GMOs, Seed Wars and Knowledge Wars

Wednesday, 31 October 2012 15:26 By Dr Vandana Shiva, Z Communications | News Analysis
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Proposition 37 supporters.A sign notifies shoppers that Whole Foods endorses Proposition 37, which mandates labeling of genetically modified organisms, at a store in Oakland, September 12, 2012. (Photo: Noah Berger / The New York Times)




The only reason crops have been genetically engineered is to take patents on seeds, and collect royalties. If during colonialism the concept of Terra Nullius, empty land, allowed the takeover of land and territories by the colonizer, a new concept of Bio Nullius, empty life, is being used to claim “intellectual property rights” on seeds, biodiversity and life forms. But life is not empty. Seeds are not an invention. They embody millions of years of biological evolution, and thousands of years of cultural evolution and farmers breeding. When corporations claim patents, they basically “pirate” traits that nature and farmers have evolved. They pirate and patent the aroma of basmati, the low gluten qualities of our native wheat, the salt tolerant, drought tolerant, flood tolerant traits of climate resilience our farmers have bred. This is not innovation and invention, it is Biopiracy. The only traits that the corporations have introduced into plants through genetic engineering are the toxic traits of Bt toxin and herbicide resistance. Besides being toxic, these traits have not reduced chemical use as has been repeatedly claimed. Our studies in Vidharba show a 13-fold increase in pesticide use since Bt cotton was introduced.

A report, published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe, shows that genetically engineered crops have led to a 404 million pound increase in overall pesticide use from the time they were introduced in 1996 through 2011. This equates to an increase of about seven percent over the last 16 years.

The data on increased chemical use shows that the claim that Bt toxin crops will reduce pesticide use and herbicide resistant crops will reduce herbicide use, is false.

As the Navdanya report, “The GMO Emperor has no Clothes “shows, genetically modified crops have led to resistance, both in weeds and pests, demanding higher use of pesticides and herbicides. More than two dozen weed species are now resistant to glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Monsanto's broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup and farmers are being asked to spray Agent Orange, that was used in the Vietnam War. 

The only way corporations can push GMO seeds on farmers is by destroying alternatives. They do this by blocking public breeding. India’s premier cotton research institute in Nagpur has not released a single variety in Vidharba since Monsanto entered the cotton seed market. The second strategy is to lock local companies into licensing arrangements. 60 Indian Seed companies only sell Monsanto’s Bt cotton. The third strategy is to make local seeds illegal through compulsory licensing and registration laws. This was attempted in 2004 with the Seed Act. It took a seed Satyagraha organized by us across the country, and a parliamentary committee to prevent it from coming into force. But in Europe Seed laws are already criminalizing biodiversity and farmers breeding. This is why we have joined together as a Global Citizen’s Alliance for Seed Freedom, to call for No Patents on Seeds, and No to Seed laws that promote industrial seeds and make local, open pollinated varieties illegal. The Global Citizens report on Seed Freedom ( written jointly by more than 120 groups and individuals was released on 1st October in Delhi. A fortnight of actions for Seed Freedom was across the world undertaken from Gandhi’s birth anniversary 2nd October, to World Food Day 16th October.

Seed is the first link in the food chain. And Seed Wars are leading to Food Wars. The California ballot initiative on labeling of GMO foods is the most current contest between citizen’s Right to Know and Choose and Corporate Rights to force feed GMOs.

As Alexis Baden-Mayer, Political Director for the Organic Consumers Association, pointed out at an Occupy Wall Street teach-in in Washington DC in early April: “The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act ballot initiative is a perfect example of how the grassroots 99% can mobilize to take back American democracy from the corporate bullies, the 1%.”

Seed Wars and Food wars are becoming knowledge wars. Just before the California initiative, an article was planted in the media across the world arguing that Organic Foods have no Health Benefit. It turns out that the so-called scientists from Stanford had done similar work for Big Tobacco during the debate on smoking.

While fraud science is used to promoting GMOs, independent public scientists who do high quality research on the Biosafety and health and environmental impact of GMOs, which is a legally binding obligation under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, are attacked by an organized mafia working for industry parading as scientists. Dr Arpad Putzai of the UK was driven out of his job when the results of his study commissioned by the UK Government showed that the brains of the rats in his feeding study had shrunk, the pancreas had expanded, and the immunity had collapsed. More recently a study published by Dr. Seralini in Food and Chemical Toxicology showed that:

  • Death rates in rats fed the Roundup-Ready GM maize were 2-5 times that of the control group. 
  • Female rats had a shockingly high incidence of mammary tumours (80% by the time that they died)
  • Male rats suffered significant levels of liver and kidney damage.
  • Tumours were huge - and many animals had 3 tumours by the time they died. 

The Indian Supreme Court set up a Technical Expert Committee to advise it on the gaps in the scientific Biosafety assessment of GMOs. The committee recommended a moratoriun on field trials of all GMO Bt crops, an assessment of the special problems of Herbicide tolerant crops, and a ban on all trials of GMO crops of which India is the Centre of Diversity. These include:

The Supreme Court is supposed to ensure that the executive, the government functions constitutionally. The GMO lobby has written to the Prime Minister to try and undo the work of the Supreme Court and its Technical committee. This is a subversion of our constitution.

A report, “Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops – Prospects and Effects”, was tabled by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture in August in Lok Sabha.

Releasing the report at a press conference, the chairperson of the committee, Mr Basudeb Acharia said, “The committee has come to the conclusion that since concerns on the potential and actual impacts of GM crops to our food, farming, health and environment are valid, GM crops are just not the right solution for our country.”

Again the GMO lobby writes to the Prime Minister to undo the recommendations of the Parliamentary committee.

Since GMOs can only spread through seed monopolies, the destruction of our democracy and the integrity of science and knowledge, we are better off without them.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Dr Vandana Shiva

Dr. Vandana Shiva is a philosopher, environmental activist and eco feminist. She has fought for changes in the practice and paradigms of agriculture and food, and assisted grassroots organizations of the Green movement in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Ireland, Switzerland, and Austria with campaigns against genetic engineering. In 1982, she founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, which led to the creation of Navdanya in 1991, a national movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seed, the promotion of organic farming and fair trade. She is author of numerous books including,Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis; Stolen Harvest: The hijacking of the Global food supply; Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace; and Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. Shiva has also served as an adviser to governments in India and abroad as well as NGOs, including the International Forum on Globalization, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization and the Third World Network. She has received numerous awards, including 1993 Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) and the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize.

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