Let Us All Work For the Greatness Of India

Some Issues of Critical Importance

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Food and Agriculture

1. Pollution by Insecticides/Pesticides/Herbicides:

A major fraction of all the insecticides and pesticides, sprayed either aerially or sprayed using various techniques, is absorbed by the atmosphere. Some of these chemical sprays are so lethal that one has to wear masks so as to avoid accidentally inhaling the poison.When these are absorbed by the atmosphere, they may and do at times cover long distances with the wind causing serious health issues for those staying nearby. The pollution caused by Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) is not only chemical but biological as well. There are studies that show how the ‘suicide gene’ in a GM crop can affect the surroundings and can have adverse effects on the whole ecology of the area. The worst part is that all the ills of this pollution whether from chemicals or GMOs is irreversible over time affecting the whole ecosystem.

2. Wholesale Destruction of Natural Resources: According to a documentary – Slow Poisoning of Indiaan estimated 90,000 tons of pesticides are used each year in India. All this directly or indirectly reaches the ground. These pesticides persist for decades. The deposits of these chemicals in the soil destroy its fertility altogether by destroying the reserves of micro-organisms that do the work of supplying micronutrients to plants and maintaining the humus content of the soil. Once the fertility is affected, more chemical fertilizers have to be used. This cycle once started can end only with a catastrophe, that is, the soil refusing to sustain any further growing activity. This has already happened in certain parts of India. One of the greatest losses a country could possibly incur is the loss of the fertility of its soil. It is one of the most precious resources of a nation and a culture, and one of the basic requirements of life itself. But it is a shame and a matter of utmost concern when there is a breach in this resource.

All the chemicals dumped in any form in fields eventually end up reaching the water cycle, which is even more disastrous. Thus our practices adversely affect all the three – land, water and air. Once all of them are polluted and poisoned, the agents of nature that silently do their work such as bees, butterflies, birds, animals as well as organisms at micro level, aquatic forms of life, all suffer extinction. No amount of scientific study can truly comprehend their mutual interrelationship, their interdependence and their indispensability for the very existence of human beings. Each and every organism, whether big or small, has a very specific role to play that helps keep the balance in nature and serves as a critical link in the whole chain. But our arrogant practices have not only compromised to a great extent the whole of the surrounding ecology but have brought us face to face with the prospect of the extinction of the whole race in not too distinct a future.

3. Health Related Issues: Although most health problems can be traced back to poor psychology and improper food consumption, here we list some major health problems due to the use of pesticides in the production of various agricultural products.

Asthma: Researchers found an association between asthma and use of pesticides. (Senthilselvan et al, 1992) Although this study involved adults, it raises concerns about children’s exposures to pesticides used in the home or residues brought home on parents’ clothes or equipment and consumed in all drinks and food products.

Birth Defects:

• The commonly used pesticide, chlorpyrifos (brand name Dursban) caused severe birth defects in four children exposed in utero. Chlorpyrifos is used widely as an agricultural chemical, but is also the most common pesticide used indoors to kill termites, fleas, roaches and in pest control strips. (Sherman, JD. 1996 Chlorpyrifos (Dursban)-associated birth defects: report of four cases. Arch. Env. Health 51(1): 5-8)

• A study in Minnesota found significantly higher rates of birth defects in children born to pesticide applicators and in regions of the state where chlorophenoxy herbicides and fungicides were widely used. (Garry, 1996)

• In California, mothers living and working in agricultural areas with high pesticide use had a higher risk of giving birth to children with limb reduction defects. (Schwartz, 1988)

• A study of pregnant women in Iowa and Michigan found that women exposed to multiple pesticides had an increased risk of giving birth to a child with cleft palate. (Gordon, 1981)

• Researchers found higher rates of numerous birth defects in children born to Norwegian farmers exposed to pesticides, including hormone effects like hypospadia and undescended testicles. (Kristensen and others, 1997)

Neurological Effects:

Pesticides can be potent neurotoxins. When people are exposed to neurotoxins they may feel dizzy, lightheaded, confused and may have reduced coordination and ability to think. These are the short-term effects, while long term exposure can result in reduced IQ and learning disability, associated with permanent brain damage. In spite of wide reporting of adverse symptoms, until recently, few studies could link permanent brain damage to such exposures. There is new evidence that prolonged exposure to pesticides in areas where they are used routinely may cause permanent brain damage to children who live in these areas.

• Dr. Elizabeth Guillette studied the brain function of 4-5 year old children living in the Yaqui Valley area of Sonora, Mexico. Although the children share similar genetic backgrounds, they had very different patterns of exposure to pesticides. Dr. Guillette compared children living in the Valley, where large quantities of agricultural pesticides are used, to children living in the foothills where pesticides are used infrequently. In 1990, high levels of multiple pesticides were found in breast milk and cord blood of newborns from the valley. The children living in the valley, with high levels of pesticide exposure had less stamina, poorer eye-hand coordination, poorer memory and were less skilled in drawing figures. (Guillette, Environmental He. Perspectives, June 1998)


• National trends indicate that rates of childhood cancer have been increasing. Researchers at MDH concluded that these increases were also evident in Minnesota. (A. Swenson and S. Bushhouse, “Childhood Cancer Incidence and Trends in Minnesota, 1988-1994″. Minnesota Medicine, vol. 81, December 1998.) Between 1973 and 1991, all cancers combined increased an average of 1% per year and brain cancer increased 2% per year. Specifically:

• Incidence of acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) rose 27.4% between 1973 and 1990, from 2.8 cases per 100,000 children to 3.5 cases per 100,000 children.

• From 1973 to 1994, incidence of childhood brain cancer increased 39.6%.

• Wilms tumor incidence in the same years rose 45.6%.

• In teens aged 15-19 between 1973 and 1995, cancer incidence rose to a greater or lesser extent for all of the following: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 128%, testicular cancer 65%, ovarian cancer 78% and all cancers combined 24%. (National Cancer Institute, SEER, Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-1995.)

• Sheila Zahm and Mary Ward, summarized the studies of pesticides and childhood cancer and concluded that the following childhood cancers were linked to pesticide exposure: leukemia, neuroblastoma, Wilms tumor, soft-tissue sarcoma, Ewing’s sarcoma, non-Hodgkins’s lymphoma, and cancers of the brain, colorectum and testes. They noted, “It is noteworthy that many of the reported increased risks are of greater magnitude than those observed in studies of pesticide-exposed adults, suggesting that children may be particularly sensitive to the carcinogenic effects of pesticides.” (Zahm and Ward, 1998, Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 106)

• Thirty-seven pesticides have limited, suggestive or sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in animals. (International Agency for Research on Cancer). Although the literature on pesticides and cancer is extensive and not fully conclusive, the following are a few examples linking pesticides and childhood cancer.

• Leiss et al found a 4-fold increased risk of soft-tissue sarcoma among children whose yards had been treated with pesticides during childhood.

• Parental use of pesticides in the home or garden during pregnancy was associated with 3- to 9-fold increases in leukemia in Los Angeles Co. (Lowengart,1987)

• A review of 17 case-control studies and one cohort study shows a possible role for pesticides in childhood leukemia. (Zahm and Ward, 1998)

• Elevations in brain cancer risk related to at least one measure of pesticide exposure were demonstrated in nine studies. (Zahm and Ward, 1998)

• 2,4-D, a widely-used phenoxy herbicide, goes by the name Weed-Be-Gone. There is suggestive evidence that 2,4-D causes cancer. The phenoxy herbicides are associated with increased risk for non-Hodgkins lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma and prostate cancer. A March, 1993 EPA report stated that 2,4-D contained deadly dioxins, which are stored in fatty tissue, causing cancer, birth defects, miscarriages and reduced fertility.

Hormone Disruption

• While some substances cause physical birth defects, others can cause subtle hormonal effects on the developing fetus or affect a child’s functional capacities. Hormone disruptors have been linked to many health problems including reproductive cancers. The drug DES, which was given to pregnant women to prevent miscarriage between 1941-1971, worked as an endocrine disrupting chemical on the developing fetus. Decades later, many of these DES exposed daughters developed cervical cancer. Twenty-four pesticides still on the market, including 2,4-D, lindane and atrazine, are known endocrine-disrupters. Aside from increases in reproductive cancers, increasing rates of the following conditions are reported: (Animal studies link many of these conditions with prenatal exposure to hormone disrupting substances.)

Endometriosis, a disease in which the uterine tissue grows outside the uterus, a common cause of infertility which was virtually unheard of twenty years ago. It now affects 5.5 million women in the U.S. and Canada, about 10-20% of women of childbearing age. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development noted that only 20 cases were reported in the medical literature prior to 1921. (Colburn, Dumanoski, & Myers, (1996) Our Stolen Future)

• Hypospadias, a condition in which the urethra is near the base of the penis, not at the end as it should be, has doubled in the last 10 years.

Undescended testicles, which is linked with later risk of testicular cancer, is increasing. Researchers reported a doubling in cases between 1962 and 1982 in England and Wales. (Colburn and others, 1996)

Precocious puberty in girls is now common. A study of 17,077 girls in the US found that the onset of puberty for white girls was 6-12 months earlier than expected and African-American girls experienced puberty 12-28 months earlier than whites. (Herman-Giddens and others, 1997)

Reduced sperm counts are documented. Between 1938 and 1990, sperm counts dropped 1.5% each year for American men and 3.1% per year for European men. There was no decrease in men from non-western countries. Low sperm count is a marker for testicular cancer. (Swan and others, 1997)

• Fertility Problems are becoming more common and now affect more than two million couples in the U.S.

4. Monopolisation/Patenting of seeds: Here are just a few excerpts from “A SEED Europe’s Agriculture & Food Campaign, April 2010” which will shed light on this issue.

• Introduction: “The influence of the large corporations on the global food production is growing fast. The global seed-market gives a clear indication of their power, with market monopolies for ever fewer multinational biotech corporations.” “Seeds have turned into a profitable market and became a key battleground for developments in global agriculture..”

• Monsanto in Seed Industry: “Acquiring seed companies became agrochemical producer Monsanto’s first priority when they embraced modern biotechnology in the late 80s. The company bought more than 50 major seed producers internationally between 1996 and 2008.” “…By taking over seed companies Monsanto does not only expand its market share. These acquisitions are also important because they give access to infrastructure: production sites, research and development divisions as well as distribution networks and vast plant gene banks. The swallowed companies often keep their old names for marketing purposes, like in the case of Seminis, Western Seed, and De Ruiter, but they inevitably become part of the general business plans of Monsanto.”

• The Monsanto Lobby: “The business strategy of Monsanto goes far beyond simply increasing annual sales of seeds: The prevailing corporate enclosure of seeds is backed by judicial regulations involving patent rights and seed laws. Monsanto is known for effective lobbying at the governmental level, especially in the US, to make sure new laws meet their interests.”

• GE seeds: “The patent holder enjoys monopoly rights over its protected variety, which means in practice: Farmers are not allowed to reproduce or exchange the purchased patented seeds – instead they have to buy new seeds every year. This legal construction helps to wipe-out the traditional farming practice of seed-saving and to increase profits from selling seed.”

• From seed swapping to Oligarchy: “In 2008 the ETC group pointed out that the largest ten seed companies – with Monsanto, Pioneer/Du Pont and Syngenta leading the pack – make for 67 per cent of the global commercial seed market…” “The industrial seed system amounts to an expropriation of farmers in favour of corporate interest. Instead of breeding and exchanging plant varieties in an ‘open-source’ manner parallel to farming, farmers in EU, US and increasingly in developing countries today are dependent on commercial seed producers. As a result a handful of multinational corporations engineered a fast and furious corporate enclosure of the first link in the food chain in less than three decades.”

• Biodiversity Vs Bio-Uniformity: “Diversity of cultivated plants is the very basis of sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty. The more diverse an ecosystem is, the more resilient it will be. Genetic variation is the best safeguard for crops to survive plagues or climate change. In traditional farming no-one owned the seeds, the shared knowledge or species. This system secured a great diversity in races and varieties, each adapted to the local circumstances. Monopolies in the seed industry lead to the opposite of biodiversity: bio-uniformity. If corporations succeed in obtaining the exclusive property rights to a crop, the rights only apply to a genetically uniform plant variety. This way it contributes to a process where genetically diverse and traditional varieties are gradually replaced by genetically uniform modern seeds. Highly concentrated seed markets lead to even less genetic variety and fewer new breeds. For example, on the US seed market farmers saw the gradual substitution of conventional seeds (e.g. soy and cotton) with genetically modified seeds. Conventional seeds became short in supply for the simple reason that they are less profitable for the seed industry. This development towards bio-uniformity is a threat to food security because genetic uniformity makes crops vulnerable to diseases and extinction.”

• Price tag: “One other consequence of the monopolisation in the seed industry is the increases in seed prices the companies manage to force upon farmers. In 2010 American farmers buying the latest GM RoundupReady soy seeds pay 42% more than they paid in 2009. Prices of GM corn have gone up even steeper but nothing increased more than the price of cotton seed: Between 1975 and 1996 the price of common cotton seed doubled. When in 1996 GM cotton was first introduced, a bag of GM cotton seed cost around $ 70, whereas today farmers pay $700 per bag of GM cotton seed.”

• GM and herbicides: “GM crops brought the intended boost to the market for agrochemicals. The most commonly used GM crops were manipulated so they would survive heavy use of chemicals, usually a herbicide like Monsanto’s Roundup. This contradicts the claim of the biotech industry that GM crops will reduce the use of chemicals. Often the RoundUp Ready GM seeds can only be bought in a package deal including Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicide RoundUp, a profit boosting tactic.”

• Crop Patents: the harsh reality: “There is a general trend in international business and industry that the focus is shifting from producing a product to the more lucrative obtaining and trading of the intellectual rights of a product. To cover the high cost of developing GMOs, the industry gets the exclusive intellectual property rights. From that moment on, any further use of the GM plants after seed saving by farmers, and even accidental cross breeding with conventional crops, is a patent breach and can lead to prosecution by the patent owner. Over a hundred North American farmers have already been prosecuted by Monsanto on these grounds. Cases have led to prison sentences, huge compensation payments to Monsanto and bankruptcy of farmers.”

5. Biopiracy/Patenting on Conventional Seeds: “A new and possibly even bigger problem emerges now that the industry is attempting to obtain patents for common, conventional plant varieties. These rights are even more lucrative than GM seeds since there are fewer development costs. The plant seeds could be from conventional crops that have been developed by either a plant breeder or by traditional farmers or rural communities and as such are owned by no-one in particular. Under international intellectual property law (TRIPS) companies don’t even have to inform the developers/users of a seed that it will be patented by the industry. Patenting of common varieties is also known as ‘biopiracy’.” There are numerous indigenous varieties that have been illegally patented by some of the MNCs and only after a long trial have these patents been invalidated while yet a great number still remains to be reclaimed. Among the ones that have been reclaimed are some varieties of wheat, basmati and neem. As per the record we get from the lectures and literature by Vandana Shiva, a food analyst and a noted ecologist, even when the cases were taken to court, it took more than a decade before the group of people who took the initiative of reclaiming their heritage could succeed in their endeavour.

6. Organic Movement:It is exactly in answer to this present hopeless condition that past couple of years have seen more and more movements, some regional and others national, boycotting the use of chemicals and returning to the organic and traditional ways of agriculture. In India farmers who lost the fertility of their soil and incurred huge losses and were unable to make up their losses, started committing suicide. In response to this desperation some small and some big groups strongly advocating the return to organic methods have arisen in many parts of the country. In various places in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, UP, Punjab, Rajasthan, in total around 16 states of India the organic movement has gained ground. Internationally, there are many countries that have either partially or completely said no to GM food. According to a site http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/service19.htm, here is a list of some of the prominent ones: Algeria, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Thailand, China, Japan, Phillipines, Norway, Austria, Germany, UK, Spain, Greece, France, Luxembourg, Portugal, Brazil, Paraguay, Saudi Arabia, some North American Countries, 14 South Pacific Countries, Australia and New Zealand.

It is only recently, more specifically Oct. 11, 2011 that the Indian Government has filed bio-piracy lawsuit against Monsanto. As per a report of July 21, 2011, Hungary destroyed all Monsanto GMO maize fields. In August 2011, 270,000 organic farmers led by Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association sued Monsanto for its various offences. In the past 2-3 decades no one was able to stand against such business giants as they could influence even the whole judicial system, but these recent developments are signs of assurance and relief that at least out of survival instinct there are movements of reversal and towards organic living. In the near future these movements have to take the form of a revolution globally because the whole human race has already come to the very verge of extinction and it is pressing demand of the time to either put an end to this trend of chemicals or be ready for the fatal consequences that have already made themselves visible.

Series Navigation<< The Present Situation – Various Practices Adopted in Processing and Dealing with Food at various stages
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