Saturday, 29 August 2009

Globalisation of non-sustainable industrial agriculture.

There has been a flurry of pro GM/industrial farming proclamations reaching the media recently, and BLIMEY, SAVE US from that agency designed to protect our health -'The Food Standards Agency'!
The FSA has recently published a study, (based on a review of other studies,and carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)) saying that their research shows that organic food has 'no health benefits over conventional produce.' A lot of people were bemused by this announcement, because as Geoffrey Lean pointed out,( writing in the Telegraph 31st July) ,"the FSA has an obsession with criticising organic food,( which no one claims to be dangerous),whilst at the same time it has a mixed record on additives that cause hyperactivity, toxic dyes, illegal GM foods, and pesticides.." Despite reviewing other studies, the FSA failed to mention those studies that showed organic produce has significant nutritional advantages in fighting cancer. The report doesn't even touch on the problem of pesticide residues in conventional food.

Alongside its antipathy to organic agriculture the FSA has shown a vigorous support of GM foods. It has dismissed the controlled trials on mice, fed with GM maize, which provide scientific evidence of negative health effects, and cases of damage to health caused by GM's in India are blanked in this country. The website of describes a study conducted by eight international researchers, which calls into question the reliability of tests of the European Food Safety(EFSA) and the US FDA to assess the health risks of GMOs and pesticides. According to the Research Committee of Independent Information on Genetic Engineering(CRIIGEN) the study brings to light "a significant underestimation of the initial signs of diseases like cancer and diseases of the hormonal, immune, nervous and reproductive systems, among others." See
Despite the fact that in the UK people do not want GM's the government never tires of rejecting the wishes of the people they are meant to represent, to push ahead with GM crop trials.Early in 2009 there was a major organic food and agriculture conference which Hilary Benn was billed to speak at. Instead he chose to address the participants via telephone.
At the conference Gundula Azeez,(who was policy manager for the Soil Association for the past nine years) told Hilary Benn that he was concerned because he had heard that HB was not aware of any scientific evidence of the negative health effects of GM's, and asked why the government is still saying that it is ignorant of the science? (To read the transcript of the exchange between H.Benn and the other participants visit Hilary Benn's response was ..."that's not the view that the Food Standards Agency has taken in the past."

In September 2008, Lord Rooker,(who was then UK Farming Minister and is now chair of the Food Standards Agency) hit out at anti-GM protesters, claiming they were on a 'messianic mission' not based on science and that the public were being 'taken for a ride' by campaigners who behaved as if opposition to the technology was a religion.(from Western Morning News,Sept.23rd,2008)......I know, it's a jaw-dropping statement considering the reality of the situation. For an account of the real facts, eg. the effects and consequences of GM's being foisted onto farmers in India, read the accounts by Dr Vandana Shiva, scientist and environmentalist.
Through the programme of 'Navdanya', an initiative founded by Dr Shiva,( she is working to stop the deaths by suicide of farmers in Vidharbha. More than 150,000 farmers have committed suicide in India due to distortions introduced in agriculture as a result of trade liberalisation. More than 20,000 farmers have committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh alone. Farmers have become locked into dependence on corporate seeds supply for growing cash crops integrated to world markets, which is leading to a collapse in farm prices due to 400 billion dollars subsidies in rich countries.Navdanya also realized that one of the crisis farmers were facing was a seed famine created by Monsanto. Navdanya's initiative was to create GMO free, patent free, debt free and suicide free villages, and seed banks to conserve biodiversity and protect indigenous seed varieties.
In 2000 Dr Vandana Shiva delivered the Reith lecture, and here are a few paragraphs taken from her speech:-
...."The rich diversity and sustainable systems of food production are being destroyed in the name of increasing food production. However, with the destruction of diversity, rich sources of nutrition disappear. When measured in terms of nutrition per acre, and from the perspective biodiversity, the so called "high yields" of industrial agriculture or industrial fisheries do not imply more production of food and nutrition.
Yields usually refers to production per unit area of a single crop. Output refers to the total production of diverse crops and products. Planting only one crop in the entire field as a monoculture will of course increase its individual yield. Planting multiple crops in a mixture will have low yields of individual crops, but will have high total output of food. Yields have been defined in such a way as to make the food production on small farms by small farmers disappear. This hides the production by millions of women farmers in the Third World - farmers like those in my native Himalaya who fought against logging in the Chipko movement, who in their terraced fields even today grow Jhangora (barnyard millet), Marsha (Amaranth), Tur (Pigeon Pea), Urad (Black gram), Gahat (horse gram), Soya Bean (Glycine Max), Bhat (Glycine Soya) - endless diversity in their fields. From the biodiversity perspective, biodiversity based productivity is higher than monoculture productivity. I call this blindness to the high productivity of diversity a "Monoculture of the Mind", which creates monocultures in our fields and in our world.
The Mayan peasants in the Chiapas are characterised as unproductive because they produce only 2 tons of corn per acre. However, the overall food output is 20 tons per acre when the diversity of their beans and squashes, their vegetables their fruit trees are taken into account.
In Java, small farmers cultivate 607 species in their home gardens. In sub-Saharan Africa, women cultivate 120 different plants. A single home garden in Thailand has 230 species, and African home gardens have more than 60 species of trees.
Rural families in the Congo eat leaves from more than 50 species of their farm trees.
A study in eastern Nigeria found that home gardens occupying only 2 per cent of a household's farmland accounted for half of the farm's total output. In Indonesia 20 per cent of household income and 40 per cent of domestic food supplies come from the home gardens managed by women.
Research done by FAO has shown that small biodiverse farms can produce thousands of times more food than large, industrial monocultures.
And diversity in addition to giving more food is the best strategy for preventing drought and desertification. What the world needs to feed a growing population sustainably is biodiversity intensification, not the chemical intensification or the intensification of genetic engineering. "


Jamblichus said...

The GM industry is like the zombie that never dies. It stacks supposedly independent bodies with pliant proxies, "experts" with industry affiliations and funding, and when caught red-handed simply carries on regardless. I guess insecticides turn a profit but inter-cropping doesn't. What a world...

Anonymous said...

... and names its GM flax after a killer plant in a sci-fi novel. Tasteful. Howdy Blatch; you might be interested in my most recent post...