Raj Patel and Aruna Rodrigues point out misleading notions
Below are two informed responses to Michael Specter's article in the New Yorker, which attacked Vandana Shiva and hailed GM as part of a new "evergreen revolution" to boost food production.
The first (item 1) is by Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved; the second (item 2) is by Aruna Rodrigues, lead petitioner in the public interest lawsuit in India's Supreme Court, asking for a moratorium on GMO releases until a competent regulatory regime is put in place.
EXCERPT: (item 1): India, despite having been a pioneer in the Green Revolution continues to have one of the worst rates of hunger on the planet... The Green Revolution wasn't the only option on the table. GMOs aren't the only ones today. It serves us well to be curious about the Green Revolution, and its alternatives. My fear is that it'll be up to readers to bring that political and historical curiosity to their journalism - science writers don't seem to have it in them these days.
1. How to be curious about the Green Revolution – Raj Patel
2. Re: "Seeds of Doubt" by journalist Michael Specter: Letter to the editor of the New Yorker from Aruna Rodrigues
1. How to be curious about the Green Revolution
Rajpatel.org, 29 August 2014
[Excerpts only; informative charts are shown at the link above]
Social media is alive with folks' thoughts on Michael Specter's recent New Yorker piece. As the controversy fades, I worry that people will be left with three ideas.
1. Vandana Shiva is unreliable therefore all critiques of GMOs are too.
2. Farmer suicides aren't about GMOs so we can stop worrying about them.
3. The Green Revolution is worth repeating, because what we need to feed the world is yet another boost in food production.
All three of these ideas ought to be banished from your mind.
1. Specter's ad hominem isn't a substitute for good argument.
2. Farmer suicides are a serious problem, in India and elsewhere, and have much to do with farmer debt. If you're interested, Stuffed and Starved has a whole chapter on how suicides from the US to the UK to India are linked, and have much to do with the modern food system.
Louis Proyect's piece at Counterpunch makes the argument about debt nicely. Specter himself has dismissed Proyect as "perfect for Marxists flattering frauds"...
Claim number 3 is the most pernicious. The idea that "the Green Revolution worked by increasing crop production to end hunger, and that we need to repeat it with GMOs" is, despite the last paragraph in Specter's piece, one that suffuses his argument. Unsurprisingly, the social media debate over GMOs turns on the idea that GMOs can feed the planet, and those who are suspicious of these crops are peddlers of famine and ignorance.
In order to be able to think that the Green Revolution worked, much has been forgotten. Serious analysis of the Green Revolution needs far more space and time than either social media, or indeed, The New Yorker can contain. I put together a preliminary 63 page academic piece last year. Assuming you don't have time to muddle through that, the post below is a short guide about how to think about the Green Revolution. [Read the full article here] …
India, despite having been a pioneer in the Green Revolution continues to have one of the worst rates of hunger on the planet... The Green Revolution wasn't the only option on the table. GMOs aren't the only ones today. It serves us well to be curious about the Green Revolution, and its alternatives. My fear is that it'll be up to readers to bring that political and historical curiosity to their journalism - science writers don't seem to have it in them these days.
2. Re: "Seeds of Doubt" by journalist Michael Specter: Letter to the editor of the New Yorker
Aruna Rodrigues, 5 September 2014
Dear Mr Remnick
I am the lead Petitioner in India's Supreme Court (SC) for a moratorium on the environmental release of any GMO until there is rigour, independence and transparency in the regulation and oversight of GMOs. The present system invites not only derision and distrust in India's GMO Regulators, but also the charge of criminal offence because of an unconscionable conflict of interest. The relevant Ministries of government along with the Regulators have in fact been indicted precisely of this, in 4 official reports of the Government of India including a Parliamentary Standing Committee.
This Writ was filed in 2005 as a public interest petition and is on-going in the Indian system of such writs. The present count of Submissions to the SC exceeds 45 'volumes' in evidence. I am therefore, well acquainted with the science and non-science of the international debate and the Indian regulatory position within this debate. I would prefer to call this debate a grand and deliberate process of disinformation by the Industry enabled by deep pockets and in addition, cover-up, sleight of hand or de facto deregulation by most country regulators, including the US and India. Curiously,
speaking of Indian Regulators, they speak the same language as the 'Industry' and the line of separation between the two is amorphous.
This is of course a dead give-away. I am also fully aware of the Bt cotton performance in India; also worldwide. Let me add, that I do not perjure my soul in any court of law including the Supreme Court of India.
There is no doubt in my mind that Michael Specter has in fact slandered Shiva. Words too clever by half have hardly served to gloss-over this intent and your readership has been taken for a ride. I am deeply disappointed by the [New Yorker] falling for this shameful charade. You would be well advised to regain a semblance of credibility by publishing the sound responses to Specter (at least two including Ms Shiva's).
While Shiva's comprehensive response also rebuts specifics relevant to her, I would also be happy to provide an overview of just how serious the GMO regulatory shambles-of-a-policy is for India, her future well-being and ability to THRIVE not just survive. These matters have a direct bearing on Specter's significant distance from the truth exhibited in his article in the NY. This is the sum and substance of the Specter article, which the editorial board of the NY unfortunately chose to carry. Why would you risk your reputation is the obvious question?
Let me offer you the smallest morsel with regard to 10 years of the Bt cotton experience in India. Cotton production increased in India over the 10 years to 2013, primarily because of an increase in cultivated area under Bt cotton and the simultaneous increase of irrigated agri-lands, as well as the introduction of other technologies. The area under cotton/Bt cotton during these 10 years has increased by around 40-50% and at the expense of key food crops in some States, which have been displaced. Interestingly, productivity or yield in 2004 was 463 kg lint per hectare with only 6% of the area under Bt cotton. This figure went up marginally to 496 kg lint per hectare in 2011 with 95% of the area under Bt cotton.
Currently, yield is seen to be stagnating at around 500 kg lint/hectare.
Thus, the simple, unvarnished truth is that Bt cotton cannot be credited for the increase in cotton productivity in India. It is not my case nor that of Vandana Shiva that we have anywhere near a long enough period of planting of Bt cotton to see a trend in India.
But the worrying signs are there for all who wish to see and there is much in common with the experience of other countries. Let us not therefore, have the baloney of the constant and shrill refrain of the Industry and Regulators yelling in the same voice, that Bt cotton is an astounding success. It is not. The reason why it needs to be a success by every means of misconstruction and cover-up is because Bt cotton is being used for the full-scale introduction of GMOs into Indian agriculture, encompassing all of India's food crops in an experiment unknown to any other country.
This is the enormity of it and it is profoundly disturbing.
For the record, there have been no studies during these 10 years of impacts connected with socio-economic considerations (SEC). Astonishingly, SECs have not drawn the government's attention at any time during these 10 years and their impacts remain a serious vacuum.
Thus, while farmer suicides as a whole may not yet be correlated directly with Bt cotton, (no studies have been conducted) and it is also true that other serious issues greatly trouble Indian agriculture, there are nevertheless, two facts which are evident.
The first is that Bt cotton is the common denominator: a significant proportion of farmers who have committed suicide nationwide are Bt cotton farmers (cotton is a cash crop which exacerbates economic uncertainty, and more so in the case of Bt cotton). The second is
this: it is now accepted even by the Government of Maharashtra that in the killing fields of Vidharba, which has seen the highest proportion of farmer suicides (all Bt cotton farmers), Bt cotton is the direct cause of these suicides.
Bt cotton, it has been belatedly acknowledged, is NOT SUITED TO RAIN-FED FARMING. This is not a revelation though. 'They' have always known it. How awful. And cotton production in Vidharba is entirely rain-fed.
I would be happy to contribute a full response if invited. In the meanwhile, do please print this as a 'letter to the editor'. A few crumbs of the truth are better than nothing and I dare to believe that your readers will benefit from them.
With best wishes,