Volatility

March 27, 2015

GMO News Report March 27th, 2015

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*Polish farmers continue their protests and vigils, now centered on the “Green City”, a small Occupation-style camp they have set up across the street from the prime minister’s palace. Here, groups of farmers camp in shifts, their presence an ongoing Bonus Army-style protest against the agricultural globalization which is systematically liquidating farmers everywhere, from the US and Europe to Africa and India.
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*Farmers are similarly protesting in India. Thousands convened a Kisan Maha Panchayat (farmer meeting) sit-in where they demanded pro-farmer reforms and the rolling back of pernicious globalization pacts. Meanwhile conflicts over GMOs continue within the Modi government’s political coalition in India. The nationalist Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) has again objected to the new wave of field trials in Maharashtra state, and the central government’s political support for these. The Modi government is ideologically neoliberal and wants to drag India into further servitude to the US government and its corporations, while its coalition allies the SJM and RSS seem to be more like our paleoconservatives here in the US. Although some of them (the Indians, not the US version so far as I’ve seen) have pointed out the evidence against GMO safety, their main concern is globalization’s anti-nationalist economic and political effects.
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*Food sovereignty campaigners protested at the corporate conference convened in London by USAID and the Gates Foundation. They condemned the Western plan to recolonize Africa along corporate industrial agriculture lines. The corporate assault seeks to destroy the existing system of millions of community farmers producing food for their families and communities and replace it with industrial plantations growing industrial GMOs for Asian factory farms and Western ethanol. This is meant to force into being a vast new market for Western proprietary seeds as well as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides produced by Western corporations. It’s also meant to force the African people as a whole to stop producing their own food and instead buy imported food controlled by, yes, Western corporations. These millions of people currently living in farming-based communities are to be driven off their land and into shantytowns. In the end they’re supposed to become ill and eventually die off from disease and starvation. That’s the Monsanto/Gates/US administration plan. More about the London conference here.
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*First reports are that for the second time in two tries, the Bangladesh experiment with Bt brinjal (eggplant) is an agronomic failure and economic disaster for many of the participating farmers. The initial reports are that many plants died prematurely, others that had seemed to be growing well suddenly died of disease or of unknown causes, while plants which produced fruit often yielded poorly. Just as in 2014, there are some reports of plants which failed to resist the target pest, the fruit-and-shoot borer. The director of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) shrugged off most of the disaster, quipping “we never said the plants wouldn’t be vulnerable to disease”. BARI has been running the breeding program and the limited commercial experiments. The initial technical development was done by Monsanto-Mahyco, and most funding came from the US public via USAID. So this worthless project, which gravely threatens the genetic basis of the world’s center for brinjal biodiversity, and which can benefit no one but Monsanto, is being paid for by American taxpayers.
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*Some good news for Australian organic farmer Steve Marsh in his legal battles with a neighboring contract farmer, Michael Baxter, whose GMO canola contaminated Marsh’s farm and cost him his organic certification. Marsh is currently appealing the pro-Monsanto trial decision, where the judge essentially ruled that GMO contamination is inevitable and normative, and that if organic farming can’t move its face from where Monsanto wants to swing its fist, then it deserves to be hit. The decision included an order that Marsh pay the polluter’s legal bills. But the appeals court has ruled that Baxter must disclose to the court how much legal assistance he got from trade groups and from any corporation such as Monsanto itself. This is significant since Australian law says that awards of legal expenses can cover only what a litigant spent out of his own pocket. Australian industry groups adopted Baxter as a poster child from the beginning of the original lawsuit, but never publicly disclosed how much money they or Monsanto were paying for his legal defense.
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*The Mexican people continue to rack up victories in court as Acción Colectiva del Maíz announces four court victories in February rejecting Monsanto’s appeals of court decisions upholding Mexico’s moratorium on commercial release of GM maize and the injunction against the government’s abrogating this moratorium. The moratorium is based on defending Mexico’s place as a center of origin and diversity of maize and teosinte germplasm, a critically important place which is under assault from contamination by genetically monocultural GMO maize.
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*Monsanto has announced another farcical settlement of claims by seven groups of Midwestern and Southern US wheat farmers arising from the 2013 Oregon incident where a farmer discovered feral Roundup Ready wheat in his field, sparking a collapse in wheat exports as Asian markets rejected potentially contaminated shipments. According to the company, the settlement is in the form of $350,000 in donations to various agricultural schools. In other words, Monsanto gets to have its standard financial controls over university agriculture departments double as lawsuit settlements. Pretty sweet. This is even better than last November’s settlement with Oregon wheat farmers. There, although most of the money went to pro-GM wheat trade groups, a modest amount went to the farmers themselves. Here it sounds like no farmer is getting a penny. All the money basically goes back to Monsanto itself, in the form of value from lobbying and corruption. This kind of thing is becoming more common with corporate “settlements”.
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*More buffoonery from Patrick Moore. This time he was claiming in a taped interview that glyphosate was safe enough to drink and that “I’d be happy to” drink some if it were offered. When the interviewer, a documentary filmmaker exposing the health and socioeconomic ravages of the industrial soy system in Argentina, produced a glass, Moore flip-flopped, refused to drink it, and stomped out. We must stress that in spite of his generally stupid and undignified demeanor, Moore is one of the most prominent professional climate change deniers and is celebrated by the most respectable figures of the pro-GMO establishment. In particular, “World Food Prize” winner Marc von Montagu and “golden rice” lead developer Ingo Potrykus recently led an effort to endorse Moore’s “contributions to science” on behalf of the GMO establishment, thus rendering official the ideological unity of pro-GMO activism and climate change denial. No GMO supporter objected to the Moore anointment.
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*In 2013 the Maine legislature passed a GMO labeling law which, like Connecticut’s, requires that several other states pass similar laws before it becomes effective. This is called a “trigger”. This immediately proved a problem since Maine’s trigger specified that adjoining New Hampshire would have to be one of the states enacting a similar policy, but a legislative attempt there soon afterward failed. Now a new proposed bill in Maine would upgrade the 2013 law by removing the trigger. If this bill passes Maine would join Vermont as the second state to pass a true labeling law without the self-negating trigger. Obviously a law with a trigger is, at best, a study in ambivalence. Most likely it indicates a government which wants to pretend to be doing something without actually having to do it.

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March 24, 2015

Rounding Up Roundup

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The notion that glyphosate is “safer” than other herbicides is a mainstay even among lukewarm critics of GMOs, and of course the US government has long propagated this slogan, although in order for it to do so the EPA had to change its 1985 finding of “possibly carcincogenic to humans” to “evidence of non-carcinogenicity in humans” in 1991. As with all EPA findings since the beginning of the GMO era, this change had zero to do with scientific evidence, but was a purely political decision to accommodate Monsanto. Now lying like this will be a bit more difficult, as the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has upgraded its assessment: Glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans”.
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Actually they’ve known glyphosate is carcinogenic since the 1980s, and as I said even the Reagan EPA felt constrained to call it a “possible human carcinogen”. The EPA then downgraded that to “not a carcinogen”, straight up because Monsanto demanded it. Today we see Monsanto’s hysterical reaction to the previously reliable WHO breaking ranks like this. We’ll see if the WHO sticks by its guns or moves to marginalize its own scientific finding. Of course Monsanto’s already succeeding in getting the corporate media to “report” on “the controversy” rather than on the fact. But at least the fact that the WHO is now admitting this brings Roundup’s cancer-causing nature into the media’s realm of controversy, whereas the cartel, the US government, and the NYT have long collaborated in making glyphosate’s toxicity an un-fact. (Maybe the American Cancer Society will now have to acknowledge the very existence of this cancer agent.) Even many GMO critics have parroted the Monsanto line that glyphosate is “less toxic” than other herbicides. Hopefully this will at least put an end to that self-defeating stupidity.
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Let’s get this point straight: Glyphosate as well as 2,4-D and dicamba are highly toxic. The Big Lie is that glyphosate is not highly toxic, period. That’s what the liars always mean when they call it “less toxic”. So it’s idiotic to even ask “which is worse.” The point is that they’re both well beyond the level of “too toxic to be used at all.”
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As always we must stress that glyphosate is never used in pure form, but is always deployed in commercial forms like Roundup which contain several other toxic ingredients. These real world commercial formulations are far more toxic than ivory tower glyphosate. That’s why it’s a standard scam among regulators to assess only the non-commercial “pure” glyphosate, because they know it’s less toxic. Yet, as the IARC has finally acknowledged, even pure glyphosate is severely toxic and causes cancer.
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Here’s more on Roundup. The latest in the line of studies out of Argentina exposing the health and environmental destruction wrought by Roundup finds a much higher level (44% higher) of genetic damage among children consistently exposed to Roundup and other herbicides. This group also had a high incidence of chronic respiratory, skin, and eye symptoms, while no children from the unexposed group reported any such persistent symptoms.
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I’ve often pointed out how antibiotic abuse on factory farms and in genetic engineering (the widespread use of antibiotic resistance markers in GMO development) is effectively a campaign to eradicate antibiotics as a medically effective treatment, and how this corporate campaign is setting up humanity for lethal pandemics as well as driving the ongoing chronic rise in deaths from illness caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. (I’ve also pointed out the fraudulence and stupidity of those who attack small groups of dissidents for allegedly endangering public health even as the ydo nothing to abolish subtherapeutic antibiotic use.) Now we can add a third industrial driver of antibiotic resistance. New science documents that bacteria exposed to such commercial herbicides as glyphosate, 2,4-D, and dicamba are prone to then have changed responses to application of antibiotics, usually showing resistance. So the wholesale slathering of the agricultural landscape and surrounding environs with Roundup, and starting this year GMOs engineered to be tolerant of 2,4-D or dicamba, is perhaps accelerating the evolution of antibiotic resistant strains and subsequent end game for antibiotics as a whole.
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More fun with glyphosate and Roundup: A new study gives further proof that Roundup, as well as glyphosate even in its pure form is acutely toxic to human cells and is an endocrine disruptor through causing the death of cells which produce progesterone. The study tested in vitro exposure to human cells at concentration levels allowed in Australian drinking water. It found that Roundup is more deadly to human cells than pure glyphosate (thus again proving that the real world formulation is more toxic than the “pure” chemical which is the sole purview of regulators), but that both kill cells and cause endocrine disruption through cell death. The study didn’t probe whether these poisons are endocrine disruptors in other ways, but there’s strong evidence for this as well.
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Among the less heralded US government handouts to Monsanto is the longstanding Roundup fumigation program in Colombia, whose proximate goal is to wipe out coca cultivation. This gives a good insight into the real character of the Drug War and any pretensions it has to being about “public health”. On the contrary, it has nothing to do with human health and everything to do with power and corporate welfare. In a case like this the farcical character of the “health” aspect is especially on display, as the spraying program, a veritable chemical warfare campaign (compare the Agent Orange chemical weapons campaign during the Vietnam War), is well documented as causing severe health effects. The Colombian government has supported US paramilitary campaigns within its country because the US pays it off and because they have a shared enemy in legitimate popular movements among the peasantry. But with this WHO report, even some within the Colombian government are starting to wonder if this wholesale program of poisoning the people’s bodies and destroying their crops isn’t, just maybe, politically and ultimately militarily doing more harm than good.
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The fact is there’s no such thing as a demarcation between purely “civilian” poison spraying and chemical warfare. It’s all on a militaristic spectrum, thus the popularity of violent names for agricultural poisons. Monsanto seems to prefer the Wild West theme. Similarly, the agrochemical corporations and the US government effectively see themselves as waging war upon humanity in general and in particular upon small farmers, subsistence farmers, organic farmers, farmers producing food for communities, all farmers and communities not sufficiently coordinated according to the corporate imperative. The goal is to clear the land for mechanized industrial plantations under corporate control. The goal is to force the people off the land and into slums. The campaign is the same as the post-medieval, pre-modern enclosure campaigns of Europe. The only difference is that in the earlier campaign part of the goal was to forcibly generate an urban proletariat, while today the shantytowns are meant to serve as terminal concentration camps for the permanently liquidated and immiserated. I defy anyone to tell me poison-based agriculture isn’t chemical warfare, against people on a more profound level than against bugs and weeds. Roundup has long been the number one weapon of globalization war. It generated the most perfect agro-state yet, Argentina’s “Soy Republic”.
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That Roundup and glyphosate, along with 2,4-D and dicamba, are also severely toxic and destructive to human and ecosystem health renders the chemical warfare concept physically as well as economically true. There are many things preventing us from living in peace and prosperity. Among the most vicious assaults upon us are agricultural poisons like Roundup and GMOs. We must abolish them completely if humanity is to have a future, physically or in any other meaningful sense.
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Today even the usually pro-GMO World Health Organization itself is saying: Roundup is cancer. This is a physical fact, and it’s a political and spiritual fact. We must do what’s necessary.

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March 13, 2015

GMO News Report March 13th 2015

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*The next conclave of the corporate groups plotting to recolonize Africa along GMO lines is being held in London on March 23rd. As ther African Center for Biosafety puts it, “white men meet in London to plot ways of profiting off Africa’s seed system”. The racial balance of power and intended control here is indeed astoundingly lopsided, and the overall racism of the project is quite brazen. No farmers or other democratic participants will be allowed at the meeting, only corporate and government elites. The meeting will discuss a study commissioned by the Gates Foundation. The goal of the study was to develop a strategy for enclosure and control of the African seed system, including identifying where governments should provide corporate welfare and where they should give Western (white) corporations total power and license. African governments are to be rubberstamp flunkeys, and in general Africans will be allowed to participate only as lowly thugs and contractors. As the ACB puts it, “A potential role for farmers in the production or distribution of seed is not even considered. Indeed farmers are viewed only as passive consumers of seed produced elsewhere.” The same is true of the people of Africa as a whole. I’m reminded of what Rudolf Binding wrote about WWI – “In this war both armies lie on the ground, and only the war has its way.” That shall be the predicament of all peoples of the Earth for as long as we allow the corporate war upon us to have its way.
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*A rare case of a GMO corporate welfare program being discontinued: Malaysia’s health ministry has announced it will discontinue its program of using Oxitec’s GM mosquitoes to try to fight dengue fever on the grounds that trial releases in 2010 and 2011 produced meager results greatly disproportionate to the public expense of the program. Brazil’s program has been shelved for the same reason. The idea is to release genetically modified males of the species Aedes aegypti whose offspring from wild females will die prior to reaching maturity. This is supposed to suppress the overall population. But it hasn’t worked in field trials, and Helen Wallace of UK GeneWatch recently publicized a computer model which finds that you’d have to release 2.8 million of the GM males a week to suppress a population of 20,000 mosquitoes. Even the corporate welfare planned economy of GMOs may blanch at such a prospect, though the US government is desperately trying to bail out Oxitec (a British company) by proposing a completely gratuitous field release in the Florida Keys.
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All this information involves the GMO product failing absolutely. Then there’s the likelihood that even if the program temporarily worked to suppress A. aegypti, the only result would be that another species of dengue-carrying mosquito would enter the vacated ecological niche. That effect has followed like clockwork most places Bt crops have been deployed. So the GM mosquito is dubious in ivory tower theory, refuted by computer modeling, and is proven not to work in practice. Any government which would spend one cent on it is engaging in pure embezzlement on behalf of a favored corporation.
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*Good analysis of another scam GMO product, Simplot’s “Innate” potato. As always with these boutique GMOs, its alleged benefits are frivolous, unsubstantiated, or a scam. In this case the potato allegedly reduces the production of a carcinogenic by-product of cooking, acrylamide; but this same carcinogen is vastly more prevalent in all herbicide tolerant GMOs, because it’s a common herbicide additive, and in all crops subjected to industrial irrigation, because it’s added to the water to help keep the dead soil bound together so it won’t blow away. And as always with literally every such GMO alleged to produce any kind of agronomic or product quality trait, there already exist non-GM varieties which embody the trait better, more safely, and far less expensively than the GMO does. As always, the GMO is absolutely worthless, wasteful, and destructive for humanity and benefits no one but a handful of corporations.
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*Climate change denier and top Monsanto shill Patrick Moore has been touring Southeast Asia lobbying and propagandizing for the “golden rice” hoax. In the Philippines he’s met rejection from the people, and slunk out of the country refusing an invitation from the farmer group Masipag to publicly debate them. Even by the extremely low standards of pro-GM activists Moore is one of the more stupid and scabrous of them, and would likely fare very poorly in a debate. Meanwhile Masipag has been publicly describing the kind of productive, nutritious horticulture which is high in vitamin A, has historically provided this nutrient in abundance, and which has been largely destroyed by the industrial agriculture model Moore and golden rice stand for. It’s the likes of Patrick Moore who artificially created the VAD epidemic and are intentionally trying to make it worse with their misdirectional propaganda campaigns. Moore and the others have all this blood on their hands and must be held accountable.
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*The EPA is so spooked by corn rootworm’s surging resistance to the Bt toxins which have been deployed against it that it’s proposing to limit the farmer practice of planting corn year after year with no crop rotation. (It’s actually bureaucratic rigmarole which wouldn’t change anything. It’s the monoculture, stupid.) The ability to plant corn-on-corn was of course the main selling point with which the cartel and the USDA touted Bt corn in the first place, even though everyone knew it would lead only to the target pests developing resistance, along with a host of other problems. Indeed, Monsanto counted on the pests developing resistance as a key part of its planned obsolescence and “expanded trait penetration” marketing strategy. EPA has always chosen to hide its head in the sand, take the path of least resistance, and tout its “refuge” scam as a legitimate anti-resistance strategy. The rootworms have begged to differ.
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Of the three anti-rootworm toxins deployed so far, researchers have confirmed the avalanche of observed evidence that the rootworms are overcoming Monsanto’s Cry3Bb1 toxin and Syngenta’s Cry3A, and in 2014 there were anecdotal reports of resistance developing to Dow’s Cry34/35AB1. Formal research will soon confirm this.
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*Testbiotech has filed a complaint with the EU Ombudsman over the corrupt, publicly-funded GRACE project. GRACE is intended to set new (lax, pro-cartel) standards for GMO safety review and is also a propaganda campaign nominally under EU auspices, but staffed by biotech cadres. The complaint is specifically about how participants propagated a fraudulent account of a feeding trial, and their covering up their conflicts of interest. (There’s really no conflict, of course. They and the EC are 100% pro-GMO.) Filing a complaint with the ombudsman is fine, but far more important is publicizing the facts about GRACE to the people
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*Mexico is ground zero for the Earth’s maize diversity. Everywhere on Earth corporate agriculture is seeking to destroy the agricultural germplasm diversity humanity’s future depends upon, through the imposition of dangerously narrow monocultural genetics to match the monoculture practices of commodity agriculture. Although since NAFTA GMO contamination has been gradually spreading through Mexican maize landraces, a coalition of farmers, civil society activists, scientists has fought hard and so far prevented the official commercial approval of GM maize, which would greatly accelerate the contamination of maize landraces and eventually maize’s wild ancestor teosinte. Today these fighters for this critical cause are calling for donations to help them continue this fight for all of humanity’s future ability to eat.
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*Want to see this maize contamination in action? Following hard upon the European study we discussed last week confirming how readily GM maize contaminates non-GM, a new study out of South Africa documents GM maize contamination among smallholder farmers who mostly save and exchange seeds among themselves. Sampling found fragments of the CaMV promoter in a maize leaf and transgenes from NK603 (Roundup Ready corn) and the MON810 Bt-expressing variety in 5 of 20 seeds tested.
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This also follows upon the recent study which confirmed that locally adapted non-GM maize varieties outperform MON810. This is universally confirmed in every case except for the richest farmers applying the most lavish and expensive inputs under the most optimal conditions: Both organic and non-GM conventional cultivation agronomically outperform GMOs. This is in addition to the genetic scorched earth GMOs are attempting to enforce, which promises to cause the collapse of all major crop varieties which have been taken over by the GMO cartel.
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*Costco joins McDonald’s in issuing a vague announcement that it will phase out meats produced through antibiotic abuse, which means all factory farm meat. They say they’ll start with rotisserie chicken and move on to other meats. It’s really more of an elleged aspiration than a firm policy commitment, with no detailed time frame given. Subtherapeutic antibiotic use in factory farms, along with the use of antibiotic resistance markers in genetic engineering, is by far the most comprehensive, systematic policy seeking to devastate public health by eradicating the effectiveness of this whole genre of medical treatment, antibiotics. Anyone who sincerely cares about public health must seek the abolition of subtherapeutic antibiotic use as Priority Number One. Anyone who claims to be concerned about public health but who doesn’t focus on this, and there are many such people out there these days, is a liar.
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*A Friends of the Earth campaign to get Burger King, Wendy’s, Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts and others to join McDonald’s and Gerber in pledging to shun the “non-browning” GM Botox Apple. This is the kind of pressure campaign that has often gotten real results. It routed Monsanto’s New Leaf potatoes from the marketplace 15 years ago, and has since racked up other victories.
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*Anti-democracy whack-a-mole. In 2013 and 2014 respectively voters in Hawaii and Maui counties passed GMO cultivation bans (grandfathering in existing GM papaya cultivation) while in 2013 the Kauai county council passed modest restrictions and notification requirements for spraying of poisons on the island’s experimental plantations. The cartel sued and the same corrupt federal judge overturned all three ordinances on grounds that only the state has the power to enact such legislation. The cases are being appealed to the federal circuit court. Meanwhile the state legislature has bills in process to restore such power to the counties and/or to ban GMOs cultivation. Neither bill is likely to pass anytime soon, but if they did you can bet the same federal courts would change their tune and find that such powers aren’t state powers after all but reside with the central government. The cartel is already arguing that in its suit against Vermont’s labeling law.
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All this federalist rigmarole proves that in the end we the people will never win justice in the courts or at any legislative level above the local, but that we’ll need to fight for and win our rights as a fact on the ground, politically and in whatever other way necessary. Only from a victorious grassroots reclamation of our political and economic sovereignty can we then dictate our human futures. That’s the truly necessary Reclamation movement.

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March 8, 2015

Notes Toward the Critique of “Peer Review”

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(This started out as a comment and I don’t have time to work it up into a full post right now, but I’ll post it as a note.)
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Peer review is increasingly corrupt. Plenty of good studies have been suppressed or subjected to attempted suppressions by corrupt reviewers. Just this morning I was reading about the example of Ignacio Chapela and David Quist’s findings of GM contamination in Mexican criollo maize landraces and the fact that the corrupting effects of the transgene were expressing chaotically in both the genome and the physical manifestations of the phenotype. In addition to proving how easily and widely GMO contamination proceeds, this was the strongest evidence to date of the fact that genetic engineering is an extremely stupid, messy, chaotic process with highly unpredictable, chaotic results. Conversely it’s among the strongest refutations of the hack lie that GE is some kind of “precision”, “scientific” process. It’s really just very sloppy, brute force empiricism.
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Even though the Mexican government, which no one would ever mistake for being anti-GMO, had confirmed the first peer-reviewed, Nature-published study, under industry pressure Nature cravenly and despicably disavowed it. Then when Ezcurra and team submitted their study (mentioned in the above link) confirming and expanding upon Chapela and Quist’s findings, Nature intentionally sent it to known corrupt pro-GM “reviewers” who rejected it. The funny thing is the pro-GM activists didn’t get their rationale straight among themselves ahead of time, and so one of them rejected it because the result was simply “impossible”. Now THAT’s “scientific”. Of course Monsanto itself had long adhered to the line that what it dubs with the euphemism “adventitious presence” is inevitable, “natural”, and nothing to worry about. Thus a second reviewer rejected the study because the result was “obvious” and therefore pedestrian. How’s that for suppressing a clear fact – declare that it’s so clear that no one should be allowed to point it out any longer. We see the pro-GM activist version of “science” in action.
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Meanwhile plenty of manifestly fraudulent studies have been passed by corrupt reviewers. We still have the ongoing scandal of how the Seralini study was retracted for purely ideological reasons while Monsanto’s and many other studies whose methodology is inferior by every measure are allowed to stand.
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We still see the fetish of “peer review” cropping up often among GMO critics, but this is misguided. Peer review can’t be relied upon any more than any other institution of establishment “science”. In this radically corrupted environment we have to take any alleged piece of science on a case-by-case basis, judging according to its methodology and who paid for it. Just to give one example, by definition a legitimate toxicology or cancer study has to proceed for the duration of the full life cycle of the test subjects. Thus by definition only the Seralini study is even a candidate for incarnating legitimate science since it lasted for the full 2-year life cycle of the rat subjects, while Monsanto’s 90-day “subchronic” studies are by definition illegitimate. (90 days is a typical duration for fraudulent industry “studies”.)

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February 23, 2015

The Indian Cotton Farmer Suicide Epidemic

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As an individual tragedy drinking pesticide is a horrible way to die.
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Shankara, respected farmer, loving husband and father, had taken his own life. Less than 24 hours earlier, facing the loss of his land due to debt, he drank a cupful of chemical insecticide.

Unable to pay back the equivalent of two years’ earnings, he was in despair. He could see no way out.

There were still marks in the dust where he had writhed in agony. Other villagers looked on – they knew from experience that any intervention was pointless – as he lay doubled up on the ground, crying out in pain and vomiting.

Moaning, he crawled on to a bench outside his simple home 100 miles from Nagpur in central India. An hour later, he stopped making any noise. Then he stopped breathing. At 5pm on Sunday, the life of Shankara Mandaukar came to an end….

“Pesticides act on the nervous system – first they have convulsions, then the chemicals start eroding the stomach, and bleeding in the stomach begins, then there is aspiration pneumonia – they have difficulty in breathing – then they suffer from cardiac arrest.”

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The tragic story can be heard in village after village like a folk song too harrowing to be sung. When we add the psychological agony which must go before the desperate decision to die this way, and the traditional shame it leaves behind for the victim’s family, we know we’re seeing an individual in absolute despair.
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But when this individual is part of an epidemic of hundreds of thousands acting out this same despair over just a few short years, we know we’re no longer dealing just with individual tragedies, but with a malevolent social arrangement, a crime against humanity.
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By the official record 296,438 Indian farmers, the vast majority of them small cotton farmers, have committed suicide from 1995 through 2013. But precisely because these suicides are the victims of an artificially developed and politically chosen policy, nowhere has Stalin’s dictum seemed more appropriate, that an individual death is a tragedy, while a million deaths is a statistic.
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To analyze the fact of the worst by far suicide epidemic in history, we must place it in the empirical context from which the rational theory then can be developed. First let’s pin down the facts. In India suicides are recorded by the police, collated by state governments, and reported by the states to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), which publishes what the states report. This reporting system was inaugurated in 1995. Through 2013 there have been tallied officially 296,438 farmer suicides. The annual carnage has gone from 11,000 in 1995 to a range of 16,000 to over 17,000 from 2002 to 2011. The official numbers have declined somewhat in 2012 and 2013. This has corresponded to a growing trend among the states to mess with the numbers, redefining many farmers as not farmers and suicides as not suicides, or not “farmer” suicides. From any point of view the number of farmer suicides has always been under-reported, and this practice is escalating, as I’ll get to shortly.
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By all measures the epidemic has been worst in the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka, along with Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala. Suicide among farmers is far higher than the rate among the general population. At the same time economic pressures are driving vast numbers of farmers and their families off the land. The 2011 census recorded 15 million fewer farmers than in 1991. Averaged out, from 1991 to 2011, 2035 farmers were driven out every day. (From 1981 to 1991 the number of farmers was increasing.)
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It’s important to stress that the rising suicide rate is concentrated among a shrinking group. The 2011 census found 95.8 million “main cultivators”, those for whom farming is their main work. This is 8% of the population. A cultivator may or may not own the land, so this figure includes tenant farmers and women farmers who are unable to own land. The census also lists 22.8 million marginal cultivators (farming is not their main occupation) and 144.4 million agricultural laborers. Distress, exodus, and suicide are common among these groups as well, for the same reason these are common among officially-defined cultivators.
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The NCRB uses a different system which grossly under-reports farmer suicides. The police often refrain from listing a farmer suicide as a suicide since they know the state governments want to depress this number. (Also, families often fail to report deaths as suicides out of a sense of shame.) The real chicanery occurs at the state level. The states consistently exclude all suicides which are outside the main cultivator category. Then within this category they exclude anyone who doesn’t have clear title to the land. This excludes suicides among women farmers, tenant farmers, eldest sons who are working land officially owned by their fathers. The rural unemployed are also a separate category. But often this is just the suppression of farmer suicide numbers through the subterfuge of turning dispossessed and liquidated farmers into something other than farmers. But if such people commit suicide their loss of farming livelihood must play a major role, and they should be classed as farmer suicides. Maharashtra and other states have invented other bogus categories to further redefine farmer suicides.
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The most audacious example of such fraud has been Chhattisgarh state declaring zero farmer suicides since 2011 after admitting to 7500 from 2006-2010, this number itself no doubt a significant underestimate. West Bengal also reported zero in 2012 and 2013. Investigative journalist P. Sainath calculates that if we extrapolate from the previous reported averages then these two states together would add 2518 more farmer suicides a year.
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To sum up: The official NCRB farmer suicide tally from 1995 to 2013 is 296,438. Compared to nationwide general suicide figures, there is a high concentration of suicides among farmers. The NCRB demonstrates this. What the NCRB doesn’t show is that this high concentration is further highly concentrated among cash croppers, especially cotton growers but also coffee and some other non-food crops. Suicide rates are much lower among growers of wheat, rice, and maize. We can’t stress enough that the farmer suicide rate is not only extremely high in an absolute sense, but is intensively concentrated among a small group of farmers, the great majority of them small cotton farmers. Finally, the NCRB farmer suicide number is grossly under-reported because it excludes many categories of farmers who don’t technically own the land or who have been driven off their land.
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The Monsanto obscurantists have made lame attempts to obfuscate the farmer suicide numbers by submerging them within the frequently bandied figure of 600 million Indians, 53% of the population, who are said to be dependent upon agriculture. The pro-GMO activists simply proclaim that this number is the number of farmers, and that therefore the farmer suicide numbers are actually low. But as we saw with the census figures there were 95.8 million main cultivators in 2011, 8% of the population, and if we include marginal cultivators and agricultural laborers (which groups don’t appear in the official farmer suicide numbers) we have 263 million, 22% of the population. The rest of the 600 million are in various support occupations or are dependents like children and the elderly. It’s clear how flimsy the Monsanto lie is. The hacks use similar statistical fraud to claim farmer suicides are decreasing. As we’ve seen, they’re abetted in this by Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, and some other state governments.
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Let’s say the issue was the incidence of concussions among football players and future effects on the brain. If you took data on concussions among football players and submerged that in the figures for concussions among participants in all sports, you could then claim your results showed that concussions aren’t a big problem for athletes. But we’re not talking about concussions among athletes in general, we’re talking about concussions among football players. That’s the kind of trick the Monsanto publicists use. They submerge the (already under-reported) suicide data among farmers and submerge farmers among all “agriculture dependent” Indians. And the category “main cultivator” has already submerged small cotton farmers among all farmers. But we’re not talking about a suicide epidemic among agriculture dependent people, and we’re not even talking about an epidemic among farmers in general*. We’re talking about a mass suicide epidemic among small cotton farmers. The official 296,438 figure and the real figure, which must be much higher, are heavily concentrated among this relatively small group.
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[*Increasing numbers of commodity farmers other than cotton farmers have been committing suicide as well, but the numbers continue to come overwhelmingly from the ranks of small cotton farmers.]
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We have the irrefutable fact of the numbers. Among its small cotton farmers India is experiencing history’s worst suicide epidemic. What is causing it? To answer this we need to understand the history. Prior to the 1990s Indian cotton farming was based on low-priced desi open-pollinated varieties which were saved and replanted. (If Vandana Shiva’s figures for contrasting seed prices ever sound far-fetched, keep in mind that she’s comparing the original low-priced desi varieties to the most expensive Bt seeds, including the exorbitant tax Monsanto adds on top of the seed price.) Farmers freely exchanged seeds. The cotton was grown for local ginners. It was often intercropped with food crops like pigeon peas. Cotton farmers also grew food for their families and for local/regional sale. Rainfall provided sufficient water. Farmers generally did without pesticides or used a derivative of leaves from the local neem tree for pest control. They didn’t need synthetic fertilizer. In general input costs were low. If a farmer needed a loan, there was a strong institutional rural credit system which lent on reasonable terms. The government supported farming in other ways. Cotton hybridization and cash cropping for export were limited mostly to some coastal regions.
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This all changed in the mid 1990s when the Indian government collaborated with the IMF in gutting its institutional farmer supports and exposing the agricultural economy to the full savagery of globalization. Cotton farming was radically transformed from an economically sustainable occupation enfolded within a polyculture of locally based food production, to a dangerously expensive and unstable form of cash cropping. Farmers across the cotton belt were overwhelmed with government propaganda urging them to take up cash cropping for commodity export based on hybrid monoculture. They were warned this was the only way they could survive. As I described in my Bt cotton fraud series (parts one, two, three), farmers who heeded this government panic-mongering and relinquished their community farming role to become cogs in the commodity machine found themselves caught on a treadmill of escalating seed, water, fertilizer, and pesticide costs.
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They couldn’t save or exchange seed from hybrid plants. The 70% of cotton farmers who depend on rainfall quickly found that hybrids don’t work well without artificial irrigation. Costs surged while the government reneged on its supports. Institutional credit branches in rural areas were shut down, to be replaced by usurious moneylenders who are often the same who sell the seeds and pesticides. From 1993 through 2007 thousands of rural banks were shut down. Farmers entered a vicious circle of ever-mounting debt. Hybrid yields did improve significantly for several years, but this couldn’t make up for the crashing price as the US dumped its heavily subsidized cotton on the Indian market. US cotton actually cost less than Indian cotton and India, the world’s third largest producer, became a cotton importer. As Glenn Davis Stone documented, the whole process has been a combination of mechanical, brainless application of industrial inputs with an opaque and confusing seed selection process where farmers had no reliable information and could only choose to believe corporate advertising or else plant what their neighbors were planting. This added up to a general loss of farming skills, which could only intensify an already bewildering and demoralizing psychological experience. Driven to desperation by this impossible situation, small cotton farmers began killing themselves in large numbers as early as 1995, the first year the statistics were compiled.
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The crisis was exacerbated by the advent of GMO Bt varieties. These were legally approved in 2002 though they’d been illicitly grown commercially since the late 1990s. These aggravate every pathology we surveyed in the previous paragraphs. The seed costs vastly more on account of Monsanto’s extortionate tax on every bag of seed. Bt cotton requires far more water and fertilizer than non-GM hybrids. The promised pesticide dividend depends on the generous and expensive application of irrigation and synthetic fertilizer. Often small farmers were never able to reduce their pesticide use. Where this dividend did manifest, it lasted only a few years until the target bollworms developed resistance and/or secondary pests surged in to fill the void. By now Bt cotton growers often spend more on pesticides than non-GM conventional growers. Meanwhile yields have declined.
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Almost the entire yield increase of the commodity era came from improvements in non-GM hybrids along with expanded irrigation in some of the richer states. This yield surge had exhausted itself by the 2004-2005 season, at which point Bt cotton had been adopted on only 5.6% of cotton acreage. In subsequent years, as Bt adoption rose to over 90% of the cotton acreage, yield per hectare increased only a small amount, then stagnated and declined.
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This poor performance by the high-priced, high-maintenance Bt technology has only added to the magnitude of the disaster which has befallen India’s small cotton farmers. Debt, soil destruction, and the top-down policy-driven eradication of less expensive, more sustainable seed alternatives destroyed any alternatives for farmers. Mahyco-Monsanto, often with government help, aggressively drove non-GM varieties out of the market as much as possible. Farmers are trapped. In many regions they simply lack the option of switching from Bt to non-GM hybrids. And although an increasing number of agronomists are advising farmers to go back to the original desi varieties, not only are these varieties also hard to find, but a farmer who is in a debt trap and has destroyed his soil with Bt cotton will find this switch hard to make. (This is a hard dilemma everywhere around the world including in America, even as growing numbers of farmers come to realize that growing food on a direct retail basis for the local/regional market can mean much greater margins and a much better quality of life.)
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That’s the cause of the cotton farmer suicide epidemic. The farmers are trapped by escalating input costs, falling crop prices, and mounting debt with no way out. Vast numbers of them reach such a point of desperation that suicide seems to be their only option. Hybrid commodification created the crisis, Bt cotton aggravated it.
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As Sainath put it, “promoting [Bt cotton] in a dry and unirrigated area like Vidarbha was murderous. It was stupid. It was killing.” We can say the same everywhere that Bt cotton has been marketed to farmers dependent on rain. This is 70% of Indian cotton farmers, the farmers which are killing themselves in such vast numbers.
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The pro-GMO activists themselves implicitly admit all this is true. But they absurdly try to attribute the economic plight of small farmers and the suicide epidemic to “debt” as such, as if debt is some kind of natural affliction which strikes people at random. This is tautological, since farmer debt is practically synonymous with their economic crisis. More important, it pretends the farmer economic crisis has no cause and no history. The farmers were driven into debt by corporate commodity agriculture. The hacks try to suppress this history, but this is really just an attempted semantic misdirection which is substantively identical to saying: The cause of the farmer economic crisis and suicide epidemic is the commodity and poison treadmill, exacerbated by Bt cotton. This has driven Indian small cotton farmers into a terminal debt crisis. In other words, the hacks themselves implicitly confess that their GMO is a main driver of the crisis, and that the cotton farmer suicide epidemic is 100% the result of their commodification of Indian agriculture. But they claim that a shooting victim was killed by the bullet, not by the shooter.
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A 2014 analysis of a 2012 study that appeared in The Lancet confirms the high concentration of suicides among small cash-crop farmers who are in debt. The Lancet piece establishes the fact of a massive suicide wave among farmers while avoiding drawing that conclusion. It doesn’t deny it but engages in statistical rigmarole similar to that of the deniers. The Globalization and Health analysis applies more rigorous concepts and techniques to draw a clear conclusion. Basically the Lancet piece is a connect-the-dots drawing with a clear outline, but the authors refrain from connecting these dots. They demonstrate that most suicides are rural, and the large majority of these from drinking pesticide, but dodge the conclusion that these disproportionately are cotton farmers and ex-farmers who have been destroyed by commodity agriculture, The G&H piece goes on to connect these dots.
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Their basic finding is that suicide in India is strongly correlated with being a small farmer growing a cash crop who is in debt. Being a small farmer in itself is positively but not strongly associated with suicide, but the association surges and becomes statistically significant when either of the other two factors is added and is strongest where all three are present. Overall, the G&H analysis found that 74% of the variability in state-level suicide rates is accounted for by these three variables. As we saw above, the rates are under-represented because the Lancet piece relied upon the NCRB data with some minor modifications. That’s part of how that study dodged the finding, by muddling the “farmer” category and illegitimately lumping into tendentious non-farmer categories large numbers of people who are farmers or ex-farmers by any rational measure. But the G&H analysis corrects these errors/obfuscations and finds that the data support the many qualitative studies which find that commodity cotton system has caused a mass suicide epidemic among small cotton farmers.
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In an equation, Rising Costs + Dumping + Debt = Mass Suicide. Or to put it another way, the politically chosen, willfully aggressive commodity agriculture onslaught = mass suicide.
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The five main features of the small cotton farmer experience since the mid 1990s have been:
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1. Increased production costs, which have surged especially since the advent of Bt cotton.
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2. Yield was temporarily up with hybrid cultivation, but in the Bt years has stagnated and declined.
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3. US dumping crashed the commodity price.
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4. Under IMF guidance the government gutted the institutional credit system, which was replaced by loansharking and usury.
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5. In the same way the government gutted public investment in agriculture.
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These have combined to ensnare the small cotton farmer in an impossible trap.
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So we have our thesis, which fits all the evidence and continues to be upheld by all the new evidence. The Indian cotton farmer suicide epidemic is part of the neoliberal “green revolution” commodification onslaught. Governments and corporations want to economically destroy small farmers and their communities, drive the people off the land and into shantytowns, really displaced persons camps, the economic version of internment camps, and replace them with vast industrial plantations controlled by the corporations.
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As for the masses incarcerated in the slums, as far as the elites and their flacks are concerned they can rot, wither, die. So a mass suicide epidemic, while somewhat politically embarrassing for the elites, is still a good outcome. That’s why the governments and corporations push on with the commodity agriculture onslaught in spite of the roaring evidence, pausing only for ad hoc, meager farmer bailouts when the political pressure becomes too great. There’s no doubt about a policy that consistently drives 2300 farmers a day off the land, and drives 16-18,000 a year to suicide.
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Millions have been forced to flee the land as economic refugees. Far over 300,000 have been in such despair that they’ve killed themselves. This has been, as the Sanhati Collective called it, “a policy-induced disaster of epic proportions”. Can policy relieve the awesome crisis? So far the only thing governments have done to counteract the disastrous effects of their own aggressive promotion and enshrinement of commodification and Bt cotton has been a series of ad hoc bailouts – Maharashtra state in 2006 and 2007, the central government and Maharashtra again in 2008, Maharashtra again in 2011 and 2012, and Karnataka state in 2014. There’s also been some isolated attempts to rein in the cartel’s worst “abuses”. Thus Andhra Pradesh banned three Mahyco varieties for bad performance in 2005, and Maharashtra in 2012 and Karnataka in 2014 hit Mahyco with further bans. In 2006 the Monopoly and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission ordered Mahyco-Monsanto to lower the price of a bag of seeds. (The seed peddlers have done all they can to flout this order.) The sum of all this has been perhaps to help level off the cotton farmer suicide rate, but has not lessened it. The lack of will for any kind of real structural reform is exemplified in the Lancet study’s “Interpretation” section, where the only recommendation they can think of is to restrict access to pesticides. It’s hard to believe they’re not joking. How do you sell as much pesticide as you can to farmers while simultaneously restricting their access to pesticides?
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More fundamentally, this is a typical example of the quack notion of trying to suppress a symptom while seeing no evil, hearing no evil, speaking no evil, as to the cause.
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The G&H paper, on the other hand, calls for the kinds of reforms that are obviously the bare minimum needed: Land reform, or failing this, government action to stabilize the price of cash crops and relieve indebted farmers. In other words, they call for a return to the classical era of public institutional support for agriculture and farmers. This is the exact program which is anathema to neoliberalism. Since the neoliberal Indian government will never do these things, to point out the need for them is tantamount to calling for the overthrow of neoliberalism, which is in fact what’s necessary. Nothing short of this will suffice for humanity, in agriculture or in any other sector.
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History’s most horrific outbreak of mass suicide has been caused by the socioeconomic and agronomic pathologies of corporate agriculture. The commodification of cotton farming, and the government/corporate campaign to induce or force the mass of small cotton farmers onto the treadmill of pesticides, high input costs, desperate competition with dumped subsidized cotton, and debt, have comprised a systematic, intentional policy of destroying the small farmers of India as a class. Control of the land is being shifted to Western corporations while the revenues of globalization for “the country” have gone exclusively to urban elites. (Globalization always operates at a loss for the people of any country, including the US. But the income it generates is easily embezzled by elites for their own power and luxury.)
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The situation has become so dire that even many in the government are blanching. As Vandana Shiva wrote of a 2012 parliamentary committee report:
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I am not the only one connecting farmers’ suicides to debt and seed monopolies. The Agriculture Committee has made this point. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture…has also stressed the link between Bt. cotton and farmers’ distress. Unlike the researchers who work separated from reality, the Parliamentary Committee has worked over 4 years, interacting with every sector of society – government, industry, scientists and farmers. The All Party Committee visited the epicenter of suicides, Vidarbha in Maharashtra, to interact with farmers and understand the ground reality. This is what they concluded unanimously:

“8.124 During their extensive interactions with farmers in the course of their Study Visits, the Committee has found there have been no significant socio-economic benefits to the farmers because of introduction of Bt. cotton. On the contrary, being a capital intensive agriculture practice, investments of the farmers have increased manifolds thus, exposing them to far greater risks due to massive indebtedness, which a vast majority of them can ill afford. Resultantly, after the euphoria of a few initial years, Bt. cotton cultivation has only added to the miseries of the small and marginal farmers who constitute more than 70% of the tillers in India.”

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Bt has indeed exacerbated the crisis. India’s small cotton farmers are victims of history’s most monumental criminal fraud. That’s why they’re in such a desperate state, and this is fueling the suicide epidemic. Bt isn’t causing suicide in a special way which isn’t ensconced within cotton commodification. But with its higher production costs and inferior performance it is an added suicide driver. The same will be true if herbicide tolerant (HT) cotton (Monsanto would love to introduce Roundup Ready Flex), maize, or rice is commercialized in India. As the Technical Expert Committee reporting to the supreme court emphasized, the commercialization of HT varieties would only add to the socioeconomic devastation. The TEC stressed how much agricultural laborers depend upon hand weeding for work. But one of the basic purposes of HT GMOs is to serve as a typical “labor-saving”, i.e. job destroying, technology. HT crops would certainly escalate and accelerate the already massive exodus from the land to the displaced persons camps, and would almost certainly escalate the suicide epidemic.
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I’ll add that HT technology is the same fraud and destroyer for small farmers that Bt is. HT cultivation doesn’t reduce production costs per acre. Rather, it temporarily simplifies farming, renders it more “efficient” and saves some time, so the farmer can expand his acreage. In other words HT crops fuel the classical vicious circle of overproduction and declining crop prices. It’s self-evident that this can only mean disaster for the small farmer, who can’t afford to expand his acreage and will only be clobbered by the further drop in the harvest price. Just as with Bt, HT GMOs are a rich farmer’s technology. And just as with Bt, any HT crop deployment can be effective for only a few years before the weeds develop resistance to the herbicide. In the end even the better-off farmers would have to go back to hand weeding. Small farmers would never see the slightest benefit, only increased costs and an even worse-destroyed soil.
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So much for the standard Tower of Babel “solution” invariably bruited in the corporate media. For this crisis, as for every other crisis facing humanity and the earth, there can be no solution within the neoliberal framework of corporate rule. Corporate rule must be overthrown and corporations abolished. My piece of this great fight is to fight as a GMO abolitionist, but we need the same abolitionist fighters in every sector.
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In the agricultural and food sectors we do have one big advantage over the mode of struggle in many other sectors. Short of total abolition, there’s a wide range of action we can take right now to build the new within the old. In the final post of this India series I’ll discuss what’s being done in India on the agroecology and food sovereignty fronts.
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February 15, 2015

“Foreign Aid” is Corporate Welfare

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To extend my point from the other day’s post on “welfare” for people and corporate welfare, we can say the same about so-called “foreign aid”, for example as laundered through USAID and the Gates Foundation (to give one each of a nominally “public” and nominally “private” example; in reality there’s no difference). The money channeled through these is invariably, except for a few cosmetically spent pennies, dedicated to increasing the penetration, domination, and profitability of Western transnational corporations in the recipient countries. USAID also continues with its original Cold War mission, to disseminate pro-corporate propaganda and actively seek imperialist goals within these countries. To the extent anyone involved even thinks of actual benefit for people (almost no one does), they see it solely in terms of trickle-down.
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The corporate media frames this corporate welfare as “humanitarian”, and this stirs up the standard partisan conflict between conservatives and liberals, each group believing this lie. Meanwhile the corporations go their merry way.
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In addition to comprising corporate welfare, this aid is also often in the form of dumping, as with Monsanto’s attempt to capitalize on Haiti’s misery following the 2010 earthquake. In all cases a primary goal is to destroy local economies and any form of economic or political self-determination among the “recipient” peoples.
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All this is true regardless of whether the “aid” is direct from a government or corporation, or laundered through any kind of NGO or charity. These are front groups. The corporate character of the dumping is the same in every case.
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As Bill Gates explains in this interview, practically a synthetic compendium of the corporate aid ideology, no one from the system would ever dispense foreign aid unless the point was for all of it to go through corporate tollbooths, set up corporate infrastructure, and help impose corporate enclosure, profit, control, and domination.
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This is preparatory to my upcoming posts on the “New Alliance” corporate colonization plan for African agriculture and food. USAID’s role in aggrandizing corporate agriculture goes back decades. Along with the International Agricultural Research Centers (IARCs), its goal throughout the so-called “green revolution” was to spread capitalist propaganda among Southern governments, agronomists, and farmers, help the corporations penetrate and commodify Southern agriculture, and help plunder the germplasm resources of the South for the benefit of the corporate West.

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February 11, 2015

The Bt Cotton Fraud Part Three: The Global Record, and What It All Means

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From the history we explored in Parts One and Two we see how Bt cotton has aggravated the poison/debt agronomic treadmill and economic trap which enclose small farmers in hopelessness and misery, to the point that in the end their only avenues of escape are suicide or to flee the land for the terminal shantytown slums. Bt cotton has turned an agricultural crisis into a catastrophe.
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This result was no accident, nor was it unforeseen. On the contrary, it’s simply an escalation of standard “green revolution” phenomena: The replacement of food-based (or in this case textile-based) agriculture with poison- and commodity-based; the enclosure and concentration of agricultural power and profitability on an elitist basis; the forced mass expulsion of the people from the land. The fact that government, corporate, academic, and media elites touted Bt cotton to small farmers knowing it could lead only to their destruction comprises a great crime against humanity.
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Various Indian state governments and some central government officials have made half-hearted attempts to ameliorate the situation. In 2005 the government of Andhra Pradesh state banned three Monsanto-Mahyco varieties for poor performance and sought in vain to force Mahyco to compensate farmers. In 2006 the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) issued an anti-monopoly pricing order against Monsanto-Mahyco, which Mahyco has done all it can to flout. The central government in 2008 as well as the state governments of Maharashtra in 2008, Maharashtra again in 2011 and 2012, and Karnataka in 2014 undertook regional farmer bailouts in response to atrocious Bt performance and crop failures. At various times Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have banned Mahyco seeds for bad performance and fraudulent sales practices. But these ad hoc, piecemeal measures are utterly insufficient.
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Meanwhile, Monsanto’s lie machine has made lame attempts to suppress the facts. Regional crop failures, as in Karnataka in 2014, are attributed to allegedly unforeseen plagues of secondary pests. The farmers themselves are always a popular scapegoat. It’s especially perverse the way Monsanto and the Indian government encourage cash-poor small farmers to to buy the GMO product, lying all the way about the expensive inputs necessary to grow it, and then blame the farmer for not being able to provide these inputs, for example the added pesticides necessary to battle those newly insurgent secondary pests which always follow in Bt’s train. As always with technocrats and elitists in general, if the people lack the resources to get a technology to perform, that doesn’t mean the technology was wrongly deployed by the supplier, but that the people failed the technology.
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Most absurdly, the Monsanto publicists attribute the economic plight of small farmers and the suicide epidemic to “debt”. In the first place, this is tautological, since farmer debt is practically synonymous with their economic crisis. More important, this is just an attempted semantic misdirection which is substantively identical to saying: The cause of the farmer economic crisis and suicide epidemic is the commodification and poison treadmill, exacerbated by Bt cotton. This has driven them into a terminal debt crisis. In other words, the hacks themselves confess that their GMO is a main driver of the crisis, and that the is 100% the result of their commodification of Indian agriculture.
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There’s a summary of the horrific record of the Bt cotton experiment in India. This same record is borne out everywhere around the world Bt cotton has been deployed: It requires far more water, therefore farmers can never depend upon rainfall but need artificial irrigation; it uses more pesticides; it needs more synthetic fertilizer; it costs more to grow. Given the full outlay of expensive inputs, it may temporarily yield well and require less pesticide. This difference lasts only a few years. Small farmers lacking the resources to provide the accessory inputs never enjoy any benefit.
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This pattern has held everywhere, from the richest countries like the US and Australia (both suffered yield declines and subsequent reduced Bt plantings during the drought of 2013) to Latin America. Bt cotton in Argentina has a starkly differing performance record between rich plantation farmers and hardscrabble small farmers.
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The abstract of the study I just linked does such a good job of encapsulating the basic fact that I’ll quote it here.
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Drawing on a socio-technical systems perspective we compare the ways in which novel genetically modified (GM) crop artefacts, related devices and techniques, actors, practices, and institutions have been linked together, or configured, across two distinctive cotton production systems in north east Argentina, one based around large-scale farming and the other based around small-scale family farming. In the former system, new GM seeds, actors, complementary artefacts, agricultural techniques, and technical support, and modified supply markets and regulatory rules have been linked together in ways that mean agricultural biotechnologies perform well. In the latter system, the new GM artefacts were unavailable, whilst conventional seeds disappeared from input markets. Instead, linkages were formed between informal seed multipliers and dealers, copied GM seeds, of unreliable identify and poor quality, unmodified production practices, declining technical support, uncontrolled pest problems, and an absence of regulatory oversight, resulting in a poorly performing technology. In effect, working agricultural biotechnologies are different in the two farming systems; they have different characteristics and capabilities and perform in different ways.

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The Colombian government fined Monsanto for the awful performance of its Bt cotton seeds. It was the same story: for small farmers Bt cotton didn’t perform well against pests, didn’t reduce pesticide use or costs, yielded poorly. Elsewhere in Asia, Chinese production, long afflicted by the secondary mirid bug, is suffering from surging bollworm resistance. Chinese problems with Bt cotton aren’t new. A 2006 Chinese/Cornell study already documented the standard pattern: Seven years of Chinese Bt cotton cultivation had seen a temporary decline in pesticide use and rise in income, then the surge of secondary pests drove farmers back to spraying as much as 20 times a year. Soon they were paying more for pesticides and making less money than non-GM conventional farmers. In Pakistan pesticide use and costs are rising steeply on account of the rampant fraud and the generally dismal performance of the seeds against pests. In Africa’s Burkino Faso, farmer success or failure with Bt cotton has been a function of farmer access to credit on rational terms and the ability of farmers to pay for expensive inputs.
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African cotton farmers, like the small farmers of India, are especially devastated by US dumping of its heavily subsidized cotton. Never forget that the same US government which touts GMOs around the world as a great bet for small farmers is ruthlessly dumping its corporate welfare crops on the heads of those same farmers like hot coals. China and the EU also subsidize cotton.
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Second to the Indian saga, the most famous Bt cotton rollout was the abortive deployment in the Makhathini Flats region of South Africa from the latter 1990s to 2005. In Makhathini, the neoliberal government undertook the same kind of propaganda campaign, promised loans and subsidies, told the same high-flying lies, though these seem to have been directed at the international community and world media at least as much as at Makhathini’s farmers. (Sure enough, the UN’s FAO bit; its 2004 State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) report, which swallowed the lies whole, is a favorite citation of corporate and media hacks to this day.) Local leaders were enlisted to attest to the benefits of Bt cotton. Economically beleaguered small farmers responded by adopting the Bt technology, with the same result as in India – increased costs, crop failure, the poison treadmill, the debt trap, ending in being driven off the land. (Some were able to stick around as laborers on land they’d once stewarded.) Most survivors abandoned cotton completely. By the late 1990s over 90% of Makhathini cotton farmers had adopted Bt. By 2004 drought (lack of irrigation), pesticide costs (secondary pests and then target resistance), depressed cotton prices (US dumping), and impossible debt had caused most farmers to abandon cotton completely.
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The worldwide evidence record of the agronomic and environmental performance of Bt cotton has been the same everywhere. It has always led to failure and disaster for small farmers. That Monsanto, governments, academia, and the media continue to hype Bt cotton as appropriate for small farmers must qualify by now as history’s ultimate fraud and hoax. It “works” for no one but the destructive, parasitic elites who profit off it and use it to exert ever greater control over agriculture.
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The Makhathini Flats episode most clearly highlights the basic PR hoax aspect of Bt cotton. Bt cotton was debuted in Makhathini with such fanfare, followed by a few years of hype while performance plummeted and farmers abandoned in droves not only Bt cotton but cotton itself, so that the whole thing had fizzled out by 2005, leaving nothing behind but an ongoing lie. (The uninformed who listen only to government and the corporate media probably think Bt cotton is to this day an ongoing success in South Africa. In fact there’s practically no Bt cotton being grown, and little cotton in general.) Part of Bt’s promise as a hoax product is that it can serve as a Trojan horse for GMOs in general. Often, as in India, GM cotton is the first GMO deployed in a country. Since cotton is perceived as a non-food (but cottonseed oil is widely used in processed foods), Bt cotton tends not to be as inflammatory an issue as GMOs such as corn or soy bound to be incorporated into food, let alone direct Frankenfoods like a GM potato or salmon. GMO-leery farmers and populations have been more readily induced to accept it. So the less controversial GMO is supposed to serve as the camel’s nose in the tent. Once its commercial presence politically normalizes GMOs as such, it’ll be easier to commercialize crops indirectly and directly bound to be food. That’s the Monsanto plan. In India the plan was to commercialize Bt cotton, then use that as the precedent to deploy Bt brinjal (eggplant), GM maize and rice, and other crops. So far this plan has stalled out, in large part because Bt cotton has been such a disaster. In general this strategy hasn’t worked well for the cartel. Even in countries where GM cotton is established, the people remain suspicious of GMOs. “Golden rice” is supposed to serve the same Trojan horse purpose if the bozos trying to develop it can ever get it to work. In the meantime it remains a seemingly permanent propaganda fixture even though it doesn’t really exist in any deployable form. It’s the most pure GMO media hoax.
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In fact, the failure of Bt cotton and the great fraud it incarnates are typical of the Bt and herbicide tolerance (HT) GMOs in general. These are the only two effective types of GMOs. Both are literally poison plants. They’re engineered to produce their own endemic Bt insecticide and/or to tolerate copious slatherings of herbicide, usually Monsanto’s Roundup. The herbicide is taken into the crop itself and suffuses all its cells. Therefore GMOs add two completely new, massive, indelible presences of extreme poison in our food.
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In both cases the poison treadmill and the business strategy of planned obsolescence are fully operational. Except for a few trivial exceptions like the small and declining acreage of MON810 cultivation in Spain, no single-trait Bt maize variety has been effective for years. They’ve been replaced by stacked varieties which produce as many as six Bt toxins. Varieties which produce even more are in the pipeline, as pest resistance escalates and accelerates. Meanwhile the Roundup Ready GMO regime no longer works, as over a dozen RR superweeds rampage across North America, Brazil, and elsewhere. The only solution the system offers is to stack herbicide tolerances. Monsanto originally touted RR GMOs as rendering even more toxic poisons like 2,4-D and dicamba obsolete, while glyphosate (the main ingredient of Roundup, though not the only actively toxic ingredient) would never suffer weed resistance.
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Today Roundup Ready is in ruins, and the cartel and governments are pushing GMOs tolerant of the exact same ultra-toxic 2,4-D and dicamba which those same corporations and governments promised us would be a thing of the past if we just believed them about Roundup Ready. The results with each of these shall, of course, be exactly the same total failure, but with even worse socioeconomic, agronomic, environmental, and health destruction wrought along the way. This is why the Technical Expert Committee appointed by India’s supreme court to advise it on GMOs recommended, among several other important restrictions, that HT GMOs never be commercialized because of how badly they would aggravate the ongoing socioeconomic carnage by wiping out vast numbers of agricultural laborers. (Economically, HT crops are meant to be standard “labor-saving”, job-destroying devices. They’re also designed to save time so the farmer can expand his acreage, thus feeding the classical vicious circle of agricultural overproduction and trying to “make it up on volume”. This of course also adds to the Get Big or Get Out pressure.)
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We can see how both the Bt and the HT genres as such are in the aggregate massive frauds of the exact same character as Bt cotton. Bt cotton just provides the most clear example of how GMOs as such comprise a monumental fraud and crime.
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GMOs are worthless, wasteful, counterproductive, and destructive. They impose a severe constraint and bottleneck on all attempts to innovate and advance in agriculture, farming, and food. They are in fact intended to drive out all small and independent producers and, through attaining total corporate control of agriculture and food, impose such a strangling grip on the throat of humanity that we’ll never break free.
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GMOs must be completely abolished.

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February 9, 2015

The Bt Cotton Fraud Part Two: Its Performance in the Field

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Part One.
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In Part 2 we’ll survey the real world performance of Bt cotton in India. This is in contrast to the “studies” of Monsanto flacks like Matin Qaim, much touted in the corporate media. Qaim, who barely set foot outside the Mahyco greenhouses and field test sites during his few visits to India (he’s based in Germany), simply propagates corporate-asserted numbers based on secret data from the corporate trials. There’s no reason to trust these numbers in the first place, and even if they were true they’d be valid only for the ivory tower conditions of the trial sites. Either way these figures have zero validity for real world agriculture of any sort, let alone that practiced by small farmers. Yet this person is the go-to guy for the corporate media and Monsanto hacks everywhere. Since we can assume Monsanto provides the best flackery it can, in dismissing Qaim we can dismiss the entire pro-Bt “side of the story” as fraudulent and invalid. Now let’s move on to what reality testifies.
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1. Bt cotton never improved yields. Data compiled by government and trade groups tells a stark story: The great bulk of the yield increase (measured by nationwide average kilograms per hectare) of the commodity cotton era in India occurred from the 2000-01 to the 2004-05 seasons, at which point only 5.6% of cotton acreage was planted to Bt varieties. During the Bt acreage surge from 2005-06 (18% of cotton acreage) to 2008-09 (84%) yield increased only a slight amount, then stagnated and declined. In the ensuing years as Bt acreage crept up above 90%, yields have declined. Overall, yield increased 70% from 00-01 to 04-05 when Bt acreage was negligible, and increased only 2% from 05-06 to 2011-12, with a decline since the 2007-08 peak.
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This proves that the entire increase was from other causes and had nothing to do with the GMO. The real yield surge came from the switch from polyculture Desi-based cotton growing to hybrid monoculture deploying massive, expensive inputs – irrigation, fertilizer, pesticides. (That’s only monocultural yield, not food for people or farmer income. As a rule “yield” by itself is a crackpot measure with no meaning except within some socioeconomic, political, or environmental context.) Almost all the yield increase in fact came from improvements in conventional hybrids and expanded irrigation. As for pesticides, Kehsav Kranthi of the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) scoffs at the notion that Bt crops can hold their own. On the contrary, he attributes the viability of any kind of hybrid cotton, Bt or conventional, vs. a wide range of what from the Bt point of view are secondary pests (Bt cotton’s target pest is the bollworm; secondary pests include jassids/leafhoppers, mealy bugs, mirid bugs, thrips, stink bugs, and many others), to the standard seed treatment with the neonicotinoid imidacloprid. Of course this too is a deadly poison we need to abolish (and jassids are increasingly resistant to it), but the point is that to the extent poisons contribute to yield at all, this non-GM poison is far more important than genetically engineered Bt. The great increase in the years of low Bt acreage and stagnation of the years of Bt domination prove that this GMO offers no yield benefit whatsoever and is actually inferior to conventional cotton hybrids.
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These numbers, damning as they are, actually exaggerate GMO performance, as they’re skewed by the relatively better results from Gujarat state. Gujarat is an outlier in that its agriculture is dominated by fewer, bigger, richer farmers than is typical in other states. Gujarat is far better served by irrigation projects and fertilizer subsidies. Its more capital-rich farmers can better afford the expensive inputs Bt cotton requires. The better Bt cotton production in this state therefore confirms the thesis that GMOs work only for rich growers who can afford lavish outlays for irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticides. Take Gujarat out of the equation and Bt’s performance for small farmers across the cotton belt has been dismal and worsening.
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Besides its poor overall yield, Bt cotton (and Bt crops in general, everywhere on earth) has performed in an extremely variable way. There have been several regional crop failures, most recently in Karnataka in 2014. In general the national and state averages obscure extreme local/regional variability. As a rule, how the GM crop will perform is a crapshoot and will vary from farmer to farmer. Whether on account of the poor quality of seed or variable Bt expression in the crop (caused by the chaotically modified genetics, by agronomic factors like watering levels or soil quality, by environmental factors like temperature? Who knows? No one has ever studied this. Not Monsanto, not the US government, not the Indian government, no one), whatever the cause, at any given time the meager overall numbers conceal a vast number of individual tragedies.
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At the farm level, Bt intrinsically yields less than conventional hybrids. Given high inputs it may have better operational yield for the first few years until the bollworms develop resistance. Given the low inputs which comprise the limit for indebted small farmers, Bt always yields much less, along with many acute failures. Yields have always been far less, often by more than half, than what Monsanto’s advertising promised.
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For the individual farmer, growing Bt cotton is like “playing Russian roulette in order to get out of poverty”, as Nassim Taleb recently put it regarding civilization and GMOs as a whole.
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[There’s a good place to add a critical point. While the individual small farmer crushed by commodity agriculture is often impoverished, the opposite is true of agriculture as a whole. Here we’re talking about cotton, which isn’t directly a food although the seeds are pressed into oil which is used in processed foods. Nevertheless in any discussion of GMO yields we must always stress the fact that industrial agriculture produces far more than enough food for everyone on earth today, and more than enough even for the highest future population projections. The fact is that there’s zero problem with the quantity of food produced, today or at any time in the future for as long as industrial ag persists. (It won’t for much longer, and humanity must transform to decentralized agroecology and food sovereignty if we want to continue eating, but that’s a different matter for another day.) Therefore there’s zero need to increase yields in order to “feed the world”. Feed the World is a classical Big Lie. The world currently produces enough food for 10 billion people, yet of the 7 billion here, one billion go hungry (and another 2 billion suffer from dietary diseases such as malnutrition or obesity, often both at the same time). This is 100% caused by pathological economic and political systems for distributing the cornucopia we have. For example, India has vast food stocks, indeed it allows vast amounts of stockpiled food to rot, yet 250 million go hungry. The problem, today and tomorrow, is 100% from corporate maldistribution, 0% from insufficient production. It’ll be a great leap forward for civilization when we can completely purge the “Feed the World” notion from rational and moral discussion as the criminal Big Lie it is.]
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2. Probably the core lie Monsanto-Mahyco and the Indian government told cotton farmers is that Bt cotton is suitable for rainfed cultivation. In fact Bt cotton requires as much as twice the water needed by conventional hybrids and cannot be effectively grown without expensive artificial irrigation. The vast majority (70%) of India’s farmers depend completely upon rainfall. In Karnataka state where yields collapsed in 2014, most cotton cultivation is rainfed. Gujarat is the exception again, reversing the proportions of irrigated (65%) and rainfed (35%) farms. Here the irrigated area has accounted for 84% of the state’s cotton production, 689 lint kg/ha, while the rainfed area produces only 247 kg/ha. That’s a typical yield difference between Bt cotton grown with irrigation vs. rainfall.
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To try to sell Bt cotton, or any GMO, to a rain-dependent farmer is criminal fraud plain and simple. Investigative journalist PJ Sainath went further – “promoting [Bt cotton] in a dry and unirrigated area like Vidarbha [ground zero for the mass farmer suicide epidemic] was murderous. It was stupid. It was killing.”
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3. Another core lie is that the Bt technology can be a permanent panacea vs. insect pests. In fact Monsanto knew from the start the obvious fact from Evolution 101 that pests would develop resistance to any Bt toxin just as they do with any other pesticide. Monsanto built the planned obsolescence of each GMO variety, and its supercession by stacked and then more stacked varieties (they called it “expanded trait penetration”, referring to market penetration), into its business strategy. But in the early 00s Monsanto was promising the opposite, that single trait Bt cotton would maintain its potency vs. the bollworm indefinitely.
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Farmers who believed the lies were quickly disabused. The official data is garbled and contradictory, but the basic outlines are clear. Overall, there was never a real decline in pesticide use in Indian cotton farming. Indeed, nationally pesticide use went up 10% during the peak years of Bt expansion. This was despite the increased use of lower-volume, higher-toxicity poisons during these years. In some regions Bt may have used less pesticide than conventional hybrids for the first few years, with a difference range from miniscule to significant. It’s a function of how much water and fertilizer the crop gets. (As always, every possible agronomic benefit of a GMO is dependent upon lavish and expensive artificial inputs. To spend less on pesticides you need to spend more on water and fertilizer, for example.) Any temporary relief also depends upon high-quality trait expression. But many varieties are inconsistent, shoddy, or just fraudulent. There’s never a lasting decline. After four years at most the pesticide use and cost equals out. A few more years and Bt needs more applied pesticides than non-GM conventional. Also, in terms of aggregate poison use and environmental and health hazards all the numbers comprise a false accounting because they don’t accoiunt for the Bt endotoxins themselves. But these too are pesticides and must be counted as such in all relevant ways.
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Meanwhile all commodity cotton, even Bt cotton, always needs sprayed and/or seed-treated pesticide since cotton is attacked by the widest array of insect types. In the case of anti-bollworm Bt cotton, secondary pests quickly move in to fill any temporary void left where the Bt toxin has temporarily killed the target pest. As I mentioned above, according the the CICR’s Kranthi without neonic seed treatments Bt cotton would be routed by jassids, mirids, aphids, thrips, and many others. As Monsanto’s own propaganda often emphasized, Bt adoption has to be put in the context of the failure of earlier pesticides. Since the same companies propagate both kinds of poisons, applied and GMO endemic, it’s obviously likely that the poison treadmill culminating in stacked Bt poisons is planned obsolescence, disaster capitalism.
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In some cases the Bt cotton never worked against the target bollworms at all. In every case, bollworms developed resistance within a few years. In 2006 Monsanto introduced Bollgard II containing two Bt toxins, the original Cry1AC plus Cry2AB, thus admitting that the original Bollgard no longer worked. Bollworms have since developed resistance to Cry2AB. This is standard for the GMO pesticide treadmill. The result of all this has been that farmers found any reduced-pesticide dividend to be minimal and temporary at best. While pesticide use and cost may have declined by a small amount at first, within a few years they were back to pre-Bt levels. Today Bt cotton farmers have to spend more on pesticides than farmers growing non-GM conventional hybrids. And to correct the false accounting again, the great expense of Bt seeds has to be entered as a pesticide cost, since farmers are purchasing the Bt endotoxins the crops will allegedly produce.
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As is standard in these superbug cases, Monsanto, government, and the corporate media try to scapegoat the farmers by claiming they didn’t plant sufficient non-Bt “refuges” where non-resistant insects could survive and mate with resistant ones. The refuge concept is a propaganda scam, not a serious policy. Here’s not the place to dissect it, but I wrote more about it here. For the purposes of this post, which emphasizes how Bt cotton is a fraud on small farmers, I’ll point out that the refuge policy, if seriously meant, could be deployed only on large plantations, not on thousands of farms of a few acres each. So there’s another example of how even in principle GMOs could “work” only on vast industrial farms but can never work for small farmers.
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4. Small farmers didn’t count on the fact that GMO cotton requires considerably more synthetic fertilizer than non-GM conventional cotton. Pro-GMO activist CD Mayee (an ISAAA board member and former co-chair of the aptly named Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC)) admits that a doubling of the small amount of Indian acreage planted to GMOs (Bt cotton is the only GMO currently being grown commercially in India and makes up c. 5% of overall agricultural acreage) would double the whole country’s fertilizer use. That’s how ravenous Bt cotton is. A university study found that Bt cotton requires 15% more fertilizer than conventional. Bt cotton’s inherent gluttony for synthetic fertilization is aggravated by the way it denudes the soil and destroys soil microbial communities. This soil destruction in turn requires even greater fertilizer application as well as more irrigation, as the soil becomes unable to hold water. Needless to say this combination generates an awful nitrate runoff problem.
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5. As Monsanto flooded the market with its seeds, it pressured seed growers and sellers to stop producing and offering non-GM seeds. Monsanto calls this tactic “seed replacement”. Once enough farmers had adopted Bt cotton and GM seeds had attained a dominant market position, Monsanto jacked up the price to astronomical levels. Here too there has been great variation over time and across regions, but distilling from many sources tells us that seed prices soared to 2-10 times as much as the price of non-GM hybrids. Prices have run from 700-2000 rupees per packet. For the greatest contrast, the original Desi varieties would cost 5-10 rupees a packet. The bulk of this price explosion is Monsanto’s technology tax. By one estimate, by spring 2014 Monsanto had extracted 5000 crore in taxes (50 billion rupees; c. $810 million) from Indian cotton farmers. Imagine what this wealth could have accomplished if Indian society had invested it in polyculture food production instead of letting it drain down a corporate commodification rathole.
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This extremely high priced seed input and accompanying tax is unique to the GMO varieties, and is therefore a new burden on already beleaguered farmers.
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6. The result of all these escalating input costs has been that Bt cotton is considerably more expensive to grow than non-GM hybrids. At the same time cotton prices have been forcibly depressed and kept low by US dumping of heavily subsidized cotton. The result is that even for the best-equipped farms, Bt’s profit margin is razor-thin, certainly worse than for non-GM conventional. For small farmers, it’s a wipeout. It’s near impossible for them to do anything but lose even more and sink deeper into debt each year.
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7. As all this has been going on, India’s conventional agricultural credit structure, based on nationalized banks and lenient payment terms (obviously the right way for society to handle its food producers, if it’s to force them to incur debt at all, which of course it should not), has been gutted by the same neoliberal process which has driven first monoculture hybrid commodification and then Bt commercialization. As a result farmers have increasingly been forced to turn to usurious “microlenders” and the seed and poison dealers themselves who often double as loansharks. This sinks them even deeper in the quicksand.
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It’s clear that Bt cotton is a product which, where it works at all, works only for a brief period and only where supplemented by an expensive, cumbersome apparatus of artificial inputs. Like all other GMOs, it’s an extremely high maintenance hothouse flower. Industrial agriculture as such is highly destructive, wasteful, and unsustainable. GMOs represent an escalation of all the worst aspects of industrial ag while conferring no benefits. As a whole GMOs are the extreme manifestation of a backward, economically cramping, agronomically destructive, retrograde technology and mindset. They’re collectively a hoax and a fraud, and most of all where touted for small farmers. The goal of marketing GMOs to small farmers is in fact to economically destroy them and drive them off the land so that large-scale corporate industrial plantations can more “efficiently” enclose and monopolize agriculture. In First the Seed Jack Kloppenburg discusses how the corporations faced barriers to the full commodification of farming itself (as opposed to the system of agricultural inputs and processing). Here we see the answer: One of the basic purposes of GMOs is to drive up the costs of farming to the point that it becomes economically impossible for small independent farmers to exist. Bt cotton provides one of the best case studies.
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In Part Three we’ll survey Bt cotton around the world and confirm that the Indian experience, while extreme, is typical.

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December 26, 2014

GMO News Summary, December 26, 2014

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*Farmers continue to look for ways to switch from GMOs to non-GM agriculture, as herbicide resistant weeds become more intractable and commodity prices slide. It’s sinking in that GMOs are an agricultural and economic bottleneck, a dead end for everyone but the corporations.
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*Another reason is fear and trembling over China’s uncanny GMO import restrictions. China apparently has approved Syngenta’s MIR162 Viptera maize, the product which caused all the fuss starting in 2013. China doesn’t import much maize anyway, and the politico-economic disruptions caused by Syngenta were far greater than any reality-based trade effect. As I figured, the confrontation wasn’t really about this GMO but a negotiating ploy vis the US. China has an economic advantage with its non-GM market and isn’t going to compromise this lightly. In the trade wars the US wages China is trying to use import restrictions to force US concessions. In this case, the quid pro quo is said to be US agreement to ease restrictions on high-tech exports to China. Meanwhile, in the latest manifestation of Chinese ambivalence, lawmakers are working on a GMO labeling law to clarify the existing administrative labeling policy.
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We must always stress that any such logjam is caused by the aggressive seller, not by the reluctant buyer or anyone else. Viptera, like all other GMOs, is a worthless product. Farmers, consumers, eaters, society would be much better off without any GMOs. That Canadian farmers are reluctant to approve Roundup Ready alfalfa (already contaminating US crops and causing the rejection of US hay shipments to China) while US farmers are switching to non-GM crops like sorghum to meet rising Chinese demand are just two pieces of evidence.
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*As if Bt refuges weren’t enough of a scam already, the cartel continues to try to make them even more farcical in practice by claiming (and instituting as regulatory policy) that so-called “natural refuges”, i.e. any adjacent non-Bt crop, and not even the same kind of crop as the Bt variety, should count as sufficient. There’s now a “study” dedicated to this proposition. Yet even it finds the prospect dubious and can only recommend the continued escalation of the Bt treadmill, which of course is the real purpose of all such propaganda.
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*I’ve written before about the escalated health hazards unique to “stacked” GMOs, where the unpredictable effects of genetic engineering as such are multiplied by the unpredictable effects of chaotic interactions among multiple transgenes. Now we have the first study confirming that a stacked GMO has unique compositional and metabolic differences from both the original non-GM version as well as the original single-trait GMOs whose transgenes went into the stack. The study found such significant differences as weakened transgene expression, which will accelerate the evolution of weed and pest resistance; changes in overall gene expression; alterations in two major metabolic pathways; and altered protein levels. These significant changes have unpredictable health implications.
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*The USDA continues to refuse to test produce, processed vegetables, and other processed foods for glyphosate residues in its annual residue tests. The USDA claims it can’t do so because the tests are “extremely expensive…to do on a regular basis.” They mean politically expensive, as the results would be alarming to the public. This is really an admission that the USDA and Monsanto think our food is heavily loaded with toxic Roundup residues and that they don’t want to know the real levels, and certainly don’t want the public to know.
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As for the alleged expense, it’s nothing compared to the government’s Big Ag subsidies, and would merely be another such subsidy. After all, the poison-selling corporations rightfully should be paying for government testing. They certainly can afford it. Which again proves that they live in terror of what the results would show. Otherwise why not pay the pennies involved, if it would give you a clean bill of health? That would be great PR spending.
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*Under pressure from civil society, Monsanto requested that the EU patent office revoke one of its patents, and the agency complied. This was a bogus patent for a publicly-bred fungus-resistant tomato variety the company stole from a German seed bank. Monsanto did no work with the variety but sought and received the patent with a fraudulent application. No Patents on Seeds, the group which challenged the patent, is similarly challenging several other illegally awarded patents. The group also calls upon the European Commission to rein in this rogue agency and for a revision of EU patent law to make its prohibitions on patenting the products of conventional breeding more clear.
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*Following up victories in 2014 for county-level GMO bans in Jackson and Josephine Counties, Benton County in Oregon will vote this May on their own county-level GMO cultivation ban and on measures to build the regional agriculture and food economy.
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*The community rights movement which is fighting GMO agriculture in Oregon is also fighting hard vs. fracking in Pennsylvania, and has been racking up some legal victories. These ballots, laws, and court fights are meant to provide the campaign context for a constitutional renaissance on a pro-community, anti-corporate basis.
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*In Belgium, the Ghent court of appeal has thrown out the “criminal conspiracy” charge against the Wetterin Eleven. These defendants were participants in an action by the Field Liberation Movement against a GM potato field trial. A field trial itself is a political action on the part of the corporate system (and this field trial was illegal), and here we had activism vs. activism. They tore out a portion of the trial plants and replaced them with real potatoes. They were originally charged with forming a criminal organization and found not guilty of the strongest charge but guilty of a lesser count of conspiracy. This appeals decision throws out all such politicized charges and reduces the conviction to the actual crimes involved, trespassing and vandalism. Their sentence was reduced to one month suspended, though heavy fines remain in force.
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The decision is a setback for the prosecutorial trend of trying to criminalize democracy and political participation as such wherever the people seek to resist corporate aggression.

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August 29, 2014

Total Failure: The Fraudulent Promises of the Two Types of GMOs

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Farmers originally embraced the Roundup Ready system, not because they expected it to directly increase crop yields or reduce costs (it doesn’t and never did), but because by greatly simplifying weed management through the one-time application of one herbicide, it freed up time and conceptual space so the farmer could farm more acres.
 
Under conditions of commodity agriculture, farmers are under constant pressure to maximize their acreage and in this way their production. So while herbicide tolerant GMOs never increased yield acre-for-acre, and often have decreased it, they enable the farmer to cover more acres and in this way “make it up on volume”. It’s a version of Taylorism, a speed-up device, and also saves labor costs. Monsanto and the USDA touted these virtues for the farmer, and to this day still claim that the product benefits farmers in this way.
 
All this describes the attraction of the Roundup Ready system for farmers, during the few years that it worked as advertised. But with the rise of glyphosate-resistant superweeds, all these benefits have been lost. All the touted simplicity has been replaced by a regression to an even more costly complexity than farmers faced prior to the advent of herbicide tolerant GMOs.
 
Farmers were promised by Monsanto and the US government that they could schedule their plantings without having to coordinate them with herbicide applications. They could later apply glyphosate whenever they wanted, needing just one application (or in the case of cotton two). But with the evolution-predicted rise of glyphosate-resistant weeds, farmers now find themselves having to revert to the old complex choreography. Increasingly, they need a non-glyphosate pre-emergence application, followed by a post-emergence glyphosate application at exactly the right time to catch Palmer amaranth when it’s small enough to be affected. That’s assuming the P. amaranth isn’t a Roundup Ready superweed, as they increasingly are. If it’s resistant to the herbicide, then it has to be hand-weeding or the hoe, when the weeds are still small enough. Then more applications of glyphosate and other herbicides.
 
Farmers were similarly promised they could forever plant corn-on-corn or corn-on-soy (again, something implicitly demanded by the economics of commodity monocropping), since the Roundup Ready system would make weed management such a snap that you could forever plant Roundup Ready-on-Roundup Ready and never have a problem. In spite of the previous history of weeds developing resistance to triazine and ALS-inhibitor herbicides, as a matter of evolutionary clockwork, Monsanto explicitly promised that glyphosate-resistant weeds would not develop no matter how massively and long they were doused with Roundup. Their technical hacks published “studies” to that effect.
 
Today such rotations accomplish nothing against the superweeds, and weed scientists can only recommend rotations which include wheat or lesser crops like oats and barley. Some recommend that farmers ration their use of glyphosate. This of course is tantamount to rejecting the Roundup Ready GMO system as such, since the only thing which could possibly in theory justify the massively higher cost of RR seeds is the efficacy and simplicity of idiot-proof drenching with Roundup.
 
Meanwhile, not only have GMO farmer/contractors made their own weed management increasingly complex and economically unviable, but they’re inflicting worse weed infestations on their non-GM conventional neighbors.
 
To sum up, the corporate system promised farmers and the public that the Roundup Ready system would simplify weed management and render it less toxic, as glyphosate was allegedly less toxic to human and environmental health than older herbicides. Today “The Party’s Over” as weed scientist Aaron Hager says, and “the ‘simplicity’ of glyphosate as a stand-alone weed management tool will be relegated to the annals of history”. Or as former Dupont cadre Alberto Bianchi puts it, “today we have to fight pests worse than 15 or 20 years ago, but with fewer weapons than we had before”. Desperate weed consultants advise better crop rotations, using greater amounts of more different kinds of herbicides more often, and returning to the antiquated practice of deep tillage. Capping this reactionary program is the ultimate dark age regression, the deployment of GMOs engineered to be resistant to the exact same, far more toxic retrograde herbicides which the corporations and government originally promised us would be rendered permanently obsolete.
 
This proves the malign intent of corporations and governments, that they’re actually trying to repeat this same “mistake”, albeit at a vastly more destructive level. The failure of 2,4-D and dicamba resistant systems is already a proven fact. History proves it. No one who supports it can escape criminal culpability, and must and shall be held criminally responsible for every harm that follows.
 
Farmers have went through the same history with GMO corn engineered to resist rootworm (CRW) predation. Monsanto introduced CRW-resistant corn in 2003 with promises that it would forever relegate soil insecticides, previously the main pesticide used vs. CRW, to the scrap heap. Here the target pest counterattacked more quickly than even the weeds did. The Bt toxin itself was weak vs. rootworms from the start, serving to accelerate the development of resistance. Farmers saw very little insecticide dividend, and had to go back to soil insecticide application so quickly that by 2008 the University of Illinois felt the need to assure farmers that supplementing anti-CRW GMOs with soil insecticide doesn’t “always make sense”. That’s how ubiquitous the field reports of Bt-resistant rootworms already were.
 
Lab confirmation quickly followed. Using specimens collected from ravaged Iowa fields in 2009, a team at Iowa State documented resistance in a 2011 study. Subsequent studies in 2013 and 2014 reinforced the documentation. This latest study, published in the National Academy of Sciences, documented that rootworms which developed resistance to Monsanto’s original Cry3Bb1 trait were also cross-resistant to Syngenta’s Cry3A set of anti-rootworm traits.
 
According to this study, Dow’s Cry34/35Ab1 toxin still worked well vs. rootworms. But that was only for the moment. In 2014 Iowa farmers have reported rootworm damage in fields planted to Bt varieties containing the Cry34/35Ab1 trait. So what was the last trait standing is now staggering.
 
Thus farmers have had to go back to the bad old days of applying soil insecticides, and it’s commonplace among system entomologists to recommend this as part of the remedy farmers need to deploy as the Bt GMO system increasingly fails to live up to its promises.
 
Here too a return to crop rotation is a common recommendation. But if the idea is the pseudo-rotation of corn-on-soy, previously effective vs. rootworm, it’s becoming too late for this as well. As early as 1999 rootworms were discovered which could lay their eggs amid a corn-planting and then endure through a soybean season, awaiting the next corn planting. These “rotation-resistant” rootworms have since then been documented in Illinois and Iowa. They’re a product of the industrial corn/soy monoculture; corn-on-soy is really is no kind of legitimate rotation at all. And there’s many possible ways in which their rotation resistance may have been fostered by elements of the Roundup Ready GMO system itself.
 
Here again, GMO contract growers are not only destroying their own ability to exist, but are making production more difficult for non-GM farmers who must contend with more common and virulent rootworm infestations than occurred prior to Roundup Ready’s corn-on-corn campaign and the advent of the anti-rootworm Bt campaign.
 
The inexorable march of the superweeds and the rising insurrection of the rootworms exemplify the proven complete failure of the two basic genres of GMOs, herbicide tolerance and insecticide expression. Farmers increasingly wish to get off the GMO treadmill and resume conventional agriculture, or even to switch to direct retail and/or organic agriculture. This is definitely the rational choice, as confirmed by every portent.
 
But if farmers want to get off the treadmill, they may find many obstacles. The superiority of non-GM conventional production is well documented. With every new year of greater seed costs, poison costs, and ever expanding and intensifying superweed and superbug development, more and more industrial farmers are interested in getting off the GMO treadmill and resuming conventional production. But for corn and soy, non-GM varieties are often difficult to find. Thanks to the dereliction of the public breeding sector and the widespread enclosure of new varieties which are released to the public only in GMO (i.e. Roundup Ready and/or Bt expressing) form, the varieties which are available are often of lower quality. (This also reveals the fraud involved in cartel studies which allege higher yields for some Bt varieties over conventional. These “studies” never compare a GMO variety with its isogenic non-GM equivalent, but rather what’s likely to be a superior conventionally-bred variety which was then subjected to Bt transgene insertion and made publicly available only in this GMO form, vs. an inferior conventional variety.)
 
The cartel and the US government are responding to the proven complete failure of the very concepts of herbicide tolerant and insecticide-expressing GMOs by striving to double down on them and render vastly worse the failure and the collateral health, environmental, and economic destruction which shall go along with them. This is smoking gun proof that all the blathering in favor of GMOs is nothing but lies, and that for GMO proponents, the consciously, intentionally held one and only goal is to maximize corporate profit and power.

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