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Science, Democracy And Choice: A Response To Professor Tony Trewavas’s Open Letter

The following is in response to an open letter published on the AgBioWorld Facebook page by Professor Tony Trewavas of Edinburgh University. This response is also posted on the GM Watch, Global Research, Countercurrents and RINF websites. 

Tony Trewavais wrote his letter after reading my article ‘So You Want to Help Africa Mr Paterson? Then Stop Promoting Ideology and Falsehoods to Push GMOs’. The article originally appeared on a number of prominent websites. On Global Research, the piece appeared under a different title ‘The Propaganda Campaign in support of GMOs’ (read here).

Professor Trewavas is a prominent supporter of GMOs in Britain. His original letter is provided in full below my response.

Dear Professor Trewavas

I find your response to my piece disappointing. You failed to address many of the issues I discussed (not least that the world can feed itself without GMOs and that hunger and poverty are due to structural factors and not a lack of food, which GMOs have merely exacerbated) and have decided to indulge in the same type of smear-scare tactics that Owen Paterson employed in his Pretoria speech.

You forward the baseless assertions that GMOs are safe, even though there has not been one long-term epidemiological study conducted to show this.

While condemning Greenpeace and other groups for somehow being authoritarian and anti-choice, you say nothing about agribusiness corporations whose financial clout has brought them political influence that allows them to exert huge control over the WTO and capture regulatory bodies and public research institutions. These corporations have had a key role in driving trade policies from India to Europe, not least in terms of the secretive Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture and the world’s largest secretive, pro-corporate trade deal, the proposed TTIP. 

Where is the choice and democracy here? 

You have nothing to say on that but proceed to lecture me on the virtues of choice and democracy.

In your opening paragraph alone, you make four fallacious assertions.

First of all, I did not say GMOs would be a disaster for "any" farmer. In India’s Punjab state, for example, some farmers have done quite well from the introduction of petrochemical farming (‘green revolution’). But water tables are falling drastically, pesticides have contaminated the water supply, there is a big cancer problem and many farmers are experiencing economic distress. In Punjab, this form of agriculture is unsustainable. There is now an agrarian crisis and it is a health, environmental and social disaster. My point is that GMOs would similarly be bad for agriculture in general and would have a systemic, detrimental impact on the environment and human health.

Second, you claim that I fear GMOs will not be a disaster for African farmers but a success. Not true. You have ignored the fact that a number of GMO projects in Africa to date have indeed been failures and in my article I provided a link to a report to highlight this (which you go on to conveniently dismiss as a ‘biased’ source).  

Third, you say that the word ‘choice’ is conspicuously absent from my article. Any objective reader would appreciate that the concept is central to it, not least where I discuss the ‘choices’ imposed on Ethiopia via the West’s ‘structural adjustment’ of agriculture (which I refer to at the end of the article). That was not a case of farmers ‘choosing’ to restructure their agriculture, but a case of policies being forced on them at a macro policy level. And this is one of the issues that I have with GMOs.

Although you conveniently do not mention that part of my piece, Michel Chossudovsky’s analysis takes account of the way by which agribusiness conglomerates can and do set rules at the WTO, manipulate market forces and restructure agriculture in foreign countries for their own ends. That is very much related to ‘choice’ and its denial. You talk a great deal about ‘democracy’ but fail to address how this situation fits with your ideas of giving choice to farmers and not imposing authoritarian agendas on people.

You say I should buy a farm and exert my choice to farm as I wish. Talk about exercising such a choice to the people in South America who Helena Paul wrote about (described in my piece). They are being driven out as agribusiness and the planting of GMOs (mainly for export) takes hold. She describes this as ecocide and genocide. Tell it to the peasant farmers who are being forced from their lands by speculators and corporations as described by reports by GRAIN and the Oakland Institute last year. These are the people who feed 80 percent of the ‘developing world’, without GM technology, yet are being squeezed out. Where is choice and democracy?

Certain words are used cheaply by some.

The issue of choice not only concerns the options made available to people, but those which have been closed off. Owen Paterson’s claims that “primitive, inefficient” farming techniques would condemn “billions” to hunger, poverty and underdevelopment is ridiculous. He engages in hyperbole in order to denigrate credible alternatives that are forwarded by the groups he is attacking and thus trying to deny those alternatives.

Fourth, nowhere do I say that only agroecological farming should be implemented to feed the world, as you claim I do. However, there are many studies and official reports that demonstrate the efficacy of organic and agroecological approaches that are well publicised. In my article, I referred to some of these studies and reports. But rather than regurgitating references, I would say that no matter what data is presented, certain people seek to marginalise agroecological approaches and prefer to focus on external input intensive ‘solutions' and proprietary technologies, such as GMOs.
I find it strange that supporters of GMOs talk so much about choice when the GMO biotech industry has spent $100 million in the US to deny choice by preventing labelling of GM food.

Where is the choice for the farmer who uses non-GM crops but has his field contaminated by GMOs? Where was the choice when parts of the US wheat crop were contaminated as a result of open-field trials or when contamination took place because of Liberty Link 601? Where is the choice in West Bengal where GMOs from Bangladesh have been found?

Where is the choice for farmers when the only ones that end up on the market are company seeds, or where thousands of varieties have been reduced to a relative handful?

In my piece, Daniel Maingi and Mariam Mayet mentioned the squeezing out of alternatives as a result of the impact of Western agribusiness in Africa. Are they to be dismissed as ‘biased’ sources too?

You say the following: 

“Most objectors in this area have a political programme not a scientific one but they like to bend science to their own political point of view. Science is by its nature not politics or political propaganda or anything like it. It deals with evidence not superstition, or political or social philosophies. If you have a political programme then please stop trying to justify it by claiming it has scientific support; it does not.”

First of all, I provided valid references which referred to peer-reviewed science in the article (and have again below), but all you can say is that my ‘political programme’ has “no scientific support”. I say to you: please stop justifying your own pro-GMO stance by smearing critics and rejecting any evidence because it does not fit your own agenda. Please do not talk about ‘choice’ and ‘democracy’ when your own agenda is to support powerful corporations who via the distortion of science and the capture of strategic national and international bodies deny choice.

Your view of science is either deliberately misleading or simply naïve. And for someone in your position, I find it difficult to believe it could be the latter. From acquiring funding and formulating the questions to be addressed, to conducting research, interpreting findings and peer review, politics are present in science throughout. The manufacture of scientific knowledge involves a process driven by various sociological, methodological and epistemological conflicts and compromises, both inside the laboratory and beyond. Writers in the field of the sociology of science have written much on this. I refer you to the following link, which contests your lofty view of science and scientists: ‘Monsanto wants to know why people doubt science’.

The very fact you have responded to me in a certain manner discredits your view of scientists, not least because it becomes difficult to appreciate where the line between science and lobbying is in your case.

There is an authoritarian, political agenda behind the GMO project – not set by some environmental group (as you say) that you like to use as a whipping boy – but by the agribusiness concerns behind GMOs and petro-chemical industrial agriculture. Focusing on Greenpeace with its supposed agenda serves as a convenient diversion.

It is not NGOs, groups, activists and campaigners that have failed to provide convincing arguments. And, by the way, to conflate such groups with intolerance, authoritarianism and killings by brutal regimes or groups is ludicrous and smacks of desperation on your part. You are a scientist but are using all the cheap smears and tactics of a lobbyist!

When peer-reviewed science is provided by critics to support their claims, the onslaught by the GMO agritech industry and its mouthpieces against those who legitimately and scientifically contest the claims about the efficacy of GMOs is relentless. Just ask Arpad Pusztai, P. M. Bhargava, Judy Carman, Terje Traavik, Andrés Carrasco, Ignacio Chapela, Allison Snow, Marc Lappé, Britt Bailey, Bela Darvas and G. E. Seralini.

These scientists have all either been threatened, smeared or hindered in their work because their research called into question the safety and/or efficacy of GMOs or associated products.

The hypocrisy of those from the pro-GMO lobby who call for sound science to inform the debate on GMOs is glaringly obvious. Those who argue against GMOs are accused of not having science or facts on their side and of engaging in propaganda, while it is clear the pro-GMO lobby that hurls such allegations is itself guilty of all such things. This tactic goes hand in glove with a strident populist agenda whereby the pro-GMO lobby portrays itself as on the side of the people, while its opponents are ‘elitists’ and are ‘stealing food from the bellies of the poor’.

If you really do value democracy as much as you say and wish to call to account those who show contempt for it, you would do better by reading Steven Druker’s new book ‘Altered Genes, Twisted Truth’. Instead of attacking Greenpeace and other groups, you should be more even handed (and employ just a little ‘scientific objectivity’ in your approach) by looking at the fraudulent practices and processes in US government departments that led to the commercialisation of GMOs in that country.

As far as your point on there being a scientific consensus is concerned, it has been well established in recent months by over 300 scientists in a peer reviewed journal that there is no consensus. Furthermore, you bring the issue of climate change into the debate. If I am to accept your claim that there is overwhelming consensus on climate change then I certainly reject your assertion that the same applies to the GMO issue.

What you claim to be ‘biased’ sources have demonstrated that the claims made on the back of many studies on GMOs are not supported by the evidence and that in many instances certain findings are marginalised as not being significant when they actually are (I supply these two links which provide reference to support my claims, the first of which you have already dismissed as being from a biased source, without addressing the issues raised therein:  'An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of GM crops and food' and 'Adverse impacts of transgenic crops/food: a compilation of scientific references with abstracts').  

Moreover, climate change is fundamentally different to the GMO issue. Climate change may or may not be anthropogenic, but scientists are deliberately genetically engineering food and adopting a wait and see attitude towards the impact. Wouldn’t it be better to prove safety beforehand?

But let’s get one thing clear, as Druker shows, GMOs were placed on the commercial market due to political arm twisting and official bodies in the US ignoring science that pointed out the dangers of this technology. The decision to commercialise GMOs was not based on scientific evidence; in fact, it ignored such evidence. Yet you are still placing the onus on scientists to prove that GMOs are unsafe – and when they show that they are, these scientists are attacked. It seems science is only called on when it suits.

Releasing GMOs onto the commercial market is not like boarding a plane, as you suggest. The genetic engineering of food affects every member of the population. It presents a widespread, systemic risk to the human population. Most planes are safe and have been tested. Moreover, we have a choice to board a plane. We have no other choice than to eat (unlabelled) food. GMO food has not been proven safe.

The GMO biotech industry carries out inadequate, short-term studies and conceals the data produced by its research under the guise of ‘commercial confidentiality’, while independent research highlights the very serious dangers of its products. It has in the past also engaged in fakery in India, bribery in Indonesia, smears and intimidates those who challenge its interests and distorts and censors science by restricting independent research. If science is held in such high regard by the GMO agritech sector, why engage in such practices and why in the US did policy makers release GM food onto the commercial market without proper long-term tests?

Despite its claims to the contrary, the sector cannot win the scientific debate, so it resorts to co-opting key public bodies or individuals to propagate various falsehoods and deceptions. Part of the deception is based on emotional blackmail: the world needs GMOs to feed the hungry, both now and in the future. This myth has been blown apart. In fact, the organisation GRAIN highlights that GMOs have thus far have actually contributed to food insecurity!

You say:

“If agroecological approaches can currently match yield that can be attained by using modern farming methods then by all means use it.”

Why doesn’t Paterson adopt this attitude? He denigrates such alternatives, and you deem it necessary to jump to his defence by responding this way.

“But if not and my understanding is that currently it cannot, then they should not be the farming method of recommended choice at present.”

Perhaps you need to do some more reading and consult a few more UN and scientific reports.   

You say that:

“No-one with any concern for humanity or the welfare of its population should currently consider any other alternative. The groups that campaign for this kind or that kind of farming method and destroy crops to try and bounce others into their point of view have lost that fundamental concern for their own species.”

What a ridiculous assertion. Why do you persist in attacking those who clearly do have compassion? Environmental groups have not engaged in decades of massive criminality, in decades of cover ups and serious environmental pollution. You would do better by focussing on one particular leading company whose record clearly shows that it has no regard whatsoever for humanity, yet which claims it wants to ‘feed the word’ with altruistic intent.

If you really do believe in dispassionate, objective discourse, then adopt an even-handed approach. You talk so much about democracy and choice yet there is no mention whatsoever of the crimes, cover ups and decades of environmental pollution that a certain company that forms part of the pro-GMO lobby has been involved in.

You talk about choice and democracy but say nothing about how big agribusiness has at international and national levels captured policy making bodies to effectively impose ‘choice’ on US consumers and poorer nations and devastate local economies. Where is your condemnation? Where is your condemnation of ‘big list’ studies and fallacious claims made by the likes of Jon Entine about safety and efficacy on the back of them? Or are your condemnations, attacks, misrepresentations and ridiculous assertions reserved for those who flag up such things?

While powerful corporations have instant access to policy makers who work closely together, ordinary people and groups have to resort to Freedom of Information legislation to ascertain what happens behind closed doors. They have to rely on whisteblowers or leaked documents or must go through the courts to gain access to studies that formed the basis of regulatory bodies’ approvals for commercial agribusiness products. And you talk to me about democracy and of how I or some campaign group have scant regard for it?

Your response is full of warm sounding notions about democracy and choice and some high-minded words about science and scientists (of course, only the science that fits your paradigm). Rhetoric, platitudes and clichés do not constitute a considered response. Projecting the pro-GMO lobby’s deficiencies onto its critics is not valid. It’s disappointing from a scientist.

You indulge in cheap, fallacious attacks on critics, which is symptomatic of a very transparent and predictable propaganda campaign aimed at critics.  

In finishing, I would like to make clear that I do not belong to any environmental or campaign group. I received no payment for the article you responded to. This is why I refer to myself as in ‘independent’ (not freelance) writer.

I wonder how many scientists can claim such a level of independence from for-profit corporate entities.

With kind regards,

Colin Todhunter


Open letter from Professor Trewavas

Dear Mr Todhunter

I read your article against GM crops (So You Want to Help Africa Mr Paterson? Then Stop Promoting Ideology and Falsehoods to Push GMOs; http://rinf.com/alt-news/editorials/want-help-africa-mr-paterson-stop-promoting-ideology-falsehoods-push-gmos/) but I searched in vain for one small word, ‘choice’.  It seems never to enter the commentaries of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth or WWF or the other odd environmentalist/activist groupings that appear now and again. Your claim is that Africa can do very well just on agroecology. Well, put your money where your mouth is. Buy a farm in Africa and farm it in the way that you want. But allow others to farm as they wish and if they wish to use GM crops that is their right to do so just as it yours, not to. According to you any African farmer using GM crops will be a disaster so in that case they will stop using them. If it’s not a disaster, which I suspect is what you fear most, then they will reap the benefit and perhaps persuade you in due course to farm like them. Do you want to impose your opinions on others without allowing them to make their own minds up and choose how they wish to farm?

It is an unfortunate situation that in our present world many environmentalist groups have become typically authoritarian in attitude. Greenpeace notably decides its opinions must prevail regardless of others, so it arrogates to itself the right to tear up and destroy things it doesn’t like. That is absolutely typical of people who are unable to convince others by debate and discussion and in the last century such attitudes, amplified obviously, ended up killing people that others did not like. But the same personality type the authoritarian, ‘do as I tell you’, was at the root of it all. Such groups therefore sit uneasily with countries that are democracies. It would be nice if you could say you are a democrat and believe that argument is better than destruction but argument that deals with all the facts and does not select out of those to construct a misleading programme. Misleading selection of limited information is causing considerable problems in various parts of the world that leads some into very violent behaviour, particularly in religious belief. I am sure you agree that this is not a good way forward.

There is a consensus amongst scientists, at least those that have made themselves aware of all reasonable scientific facts, that GM is both safe for consumption and with appropriate regulations for the environment too. Do you agree with that consensus or not? There is another scientific consensus over climate change that is impelling governments to take action. The consensus over GM food safety is stronger amongst scientists than that over climate change, according to a current survey. I assume you accept the one over climate change, most do. But science and scientific fact is not a pick and mix situation, if you accept a scientific consensus on one than you have to accept it for the other. I am sure you will be aware that there are minorities of scientists, different in both cases, that object to both. But I have found that those that do object to the consensus on GM crops always fail to provide an acceptable balance of information in their objections. They select out only the very limited data they consider supports their view and neglect everything else that does not. That is not science that can be used to construct policy. It’s like claiming flying is unsafe because several planes a year crash whilst ignoring the hundreds of thousands every day that haven’t. If you want unbiased information on GM crops go to the many university personnel who can provide it for you. But please do not quote the so obviously-biased publication which you have, as though it were scientific fact.

Most objectors in this area have a political programme not a scientific one but they like to bend science to their own political point of view. Science is by its nature not politics or political propaganda or anything like it. It deals with evidence not superstition, or political or social philosophies. If you have a political programme then please stop trying to justify it by claiming it has scientific support; it does not.

All human activities have costs and benefits, that will include agroecological approaches that you apparently favour, but at the start both costs and benefits have to be drawn up to see what is appropriate to the particular circumstance. Given the rapidly increasing African population I would say that currently yield is crucial but that can change just as farming methods are changing in Europe towards increasing environmental concerns. Farming methods that do both such as no-till or integrated farm management currently offer the best compromise. Malawi, I understand, subsidizes minerals for crop growth and has turned the country from a food importer into a food exporter. That seems an excellent approach at present to solve a pressing problem.

If agroecological approaches can currently match yield that can be attained by using modern farming methods then by all means use it. But if not and my understanding is that currently it cannot, then they should not be the farming method of recommended choice at present.

When Africa has got its population increases under control and producing sufficient to feed everybody then alternatives like agroecology may come to the fore. No-one with any concern for humanity or the welfare of its population should currently consider any other alternative. The groups that campaign for this kind or that kind of farming method and destroy crops to try and bounce others into their point of view have lost that fundamental concern for their own species.

I am not dogmatic about the methods that farmers use since I consider that decision is the province of individual farmers themselves. Whatever their choice is their right in the framework of their country but they must be allowed to make that decision in full knowledge of all the scientific information and advice, not the tiny amount available to support alternative points of view. That is the nature of every democracy that I hope all will finally live under.

Good science is not set in stone or concrete, the current view on GM crops is simply based on the wealth of the factual and reproducible evidence that all good scientists recognise. But if the evidence indicates change then scientists change with it. Why not join those whose job it is to provide farmers and the populace with unbiased evidence constructed by independent university personnel? You have nothing to lose but the constraints of closed thinking and everything to gain that comes from reasoned and open scientific debate.

With my best wishes
Professor Tony Trewavas FRS
University of Edinburgh
Professor Anthony Trewavas FRS. FRSE
Institute of Molecular Plant Science
Mayfield Road
Edinburgh EH9 3JH



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Monsanto is preparing a fresh effort to promote genetically modified (GM) crops to the UK public, according to a piece in The Scottish Farmer. The...

The British Government Has Colluded with Monsanto and Should Be Held Accountable in the...

“The British Government has colluded with Monsanto and should be held accountable in the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity...

Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters

The push to commercialise the growing of genetically modified (GM) mustard in India is currently held up in court due to a lawsuit by...

From Agriculture to Demonetisation: Not ‘Make in India’ but Made in Washington

Colin Todhunter A version of the following piece was originally published in June 2016. However, since then, India’s PM Narendra Modi has embarked on a...

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly? Celebrating the Corporate Plunder of Agriculture

Colin Todhunter While Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ on 25 December, that date was probably originally chosen due to the winter solstice on...

Entrenching Capitalist Agriculture in India Under the Guise of Development

Colin Todhunter Washington's long-term plan has been to restructure indigenous agriculture across the world and tie it to an international system of trade based on...

What Has Neoliberal Capitalism Ever Done for India?

Colin Todhunter When India ushered in neoliberal economic reforms during the early 1990s, the promise was job creation, inclusive growth and prosperity for all. But,...

Why Are Public Officials Protecting the Pesticides Industry? Digging Down into the Cesspool of...

Colin Todhunter It is based on a cesspool of corruption that is most probably responsible for more death and disease than the combined efforts of...

GM Mustard in India: “fudged data,” “unremitting fraud” and “monumentally bogus”

Colin Todhunter The case of genetically modified (GM) mustard in India has reached the Supreme Court. The government has said it will bow to the...

Congratulations America: Have You Just You’ve Been Trumped?

I watched Donald Trump’s presidential victory speech. He spoke a lot about unity, the potential of ordinary, marginalised people and about making the US...

Forget the Trump-Clinton Charade: It’s Time to Wake Up America!

Colin Todhunter (RINF) - Who will be the winners and the losers in the coming U.S. presidential election? Trump or Clinton, Clinton or Trump? The...

Is Gandhi Still Relevant?

Colin Todhunter Mention Gandhi in certain circles and the response might be one of cynicism: his ideas are outdated and irrelevant in today's world. Such...

Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?   

Colin Todhunter (RINF) - The decision whether to allow the commercialisation of the first genetically modified (GM) food crop (mustard) in India rumbles on. As...

Agrochemicals and the Cesspool of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes to the US EPA 

Colin Todhunter (RINF) - In her recent open letter to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), campaigner Dr Rosemary Mason documents what amounts to...

World Wide Fund for Nature: Stop Greenwashing Capitalism, Start Holding Corporations to Account (Dr Rosemary...

Colin Todhunter (RINF) - In the 1970s, the agrochemicals industry was able to evade effective regulation in the UK. Robert van den Bosch, wrote in 1978...

Trump and Hillary: The Tragedy of the Great American TV Soap Opera

Colin Todhunter (RINF) - For many onlookers who reside outside the US, the run-up to that country’s presidential election appears to be some kind of...

Seeds of Occupation: India’s Stockholm Syndrome

Colin Todhunter Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon described in 1973 in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their...

Toxic Allegiances and Corporate Power: Open Letter to the Oxford Martin Commission

Colin Todhunter The Oxford Martin School is based at Oxford University in the UK. In what seems to be a laudable aim, the school has...

Bayer’s Trojan Horse: Criminal Prosecution Required to Stop GM Food Crops Fraudulently Entering India

Colin Todhunter The decision whether to allow the commercialisation of the first genetically modified (GM) food crop (mustard) in India is close. Serious conflicts of...

A System Of Food Production For Human Need, Not Corporate Greed

Colin Todhunter There has been an adverse trend in the food and agriculture sector in recent times with the control of seeds and chemical inputs...

“The Dead Cannot Make A Comeback” – Is India About To Make A Catastrophic...

Colin Todhunter Global oilseed, agribusiness and biotech corporations are engaged in a long-term attack on India's local cooking oil producers. In just 20 years, they...

Monsanto and Bayer: Why Food And Agriculture Just Took A Turn For The Worse

Colin Todhunter News broke this week that Monsanto accepted a $66 billion takeover bid from Bayer. The new company would control more than 25 per cent...

Media Silence and the Agrochemicals Industry: The Slow Poisoning of Health and the Environment  

Colin Todhunter It’s an all too common tale of dirty deeds, shady deals and propaganda. Rosemary Mason’s recent open letter to journalists at The Guardian...

Monsanto in India: Meet the New Boss – Same as the Old Boss?

In capitalism, the state’s primary role is to secure the interests of private capital. The institutions of globalised capitalism - from the World Bank,...

Sugar-coated Lies: How the Food Lobby Destroys Health in the EU 

Colin Todhunter   Over half the population of the European Union (EU) is overweight or obese. Without effective action, this number will grow substantially in the...

In the Shadow of the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass...

“Some fell to the ground and their stomachs already expanded full, burst and organs fell out. Others had skin falling off them and others...

In the Shadow of Monsanto: GMO Regulation and the Right to Know

Colin Todhunter The GMO agritech sector and food companies have spent tens of millions of dollars in the US to prevent the labelling of foods containing genetically...

Britain’s Scramble for Africa: The New Colonialism

Colin Todhunter Africa is facing a new and devastating colonial invasion driven by a determination to plunder the natural resources of the continent, especially its...

Back to the Future with Laverne and Shirley: The Trivialisation of the GMO Debate

Colin Todhunter When people don’t possess sufficient expertise on matters, they require simplicity. They desire easily manageable packages of knowledge, and these packages become taken...

Pro-GMO Spin Masquerading as Science Courtesy of “Shameful White Men of Privilege”

Colin Todhunter Unlike their predecessors, early 21st century missionaries do not come armed with bibles. They come as members of a scientific priesthood, spouting slick...

Modi, Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill: Doing Business or Corporate Imperialism?  

Colin Todhunter Describing itself as a major ‘global communications, stakeholder engagement and business strategy’ company, APCO Worldwide is a lobby/PR agency with firm links to the Wall...

GMOs, “Biggest Fraud in the History of Science” – Some ‘Questions and Answers’

Colin Todhunter The decision on whether to renew EU approval for the herbicide glyphosate is to go to an appeals panel on 23 June after...

False Promises, Smears and Golden Rice: Is This the Solution for Disease, Poverty and...

Colin Todhunter  The pro-GMO lobby relies on fraud, regulatory delinquency, opaque practices, smear campaigns, dirty tricks, slick PR and the debasement of science. While choosing to sideline the root causes of...

On World Environment Day, Profiting from Death, Devastation and Destruction is the Norm

The scaly anteater is considered to be the most trafficked mammal on earth. Over a million of these have been taken from the wild...

Matt Ridley’s Pro-GMO Blunders and Ignorance in the British Press

In his recent piece for The Times newspaper in the UK, Viscount Matt Ridley argues that a new report from the American National Academies of Sciences (NAS) leaves...

The Unique Risks of GM Crops: Science Trumps PR, Fraud and Smear Campaigns

The purpose of this piece is to draw readers’ attention to an important chapter from a document by Aruna Rodrigues that discusses the unique...

From Albrecht to Monsanto: A System Not Run for the Public Good Can Never...

The following extract is from the 2011 lecture ‘Healthy Soils, Healthy People’ by Professor John Ikerd. The lecture discussed the legacy of renowned agronomist...

From the Green Revolution to GMOs: Living in the Shadow of Global Agribusiness

What can we do about the powerful transnational agribusiness companies that have captured or at the very least heavily influence regulatory bodies, research institutes, trade...

Cheerleader for US Aggression, Pushing the World to the Nuclear Brink: Britain’s Defence Secretary...

Michael Fallon is British Defence Secretary. He is adept at making the types of statements that epitomise the pro-neoliberal, militaristic rhetoric that people in...

Monsanto and the Poisoning of Europe: An Open letter to the EFSA Chief Attorney...

This week, a Standing Committee of plant scientists from 28 member states in Europe is likely to endorse the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA)...

Glyphosate in the EU: Product Promoters Masquerading as Regulators in a “cesspool of corruption”?

On 13 April, the EU Parliament called on the European Commission to restrict certain permitted uses of the toxic herbicide glyphosate, best known in...

Pesticides, GMOs and Corporate Control: The Poster Child is Monsanto but Neil Young is...

Neil Young has a long history of activism. He is a co-founder of Farm Aid, which works to support small and family farmers in North...

All Angles Covered: Is the EU Completely in the Pocket of the Biotech Industry?

“In less than a fortnight, EU Member States will take a decision on the re-approval of glyphosate. Genius is working to get this...

Future Options: From Militarism and Monsanto to Gandhi and Bhaskar Save  

US Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders recently tweeted: “It is no mystery why Monsanto fights against our right to know about GMOs in food –...

“We are being silently poisoned by thousands of untested and unmonitored chemicals” The case...

On 13 April, the EU Parliament called on the European Commission to restrict certain permitted uses of the toxic herbicide glyphosate, best known in...

Capitalism And Global Agribusiness: From Ford To Monsanto, It’s For Your Own Good

“We must… build our own local food systems that create new rural-urban links, based on truly agroecological food production... We cannot allow Agroecology to...

The Globalisation of Bad Food and Poor Health: Sustainable Development or Sustainable Profits?

The proportion of deaths due to cancer around the world increased from 12 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2013. Globally, cancer is already...

Global Agribusiness, Dependency and the Marginalisation of Self-Sufficiency, Organic Farming and Agroecology

Is organic-based farming merely a niche model of agriculture that is not capable of feeding the global population? Or does it have a major role...

The Crusade in Favour of GMO: Falsehoods and Vilification will not Fool the Public

Pro-GMO campaigners often attack critics of the technology by claiming their negative views of it emanate from well-funded environmentalist groups or commercial interests in...

GMO and the Right to Know: But What’s Hidden Beneath the Label?

Rachel Parent’s campaign (Kids Right To Know) on GMO labelling has been the subject of a GM industry strategy aimed at countering her message. Despite this,...

Feeding the Bank Balance or Feeding the World: GMOs, Development and the Politics of...

Modern state-corporate capitalism is stripping the environment bare through unsustainable levels of consumption. It is legitimised by a deceitful ideology that attempts to justify and...

Palm Oil and GM Mustard: A Marriage Made in Hell

The current drive to get genetically modified (GM) food crops into India is being spearheaded by GM mustard. However, the decision to sanction the...

Violence on the Factory Farm: How not to Feed the World  

The amount of meat humans eat is immense. In 1965, 10 billion livestock animals were slaughtered each year. That number is now over 55...

Poisoned, Marginalised, Bankrupt and Dead: The Role of Agroecology in Resisting the Corporate Stranglehold...

It is becoming increasingly apparent that food and agriculture across the world is in crisis. Food is becoming denutrified, unhealthy and poisoned with chemicals...

An Essential Citizen’s Guide to the Truth About GM Crops and Food

GMO Myths and Truths: A Citizen's Guide to the Evidence on the Safetyand Efficacy of Genetically Modified Crops and Foods, 3rd Edition, by Claire Robinson Mphil, Michael...

Twisted Science, Altered Truth: Inside the Church of Pro-GMO Activism

Last year on Twitter, Monsanto Vice President Robert Fraley provided a link to an article that implied those who are suspicious of genetically modified...

Breaking the Backbone of Indian Society: The Small Farmer

This is an updated and amended version of an article originally published in August 2015 which includes new information and new links to journal...

Pro-GMO Activism in India: Journalism gives way to Spin, Smears and Falsehoods 

In a recent piece for the magazine Swarajya (an online and print publication based in India​), its national affairs editor, Surajit Dasgupta, makes it clear that he has...

Trojan Horse Arguments and the GMO Issue: Indian Food and Agriculture Under Attack

In 2013, India’s former Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar accused US companies of derailing the nation’s oilseeds production programme. Similar claims had been made before....

Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist

Consider that India had for generations sustained one of the highest densities of population on earth, without any chemical fertilisers, pesticides, exotic dwarf strains...

“Lies, Lies and More Lies” – GMOs, Poisoned Agriculture and Toxic Rants

Have you ever read all of those pro-GMO scientists-cum-lobbyists professing their love of science? They are always talking about how science must prevail over...

Politics on the Plate: Mob Wives, GMOs and Salt

How can we broaden our movement to appeal to and involve the majority of people out there who do not seem to be aware,...

The Seeds Of Spin: Decoding Pro-GMO Lies And Falsehoods

If you are in some way critical of genetically modified food and agriculture or have some concerns that remain unaddressed, here is a brief...

False Claims and Flawed Conclusions Being Used to Push GM Crops into India

Writing in India’s Deccan Herald newspaper on 26 January 2016, Kalyan Ray places great store in a flawed year-old British Parliament document to promote a...

Gates Foundation’s “Corporate Merry-go-round”: Spearheading the Neo-liberal Plunder of African Agriculture

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) is dangerously and unaccountably distorting the direction of international development, according to a new report by the...

From Copenhagen to India, Restoring the Link Between Farmer and Consumer and Challenging the...

  “Food systems have been reduced to a model of industrialised agriculture controlled by a few transnational food corporations together with a small group of...

Cycling Smart In Copenhagen: India’s ‘Smart Cities’ Call For Smart Solutions

“Every increase in motorized speed creates new demands on space and time. The use of the bicycle is self-limiting. It allows people to create...

Ecological Meltdown And Nuclear Conflict: The Relevance Of Gandhi In The Modern World

A few months ago, entrepreneur Charles Devenish contacted me to tell me about his plans to develop various mining enterprises across India. He spoke...

The GMO Issue: False Claims, Pseudo-Analysis And A Politically Motivated Agenda

Critics of GM promote pseudo-science, make false claims based on ignorance and are driven by politically motivated ideology. The actions of these affluent elitists...

Batting for GM in India: Smears, Misinformation and Depoliticising the Political

Sir Richard John Roberts is a biochemist and molecular biologist and currently works at New England Biolabs in the US. He is also a...

GMOs and “Unremitting Fraud” in India: Petition Filed for Contempt of Court Against Members...

  A petition has been filed by activist and campaigner Aruna Rodrigues against three persons of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC). The GEAC is...

The Toxic Agriculture of Monsanto and Big Agribusiness vs Agroecology Rooted in Communities and...

  "We are being far too kind to industrialised agriculture. The private sector has endorsed it, but it has failed to feed the world, it...

Monsanto in the Dock! Rolling Back the Destructive Influence of the Global Agribusiness Cartel

And now for the good news. As the rest of the world eats denutrified, poisoned 'food' and capitulates to the criminal cartel of US agribusiness,...

Big Oil, TTIP and the Scramble for Europe

 If sanctioned, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would be the biggest trade deal ever seen. Yet the public continue to be kept...

Class, War and David Cameron

British Prime Minister David Cameron has said it is time for Britain to join air strikes against Islamic State in Syria (ISIS). After the...

Corporate Parasites And Economic Plunder: We Need A Genuine Green Revolution

Over the past few centuries, Western countries embarked on a road to material affluence at the expense of the environment and other peoples across...

Who Needs Gates And Monsanto? Confronting Hunger, Poverty and Climate Change: “Tremendous Success” of...

It is essential that we get off the chemical treadmill that the modern industrial urban-centric food and agriculture system is based on. It is...

Poisoned Agriculture: Depopulation and Human Extinction’

There is a global depopulation agenda. The plan is to remove the ‘undesirables’, ‘the poor’ and others deemed to be ‘unworthy’ and a drain...

Strong Links between Glyphosate and a Multitude of Cancers that are “reaching epidemic proportions”:...

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup. The use of glyphosate is widespread throughout Europe. However, on 20 March the World Health Organisation’s...

Rice, wheat, mustard … India drives forward first GMO crops under veil of secrecy

A secret application has been made to India's GEAC (Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee) for a new variety of GMO mustard to be released for...

Seeds of Corruption: “Unneeded, Unwanted and Unsafe,” the Case of Genetically Modified Mustard in...

In India, genetically modified (GM) mustard is edging closer to becoming the first officially approved GM food crop to be placed on the commercial...

Poisoned Food, Poisoned Agriculture: Getting off the Chemical Treadmill

A peer-reviewed study published last year in the British Journal of Nutrition, a leading international journal of nutritional science, showed that organic crops and...

The Passing of Bhaskar Save: What the ‘Green Revolution’ did for India

Masanobu Fukuoka, the legendary Japanese organic farmer, once described Bhaskar Hiraji Save's farm as “the best in the world, even better than my own!”...

They Profit, We Die: Toxic Agriculture and the Poisoning of Soils, Human Health and...

Our food system is in big trouble. It’s in big trouble because the global agritech/agribusiness sector is poisoning it, us and the environment with...

The Goose that Lays the Golden Egg: Mining, Capitalism and Gandhi, a Catalyst for...

Indian agriculture is in crisis. Indian farmers are in crisis. These crises are human made. Over 300,000 farmers have committed suicide in India during the...

New Report on Secretive EU Trade Deals Highlights Corrupt Agenda for Mass Privatisation  

Public services in the EU are under threat from transatlantic trade agreements that could endanger citizens’ rights to basic services like water, health, and...

GM Mustard in India: A Case of Monumental Fraud and Unremitting Regulatory Delinquency

The approval and planting of large-scale field trials of genetically modified (GM) mustard in India is currently taking place. According to environmentalist Aruna Rodrigues,...

Modi and Monsanto: A Wake Up Call For India

Immediately prior to Narendra Modi being elected India’s PM last year, there were calls from some quarters for him to usher in a Thatcherite-style...

Monsanto’s ‘Hand of God’: Planned Obsolescence of the Indian Farmer 

The mantra of global agribusiness companies is that they care about farmers. They also really care about humanity and want to help to feed...

Can Jeremy Corbyn Stem the Tide of Neoliberalism and Militarism?

Jeremy Corbyn has won the British Labour Party’s leadership election by a landslide. Corbyn comes from the left of the party, a party that...

Europe’s Refugee Crisis and the Warped Morality of David Cameron

UK Prime Minister David Cameron this week said "as a father I felt deeply moved" by the image of a Syrian boy dead on...

Altered Genes, Twisted Truth: Monsanto’s Silence is Deafening 

In his book ‘Altered Genes,Twisted Truths’, US public interest attorney Steven Druker exposed the fraudulent practices and deceptions that led to the commercialisation of GM food...

Hypnotic Trance in Delhi: Monsanto, GMOs and the Looting of India’s Agriculture

We are about to enter August. And that's a special month in India. Each year, on the 15th, the country commemorates the anniversary of independence...

Working Class War Fodder

Who in their right mind would be prepared to fight and die for Shell, Chevron or Coca Cola? Who with half a brain would...

Who Will Bail Out Humanity If The GMO Evangelists Win?

The pro-GMO lobby likes to think it has the monopoly on truth. Anyone questioning its creed is attacked and smeared. GM Supporters claim to...

I Love GMO: The Warped World Of The Pro-GMO Lobbyist

There’s a massive spike in cancer cases in Argentina that is strongly associated with glyphosate-based herbicides. These herbicides are a huge earner for agribusiness. But don’t...

Capture, Smear, Contaminate: The Politics Of GMOs

When rich companies with politically-connected lobbyists and seats on public bodies bend policies for their own ends, we are in serious trouble. It is...

Food Security: a Hostage to Wall Street

In October of last year, World Food Day celebrated ‘Family Farming: Feeding the world, caring for the earth’. According to the UN Food and...

Neil Young is Starving the Poor! The Pro-GMO Lobby’s Latest Scapegoat 

“Not since the original Luddites smashed cotton mill machinery in early 19th century England, have we seen such an organised, fanatical antagonism to progress...

Ignoring Reality, Subverting Morality: GMOs And The Neoliberal Apologists

Monsanto is often called one of the most ‘evil’ companies on the planet. It has a history of knowingly contaminating the environment and food...

BBC Panorama Programme: Promoting GMO and Cultivating Ignorance

  "There is no global or regional shortage of food. There never has been and nor is there ever likely to be. India has a...

TTIP and EU-India Trade Talks: Big Business Setting Policy with Public Participation Blocked

On Thursday 4 June, the European Court of Justice ruled on an appeal taken by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) against the European Commission for...

GMOs – Altered Genes, Twisted Truth: The Silence From The Royal Society Is Deafening

In his recent book ‘Altered Genes,Twisted Truths’, US public interest attorney Steven Druker exposes the fraudulent practices and deceptions that led to the commercialisation...

The New Challenge to Monsanto

In a challenge delivered to Monsanto’s headquarters on May 20, 2015, US public interest attorney Steven Druker calls on that corporation to find any inaccurate statements of fact...

‘Altered Genes, Twisted Truths’ Author Challenges Monsanto’s Robb Fraley to respond to his Book

In a challenge delivered to Monsanto’s headquarters on May 20, 2015, US public interest attorney Steven Druker calls on that corporation to find any inaccurate statements...

Sowing The GM Seeds Of Depopulation?

If physical violence is to be used only as a final resort, a dominant class must seek to gain people’s consent if it is...

UK Election Aftermath: Cameron to Continue Waging War on Working People 

Today in the UK, people are waking up to their first week of a five-year rule under a Conservative majority government. It’s been the...

Greenpeace India Faces Imminent Shutdown: “every Indian civil society group is now on the chopping...

(RINF) - The Executive Director of Greenpeace India, Samit Aich, today addressed his staff to prepare them for the imminent shutdown of the organization...

Unmasking The GMO Humanitarian Narrative

Genetically modified (GM) crops are going to feed the world. Not only that, supporters of GM technology say it will produce better yields than...

Mercury In The Mist: Holding Unilever In India To Account

Scientists in India and the UK recently joined together to express solidarity with ex-employees and local residents exposed to toxic levels of mercury in...

Agribusiness And The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse

US citizens constitute 5 percent of the world’s population but consume 24 percent of global energy. On average, one person in the US consumes as...

Who Needs Neil Young When We’ve Got Monsanto?

Neil Young is reportedly about to release a new album called, ‘The Monsanto Years’. Don’t expect the lyrics to be music to the ears...

Who Granted The GMO Evangelists The Monopoly On Compassion?

Apparently, I am a "nut job" because I adhere to anti-capitalist, socialist, human-hating ideology. Not only that, I am working to keep millions in...

Who Granted The GMO Evangelists The Monopoly On Compassion?

Apparently, I am a "nut job" because I adhere to anti-capitalist, socialist, human-hating ideology.  Not only that, I am working to keep millions in...

Globalization – Global Agribusiness Hammering Away At The Foundations Of Indian Society 

According to the World Bank in the nineties, it was expected (and hoped) that some 400 million people in Indian agriculture would be moving...

Chaos And Propaganda: Washington’s “Reality-Based Order”

In 2011, Hilary Clinton announced the US was at war. She wasn’t referring to the US’s ongoing invasions, wars and occupations but an ideological war for hearts...

Greenpeace, Dissent and Freedom of Expression in India

Before being voted out of office last year, India’s Congress-led United Progressive Alliance administration sanctioned open-field trials of GM food crops in India andMonsanto’s...

The 2015 British General Election: Capitalism’s One-Horse Race 

Britain is currently in the grip of a general election campaign. Voting takes place on 7 May and election fever in the media is...

US Agribusiness, GMOs and the Plundering of the Planet

Small family/peasant farms produce most of the world’s food. They form the bedrock of global food production. Yet they are being squeezed onto less...

Countering The Lies Of The Mainstream Media

 The site you are reading this article on is part of the ‘alternative’ or ‘independent’ media. Many of these sites do not take advertising...

The Pro-GMO Lobby In Retreat

It has been such a tough period for the pro-GMO lobby that it’s difficult to know where to begin. But let us start by...

Damage Limitation Time For Monsanto: Time To Wheel Out Patrick Moore Again… Or Maybe...

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for Monsanto. The company agreed to pay $600,000 in fines for not reporting hundreds of uncontrolled releases...

Glyphosate “Probably” Causes Cancer: But Patrick Moore Says Drinking A Quart Does No Harm...

On Friday 20 March, the World Health Organisation stated that the world's most widely-used weed killer can "probably" cause cancer. The WHO’s International Agency...

About RINF Alternative News

Launched in 2004 RINF Alternative News is one of the UK's first completely self-financed and 100% independent news organisations. If you'd like to get in touch...

Empire and Colonialism: Rich Men in London Still Deciding Africa’s Future

Some £600 million in UK aid money courtesy of the taxpayer is helping big business increase its profits in Africa via the New Alliance...

Science, Democracy and Choice: Responding To A Pro-GMO Scientist

Writer and researcher Colin Todhunter takes apart the arguments of pro-GMO lobbyist Anthony Trewavas below. There’s more about Trewavas here. The following is in response...

Sleepwalking Into World War Three? Why The Independent Media Is Vital

NATO countries are to all intents and purposes at war with Russia. The US knows it and Russia knows it too. Unfortunately, most of...

Feeding The Vultures While Agriculture Starves: Capitalism’s Great Indian Con-Trick

The story goes like this: India is an economic miracle, a powerhouse of growth. It is a nation that increasingly embodies the spirit of...

Stop Twisting Truth: Scientific Bodies Should Put the Record Straight on GMOs

The Royal Society acts as a scientific advisor to the British government. The Society is Britain's Academy of Sciences, which funds research fellowships and...

Not Science, Just Lies and Propaganda: The Massive Fraud Behind GMOs Exposed

This is not what the GMO industry wanted to see: banner headlines today in major newspapers and across the internet exposing the fraud behind...

Fast Food Nations: Selling out to Junk Food, Illness and Food Insecurity

Colin Todhunter RINF Alternative News Western agribusiness, food processing companies and retail concerns are gaining wider entry into India and through various strategic trade deals are...

GMOs And Green Blob Hallucinations: The Twisted World Of Mr Paterson  

Speaking last week in Pretoria, former UK Environment Minister Owen Paterson described critics of GMOs as comprising part of a privileged class that increasingly...

So You Want to Help Africa Mr Paterson? Then Stop Promoting Ideology and Falsehoods...

Colin Todhunter RINF Alternative News According to Mathew Holehouse in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper (here), former UK Environment Minister Owen Paterson will this week accuse the...

Corporate Power Grab: The Wild Claims and PR Spin of the Pro-GMO Lobby

Colin Todhunter RINF Alternative News A recent report by US Right to Know (‘Seedy Business: What Big Food is Hiding with Its Slick PR Campaign on GMOs’,...

Demonizing Scientists and Opponents of GMOs: The Cheap Propaganda of the Pro-GMO Lobby

The pro-GMO lobby always demands that its opponents produce scientific evidence to back up their claims. Parts of this lobby smear and attack people...

Monsanto on the Menu: Science, Power and GMOs 

Colin Todhunter  RINF Alternative News On Twitter this week, someone asked the question “Why do people doubt science?” Accompanying the tweet was a link to an article...

Monsanto’s Shares Surge as its Drive to Force GM Crops into India Gathers Pace

It was a case of Modi mania when Narendra Modi and his BJP ‘swept’ to power in last year’s Indian general election. It was...

Slow Death, Fast Profits: Pesticides and Chemical Conflicts in Europe

A report released last year by the watchdog body Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) revealed huge conflicts of interests in the Scientific Committees under DG SANCO, the European...

There is NO scientific consensus on GMO safety

In an attempt to try and justify the case for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), supporters of GM technology often churn out the baseless claim...

‘Regulatory Cooperation’ and the TTIP: Opening the Floodgates Even Further For Corporate Plunder

A new leak concerning the talks around the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) indicates that the floodgates could be opened even further for...

GMO Biotech Companies and Compliant Politicians: Infiltrating India Using Baseless Claims and Deception

A study of GMOs over a four-year plus period by India’s multi-party Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture recommended a ban on GM food crops,...

‘Uncaged Corporate Parrots’ and the GMO False Narrative

British Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss has stated that genetically modified (GM) food should be grown in Britain because it is more ‘eco-friendly’. She adds...

The Government’s Drive to Force GMOs into Britain Against the Will of the People...

The UK government and its associated bureaucracy is colluding with powerful global agritech corporations to get genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into Britain (see here)....

The Future Is Local, The Future Is Not Monsanto

The US as a nation consumes more than anyone else, virtually at the expense of everyone else. The petrodollar system has ensured that imports...

GMO Seeds of Profit, Power and Geopolitics

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not essential for feeding the world , but if they were to lead to increased productivity, did not harm...

The Pro-GMO Lobby: Anti-science and a Politically Motivated Agenda

Colin Todhunter The pro-GMO lobby claims that there is a scientific consensus on the safety of GM food and therefore the GMO debate is over....

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Countering The Emotional Blackmail And Bogus Claims Of The GMO Lobby

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A brief history of the TTIP: Stop this corporate plunder

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Behind the Mask of Altruism: Monsanto and The Gates Foundation in Africa

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The Subjugation Of India By The US Rests On Monsanto’s Control Of Agriculture

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Satire: Monstersanto Brings You… Cola In A Can

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Monsanto’s PR Makeover: Lubricating The Wheels Of The GMO Trojan Horse

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Acquiescing to Big Biotech: The Relentless Drive to Force GMOs into Britain

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GMO Crops in India, The Profit Driven Destruction of Agriculture

Colin Todhunter RINF Alternative News The recently leaked report — ‘Impact of NGOs on Development’ — accuses certain activists and civil organisations in India of working...

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Colin Todhunter  RINF Alternative News Before being voted out of office this year, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance administration sanctioned open-field trials of 200 GM food...

Monsanto, Syngenta, Pioneer et al.: Through Political Cooptation and Corruption, the GMO Biotech Sector...

Colin Todhunter The proposal to hand back some decision powers to member states of the European Union regarding GMO approvals is currently being discussed (1). It...

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Colin Todhunter RINF Alternative News The GMO biotech sector is involved in a multi-pronged campaign to influence governments and the public about the benefits of its...

Democracy is Not For Sale in the European Union

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The GM Sector’s Contempt For Democracy: Don’t Be Fooled By The Propaganda

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Corrupt To The Core: The Fire Power Of The Financial Sector

Countercurrents and Global Research 9/4/2014

The enormous power and destructive influence of financial markets became apparent after the global economic collapse of 2008. This event revealed a need for bringing the sector under democratic public ownership; failing that, stronger regulations for financial markets at the very least. But political will has been lacking on both counts. The sector enjoys massive financial resources and successfully translates them into political influence.


Many ordinary people might be wondering why governments have not curtailed the criminality of the financial sector on the back of the economic crisis which it created. Instead, billions of dollars, pounds and euros have been handed over to the sector, and governments continue to grant banks free rein and thus dictate national economic and social policies.


If bankers and financiers are to be able to stuff their bulging suitcases with taxpayer handouts and to further loot economies, it is essential for them to have politicians in their pockets. One way by which this is achieved is shown in a new report, which indicates that the financial industry spends more than 120 million euros a year on lobbying in Brussels and employs more than 1,700 lobbyists to influence EU policy-making.

The report, ‘The fire power of the financial lobby’ has been released by Corporate Europe Observatory, ÖGB Europabüro (Brussels office of the Austrian Trade Union Federation), and AK EUROPA (Brusselsoffice of the Austrian Chamber of Labour) .


Kenneth Haar from Corporate Europe Observatory says:


“Reform has proved difficult, and these numbers are an important part of the explanation. The financial lobby's fire power to resist reform has been evident in all significant battles over financial regulation since the collapse of Lehman Brothers.”

The report shows the financial industry commands tremendous lobbying resources and enjoys privileged access to decision makers. The financial sector lobbies EU decision-makers by means of over 700 organisations, including companies' public relations offices, business associations, and consultancies.


This figure outnumbers civil-society organisations and trade unions working on financial issues by a factor of more than five. And the imbalance is even greater when numbers of staff and lobbying expenses are compared. The report shows that the financial lobby massively outspends other actors by a factor of more than 30. In order to arrive at a safe estimate, the survey used the most conservative figures. The actual numbers – and the imbalance between different interests – are thus likely to be far higher. This underestimate is mainly due to the lack of a mandatory register of lobbyists at the EU level that would provide reliable information for proper monitoring.


The report also shows the presence of the financial industry in the EU's official advisory groups that play a key role in helping to shape policy. And, here too, the financial lobby is massively over-represented here: 15 of the 17 expert groups covered by the study were heavily dominated by the financial industry.


Oliver Röpke, from ÖGB Europabüro said:


“This situation represents a severe democratic problem that politicians must act on swiftly. A first step is to adopt effective rules on lobbying transparency and strong ethics rules against undue influence.”

Amir Ghoreishi from AK EUROPA said:


“The fact that the financial lobby is so dominant in advisory groups reveals that the European Commission feels that people representing the financial industry should be allowed to set the agenda. An arms-length principle should be applied immediately.”

The report is a damning indictment of the sector's political influence. The sector continues to rake in unimaginable profits, while sucking the life out of economies. Ordinary people continue to pay the price via the privatization of public assets and ‘austerity’.  


“The stench emanating from the financial system is a product of the decay of the entire profit system. That system must be replaced by a higher socio-economic order in which the vast wealth created by the collective labour of the world working class is deployed to meet human need. The expropriation of the banks and finance houses, placing them under public ownership and democratic control, is the first step in implementing such a program.” Nick Beams (1)


Note:






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Globalization: Global Agribusiness Hammering Away At The Foundations Of Indian Society


RINF, Countercurrents, Global Research

https://twitter.com/colin_todhunter

According to the World Bank in the nineties, it was expected (and hoped) that some 400 million people in Indian agriculture would be moving out of the sector by 2015. To help them on their way, farming had to be made financially non-viable and policies formulated to facilitate the process.

Food and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma describes the situation: 

“India is on fast track to bring agriculture under corporate control... Amending the existing laws on land acquisition, water resources, seed, fertilizer, pesticides and food processing, the government is in overdrive to usher in contract farming and encourage organized retail. This is exactly as per the advice of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as the international financial institutes.” 

He notes that in its 2008 World Development Report, the World Bank wanted India to hasten the process by accelerating land acquisitions and launching a network of training institutes to train younger people in rural areas so as to make them eligible for industrial work. This is now happening, especially the highly contentious push to facilitate private corporations' access to land, which has been sparking mass protests across the country. 

Sharma describes how US subsidies and global trade policies work to benefit hugely wealthy agribusiness corporations, while serving to cripple the agricultural sectors of poorer countries. The massive subsidies doled out by the US to its giant agribusiness companies lower global produce prices and buck markets in favour of Washington. The US has also included non-trade barriers (such as various health standards and regulations) to keep agricultural imports out. At the same time, India has opened its markets and support for its own farmers is being cut. Farmers are thus being left to the vagaries of a global market slanted in favour of US interests.

As India's farmers face increasing financial distress and foreign private players try to move in to secure land and the seed, food processing and food retail sectors, what is happening courtesy of compliant politicians is tantamount to cannibalizing the country at the behest of foreign interests. 

Western agribusiness has already gained an influential foothold in India and many of the country’s national public bodies. Along with US food processing giants Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, agribusiness aims to recast the rural economy (and thus Indian society, given that hundreds of millions depend on it for a living) according to its own needs. This would mean eventually moving over 600 million (never mind the previously mentioned figure of 400 million) who depend on agriculture and local food processing activities into urban areas.

Monsanto already dominates the cotton industry in the country and is increasingly shaping agri-policy and the knowledge paradigm by funding agricultural research in public universities and institutes (see here). Moreover, public regulatory bodies are now severely compromised and riddled with conflicts ofinterest where decision-making over GMOs are concerned. 

But this is the nature of the 'globalization' agenda: the goal is to ‘capture’ and ‘exploit’ foreign markets and their policy/regulatory bodies. The culture of neoliberalism is exemplified by APCO Worldwide, a major ‘global communications, stakeholder engagement and business strategy’ company that Narendra Modi has been associated with in the past. In APCO’s India Brochure, there is the claim that India’s resilience in weathering the global downturn and financial crisis has made governments, policy-makers, economists, corporate houses and fund managers believe that India can play a significant role in the recovery of the global economy in the months and years ahead. APCO describes India as a trillion dollar market.

No mention of ordinary people or poor farmers. The focus is on profit, funds and money because for the readers of such documents all of this constitutes ‘growth’ – a positive sounding notion sold to the masses that in reality means corporate profit. It forms part of an ideology that attempts to disguise the nature of a system that has produced austerity, disempowerment and increasing hardship for the bulk of the population and the concentration of ever more wealth and power in the hands of the few who now dictate policies to nation states.

Take a brief look at what happened in Britain when the neoliberal globalization strategy took hold there. As with Modi, Margaret Thatcher was a handmaiden to rich interests.

During the eighties, the Thatcher government set the wheels in motion to shut down the coal mining industry. The outcome destroyed communities across the country, and they have never recovered. Crime-ridden, drug-ridden and shells of their former selves, these towns and villages and the people in them were thrown onto the scrapheap. The industry was killed because it was deemed ‘uneconomical'. And yet it now costs more to keep a person on the dole than it would to employ them at the minimum wage, the country imports coal at a higher cost than it would to have kept the pits open and Britain has to engage in costly illegal wars to secure its oil and gas energy needs, which coal could largely provide (Britain has over 1,000 years of coal supply in the ground). In fact, before 1970, Britain got all its gas from its own coal.

The economics just do not add up. Former miners’ leader Arthur Scargill fought to save the mining industry and now asks where is the sense in all of this (see thisthis and this).   

The same happened across the manufacturing sector, from steel to engineering to shipbuilding. And a similar process occurred in the fishery and agriculture sectors. In 2010, there were over eight million unemployed (over 21 percent of the workforce), despite what the official figures said.

Britain decided to financialize its economy and move people out of manufacturing to integrate with a neoliberal globalized world order. Ordinary people’s livelihoods were sacrificed and sold to the lowest bidder abroad and the real economy was hollowed out for the benefit of giant corporations who now have near-monopolies in their respective sectors and record massive profits. People were promised a new service-based economy. Not enough jobs materialized or when they did many soon moved to cheap labour economies or they were automated. 

Although it’s a vastly different country, if we look at agriculture in India, a similar trend is seen. Almost 300,000 farmers have taken their lives in India since 1997 and many more are experiencing economic distress or have left farming as a result of debt, a shift to cash crops and economic ‘liberalization’.

In a recent TV interview, Devinder Sharma highlighted the plight of agriculture:

“Agriculture has been systematically killed over the last few decades… the World Bank and big business have given the message that this is the only way to grow economically… Sixty percent of the population lives in the villages or in the rural areas and is involved in agriculture, and less than two percent of the annual budget goes to agriculture… When you are not investing in agriculture, you think it is... not performing. You are not wanting it to perform... Leave it to the vagaries or the tyranny of the markets… agriculture has disappeared from the economic radar screen of the country… 70 percent of the population is being completely ignored…”

As policy makers glorify ‘business entrepreneurship’ and ‘wealth creation’ and acquiesce to hugely wealthy individuals and their corporations, it largely goes unrecognized that farmers have always been imbued with the spirit of entrepreneurship and have been creating food wealth for centuries. They have been innovators, natural resource stewards, seed savers and hybridization experts. But they are now fodder to be sacrificed on the altar of US petro-chemical agribusiness interests.

In his interview, Devinder Sharma went on to state that despite the tax breaks and the raft of policies that favour industry over agriculture, industry has failed to deliver; but despite the gross under-investment in agriculture, it still manages to deliver bumper harvests year after year:

“In the last 10 years, we had 36 lakh crore going to the corporates by way of tax exemptions... They just created 1.5 crore jobs in the last ten years. Where are the exports? … The only sector that has performed very well in this country is agriculture... Why do you want to move the population... Why can’t India have its own thinking? Why do we have to go with Harvard or Oxford economists who tell us this?” (36 lakh crore is 36 trillion; 1.5 crore is 15 million)

It all begs the question: where are the jobs going to come from to cater for hundreds of millions of former agricultural workers or those whose livelihoods will be destroyed as transnational corporations move in and seek to capitalize industries that currently employ tens of millions (if not hundreds of millions)?

The genuine wealth creators, the farmers, are being sold out to corporate interests whose only concern is to how best loot the economy. As they do so, they churn out in unison with their politician puppets the mantra of it all being in the ‘national interest’ and constituting some kind of ‘economic miracle’. And those who protest are attacked and marginalised. In Britain during the eighties, it was a similar situation. Workers' representatives portrayed as the 'enemy within'. 

Through various policies, underinvestment and general neglect, farmers are being set up to financially fail. However, it is corporate-industrial India which has failed to deliver in terms of boosting exports or creating jobs, despite the massive hand outs and tax exemptions given to it (see this and this). The number of jobs created in India between 2005 and 2010 was 2.7 million (the years of high GDP growth). According to International Business Times, 15 million enter the workforce every year (see here).

Again, this too is a global phenomenon.

Corporate-industrial India is the beneficiary of a huge global con-trick: subsidies to the public sector or to the poor are portrayed as a drain on the economy, while the genuinely massive drain of taxpayer-funded corporate dole, tax breaks, bail outs and tax avoidance/evasion are afforded scant attention. Through slick doublespeak, all of this becomes redefined necessary for creating jobs or fueling ‘growth’. The only growth is in massive profits and inequalities, coupled with unemployment, low pay, the erosion of welfare and a further race to the bottom as a result of secretive trade agreements like the TTIP.

India is still a nation of farmers. Around two thirds of the population in some way rely on agriculture for a living. Despite the sector’s woeful neglect in favour of a heavily subsidized and government-supported but poorly performing industrial sector, agriculture remains the backbone of Indian society.

Notwithstanding the threat to food security, livelihoods and well-being, the type of unsustainable corporate-controlled globalized industrial agriculture being pushed through in India leads to bad food, bad soil, bad or no waterbad health, stagnant or falling yields and ultimately an agrarian crisis. It involves the liberal use of cancer-causing pesticides and the possible introduction of health-damaging but highly profitable GMOs.

There was a famous phrase used in the eighties in Britain by the former Prime Minister Harold McMillan. He accused the Thatcher administration of 'selling the family silver' with its privatization policies and the auction of public assets that ordinary people had strived to build over many decades of dedicated labour. 

As Modi presses through with his strident neoliberal agenda and seeks to further privatize India's agricultural heritage, it begs the question: is it not tantamount to turning in on yourself and destroying the home in which you live? 

Chaos And Propaganda: Washington’s “Reality-Based Order”


Follow on: https://twitter.com/colin_todhunter

RINF, Countercurrents, Global Research
In 2011, Hilary Clinton announced the US was at war. She wasn’t referring to the US’s ongoing invasions, wars and occupations but an ideological war for hearts and minds. Clinton lamented the fact that, since the end of the cold war, US global ideological influence had weakened, especially with the advent of the Internet and TV channels like RT.
Of course, Hollywood still manages to propagate the ‘great American myth’ globally every day: the US as the beacon of freedom, as the flagship of democratic ideals, based on the great ‘American Lie’ of the great ‘American Dream’ whereby the individual can somehow miraculously overcome adversity and make it in life, just as long as s/he keeps his or her nose to the grind. US mass culture exported across the globe. The ‘anyone can make it’ syndrome sugar coated with a sprinkling of ‘freedom and democracy’ then rammed down the collective throat by Hollywood, which magics away into thin air the reality of capitalism and its deeply embedded structural power relations. As the commentator and comedian George Carlin once stated: “The American Dream, you have to be asleep to believe it.”
And let’s not forget Hollywood’s retelling of history with Uncle Sam the movie star, the liberator of the oppressed, the protector of universal good, the sweeper of its mass terror and atrocities away from the screen and conveniently under the carpet.
The internet, Press TV, RT and the ‘alternative media’ in all its forms have however eaten into Washington’s Hollywoodesque version of reality and propaganda. Despite the ownership of the corporate media becoming ever more concentrated in the hands of massive conglomerates and it promoting a common news agenda, the US has had to face up to the harsh truth that it cannot dominate the debate to the extent it once did when it comes to shaping the analysis and reporting of news through its compliant media outlets.
Around the time Clinton was voicing her concerns, Edward Snowden was revealing what many of us had already strongly suspected – people across the world and foreign governments were being monitored by the US government. Before Snowden became public enemy number one, Julian Assange carried that mantle. The US state-corporate machine did almost everything in its power to destroy Assange and WikiLeaks. Most debilitating of all was the shutting down of WikiLeaks’ access to finance, notably via PayPal, MasterCard, the Swiss bank PostFinance, Moneybookers, Bank of America and Visa Inc.
Bank of America was accused of being especially strident in attempting to discredit and destroy WikiLeaks with various dirty tricks, including backing a smear campaign that involved the use of false documents, disinformation, and sabotage. These actions along with demands that Snowden be ‘handed over’ by the countries the US has been caught red handed of spying on, came as little surprise. The US deems it fit to break international laws with impunity, yet bleats about legalities where Snowden or Assange is concerned.
But things are not always so straightforward. Not everyone can be banished to a foreign country or incarcerated in an embassy in London. As a result, former CIA boss General Petraeus is on record as saying US strategy is to conduct a war of perceptions continuously through the news media. We don’t have to imagine much that the prevailing view of world conveyed through the mainstream media and swallowed by many people is based on ‘a pack of lies’ carefully crafted by men like Petraeus and the State Department’s PR machine. British MP George Galloway’s powerful performance in front of a US Senate committee in 2005 highlighted it as such in the case of the invasion of Iraq.
These days, despite state-corporate control and manipulation of the mainstream media, many see through the charade of ‘liberal democracy’. The more the US lacks control over ‘the message’, the more it has to resort restrictions on freedoms. The more paranoid it becomes, the more penetrating and widespread the surveillance and ‘information gathering’ is.
So it was quite revealing to see this week the US House of Foreign Affairs Committee discussing Russia’s ‘weaponisation’ of information. Chairperson Ed Royce claimed that RT is part of a Russian disinformation campaign and asserted that if certain things are repeated over and over again, a conspiratorial theory begins to take on a life of its own.
The hypocrisy was palpable.
The US should know about such things. given its demonisation of Russia and the construction of a narrative of ‘Russian aggression’ in Ukraine that has been on continuous loop and churned out by the corporate media for quite some time now. This story of course has no basis in reality and is intended to mask a wider imperialist agenda to destabilise Russia.
Royce said that RT provides a platform for fringe and radical views worldwide and most broadcasters would not entertain people with such views. While it is correct to say that RT has a pro-Kremlin agenda, virtually all Western corporate media outlets adhere to a broadly defined economic and military ‘Washington consensus’. Where Western outlets see little wrong with wheeling out pro-big business commentators and representatives from powerful thinks for their opinions, little opportunity is provided for trade unionists, the non-mainstream left or any other voices that offer radical critiques of the status to offer their views.
RT has a range of commentators and analysts, including Professor Michel Chossudovsky, Pepe Escobar, Max Keiser, Paul Craig Roberts, William F Engdahl and Manuel Ochsenreiter, who tend to rarely appear on Western corporate mainstream media outlets. While some may not agree with their views or analyses, such people are academically well-qualified and recognised by many as being specialists in their fields. It is too convenient for them to be brushed aside with the ‘deranged conspiracy theorist’ accusation.
These commentators are highly critical of US-Western foreign policies but that does not mean they necessarily support Putin or Russia, as former RT presenter Liz Whal seemed to imply during the committee hearing. If certain commentators are regarded as “fringe” figures or “extremists” as Whal suggested, they are only regarded as such because their views challenge the pro-Washington narrative conveyed by the Western corporate media and thus tend to be side-lined. She argued these ‘alternative’ voices now have platforms to voice their “deranged views” and whip up anti-US sentiment.
Royce claimed Russia’s propaganda machine is currently in overdrive and that part of the focus is to undermine “democratic stability” and foment violence. He went on to state that these tactics have helped stoke the situation in Ukraine and are laying the groundwork for a Russian invasion and asserted that this propaganda has the potential to destabilise NATO members.
Another contributor to the proceedings argued that “our” global order is a “reality based order” and that the likes of RT and the internet makes “reality based politics” impossible.
Washington wishes it had the monopoly on truth but it doesn’t. And the reality is that the US regards views that criticise it as intolerable. But while the internet can at times be a vehicle for churning out some ludicrous views (and in this respect Whal is correct), what could be more sinister than what the mainstream media churns out on a daily basis with its acceptance of and justifications for austerity, gross inequalities, the massive concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, secretive corporate-constructed trade deals, wars of aggression, a bogus war on terror and the rest of the stories designed to beat working people and opponents of Washington’s hegemony into submission?
You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to appreciate that the terms “reality based global order” and “democratic stability” are cynical euphemisms designed to conceal a completely different reality of imposed chaos and disorder around the world. Supporters of this reality are committed to misinforming the public, creating regional destabilisations and bending nations to Washington’s will.

GMOs And Green Blob Hallucinations: The Twisted World Of Mr Paterson


RINF, Global Research, Countercurrents, The Nation (Sri Lanka, on 8/3/2015)

Speaking last week in Pretoria, former UK Environment Minister Owen Paterson described critics of GMOs as comprising part of a privileged class that increasingly fetishizes food and seeks to turn their personal preferences into policy proscriptions for the rest of us. He called them backward-looking and regressive. He claimed their policies would condemn billions to hunger, poverty and underdevelopment because of their insistence on mandating primitive, inefficient farming techniques.

He called them:

“… the ‘Green Blob’ – a reference to a 1950s Sci-Fi movie starring Steve McQueen in which a blob-like alien attacks Earth and swallows everything in its path: the environmental pressure groups, renewable energy companies and some public officials who keep each other well supplied with lavish funds, scare stories and green tape. This tangled triangle of unelected busybodies claims to have the interest of the planet and the countryside at heart, but it is increasingly clear that it is focusing on the wrong issues and doing real harm while profiting handsomely.”

He went on to state:

“There are many impediments standing between the vision of agricultural progress and Africa, of course, but none is more pernicious than the Blob. It is supported by massive funding provided by the EU itself, as well as numerous church and humanitarian groups, and the well-meaning but misguided generosity of the privileged classes in Europe and elsewhere. It has undue influence in the media, government and international institutions. Unfortunately, few question either its credentials or motives.” (see the full text of the speech here)

Paterson then proceeded to proclaim the virtues of GMOs and laid out a series of slurs, falsehoods and cherry-picked proclamations that anyone would be forgiven for thinking had come straight from the pen of a GMO agribusiness employee. But it wouldn’t have been the first time would it? In the case of this bit of poetry that Paterson likes so much, it came courtesy of Syngenta.

No, such practices are commonplace. Indeed, across the globe uncaged corporate parrots seem to be perched on the highest of ledges:

“We have had the National Academies of Science give a clean chit of biosafety to GM crops — doing that by using paragraphs lifted wholesale from the industry’s own literature! Likewise, Ministers in the PMO who know nothing about the risks of GMOs have similarly sung the virtues of Bt Brinjal and its safety to an erstwhile Minister of Health. They have used, literally, 'cut & paste' evidence from the biotech lobby’s 'puff' material. Are these officials then, 'uncaged corporate parrots'?” Aruna Rodrigues, writing about the situation in India here in The Hindu.

Some points to consider for any rational thinking person

What would you do when presented with the option of sanctioning the commercialisation of genetically engineered food that is fundamentally different to conventional food? And have no doubt, it is: see this analysis by Steven Druker. Forget about those will try to confuse you that humans have always been tampering with food and genetic engineering represents more of the same. It doesn’t.

Would you engage in doublespeak about ‘substantial equivalence’ to try to convince people that it is just the same as conventional food in order to prevent public/scientific scrutiny (see this), and (as Druker shows to be the case) would you then ignore any fears, concerns and evidence in order to commercialise it?

You would if you are the US government, which has done exactly that, as described in Drukers new book 'Altered Genes, Twisted Truth: How the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government and Systematically Deceived the Public' (Clear River Press, March 2015).  

In fact, if you are among the pro-GMO lobby, you would dream up some ideology about giving consumers and people greater choice by offering them the option of GMOs. You would also forward the myth that the corporations behind GMOs have humanity’s best interests at heart and that critics are anti-science ideologues whose policies and attitudes would leave billions dead or at least impoverished and starving. As part of this deception, you would forward the lie that GMOs are safe, even though there has not been one long-term epidemiological study conducted to show this, and are needed to feed the world. (See these claims debunked here).

And if you are part of this lobby or so gullible to unwittingly become its foot soldier by propagating the ideology in the media or on website comment threads, you would be part of a $100-million-dollar PR campaign (that figure is for the US alone).

And back to Owen Paterson

These powerful and extremely wealthy corporations or their foot soldiers in a display of glaring hypocrisy accuse critics of being part of a lavishly funded conspiracy against them and indeed humanity.

Yes, the same corporations whose financial clout has bought them political influence in so far that they exert huge control over WTO (see this), have captured regulatory bodies and public research institutions (see this and this), have had a key role in driving trade policies (see this) and are the biggest lobbiers (see this) for the world’s largest (secretive, pro-corporate) trade deal, the TTIP, which will constitutionally hand over regulatory and economic policies to a cartel of lawyers, officials and high-level corporate executives (see this).  

So maybe it’s time to slightly rearrange parts of Paterson’s attack on his critics to provide him with a reality check. Paterson would have more truthfully presented the case by stating:

“It is these powerful corporations (not a ‘green blob’), whose owners are part of the privileged class that seek to turn their vested interests into policy proscriptions for the rest of us. It is this backward-looking and regressive class whose policies have already condemned tens of millions to hunger, poverty and underdevelopment. It is this privileged class (not a ‘green blob’) that has swallowed up everything in its path facilitated by public officials who are well supplied with lavish funds, scare stories and ‘green revolution’ rhetoric. This tangled triangle of unelected, unaccountable corporations claims to have the interest of the planet and the countryside at heart, but it is increasingly clear that it is focusing on the wrong issues and doing real harm while profiting handsomely. There are many impediments standing between the vision of agricultural progress and Africa, of course, but none is more pernicious than this group that is supported by massive profits often secured from fraudulent practices and by often well-meaning but gullible people who buy into its rhetoric. It has undue influence in the media, government and international institutions. Fortunately, there are many who question its credentials and motives.”

Readers are urged to read this to appreciate why Paterson has got is so wrong.

War, Economic Catastrophe and Environmental Degradation. Under the Guise of Progress and Development

Global Research and Countercurrents 27/4/2014
Indian finance minister P.Chidambaram once claimed that his government’s policies were pro growth and pro equity (1). He talked of alleviating poverty in India‘in our lifetime’ by implementing the type of development policies currently being pursued. The minister envisages 85 percent of India’s population eventually living in well-planned cities with proper access to water, health, electricity, education, etc. Based on today’s population size, which is set to continue to rise, that would mean at least 600 million moving to cities. He stated that urbanisation constitutes ‘natural progress’.
The type of urbanisation being pursued in India is not ‘natural’, however, nor does it represent ‘progress’. It has thus far been largely based on unconstitutional land takeovers, the trampling of democratic rights, increasing and unsustainable resource usage and air and water pollution. But for Chidambaram and other supporters of cronyism, cartels and the manipulation of markets (2,3,4), which all go under the guise of economic ‘neo-liberalism’, such processes increase the amount of money flowing around the economy, which therefore increases the GDP figure and thus represent progress. In this respect, chopping down an ancient forest and selling the timber represents progress, and removing people’s access to traditional lands by handing them to corporations to somehow make cash profits from is also positive.
This warped notion of development has seen the poverty alleviation rate in India remain around the same as it was back in 1991 or even in pre-independence India (0.8 percent) (5), while the ratio between the top and bottom ten percents of the population has doubled during this period. According to the Organisation for Co-operation and Economic Development, this doubling of income inequality has made India one of the worst performers in the category of emerging economies (6).
This is the type of development being forced through by Indian politicians on behalf of national and international elite interests via the World Bank, WTO, and the G8, etc, and it is based on the idea that shifting people from agriculture to what are a number of already overburdened, filthy, polluted mega-cities to work in factories, clean the floors of a shopping mall or work as a security guard improves the human condition; or, more realistically, to live in slum-like conditions and be unemployed or underemployed, given that hundreds of millions are to be booted from the land to achieve Chidambaram’s 85 percent urbanisation figure.
Urbanisation is being forced through by what Vandana Shiva says is the biggest forced removal of people from their lands in history and involves one of the biggest illegal land grabs since Columbus, according to a 2009 report commissioned by the rural development ministry and chaired by the then minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh.
In the West, urbanisation was not ‘natural’ and involved the unforeseen outcomes of conflicts and struggles between serfs, lords, peasants, landowners, the emerging bourgousie and class of industrialists and the state. The outcomes of these struggles resulted in different routes to modernity and levels of urbanisation (7,8).
Similar struggles are now taking place in India. The naxalites and Maoists in India are referred to by the dominant class as left wing extremists who are exploiting the poor. How easy it is cast legitimate protesters together and create an ‘enemy within’. How easy it is to ignore the state-corporate extremism across the world that results in the central state abdicating its responsibilities by submitting to the tenets of the Wall Street-backed ‘structural adjustment’ pro-privatisation policies, free capital flows, massive profits justified on the basis of ‘investment risk’ and unaccountable cartels which aim to maximise profit by beating down labour costs and grabbing resources at the cheapest possible costs. That’s the real nature of extremism. It is the type of extremism that is regarded as anything but by the mainstream media.
Powerful corporations are spearheading the agenda for ‘development’ in India and have been handed the rights to this process via secretive Memorandums of Understanding. The full military backing of the state is on hand to forcibly evict peoples from their land in order to fuel a wholly unsustainable model of development that strips the environment bare and ultimately negatively impacts the climate and ecology.
Moreover, due to the restructuring of agriculture in favour of Western agribusiness, over 250,000 farmers have committed suicide in India since 1997. And yet the corporate-controlled type of agriculture being imposed only leads to bad food, bad soil, bad or no water, bad health and bad or falling yields (9,10,11,12). Unconstitutional land grabs for SEZs, resource extraction, nuclear plants and other projects have additionally forced many others from the land.
With GDP growth slowing and automation replacing human labour the world over in order to decrease labour costs and boost profit, just where are the jobs going to come from to cater for India’s increasing population, never mind hundreds of millions of former agricultural workers?
To push through the type of progress and development Chidambaram wants, it is clear that farmers represent a ‘problem’ to be removed from the land and a problem to be dealt with once removed. Food producers, the genuine wealth producers of a nation, only became a problem when Western agribusiness was given the green light to take power away from farmers and uproot traditional agriculture in India and recast it in its own profiteering, corporate-controlled image. This is who is really setting the ‘development’ agenda. The processes involved constitute the ‘progress’ and ‘natural’ move towards depopulating rural areas that Chidambaram spoke of.
If it can’t be done via mass suicide and making it economically non-viable to continue farming as a result of world trade policies, ‘free’ trade agreements and ‘structurally adjusting’ (plundering) traditional agricultural practices and economies to ultimately ensure petro-chemical farming (and thus oil and the US dollar (13) remains king, let tens of thousands of militia into the tribal areas to displace hundreds of thousands, place 50,000 in camps and carry out rapes and various human rights abuses (14,15).
If anyone perceives that this ‘natural progress’ is not based on acquiescing to foreign corporations, they should take a look at the current corporate-driven, undemocratic free trade agreement being hammered out behind closed doors between the EU and India (16,17,18).It all adds up to powerful trans-national corporations trying to by-pass legislation that was implemented to safeguard the public’s rights. Kavaljit Singh of the Madhyam research institute argues that we could see the Indian government being sued by multinational companies for billions of dollars in private arbitration panels outside of Indian courts if national laws, policies, court decisions or other actions are perceived to interfere with their investments; this is already a reality in many parts of the world whereby legislation is shelved due to even the threat of legal action by corporations (19). Such free trade agreements cement the corporate ability to raid taxpayers’ coffers even further via unaccountable legal tribunals, or to wholly dictate national policies and legislation.
Of course, the links between the Monsanto/Syngenta/Walmart-backed Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture and the US sanctioning and backing of the opening up of India’s nuclear sector to foreign interests (on the back of a cash for votes scandal in parliament (20)) have already shown what the models of ‘development’ being pushed onto people really entails in terms of the erosion of democracy and the powerful corporate interests that really benefit (21,22).
Industrial developments built with public money and strategic assets, such as energy sources, ports, airports and seeds and infrastructure support for agriculture are being sold off. And how is this all justified? By the amount of cash sloshing around the formal economy (notwithstanding the massive amounts of money being siphoned off via corrupt deals and hidden from public gaze) and the reference to GDP growth – a single, warped, narrow definition of ‘development’ – a notion of development hijacked by economists and their secular theology which masquerades as economic ‘science’.
Do people really believe India’s future lies in tying itself to a corrupt, moribund system that has so patently failed in the West and can now only sustain itself by plundering other countries via war or ‘free trade’ agreements, which have little if anything to do with free trade? At best, it shows a lack of foresight. At worst, it displays complete subservience to elite interests at home and abroad.
Finally, if anyone perceives the type of ‘development for all’ being sold to the masses is actually possible in the first instance, they should note that ‘developing’ nations account for more than 80 percent of world population, but consume only about a third of the world’s energy. US citizens constitute 5 percent of the world’s population, but consume 24 percent of the world’s energy. On average, one American consumes as much energy as two Japanese, six Mexicans, 13 Chinese, 31 Indians, 128 Bangladeshis, 307 Tanzanians and 370 Ethiopians (23).
The Earth is 4.6 billion years old and if you scale this to 46 years then humans have been here for just four hours. The Industrial Revolution began just one minute ago, and in that time, 50% of the Earth’s forests have been destroyed (24). Forests are just part of the problem. We are using up oil, water and other resources much faster than they can ever be regenerated. We have also poisoned the rivers, destroyed natural habitats, driven some wildlife species to extinction and altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere – among many other things.
Levels of consumption were unsustainable, long before India and other countries began striving to emulate Western levels and high energy use. The current model of development is based on a totally misguided dream; or, to put it another way, a deceitful ideology that attempts to justify and sell a system that is designed to fail the majority of the global population and benefit the relative few (25).
Capitalism has for a long time succeeded in making most people blind to the chains that bind and which make them immune to the falsehoods that underpin the system. This wasteful, high-energy system is tied to what ultimately constitutes the plundering of peoples and the planet by powerful transnational corporations. And, as we see all around us, the outcome is endless conflicts over fewer and fewer resources. Such conflicts are likely to gather pace as wars are not only fought to grab resources, but are also manufactured in order to destroy states from within by fomenting civil wars and thus destabilize economies and reduce demand for resources (26). The outcome is also environmental destruction and an elitist agenda being forwarded by rich eugenicists who voice concerns over there being ‘simply too many mouths’: those mouths would only take food from their rich bellies – bellies that long ago became bloated from the fat of the land, lucrative wars and the misery brought about by economic exploitation. The super rich who currently run the world regard most of humanity as a problem to be ‘dealt with’ (27).
Finally, it is worth considering that the US as a nation and its oligarchs in particular achieved the level of affluence that they did more by way of ‘gansterism’, not by ‘freedom and democracy’ or ‘free market’ economics as that nation’s leaders like to tell the world. That much was admitted by the late Major General Smedley Butler, the US’s most decorated marine: he listed various corporations on whose behalf he fought for during his various military campaigns (28). Of course, little has changed since Smedley wrote about his experiences in 1935.
Maybe Smedley’s description of this aspect of the US’s route to ‘development’ are what certain Indian politicians really respect, as the strong (and soft) arm of the state works to secure access to the nations resources for powerful corporations.
Notes
7) Robert Brenner (1976), “Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-industrial Europe”.Past and Present 70
8) Barrington Moore (1993) [First published 1966]. Social origins of dictatorship and democracy: lord and peasant in the making of the modern world (with a new foreword by Edward Friedman and James C. Scott ed.). Boston: Beacon Press.

Cast in a Bankrupt Image: Restructuring India


Global Research and Countercurrents 30/10/2013

Back in 2008, Indian finance minister P. Chidambaram claimed that his government’s policies were pro growth and pro equity (1). He blamed an inept system of administering benefits to the poor for the low rate of ‘inclusive growth’. He also talked of the goal of alleviating poverty ‘in our lifetime’. What’s more, the type of development being pursued was deemed to be more or less correct and adverse effects were mainly due to lax application of laws, public officials dragging their feet over changes and misplaced fear about policies causing poverty, not alleviating it.

The minister also envisaged 85 percent of India’s population eventually living in well-planned, manageable-size cities with proper access to water, health, electricity, education, etc. Based on today’s population size, which is set to continue to rise, that would mean 600 million moving to cities and around 180 million people or their families eventually being directly dependent on agriculture for a living. He stated that urbanisation constitutes ‘natural progress’.


While some argue that unconstitutional land takeovers, the trampling of democratic rights in order to pursue a nuclear energy agenda, increasing  and unsustainable resource usage, and air and water pollution all taking place under the guise of ‘growth’ are adding to the misery and disenfranchisement of the poor, the minister argued that, taking Orissa as an example, the poor there had been poor since the world dawned and that setting up a steel plant or mining the minerals there would only help their situation by providing employment and ultimately helping the area to develop.


After 22 years of neo-liberalism, how much weight do the arguments set out above hold?


The poverty alleviation rate is around the same as it was back in 1991 and even in pre-independence India (0.8 percent) (2), while the ratio between the top and bottom ten percents of the population has doubled during this period. According to the Organisation for Co-operation and Economic Development, this doubling of income inequality has made India one of the worst performers in the category of emerging economies (3).


There is an implicit and sometimes explicit assertion in some circles that anyone who questions the push towards urbanisation, privatisation and neo-liberalism in general, which Chidambaram’s model of development rests on, ‘lacks perspective’ or is stuck in an outdated mindset that romanticises ‘tradition’ and resents ‘progress’ and the private sector.


Moreover, much mainstream thinking implies that shifting people from agriculture to what are a number of already overburdened, filthy, polluted mega-cities to work in factories, clean the floors of a shopping mall or work as a security guard improves the human condition. Or… to live in slum-like conditions and be unemployed or underemployed, given that 600 million plus are to be booted from the land to achieve Chidambaram’s 85 percent urbanisation figure. After all, there are only so many outscourced jobs to be had or mac-sector work to be done.


It is easy to fall prey to the belief that wholesale urbanisation is inevitable and should therefore be forced through by what Vandana Shiva criticises as being the biggest forced removal of people from their lands in history - and involving on the biggest illegal land grabbing since Columbus, according to a 2009 report commissioned by the rural development ministry and chaired by the then minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh.


Furthermore, if anyone understands history, it becomes apparent that urbanisation was not ‘natural’ and involved social engineering and deliberate policies and the unforeseen outcomes of conflicts and struggles between serfs, lords, peasants, landowners, the emerging bourgousie and class of industrialists, the state and the stealing and enclosing of land. The outcomes of these struggles resulted in different routes to modernity and levels of urbanisation (4,5).


Of course, there is now a struggle now taking place in India. The naxalites and Maoists in India are referred to by the dominant class as left wing extremists who are exploiting the poor. How easy it is to lump legitimate protesters together as such and create an ‘enemy within’. How easy it is to ignore the state-corporate extremism across the world that results in the central state abdicating its responsibilities by submitting to the tenets of the Wall Street-backed ‘structural adjustment’ pro-privatisation policies, free capital flows, massive profits justified on the basis of ‘investment risk’ and unaccountable cartels which aim to maximise profit by beating down labour costs and grabbing resources at the cheapest possible costs. That’s the real extremism. That’s the extremism that is regarded as anything but by the mainstream media.


The mainstream assumption is that the coal must be mined, the ore extracted, the steel produced and the rivers exploited in the name of ‘development’. But who controls this process, who benefits and just what type of development ensues?


Tata, Essar and any number of wealthy corporations are handed over the rights to this process via secretive MoUs and the full military backing of the state is on hand to forcibly evict peoples from their land… all for their own good… all to fuel a wholly unsustainable model of development that not only forces folk from their lands, but strips the environment bare in the process and ultimately negatively impacts the climate and ecology. And the response: this is inevitable, this is progress, this is necessary because we have ‘the right’ to develop just as the West has and in their image and any social and environmental problems that ensue will be dealt with once we have ‘developed’… once it is too late.      


Development, if it is to have any substance, is about the well-being of people. A number of well-being surveys indicate that happier societies invest heavily in health, welfare and education, are more equal and live within the limits imposed by the environment. Many less wealthy countries (and wealthy) do well in such surveys because cultural priority is placed on family and friends, on social capital rather than financial capital, on social equity rather than corporate power.


The neo-liberal model of development runs counter to this.


Due to the restructuring of agriculture in favour of Western agribusiness, over 250,000 farmers have committed suicide in India since 1997. And the corporate-controlled type of agriculture being imposed only leads to bad food, bad soil, bad or no water, bad health and bad or falling yields (6,7,8,9). Unconstitutional land grabs for SEZs, resource extraction, nuclear plants and other projects have additionally forced many others from the land.


There are already 93 million urban slum dwellers in India. How many more if the 85 percent figure of people living in cities is to be achieved?


With economic growth apparently slowing from around eight to nine percent annually to estimates that vary between four and six percent, just where are the jobs going to come from to cater for India’s increasing population, never mind hundreds of millions of former agricultural workers?    


It would be easy to conclude that farmers in India represent some kind of 'problem' to be removed from the land and a problem to be dealt with once removed. Since when did food producers, the genuine wealth producers, become a ‘problem’? The answer is when Western agribusiness was given the green light to take power away from farmers and uproot traditional agriculture in India and recast it in its own profiteering, corporate-controlled image. But this is who is really setting the agenda and constitutes part of the ‘progress’ and ‘natural’ move towards depopulating rural areas that Chidambaram spoke of.  


And if it can’t be done via mass suicide and making it economically  non-viable to continue farming as a result of world trade policies, ‘free’ trade agreements and ‘structurally adjusting’ (ie plundering) traditional agricultural practices and economies to ultimately ensure petro-chemical farming (and thus oil and the US dollar (10)) remains king, let tens of thousands of militia into the tribal areas to displace hundreds of thousands, place 50,000 in camps and carry out rapes and various human rights abuses (11,12).


And if anyone perceives that this ‘natural progress’ is not based on acquiescing to foreign corporations, they should take a look at the current corporate-driven, undemocratic free trade agreement being hammered out behind closed doors between the EU and India (13,14,15). It all adds up to powerful trans-national corporations trying to by-pass legislation that was implemented to safeguard the public’s rights. Kavaljit Singh of the Madhyam research institute in India argues that we could see the Indian government being sued by multinational companies for billions of dollars in private arbitration panels outside of Indian courts if national laws, policies, court decisions or other actions are perceived to interfere with their investments; this is already a reality in many parts of the world whereby legislation is shelved due to even the threat of legal action by corporations (16). Such free trade agreements cement the corporate ability to raid taxpayers’ coffers even further via unaccountable legal tribunals, or to wholly dictate national policies and legislation. 


Of course, the links between the Monsanto/Syngenta/Walmart-backed Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture and the US sanctioning and backing of the opening up of India’s nuclear sector to foreign interests (on the back of a cash for votes scandal in parliament (17)) have already shown what the models of ‘development’ being pushed onto people really entails in terms of the erosion of democracy and the powerful corporate interests that really benefit (18,19).


Industrial developments built with public money and strategic assets, such as energy sources, ports, airports and seeds and infrastructure support for agriculture are being sold off. And how is this all justified? By reference to GDP growth – a single, narrow definition of ‘development’ – a notion of development hijacked by economists and their secular theology which masquerades as economic ‘science’.


In India, that dubious measurement in terms of India's GDP growth has now hit the buffers. Do people really believe India’s future lies in tying itself to a moribund system that has so patently failed in the West and can now only sustain itself by plundering other countries via war or ‘free trade’ agreements, which have little if anything to do with free trade? At best, it shows a lack of imagination. At worst, it displays complete subservience to elite interests at home and abroad.


So what might an alternative vision to forcibly removing 600 million from rural India under the current warped notion of development involve? There are many visions and strategies being pursued. But as a basic starting point, the following offers a credible option:


“… We are therefore committed to resist patents on seeds and life forms promoted by the TRIPS agreement of WTO which lead to the privatization of biodiversity and piracy of traditional knowledge… We are committed to promoting alternatives to non-sustainable agricultural technologies based on toxic chemicals and genetic engineering. We are committed to changing the rules of unfair trade force on small peasants through the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, which are leading to destitution, debt and farmers suicides … Our mission is to promote organic fair trade, based on fairness to the earth and all her species, fairness to producers and fairness to consumers. We will... create another food culture, which respects diversity, local production and food quality… we are committed to creating a future of food and agriculture in which small farmers prosper and biodiversity and cultural diversity thrives… Biodiverse small organic farms increase productivity, improve rural incomes and strengthen ecological security. Large-scale industrial monocultures displace and dispossess small farmers and peasants, destroy the environment and create malnutrition and public health hazards. Our mission is to provide alternatives to a global food system, which is denying one billion people access to food and denying another 1.7 billion the right to healthy food, as they become victims of obesity and related diseases. Our mission is to provide “good food for all” through the promotion of biodiverse organic farming, food literacy and fair trade.” Navdanya Mission Statement (http://www.navdanya.org/about-us/mission)
  

Notes

The only way to roll back the power of corporations and their strategies outlined in the article is by being informed and actively resisting. If you live in the UK/Europe, to challenge the US-EU free trade agreement currently being negotiated, visit Coroprate Europe Observatory at:  http://corporateeurope.org/get-involved


4) Robert Brenner (1976), “Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-industrial Europe”.Past and Present 70

5) Barrington Moore (1993) [First published 1966]. Social origins of dictatorship and democracy: lord and peasant in the making of the modern world (with a new foreword by Edward Friedman and James C. Scott ed.). Boston: Beacon Press.





Free Trade Agreements: The Bypassing of Democracy to Institute Economic Plunder

The EU is currently negotiating a far-reaching free trade agreement with the US, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). There are plans to...

Free Trade Agreements: Bypassing Democracy To Institute Plunder

Global Research and Countercurrents 14/10/2013 and Morning Star 17/10/2013

The EU is currently negotiating a far-reaching free trade agreement with the USthe Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). There are plans to enshrine extra powers for corporations in the deal as a result of a strong and persistent campaign by industry lobby groups and unscrupulous law firms to allow powerful corporations to challenge regulations both at home and abroad if they affect profits. The watchdog organization Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) states that EU member states could find domestic laws to protect the public interest quite useless as they become challenged in secretive, offshore tribunals where national laws have no weight and politicians no powers to intervene.

It would enable US companies investing in Europe to bypass European courts and challenge EU governments at international tribunals whenever they find that laws in the area of public health, environmental or social protection interfere with their profits. EU companies investing abroad would have the same privilege in the US. This proposed agreement (and others like it around the world) is essentially a charter for the systematic destruction and dismantling of legislation that exists to protect the hard won rights of workers and ordinary people. 

Across the world, big business has already used such investor-state dispute settlement provisions in trade and investment agreements to claim massive sums in compensation. It is often the case that the mere threat of a claim or its submission is enough for legislation to be shelved or diluted. In fact, tribunals, consisting of ad hoc three-member panels hired from a small club of private lawyers riddled with conflicts of interest, have granted billions of Euros to companies, courtesy of taxpayers.

With India and the EU, among others, also currently negotiating a free trade agreement, it all adds up to big companies trying to by-pass legislation that was implemented to safeguard the public’s rights. Kavaljit Singh of the Madhyam research institute in India argues that we could see the Indian government being sued by multinational companies for billions of dollars in private arbitration panels outside of Indian courts if national laws, policies, court decisions or other actions are perceived to interfere with their investments. It constitutes little more than an old-fashioned recipe for imperialist plunder by Western interests (1).

Singh’s concerns should be dismissed at our peril because CEO provides many examples of where and when the by-passing of national legislation has already happened. Through bilateral investment treaties, US tobacco giant Philip Morris is suing Uruguay and Australia over their anti-smoking laws. The company argues that warning labels on cigarette packs and plain packaging prevent it from effectively displaying its trademark, causing a substantial loss of market share.

And then there is the case of Swedish energy giant Vattenfall, which launched an investor-state lawsuit against Germany, seeking €3.7 billion in compensation for lost profits related to two of its nuclear power plants. The case followed the German government’s decision to phase out nuclear energy after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

When Argentina froze utility rates (energy, water, etc.) and devalued its currency in response to its 2001-2002 financial crisis, it was hit by over 40 lawsuits from companies like CMS Energy (US) and Suez and Vivendi (France). By the end of 2008, awards against the country had totalled US$1.15 billion.

On the basis of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the US, Canada and Mexico, US company Lone Pine Resources Inc. is demanding US$250 million in compensation from Canada. The ‘crime’: The Canadian province of Quebec had put a moratorium on ‘fracking’, addressing concerns about the environmental risks of this new technology to extract oil and gas from rocks.

At the end of 2012, Dutch insurer Achmea (formerly Eureko) was awarded €22 million in compensation from Slovakia. In 2006, the Slovak government had reversed the health privatisation policies of the previous administration and required health insurers to operate on a not-for-profit basis.

It is also interesting to note that Chevron initiated arbitration to avoid paying US$18 billion to clean up oil-drilling-related contamination in the Amazonian rainforest, as ordered by Ecuadorian courts. The case has been lambasted as egregious misuse of investment arbitration to evade justice. 

EU and US companies have used these lawsuits to destroy any competition or threats to their profits by challenging green energy and medicine policies, anti-smoking legislation, bans on harmful chemicals, environmental restrictions on mining, health insurance policies, measures to improve the economic situation of minorities and many more.  

Various corporate lobby heavyweights all advocate the inclusion of investor-state arbitration in the EU-US free trade agreement. This is also part of a hope that an EU-US deal would set a global ‘gold standard’, a model for investment protection for other agreements around the world. 

If governments and parliaments fail to act to protect the public’s interests, powerful corporations will acquire carte blanche to rein in democracy and curb policies devised for the public good. Before long, countries across the globe could see the opening of the floodgates for GMOs and shale gas, the threatening of digital and labour rights and the empowering of corporations to legally challenge a wide range of necessary and decent regulations which they dislike and label as ‘barriers to trade’.

This represents a clear attack on national sovereignty and democracy and is a damning indictment of the cosy and often ‘revolving-door’ nature of relationships between corporate officials/lobbyists and bureaucrats/government officials. If successful, such free trade agreements would cement corporate ability to raid taxpayers’ coffers even further or to wholly dictate national policies and legislation. 

Are we to see the concept of democracy being totally abandoned in favour of blatant corporate plunder under the guise of 'free trade' but which is anything but!?


Notes

Much of the material for this article was sourced from the website of Corporate Europe Observatory. The only way to roll back the power of corporations and their strategies outlined in the article is by being informed and actively resisting. Visit CEO at:  http://corporateeurope.org/get-involved