Monday, February 22, 2016


Why the FDA’s Policy on Genetically Engineered Foods is Fraudulent and Illegal

Although most Americans (including those who serve in government) are unaware of it, genetically engineered foods are on the market only because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has covered up the warnings of its own scientists, misrepresented the facts, and violated explicit mandates of U.S. law. 
The following points provide the details.   
1. The Food Additive Amendment of the U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act institutes a precautionary approach and requires that new additives to food must be demonstrated safe before they are marketed. (21 U.S.C. Sec. 321)
2. An official Senate report described the intent of the amendment as follows: “While Congress did not want to unnecessarily stifle technological advances, it nevertheless intended that additives created through new technologies be proven safe before they go to market.” (S. Rep. 2422, 1958 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5301- 2)
3. Though the FDA admits that the various genetic materials implanted in bioengineered organisms are within the amendment’s purview, it claims they are exempt from testing because they are generally recognized as safe (GRAS). (Statement of Policy: Foods Derived From New Plant Varieties, May 29, 1992, Federal Register vol. 57, No. 104 at 22991)
4. However, the FDA’s regulations state that substances added to food that were not in use prior to 1958 cannot qualify as GRAS unless they meet two requirements. Not only must they be acknowledged as safe by an overwhelming consensus of experts, but this consensus must be based on “scientific procedures” – which ordinarily entails studies published in peer-reviewed journals. (21 CFR Sec. 170.30 (a-b))
5. FDA regulations further stipulate that these scientific procedures must provide a demonstration of safety and that GRAS substances "...require the same quantity and quality of scientific evidence as is required to obtain approval of the substance as a food additive." (21 CFR Sec. 170.30(b)) Thus, it’s clear that the GRAS exemption is not supposed to reduce the degree of testing but rather to relieve a producer from performing new tests for substances already known to be safe on the basis of previous ones.
6. Genetically engineered (GE) foods fail both requirements. There is substantial dispute among experts about their safety; and none has been confirmed safe through adequate testing.
7. As the FDA was developing its policy on GE foods during 1991-92, there was not even consensus about safety among its own experts. The predominant opinion was (a) that these new foods entail unique risks, especially the potential for unintended harmful side effects that are difficult to detect and (b) that none can be considered safe unless it has passed rigorous tests capable of screening for such effects. These scientists expressed their concerns in numerous memos to superiors – memos that only came to light in 1998 when the lawsuit led by the Alliance for Bio-Integrity forced the FDA to divulge its files. (Copies of these FDA memos are posted at
8. For example, microbiologist Dr. Louis Pribyl stated: "There is a profound difference between the types of unexpected effects from traditional breeding and genetic engineering ...." He added that several aspects of gene- splicing ". . . may be more hazardous . . ." (FDA Document 4 at Similarly, Dr. E.J. Matthews of the FDA's Toxicology Group warned that ". . . genetically modified plants could ... contain unexpected high concentrations of plant toxicants...," and he cautioned that some of these toxicants could be unexpected and could " uniquely different chemicals that are usually expressed in unrelated plants." (Document 2 at Citing the potential for such unintended dangers, the Director of FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) called for bioengineered products to be demonstrated safe prior to marketing. He stated: "... CVM believes that animal feeds derived from genetically modified plants present unique [emphasis added] animal and food safety concerns." (Document 10 at He explained that residues of unexpected substances could make meat and milk products harmful to humans.
9. In light of these unique risks, agency scientists advised that GE foods should undergo special testing, including toxicological tests. (e.g. Documents 2 & 6 at
10. The pervasiveness of the concerns within the scientific staff is attested by a memo from an FDA official who protested the agency was "... trying to fit a square peg into a round hole . . . [by] trying to force an ultimate conclusion that there is no difference between foods modified by genetic engineering and foods modified by traditional breeding practices." She declared: "The processes of genetic engineering and traditional breeding are different, and according to the technical experts in the agency, they lead to different risks." (Document 1 at
11. Moreover, FDA officials knew there was not a consensus about the safety of GE foods among scientists outside the agency either. For instance, FDA's Biotechnology Coordinator acknowledged in a letter to a Canadian health official that there was no such consensus in the scientific community at large. He also admitted, "I think the question of the potential for some substances to cause allergenic reactions is particularly difficult to predict." (Document 8 at
12. This lack of consensus in itself disqualifies GE foods from GRAS status. But even if consensus did exist, no GE food would qualify as GRAS because none has satisfactorily passed the level of testing that the law requires – and that the FDA experts stated is necessary. The agency’s files demonstrate that as of 1992, there was virtually no evidence to support safety, with one official’s memo to the Biotechnology Coordinator querying: " … are we asking the scientific experts to generate the basis for this policy statement in the absence of any data?” (Document 1 at And the evidentiary base is still deficient because the FDA does not require any testing; and the tests relied on by the EU, Canada, and others do not adequately screen for the unexpected side effects about which the FDA scientists warned. The inadequacy of current testing has been pointed out by numerous experts, including the Royal Society of Canada and the Public Health Association of Australia. (Also see paragraph 27 below.)
13. Despite the ample evidence indicating a lack of consensus abut safety, as well as the lack of requisite evidence to confirm it, the FDA’s decision-makers (who acknowledge they’ve been operating under a policy “to foster” the U.S. biotechnology industry) declared that as long as a GE food does not introduce a known toxin or allergen, they would presume that it’s GRAS – and can therefore be marketed without any testing. In doing so, they professed themselves “not aware of any information” showing that GE foods differ from others “in any meaningful way,” even though they had received extensive input from their scientists pointing out the significant differences and their serious implications. (The agency’s promotional policy was acknowledgement in “Genetically Engineered Foods,” FDA Consumer, Jan.-Feb. 1993, p.14. Its fraudulent denial of awareness appears in: Statement of Policy: Foods Derived From New Plant Varieties, May 29, 1992, Federal Register vol. 57, No. 104 at 22991)
14. Although many people have been led to believe that the U.S. district court in Alliance for Bio-Integrity v. Shalala determined that GE foods are on the market legally, its decision actually highlights the extent to which their presence is contrary to the law. (Alliance for Bio-Integrity v. Shalala. 116 F. Supp. 2d 166 (D.D.C. 2000) at p. 179)
15. In her written opinion, the judge stated: “Plaintiffs have produced several documents showing significant disagreements among scientific experts.” (116 F.Supp.2d 166 (D.D.C. 2000) at 177) However, she ruled that the crucial issue was not whether GE foods were in fact GRAS at the time of the lawsuit (or were actually GRAS when the FDA issued its policy statement on GE foods in May 1992) but whether FDA administrators had acted arbitrarily in 1992 in presuming that they were GRAS. Therefore, because she held that the case hinged on this narrow procedural issue of whether there had been adequate rational basis for the FDA’s presumption, she said that any evidence showing lack of expert consensus at the time of the lawsuit was irrelevant, since it was not within the administrators’ purview when they formed their policy in 1992.
16. As for the evidence that had been within the FDA’s own files in 1992, she ruled that the administrators were free to disregard the opinions of subordinates when setting policy. (116 F.Supp.2d 166 (D.D.C. 2000) p.178) This conclusion is odd, since the written opinions of the agency’s scientists represented far more than mere policy preferences. They constituted solid evidence that a significant number of experts did not recognize GE foods as safe. Further, the judge failed to mention the fact that the FDA’s biotechnology coordinator had admitted there was not a consensus within the scientific community, even though plaintiffs’ briefs had emphasized it and cited the relevant document.
17. She additionally disregarded the fact (which had also been clearly pointed out to her) that the FDA’s files demonstrated there was insufficient technical evidence about safety to support a presumption that GE foods are GRAS. Although her opinion initially acknowledged that such technical evidence is legally required, she never returned to the issue – a highly irregular outcome.  
18. Therefore, because she ignored so much important evidence, her ruling is very dubious. It’s also quite narrow. She did not determine that GE foods are (or ever were) truly GRAS. Nor did she determine that any has been demonstrated safe. She merely held that given the evidence before them in 1992, FDA officials had not acted arbitrarily in presuming that the foods were GRAS. Further, she emphasized that their presumption is, as a matter of law, “rebuttable.” (p.172)
19. This is a crucial point, because even if one believes that the FDA administrators had reasonable basis in 1992 to presume that all GE foods are GRAS, it’s obvious that their rebuttable presumption has been clearly and continually rebutted – both by the ever-growing dispute among experts and the ongoing lack of adequate testing.   
20. Moreover, the lack of consensus and the lack of evidence are glaringly apparent, as the next seven paragraphs amply demonstrate.
21. In the Alliance for Bio-Integrity lawsuit, nine of the plaintiffs were well-credentialed life scientists (including tenured professors at UC Berkeley, Rutgers, the University of Minnesota, and the NYU School of Medicine) who asserted they did not regard GE foods as safe. As noted in paragraph 15 above, the judge acknowledged we had demonstrated there were “significant disagreements among scientific experts.” This in itself established that as of May 1998, GE foods could not be considered GRAS.
22. The following year, the respected medical journal The Lancet strongly criticized the presumption that GE foods entail no greater risks of unexpected effects than conventional foods, stating that there are “good reasons to believe that specific risks may exist” and that “governments should never have allowed these products into the food chain without insisting on rigorous testing for effects on health.” (The Lancet, Volume 353, Issue 9167, Page 1811, 29 May 1999)
23. In 2001, an expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada issued a report declaring (a) that it is “scientifically unjustifiable” to presume that GE foods are safe and (b) that the “default presumption” for every GE food should be that the genetic alteration has induced unintended and potentially hazardous side effects. (“Elements of Precaution: Recommendations for the Regulation of Food Biotechnology in Canada; An Expert Panel Report on the Future of Food Biotechnology prepared by The Royal Society of Canada at the request of Health Canada Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Environment Canada” The Royal Society of Canada, January 2001) In describing the report’s criticism of the current approach to regulating GE foods, the Toronto Star stated: “The experts say this approach is fatally flawed … and exposes Canadians to several potential health risks, including toxicity and allergic reactions.” (Calamai, P., “Ottawa Rapped, Expert Study Considered Major Setback for Biotech Industry,” Toronto Star , February 5, 2001)
24. The British Medical Association has also expressed reservations about the safety of these novel products. As described in the British Medical Journal, the Association released a 2004 report stating that “more research is needed to show that genetically modified (GM) food crops and ingredients are safe for people and the environment and that they offer real benefits over traditionally grown foods.” (Kmietowicz, Z. “GM Foods Should Be Submitted to Further Studies, says BMA,” British Medical Journal, 2004 March 13; 328(7440): 602)
25. In January 2015, a peer-reviewed journal published a statement signed by more than 300 scientists asserting that there is not a consensus about the safety of GE foods and that their safety has not been adequately demonstrated. (Hilbeck et al. Environmental Sciences Europe (2015) 27:4.
26. Thus, the absence of requisite consensus is irrefutable, especially in light of the fact that the FDA has, in court, established that an additive was not GRAS merely by producing testimony from two
experts who did not regard it as safe. (United States v. Seven Cartons . . . Ferro-Lac, 293 F. Supp. 660, 664 (S.D. Il. 1968)
27. Further, not only has there never been a genuine consensus about the safety of GE foods, the evidentiary base on which such a consensus is legally required to rest has never existed either – and is still absent. This is well-attested by David Schubert, a professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, who recently asserted: “As a medical research scientist who published a comprehensive, peer-reviewed critique of genetically modified food safety testing, I can state confidently that it is false to say such foods and the toxic chemicals they require are extensively tested and proved safe.” (Letter to the LA Times, October 28, 2012)
28. Moreover, although the proponents of GE foods claim that the FDA subjects them to scientific reviews, the voluntary consultations that the agency conducts with the manufacturers are notscientific reviews – and the FDA has admitted that they aren’t. As its Biotechnology Strategic Manager has described the process: “The FDA requests that firms submit a summary of their assessment to the agency. The FDA does not request the original data and, therefore, does not conduct a scientific review of the firm's decision.” (Maryanski, J., “Safety Assurance of Foods Derived by Modern Biotechnology in the United States,” July 1996.) In January 1999, the FDA affirmed that it still was not conducting scientific reviews, stating: “FDA has not found it necessary to conduct comprehensive scientific reviews of foods derived from bioengineered plants . . . consistent with its 1992 policy.” (Reported in The Lancet, May 29, 1999) And this lenient approach is still in place.  
29. Although the FDA has been illegally, and fraudulently, exempting GE foods from the testing requirements established by Congress in 1958, hardly any current members of Congress are aware of the malfeasance. Consequently, the House of Representatives (in passing a bill titled the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015”) voted to remove the requirements that the FDA has been illicitly waiving; and it appears that virtually none of those who voted “yes” realized that they were in essence forgiving the FDA’s flagrant violation of the law (and its snubbing of the Congressional will) – and legitimizing a policy that was deemed both unscientific and risky by the agency’s own experts.*
30. Hopefully, if that bill is considered by the Senate, its members will deliberate on the basis of more complete and accurate information.  
* Although the provisions of the bill that have garnered most attention are those that relate to labeling (especially the one that prohibits states from requiring the labeling of GMOs sold within their borders), the provision that legitimizes the FDA’s lax and illegal no-testing policy is the one that alters current statutory law.  
Copyright © 2015 Steven M. Druker.  Permission is granted to reproduce and circulate this document as long as all the text is maintained.
Steven M. Druker, J.D., is executive director of Alliance for Bio-Integrity and author of Altered Genes, Twisted Truth, How the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, and Systematically Deceived the Public.

Sunday, February 21, 2016


Monsanto's pride, Monsanto's fall: playing God with the Indian farmer

India's farmers are the targets of structural violence aimed at uprooting indigenous agriculture and replacing it with an intensive corporate model based on GMOs and agrochemicals
EXCERPT: Rather than side-line the recommendations of various reports that conclude agroecological approaches are more suitable for the global south and that GM and chemical-dependent practices are inappropriate, policy makers would do better by acknowledging and accepting that agroecology has a major role to play.

Monsanto's pride, Monsanto's fall: playing God with the Indian farmer

Colin Todhunter
The Ecologist, 19 February 2016
[links to sources at the URL above]

* India's farmers are the targets of structural violence aimed at uprooting indigenous agriculture and replacing it with an intensive corporate model based on GMOs and agrochemicals, writes Colin Todhunter. But as Monsanto's GM cotton succumbs to insect infestations despite repeated pesticide applications, agroecological farming is an increasingly attractive option for cultivators.

The mantra of global agribusiness is that it cares about farmers. It also really cares about humanity and wants to help feed a growing world population by using its patented genetically modified (GM) seeds.

It says it wants to assist poor farmers by helping them grow enough to earn a decent income. Seems like it's a win-win situation for everyone!

If you listen to the PR, you could be forgiven for believing that transnational agribusiness companies are driven by altruistic tendencies and humanitarian goals rather than by massive profit margins and delivering on shareholder dividends.

To promote itself and its products, the US multinational company Union Carbide came out with a series of brochures in the 1950s and 60s with powerful images depicting a large 'hand of god' in the sky, which hovered over a series of landscapes and scenarios in need of 'fixing' by the brave new world of science and the type of agricultural technology to be found in a pesticide canister.

One such image is of a giant hand pouring chemicals from a lab flask upon Indian soil, with a pesticide manufacturing factory in the distance and Mumbai's Gateway of India opposite (see image, right).

It was a scene where science met tradition, where the helping hand of God, in this case Union Carbide, assisted the ignorant, backward Indian farmer who is shown toiling in the fields. The people at Union Carbide didn't do subtlety back then.

We can now look back and see where Union Carbide's hubris got the people of Bhopal and the deaths caused by that pesticide factory depicted in the image. And we can also see the utter contempt its top people in the US displayed by dodging justice and failing the victims of Bhopal. There's humanitarianism for you: playing god with people's lives and avoiding accountability for the death and havoc created.

The supposed humanitarian motives of global agribusiness are little more than a sham. If these companies, their supporters, media shills and PR mouthpieces really want to feed the world and assist poor farmers in low income countries, as they say they do, they would do better by addressing the political, economic and structural issues which fuel inequality, poverty and hunger.

And that includes the role of agribusiness itself in determining unfair world trade rules and trade agreements, such as the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which help grant it access to agriculture across the globe and recast it for its own ends (US agribusiness and the transformation of food-sufficient countries into food-deficit ones has long been bound up with the projection of Washington's global power.)

Laughing all the way to the bank at the farmer's expense

Many of the people these companies supply their inputs to and make a profit from are smallholder farmers who live on a financial knife edge in low income countries. Monsanto has appropriated around $900 million from India's farmers over the last decade or so - illegally according to Vandana Shiva. By way of contrast, Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant brought in $13.4 million in 2014 alone, according to Bloomberg.

Writing in India's Statesman newspaper, Bharat Dogra illustrates the knife-edge existence of the people that rich agribusiness profits from by discussing the case of Babu Lal and his wife Mirdi Bai who have been traditionally cultivating wheat, maize, and bajra (millet) on their farmland in Rajasthan. Their crops provided food for several months a year to the 10-member family as well as fodder for farm and dairy animals which are integral to the mixed farming system employed.

Dogra notes that company (unspecified - but Monsanto and its subsidiaries dominate the GM cotton industry in India) agents approached the family with the promise of a lump-sum payment to plant and produce Bt (GM) cotton seeds in two of their fields. Babu Lal purchased pesticides to help grow the seeds in the hope of receiving the payment, which never materialised because the company agent said the seeds produced had "failed" in tests.

The family faced economic ruin, not least because the food harvest was much lower than normal as the best fields and most labour and resources had been devoted to Bt cotton. There was hardly any fodder too. It all resulted in Babu Lal borrowing from private moneylenders at a high interest rate to meet the needs of food and fodder.

Things were to get much worse though as the company's agent allegedly started harassing Babu Lal for a payment of about 10,000 rupees in lieu of the fertilisers and pesticides provided to him. Several other tribal farmers in the area also fell into this trap, and reports say that the soil of fields in which Bt cotton was grown has been badly damaged.

The promise of a lump-sum cash payment can be very enticing to poor farmers, and when companies use influential villagers to get new farmers to agree to plant GM cotton, tribal farmers are reluctant to decline the offer. When production is declared as having failed, solely at the company's discretion it seems, a family becomes indebted.

According to Dogra's piece, there is growing evidence that the trend in tribal areas to experiment with Bt cotton has disrupted food security and has introduced various health hazards and ecological threats due to the use of poisonous chemical inputs.

What seed companies are doing is experimenting with farmers' livelihoods and lives. 'Success', regardless of the impact on the farmer, is measured in terms of company profits. However, failure for the farmer is a matter of life and death. Look no further than the spike in suicides across the cotton belt since 1997. Even 'success' for the farmer may not amount to much when the costs of the seeds and associated chemical inputs are factored into any possible increase in yield or income.

Despite constant denials by Monsanto and its supporters in the media that Bt cotton in India has nothing or little to do with farmer suicides in India, a new study directly links the crisis of suicides among Indian farmers to Bt cotton adoption in rain-fed areas, where most of India's cotton is grown.

As outlined in the case of Babu Lal above, many fall into a cycle of debt from the purchase of expensive, commercialised GM seeds and chemical inputs that then often fail to yield enough to sustain farmers' livelihoods.

Planned obsolescence of the Indian farmer

Dogra's story is about one family's plight, but it is a microcosm of all that is wrong with modern agriculture and that could be retold a million times over in India and across the world:

* the imposition of cash monocrops and the subsequent undermining of local food security (leading to food-deficit regions and to a reliance on imports);
* the introduction of costly and hazardous (to health and environment) chemical inputs and company seeds;
* crop failure (or, in many cases, the inability to secure decent prices on a commercial market dominated by commodity speculators in the US or rigged in favour of Western countries);
* and spiralling debt.

The situation for India's farmers is dire across the board. Consider that 670 million people in India's rural areas live on less than 33 rupees a day (around 50¢US) a day. And consider that 32 million quit agriculture between 2007 and 2012. Where did they go? Into the cities to look for work. Work that does not exist.

Between 2005 and 2015, only 15 million jobs were created nationally. To keep up with a growing workforce, around 12 million new jobs are required each year. Therefore, if you are going to place the likes of Babu Lal and millions like him at the mercy of the 'helping hand' of giant agribusiness companies or the whims of the market, you may well be consigning him and millions like him to the dustbin of history given the lack of options for making a living out there.

In fact, that is exactly what the Indian government is doing by leaving farmers like him to deal with agribusiness and the vagaries of the market and having to compete with heavily subsidised Western agriculture / agribusiness, whose handmaidens at the WTO demand India reduces import restrictions. Little wonder then that 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide since 1997.

While the West tries to impose its neoliberal agenda of cutting subsidies to agriculture and dismantling price support mechanisms and the public distribution system that if effectively run would allow Indian farmers to receive a decent stable income, farmers are unsurprisingly leaving the sector in droves as agriculture becomes economically non-viable.

Forcing farmers to leave the land is a deliberate strategy. Just like it is a deliberate strategy to give massive handouts to industry and corporate concerns who are not delivering on jobs. It's all about priorities. And farmers are not a priority. They are being driven from farming, while all the advantages are being given to a failing corporate-industrial sector.

With 300,000 having killed themselves in the last 18 years and many more heavily indebted or existing on a pittance, what we are witnessing is the destruction of the Indian farmer. Structural violence doesn't require guns or knives - economic policies and political choices will do just fine.

This type of violence involves the uprooting of indigenous agriculture and replacing it with a chemical-intensive Western model of agriculture, whereby those farmers left on the land are to be recipients of the inputs and knowledge of agribusiness companies.

This began with the 'green revolution', which selected certain locations, farms and crops to bring about spectacular yields thus maximising impact and promoting this model of farming above any notion of 'helping farmers' in general, and is continuing apace today courtesy of GM cotton seeds and possibly GM food.

But let us not forget that GM is a fraudulent enterprise supported by fallacious arguments in an attempt to spread the technology within India and is surrounded by various spurious claims (which are deconstructed here).

Crisis management or R&D?

This model of agriculture stresses agribusiness inputs, which have led to a continuous process of crisis management (under the banner of 'research and development') and short-termism: new products - destined to fail - to replace the older products that have already failed. This scenario is only good for one thing - the profit sheets of the agribusiness cartel as it pushes its never-ending stream of 'innovations' onto the hapless farmer.

For example, going back a couple of years, a report in Business Standard (BS) stated that Bt cotton yields in India had dropped to a five-year low. India approved Bt cotton in 2002 and, within a few years, yields increased dramatically. However, most of the rise in productivity seemingly had nothing to do with Bt cotton itself and more to do with non-GM hybrid seeds.

What's more, since Bt has taken over, yields have been steadily worsening. According to BS, bollworms are developing resistance. Contrary to what farmers were originally told, the Monsanto spokesperson quoted by BS says that such resistance is to be expected.

However, when Bt cotton arrived in India, farmers were told that they wouldn't have to spray any more. All that farmers had to do was plant the seeds and water them regularly. They were told that, as GM seeds are insect resistant, there was no need to use huge amounts of pesticides.

But, according to Monsanto's spokesperson, the bollworm problem is all the Indian farmers' fault because "limited refuge planting" is one of the factors that may have contributed to pink bollworm resistance. Using the 'wrong' biotech seed is another. The answer from the biotech sector to combat falling yields is continuous R&D to develop new technologies and new strains of GM seeds to try to stay ahead of insect resistance or falling yields.

Agribusiness corporations are engaged in managing and thus profiting from the crises they themselves have conspired to produce with their destruction of traditional agriculture and local economies and their chemical inputs and genetic engineering. By its very nature - by tampering with nature - US agribusiness is designed to stumble from one crisis to the next.

And it will do so by hiding behind the banners of 'innovation' or 'research and development'. But, it's all good business. And that's all that really matters. There's always money to be made from blaming the victims for the mess created and from a continuous state of crisis management.

Ultimately, this is what this con-trick is all about: planned obsolescence - planned obsolescence of products, in order that profits can be made from a stream of new 'wonder' products and, as far as India is concerned, planned obsolescence of farmers as agribusiness sets out to uproot tradition and shape farming in its own corporate image. And the great con-trick is that it attempts to pass off its endless crises and failures as brilliant successes.

Case study: Bt cotton and whitefly

If anything highlights how this traditional knowledge and practices are being cast aside, it is the recent case of Bt cotton and whitefly. In the cotton belt of Punjab and Haryana, the tiny whitefly has caused extensive damage.

They sprayed this way and that way with pesticides. The agritech companies blamed farmers for not spraying correctly. The companies blamed each other for selling the wrong chemicals to farmers. It's a repeat of the bollworm blame game. In any case, the pesticide use failed to kill the whitefly that ravaged cotton crops.

Writing on his blog, food and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma says that the only time whitefly did not destroy crops was when pesticides were not used. Instead, farmers used 'insect equilibrium' and their knowledge of which insects kill crop-predator pests. This knowledge has been built over centuries of trial and error and which did not come courtesy of a white-coated figure in a lab. Now it is in danger of being wiped out as farmers are being turned into consumers of agritech products.

Sharma notes in that the areas where extensive pesticide use failed to defeat the whitefly, they "stand like an oasis in a heavily polluted chemical desert." In the areas that were not ravaged, pesticides have not been used for several years. Benign insects are used to control harmful pests. They allowed the natural predators of whitefly to proliferate, which in turn killed the whitefly.

Sharma says he has met women who can identify 110 non-vegetarian insects and also as many as 60 vegetarian insects (a few years back, he also reported how insect equilibrium was managing a mealy bug problem too).

For agribusiness, though, it is more profitable to hijack agriculture and recast it in its own 'hand of god' image. It can then serve up its industrial poisons and GMOs to farmers courtesy of politicians who handed agriculture to it on a plate.

The need for change

Fast forward 50 years from that Union Carbide image and today global agribusiness tries to be a little bit subtler in its approach. But the underlying messages and attitudes remain: that backward, ignorant farmers are in need of a giant 'helping hand'; that these companies know best; and that debt, economic distress and farmer suicides are not of its making or concern.

On the back of some cooked-up notion about wanting to help the poor, endlessly repeated by prominent politicians and neoliberal apologists, who show little more than contempt for the poor in their own countries, global agribusiness is playing fast and loose with poor people's lives and is profiting handsomely.

It aims to cement a future that is committed to the destruction of indigenous agriculture and which is dominated by powerful business interests (see this on the Gates Foundation in Africa) and chemical-intensive farming based on patented GM seeds.

Rather than side-line the recommendations of various reports that conclude agroecological approaches are more suitable for the global south and that GM and chemical-dependent practices are inappropriate, policy makers would do better by acknowledging and accepting that agroecology has a major role to play. Its benefits are clear to see.

Colin Todhunter is an extensively published independent writer and former social policy researcher, based in the UK and India.

This article is a revised and updated (by the author) version of one originally published on Colin's website.