Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - Feb 7, 2007
* Against All Our Interests
* How to Market a Slim-Fast Formula
* One in Ten Million
* Russia's Chief Doctor: GM Crops are a Blessing for the Mankind
* Biotech Crops Respond to Growers' Diverse Needs
* Amaizing Grace: Scientific research has a lot to give to Africa
* Local Heroes - Good Science Does Get Done in Africa
* The Hazards of Organic Farming
* Do Not Hamper Progress by Discouraging Field Trials
* Audio: Golden rice report
* $500 M for Energy Biosciences Institute - Berkeley, Illinois Winners!
* GM Legislation Bill Tracker
* BBC Debate on the Future of Indian Farming, Farmers Suicides, and Bt Cotton
Against All Our Interests
- Renate Sommer, Parliament Magazine 53, January 29, 2007 (Member of the European Parliament)
"Populism and ideologically motivated obstructionism are once again dominating the GMO debate, warns Renate Sommer"
During the parliament's previous legislative period, I was the EPP-ED group's rapporteur responsible for the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMO). From the beginning, it was clear that the debate on GMOs would be heavily influenced by personal conviction. Therefore, the EU institutions created an entirely new legal framework for GMOs based on scientifically substantiated facts: Directive 2001/18 on 'the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms', the regulation on traceability and labelling, and the regulation on cross-border transfer of GMOs for the implementation of the Cartagena protocol.
This is the strictest regulative framework existing anywhere in the world. After tough negotiations in the parliament, a general compromise was found and supported by all the political groups. Even the Greens were on board, a fact which they later denied, when we were in the midst of the parliament's election campaign ("yes, we supported this, but we actually did not really want it"). Is this the kind of reliable politics which our citizens expect from us? I do not think so. As feared, now the Greens are using the question of co-existence to block any kind of genetic engineering in plant cultivation.
Additionally, certain member states behave as if there had never been an agreement concerning GMOs. During the debate, however, it was the council of EU ministers which claimed that, based on scientific data, the European food safety agency (EFSA) should decide on the authorisation of GMOs. But these days, the same ministers consider EFSA all of a sudden as too scientific and not transparent enough. As before, they are trying to play the political card and thus use an alleged mistrust in EFSA as a means to delay and ultimately block GMOs across the EU.
Instead of informing citizens about GMOs in a realistic and pragmatic way, it is particularly the Greens who create and promote horror scenarios. Of course, citizens are bound to be confused and therefore hostile to the issue. In turn, many national politicians and governments respond in a disastrous way: Once again, populism and ideologically motivated obstructionism are dominating the debate. On top of that, we have an obvious power struggle within the European commission: whereas both the health and consumer protection and agriculture departments support a pragmatic and positive attitude towards GMOs, the environment department actively works against GMOs. As a consequence, the definition of thresholds for seeds has been delayed. There can be no legal security either for crop producers or for farmers.
In this controversy, the conflicting parties are going against their own interests and altogether against the interests of the EU. If we fail to use the possibilities of genetic engineering, we will soon be dependent on other countries. Those who do not participate are also excluded from the discussion and finally have to pay a high price for their absence. Brain drain is already a reality, and now we have to contemplate the competitive disadvantages for European agriculture.
The scenario of genetically-free farming in the EU is a dishonest construction: it is impossible to satisfy thew considerable appetite of Europeans for animal products without growing GM-soybeans. Even a country like Austria cannot and does not want to renounce such imports, although it baffles its citizens with the illusion of a national GMOfree zone.
Europe also faces another serious problem. It is true that we do not need GMO for food production. We do not suffer from food shortages but we do have to explain the following to the people of Europe: our insatiable appetite for energy combined with the problem of climate change will ultimately make the cultivation of GMO indispensable. Moreover, the aim of protection and regeneration of the environment through sustainable and/or alternative farming is most likely to be achieved with the use of GMOs only.
Renate Sommer is a substitute member of parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee
How to Market a Slim-Fast Formula
- Tawanda Zidenga -tawandaz.at.gmail.com-
I derive considerable fascination from following the debate on genetically modified foods. In a peculiar sort of way, this debate reflects some unsettling things about our society.
The marketing of the idea that GMOs carry within them an inherent evil has been impressively marketed. Almost all of my friends who are not in the sciences have misgivings of one form or another on this "unnatural" process. In America, GMOs are blamed for making people fat, and a recent article posted on this forum spoke of the low "intelligence" of GM foods and how badly these foods "confuse our bodies."
Marketed alongside this idea is the idea that anything that is natural (by whatever definition of the advertiser) is healthy and good for the environment. The latter has been so well marketed that it has found its way in the creation of "politically correct" policies. Not surprisingly, some donor agencies have followed suit, streamlining their activities to remain outside public controversy.
One such example is the support of marker assisted selection (MAS) in Africa and not transgenic crop improvement. As far as I can see, the difference between MAS and transgenics, in as far as funding is concerned, is one of political correctness. Political correctness and the truth are, of course, not one and the same thing. So we find that even though there are many projects that are classified under "sustainable development", only a few are really sustainable.
So, how does this marketing work, and why is it working? You cannot market a slim-fast formula unless you make people feel fat. In fact, you make people feel fat, then you make them scared of the consequences of being fat, real or imagined. Then while at it, you hint at the benefits of getting slim using your method.
In his book State of Fear, Michael Crichton brought out the issue of how modern societies are profiteering on fear. In other words, if I make you terrified of "apples with fish genes spliced into them", I will give you the alternative of organic produce. I will tell you, for what it's worth, that I have grown food close to sacred mother nature. Your fear makes its way to my bank account. The hypnosis within the word "natural" is unimaginable. Man's control of nature is always pictured as an evil. But no one points out that a certain level of controlling nature is necessary for our continued survival and comfort. We take it for granted, but now we can keep warm in a bad winter and stay cool in a scotching summer. We have methods of efficiently producing food that allow the rest of us to stay in cities or stand outside other people's labs raising placards, while a small percentage of people are farming. We can now fight disease better than decades ago, and we are improving every day. But of course, if I am doing my marketing, I will tell you what sells my product.
Some people market goods, some people market ideas; others market belief systems. We have come to a crossroad in the modern society where we are no longer sure whether some things are just beliefs or substantiated facts - on DDT, GMOs, organic food etc. But then again, good marketing sometimes comes when you make this difference as vague as possible.
One in Ten Million
- John Reifsteck, Truth About Trade, Jan. 26, 2007 http://www.truthabouttrade.org
I'm not just one in a million--I'm one in 10 million.
In its 2006 update report, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) reported that the world is now home to more than 10 million farmers who plant biotech crops. We passed the 10-million milestone when the ranks of biotech farmers swelled from 8.5 million to 10.3 million last year.
That's an increase of more than 21 percent--and further evidence that genetically modified crops are one of the most rapidly adopted technologies ever introduced to agriculture.
This new benchmark comes on the heels of another significant achievement two years ago, when farmers planted and harvested the one-billionth acre of biotech crops.
There's a simple reason for this rapid success: Biotech crops are providing a positive economic impact for the farmer and the consumer while helping us protect our environment. If they were anything else, farmers like me around the world wouldn't be racing to take advantage of them.
That's certainly why I use them. Although I've planted biotech crops ever since they became commercially available about a decade ago, this year will be the first season in which virtually all of the corn and soybeans that I grow will be genetically improved.
The seeds aren't cheap. They're more expensive than conventional varieties, but they're worth it. Even with the added cost, the price of growing my crops actually shrinks and the size of my yield expands. Biotech enhancements can be worth 50 bushels of corn per acre. That's a substantial boost, considering that a good yield for an acre of corn in my area is a bit more than 200 bushels.
In a study released last week, ISAAA reported that farmers planted more than 102 million hectares of biotech crops in 2006. (A hectare is 10,000 square meters--a little less than 2.5 acres.)
In other words, if all of the world's biotech crops were planted in conjoining plots, they would have covered an area approximately the size of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. That's an increase of 13 percent over 2005. Assuming this acreage increases by 13 percent this year, they'll cover an area roughly equal to those three states plus Louisiana.
Although most of the world's biotech crops are currently planted in the United States and Argentina, farmers all over the world are scrambling to go biotech. "More than 90 percent or 9.3 million farmers growing biotech crops last year were small, resource-poor farmers in the developing world, allowing biotechnology to make a modest contribution to the alleviation of their poverty," says Clive James of the ISAAA.
By 2015, predicts James, more than 20 million farmers will plant 200 million hectares of biotech crops. These numbers will soar even higher when biotech rice becomes a commercial product and Asian farmers adopt it. If that happens, I won't be one in 10 million or 20 million--I might easily be one in 80 million.
The ISAAA's annual report is published each January. Because it's so influential, anti-biotech groups use its release as an occasion to go on the attack. The Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth International, for example, claims that biotech crops are a massive failure.
"No GM crop on the market today offers benefits to the consumer in terms of quality or price, and to date these crops have done nothing to alleviate hunger or poverty in Africa or elsewhere," says one of their spokesmen, who also claims that yields are better for conventional crops.
This just isn't true-- the ISAAA numbers prove it----and so do the numbers on my farm. Why would more than 10 million farmers around the world, including subsistence growers in developing nations, seek out a more expensive technology if the end result was so disappointing?
It just doesn't make sense. But does anybody seriously believe that professional activists who specialize in faxing press releases have a better knowledge of bean fields than those of us who have spent so much time walking them?
The chances of getting an honest person to believe that are, oh, about one in 10 million.
John Reifsteck, a corn and soybean farmer in western Champaign County Illinois, is a Board Member of Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).
Russia's Chief Medical Officer: GM Crops are a Blessing for the Mankind
- Novgorodskiye Vedomosti (Velikiy Novgorod), Jan 26 07; Via BBC Monitoring and Vivian Moses
Russian chief medical officer Gennadiy Onishchenko made an unannounced visit to Velikiy Novgorod to inspect the construction of a laboratory at the Hygiene and Epidemiology Centre, Novgorodskiye Vedomosti said on 26 January. The laboratory worth R200m (about 7.5m dollars) will have capacities to diagnose infectious diseases, conduct air and water tests and identify genetically modified components in foodstuffs.
Onishchenko said genetically modified crops are a blessing for the mankind because they save billions of people from starvation. "In today's conditions Russia cannot provide itself with foods, even with potato, by using conventional agricultural methods only. We have to permit the consumption of and buy genetically modified soybeans and other crops," the newspaper quoted him as saying.
Biotech Crops Respond to Growers' Diverse Needs
- Ross Korves, Truth about Trade, Jan. 26, 2007 http://www.truthabouttrade.org
Biotech crops are a new industry with eleven year of commercial production around the globe. They have proven to be relatively scale neutral. They are planted on large North American, South American and European farms using the world's most modern equipment and on small, resource-poor farms in developing countries like China, India, South Africa and the Philippines where improved incomes directly result in reduced poverty. Private companies and public institutions have applied the technology to crop varieties that meet the specific needs of local farmers.
According to estimates of 2006 plantings by the International Service for the Acquisition of Biotech Applications (ISAAA), the 22 countries that grow biotech crops have 52 percent of the world's 3.7 billion acres of cropland and 55 percent of the world's population. Plantings increased by 13 percent to 252 million acres, with 40 percent, 101 million acres, in developing countries. Plantings grew by 21 percent in developing countries and by 9 percent in developed countries.
Large-scale farmers focused on herbicide tolerance in the early years of biotech crops, but have increasingly relied on them for insect control. Small, resource-poor farmers in developing countries have focused almost exclusively on insect control to increase per acre yields and reduce pesticide costs. The ISAAA estimates that 10.3 million farmers planted biotech crops in 2006, with 9.3 million of them (up from 7.7 million in 2005) being small farmers in developing countries.
The countries planting biotech crops can generally be divided into four groups. The U.S. and Canada continue to dominate biotech acreage accounting for 150 million of the 252 million acres planted, 59.5 percent of the total acreage. Acreage is shifting from single trait crops to stacked traits with herbicide tolerance and Bt insect resistance. Approximately 28 percent of the U.S. biotech crops had stacked traits, a 30 percent increase over 2005. U.S. farmers also planted 200,000 acres of herbicide tolerant alfalfa, the first commercial perennial crop.
Four countries in South America, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, are developing countries where farmers use biotech crops in much the same manner as U.S. and Canadian producers. They planted 79 million acres, 31.3 percent of the world total. Most of the biotech acres were herbicide tolerant soybeans, but plantings of insect resistant cotton and corn are growing.
Four developing countries, China, India, South Africa and the Philippines, lead the way in the use of biotech crops among small, resource poor farmers. Most of their efforts have been on Bt crops for insect control rather than herbicide tolerance. China's acreage of biotech cotton has been stable at about 8.6 million acres. China was expected to announce commercialization of insect resistant Bt rice, but that has been stalled due to political issues.
India has become the center of attention in developing countries. It's acreage of Bt cotton almost tripled in 2006 to 9.4 million acres and replaced China as the leader in biotech cotton acres for developing countries with small farms. Biotech cotton was first grown in India in 2002 on 125,000 acres. Prior to recent years India's 22 million acres of cotton accounted for about 25 percent of the world's acreage, but only 12 percent of production. In the past five years national average cotton yields have increased by 46 percent. Rapid growth in biotech acreage has occurred despite constant efforts to disparage the use of biotech cotton. Farmers recognize that higher yields and lower pesticide use more than offset higher seed costs.
South Africa grows biotech corn, cotton and soybeans, but most of the 3.5 million acres in biotech crops is insect resistant yellow corn for livestock feed and white corn for food. Several thousand small, resource-poor farmers in South Africa grow white corn for direct human consumption and for commercial sales. These farmers have an improved standard of living as increased corn yields provide a more stable food supply and excess grain is sold in the market to pay for other good. The Philippines has about a 100,000 farmers growing 500,000 acres of insect-resistant corn.
Seven countries in the European Union planted over 400,000 acres of biotech crops in 2006. Though the acreage is small, it is growing despite continued opposition from environmental groups. Spain grew 150,000 acres of Bt corn. French farmers grew 12,000 acres of biotech corn in 2006, three or four times the acreage of last year, because of higher yields associated with better pest control. Slovakia grew a small amount of Bt corn for the first time, joining the Czech Republic, Germany and Portugal. Romania, which joined the EU on January 1 of this year, grew about 250,000 acres of herbicide tolerant biotech soybeans in 2006. Government regulations will likely make it impossible to grow biotech soybeans in Romania in 2007.
The ISAAA report also recognized the often forgotten fact that in addition to the 22 countries that plant biotech crops another 29 countries have approved biotech crops for import for food and feed and for release into the environment. Included in that list are countries like Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. Corn has 35 biotech events approved for international trade, cotton 19, canola 14, and soybeans 7.
Biotech crops have earned their place as a growing part of the world food supply because they reduce production costs, increase yield per acre and meet the needs of consumers. The ISAAA expects biotech crop area planted to double by 2015 to 500 million acres per year with 20 million farmers growing them in 40 countries.
Amaizing Grace: Scientific research has a lot to give to Africa, and it is just starting to do so
- The Economist, Feb 1, 2007 http://www.economist.com
Once upon a time, not so many centuries ago, there was a poor continent. Its name was Europe. Then it discovered three things: the free market, the rule of law and science-based technology. Now it is rich. A little simplistic perhaps, but the same thing happened in North America, with the same consequences, and it is now happening in Asia. What about Africa?
The need for the countries of Africa to embrace free markets and the rule of law gets written about ad nauseam, sometimes even allegedly by this newspaper. But the third leg of the stool is strangely neglected. Which is silly. For the lack of an indigenous base of science and technology will hamper Africa's development as surely as any stupid ideology or greedy dictator. Now, for the first time since their countries became independent, Africa's leaders are showing some interest in the topic. Better still, African researchers are starting to strike out on their own, addressing African questions from scratch, rather than trying to fit other people's answers to them.
How to culture a culture
Understandably, the most progress is being made in agriculture. Africa missed out on the Green Revolution that helped Asia on its way because, among other things, its soils often lack nutrients that Asian countries possess (it's a matter of the underlying geology of the two continents). That is now being addressed by the design of special fertilisers adapted to African soil. After a shaky start caused by the reluctance of European consumers to accept genetically modified imports, Africa is now embracing that technology, too. The first African-engineered crop to go on trial in the continent should be planted this year (see article). It is a form of maize that is resistant to a devastating virus. Maize, though an American crop originally, is one of Africa's most important foodstuffs.
Other crops are getting the once-over, as well. Uganda, for example, recently opened a laboratory dedicated to the scientific improvement of plantains, another important food crop. And South African scientists have developed, and Mauritanian ones deployed, a fungus that kills locusts by the swarmload (as a bonus, the dead swarms are a bonanza for local wildlife). African scientists, too, are developing a vaccine to stop sheep catching an infection that has put off Arab countries that used to be the main markets for African herders. Clearly, a small but impressive portfolio of scientific agriculture is starting to emerge.
Even the continent's politicians are starting to take notice. One or two, such as Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, have been long-term supporters of science, but for the first time in its history the African Union, meeting this week in Addis Ababa, put science and technology close to the top of the agenda. That is a double-edged sword, of course. If politicians are willing to cut the red tape that stops innovations spreading, and shake up the continent's sleepy government-run research institutes, well and good. If they start talking, as the African Union has, of "priority projects", and drawing up lists that include space programmes, it might be time to run for the hills, or even the stars. And not all presidents are as wedded to the scientific method as Mr Kagame is. Thabo Mbeki, of South Africa, still seems reluctant to accept the otherwise universal hypothesis that AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus-with all the dire medical consequences that flow from his refusal to take the right actions.
Still, Mr Mbeki will not remain in office for ever, and it is his comparatively rich country that is leading the charge. African science is still a young and fragile plant, but it is now being genetically modified to fit its environment. Let it grow.
Local Heroes - Good Science Does Get Done in Africa, Though It Tends to Go Unnoticed
- The Economist, Feb 1, 2007. Full article at http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=8626812
Africa is where researchers go to carry out exotic fieldwork-at least, that is a common presumption in rich countries. It is a useful place for studying elephant behaviour and discovering early hominid remains; then the scientists return home, write papers and enjoy the kudos of getting them published in oft-cited journals.
Such genetic modification is also finding a place in African crop science. Jennifer Thompson and Edward Rybicki, of the University of Cape Town, have developed a variety of maize that is resistant to maize-streak virus, another insect-borne disease (the culprits here are leaf-hoppers). Maize is not native to Africa, even though it now, for instance, occupies 90% of the cultivated land in Malawi. But since its arrival from the Americas in the early 1500s, a virus found in local grasses has evolved a way to attack it. In bad years, such as 2006, maize-streak virus can wipe out entire harvests. Plant breeders have tried for a quarter of a century to develop crops that are immune to the disease by crossing maize with partially resistant native grasses. Unfortunately, they have met little success. The pattern by which resistance genes are inherited has proved elusive.
Dr Thompson and Dr Rybicki's trick was to insert a modified viral gene into the maize. This gene encodes a mutated version of one of the proteins that the virus needs to copy itself. When expressed at high levels in a plant infected with maize-streak virus, the modified protein outcompetes the normal version, throwing a spanner into the works of viral assembly. That has been demonstrated in greenhouses, at least, by Panner Seeds, a seed supplier in Greytown, South Africa. And the trait has successfully passed itself down four generations of crop. If further crosses go well, field trials will take place later this year. Those would be the first such trials of a genetically modified crop in Africa, and if successful, this maize would be the first genetically modified crop created in a developing country-the first, it is to be hoped, of many.
The Hazards of Organic Farming
- Wall Street Journal, Feb. 3, 2007
Mark Eisner's ill-informed letter (Jan. 29) is the perfect affirmative response to the headline in the Letters section "Are Organic Food Advocates in Thrall to Mythology Rather Than Science?" As reasons to make "a choice to buy organic," Mr. Eisner wrings his hands about "farm workers' continual exposure to pesticides" and "Costa Rican children who walk by fields being crop dusted with noxious chemicals." In fact, these considerations are reasons to reject organic foods.
When the Agriculture Department was deliberating over what technologies and products could be used for "organic" farming, activists organized a massive letter-writing campaign to demand that gene-splicing to improve plants and irradiation to kill pathogens be barred. Because their efforts were successful, organic production is particularly hazardous to farmers and consumers: Gene-spliced plant varieties, which make possible markedly decreased applications of chemical pesticides and permit a shift to less toxic and more environmentally friendly herbicides, aren't permitted in organic farming. In 2005, farmers who adopted gene-spliced crops earned $7 billion in extra income. Many organically grown grains have significantly higher levels of dangerous fungal toxins and insect parts than gene-spliced varieties.
The "benefits" of organic farming are, indeed, mythological, as are the hazards of high-tech farming for long-suffering farmers and children.
Henry I. Miller, M.D.
The Hoover Institution
(Dr. Miller was an official at the F.D.A. from 1979 to 1994.)
Do Not Hamper Progress by Discouraging Field Trials
- Balopi Lopson Kebapetswe, Student ( Microbial Biotechnology Degree ) University of Queensland Australia
Dear AgBioView - Scientific field trials of GM Crops should be allowed for that is when the potential advantages of such crops can be seen and be adopted by farmers in India hence good food security! The world is at risk of droughts, global warming and less food production making any technology that can rescue this planet from such catastrophes to be urgently tried and get adopted as soon as possible.
For now biotechnology has proved to be a such technology so its progress should not be hampered by discouraging field trials more especially at this time when things have not yet went out of control-climate change is a time bomb that has given human kind a short time to gather up all that can help!
People need to understand that with field trials that is when any scientific product can be assessed for its potential usage as well as its "real risks" it can pose on the environment before commercialisation.This helps to distinguish the theory from reality about any scientific product, by scientists and researchers this is done with high standard protocols of experimentation design with any possibility of risk not ruled out!
Field trials are very important more especially when it comes to genetically modified crops that have certain traits modified for the betterment of crop production!I appeal to any government to allow such innovations before it is too late.
Audio: Golden rice report (6:45)
- January 29, 2007 http://www.theworld.org/?q=taxonomy_by_date/1/20070129
The World's Jason Margolis reports on a new variety of genetically modified rice. It's called "golden rice," and it's been engineered to contain vitamin A and improve the health of malnourished people. But critics of genetically modified foods are still having their say.
Energy Biosciences Institute
The University of California Berkeley and its partners the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will join BP in a $500 million research institute aimed at exploring the application of biotechnology in the energy arena
[Marker]BP plans to invest $500 million over the next ten years to establish a dedicated biosciences energy research laboratory attached to the University of California Berkeley and its partners the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It will be the first facility of its kind in the world.
The BP Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) is expected to explore the application of bioscience and the production of new and cleaner energy, principally fuels for road transport focusing on new Biofuels components, devising new technologies and using modern plant science to develop fuels from non food crops. The EBI will also pursue bioscience-based research in the conversion of heavy hydrocarbons to clean fuels, improved recovery from existing oil and gas reservoirs, and carbon sequestration.
In addition to its research remit, the EBI is aimed at facilitating the cross-training of a new generation of researchers focusing on coupling biotechnology and energy production, making it a focal point for interactions with leading biotech companies which have a major role in developing and applying energy bioscience
The Institute will be unique in both its scale and its partnership between BP, academia and others in the private sector. Dedicated facilities on the campuses of UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois will house EBI research laboratories and staff. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will carry out supporting research. Up to 50 BP staff located on the two campuses will work in partnership with university faculty and researchers. BP and its partners will share governance of the EBI and guidance of its research programs.
The establishment of the EBI marks a significant step in BP’s commitment to providing new lower carbon energy and follows the establishment of BP Alternative Energy, a low carbon power business, in November 2005.
This BP news item is on the BP website at http://www.bp.com/sectiongenericarticle.do?categoryId=9009836&contentId=7018600
GM Legislation Bill Tracker
This "legislation tracker" provides up-to-date information on agricultural-based state legislation that impacts local government and community decision-making.
In response to communities and local governments passing policies to protect sustainable farming systems and environmental health, including the impacts from genetically modified organisms, legislators allied with the biotechnology industry and the Farm Bureau are introducing "preemption" bills prohibiting local decision-making regarding various aspects of farming including the planting of seeds and the passage of health ordinances. However, many state lawmakers recognize the importance of community decision-making and support bills that protect small farming systems and local decision-making.
BBC Debate on the Future of Indian Farming, Farmers Suicides, and Bt Cotton
(Hear how Vandana Shiva's comments on Indian peasants' glory in the past and how modernity is now destroying them. She argues that future of India lies in small, subsistence farms, and denies that there has been any progress at all lately in India. Gurcharan Das comes across sane, reasoned and pragmatic.)
"Around 150,000 farmers have committed suicide in India in the last decade.
Most observers agree the reason is high levels of debt. But there's huge debate over the cause.
The families of victims often blame big business. They claim farmers are tricked into borrowing money to pay for technological advances like genetically modified seeds. Rates of interest are high and financial ruin is certain if the bumper crop which was promised fails to arrive.
Others blame the Indian Government, for failing to protect farmers from heavily subsidised crops grown in the United States. But some observers say the farmers are the authors of their own misfortune, for failing to adopt modern farming methods which would enable them to compete in a globalised world.
Alex Ritson's guests are Vandana Shiva, the founder and president of India's Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology who argues for the rights of India's farmers and Gucharan Das, a former top level corporate executive who now writes about Indian business."