Thursday, September 30, 2010

Plagiarism plagues India's genetically modified crops by Priya Shetty

The finding that parts of an interacademy report on GM crops were plagiarized could spell the end of Bt brinjal.Ajay Verma/REUTERS/Corbis
Published online 29 September 2010 | Nature |

Transgenic aubergine still banned after encouraging report is discredited.

Students hold a mock funeral procession against Bt (Bacillus thuringenesis) brinjal or genetically modified brinjal (a type of eggplant) crop in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh January 28, 2010The finding that parts of an interacademy report on GM crops were plagiarized could spell the end of Bt brinjal.Ajay Verma/REUTERS/Corbis

India's moratorium on genetically modified (GM) food crops is unlikely to be lifted after it emerged that key sections from a landmark report by six Indian science academies, which recommended that the country resume planting of GM food crops, had been plagiarized from an article in favour of such crops.

The environment ministry this week rejected the academies' report. The anti-GM-crops lobby has seized on the controversy, and Indian scientists fear that the episode has undermined the country's international scientific reputation.

Nandula Raghuram of the Society for Scientific Values, an ethics watchdog based in Delhi, says that what should have been a rigorous assessment by India's top scientific institutions has ended up as the mouthpiece of Ananda Kumar, a plant scientist who is director of the National Research Centre for Plant Biotechnology and a known proponent of GM crops.

The plagiarism "reflects the larger tragedy of Indian academies", says Raghuram, a molecular biologist at Indraprastha University in Delhi. The academies have "a total lack of social sensitivity, objectivity and public honesty", he says.

Devinder Sharma, chairman of the Delhi-based Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security, a group of scientists that is against GM crops, calls the entire report "a cut and paste exercise".

If the six top national academies have to go by what just one scientist says, "it clearly indicates how hollow and useless the science academies are," says Sharma. "Where is the scientific rigour that is expected from such 'distinguished' bodies?"

A statement signed on Tuesday by Mamannamama Vijayan, the president of the Indian National Science Academy — which coordinated the report — focused solely on the "inappropriateness" of copying text without citations, ignoring any accusations of a lack of scientific rigour. Vijayan told Nature that he is "very agitated that such a thing happened", but added that although the report will be reviewed, "it is very unlikely that the recommendations will change".


In October 2009, India's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee gave the go-ahead to commercial planting of Bt brinjal, a variety of aubergine modified to produce a protein from the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacterium that is toxic to insect pests. But this February, after an outcry from farmers and activists, environment minister Jairam Ramesh put a moratorium on planting the vegetable, pending the interacademy assessment of its safety to human health and the environment.

“Where is the scientific rigour that is expected from such 'distinguished' bodies?”

The academies' report was released on 24 September. But, on the following day, the advocacy group Coalition for GM Free India pointed out that it contained text copied verbatim from two 2009 documents: Bt Brinjal: A Pioneering Push, written by Kumar for the magazine Biotech News, and The Development and Regulation of Bt Brinjal in India by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, a lobby group based in Ithaca, New York, and funded by biotechnology corporation Monsanto, headquartered in St Louis, Missouri. Kumar had also contributed to this second report.

The interacademy report and the Biotech News article both contain the lines: "Bt brinjal ... has been subjected to a rigorous biosafety regulatory process encompassing all aspects of toxicity, allergenicity, environmental safety, socio-economic assessment etc."

Kumar told Nature that the plagiarism was unintentional, and that he did not feel he had to reword statements of fact before submitting them for inclusion in the academies' report. Indian scientists contacted by Nature say that because Kumar contributed to all three reports, the plagiarism is more a matter of shoddy writing and lack of citation than of serious misconduct.

Govindarajan Padmanaban, a biochemist and former director of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, agrees. He says that the plagiarism is an "indiscretion rather than any deliberate misrepresentation of facts".

Starting again

Nevertheless, questions remain about the rigour of the interacademy report. Kumar says that the report's conclusion that Bt brinjal is safe is based largely on data analysed by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee last year — suggesting that a report commissioned to supplement the committee's scientific guidance is actually based on the committee's recommendations.


Indeed, Ramesh seemed frustrated more that the report offered nothing new than by suggestions of misconduct. "My idea of referring the GM crops to academics was to get a view of the larger scientific community but not the view of one Ananda Kumar which I knew even before the moratorium was put on Bt brinjal," he told the Times of India this week.

India needs "transparent, scientific methods of assessing risks and benefits of GM crops", says Monkombu Swaminathan, an agricultural scientist often referred to as the father of India's green revolution for his role in developing high-yield varieties of wheat. He calls for "a regulatory authority that inspires public, political and media confidence".

Meanwhile, Sharma says that any confidence in the academies' report has evaporated. "This fake report should be shelved and the chiefs of the six top national academies sacked," he says.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Public opinion stopped GM, says campaigner

Independent On Sunday

Global resistance has halted the biotech giants, reports Environment Editor Michael McCarthy from the IoS co-sponsored Sustainable Planet Forum

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The tide has turned globally against the introduction of genetically modified crops, Lord Melchett, the former director of Greenpeace and campaigner for organic farming and food, said yesterday.

Fifteen years ago, many governments thought GM crops and food would become the norm, but it has not happened because of rising public resistance around the world, and it will not happen, he said.

"This is a redundant technology and many people in Europe may be unaware of the extent of the resistance to GM in places like India and China, because they swallow the GM industry line that it is supported all across the world," he said. "I have to say that where we are now with GM leaves me feeling very optimistic."

Speaking at the Sustainable Planet forum in Lyon, France, he said GM technology, put forward by firms such as Monsanto, the US agribusiness giant and pesticide manufacturer, had achieved its initial success only "through secrecy", he said. Many aspects of it had been kept a secret from farmers and consumers, but once labelling of GM products began, public support collapsed. He cited the case of Monsanto's GM bovine growth hormone milk.

"America is where we're told GM is a huge success, and where everyone from farmers to consumers loves GM, but it's simply not true," he said. "If anybody tells you this, ask them, where is GM wheat? Monsanto had it ready to go but it was stopped by American farmers. Ask them, where is the GM version of alfalfa, the fourth most commonly grown crop in the world? American farmers went to court to stop it being commercialised," he told the conference, which is being co-sponsored by the French newspaper Libération, The Independent and La Repubblica from Italy.

Lord Melchett is now the policy director of the Soil Association, the organic farming and food campaigning body. An organic farmer himself, he has been one of Britain's most prominent anti-GM activists and in 1999, when head of Greenpeace, led a raid to trash a field of trial GM crops in Norfolk.

He and 27 other Greenpeace volunteers were arrested and charged with criminal damage, but acquitted by a jury after claiming that the damage they had prevented – potential contamination of non-GM crops by pollen from the GM trial – was greater than the damage they had caused.

In the Lyon forum yesterday, attended by thousands of people, Lord Melchett joined with a French anti-GM campaigner, Philippe Martin, to examine the question (perhaps reflecting French preoccupations) of whether it is possible now to have a menu with no GM items on it.

Mr Martin, a socialist MP and council leader from Le Gers, the south-western France department with the highest percentage of farmers in the country, began by saying there were four great existential questions: Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? What's for dinner?

He said that, personally, he would not like a menu without confit de canard on it (his local regional speciality of preserved duck), but that was a matter of choice. He was concerned about cases where consumers might have no choice at all.

He hit out at the decision by the European Commission last July to authorise the import of six more GM strains of maize to be used for animal feed. Lord Melchett agreed, saying it was vital to label clearly milk and meat that came from animals fed on GM products. "There is a huge amount of GM soya fed to chickens, pigs and dairy cows, and you will eat it whether you want to or not," he said. "Simply to get these products labelled is a crucial battle."

Anti-GM demonstrators briefly disrupted a debate between two senior French politicians at yesterday's conference. They carried banners on to the stage at the Lyon opera house to protest against what they called the French government's "hypocritical" approach to genetically modified foods.

Their target was the senior French environment minister, Jean-Louis Borloo, who was debating with François Hollande, the former Socialist party leader, on whether green issues and mainstream politics were compatible. France has taken a restrictive attitude to GM foods in public, the demonstrators said, but quietly approved the planting of a score of GM plant varieties earlier this year.

Mr Borloo replied that France had done more than any other EU nation to slow the advance of GM and make certain that Brussels undertook scientific studies before giving approval for new products.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ramesh trashes academies’ report on Bt brinjal

Absolutely scandalous, leading science institutes hand in glove with GM industry. Consumers are blissfully unaware of such catastrophic decisions taken on their behalf re their foods. Check this link "Gutter Science: Inter-Academy Report on GM Crops", sums it up starkly and crisply. In a shocking revelation "Six Indian science academies had earlier this week approved the limited release of GM brinjal for cultivation in a joint report that contained 60 lines of plagiarised text, a near verbatim reproduction of an article in a biotechnology advocacy newsletter which itself had lines extracted from an industry-supported publication" to quote the

It turns out that important parts of the report have been copied from the reports from the industry and an article by a biased scientist.
India Today and a host of leading media unravel this below. Those interested, please find enclosed the academy report for reference.

Sangita Sharma

Ramesh trashes academies’ report on Bt brinjal

NEW DELHI: Virtually trashing the report by six top academies which favoured “limited release” of genetically modified brinjal, the Environment Minister, Mr Jairam Ramesh today said it does not give a larger scientific view and focused only on findings o f a scientist.

Endorsing views of an advocacy group that alleged that the report was plagiarised, Mr Ramesh said, “I had asked the academics to give the broader scientific view. But it is nothing else but the views of one scientist (Anand Kumar) which I had already kno wn much before the moratorium was placed on the release of the Bt brinjal.”

Clearly unhappy over the report which he had sought from the country’s leading academic institutes, the Minister said, “I do not want the six top science academics to tell me Anand Kumar’s view. I already know that.”

Mr Ramesh, who had imposed moratorium on release of Bt brinjal on February 9 citing lack of consensus among various stakeholders, said, “I have not heard since then a single state government in the country wanting its revocation”.

“Even the most aggressive anti-NGO state in India, Gujarat, did not want Bt brinjal,” he added, making it clear that unless there is consensus on the issue in the society and states agree for its release, the moratorium on GM food will continue.”

The Indian Academy of Sciences, Indian National Academy of Engineering, Indian National Science Academy, National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, National Academy of Medical Sciences and National Academy of Sciences (India) were asked by Mr Ramesh and Mr K Kasturirangan, Member, Planning Commission in March to submit a report on GM crops.

“It is appropriate now to release Bt Brinjal for cultivation in specific farmers’ fields in identified states,” said the report of the six science academies on Bt brinjal which was submitted to the Government recently.

However, levelling allegations of plagiarism against the academies, advocacy group ‘Coalition for GM Free India’ had said that the report was a biased, political position paper.

“Rather than a rigorous scientific review that it is supposed to be, it is absolutely scandalous that the six top science academies used plagiarised material in their attempt to promote Bt brinjal,” said Ms Kavita Kuruganti on behalf of the coalition.

According to the advocacy group, the academics had heavily relied on an article “Bt Brinjal: A Pioneering Push” in Biotech News — a publication of the Department of Biotechnology written by Kumar, a vocal supporter of Bt brinjal and developer of GM crops himself. - PTI

Bt brinjal: Academies copied report
India Today, New Delhi September 26, 2010

India's top science academies have done the unthinkable. They have copied and quoted extensively from an
industry lobby report to give a clean chit to the controversial genetically modified (GM) brinjal.
Key portions and data in the much touted Inter-Academy Report on Genetically Modified Crops have been
lifted straight from a report of a lobbying group funded by seed companies, including Monsanto and Mahyco.

In March, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had asked the six science academies - the Indian Academy of
Sciences, the Indian National Academy of Engineering, the Indian National Science Academy, the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, the National Academy of Medical Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences (India) - to give an unbiased scientific assessment on the feasibility of transgenic crops and the proposed regulatory mechanism for GM food. They submitted the report to Ramesh this week, recommending the commercial release of Bt brinjal.

But it turns out that the academies have relied heavily on data generated by USbased GM lobby International Service for the Acquisition of Agri- biotech Applications (ISAAA). They have recommended the commercial release of Bt brinjal and the lifting of the moratorium imposed on it by Ramesh.
Earlier, science and technology minister Prithviraj Chavan had plagiarised from reports by the same ISAAA in a letter to cabinet colleague A. Ramadoss while defending Bt brinjal. This was exposed by M AIL T ODAY in February this year.
The report in question currently has copied most of the data and information in support of Bt brinjal from an ISAAA report The Development and Regulation of Bt Brinjal in India and an article Bt Brinjal: A Pioneering Push by Dr P. Anand Kumar in Biotech News - a publication of the Department of Biotechnology.
Both were published in 2009. Being a developer of GM crops himself, Kumar is a vocal supporter of Bt brinjal.
The academies have declared Bt brinjal safe by copying the following paragraph verbatim from Dr Kumar's article: " Bt brinjal ' Event EE- 1' has been subjected to a rigorous biosafety regulatory process encompassing all aspects of toxicity, allergenicity, environmental safety, socio- economic assessment etc.
"Studies on food and feed safety have been conducted on rats, rabbits, fish, chickens, goats and cows. Similarly, environmental impact assessments to study germination, pollen flow, invasiveness, aggressiveness, weediness, and effect on non- target organisms were also carried out." The data that has been lifted from the industry
document relates to key issues.

The copied portion says: "It (brinjal) is an important cash crop for poor farmers who transplant it from nurseries at different times of the year to produce two or three crops, each of 150 to 180 days' duration."
Again, on losses caused by pests, an entire paragraph has been lifted from the ISAAA report: "Brinjal Shoot and Fruit Borer (BSFB) causes significant losses of up to 60 to 70 per cent in commercial plantings. Damage starts in the nursery, prior to transplanting, continues to harvest and is then carried- over to the next crop of brinjal. BSFB damages brinjal in two ways.

First, it infests young shoots during the vegetative phase, which limits the ability of plants to produce healthy fruitbearing shoots, thereby reducing potential yield."
Another piece of data used to justify Bt brinjal has been lifted from the industry report: "Farmers usually spray twice a week, applying 15 to 40 insecticide sprays, or more, in one season depending on infestation levels."
Figures relating to the financial cost of insecticide spray by farmers too come from the industry document. The similarities in the ISAAA report and the Inter-Academy report go on without anyone getting a hint about the source of the data. No references or citations have been given, as is normal with any scientific document.


NOTE: David Andow, the author of the new report, is Distinguished McKnight University Professor of Insect Ecology at the University of Minnesota, specialising in: ecological risk assessment of biological stressors, such as invasive species and GMOs; insect resistance management, gene flow and its consequences, and non-target species effects; and science policy associated with GMOs. He's also the Coordinator of the International Project on GMO Environmental Risk Assessment Methodologies (GMO ERA Project)

Bt brinjal unsafe, says new report
Indian Express, September 26 2010

New Delhi: After a period of lull, the debate over genetically modified crops, specifically the use of Bt brinjal, is suddenly heating up once again. A day after it became known that a report by six top science academies had recommended an immediate release of Bt brinjal, people opposed to GM crops on Saturday produced a counter report - from an American scientist - with diametrically opposite conclusions.

What is more, these people slammed the report by the six academies as being "shoddy" and "without sufficient arguments and supporting evidence", and went on to allege that parts of the report pertaining specifically to Bt brinjal had been plagiarised from an article by a GM-crop developer that had appeared in a biotechnology magazine in December last year. The author of the article in question, P Anand Kumar, a project director at the Delhi-based National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology, rubbished the allegation.

“I happen to be a member of the National Academy of Sciences. I was asked to submit my inputs for the inter-academy report. I gave my views. Obviously, my views are the same that I had expressed in the magazine article. Where is the question of plagiarisation?” he asked.

The counter report has been authored by David Andow of the Department of Entomology, University of Minnesota, United States. It was released by Aruna Rodrigues, the lead petitioner in the Supreme Court case seeking a ban on genetically modified crops. Rodrigues claimed that Andow was an acknowledged international expert on the environmental risks of genetically engineered crop plants. She said she herself had asked the scientist to produce the report.

This report finds faults with the clearance granted to Bt brinjal by the Genetic Engineering Approval (now Appraisal) Committee (GEAC), India's top regulatory body on genetically modified products, in October last year. Anand Kumar happens to be a member of GEAC. The GEAC decision, however, was overturned by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh in February and the introduction of Bt brinjal had been put on hold.

The report by the American scientist says that the expert committee, on whose recommendation GEAC had given its clearance, had relied on “dubious scientific assumptions” and had either ignored or inadequately evaluated environmental concerns.

"The potential advantages of hybrid Bt brinjal seem marginal and uncertain for most Indian farmers, and the environmental risks (including socioeconomic risks) to Indian farmers and consumers remain very uncertain. Several significant environmental risks have not been considered and nearly all of the others have been inadequately considered," the report says.

The inter-academy report, however, had claimed that the safety of Bt brinjal for human consumption had been established "adequately and beyond reasonable doubt" and recommended that the limited release of Bt brinjal could be done almost immediately.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"From Soil to Seed" a 3 day Technical Workshop by Annadana

Greetings from Annadana Soil and Seed Savers

Soil and seed are sacred to us. Ishana Farms, Bangalore welcomes you to join in conserving this delightful diversity of crops. Learn these simple integrated farming techniques successfully practiced for over a decade by Annadana and become hands on experts. Indulge in the delight of growing your own food. Annadana equip's you with sound technical know-how on Soil regeneration techniques from the preparation of organic growth promoters, compost making, mulching, bio extracts to seed sowing techniques followed by Seed Saving.

The details of three day training workshop FROM SOIL to SEED are as follow:

Date: 8th, 9th &10th Oct 2010

Time: 10am - 6pm

Venue: "Ishana", Gopathi Farms, Village Singapura, Post Vidyaranyapura, Bangalore - 560097.

For more information please contact - Pavitra Prasan,
Here is your chance take charge of your food as farming is no rocket science.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Absolute power comes from absolute control over food by Devinder Sharma

Read below, this to me is no longer shocking. Consumers have been made docile by the refined processed and junk foods and so addicted to tastes. Because this is what processed foods are designed to do! This branded camouflaged toxic foods enters the bloodstream. No wonder the brains have become numb and slow to reacting nor able to resist.
Moreover, the lackadaisical approach is adding to the consumers worst nightmare which is fiercely unraveling its lethal tyrannical head.
Watch this link -

World over, the processed food mafia only wants you addicted, so that they fill their greedy coffers. So much so, they adopt a dictatorship attitude over a handful of consciously awakened consumers who dare to stand up for themselves and for others, for what is their constitutional right to safe food.
This is gross injustice and appalling. Hope this never happens in India!
Wake up before it is the end of Choice and a Sad end to your Life in hospitals!!!
Sangita Sharma

Ever since I was a child I have been drinking milk bought directly from a small dairy in my neighbourhood. When I moved to New Delhi, for some months I managed to get my direct supply of milk from a neighbourhood supplier. But soon, the buffalo-keeper moved out his animals under pressure from builders. This was almost two decades back, and since then I am left with little option but to buy processed milk.

However, there are millions in India who can afford to avoid intake of processed milk and I think they are the lucky ones. I wish I could still buy my daily requirement of milk from the small neighbourhood dairies that dot the outskirts of New Delhi, and elsewhere.

I was therefore shocked when I viewed the accompanying video on YouTube.

Police raiding an organic grocery shop in California.

This is certainly outrageous. But this is a grim pointer to where the next battles would be fought. It is not water, as many people believe, but food that will be putting nations at war. You can clearly see, if you want to, where it is coming from. Multinational food giants have been slowly but steadily gaining control over food. They know that absolute control over food is the road to absolute power.

The process of takeover of food simultaneously began on several fronts. It began with Green Revolution in the late 1960s, which was essentially to provide controlled technology to increase farm production in developing countries. This was followed with Structural Adjustment Programme that the World Bank/IMF pushed seeking policy changes through the 150-odd conditionality's that came with every loan. To provide more teeth to the process, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) have been brought in.

Technology is now controlled through the instruments of Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), and unhindered grain trade is made possible by the unjust obligations that developing countries have been made to accept under the so-called free trade paradigm. To complete the control over the entire food chain, the third actor in the game -- food retail -- is now being moved across the national borders. G-20 is pushing for compliance, asking member countries to streamline the norms that facilitate the entry of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Multi-Brand Retail.

Internationally, the food trio -- Monsanto/Syngenta as symbol of the technology providers; Cargill/ADM among the major food trading companies; and Wal-Mart and Tesco representing food retail -- have formed an unholy alliance They operate in unison, making the governments fall in line. Food laws are being changed everywhere across the globe to make it easy for the trio to operate. WTO is helping to push farmers out of agriculture thereby making it easier for these multinationals to march on. IPR laws are bringing the necessary changes in national laws in conformity with internationally designed parameters bringing private control over technology.

The process of takeover of food is now complete.

But there are still irritating impediment on the way to absolute control over food. Alert and conscious consumers are not giving up so easily, and they are gaining in strength. Even in the United States and Europe, more and more people are realising the dangers of processed foods, and silently moving away to organic foods. The annual market for organic foods is growing at a phenomenal 20 per cent. This has to be stopped. So the regulators are now working overtime to outlaw organic foods. The underlying objective is to limit your food choice. You will be left with no option but to buy what the food giants want you to buy. Hobson's choice, isn't it?

In the name of food safety, which is a misnomer, food laws are being changed. S 510 is one such law that the US is considering to bring in. One of the world's most corrupt body -- US FDA -- is at work. It is working overtime to outlaw organic food. The prescription is simple: GM food is what you should be eating, organic food is bad for your health. That's the best it can do. The police raid in an organic store in California therefore is just the beginning. You wait and watch. The day is not far when the police will enter your kitchen. In the name of Mendel in the Kitchen, Nina Fedoroff, presently science advisor to the Secretary of State, is working hard to police your kitchen.

There are some who realise the threat ahead. This is what someone wrote in the comments section of the YouTube: I go to my apt garbage bin and search out empty general mills cereal boxes and various gmo containers, wash them out and sterilize them and place my organic foodstuff inside because I don't want to be dragged down to jail. I can't afford a criminal record, to maintain my job.

I don't know what is happening to the United States. Whenever I see the Statue of Liberty I can't miss the tears in her eyes. Only the Americans refuse to see it. As my film-maker friend Ajay Kanchan often says: America is the country where civil liberties have been mortgaged to the multinationals. People live in virtual tyranny. I am in complete agreement. I can only feel sorry for fellow Americans. But I can assure you the world outside is waiting to help you, to pull you out of the police rule. Come, let us join hands. Let us try to regain our control over what we eat.

And if you still believe, the police is acting right. Read this letter (from someone with the user name 12dogpal): They did not ban the H1N1 virus infection at the factory pig farm in Mexico where the virus was released. The pork was still sold in the USA. They didn't close the Wright County Egg farm for poisoning the food supply, they didn't close Wal-Mart for passing out e.coli beef. They didn't stop the drug co's from putting out dangerous drugs, lets face it folks, your government is your worst enemy.

As Jawaharlal Nehru had said during the days of the British Raj: Freedom is in peril, defend it with all your might. Start by saying no to S 510. Remember, regaining control over our food is the ultimate satyagrah.

Posted By Devinder Sharma to Ground Reality at 9/20/2010 09:54:00 AM

Sunday, September 12, 2010

New Food Rules - a right-to-food programme in Chhattisgarh

The Chattisgarh food security model is indeed a flagship model and should definitely be replicated in each state of our country. Local production, local procurement and local distribution. It is so refreshing to read that saving seeds for the next season, a time tested technique is being revived. Farmers can feel the respite from the debt syndrome caused by the hounds the seed corporations. If the State government's were to buy locally what the farmers grows at a competitive price with the rest being retained by farmers as seeds or for self-consumption” not difficult, is it?

Concerted efforts by States can make this into a replicable viable model, if only corruption was brought well under control. Millions then could be saved from going to bed hungry or prevented from dying of starvation.

2nd September, Economic Times page 10.
New Food Rules
How will the proposed National Food Security Act impact livelihoods, cropping patterns and productivity? Chhattisgarh, which has been running a right-to-food progr
amme for four years now, throws up some interesting answers, reports M Rajshekhar

IN ITS HEYDAY, KHOSLA MUST HAVE been a beautiful village, with fields as far as the eye can see and a pond around which its houses arrange themselves. Today, though, the houses are ageing, the pond is algaeflecked and the streets a mess after the rains. In one of those ageing houses, Ram Prasad Kurmi, a former sarpanch of the block in Chhattisgarh’s Janjgir-Champa district of which Khosla is a part, talks about another kind of change.
“In the old days, whenever the MP, MLA or local babus came to the village, people unloaded grievances on them —dissatisfaction with the ration shop, non-delivery of pension, missing doctors and teachers,” he says. “Today, they only ask for a second ration card.” Such a difference a ration card makes to the lives of the poor in Chhattisgarh.
For four years now, Chhattisgarh has been giving 35 kg of grain — comprising rice and wheat — a month at heavily subsidised rates to 3.6 million of its 4.4 million households. The ultra-poor pay Re 1 per kg, while the poor pay 2 per kg, against the market price of 12-17 a kg. The ration card is the document that enables this subsidised transfer.
This transfer of grain has come to mean many things to many people. It’s a stamp of food security. It’s a passport for choices they didn’t have earlier: to work on the fields or in industry, to grow subsistence crops or cash crops, to consume their produce or sell it in the market.
Chhattisgarh wasn’t the first state to roll out a near-universal food-security programme. Tamil Nadu was, in the nineties. However, Tamil Nadu is not a large producer of paddy, from which rice is derived; Chhattisgarh is. Hence, Tamil Nadu’s farmers could never be touched by the programme the way Chhattisgarh’s farmers are. Chhattisgarh not only diminishes the fear of hunger that sits at the heart of the livelihood strategy of the poor, it also assures farmers of a market for their produce.
The Chhattisgarh programme has come to impact the lives of everyone involved: the labourer, the small farmer, the large farmer, the middleman, the mandis and the government. Food security is just the starting point in Chhattisgarh. The myriad ways in which such a welfare programme touches lives and other aspects of the economy have shaped — and accelerated — several ongoing trends. These might well be replicated, in varying degrees, as and when the Centre rolls out a national food programme on similar lines.
There’s a drop in starvation numbers
A food-security programme is also a cashtransfer scheme. At the current price of
grain of 12-17 per kg, it would cost a Chhattisgarhi household 420-595 to buy 35 kg of grain from the market. Through the scheme, they pay 70. That’s a saving of
350-525 a month.
The scheme has created a safety net for the poor, says Yasna Singh, a PhD student at the London School of Economics, who recently finished her field work on the Satnami community in Meu village of Janjgir-Champa. “People are now eating two meals a day, which is a new experience for many of them.” Adds local right-to-food activist Vibhishan Patrey: “We don’t hear about starvation deaths anymore.”
Nutrition levels have improved, but only marginally. While the programme has protected people from a rise in prices of rice and wheat, it hasn’t insulated them from the price escalation in pulses and oilseeds. Says Samir Garg, advisor (Chhattisgarh) to the commissioners of the Supreme Court (food security): “My guess is we are stagnant on the nutrition front, the gains from the food security programme counter-balanced by inflation.”
The labourer is getting empowered…
For labourers, things are getting better, relatively speaking. Historically, labourers have worked in the fields for subsistence. Instead of money, they would take home grains. But with the public distribution system (PDS) assuring a minimum supply of grains, they would rather work for money than for food, which they can use to buy other staples or anything else. “In that sense, it confers freedom from village labour,” says J Jeyaranjan, director, Institute for Development Alternatives.
Reetika Khera, a development economist, says the agrarian economy across India is monetising. “There is a greater need for money and greater supply of it,” she says. This process has been accelerated by inflation. “Earlier, we could buy vegetables for one kg of paddy,” says Shiela Tandon, a resident of Meu. “Not anymore.”
In Tamil Nadu, the food-security programme accelerated a move towards work for money. Says Mr Jeyaranjan: “Agriculture, which was giving the household food and money, had to compete with other activities that provide only money.” In Chhattisgarh, labourers go to work in brick kilns and mines. Or, they migrate.
Says Sunil Kumar, the editor of Dainik Chhattisgarh, a Raipur-based daily: “Migration from the Janjgir-Champa district continues unabated.” A big reason for the continuing exodus is the lack of alternative employment opportunities in the village. In Chhattisgarh, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) is corrupt and doesn’t inspire confidence among villagers — either in terms of providing work or paying on time. And so, it seems the pressure for landless labourers to migrate has not been reduced by greater food security at home.
…at the expense of the
small farmer
Labourers working less or migrating puts farmers, who depend on local and cheap labour, in a bind. Bharat Lal Sahu, a large farmer in Meu, says the scheme is making workers lazier. “Where I need 10 labourers, I get just two or three. And even they ask for 100 a day, against the 50 earlier.”
Labourers in Chhattisgarh, empowered by the all-around changes brought on by the food-security programme, now prefer to work for large farmers, for 120-130 a day. They are organising themselves for better bargaining power. In the Bastar block, they increasingly move around — and negotiate contracts — in groups. For instance, to transplant paddy in a farmer’s field over 10 days, in return for a consolidated sum.
More than the large farmer, it’s the small farmer who is being squeezed by these realignments. Take Kulu Ram Dewani, a farmer
with four other family members. A resident of Bastar block, he has one acre of land, on which he grows paddy.
On the one hand, his 35 kg entitlement lasts 15 days. So, he doesn’t dare sell most of his harvest. That means he doesn’t have much cash income. But his labour wants to be paid in cash. “I can’t compete against large farmers,” he says. “I can neither offer them (labourers) work for a large number of days nor accommodate so many people. And all I can pay is 50-60 a day.” But, in the new dispensation, that is not the ‘market rate’.
This experience might be different for farmers who rent land from larger farmers and give them part of the harvest, says PS Vijaya Shankar, co-founder of grassroots organisation Samaj Pragati Sahayog. “Mostly, the terms of contract are loaded heavily in favour of the landlord. If minimum assured consumption is provided through PDS, the share-cropper will have a greater incentive to cultivate cash crops.” They could take on higher risks and try their hand at earning more.
Paddy is becoming a commercial crop
Paddy, from which rice is derived, is big in Chhattisgarh. About 63% of its arable land is under paddy, which has historically been a subsistence crop. Of the paddy they grew, farmers would first think of seeds for next year, for self-consumption and for paying the farm labour. The surplus, if any, would be sold in the market. This is changing.
Now, the PDS gives them 35 kg of grain every month at a maximum of 2 per kg. For a five-member household, this will last about 15 days. What farming households are doing is retaining just enough from their harvest to make up the shortfall and selling the rest.
There’s also incentive for them to sell in the market. The minimum price Chhattisgarh pays for paddy has increased from 775 a quintal in 2007 to 1,080 in 2010. Further, the state government has committed to buying every kg of paddy put into the market by farmers. Explains Rajeev Jaiswal, joint director, Chhattisgarh’s food and civil supplies department: “We cannot cap procurement at 1.6 million tonnes (what the state needs to feed its PDS) because large farmers would find a way to sell their produce first. This would exclude the small farmer.”
However, acreage and production numbers, as put out by the state’s department of agriculture, indicate the farmer in Chhattisgarh is not shifting from other crops to paddy. In 2006-07, when the state started giving 35 kg of grain, its area under paddy was 3.8 million hectares. In 2009-10, this dropped to 3.5 million hectares. “Land under paddy has peaked,” says Jaiswal. “We will now see a move towards other crops.” Similarly, rice production has dropped marginally from 5 million tonnes to 4.95 million tonnes. But this is also a function of rainfall — just 30% of the cultivable land in Chhattisgarh is irrigated.
Other numbers, less hostage to environmental factors, suggest a pick up in commercial farming, led by paddy. Farmers are looking at agriculture differently. The offtake of seeds has increased from 128,000 quintals in 2006-07 to 319,000 quintals in 2008-09. Says Umashankar Banjare, a rural extension worker in the Pamgarh block: “In the past two to three years, established seeds like swarnadhaara (a high-yielding paddy variety) have been replaced by even higheryielding varieties.”
This trend is corroborated by RK Chandravanshi, deputy agriculture director, Department of Agriculture, Chhattisgarh, who says the area under high-yielding varieties climbed from 52% in 2004 to 62% in 2009. Similarly, agricultural credit has increased from 457 crore in 2006-07 to 931 crore in 2009-10.
While it wouldn’t be accurate to attribute these changes entirely to the food-security scheme, it’s likely that the arrival of the food-security scheme has accelerated these trends. It has given farmers the confidence that the government will buy all that they grow, thus improving their willingness to invest in the crop.
It’s possible that the availability of cheap food from the PDS could persuade medium and large farmers to diversify into cash crops. But, says Shankar: “Punjab shows that government procurement of rice and wheat is associated with a disappearance of all other crops and end of crop diversity.”
The grain mandis are losing relevance
Ten years ago, Chhattisgarh grew 4 million tonnes of paddy, of which the state government acquired 300,000 tonnes, or 7.5% of the produce. In 2009-10, it grew 7.6 million tonnes; of this, 4.4 million tonnes, or 58%, was procured by the state. Of the rest, says Jaiswal, the state government official: “Only about 500,000 tonnes went to the mandis, the rest being retained by farmers as seeds or for self-consumption.”
Chhattisgarh bypassed its mandis in paddy procurement, instead buying through cooperative societies and procurement centres at the village level. The mandis, though, are unaffected, as the societies have to pay a procurement tax, the revenues from which go to the mandis. However, says Rakesh Kumar Sahu, an accountant at the Akaltara Mandi: “Traders, especially those who don’t have milling operations, are being badly affected.”
State energy & funds are poured into this scheme Chhattisgarh has an expenditure budget
of about 25,000 crore, half of which comes from the Centre. From its portion
of 12,000 crore, the state spends about 1,600 crore — or 13.3% — on the foodsecurity scheme. By virtue of becoming the state’s flagship programme, it gets disproportionate attention from administrators. “Collectors start their meetings by asking about the PDS,” says Samir Garg, advisor (Chhattisgarh) to the commissioners of the Supreme Court (food security). “The same level of attention and funding is yet to be given to other welfare programmes.”
In the various forms it is being debated, the proposed national Food Security Act will cost the Central government 80,000-90,000 crore. So far, much of the discourse has centred on who should get the subsidised grains, how much and at what price. Chhattisgarh is throwing up broader issues that also need to be factored into the ongoing discussion.

The Labourer

When we met her, Sanita Kadha was working in a relative’s field. For her efforts that day, she would be paid Rs 60 — a good jump over Rs 20-30 two years ago. Large farmers in this part of Bastar have been shifting from paddy to corn and other cash crops. Between that and NREGS, work is easier to come by. And the food programme helps

The Big Farmer
Ten years ago, Golchand Nayak did something different. On his 25 acres of land in Bastar, he stopped growing paddy. “It was difficult to get labour during the growing season, as most labourers were occupied on their own small tracts,” he says. He now plants tomatoes and cucumbers in November, uses groundwater for irrigation, and farms till the end of August.

The Small Farmer
Unlike Kadha and Nayak, small farmers like Kulu Ram Dewani are struggling. He grows paddy on his one acre of land, but sells none of it. His family’s 35 kg PDS entitlement finishes in 15 days and he needs his harvest. Other things complicate his life. Labour is getting costlier and wants to be paid in cash, but he doesn’t have an income and doesn’t get loans.

State Reaps A Rich Harvest

Since Chhattisgarh began its food programme in 2006, agri-credit has grown at twice the rate it did in the last five-year block. And rice production is expected to see a spike this year.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Health: Fat is a financial issue by Andrew Jack

Wide world: public bodies are responding to a global obesity epidemic with campaigns such as US first lady Michelle Obama’s Lets Move, inspired by concern about her own daughters

As New York officials mark the first anniversary of an aggressive health campaign called “Don’t drink yourself fat” by stepping up their advertising, one group is not offering its congratulations: the soft drinks industry.

The posters and videos released by the city’s health department portray images of a man opening a fizzy drink and swallowing orange fatty goo. “When did Big Apple become Big Brother?” retaliates the Center for Consumer Freedom, a business-funded lobby group.

New York’s action is among the escalating initiatives being taken by public bodies in the US and around the world, driven by an increasing international recognition of the need to tackle one of the world’s most troubling ill-health trends: obesity.

The efforts raise the question of which approaches work best – and how far the food and drinks industry, long part of the problem, can become part of the solution, particularly at a time when economic slowdown is threatening government spending on such programmes.

The intensified action may yet trigger a new round of more aggressive regulatory controls affecting industry, just as employers feel the squeeze of rising healthcare costs and falling productivity linked to more obese staff.

The public policy response could also lead to a much wider use of the most drastic solution, for those willing to submit to it: surgery. In the UK – where on current trends obesity is forecast to cost the National Health Service nearly £50bn ($77bn) a year by 2050 – John Black, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, on Wednesday called for gastric bands to be fitted to many more people than the current annual 3,600. If just one in four who met the clinical criteria were to undergo the procedure, the net gain to the economy within three years would be an estimated £1.3bn.

Rising obesity has not yet slowed the advances in longevity achieved in recent decades, but treatments for complications of the overweight are incurring growing costs. Obese patients report higher rates of diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and have an increased risk of cancer, arthritis and lung disease.

“The costs of medical care linked to obesity are enormous, reaching $150bn a year in the US,” says Thomas Farley, New York’s health commissioner, who has championed policies ranging from calorie counts in the city’s restaurants to architecture designed to encourage use of stairs rather than lifts in new buildings. “We are moving to a situation where diabetes is becoming a normal part of human existence.”


An industry’s search for a lucrative yet elusive weight-loss treatment

With obesity rates rising in developed and developing nations alike, accompanied by declining productivity and rising morbidity, there is an immense medical demand for safe drugs to help stem the epidemic. Yet, in spite of decades of research, the pharmaceutical industry has failed to launch a pill that removes excessive fat without unacceptable side-effects.

Several products launched with high hopes in recent years have been withdrawn after failing safety trials, or circumscribed with restrictions that discourage doctors from prescribing. But the potential market for a successful drug is so big – billions of dollars a year – that many companies persist in trying to develop them.

Three of the most watched contenders come from Californian companies: Lorcaserin from Arena; Qnexa from Vivus; and Orexigen’s Contrave. All have completed extensive clinical trials and are awaiting decisions by the US Food and Drug Administration this year. The verdicts will determine whether they receive marketing approval and, if so, under what conditions.

Obesity drugs work either on the guts, reducing food absorption; or on the brain, curbing the appetite. Xenical from Roche of Switzerland uses the first mechanism – it reduces fat intake through the digestive tract – but its gastrointestinal side-effects have restricted sales.

Most obesity drugs in development, including the Californian trio, act on the brain. This fits in with recent discoveries showing that the majority of genes influencing body weight affect mental rather than metabolic activity. “Considering how many factors are involved in obesity, it is interesting that research is increasingly pointing to the brain as being very important in its development,” says Robert Kaplan of New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

However some experts doubt the long-term value of drugs, which fail to address the psychological causes of overconsumption and lack of exercise in sedentary western and, increasingly, developing nations. They have “been focused predominantly on weight loss”, says Jason Halford of Liverpool university.

“Obesity is the result of many motivational factors that have evolved to encourage us to eat, not least our susceptibility to the attractions of food and the pleasures of eating energy-rich foods – factors which are, of course, all too effectively exploited by food manufacturers.”

His concern is shared by other public health experts, who were lent high-profile support this spring by Michelle Obama, the first lady, with her Let’s Move campaign to encourage exercise and improved nutrition. Her commitment, which she said was inspired by doctors’ concerns about her own daughters’ weight, comes as a generation of strong public health officials rise to influential positions and employers including the US military are struggling with obesity among recruits.

Over the past 30 years, obesity in the US has more than doubled, affecting well over one adult in three, and has tripled in children and adolescents to above 17 per cent. Amid the economic downturn since 2008, there is some evidence that sales of cheap but unhealthy fast food have held up better than healthier alternatives.

“This is a major public health problem and the only widespread one that is getting worse,” says Tom Frieden, Dr Farley’s predecessor as New York City’s health commissioner, who helped launch the aggressive campaign now being copied in other parts of the US. Dr Frieden has since championed a fresh emphasis on the topic as head of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But obesity, once seen as a disease of decadence, is spreading fast in the poorer as well as the more industrialised world, sparking expressions of concern and a range of recent initiatives in China, India and the Middle East, as well as parts of Latin America – which have among the highest rates anywhere. Worldwide, an estimated 1.6bn adults are now overweight, with 400m of them classifiable as obese.

Brazil, long a champion of public health, is debating warnings on some foods akin to those on tobacco packets. The UN has resolved to hold a first-ever summit on non-communicable diseases in September next year, including discussion around obesity. Ala Alwan, assistant director of the World Health Organisation, says that while infections such as HIV long captured policymakers’ attention, other diseases were until recently neglected, with none identified in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. He adds: “We are moving towards a much more forceful era to strengthen the control and prevention of non-communicable disease.”

Most scientists agree on the causes of obesity. While human beings’ physical activity has declined significantly since their hunter-gatherer ancestors, their consumption of energy-dense food has remained stable or increased. And while it is easy to put on weight, it is much more difficult to lose it afterwards. “Once you get locked into a state of obesity, for a very substantial proportion of people it is phenomenally difficult to go back to their original weight,” says Philip James, head of the International Obesity Taskforce, a think-tank. “The evidence of a ratchet effect is pretty overwhelming: the brain chemically adapts.”

Some recent studies also suggest obesity may be higher in children born to overweight or smoking mothers; and a poor diet in young children may have a long-term impact on the formation of bacteria in their guts, increasing their long-term vulnerability to diseases including allergies.

Social changes including urbanisation and industrialisation, with a shift towards more sedentary lifestyles, have played a role. Yet while these trends have been taking place over many generations, the explosion in obesity has taken place in the past 30 years, pointing to the primary role of changing food intake.

David Kessler, a former head of the US Food & Drug Administration, argues in his recent book The End of Overeating that social trends have led to the breakdown of well-prepared, regular and healthy family meals. In their place is industry-backed “hyper-eating” throughout the day, with a combination of aggressive marketing, widespread availability and low-cost, supersized portions of “ultra-processed foods” containing ever more tempting but unhealthy combinations of fat and sugar.

Many of the same trends apply in developing countries. Stephan Rossner of the Karolinksa Institute in Stockholm says: “There is evidence that Asians are more vulnerable than Caucasians. And in China, with the one-child family, parents reward their kid for studying passively by giving them food and [electronic] games. Things are going the wrong way.”

There, as elsewhere, the result is rising medical bills as well as workplace absenteeism. Employers are starting to respond with staff wellness programmes. A smaller number take a harsher approach: Alabama and North Carolina government employees refusing to participate in health checks are from this year being charged a “fat tax” in the form of higher health insurance premiums.

Yet progress in tackling obesity has been extremely limited. While weight loss has become a huge industry, there is little evidence that most diets and supplements work in the long-term. Prescription medicines have so far also proved only modestly effective, with unpleasant and potentially severe side effects. Prof Rossner says: “It’s depressing to me as a scientist but the results of anti-obesity drugs are not very impressive and we have little to offer patients.”

Not all is gloomy. At the International Congress on Obesity held in Sweden in July, some reports suggested that for the first time the rate of growth of obesity in children in some countries including France, the UK and Sweden was beginning to slow. Tim Lobstein from the International Association for the Study of Obesity, a group of specialists, says: “We may be seeing a plateau.”

But he cautions that in spite of such signs, the trend remains upwards, particularly among the poor. Furthermore, dips in the past have been followed by fresh surges in obesity, and there are suggestions that slowing growth may be exaggerated because some obese children or their parents are no longer co-operating with studies and being weighed as in the past.

France’s Epode programme has generated international interest, with its apparent success linked to strong political leadership overseeing a range of initiatives from improved school nutrition to town planning designed to encourage exercise.

Yet neither Epode nor the UK’s more recent Change4Life programme has so far produced much systematic, peer-reviewed data. That makes it difficult to assess the impact of initiatives and to focus on those with the greatest chance of succeeding, especially as governments struggling with austerity measures are tempted to pare back on prevention programmes that will show little immediate return.

Of additional concern is the impact of the food and drink industry itself in fighting obesity. Epode’s sponsors include Orangina Schweppes, the drinks producer owned by Suntory of Japan; Kellogg, the US cereal manufacturer; and Italy’s Ferrero chocolate maker. Change4Life’s partners include Mars, the confectioner, and McCain, the frozen chips company, both of the US, and Britvic, the UK soft drinks group.

Derek Yach, in charge of global health policy at PepsiCo of the US, another Change4Life partner, which has pledged significant reductions in sugar, salt and fat in its products and to eliminate sales of sugary drinks in schools, says: “There are a lot of industry efforts, but many governments are not thinking about getting behind them.”

Others are more sceptical of industry’s involvement, suggesting its participation helps burnish its image while compromising the ability of governments to take a tougher line on issues such as restrictions on food advertising and labelling, taxes on salt and sugar content, and reduced subsidies that differentially favour less healthy ingredients such as palm oil. Tam Fry, a director of the National Obesity Forum, a UK-based group, says: “The time has come for governments to take a firm hand. They are there to govern, not to kowtow to vested interests.”

Certainly, corporate health promotion initiatives may seem modest in comparison to countervailing trends, such as a recent estimate from the Federal Trade Commission that in the US alone, companies spend $1.6bn a year just on food advertising directed at children and adolescents.

Equally, labelling remains contentious, with industry successfully lobbying this year to prevent the European parliament approving a “traffic light” system, as advocated by the UK’s Food Standards Agency, to warn consumers of less healthy food ingredients. In its place come vaguer guideline daily allowances.

Finding the right partnership with the food and drink industry will prove one of the most testing issues in the coming years in any efforts to reverse the current trends in obesity. Dr Kessler, a long-standing advocate of tough action against tobacco companies to improve public health, argues: “This will prove much tougher. We all have to eat.” Christopher Caldwell: Why fat is not a First Lady’s issue