The way the patents were incorporated into the WTO agenda, it was to increase the dominance of multinational companies in the field of World food and farming system. — Bharat Dogra
In many developing countries including India all the time high-level, big-funded efforts are being made to present the world’s biggest farm and food multinational companies (MNCs) in a very attractive way so that big business opportunities for them can be created. The reality is very different.
In fact if we look at the trends in world food and agriculture in recent decades then these have been dominated by the increasingly desperate efforts by huge multinational companies to increase their dominance of the world food and farming system. The way in which patents were incorporated into the WTO agenda and so in a very clever way almost all countries were forced to change their patent laws in keeping with the interests of developed countries provides a glaring example of the high-powered forces at work to implement this agenda of dominance. The new patent laws helped the food and farming giants to tighten their grip on plants and seeds resources of the developing countries.
Genetic erosion of their plant wealth has also proved very expensive for farmers, particularly those based in developing countries. Due to the combined impact of destruction of natural forests, and the introduction of green-revolution type agriculture, which replaced local varieties over large areas by new monocultures, genetic erosion has been taking place on a massive scale even in the countries which have been the original source of much of the plant diversity. Soon thousands of varieties of plants were lost to these countries for ever. However, already several of these had been stored carefully in the labs and gene banks of the developed countries whose scientists had been engaged in these collections for several years. Suddenly, in the time span of a few decades, the natural advantage which some parts of the world had enjoyed for millions of years appeared to have been reversed.
Today several experts agree that most of collected genetic diversity is stored in gene banks in Europe and North America. In a handful of high-security institutions of these and a few other countries, the world’s most valuable raw material is stored, and it is unlikely that the countries of origin from where most of this material came will have free access to it.
Pat Roy Mooney brings out the glaring injustice of this situation, “It is a raw material unlike any other in the world. It has not been bought. It has been donated. It has been donated by the poor to the rich. The donation has been made under a noble banner proclaiming that genetic resources form a part of the heritage of all humanity, and thus can be owned by no one. But as the primary building blocks of agriculture, genes have incalculable political and economic importance. Industrialized governments – often overruling the intentions of their scientists – have come to hoard germplasm and to stock seeds as part of the arsenal of international power diplomacy. Private companies in North-although glad to receive free genes – are loath of divulge or share the adaptations they draw from these donations.”
It was noticed about two decades back that the nature of the seed industry was changing in several countries, particularly the rich western countries (although similar changes were soon noticed also in several developing countries). The seed industry had earlier been based on small firms. These firms were now being gobbled by big companies, especially companies which already had big stakes in agri-chemical industry – within a single decade, chemical corporations spent over $10 billion in buying up seeds companies. In fact the American Seed Trade Association even organized a special symposium on ‘How to sell your seed company.’ Apprehensions were rightly voiced that a small number of giant companies will control seeds as well as agri-chemicals, and that the production of seeds can be given such an orientation as to require high and increasing amounts of agri-chemicals. According to one widely quoted estimate at least 27 corporations had initiated 63 programs to develop herbicide tolerant crops. Already a few multinational companies control a very considerable part of the international seeds sector and pesticides.
These trends were strengthened further by the developments in the controversial technology of genetic engineering. A very important part of genetic engineering research has been devoted to herbicide-tolerant plant varieties.
Soon the genetic engineering companies shifted to the even more obnoxious technology of introducing pesticide properties within the plants. About these trends, the Independent Science Panel has said that Bt proteins, incorporated into 25% of all transgenic crops worldwide, have been found harmful to a range of non-target insects. Several scientists has cautioned against releasing Bt crops for human use. Despite this view being shared by many eminent scientists, the main company involved has been willing to go to any length – bribery, coercion, lies, manipulations to spread its obnoxious technology because its objective is not food security, its objective is only to tighten its grip on food and farming system.
Genetic engineering is so important in this quest for dominance as this complex and expensive technology is concentrated to a large extent in the hands of a few giant multinational companies and their subsidiaries. The story that started with snatching the plant resources of tropical/developing/poor countries, then proceeded with new patent/IPR laws gets completed with genetic engineering. This is the carefully manipulated route which these companies, blessed by their governments in several cases (particularly the USA), have followed in their race for dominance of the world food system.
In a review of recent trends titled ‘Food Without Choice’ (Tribune) Prof. Pushpa M. Bhargava (who was nominated by the Supreme Court of India in the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee to protect safety concerns), internationally acclaimed authority on this subject, drew pointed attention to the “ attempt by a small but powerful minority to propagate genetically modified (GM) crops to serve their interests and those of multinational corporations (MNCs) (read the US), the bureaucracy, the political setup and a few unprincipled and unethical scientists and technologists who can be used as tools.” Further he has warned, “The ultimate goal of this attempt in India of which the leader is Monsanto, is to obtain control over Indian agriculture and thus food production. With 60 per cent of our population engaged in agriculture and living in villages, this would essentially mean not only a control over our food security but also over our farmer security, agricultural security and security of the rural sector.”
As people’s consciousness about the hazards of GM crops grew, many US products were refused by its trading partners. This alarmed GM giants, and gave them additional reason to push GM crops in important developing countries so that alternative sources for supply of non-GM products, or products not contaminated by GM crops can not emerge. The crucial thing to understand is that the US Govt. and the big GMO (Genetically modified organisms) companies there have established close links so that there are unwritten directives from the highest levels not to deny clearance to GMOs on environment, health and related grounds. Henry Miller, who was formerly in charge of biotechnology at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA, USA) says, “In this area, the US government agencies have done exactly what big agribusiness has asked them to do and told them to do.”
This support given by the governments further greatly increases the power of MNCs to push their hazardous products and technologies in their quest for dominance.
Corruption also enables MNCs to achieve quick results. People wonder why there has been a rapid spread of GM crops in the USA, even though several scientists (in addition to farmers and activists) have opposed GMOs there as well. An idea of the various forces responsible for this can be had from a complaint the US Securities and Exchange Commission had filed in the US courts stating that a leading GMO company had bribed 140 officials between 1997-2000 to obtain environmental clearances for its products. The company admitted this charge and paid a penalty of US $ 1.5 million.
Dr. Pushpa Bhargava has written, “According to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Monsanto bribed at least 140 Indonesian officials or their families to get Bt cotton approved without environmental impact assessment. In 2005, the firm paid $ 1.5 million in fine to the US justice department for the graft. This is one of the many penalties that Monsanto has paid in its country of origin in spite of its close ties with the US government and its various regulatory agencies.”
In developing countries large-scale corrupt practices of these GMO companies have been documented.
On the one hand many eminent scientists are rejecting these crops and their view is supported by the adverse reports from farmers. On the other hand the GM companies have invested billions and billions in using genetic engineering to tighten their grip on world food and farming system and squeezing it for record profits. In order to be able to do so, they’ve to make very serious hazards acceptable. They are investing billions in making their blatant lies appear as scientific truth. Their campaign is particularly strong in big countries like India because they want to destroy the capability of leading farming countries to supply GMO-free food to the world market.