Thursday, August 21, 2008

1820 Sheep die grazing GE cotton land

A bit of an older story but what has changed

other then nothing.

1820 Sheep die grazing GE cotton land

Press Release: GE Free NZ

1820 Sheep died grazing on the harvested GE cotton land. Even wearing GE Cotton could cause terrible skin reactions".

The latest studies on GE Cotton farming have raised grave concerns about the safety of GE cotton which is widely used in food as well as in clothing.

A preliminary report released in late April has found that thousands of sheep died after grazing on land where GE cotton had been grown. The sheep and goats started dying after seven days of continuously grazing on tender leaves and pods of Bt cotton that remaind in the fields after picking.[i]

The incident comes to light just as Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is considering submissions for approval of GE Cotton seed and oil for use in animal feed and the human food chain.[ii] But there is concern that the latest research findings may never be considered by the authorities as the data have been released after the closing date for submissions, and bcause late submissions are not accepted.

"New findings must be considered fully by the FSANZ as the dire effects reported in this research could go unheeded. After 10 years, we still have no diagnostic tools to assess possible reactions to GE food", says Claire Bleakley of GE Free (NZ) in food and Environment, "GE cotton should be properly tested on animals and humans for safety, but so far it has not."

In December a three month study was released which found that workers picking GE cotton suffered severe skin reactions with itching and blistery eruptions leaving a black skin discolouration which was still apparent after 5 months. [iii]

The health of workers must be protected, and also people who buy cotton garments and products made from cotton, like sanitary towels, must be made aware of the possible skin irritations that they may experience.

The British Medical Association has already signalled that GE products could present certain risks, including the creation of drug-resistance in venereal disease as a result of women being exposed to GE constructs in personal hygiene products.

"It is important that cotton products are properly labelled if it has been made from GE cotton fibre" says Ms Bleakley. "Until this happens buyers must seek assurances as to the source of the cotton, or seek to avoid buying products made with cotton from India."

Further, GE Cotton crops have failed in regions of India with many suicides resulting because of the debt accrued from the high cost of growing GE cotton. This has prompted the Indian Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) to concede after three years of commercial cultivation that Mahyco-Monsanto's Mech-184 Bt, Mech-162 Bt and Mech-12 Bt are a failure. These varieties were banned for commercial cultivation in Andhra Pradesh and Mech-12 Bt was banned for cultivation in the entire south of India. [iv]

"The dangers of GE organisms in the food chain and the environment are becoming apparent. All government agencies and commercial interests must take these warnings seriously before it is too late", says Ms Bleakley.


[i] Report of the Preliminary Assessment, Mortality in Sheep Flocks after grazing on Bt Cotton fields – Warangal District, Andhra Pradesh, released April, 2006,

ISIS Press Release 03/05/06, Mass Deaths in Sheep Grazing on Bt Cotton

[ii] Food Standards Notification Circular 2-06 (22 March 2006)

[iii] Impact of Bt Cotton on Farmers Health investigation report Oct-Dec 2005[iv] GEAC nod for new Bt cotton varieties, farmers cry foul, ASHOK B SHARMA,Financial Express, May 2, 2006

Field trial of GM crops only after GEAC approval, rules apex court, ASHOK B SHARMA, Financial Express, May 02, 2006

Pro-GM brigade at large in the food and fuel crisis

The pro-GM brigade has been losing no time in exploiting the current global food and fuel crisis and the high price of animal feed to promote GM as the solution in the mainstream media. An offensive was launched on the European Union (EU) to relax its policy on GM imports and cultivation. At present only one GM crop, a GM maize, is approved for cultivation in Europe. The European Commission department of agriculture has joined forces with the biotech industry and the animal feed industry in claiming that it is the EU’s GM policy that is harming Europe’s livestock industry.

Leading the charge of the pro-GM brigade in Europe is Britain, in its role as chief ally of the largest GM exporter the United States. The UK Independent reported that [1], “Ministers are preparing to open the way for genetically modified crops to be grown in Britain on the grounds that they could help combat the global food crisis.” The main source quoted in the article is environment minister Phil Woolas. The night before promoting the GM agenda, the article said, Woolas held talks with the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, a biotech industry PR group representing Monsanto, Bayer, BASF, Dow, Pioneer (DuPont), and Syngenta. This industry lobby group is run by Lexington Communications, a PR agency intimately connected to the New Labour government [2]. The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has fallen in line, calling on the EU to relax its rules on importing GM animal feed in order to cut spiralling food prices [3]. In addition, a new report by the UK Cabinet Office on the food and feed crises focuses almost exclusively on the role of the EU's GMO regulations in creating delays for GM feed crop approvals [4].

Critics say that such scaremongering is a cynical attempt to force the EU to drop its “zero tolerance” approach to GM and GM-contaminated imports. Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said at UK's National Farmers Union (NFU) conference [5], "I think the debate about higher prices and being able to meet the demand of people in the world for food is a perfect opportunity to make the case [for GMO crops]... We may have a window of opportunity here and I would encourage you to exploit that."

President of European Commission at the heart of EU’s pro-GM lobby

Industry lobbyists hoping to convince Europe to go down the GM route face an uphill battle, at least, as far as democracy prevails. Most EU member states and their elected representatives in the EU Parliament remain sceptical of GM crops. Votes by ministers from the member states on applications for their import or cultivation regularly oppose GM applications, but not with a sufficient majority to finally block the approval. The technical name for this type of majority decision in Eurospeak is an ‘unqualified majority’. In such cases, the decision reverts to the unelected European Commission.

The Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, is at the heart of the EU's pro-GM lobby. Reports have emerged that Barroso is trying to get member states to agree on GMOs behind closed doors, so that there are no more unqualified majorities [6]. Barroso is also trying to find a way to lift Europe’s “zero tolerance” policy and smooth the way for the entry of GMOs into Europe [7, 8]. The Commission has already announced that a decision on animal feed imports and EU GM approvals and laws will be reached this summer. A group of MEPs on the agriculture and environment, public health and food safety committees has written a letter to Barroso expressing concern at [9] “reports that the Commission is deliberately trying to find ways to avoid a co-decision process, thus excluding MEPs, the elected representatives of European citizens, from any decisions on this issue.”

The pro-GM lobby, including influential people within the European Commission, claims that Europe must open the doors to GMOs in order to solve the food and feed crisis; but there is little basis to the claim.

No evidence that GM crops will solve the food and fuel crisis

Most of the EU’s animal feed comes from Brazil and Argentina, which are careful to grow only those varieties of feed, both GM and non-GM, that are approved in the EU, so as not to harm their export markets [10]. An article in the Financial Times quotes a Brazilian diplomatic source saying, “We produce to satisfy our clients. We are not going to produce something they are not going to buy.” The article goes on to say that neither Argentina nor Brazil share the “apocalyptic” scenario currently being put forward by the biotech and livestock industries and intensive farmers [11].

Such scaremongering ignores the well-known fact that GM crops have at best, variable impacts on yields and are therefore not a solution to the food crisis, as was confirmed by the recent IAASTD (International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development) report on the future of agriculture [12].

More importantly, it ignores the fact that the major cause of the food and feed crisis is not European GM policy, but the rush to biofuels. Even the World Bank has now confirmed what NGOs have been saying ever since the notion of a food crisis was first mooted, that the Bush-subsidised ethanol boom (with the EU's agrofuel boom following in its wake) is by far the single most important factor in creating the food crisis that is driving 100m people worldwide below the poverty line. The report, which has not been published but was leaked to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, says biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75 percent. The figure emphatically contradicts the US government's claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3 percent to food-price rises. Senior development sources believe the report, completed in April, has not been published to avoid embarrassing President George W. Bush [13].

The irony is that exactly the same people who created this disaster by promoting the rush into agrofuels are now promoting a rush for GMOs as the solution. It is this hype that the European Commission and British politicians appear to be swallowing, without being honest about the vested interests at stake.

Monsanto does a complete about-turn on GMOs being needed to feed the world

And here’s another irony. The truth about GMOs as the solution to the global food crisis is not coming from politicians but from industry itself. Previously, in the face of growing global opposition, Monsanto has long proclaimed that GM crops are vital for feeding a hungry world, while critics countered that the food is there and that distribution is the key to tackling hunger. But as opposition to biofuels is rising in Europe and even in the US on the grounds that they are not a solution to climate change and are contributing to the food crisis, Monsanto is now keen to defend the biofuels gravy-train that sent food prices sky-rocketing, and the company's spin has suddenly gone into complete reverse.

The ethanol boom may be pushing millions towards starvation and hundreds of millions deeper into poverty, but, says Monsanto's chief technology officer Rob Fraley [14], "From a production perspective, we have abundance [of food]". Fraley now says the "challenges" are in distribution and access to food because of wealth distribution, in other words, poverty.

Fraley made his pitch at the launch of a new multi-million dollar lobby group for ethanol, the Alliance for Abundant Food and Energy, that Monsanto has helped set up. There could be no clearer demonstration that Monsanto's concern has never been feeding the hungry; its leading role in the ethanol lobby shows that the hungry can happily starve, just so long as it's good for the company's bottom line.

Given that industry has revealed the truth behind its biofuels agenda, is it too much to ask of Europe’s politicians that they should be equally honest about the vested interests behind the hyping of GM crops?
Claire Robinson is an editor of GMWatch

One suicide every 8 hours

And yes they use GM seeds

Vidarbha remains a grim statistic. One suicide in every eight hours. More than half of those who committed suicide were between 20 and 45, their most productive years. The Maharashtra government says as many as 1920 farmers committed suicide between January 1, 2001 and August 19, 2006. Nearly 2.8 million of the 3.2 million cotton farmers are defaulters, reports Jaideep Hardikar

Suicide count

There are no authentic figures on the exact number of farm suicides in Vidarbha, but the Maharashtra government accepts a figure of 1920 from January 1, 2001 to August 19, 2006. The Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS), a farmers' movement, puts the toll at 782 from June 1, 2005 to August 26, 2006. And, in the last three months, there has been a suicide every eight hours.

Cost of cultivation

Across the country, the average cost of cultivation in cotton is a little more than Rs 16,000 per ha. With an average productivity of 460 kg per ha, it costs between Rs 35 to Rs 48 per kg to grow cotton. In Vidarbha, the cost of cultivation could go well beyond Rs 20,000 perha and if marketing cost is added, it crosses Rs 22,000. But the productivity is only 146 kg per ha. In other words, the cost per kg is almost double --- well over Rs 70 per kg. In Maharashtra, the cost of growing cotton increased from Rs 17,234/ha in 2001-02 to Rs 20,859 in 2002-03.

Right age, wrong step

Among the farmers who committed suicide in the past year, more than 50% were between 20 and 45 years of age (their most productive years), according to a study by the Sakal Newspapers Limited of the two districts, Amravati and Yavatmal.

Cotton area

The hybrid cotton covers about 73% of the cotton area in Vidarbha, whereas desi varieties cover about 27%. Most of these produce medium to medium-long fibre.

Area under Bt cotton has risen from a mere 0.4% in 2002-03 to 15% in 2005-06 in Vidarbha, according to the agriculture department statistics. Only 3% cotton land falls under assured irrigation. Cotton area has declined from 16.12 lakh ha in 2001 to 12.18 lakh ha in 2005-6. Only 3% of it is under irrigation. The shift is towards soybean.

The Planning Commission's fact-finding mission members found out that nearly 2.8 million of the 3.2 million cotton farmers in Vidarbha are defaulters. Of every Rs 100 borrowed, approximately Rs 80 goes back in to servicing of old loans.

PM's promise

The Prime Minister in his Rs 3750-crore package jacked up an additional credit flow of Rs 1200 crore taking it to Rs 2000 crore for 2006-07. But the ground situation shows a credit disbursal of less than a thousand crore.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Revive traditional crops. Pump money back into the rural economy, say experts

"In Vidharbha, it is too risky to adopt expensive technologies. Small farmers who take loans for cultivation have no capacity to meet the calamity of crop failure. Traditional crops like jowar should again be revived. The funds allotted under the Prime Minister's package for seed replacement should be used to promote jowar, pulses and legumes. Also, organic farming and crop-livestock integration should be promoted on both ecological and economic grounds. Vidharbha can be declared as the Organic Farming Zone of Maharashtra, so that its oranges, jowar, cotton and other crops become known as organic products and thereby gain in market value.” — MS Swaminathan Chairman, National Commission on Farmers

"It’s not true that suicides are taking place only in Vidarbha. They began in Andhra and spread to other parts of the country. But why did farmer suicides begin after 1994? The answer is we liberalised the economy and devalued our rupee. As a result, the cost of energy went up, the cost of agriculture rose and living costs soared. The 5th Pay Commission was a vindication of this. But the farmers remained in a low-cost economy. The promise that exports in a free market would bring profits to farmers was never kept. We imported 110 lakh bales from 1998 to 2004.” — Vijay Jawandhia Wardha farmers’ leader, social commentator

"The point is we need to understand that green revolution has collapsed. Continuing suicides by farmers is a reflection of that. Suicides are more alarming in those areas where green revolution was pushed with force. But that doesn't mean there is no agrarian crisis in other areas; it's all over the country now. A few areas like Vidarbha are peculiar with socio-economic, agro-climatic and other factors. We borrowed a technology that did not fit into our socio-economic milieu. Tractor is today a symbol of suicides. Fertilizers and pesticides have destroyed our natural base. Farmers in Vidarbha and elsewhere are the victims of policies that have siphoned money from the rural economy.” — Devinder Sharma Former journalist, agriculture expert

Monsanto's BT Cotton: Indian Farmers Commit Suicide

In a classic example of putting profits before people, Indian farmers are lured by colourful and convincing marketing programs to forget their low-carbon, natural and closed traditional systems of agriculture, and to instead buy into 'modern' systems that make the farmer dependent on outside inputs at every step. And, what do they lure them with?: Dreams of owning big red tractors and other environmentally unfriendly and unsustainable high-tech equipment, that even if they were to own would make them even more dependent on corporations. Many, however, are committing suicide before getting anywhere near this unsustainable energy-intensive 'ultimate goal'.

Pay Monsanto or Starve

GM Crops, Pesticides and the Poor

Who Benefits from GM Crops

Which Came First, Pests or Pesticides

Bees, BBKA, Bayer and fleeing GMOs

1.Why does the British Bee Keepers Association endorse Bayer
2.Avoiding GMOs and Fleeing Famine, Bees Seek Asylum in Cities

EXTRACT: For German bees, the countryside is no longer what it used to be. They are fleeing insecticides and genetically modified crops to take refuge in cities. (ITEM 2)
1.Bees: why does the British Bee Keepers Association endorse pesticides?

[Letter to the Guardian]

The BBKA demands more taxpayers' money for research into bee diseases, while at the same time taking money from Bayer to endorse pesticides that are known to be toxic to bees.

When nearly half a billion bees were killed in Germany earlier this year by Bayer's pesticides, causing 7000 beekeepers along the Rhine to be ruined, the BBKA said nothing. When they were finally provoked by protests from their members into making a statement, it was so bland and apathetic as to be meaningless.

When the BBKA executive acquires some guts and is prepared to take a stand against the encroachment of unnecessary toxins into our environment - widely believed by many beekeepers and scientists to be the root cause of so-called Colony Collapse Disorder - then they may have a case for asking for research funds. Until then, I and I suspect, a significant proportion of their membership, call upon them to stop taking dirty money from Bayer and start supporting organic farming.

Eliminating toxins from agriculture and gardening is the only way we are going to save the bees and many other insects and birds from extinction.

Phil Chandler
Chemical-Free Beekeeper