Citizens of the U.S. are being denied the right to know what they are feeding their families. Despite the fact that 90 percent of American citizens want GMO labeling on their food, big business is doing everything it can to prevent people from accessing their rights. Representative Pompeo’s bill, popularly known as the DARK Act (Denying Americans the Right to Know), has been written almost entirely by the biotech industry lobby. While American citizens are advocating for their rights to knowledge and healthy, affordable food, Monsanto’s legal team is busy on every legislative level trying to prevent this from happening.
Monsanto’s subversion of democratic legal processes is not new. In fact, it is their modus operandi, be it the subversion of LA’s decision to be GMO free by amending the California Seed Law—equating corporations with persons and making seed libraries and exchange of seed beyond 3 miles illegal—or suing Maui County for passing a law banning GMOs.
Decades before there was a “debate” over GMOs and Monsanto’s PR and law firms became the busiest of bees, India was introduced to this corrupting, corporate giant that had no respect for the laws of the land. When this massive company did speak of laws, these laws had been framed, essentially, by their own lawyers.
Today, Indian cotton farmers are facing a genocide that has resulted in the death of at least 300,000 of their brothers and sisters between 1995 and 2013, averaging 14,462 per year (1995-2000) and 16,743 per year (2001-2011). This epidemic began in the cotton belt, in Maharashtra, where 53,818 farmers have taken their lives. Monsanto, on it’s own website, admits that pink bollworm “resistance [to Bt] is natural and expected” and that the resistance to Bt “posed a significant threat to the nearly 5 million farmers who were planting the product in India.” Eighty four percent of the farmer suicides have been attributed to Monsanto’s Bt Cotton, placing the corporation’s greed and lawlessness at the heart of India’s agrarian crisis.
There are three outright illegalities to Monsanto’s existence in India.
First, Monsanto undemocratically imposed the false idea of “manufacturing” and “inventing” a seed, undermining robust Indian laws—that do not allow patents on life—and by taking patents on life through international trade law. Since 1999, Monsanto has had the U.S. government do its dirty work, blocking the mandatory review of the Monsanto Law in TRIPS (the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement implemented through the WTO).
Second, since they do not have a patent for Bt-Cotton, Monsanto’s collection of royalties as “trait value” or as a “fee for technology traits” (IPR category that does not exist in any legal framework and was concocted by Monsanto lawyers to work outside of the laws of the land) is illegal. These illegal royalty collections have been collected from the most marginal farmers, pushing them to take their own lives.
Third, the smuggling of a controlled substance without approvals (and thus Monsanto’s very entry into India) is a violation and subversion of India’s Biosafety Regulations. This includes the illegal introduction of GMOs into the food system in India, which poses grave risks to the health of ordinary Indian citizens.
Illegal entry of Bt Cotton into India
The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the apex body constituted in the Ministry of Environment and Forests, is solely entrusted with the responsibility of approving field trials of any genetically modified organisms (GMOs). India’s biosafety framework—one of the strongest in the world—is governed by The Rules for the Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Micro Organisms, Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells (notified under the Environment Protection Act, 1986).
ARTICLE (7) OF THE RULES STIPULATES:
APPROVAL AND PROHIBITIONS ETC.
(1) NO PERSON SHALL IMPORT, EXPORT, TRANSPORT, MANUFACTURE, PROCESS, USE OR SELL ANY HAZARDOUS MICROORGANISMS OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERED ORGANISMS/SUBSTANCES OR CELLS EXCEPT WITH THE APPROVAL OF THE GENETIC ENGINEERING APPROVAL COMMITTEE.
On 10 March 1995, MAHYCO (which became Monsanto-Mahyco in 1998) imported 100 grams of cottonseed that contained the MON531-Bt Gene into India without approval from the GEAC. MAHYCO, under undisclosed circumstances, had obtained permission from the RCGM (Review Committee of Genetic Manipulation under the Department of Biotechnology (DBT)), which does not have the authority to approve such an import. Without the approval of the governing body responsible for the approval of the import (GEAC) Monsanto had smuggled a controlled substance into India.
ARTICLE (4) OF THE RULES STIPULATES:
(4) GENETIC ENGINEERING APPROVAL COMMITTEE (GEAC)
THIS COMMITTEE SHALL FUNCTION AS A BODY UNDER THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT FORESTS AND WILDLIFE FOR APPROVAL OF ACTIVITIES INVOLVING LARGE SCALE USE OF HAZARDOUS MICROORGANISMS AND RECOMBINANTS IN RESEARCH AND INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION FROM THE ENVIRONMENTAL ANGLE. THE COMMITTEE SHALL ALSO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR APPROVAL OF PROPOSALS RELATING TO RELEASE OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERED ORGANISMS AND PRODUCTS INTO THE ENVIRONMENT.
Open field trials are a deliberate release of GMOs into the environment and, under the above Indian law, require approval by the GEAC. Eager to get to market and establish a monopoly in the cotton sector of India in 1998, Monsanto-Mahyco, without the approval of the sole agency allowed to grant permission for open field trials—the GEAC—started large scale, multi-centric, open field trials of Bt Cotton in 40 locations spread across nine states of India.
The eventual clearance, long after the commencement of these field trials, came once again from the Review Committee of Genetic Manipulation (RCGM), which is not authorized to grant clearance for field trials. RCGM’s mandate is restricted to guidelines for lab research. Without approval from the GEAC, Monsanto’s open field trials of Bt Cotton in 1998 were blatantly illegal and an act of biological warfare against India through genetic pollution.
Furthermore, no post harvest management and safety was ensured in these trials by Monsanto-Mahyco. Monsanto was not concerned with the findings of the trials at all; they just wanted GM seeds to be introduced into Indian soil and they did so without due process. GMO traits, once released into the environment, cannot be contained or recalled. In fact, genetically engineered cotton was sold in open markets. In some states, the trial fields were replanted the very next season with crops including wheat, turmeric, and groundnut, violating Para-9 on “Post harvest handling of the transgenic plants” of the Biosafety Guidelines (1994), according to which,the fields on which GMO trials were conducted should be left fallow for at least one year.
It was in the face of these violations of Indian laws and the risks of genetic pollution India faced, that the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) filed a petition in the Supreme Court of India in 1999 against Monsanto and MAHYCO. Clearly, Monsanto and MAHYCO had violated the 1989 rules for the use of GMOs under the Environmental Protection Act (1986). The government had allowed Monsanto to carry out field trials without the mandatory scientific biosafety tests.
Without waiting for the outcome of the petition pending in the Supreme Court—around President Bill Clinton’s visit to India—in March 2000 the Department of Biotechnology gave biosafety clearance to Monsanto’s Bt Cotton and in July 2000 the GEAC cleared large-scale field trials of Bt Cotton despite the pending Supreme Court case. This was two years after Monsanto first started illegal trials. CD Mayee, Co-Chairman of the GEAC, also became the first Indian board member of ISAAA, a biotech evangelist group, in 2006. He is the chairman of the sub-committee on Bt Cotton of the GEAC and interestingly, also sits of on the Agriculture Ministry’s Committee on Endosulfan, an insecticide with acute neurotoxin properties developed by Bayer CropScience, which is a major funder—along with Monsanto—of ISAAA.
Monsanto Bt Cotton seeds had not yet been cleared for commercial release. While the RFSTE case against Monsanto was still in the Supreme Court of India, Monsanto reported to the GEAC, in 2001, that Navbharat Seeds Pvt. Ltd., a company in Gujarat, was selling Navbharat 151 seeds, which had the MON531 Bt gene. This was not a cowboy company selling on the black market. This was a company with enough Bt Cotton seeds for the 10,000 Hectares of Navbharat 151 planted at the time. On Monsanto’s complaint, the GEAC started an investigation, carried out by the two-member team of CD Mayee and T.V. Ramanaiah (from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT)), who found Bt traits in the cotton. A case was filed in Gujarat against Navbharat Seeds Pvt. Ltd.
Post investigation, the GEAC ordered all standing crops of Navbharat 151 to be uprooted and destroyed along with seed production plots due to the major risks posed by Bt. In a submission to the court, the GEAC stated:
“12 (I) THE CROP WHICH IS STANDING MAY PASS TO THE SOIL THAT MODIFIED GENES WHICH IT CONTAINS. THE EFFECT ON SOIL MICROORGANISMS CAN NOT BE ESTIMATED AND MAY CAUSE AN IRREVERSIBLE CHANGE IN THE ENVIRONMENT STRUCTURE OF THE SOIL. IT IS A STANDARD PRACTICE TO UPROOT CROPS WHICH POSE SUCH A THREAT. THE DESTRUCTION BY BURNING IS TO ENSURE SAFETY TO ENVIRONMENT AND HUMAN HEALTH AND TO OBVIATE ANY POSSIBILITY OF CROSS-POLLINATION.
(II) THE DESTRUCTION OF THE COTTON PRODUCE AS WELL AS SEEDS HARVESTED FROM THIS PLANT IS ALSO EQUALLY NECESSARY. THE COTTON WHICH HAS BEEN PRODUCED IS GENETICALLY MODIFIED COTTON, THE EFFECT OF WHICH I.E. ALLERGENICITY AND OTHER FACTORS ON MAMMALS ARE NOT TESTED. THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLES WOULD REQUIRE THAT NO PRODUCT, THE EFFECT OF WHICH IS UNKNOWN BE PUT INTO THE MARKET STREAM. THIS COTTON WHICH IN APPEARANCE IS NO DIFFERENT FROM ANY OTHER COTTON WILL INTERMINGLE WITH ORDINARY COTTON AND IT WILL BECOME IMPOSSIBLE TO CONTAIN ITS ADVERSE AFFECT. THE ONLY REMEDY IS TO DESTROY THE COTTON AS WELL AS THE SEEDS PRODUCED AND HARVESTED IN THIS MANNER.
(III) SINCE THE FARMERS ARE BEING PUT TO A LOSS, THE FURTHER PROCESS TO DETERMINE THE COMPENSATION PAYABLE TO FARMERS, WHO HAVE UNWITTINGLY USED THIS PRODUCT HAS TO BE DETERMINED AND UNDERTAKEN.
13. I WOULD RESPECTFULLY SUBMIT THAT EVERY DAY OF DELAY IN THIS MATTER POSES A THREAT TO THE ENVIRONMENT.”
Having just concluded that Bt was dangerous and all of it had to be uprooted and burned, a few weeks later the GEAC approved the commercial release of Monsanto-Mahyco Biotech (MMB) Bt Cotton.
The national farmers unions made a joint petition to the GEAC and asked for an inquiry committee to be set up and liability and compensation fixed on the basis of the “polluter pays” principle. Since Monsanto-Mahyco is admittedly the source of the GM pollution, they, along with Navbharat Seeds Pvt. Ltd, which has further spread the pollution, are jointly liable for the pollution caused.
Monsanto’s Bt Cotton has also found its way into edible vegetable oils in India.
In a government document, the Department of Biotechnology states:
COTTON SEEDS CAN BE TOXIC IF INGESTED IN EXCESSIVE QUANTITIES BECAUSE OF THE PRESENCE OF ANTI-NUTRITIONAL AND TOXIC FACTORS INCLUDING GOSSYPOL AND CYCLOPROPENOID FATTY ACIDS.
but then goes on to say in the next sentence:
THE OIL AND LINTERS ARE USED AS PREMIUM VEGETABLE OILS AND AS CELLULOSE DIETARY ADDITIVES FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION, RESPECTIVELY. TRADITIONALLY, WHOLE COTTON SEED IS USED AS CATTLE FEED IN INDIA. HOWEVER, THE INCREASE IN DEMAND OF EDIBLE OILS HAS NECESSITATED PROCESSING OF COTTON SEED FOR ITS OIL. THEREFORE, COTTON SEED OILCAKE/MEAL AFTER EXTRACTION IS NOW USED AS CATTLE FEED.
Monsanto’s Bt Cotton, without the support of necessary precautions and scientific studies, has illegally found its way into the Indian food chain, endangering the health of 1.26 billion Indians. The health effects of Bt Cotton seed oil in “premium vegetable oil” (as the DBT calls it) must be investigated and the damage to people’s health must be compensated by Monsanto.
Dr. Vandana Shiva is a philosopher, environmental activist and eco feminist. She is the founder/director of Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology. She is author of numerous books including, Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis; Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply; Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace; and Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. Shiva has also served as an adviser to governments in India and abroad as well as NGOs, including the International Forum on Globalization, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization and the Third World Network. She has received numerous awards, including 1993 Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) and the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize.