined (stacked); they were

1. Bollgard (B), expressing the Bt toxin Cry1Ac from soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis to control the cotton bollworm

2. Bollgard II (B2) expressing two different Bt toxins, Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab, to delay the evolution of pest resistance

3. Roundup Ready (RR), tolerant to glyphosate herbicide;

4. Bollgard/Roundup Ready (BR)

5. BollgardII/Roundup Ready (B2R)

6. Liberty Link (LL), tolerant to herbicide glufosinate

Five different non-transgenic cotton cultivars were also grown. Each cultivar, whether transgenic or not, was managed to maximise profit, as consistent with practices recommended by the University of Georgia.

The results showed that “no transgenic technology system produced significantly greater returns than a non-transgenic system in any year or location.” The returns are dominated by yields, and could be reduced by 30-40 percent. In 2004 at one of the two locations, the non-transgenic variety produced a return of $1274.81 per ha compared with $858.73 for BR, $737.41 for B2R, and $876.14 for LL.

The researchers remarked that the high investment for transgenic crops before any yield is realised is a predicament for growers, one shared by farmers in India and elsewhere.

It is a pity that the researchers have not included organically managed cotton in their study, because it is clearly a much better option.

Bt cotton does not protect against cotton bollworms as intended and worse

Bt cotton is supposed to protect against cotton bollworms on account of one or more genes coding for a family of proteins from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis that are specifically toxic to them.

However, farmers have found that Bt cotton did not always live up to expectations. In the first year of its introduction in India, Bt cotton crops in the Bhavanagar, Surendranagar, and Rajkot districts of Gujarat were reported to be attacked by bollworm [38].

By 2005, scientific studies from several countries backed up farmers’ experience. Scientists in India, China and the United States found that the levels of Bt toxin produced by Bt crops vary substantially in different parts of the plant and in the course of the growing season, and are often insufficient to kill the targeted pests. This could lead to greater use of pesticides, and accelerate the evolution of pest resistance to the Bt toxin [39] (Scientists Confirm Failures of Bt-Crops, SiS 28).

Scientists at the Central Institute of Cotton Research found that the amount of Cry1Ac protein varied across the Bt varieties and between different plant parts [40]. The leaves had the highest levels; whereas the levels in the boll-rind, square bud and ovary of flowers were clearly inadequate to fully protect the fruiting parts producing the cotton bolls. Increasing numbers of armyworm (Helicopverpa armigera) larvae survived as toxin levels dropped below 1.8 mg/g wet weight of the plant parts. Thus, a critical level of 1.9 mg/g was needed to kill all the pests. Regardless of plant varieties, the level of toxin decreased with the age of the plant, though the decrease was more rapid in some hybrids than in others. By 110 days, Cry1Ac expression decreased to less than 0.47mg/g in all Bt hybrids.

In a separate study, scientists at the same institute tested the susceptibility of an insect pest from different regions in India to Bt toxin [41]. The LC50 - the concentration killing 50 percent of the larvae – of Cry1Ac ranged from 0.006 to 0.105 mg/ml. There was a 17.5 fold overall variability in susceptibility among the districts. The highest variability of 17.5 fold was recorded from districts of South India. The variability in pest susceptibility, like the variable expression of the Cry1A proteins in Bt crops, will reduce the efficacy of Bt pest control.

At the Institute of Plant Protection, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing researcher found that the toxin content in the Bt cotton varieties changed significantly over time, depending on the part of the plant, the growth stage and the variety. Generally, the toxin protein was expressed at high levels during the early stages of growth, declined in mid-season, and rebounded late in the season. In line with the study in India, the scientists found that the toxin content in leaf, square, petal and stamens were generally much high than those in the ovule and the boll [42].

From the beginning, scientists have predicted another problem, that the bollworm would develop resistance to Bt toxin, and hence a general recommendation was that 20 percent of the land should be set aside for planting non-Bt crops to act as ‘refugia’ to slow the development of Bt resistance; and the pro-GM lobby has been congratulating itself at how Bt resistance has not developed [43]. But as pointed out by Prof. Joe Cummins of ISIS [44] (No Bt Resistance? SiS 20), the ‘refugia’ were fictitious; as the US Department of Agriculture had recommended insecticide sprays on both non-Bt crops in the refugia and Bt crops.

But by 2005, Bt resistance in bollworms had indeed emerged in Australia [39]. A population of the Australian cotton bollworm, Helicoverpa armigera – the most important agricultural pest in Australia as well as China, India and Africa - has developed resistance to Cry1Ac at 275-times the level that would have killed the non-resistant insect [45]. Some 70 percent of the resistant larvae were able to survive on Bt cotton expressing Cry1Ac (Ingard), which has been grown in Australia since 1996.

A new variety of Bt cotton containing both Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab was commercially released in late 2003. Resistance monitoring in Australia and China had suggested that pest susceptibility to Cry1Ac was declining in the field. In 2001, a strain of cotton bollworm was isolated from the survivors in the New South Wales and Queensland monitoring programme that appeared to be resistant to Cry1Ac. The researchers have now confirmed the findings [45, 46], and attributed the high level of resistance to a 3- to 12-fold over-expression of an enzyme, serine protease, which binds avidly to Cry1Ac toxin, preventing it from acting, and possibly, detoxifying it by breaking it down.

Another problem more serious than Bt resistance in the targeted pest is the emergence of secondary pests. And this has happened first in China and then in India and Pakistan [6].

China was initially held up as the success story on Bt cotton [39]. It first granted permission to Monsanto to grow the crop in 1997, and for the first several years reported great reductions in the use of pesticides. Early warnings appeared in a study published in 2002 by researchers at an institute funded by China’s Environmental Protection Agency. It found that although Bt cotton was effective in controlling bollworm, it had adverse impacts on the bollworm’s natural enemies and was not effective in controlling many secondary pests. A second study published in October 2004 found that Bt cotton did not reduce the total numbers of insecticide sprays because additional sprays were needed against sucking pests. A study of 481 Chinese farmers by researchers at the Cornell University released in 2006 reported that after seven years, populations of other insects such as mirids have increased so much that farmers have had to spray their crops up to 20 times a growing season [47].

One of the researchers, Per Pinstrup-Anderson, well known for supporting GM and professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy at Cornell said: “These results should send a very strong signal to researchers and government that they need to come up with remedial actions for the Bt-cotton farmers. Otherwise farmers will stop using Bt cotton, and that would be very unfortunate.”

The study found that farmers in the survey who had planted Bt cotton were doing well initially, and by year three, cut pesticides by 70 percent and earned 36 percent more than farmers planting non-Bt cotton. By 2004, however, they had to spray just as much, resulting in a net average income eight percent less than conventional cotton farmers because Bt seed costs three times as much as conventional seed.

The other researchers were Shenghui Wang, Cornell Ph.D. now an economist at the World Bank, and Cornell professor David R. Just. They stress that secondary pest problems could become a major threat in countries where Bt cotton has been widely planted.

Undaunted, the supporters of GM continue their positive spin. In the abstract of a paper published in Science in 2008 [48] the authors wrote: “Our data suggest that Bt cotton not only controls H. armigera on transgenic cotton designed to resist this pest but also may reduce its presence on other host crops and may decrease the need for insecticide sprays in general.”

In the full paper, however, the authors reported that mirids, podsucking bugs that used to be controlled by spraying and by competition with the bollworm, have now become key pests of cotton in China. They conclude their paper with the statement: “Therefore, despite its value, Bt cotton should be considered only one component in the overall management of insect pests in the diversified cropping systems common throughout China.”

Grassroots researcher Ram Kalaspurker based in Yavatmal, Maharashtra in India, was among the first to document (with video and photography) the emergence of secondary pests and even a totally new exotic pest, giant mealy bugs that have infested Bt cotton plants, and spreading to near-by plants [49] (Deadly gift from Monsanto to India, SiS 38). The problem is so serious that a special combined session of entomology and pathology groups was convened in the entomology panel meeting on 10 April 2008. It stated [50] “All the participant entomologists were unanimous in expressing their concern on the emergence of new insect pests over the past 4 years, particularly after the introduction of Bt-cotton. Severe infestation of mealy bugs, mirid bugs and thrips was recorded in several parts of the country. Mealy bugs in Gujarat and mirid bugs in Karnataka were reported to have caused significant economic damage.” An arsenal of deadly insecticides has been suggested by some entomologists to deal with these secondary pests as well as with resistant bollworms.

Scientific consensus for organic non-GM agriculture

There is a developing scientific consensus that organic non-GM agriculture and localized food (and energy) systems are what the world needs for food security that would also save the climate [51] (Food Futures Now: *Organic *Sustainable *Fossil Fuel Free , ISIS publication).

Prince Charles was so distressed by the plight of the suicide farmers that he set up a charity, the Bhumi Vardaan Foundation [52] to help those affected, and to promote organic Indian crops instead of GM crops.

Bt cotton has been an unmitigated disaster for India in exacerbated farmers suicides. But the ecological and agronomic nightmare is still unfolding, in plagues of secondary and novel pests, pest resistance, novel diseases, and worst of all, soils so depleted in nutrients and essential microorganisms that they will no longer support the growth of any crop.

There is no doubt that those who insist on promoting GM crops for farmers in India and elsewhere in the developing world [53] (Beware the New "Doubly Green Revolution", SiS 37) are perpetrating a crime against humanity.
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Re: The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left

Postby admin » Sun Jan 24, 2016 8:18 am

Mass Deaths in Sheep Grazing on Bt Cotton: At least 1 800 sheep reported dead from severe toxicity after grazing on Bt cotton fields in just four villages in Andhra Pradesh India
by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho



The Bt trail of dead sheep, ill workers and dead villagers over three years

At least 1 820 sheep were reported dead after grazing on post-harvest Bt cotton crops; the symptoms and post-mortem findings strongly suggest they died from severe toxicity. This was uncovered in a preliminary investigation conducted by civil society organisations in just four villages in the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh in India. The actual problem is likely to be much greater.

This latest report confirms the findings of an earlier fact-finding investigation, also conducted by civil society organisations, on illnesses in cotton farm workers and handlers caused by Bt cotton in another cotton-growing state, Madhya Pradesh, in India ( More illnesses linked to Bt crops , this series).

And not so long ago, we reported similar illnesses and deaths among villagers in the Philippines linked to exposure to Bt maize since 2003 ( GM ban long overdue, dozens ill and five deaths in the Philippines , SiS 29).

It cannot be mere coincidence that similar Bt toxins from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis incorporated in the genetically modified crops are involved in all these cases; but the regulators have done nothing. Things are so bad that the European Commission levelled an accusation of bias towards the biotech industry against its own food safety regulatory body ( European Food Safety Authority criticised of GMO bias , this series).

Grazing lands decline as commercial crops increase

Grazing lands in Warangal district have declined steeply as commercial crop cultivation expanded in recent years, and it has become customary for sheep and goats to be allowed to graze on crop residues after harvest.

This year, there have been several media reports of sharp increases in the deaths of sheep and goats after grazing in Bt cotton fields. There were similar reports in 2005, when complaints were lodged with the Joint Director of Agriculture by a few NGOs, but no action has resulted.

Between February and March 2006, the shepherds of Warangal district again reported high mortality in their flocks after grazing in harvested Bt cotton fields. Some shepherds reported to the animal husbandry department and requested confirmation on whether the deaths were due to grazing on Bt cotton.

Still getting no response, a fact-finding team of five members was constituted by the Andhra Pradesh Shepherds Union: two members from Anthra (NGO working on livestock issues), veterinary scientist Dr. Ramesh and a field researcher Mr. Apparoa; Mr. Jamalaiah, Secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Shepherds Union; and two scientists from the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture working on Bt cotton issues, Mr. S. Ramprasa and Mr. G. Rajashekar.

The team travelled through three mandals in Warangal district on 22 April 2006 and met with shepherds and farmers. The villages visited were Ippagudem in Ghanapur mandal, Valeru and Unkkucherla in Dharmasagaram mandal, and Maadpalli in Hasanparthi mandal.

Twenty-five percent of sheep dead within five to seven days

The Ippagudem village in Ghanapur mandal has 100 households belonging to the shepherd community. Forty shepherds and ten farmers attended the group meeting when the team visited. They said the deaths began after their sheep grazed on Bt cotton leaves or bolls. This year was the first time some of the shepherds and farmers cultivated Bt cotton hybrids, believing in the propaganda that they can get more yield and profit. They started grazing from the end of January to March. The deaths began within a week of continuous grazing on the Bt cotton crop residues. Mr. J. Parmesh, one of the shepherds got diarrhoea after consuming the affected sheep's meat.

The shepherds said that the sheep became dull/depressed  after 2-3 days of grazing, started coughing with nasal discharge and developed red lesions in the mouth, became bloated and suffered blackish diarrhoea, and sometimes passed red urine. Death occurred within 5-7 days of grazing. Sheep from young lambs to adults of 1.5-2 years were affected.

The shepherds took their sheep to the government veterinary hospital in Warangal for post-mortem, some shepherds also performed their own post-mortem, as is often the practice of shepherds across Andhra Pradesh. They found black patches in the intestine and enlarged bile duct and black patches on the liver. The shepherds said that the Assistant Director of Animal Health Centre in Warangal told them these deaths appeared to be due to grazing on Bt cotton fields, as she has earlier seen such cases. She prescribed some medicines for the sick sheep, but very few sheep responded, and most died.

Of the 2 601 sheep that belonged to 42 shepherds, 651 sheep died, giving an average mortality rate of 25 percent.

A shepherd in another village, Akkapalli reported that he had cultivated Bt cotton the previous year and allowed his sheep to graze, which resulted in deaths. This year, while he still cultivated Bt cotton, he did not allow them to graze on it, and his sheep did not die.

On the way to Dharmasagaram mandal, the team spoke to a shepherd Shri Kochla Malliah, who has 100 sheep, but 5 died after grazing on Bt cotton crop residues. He reported that sheep had also died in adjoining villages Molakagudam, Kunipatti and Kondaparthi

More deaths and identical symptoms in other villages

Twenty-nine shepherds participated in the meeting in Valeru village in Dharmasagaram mandel. Sheep deaths occurred during February “ March 2006. The symptoms described were identical to those reported in the previous village.

Of 2168 sheep owned by the 29 shepherds, 549 sheep died, again giving an average mortality rate of about 25 percent.

In the remaining villages, it was not possible to have a group meeting with the shepherds. But the team was informed that the sheep population is nearly 1 000 in Unkkucherla village, Dharmasagaram mandal, and 150 adult sheep and 70 lambs died within 4 days of grazing on Bt cotton fields between February and March 2006. In Maadipalli village Asanparthi mandal, there are 20 households rearing some 3 000 sheep, and nearly 400 died due to grazing on Bt-cotton fields from the second week of February through to March.

They took their animals to the Warangal veterinary hospital for post-mortem. The Assistant Director at the Animal Health Centre who conducted the post-mortem advised them to stop grazing their sheep on the Bt cotton fields, saying the deaths could be due to the Bt cotton, and prescribed some medicines for the affected sheep.

The team met with the Assistant Director who conducted the post-mortems. When questioned, she replied that while it appeared that the deaths occurred after grazing on Bt cotton fields, and could be due to the effects of Bt toxin, it was not possible to arrive at a definitive conclusion, as farmers also spray different types of insecticides and pesticides on their crops, and this factor confounds the observations. She also said there were no kits or other facilities available within the Department to enable her to arrive at a firm diagnosis that the deaths were due to Bt cotton.

When asked to see the post-mortem results/reports, she said she was not permitted to show them to the team, as permission of the Joint Director was needed. But the Joint Director was not present that day.

Demands for in-depth investigation and moratorium on Bt cotton

The team concludes that The preliminary information gathered from meeting shepherds across 3 mandals, strongly suggests that the sheep mortality was due to a toxin, and most likely Bt toxin from the foliage.  They were impressed that shepherds from villages located at 20-25 km distance from one another, reported an identical history of grazing on the Bt cotton fields continuously, identical symptoms and death within 5-7 days of grazing exclusively on Bt cotton plant residue, primarily on young leaves and pods. The post-mortem symptoms, as observed by the shepherds, suggest severe irritation of the intestines and associated organs (bile duct, liver) connected to the absorption and assimilation of food and processing of toxins. 

The team is calling for more in-depth exhaustive investigation on the impact of Bt toxin on the local Indian livestock , and a complete moratorium on Bt cotton cultivation until conclusive results show that the Bt toxin is completely harmless . Furthermore, they call for the shepherds who suffered losses to be compensated.

What is not yet clear from the report is whether all the sheep that did not fall ill or die also grazed on Bt cotton; if not, then the mortality rate is even higher than reported.


Mortality in Sheep Flocks after Grazing on Bt Cotton Fields “ Warangal District, Andhra Pradesh. Report of the Preliminary Assessment April 2006,
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Re: The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left

Postby admin » Sun Jan 24, 2016 8:23 am

Indian Cotton Farmers Betrayed
by Rhea Gala



Rhea Gala travels to Andhra Pradesh to find out why small farmers are still planting GM Bt cotton when it has failed miserably since its introduction four years ago

I have been following the increased planting of Bt cotton across India for the last four years with disbelief. We have heard that the crop has failed very badly, and yet farmers are still queuing to plant Bt cotton, the only genetically modified (GM) crop with commercial approval in the country. In November last year, I finally decided to travel to Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh, to find out what's really going on.

Having arrived in Bangalore I hired an auto rickshaw and took the first of many hectic rides through the tumultuous city traffic to meet Divya Raghunandan of Greenpeace at their head office. She told me how things had been developing.

Monsanto's three Bt cotton hybrids, Mech-12 Bt, Mech-162 Bt and Mech-184 Bt were banned in May 2005 in Andhra Pradesh (though simultaneously approved for commercial production in other states!). This was the result of three years of poor performance and Monsanto refusing to pay compensation of Rs450m to the farmers ( India's Bt cotton fraud  SiS 26); and finally, the AP Minister of Agriculture Mr Raghuveera Reddy taking a strong stand after being pressed by civil society organisations, such as Oxfam and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), that had been monitoring the crop.

Though seeds for the banned hybrids are still available this year; the seeds of choice for the farmers have been the legally approved RCH-2 Bt (Rasi seeds) and Bunny-Bt (Nuziveedu Seeds) with royalties of Rs1250 per packet going to Monsanto who owns the patent for the Bt gene. A plethora of cheaper unauthorised and unauthenticated Bt seed of dubious origin have also been popular; many sold openly in the market place.

Bt cotton has miraculous powers?

Divya Raghunandan of Greenpeace, Kavitha Kuruganti of the CSA, Kiran Sakkhari of the Permaculture Association of India and others, all stressed to me at different times, how inappropriate the Bt technology is for Indian farmers.

More than 85 percent of Indian farmers own less than five acres of land, 63 percent of farms are less than three acres, and many landless people will lease land to grow a crop. The average farmer is illiterate and ignorant of the implications of planting a GM crop, but lives in the hope that money borrowed to produce a cash crop will be more than repaid after a good harvest. Farmers are also desperate to avoid the spiralling cost of pesticide, and have been taken in by Bt cotton advertising and Monsanto's extravagant claims.

Monsanto claims that yield on its Bollgard Bt cotton will be up by 30 to 40 percent on conventional hybrids, and that pesticide use will be 70 percent down because Bollgard kills 90 percent of bollworms. Bollywood personalities such as Nana Patekar attribute almost miraculous powers to the product on TV. Punjab Chief Minister Amrinder Singh has personally endorsed the Bollgard brand. There were posters promoting Bt hybrids displayed on the walls of all villages I visited. Local opinion leaders such as larger landowners get seed and pesticide discounted or free, and ˜poor farmers' who extol the virtues of Bt cotton locally have turned out not to be farmers at all.

Family livelihoods depend entirely on good decisions being made; such as which seeds to plant, and a poor farmer will seek advice or take a lead from someone who she/he thinks knows best. It seems that many people at all levels of Indian society, some knowingly, have exhorted marginal farmers to purchase a product already proven to be unsound and unsuitable and that had already caused the downfall and death of many.

Bt cotton in the "Pesticide capital of the world"

Having taken the overnight train to Hyderabad from Bangalore, I travelled with Kavitha Kuruganti, development consultant, and Ram Prasad, entomologist, from the CSA to look at Bt cotton in Guntur District, known as the pesticide capital of the world . We ascertained that around 70 percent of cotton grown in the villages was Bt cotton, including many spurious cotton hybrids sold as Bt.

Kavitha explained that in the absence of government regulation, a monitoring and evaluation committee comprising civil society organisations such as the CSA had taken on the responsibility of recording events and informing the public and government of the social and environmental tragedy unfolding.

She said that farmers had been influenced by pervasive but utterly misleading advertising emanating from Monsanto and its licensees, and endorsed by celebrities, government officials, journalists, agricultural and corporate scientists, larger landowners and seed dealers who had either jumped on a media bandwagon or had vested interests in Bt cotton sales. For example, at the point of sale, when farmers are vulnerable, seed dealers will hype up the yield of a hypothetical farmer's Bt cotton because their profit is four times greater per drum than for non Bt seed.

We went to speak to seed dealers who told us that sucking pests were low on Bt, costs were high on non Bt, due to more pesticide sprayed, and predicted a higher yield for Bt. They said no problems had been reported for the Bt crop. When questioned on the poor condition of the Bt crop they said it was due to excess rain. But what we saw was quite different.

We found Bt cotton looking stunted and wilted with dry red leaves resulting from damage due to jassids, a sucking pest. These have caused 50 to 60 percent damage to Bt cotton, but much less on non-Bt cotton. We found a variety of pests including tobacco caterpillar in large numbers only on the Bt plants, and counted an average of only 15 to 20 bolls per plant on Bt cotton compared to 40 to 50 bolls on non-Bt cotton.

The popular legal Bt cotton hybrids RCH-2 Bt and Bunny-Bt were worst hit by jassids and secondary pests like Spodoptera and Sylapta ; and are expected to give very low yields as well as a new pest crisis due to Bt technology. We questioned farmers extensively about the performance of these hybrids, Kavitha acting as translator. They were eager to share details of costs such as seed, fertiliser and pesticide, and expressed an apparently stoical acceptance that while their inputs, including pesticide costs, had been very high, their yield would be very low.

One farmer, Mr T Prasanna Kumar, who had so far harvested only two quintals of Bunny-Bt (one quintal = 100 kg), had been advertised in the paper as having harvested 15 quintals! Farmers suggested a number of different options for the next season; including other Bt hybrids. As Kavitha pointed out, without a comprehensive and independent review of the facts, this situation can only get worse.

Black is white for Bt cotton

Mr G Raja Shekar of the CSA and Mr MD Amzad Ali of Sarvodaya Youth Organisation introduced me to big and small Bt farmers in the Warangal area. Raja Shekar had found from experience that only five to ten percent of the authorised Bt cotton delivers a competitive crop, while 90 percent looks very poor and is failing badly. This matched my observation that a stunted, wilted, thin and pink-tinged crop was predictably Bt, while a tall healthy, boll heavy and verdant crop almost invariably turned out to be non-Bt.

So powerful was the belief system manipulated by Monsanto's propaganda that many farmers we spoke to tended to blame the problem on external factors, like flooding, disease, or sucking pests; though some observed that the non-Bt crop had not been similarly afflicted. In some areas, unfortunately, there were few non-Bt crops to compare.

We spoke to farmer Ravinder Reddy and his brothers, who had a larger holding that was hosting a Monsanto trial for a new Bt hybrid, with Bt and non-Bt control hybrids for comparison. The trial crop was in a very poor state with diseased bolls and dry wilted leaves. The control Bt was better but not as good as the non-Bt hybrid, which was tall, green, bollful and lush. The farmer nevertheless praised the trial crop, explaining that it did not attract insects while the non-Bt healthy plants did. The Bt technology is superior,  he said, it is all a question of management; the village farmers will follow my lead.  This statement, in full view of contradictory evidence, later made more sense to me when one of the bystanders turned out to be a Monsanto representative.

Bt cotton kills thousands

On the evening of my fifth day out in the cotton fields of AP, Raja Shekar, Amzad Ali and I visited the widow of a local farmer and her two young children. The farmer, Mr Rami Reddy, had killed himself early in November when it became obvious that his Bt crop would fail and he would be unable to repay his debts. Many hundreds in AP and thousands around India have come to similar grief, as the economics of Bt cotton simply do not add up.

A landless farmer will start the growing season in debt, having borrowed Rs 6 000 per acre to rent the land and Rs1 700-1 900 per acre for approved Bt seed, totalling around Rs18 000 per acre by the end of the season, after adding pesticide and fertiliser cost. The market rate for cotton ranges from Rs1 200 to 1 700 per quintal; therefore a yield of 10.5 quintals per acre sold at the best price is needed just to break even, and before including interest on the loan of between 36 and 48 percent to local loan sharks.

Seventy percent of Indian farmers are marginal and simply cannot afford expensive Bt management practises that require high pesticide and fertiliser inputs. This year, Bt cotton yields are again the lowest compared to non-Bt cotton varieties. Non pesticide management and organic cotton are performing best this year, probably because they are less prone to pests and bred to be reliable in conditions of stress ( Return to organic cotton & avoid the Bt-cotton trap , this series).

Science finds against Bt cotton

Agricultural scientists Dr Abdul Qayum and Kiran Sakkhari conducted the first independent study on Bt cotton and released their report Bt cotton in Andhra Pradesh: A three year assessment in 2005. The study involved a season-long investigation in 87 villages of the major cotton growing districts - Warangal, Nalgonda, Adilabad and Kurnool. It found against Bt cotton on all counts and was vital in getting the hybrids involved banned in AP:

It failed miserably for small farmers in terms of yield; non-Bt cotton surpassed Bt by nearly 30 percent and at 10 percent less expense

It did not significantly reduce pesticide use; over the three years, Bt farmers used Rs2 571 worth of pesticide on average while the non-Bt farmers used Rs2 766 worth of pesticide

It did not bring profit to farmers; over the three years, the non-Bt farmer earned on average 60 percent more than the Bt farmer

It did not reduce the cost of cultivation; on average, the Bt farmer had to pay 12 percent more than the non-Bt farmer

It did not result in a healthier environment; researchers found a special kind of root rot spread by Bollgard cotton infecting the soil, so that other crops would not grow.

Co-author of the study, Kiran Sakkhari, told me that farmers buy the Bt cotton because of the extreme hype. Farmers have been cheated before by being sold dud pesticide that looked like the real thing, and now they are trying to avoid pesticide altogether by using Bt. But the Bt gene is only partially effective against bollworm and ineffective against the dozens of other pests that routinely attack cotton, so pesticide use will continue to increase with Bt cotton. For example, the tobacco caterpillar ( Spodoptera litura) , which has caused havoc on the Bt cotton this year; though not on the non-Bt cotton, has done as much damage as any primary cotton pest. 

He also reiterated that Bt plants are intolerant of biotic and abiotic stress. Wilt, a physiological disorder prevalent this year, is found only on the Bt crop, and tobacco streak virus, spread by the sucking pest, thrips, is a big problem; and while the non Bt cotton recovered well from excessive rain this season, the Bt crop is a shambles.  He thinks that the Bt cotton may give a good yield in laboratory conditions; but that cannot be extrapolated to larger areas. He admits this is a most generous assessment of the situation; and that many people, including himself, think that there is something basically wrong with the parent lines or the Bt technology per se .

And the Indian Government knew all along

In spite of all the evidence of its failure, the Indian Government has given Monsanto's Bt cotton the nod all around the country. A report from the Government's Central Institute for Cotton Research, Nagpur, showed that the government itself had been sitting on a study describing the faulty technology since 2003, while farmers had been going under.

The Bt cotton is genetically engineered to produce the Cry1Ac toxin that kills the main cotton pests in the US, the tobacco budworm ( Heliothis virescens ) and the pink bollworm ( Pectinophora gossypiella ), but is not particularly toxic to the Indian pests, cotton bollworms ( Helicoverpa zea and Helicoverpa armigera ) .

Government scientist and main author of the study, Keshav Kranthi, showed that the toxin is not always strong enough to kill pests; and is extremely variable across hybrids and between plant parts. The cotton boll, where the pest does most damage, is especially lacking in toxin strength, and the toxin also loses strength later in the growing season. Bt cotton showed up to 67-fold variability in toxin strength; being extremely unpredictable and unreliable, as testified by farmers countrywide for the past four years.

Nevertheless, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently stated: I am very happy to say that US President George Bush and I have decided to launch a second generation of India-US collaboration in agriculture. 

Scientists from the CSA fear that Monsanto's Bollgard II stacked Bt hybrid, with two Bt genes, currently undergoing field trials, and said to be ten times better  than Bollgard I, will be offered as a solution  to the current Bt problem, even though the National Government has now formally admitted that Bt cotton has failed in a number of states, including AP.

Bt crops break all biosafety rules

Kavitha Kuruganti pointed out many violations of biosafety regulations at all the test sites that we visited, as well as among the commercial plantations. Nobody is addressing the problem of gene transfer to conventional plants; and a general disregard of separation distances between the Bt and non-Bt crop makes contamination a fait acompli . Similarly, there is a general lack of enforcement of 20 percent non-Bt refugia, designed to slow the evolution of pest resistance. The several generations of bollworm that live annually on a crop can lead to 60 percent resistance in a single year.

With no regulation of GM cotton, GM produce is entering the food and feed chain as cottonseed oil and cake. This problem will continue to grow as fourteen new GM varieties of India's staple crops have been approved for field trials that began in 2005. Since my return to the UK, a Bt okra (ladies' finger) from a Mahyco (Monsanto's Indian partner) field trial was recently harvested in Guntur and sold in the local market, instead of being burned as required by law. This only came to light due to the monitoring by the civil society groups. The farmer involved did not know that the crop was transgenic and his family were eating the vegetable. The plants were seen to be in very poor state with many pests; and the person hired by Mahyco to care for and monitor the crop had no agricultural background. He was selling the crop to make extra cash. Mahyco had not informed the state government of the trial, and has since abandoned the standing crop.

Return to organic agriculture is the real solution

The Green Revolution cotton monoculture in AP has eradicated the traditional local crop varieties, depleted natural resources and created serious pest communities that require spiralling amounts of pesticide; many carcinogenic and banned in the west. This pre-existing pesticide problem, and the hype of Bt cotton advertising, seem to be the main reasons why farmers have turned to Bt cotton.

But Bt cotton has proven to be a failure. Bt technology is set to exacerbate the pesticide problem (see also Scientists confirm failures of Bt-crops , SiS 28), impacting further on biodiversity while continuing to cause suffering and suicide. Bt food crops, if and when they get approved for commercial production, will be a catastrophe for Indian agriculture and the nation as a whole.

The government needs only to promote organic production for all crops to stop this nightmare, instead of putting vested interests above the needs of the people. This betrayal over GM crops, like pesticides, poisons everything in its path, especially the farmers that feed the nation.

A return to sustainable organic methods is especially suitable for small farmers, and puts the skill and creativity of the farmers back at the centre of agriculture, where they can really regain control of their destiny. ( Return to organic cotton & avoid the Bt-cotton trap , and Poor women farmers and the crops of truth  this series).
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Re: The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left

Postby admin » Sun Jan 24, 2016 8:25 am

Return to Organic Cotton & Avoid the Bt-Cotton Trap
by Rhea Gala
from Andhra Pradesh



No more debt, pesticides and suicides for Indian cotton farmers who avoid Bt-cotton and regain livelihood, health, independence and peace of mind with organic methods

The green revolution turning full circle

In the fertile regions of Andhra Pradesh (AP) ‘white gold’ monocultures of the high yielding hybrids of ‘Green Revolution’ cotton had turned the state into the pesticide capital of the world even before the advent of genetically modified (GM) Bt cotton. Now, however, the revolution is turning full circle as more and more farmers are opting for low input organic methods that are healthier and economically far more rewarding.

Non-governmental organisations such as the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Modern Architects of Rural India, the Permaculture Association of India, the Sarvodaya Youth Organisation and Oxfam are working in many villages to promote and train small and marginal farmers in non-pesticide management (NPM) of cotton leading to organic production in the third year of uptake.

This initiative comes against a historical backdrop of government support for high chemical input cotton production at national and at state level that has sent the wrong messages to farmers. GM cotton is now falsely promoted as the answer to reducing the scourge of proliferating pesticide use, and is one of many reasons farmers are succumbing to the pressure to grow GM cotton.

How AP became the ‘Pesticide Capital of the World’

Many of the cotton varieties once grown with a diversity of food crops were swept aside and lost during the 1970s and 80s when the high yielding varieties (HYVs) of the Green Revolution arrived, and the irrigation infrastructure developed. These HYVs are expensive hybrids that have to be purchased every year from seed dealers and nurtured with further expensive inputs of fertiliser and pesticide, being far more vulnerable to pests and the vagaries of the weather than the hardy local varieties that they had replaced.

Farmers initially saw the system of industrial production as timesaving and requiring far less knowledge of soils and pests; however it soon proved to be a relentless treadmill. It degraded the soil, depleted scarce water resources and proliferated cotton pests beyond the farmers’ worst nightmares, as both yield and profit progressively diminished. Pest resistance and distortion of natural predator communities necessitated galloping applications of the most toxic chemicals. Some 55 percent of all pesticides used globally are on cotton, more in AP than anywhere else in the world. GM cotton hybrids, far from being the solution to proliferating pesticide use, will actually accelerate this trend.

Indeed, many poor farmers and labourers can be seen with their pesticide back-packs moving backward and forwards along the rows of cotton through a haze of spray, with no protective mask or clothing. These farmers are very aware of the problems of pesticides, and many thousands of them are killed either passively through poisoning or actively through suicide when their crops fail.

Why organic cotton farming makes sense

Mr MD Amzad Ali of Sarvodaya Youth Organisation, Mr G Raja Shekar of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad, and Mr Y Kambaram of Modern Architects of Rural India introduced me to farmers who have been practising NPM cotton production and had moved on to organic cotton production after two years. By making and applying their own natural fertiliser they were able to access a high quality premium of 200 rupees per quintal (1 quintal = 100kg) at a price of around Rs1900/q.

The NPM system was started in 1997 by MARI and attracted farmers because of microcredit available to them and the low investment needed for seed and other natural inputs such as cow dung and urine mixture and neem seed that were available locally. The farmers and NGOs organised four local cooperatives of between 100 and 500 farmers that soon became self-sufficient and able to pay their way in the local market, adding substantially to the local economy. Farmers who complete the five year programme - of two NPM years followed by three organic years - become trainers and role models for new entrants.

Tookya Niak knew farmers who planted GM Bt cotton that failed and committed suicide, and decided to try the NPM method himself. Now in his second year, he stressed that the low investment required will almost certainly lead to a profit, and that farming had become virtually free from stress as his debt was minimal.

He was confident that his variety was hardy and dependable and that he could remove most pests during the early immobile stages in their life cycle through his skill in selecting an effective deterrent. He also no longer worried about the health of his young family, and expected that his yield would rise as his soil improved and insect communities reached a natural balance. He was still expecting about seven quintals per acre on his poor red soil.

Indeed Niak had become such a beacon in his community that the village has been renamed after him and the NPM credo written on the walls in the village square to counter the pro Bt cotton posters found everywhere. His positive appraisal of the NPM method and its advantages were confirmed by all the other farmers that we questioned.

Recreating the natural balance of predators and pests

The skill of managing pests without recourse to synthetic pesticide requires knowledge of life cycle and behaviour, vigilance, an armoury of pest specific deterrents, and a healthy community of natural predators of pests. To control pests such as the spotted bollworm, American bollworm, tobacco caterpillar, pink bollworm, aphids, jassids, thrips, white fly and mites, each of which is capable of causing between 30 and 50 percent damage to a crop, natural predators are the most effective year after year.

For example trichogramma, a tiny parasitic wasp, lays its eggs in the eggs of the American bollworm that soon die; bracon, another parasitic wasp, lays its eggs in bollworm larvae. Hoverfly larvae feed on aphids; pirate bugs feed on bollworm larvae, and big eyed bugs feed on bollworm larvae and white fly. Chrysopa, a lacewing, feeds on bollworm caterpillars and sucking pests; ladybird beetles and larvae feed on aphids and deter Spodoptera. Ground beetles and dragonflies feed generally on crop pests, and robber flies, predatory wasps and red tree ants steal bollworm larvae for the young in their nests. Preying mantis and spiders are also predators of cotton pests; as are many insectivorous birds for which perches are erected throughout the crop.

Mechanical and chemical aids to pest reduction include pheromone, light, kerosene, water, and yellow and white coated grease traps that are laid within the crop as a particular pest proliferates. Castor plants are grown that capture tobacco caterpillar eggs and marigolds that capture American bollworm allow these pests to be ‘nipped in the bud’. Specific pests may be sprayed with a mixture of fermented cattle dung and urine that also add micronutrients that help wilt and other diseases. Neem seed kernel extract, chilli/ ginger/ garlic extract, a tobacco decoction and jaggari solution, made from the residue of sugar cane, are used to deter a variety of destructive insects. Unlike the use of pesticides, none of these biological/organic control methods will lead to pest resistance or harm the environment; instead, they serve to restore the ecological balance and to increase the farmers’ health, profit, knowledge and independence.

Organic farmers regain full independence

The third year of the NPM programme is the organic stage of cotton production, and is run by Oxfam. Oxfam has accessed a traditional Tamil Nadu non-hybrid variety called surabhi from the Central Institute of Cotton Research in Coimbatore. This variety has an excellent staple length and is therefore popular with buyers. It also has resistance to both pests and diseases such as bacterial leaf blight, and grows well in conditions similar to those in AP.

Moreover, the surabhi seed costs Rs130 per acre, as opposed to Rs450 per acre for hybrid cotton and Rs1600+ per acre for GM Bt cotton. It will give a standard yield of 3 to 4 quintals per acre in poor conditions, though in good conditions last year, it yielded 8 quintals per acre. More importantly, it yields viable seed that puts seed control back in the farmers’ hands, allowing them to retain and propagate the line; an unusual benefit in this age of hybrids.

So with freely available local fertilisers such as tank silt, vermicompost and green manure, and cheap natural pest control inputs, a profit from the crop is almost inevitable, giving peace of mind to the farmer, who can repay any debt to the cooperative for lending to new members.

Research backs up the case for NPM and organic cotton

A report entitled Bt cotton vs. Non Pesticidal Management of cotton: Findings of a study by the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture 2004-05 compares Bt and NPM cotton in AP. It reports conclusively that Bt cotton is more prone to pests and diseases and that beneficial insects are more prevalent on NPM cotton. It also reports that the cost of pest management of Bt cotton is 690 percent higher than in NPM farming systems and that seed cost of Bt cotton is 355 percent higher than conventional varieties (‘Organic cotton beats Bt Cotton in India’ SiS 27).

Madhavi, who works for Oxfam on this programme, told me that in Maharashtra, Karnataka and other Indian states, there is a culture of organic agriculture, and she is currently talking to local officials to promote organic production in colleges and research institutes in AP and to familiarise local farmers with this lost tradition.

The greatest triumph for organic cotton happened when the AP Minister of Agriculture Mr Raghuveera Reddy got the failed Monsanto cotton hybrids - Mech-12 Bt, Mech-162 Bt and Mech-184 Bt - banned in the state in May 2005, and is now supporting the expansion of the NPM programme since witnessing its success in the village of Punukula (‘Organic Cotton Beats Bt Cotton in India’ SiS 27).

Madhavi added that the multinational companies have corrupted seed dealers who gain a much larger profit on each drum of Bt seed sold than non-Bt seed, and although the Bt crop looks destined to fail again this year, most illiterate farmers, through wishful thinking, have believed the hype of the profiteers. They remain caught in a cycle of debt, pesticide and despair.

But the transition to organic cotton has been very successful where implemented and Oxfam is seeking to give more farmers this sustainable option and will expand its programme to other crops, including rice, in the near future. This is the opportunity that small farmers need to avoid falling into the Bt cotton trap, and return to autonomy and financial independence.
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Re: The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left

Postby admin » Sun Jan 24, 2016 8:28 am

Stem Farmers’ Suicides with Organic Farming
by Sam Burcher



Amid a rising epidemic of farmers’ suicides in India, an organic farmer appeals to the father of the Green Revolution to embrace organic agriculture. Sam Burcher

A fully referenced version of this article is posted on ISIS members’ website. Details here

UN slams India for farmer suicides

India has enough food to feed her population of one billion, yet hunger and food insecurity at household level increased at the end of the 20th century. A new UN report casts doubt on the government’s claim that poverty declined from 36 to 26 percent between 1993-2000 [1]. It criticizes the shift to cash crops that reduced the cultivation of grains, pulses and millets for household consumption. The report slams the rise of farmer suicides in India and links them to the unremitting growth of a market economy that does not benefit all Indians equally.

Impassioned plea to India’s government

Bhaskar Save is an 84-year-old farmer from Gujarat who has petitioned the Indian Government to save India’s farmers from exploitation and worse. In an open letter to Prof M.S. Swaminathan (chairperson of the National Commission on Farmers in the Ministry of Agriculture) he puts the blame squarely on his shoulders as the ‘father’ of the ‘Green Revolution’ that has destroyed India’s natural abundance, farming communities, and soil [2]. He writes: “Where there is a lack of knowledge, ignorance masquerades as science! Such is the ‘science’ you have espoused, leading our farmers astray – down the pits of misery.”

The Green Revolution defines the forty years after India’s independence in 1947 when technology was widely introduced into agriculture. Farmers came under intense pressure to provide marketable surpluses of the relatively few non-perishable cereals to feed the ever-expanding cities. Since then, India’s integration into the global economy has served transnational corporate interests championed by the World Bank, the IMF, and the WTO, but not her farmers [3]. Fifteen years of market reforms guided by the international financial superstates have unleashed a second wave of agrochemicals, biotechnological seed and pesticides into the Indian countryside with devastating effect.

A silent revolution of suicide

Mumbai and Bangalore have benefited from the boom in the information technology sector that contributes an eight percent growth to India’s economy each year [4]. The two cities are now poised to take advantage of the boom in the biotech industry. The picture of “India shining” touted by an expensive government backed media campaign is considerably clouded by the rural areas being torn apart at the roots by biotechnology. The countryside is home to 70 percent of India’s population.

The second ‘Gene Revolution’ in agriculture is proving more deadly in the wake of the first. The cost of taking on the extra burden of gene biotechnology is too much to bear. Farmers unable to pay back debts incurred by the purchase of seed, pesticides, fertilizers and equipment, kill themselves at a rate of two per day. In despair some drink the chemical pesticides, while others burn, hang, or drown themselves. At a help centre set up to monitor farmer suicides in Vidarbha region in the central state of Maharashtra, black skulls mark the number of dead farmers on the map. There are 767 skulls clustered together that were pinned up in fourteen months to August 2006. India’s agricultural minister Sharad Pawar acknowledged in Parliament that a total of 100 000 farmers have committed suicide between 1993-2003 [5]. A further 16 000 farmers per year on average are said to have died since then.

“You, M.S. Swaminathan…More than any other person in our long history it is you I hold responsible for the tragic condition of our soils and our debt-burdened farmers, driven to suicide in increasing numbers every year.” Bhaskar Save writes.

The cost of cotton kills farmers

Nearly all who died farmed the once profitable cotton crop known as “King Cotton” from the days of the British Raj. Now it’s called “Killer Cotton” not just because the cost of inputs has increased, but the state also cut its guaranteed purchase price by 32 percent, and buys less of the harvest than before, leaving farmers to find other buyers who tend to pay low prices. Competition from foreign trade has intensified as reduced import duties give heavily subsidized US cotton an advantage.

The final nail in the farmers coffin is expensive genetically modified (GM) cottonseed that has proved disastrous for the small, non-irrigated plots common to most of India’s hundreds of millions of farms [6] (Indian Cotton Farmers Betrayed). Farmers encouraged by agricultural officials to increase productivity try to do so by borrowing money to buy Monsanto’s expensive cottonseed. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George Bush agreed the Knowledge Initiative in Agricultural Research and Education in March 2006 that will ultimately bring Indian agriculture under the control of US corporations like Monsanto. Transgenic animals and poultry are also part of the deal. The Indian government’s ability to protect farmers, consumers and the environmental health from the risks of GM crops has been called into question [7] (Outsourcing Ecological and Health Risks & Reducing Scientists to Bio-coolies for Industry).

The recent Supreme Court of India’s decision to ban any further GM crop trials until further notice [8] will force the government to rethink its biotechnology strategy. Unfortunately, existing GM cotton trials are not included in the ban despite documented health hazards to humans and livestock [9, 10] (More Illnesses Linked to Bt Crops; Mass Deaths in Sheep Grazing on Bt Cotton).

Prime Minister Singh has now invested a hefty Rs 160 billion in a debt relief package to persuade farmers in the high-risk suicide areas of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharastra to continue farming [11]. The package consists of loans, interest waivers, seed replacement, minor irrigation schemes, and subsidiary incomes for farming livestock, dairying and fisheries. The investment comes too late for those farmers that have already died. Many more have already turned their backs on the perils of Bt cotton farming to regain their health and independence [12] (Message from Andhra Pradesh: Return to organic cotton & avoid the Bt cotton trap).

Agricultural education unsustainable

Perhaps it is not surprising that farmers fall for the promise of increased productivity by buying the long list of equipment from the agribusiness salesman. According to Bhaskar Save, of the 150 agricultural universities in India that own thousands of acres of land, not one grows any significant amount of food to feed its staff and pupils. Instead the focus is on churning out hundreds of graduates each year to tell farmers what they must buy to increase productivity, not what they must do to ensure the sustainability of the land for future generations.

“Nature, unspoiled by man, is already most generous in her yield. When a grain of rice can reproduce a thousand-fold within months, where arises the need to increase its productivity?” Save asks Swaminathan.

Natural abundance in organic orchard

Save’s own orchard-farm “Kalpavruksha”, near the coastal village of Dehri close to the Gujarat-Mararashtra boarder, has become a “sacred university” specialising in natural abundance, or Annapurna [13]. Every Saturday afternoon the farm gates open to farmers, agricultural scientists, students, senior government officials, and city dwellers, who come to share Save’s philosophy and practice of natural farming: “Co-operation is the fundamental Law of Nature.”

The high yields in the organic orchard easily out-perform any farm using chemicals and this is apparent to its many visitors. Masanobu Fukuoka, the renowned Japanese natural farmer said: “I have seen many farms all over the world. This is the best. It is even better than my own farm.” The coconut trees produce an average of 400 coconuts per tree annually; some produce more than 450 coconuts, and are among India’s highest yielding trees. There is an incredible variety of fruit trees: banana, papaya, mango, lime, tamarind, pomegranate, guava, custard apple, jackfruit, date, and chikoo (similar to lychee) which produces an average of 300-350 kg of delicious fruit per tree each year.

Fruit trees are also planted on soil platforms raised by Save above the rice crop in low-lying paddy fields. Between every two adjacent platforms are trenches that act as irrigation channels in the dry season and drainage in monsoon. As the trees grow, the trenches are placed further away from the trunks to encourage the roots to spread out to optimise water efficiency. This pioneering feature of his work has greatly increased yield, and attracted attention all over the world.

Diversity essential to soil health

Diversity of plant life is the key factor on organic farms. Save simultaneously plants short life-span (alpa jeevi), medium life-span (madhya-jeevi), and long life-span (deergha-jeevi) species. The community of dense vegetation ensures that the soil’s microclimate is well moderated all year round. The groundcover provides shade on hot days, while leaf litter (mulch) cools and slightly dampens the surface of the soil. On cold nights it serves as a blanket that conserves heat gained during the day. High humidity under the canopy of mature long-life trees reduces evaporation, and minimizes the need for irrigation. The drooping leaves of plants act as a water metre to indicate falling moisture levels.

Save grows a tall, native variety of rice, Nawabi Kolam, that is rain-fed, high yielding, and needs no weeding. After harvest, he seasonally rotates several kinds of pulses, winter wheat and some vegetables on the paddy field that grow entirely on the sub-soil moisture still present from the monsoon. When they too are harvested, cattle can browse the crop residue and provide dung fertilizer to further enrich the soil for the next cycle of planting.

The polyculture model produces a year round continuity of harvests. First from the short life-span species such as the various vegetables, and then from the medium life span species such as banana, custard apple and papaya, until the long life-span species of coconut, mango and chickoo begin to bear fruit. It provides self-sufficiency for a family of ten (including grandchildren) and an average of two guests from a modest two-acre plot. Most years, a surplus of rice is gifted to relatives or friends.

Signs of hope in story of change

Bhaskar Save was not always an organic farmer. At first, he used chemical fertilisers together with dung manure for his vegetable plants and rice paddy. His rice harvest was so good that it attracted the attention of the Gujarat Fertilizer Corporation. They asked him to teach other farmers to use the chemical fertilizers for which he received 5 rupees for every bag he sold. He quickly became a “model farmer” for the new technology while earning enough to extend the acreage of his farm. Soon he realised that he was caught in a cycle of spending more money to use more chemicals to maintain productivity. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and his successor Vinoba Bhave, he adopted some of the farming methods of the Adivasi, the tribal majority of India’s rural population. From then on his costs reduced and the soil flourished. By 1959-60 he abandoned chemicals altogether.

Save has learned his major lesson: “By ruining the natural fertility of the soil, we actually create artificial ‘needs’ for more and more external inputs and unnecessary inputs for ourselves, while the results are inferior and more expensive in every way. The living soil is an organic unity, and it is this entire web of life that must be protected and nurtured”

Water and food security depends on soil

Save has updated a traditional intercrop system specifically for growing cotton in low rainfall areas (see fig 1). The six integrated crops are harvested in stages during a 365-day cycle: two types of millet, three kinds of edible pulse legumes, and cotton. Every other row of legume crops provides nitrogen to the soil. Weeds that attract predators that feed on crop damaging species are welcome. So are worms that aerate and provide compost, and nutrient rich soil microrganisms. All are the natural keepers of soil health. As this system needs no irrigation, it is crucial that chemicals are not added as they diminish the soils capacity to absorb moisture.

fig 1

For millennia organic farming was practiced in India without any marked decline in soil fertility. In areas where polyculture is replaced by monocrops such as sugarcane and basmati rice the soil is ruined by the excessive use of water irrigation.

Thick crusts of salt (salinisation) progressively form on the waterlogged land where roots rot. Supplying huge amounts of water for refined sugar that requires 2 to 3 tonnes of water per kilo has encouraged extensive dams and river linking schemes by industry. These short-term solutions displace people and wreak devastating ecological consequences.

In contrast, organic farming practice is light on irrigation. The best yields come from soil that is just damp. Porous soil under Save’s organic orchard of mixed local crops acts like a sponge, soaking up the huge quantities of monsoon rains that percolates down to the ground water table. Restoring a minimum of 30 percent of mixed indigenous trees and forests to India within the next 20 years could prevent the impending threat of water scarcity. Storing water underground in natural reservoirs is the way forward to ensure food and water security.

As Save points out, “More than 80% of India’s water consumption is for irrigation, with the largest share hogged by chemically cultivated cash crops. Most of India’s people practising only rain-fed farming continue to use the same amount of ground water per person as they did generations ago.”

A real revolution for India’s farmers

Bhaskar Save’s method of mixed short to long life span intercrops on plots as small as two acres proves that it is possible to regenerate even barren wastelands in less than ten years. This is the revolution that India’s small farmers need as transnational corporations threaten to impose a new kind of serfdom with patented biotech crops. Save’s sixty years experience shatters the illusion that farmers can boost productivity and profits by increasing inputs of agrochemicals and engineered seeds. S.M. Swaminathan must embrace organic farming models that can revive the fortunes of Indian farmers and negate the need for costly debt relief packages when coordinating the new Agricultural Policy.
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Re: The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left

Postby admin » Sun Jan 24, 2016 8:31 am

India’s Bt Cotton Fraud
by Rhea Gala



Monsanto rides roughshod over Indian cotton farmers leaving a wake of false claims and doctored information, despite being fined for bribery in Indonesia

The sources for this article are posted on ISIS members’ website. Details here

As the battle for control over cotton farming in India intensifies, Monsanto’s tactics to extend approval for its Bollgard Bt cotton call to mind those for which it was recently fined US$1.5m for bribery and corruption in Indonesia.

In advance of a deadline for a decision on licence renewal in March 2005, Greenpeace and the Sarvodaya Youth Organization released two versions of a report on Bt cotton prepared by the Joint Director of Agriculture of Warangal District, Andhra Pradesh (AP). The data in the original report, commissioned under a memorandum of understanding between the AP government and Monsanto-Mahyco, revealed a comprehensive failure of Bt cotton in AP. The second visibly tampered-with version exaggerated the yields, thereby substantially reducing Monsanto’s compensation to farmers. State agricultural committees have consistently demanded compensation to be paid to farmers for losses at a rate of Rs.20 000 (US$458.5) per acre, but Monsanto has refused to pay up so far.

Greenpeace campaigner Divya Raghunandan said, "We are disappointed by the government’s decision to expand the region under Bt cotton, while the need was to stop where it was already grown…The fact that data has been so clearly manipulated in this case, raises serious doubts about the authenticity of any data that the Genetic Engineering Advisory Committee (GEAC) would use to review Bt cotton."

Market research: wishful thinking, or science?

Monsanto commissioned a study using a market research agency for the 2004 season, which claimed that Bt cotton yield was up by 58% on a country wide basis, resulting in a 60% increase in farmers’ incomes; and that in Andhra Pradesh, a 46% yield increase and a 65% reduction in pesticide costs gave a 42% increase in income to farmers.

A notorious piece of research by Martin Qaim (University of Bonn) and David Zilberman (University of California, Berkeley) was published in Science, claiming outstanding (80%!) yield increases from Monsanto’s GM cotton; and projected the results as relevant to farmers throughout the developing world. The paper drew a storm of protest, as it derived all its data from Monsanto and its findings were completely at odds with the reports coming from Indian farmers. Dr Devinder Sharma, a food policy expert, called Qaim and Zilberman’s paper a "scientific fairytale".

Agricultural scientists Dr Abdul Qayum and Kiran Sakkhari conducted an independent study on Bt cotton on a season-long basis for three years in 87 villages of the major cotton growing districts of AP - Warangal, Nalgonda, Adilabad and Kurnool - and found against Bt cotton on all counts:

• Bollgard failed miserably for small farmers in terms of yields; non-Bt cotton surpassed Bt in yield by nearly 30% with 10% less expense
• Bollgard did not significantly reduce pesticide use; over the three years, Bt farmers spent Rs. 2571 on pesticides on average, while the non-Bt farmers spent Rs.2766
• Bollgard did not bring profit to farmers; over the three years, the non-Bt farmers earned on average 60% more than Bt farmers
• Bollgard did not reduce the cost of cultivation; on an average, the Bt farmers had incurred 12% more costs than non-Bt farmers
• Bollgard did not result in a healthier environment; researchers found a special kind of root rot spread by Bollgard cotton, infecting the soil so that other crops would not grow.

Another report entitled, The story of Bt cotton in Andhra Pradesh: Erratic processes and results, published by the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), documents the dubious events of three years of commercial Bt cotton cultivation in AP.

It researched the economics as well as the incidence of pests and diseases, and beneficial organisms in Bt cotton and non-pesticidal management (NPM) cotton fields. It established that the cost of pest management of Bt cotton was 690% higher than in NPM farming systems. Moreover seed cost of Bt cotton was 355% higher than conventional varieties.

These findings are documented by the women of the Deccan Development Society’s Community Media Trust, who have made a film called "Bt Cotton in Warangal: A three year fraud" Their previous film "Why are Warangal Farmers Angry with Bt Cotton" made in 2003, has been translated into French, Spanish, Thai and German and English; and is making waves around the world in national and international film festivals.

BBC’s recently broadcast Bitter Harvest series looks at the plight of farmers in India through issues such as seed-saving, patents, farmer suicides, depopulation of rural areas, subsidies, free trade and the debt trap. ... akhi.shtml

The corporate take-over of farming, the green revolution and biotechnology are constant points of reference, with detail on how the public system in the Punjab is used to promote Monsanto’s seeds, and how Monsanto makes use of religion in its advertising to farmers in order to project its seeds as miraculous.

Never mind the facts

The GEAC approved six new varieties of Monsanto-derived Bt cotton seed for commercial use in the fertile northern states of Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana, and eight new varieties have approval for large-scale trials in these states. This greatly extends the area given to GM cotton - which had previously been restricted to six central and southern states - in spite of the overwhelming evidence of harm caused to farmers’ livelihoods by the GM varieties.

Dr Vandana Shiva of Navdanya and Dr Krishan Bir Choudhary of Bharat Krishak Samaj, together with representatives of other NGOs, met the Prime Minister to demand the withdrawal of Bt cotton. Dr Devinder Sharma, called it "a scientific fraud" to impose Bt cotton on farmers.

The CSA and Gene Campaign complained to the GEAC about its pretence of inviting consultation with civil society. NGOs were invited, with one days notice, to voice their concerns; but their promised 10-minute slot was cut to 5 minutes and there was no discussion. A GEAC member refused to reveal her name on the grounds that it was confidential.

In a joint letter to GEAC chairman Suresh Chandra, CSA executive director Dr GV Ramanjaneyulu and Gene Campaign director Dr Suman Sahai alleged that the evidence of Bt cotton failure which they provided were not included in the minutes of the meeting. The minutes contained responses of seed companies on some questions raised by the GEAC.

The decision to extend the period of approval for Monsanto’s failed Bt cotton hybrids, Mech-12 Bt, Mech-162 Bt and Mech-184 Bt, which expires this season, was deferred again by the GEAC in April until the next meeting on May 11. One Bt variety was approved for commercial cultivation in the 2005 season in central India, and three more transgenic cotton varieties, including a VIP cotton from Syngenta, were approved for large-scale field trials in northern India.

These approvals, in the face of both grass-roots and scientific evidence of huge losses to farmers using Monsanto’s Bt seeds, are reminiscent of those in Indonesia, which came to an end with a change in government. Monsanto was exposed and fined $1.5m for bribery and corruption in the United States ("Corruption, half-truths and lies", SiS 25). The case of the tampered-with report on GM cotton remains unanswered here.

The AP Coalition demanded that the AP government immediately take steps to prevent the sale of Bollgard seeds for the present season, which is already going on. It also demanded that the government order a judicial enquiry into the official agencies’ suppression or manipulation of the evidence to favour the Mahyco-Monsanto corporation.

Farmers, scientists and researchers from around the world meeting in Hyderabad as part of the Global Week of Action, narrated first-hand encounters with Bt cotton and GM crops. A statement from the Deccan Development Society (DDS) said: "Having shared our encounters with genetic engineering from our countries, we are stronger in our conviction that the use of transgenic crops has unleashed new hazards onto our farms and into our lives. The profit-driven ‘life’ science industry is more life destroying than life giving."
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Re: The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left

Postby admin » Sun Jan 24, 2016 8:37 am

Organic Cotton Beats Bt Cotton in India: Organic cotton is incomparably superior to genetically modified Bt cotton
by Rhea Gala



Sources for this report are available in the ISIS members site. Full details here

Organic cotton is more environmentally friendly, better for the health of the community and for the local economy than GM cotton, according to a study by the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Andhra Pradesh [1]. The GM Bt cotton was compared with cotton grown without pesticide, or under non-pesticide management (NPM).

The study looked at the incidence of various pests and diseases as well as the beneficial organisms in the Bt and NPM cotton fields. It also looked at the economics of pest management for both systems.

The study, designed and supervised by entomologist Dr SMA Ali, extension scientist GV Ramanjaneyulu, and development activist Ms Kavitha Kuruganti, involved end-of-season interviews with cotton growing farmers in Warangal and Medak districts.

A total of 121 NPM cotton farmers farming on 193 acres and using no synthetic pesticide were compared with 117 Bt cotton farmers using proprietary pesticides and farming 151 acres. The Bt cotton varieties grown were Mech 12 (88 farmers), Mech 184 (1 farmer), and RCH 2 (31 farmers; a few farmers grew more than one of these varieties on different plots, hence the sum of farmers is more than 117).

These Bt varieties all carried Monsanto's cry1Ac gene and display low genetic diversity; providing early pest resistance [2]. NPM cotton farmers grew many varieties including Brahma, Maruthi, Dasera, Gemini, Sumo, Tulasi, Bhagya, Durga, Kranthi.

Ten villages in two districts took part in the Bt cotton survey, and 12 villages from two districts took part in the NPM survey.

Bt cotton more prone to pests and diseases

Overall, the NPM farmers reported a lower incidence of medium to high infestations and higher incidence of low or no infestations for four traditional cotton pests.

Surprisingly, 32.5% of Bt cotton farmers reported a high incidence of American bollworm, an important pest that the Bt cotton is designed to control; while only 4.1% of NPM farmers reported a high incidence of this pest. This single statistic questions the value of the Bt approach to pest control. It also corroborates the high incidence of bollworm reported by farmers growing Bt cotton in AP [3]. In contrast, the efficacy of natural predators and/or natural pesticides to control American bollworm in particular, and the other bollworms in general, is remarkable (see Table 1).

A majority of NPM farmers reported low incidence of spotted bollworm (76.9% against 65.8% of Bt growers), American bollworm (76.1% against 17.1% of Bt growers), and Tobacco Caterpillar (76.8% against 64.1% of Bt growers). Six NPM farmers reported an absence of spotted bollworm compared to two Bt farmers .

A majority of NPM farmers reported a medium incidence of pink bollworm, as did their Bt counterparts (47.1% against 57.3%), but greater numbers of NPM farmers also reported a low incidence of this pest compared to Bt farmers (31.4% against 24.8%).

Table 1. Incidence of Bollworm complex on Bt and NPM cotton.
Figure in parentheses is a percentage of respondents

In the case of sucking pests, the majority of NPM farmers also reported a low incidence, with several reporting no infestation of whitefly, aphids and mites. Again, natural predators and pesticides can be seen to be more effective at controlling sucking pests than Bt cotton. Many Bt farmers reported a high incidence of jassids, whitefly and aphids, but Bt toxins are known to be ineffective against sucking pests [4], therefore, farmers necessarily use additional pesticides specific to these pests (see Table 2).

Table 2. Incidence of sucking pests on Bt and NPM cotton.
Figure in parentheses is a percentage of respondents

Wilt, a common disease of cotton was reported absent by only 17 of the Bt cotton farmers during the season (14.5%), while 50 NPM farmers reported no wilt problems (41.3%). The degree of wilt ranged from 30% - 70% for Bt cotton, but was only 10 – 15% for the NPM cotton varieties. While wilt causes a decrease in cotton yield, the traditional cotton varieties have far greater genetic diversity than the Bt cotton, giving greater security against losses from this disease .

Beneficial insects prevail on NPM cotton

These findings reflect the fears of many environmentalists that the Bt cotton endotoxin destroys many beneficial insects [5], and that has a knock-on effect on the birds and small mammals that are the natural predators of these insects. Table 3 shows 85 (70.2%) of NPM farmers finding a high incidence of beneficial insects on their crop, with 97 (82.9%) of Bt cotton respondents finding only a low incidence and 13 (11.2%) Bt farmers found no beneficial insects at all on their crop.

Table 3. Incidence of beneficial insects on Bt and NPM cotton.
Figure in parentheses is a percentage of respondents

The main strategy of NPM farmers' pest control on their crops is through beneficial insects that are, by definition, predators of cotton pests; they also use natural organic pesticides. In contrast, Bt farmers report a low incidence of pest predators due to the toxicity of the Bt varieties and associated pesticides, necessitating a vicious cycle of control by these synthetic pesticides.

Economics of pest management shows Bt cotton extortionate

Purchase of Bt cotton seed, genetically modified with the cry1Ac gene from soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensi s, includes a technology fee, and costs farmers Rs 1600 per acre, compared to NPM farmers who buy their seed at Rs 450 per acre. This makes Bt cotton seed 355% more expensive than the traditional varieties [1].

In addition, pest management costs were greater for Bt farmers who had to use pesticides such as Monocrotophos, Confidor, Tracer, Avaunt, Endosulfan, acephate, demethoate, imidacloprid, quinalphos, chlorpyriphos, cypermethrin etc . to manage a variety of pests including bollworms for which Bt toxin is supposed to be specific [1].

On average, Bt crops were sprayed 3.5 times, with two farmers reporting that they did not spray at all, and others spraying as many as seven times. The NPM farmers used no synthetic pesticides at all, but used natural pesticides such as Neem seed kernel extract, trichoderma and panchakavya [1].

Bt cotton pest management cost on average Rs 2632 per acre, whereas NPM cotton pest management cost on average Rs 382 per acre, making pesticide costs 690% more expensive to the Bt cotton farmers [1].

Yields and incomes were not included in this study as cotton picking was still going on at the time of data collection, but Bt cotton yield and quality has been well documented as lower than traditional varieties [6], in spite of claims to the contrary. Yet the study clearly proves that restoring the ecological balance in the cotton fields, by removing both the GM endotoxins and the synthetic chemicals, will bring both short and long term benefits to farmers and the environment.

The study punctured the following myths in the current pest management paradigm [1]:

• Pests can be controlled only by killing them with pesticide; whereas prevention is better than cure
• All insects in the fields are pests; whereas they include natural predators that kill pests
• No relationship exists between monoculture and pest incidence; whereas a reduced genetic base over large areas results in unobstructed proliferation of the pest especially as in India where non-Bt cotton refuges are not used [2]
• Chemical fertilizers and pest incidence are unrelated; whereas chemical fertilizers increase plant vulnerability to the pest due to increased ‘succulence'.
• Pest resistance is a genotypic rather than an environmental issue; whereas environmental management of pests will give farmers more control over their crops than the use of patented seed derived from manipulating genes
• Pest resistance management is about using newer and newer generation pesticides; whereas NPM systems cut costs to farmers and the environment leading to greater independence of farmers and a healthier, more biodiverse environment
• Prevention of pest/disease means spraying even when the pest is absent; whereas pest management is not about schedules or routine but the needs of the actual situation
• Benefits of synthetic pesticides outweigh the risks; whereas suicides [7] in the Indian cotton belts show that the economics of pesticide use do not add up, even before other adverse effects are taken into account, such as increased crop water consumption [8]

The story of Punukula: it's not rocket science

Punukula, a small village in Andhra Pradesh, with a population of about 860, has rediscovered the art and science of sustainable cotton cultivation by using NPM systems. But this small revolution in India's cotton belt has been ignored by agricultural scientists, perhaps because it is an appropriate technology that does not lend itself to exploitation by outsiders, and because it does not have the ‘glamour' of ‘cutting edge technology'. Nevertheless, it so impressed the AP agriculture minister, who witnessed the transformation for himself, that it has been replicated in 400 surrounding villages [7].

A few farmers from a local non-governmental organization began in 1999 (before the arrival of GM cotton in India), to experiment with non-pesticidal management practices on their cotton crop, and persuaded 20 local farmers to try it [7].

The environment, previously contaminated by a vicious cycle of pesticide application began to improve, and the pest burden reduced. By 2004, the environmental and economic impact was such that the entire village was using NPM that had restored natural pest control systems, and they therefore had no reason to adopt GM cotton when it became available [7].

In the early 1960s, only six or seven major pests worried the cotton farmer, but costly inputs prescribed by agribusiness and agricultural research has created a spiral of pollution, debt and death that has also resulted in the farmer fighting 70 major pests on cotton today. Although average yields for farmers in Punukula are greater than for Bt cotton farmers, most mainstream agricultural scientists, and politicians prefer to support GM technology and agribusiness [7].

If Punukula had adopted GM Bt cotton, the village would have paid Rs 600 000 in additional seed price for the 500 acres under cultivation (Rs1 200/acre technology fee), before addressing the extra cost of pesticide application. The farmers would have remained caught in the spiral of debt as victims of the ‘cutting edge technology' that draws millions of rupees from the small rural economy into the pockets of powerful multi-nationals every year [7].

Farmers stop spraying chemical pesticides, yields go up!

Farmers in India are not alone. In two years, 2000 poor rice farmers in Bangladesh reduced insecticide use by 99 %.

Gary John, senior scientist at the International Rice Research Institute in Manila, said “To my surprise when people stopped spraying, yields didn't drop, and this was across 600 fields in two districts over four seasons. I'm convinced that the vast majority of insecticides that rice farmers use are a complete waste of time and money”. In the Philippines, similarly, a decline in insecticide use has been accompanied by an increase in productivity leading to great savings for farmers [9].

This comes as a revelation only after land and water have been poisoned, the environment degraded, and, according to WHO figures, 20 000 people have died from pesticide poisoning worldwide annually. And because science has viewed all things traditional as backward and substandard the collective wisdom of generations of farmers has been largely lost [9]; and at the same time agricultural scientists are still promoting useless and harmful technologies like genetic modification [10].

But while ordinary farmers are getting wise to GM propaganda and hard sell around the world, an Indian government study has found serious faults with its GM Bt cotton under commercial production. The government has been sitting on this study for two years. It describes a multitude of problems already expressed by farmers but previously denied by its own scientists and politicians [11]. Meanwhile organic farming successes are being more widely reported, for example, Paul Desmarais, Director of the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre in Zambia writes “We have successfully grown organic cotton for two years now at Kasisi.

We have good control of insects and there is not resistance built in the system as there is even with Bt cotton. Our yields are double the national yields. Farmers using the conventional route are barely ekeing out an existence with the price of cotton dropping and the price of inputs climbing up. We have just had the seed cotton tested for fibre length, micronair, etc. and our cotton did very well on all the scores. Let us pursue the growing of organic cotton. It is possible and it is sustainable” [12].
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Re: The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left

Postby admin » Sun Jan 24, 2016 8:40 am

More Illnesses Linked to Bt Crops
by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho



Further evidence has emerged on the link between common transgenic proteins and serious allergic reactions while regulators turn a deaf ear and approve yet more planting.

A fully referenced version of this articles is posted on ISIS members’ website. Details here

The same transgenic proteins implicated in two different GM crops

We recently reported illnesses and deaths among villagers of south Mindanao in the Philippines that are suspected of being linked to the genetically modified ‘Bt’ maize with an insecticidal protein from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis [1] (“GM ban long overdue, five deaths and dozens ill in the Philippines”, SiS 29).

Since then, similar illnesses are reported to have occurred in Madhya Pradesh, central India, as a result of exposure to ‘Bt’ cotton genetically modified with the same or similar insecticidal protein(s).

India began commercial planting of Bt cotton in 2002/03 with 38 038 ha (0.78 percent of hybrid area), increasing to 6.4 percent and 11.65 percent respectively in 2003/4 and 2004/5. Currently, nearly 9 million ha of cotton is grown in India, 2.8 million hybrid cotton.

Madhya Pradesh is India’s fifth largest cotton producing state, with Malwa and Nimad the main cotton growing regions. The Bt cotton varieties planted were developed by Monsanto, and carry the insecticidal Cry1Ac protein (Bollgard) or both Cry1Ac and Cry1Ab proteins (Bollgard II), according to an article on the industry’s website [2].

Farmers from the Nimad region in Western Madhya Pradesh began complaining of health hazards after Bt cotton was planted. This prompted a three-member team representing a coalition of non-government organisations to carry out a preliminary survey in six villages in Nimad region between October and December 2005.

Similar symptoms

The team interviewed 23 of the farm and factory workers who fell ill after having handled Bt cotton. All had itching skin, 20 had eruptions on the body, and 13 had swollen faces. In some cases, the itching was so bad that they had to discontinue work, or take anti-allergy medicine in order to be able to work.

The survey resulted in a report which concluded [3]: “All the evidence gathered during the investigation shows that Bt has been causing skin, upper respiratory tract and eye allergy among persons exposed to cotton... The allergy is not restricted to farm labourers involved in picking cotton but has affected labourers involved in loading and unloading Bt from villages to market, those involved in its weighing, labourers working in ginning factories, people who carried out other operations in the field of Bt cotton, or farmers who stored cotton in their homes etc.”

The team consisted of Dr. Ashish Gupta of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (People’s Health Movement, India); Ashish Mandloi, a graduate of Barwani College working with Narmada Bachao Anolan (Save Narmada River Movement) and associate of the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements; and Amulya Nidhi, a health activist working in Maharastra and Madhya Pradesh specializing in Urban and Rural community Development, and associated with Shilpi Trust and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.

The survey covered 6 villages in the Barwani and Dhar districts of Nimad region in Madhya Pradesh, interviewing various groups of people involved in handling cotton - women picking cotton, labourers loading-unloading cotton, ginning factory workers - as well as a local doctor and an agricultural scientist.

Allergy symptoms in farm workers and other workers handling Bt cotton

The team found allergy symptoms in people in direct contact with Bt cotton on their hands, feet, face, in their eyes and nose, with some becoming “very severely ill.”

The skin was the most common site of allergy: itching, redness, eruptions and swelling. Typically, after the first 4-5 hours of exposure, most people complained of itching on the face and the hand. Soon, the itching increased and by the time they finish the day’s work, they had redness on the hands and face and swelling of the face. After continued exposure of one to two days, small white eruptions would appear, most often on the face. The symptoms began to subside after varying periods from four to five days up to five to six months, but black discolouration would show on the skin.

The people affected did not have previous history of allergies even though they were involved in picking cotton earlier.

Those who had more severe symptoms of the skin tend also to have associated allergies of eyes and respiratory tract. Eye irritation, involving itching, redness, swelling and watery eyes affected 11 of the 23 individuals; 9 had upper respiratory symptoms of watering from the nose and excessive sneezing. Three had mild symptoms, while 10 each had severe and moderate symptoms respectively.

One woman had to be removed from the fields and taken to Barwani District Hospital where she remained for 9 days.

Cotton fibre appeared to be causing the allergy. (In the case of the Bt maize in the Philippines, the pollen was suspected to be the main culprit.) The owner of the ginning factory Mr. Sunil Patidar said that symptoms like itching, redness of eyes, watering of eyes and cough were found in labourers in his factory. Most of the labourers were having problems, and the year before, it was even more prevalent. He said that was why labourers were not ready to unload the cotton-loaded truck from Maharastra.

The labourers working in different ginning factories said itching of the whole body was very common, and only when they took Tab. Avil (a common anti-allergy medicine) every day were they able to work.

Kalibai of Kothra said she has been working for 20 years picking cotton and never had any symptoms until 2004, when she suffered very bad allergy from picking Bt cotton.

Dr. Ramesh Jar of Saigaon, Ayurvedic doctor, has been practicing in Aawli, Tal Thikri in District Barwani. He said he has already received around 150 cases of allergy from two villages of Aawli and Saigaon in 2005. In 2004, he had around 100 cases. He is prescribing Dexona injection and Levocetrigen for skin and anti allergic drops for eyes.

Dr. Debashish Baner, an agricultural scientist, thinks that Bt cotton produces Bt toxin in all tissues including cotton fibres.

The team is demanding a government enquiry; but that seems to have fallen on deaf ears so far.

Bt bacteria and spores were previously linked to allergic reactions

Bt toxins come from the soil bacterium Bacilllus thuringiensis (Bt), common strains of which produce a large family of insecticide Cry proteins each targeting a different range of insect pests. Strains of Bt have been used as sprays to control insect pests in the United States for many years before transgenic Bt crops were created.

A study published in 1999 funded by the US Environment Protection Agency found that exposure to the Bt sprays “may lead to allergic skin sensitisation and induction of IgE and IgG antibodies or both” [5].

Farm workers who picked vegetables that required Bt spraying were evaluated before and after exposure to Bt spray, and one and four months afterwards. Two groups of low, and medium exposure workers not directly exposed to Bt spray, but working at different distances from the sprayed fields were also assessed. Investigations included questionnaires, nasal/mouth lavages, assessment of ventilatory function, and skin tests. To authenticate exposure to the organism present in the commercial preparation, bacteria isolated from lavage specimens were tested for Bt genes by DNA-DNA hybridisation. Blood immunoglobulin G and IgE responses to spore and vegetative Bt extracts were assayed.

Positive skin-prick tests to several spore extracts were seen chiefly in exposed workers. In particular, there was a significant increase in the number of positive skin tests to spore extracts one and four months after exposure to Bt spray. The number of positive skin test responses was also significantly greater in high- than in low- or medium-exposure group of workers. The majority of nasal lavage cultures from exposed workers was positive for the commercial Bt organism as demonstrated by specific molecular genetic probes. Specific IgE antibodies were present in more workers from the high-exposure group than from low- and medium-exposure groups. Specific IgG antibodies also occurred more frequently in the high- than in the low-exposure group.

In a previous public health survey of a large number of individuals exposed to a massive Bt pesticide spraying programme [6], some of the symptoms recorded include rash and deep swelling. One worker developed inflammation of the skin, itching, swelling and reddening of the skin with redness of the eyes. Bt was cultured from the red eyes.

In 1992, Bt was used in an Asian gypsy moth control programme, and was found to be associated with classical allergic rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal mucosa) symptoms, exacerbations of asthma, and skin reactions among exposed individuals reporting possible health effects after the spraying operations [7]. Similar findings occurred during another Bt spraying in the spring of 1994 [8].

Allergens trigger 75 percent of asthma cases

Allergenicity is of particular concern because approximately 75 percent of asthma cases are triggered by allergens [9] and illnesses and deaths due to asthma have rocketed in recent years. Asthma deaths tripled in the United States from 1 674 in 1977 to 5 438 in 1998. The costs of asthma doubled from $6.2 billion in 1990 to $12.7 billion in 2000 [10].

Bt crops were first introduced in the United States in 1996, and have expanded substantially in acreage since, with little or no further research on the toxicity or allergenicity of the Cry proteins released in greater and greater abundance into the environment. Limited studies carried out by a research team in Cuba showed that Cry1Ac is a powerful immunogen, and when fed to mice, induced antibody responses similar to those obtained with the cholera toxin. Furthermore, Cry1Ac actively binds to the inner surface of the mouse small intestine, especially to the ‘brush border’ membranes on the cells lining the small intestine [11].

It has also been shown that all the Cry proteins in Bt crops have amino acid sequence similarities to known allergens [12-14], and are hence potential allergens.

Regulators are guilty of gross negligence

Meanwhile, the biotech industry has been aggressively promoting GM crops worldwide, especially those with Bt biopesticide and in developing countries like India and the Philippines. The latest survey carried out by the industry-funded group ISAAA claims that the global area given over to GM crops has increased from 81 million ha in 2004 to 90 million ha in 2005 [15]. Bt crops now comprise 29 percent of the total (18 percent Bt, and 11 percent stacked Bt and herbicide tolerance).

Regulators continue to approve Bt crops, despite the fact that successive surveys carried out both by scientists and by non-government organisations have demonstrated that Bt crops have failed to match the performance of local varieties [16] and farmers who bought into the aggressive propaganda have ended up in debt, and worse, suicide [17-18], so much so that an “agrarian crisis” was declared in Maharastra.

The latest evidence of serious health impacts linked to Bt crops comes in corroboration of previous findings dating back to the 1980s that should have halted the development and approval of Bt crops then.

By now, it is simply gross negligence not to impose a ban on further releases of Bt crops until they have been proven safe by a thoroughly independent enquiry.
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