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North America: Genetic tailor's arguments flaunting positives of GM-crops prove false on all fronts Print E-mail
 Sunday October 30 2016, page A1

Also at:  Monday October 31, 2016

Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops


Arnaud Rousseau, a sixth-generation farmer in France, in a field of rapeseed. Twenty years ago, Europe largely rejected genetic modification at the same time the United States and Canada were embracing it. (Ed Alcock for The New York Times)

LONDON ­ The controversy over genetically modified crops has long focused on largely unsubstantiated fears that they are unsafe to eat.

But an extensive examination by The New York Times indicates that the debate has missed a more basic problem ­ genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides.

The promise of genetic modification was twofold: By making crops immune to the effects of weedkillers and inherently resistant to many pests, they would grow so robustly that they would become indispensable to feeding the world’s growing population, while also requiring fewer applications of sprayed pesticides.

Twenty years ago, Europe largely rejected genetic modification at the same time the United States and Canada were embracing it. Comparing results on the two continents, using independent data as well as academic and industry research, shows how the technology has fallen short of the promise.

Broken Promises of Genetically Modified Crops
About 20 years ago, the United States and Canada began introducing genetic modifications in agriculture. Europe did not embrace the technology. This is how it has played out.

An analysis by The Times using United Nations data showed that the United States and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields ­ food per acre ­ when measured against Western Europe, a region with comparably modernized agricultural producers like France and Germany. Also, a recent National Academy of Sciences report found that “there was little evidence” that the introduction of genetically modified crops in the United States had led to yield gains beyond those seen in conventional crops.

At the same time, herbicide use has increased in the United States, even as major crops like corn, soybeans and cotton have been converted to modified varieties. And the United States has fallen behind Europe’s biggest producer, France, in reducing the overall use of pesticides, which includes both herbicides and insecticides.

One measure, contained in data from the United States Geological Survey, shows the stark difference in the use of pesticides. Since genetically modified crops were introduced in the United States two decades ago for crops like corn, cotton and soybeans, the use of toxins that kill insects and fungi has fallen by a third, but the spraying of herbicides, which are used in much higher volumes, has risen by 21 percent.

By contrast, in France, use of insecticides and fungicides has fallen by a far greater percentage ­ 65 percent ­ and herbicide use has decreased as well, by 36 percent.

Profound differences over genetic engineering have split Americans and Europeans for decades. Although American protesters as far back as 1987 pulled up prototype potato plants, European anger at the idea of fooling with nature has been far more sustained. In the last few years, the March Against Monsanto has drawn thousands of protesters in cities like Paris and Basel, Switzerland, and opposition to G.M. foods is a foundation of the Green political movement. Still, Europeans eat those foods when they buy imports from the United States and elsewhere.

 In Rowland, N.C., a worker loads G.M. corn seed into a planting machine on Bo Stone’s farm. Mr. Stone values genetic modifications to reduce his insecticide use.  (Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times)

Fears about the harmful effects of eating G.M. foods have proved to be largely without scientific basis. The potential harm from pesticides, however, has drawn researchers’ attention. Pesticides are toxic by design ­ weaponized versions, like sarin, were developed in Nazi Germany ­ and have been linked to developmental delays and cancer.

“These chemicals are largely unknown,” said David Bellinger, a professor at the Harvard University School of Public Health, whose research has attributed the loss of nearly 17 million I.Q. points among American children 5 years old and under to one class of insecticides. “We do natural experiments on a population,” he said, referring to exposure to chemicals in agriculture, “and wait until it shows up as bad.”

The industry is winning on both ends ­ because the same companies make and sell both the genetically modified plants and the poisons. Driven by these sales, the combined market capitalizations of Monsanto, the largest seed company, and Syngenta, the Swiss pesticide giant, have grown more than sixfold in the last decade and a half. The two companies are separately involved in merger agreements that would lift their new combined values to more than $100 billion each.

When presented with the findings, Robert T. Fraley, the chief technology officer at Monsanto, said The Times had cherry-picked its data to reflect poorly on the industry. “Every farmer is a smart businessperson, and a farmer is not going to pay for a technology if they don’t think it provides a major benefit,” he said. “Biotech tools have clearly driven yield increases enormously.”

Uncertain Harvest
Articles in this series examine the globe-spanning relationship of chemical companies, academics and regulators, and the powerful toxins and genetically modified seeds used to grow food in many parts of the world.

Regarding the use of herbicides, in a statement, Monsanto said, “While overall herbicide use may be increasing in some areas where farmers are following best practices to manage emerging weed issues, farmers in other areas with different circumstances may have decreased or maintained their herbicide usage.”

Genetically modified crops can sometimes be effective. Monsanto and others often cite the work of Matin Qaim, a researcher at Georg-August-University of Göttingen, Germany, including a meta-analysis of studies that he helped write finding significant yield gains from genetically modified crops. But in an interview and emails, Dr. Qaim said he saw significant effects mostly from insect-resistant varieties in the developing world, particularly in India.

“Currently available G.M. crops would not lead to major yield gains in Europe,” he said. And regarding herbicide-resistant crops in general: “I don’t consider this to be the miracle type of technology that we couldn’t live without.”

A Vow to Curb Chemicals

First came the Flavr Savr tomato in 1994, which was supposed to stay fresh longer. The next year it was a small number of bug-resistant russet potatoes. And by 1996, major genetically modified crops were being planted in the United States.

Monsanto, the most prominent champion of these new genetic traits, pitched them as a way to curb the use of its pesticides. “We’re certainly not encouraging farmers to use more chemicals,” a company executive told The Los Angeles Times in 1994. The next year, in a news release, the company said that its new gene for seeds, named Roundup Ready, “can reduce overall herbicide use.”

Originally, the two main types of genetically modified crops were either resistant to herbicides, allowing crops to be sprayed with weedkillers, or resistant to some insects.

Arnaud Rousseau holds non-G.M. corn seed, produced by Pioneer, a unit of DuPont. (Ed Alcock for The New York Times)

Figures from the United States Department of Agriculture show herbicide use skyrocketing in soybeans, a leading G.M. crop, growing by two and a half times in the last two decades, at a time when planted acreage of the crop grew by less than a third. Use in corn was trending downward even before the introduction of G.M. crops, but then nearly doubled from 2002 to 2010, before leveling off. Weed resistance problems in such crops have pushed overall usage up.

To some, this outcome was predictable. The whole point of engineering bug-resistant plants “was to reduce insecticide use, and it did,” said Joseph Kovach, a retired Ohio State University researcher who studied the environmental risks of pesticides. But the goal of herbicide-resistant seeds was to “sell more product,” he said ­ more herbicide.

Farmers with crops overcome by weeds, or a particular pest or disease, can understandably be G.M. evangelists. “It’s silly bordering on ridiculous to turn our backs on a technology that has so much to offer,” said Duane Grant, the chairman of the Amalgamated Sugar Company, a cooperative of more than 750 sugar beet farmers in the Northwest.

He says crops resistant to Roundup, Monsanto’s most popular weedkiller, saved his cooperative.

But weeds are becoming resistant to Roundup around the world ­ creating an opening for the industry to sell more seeds and more pesticides. The latest seeds have been engineered for resistance to two weedkillers, with resistance to as many as five planned. That will also make it easier for farmers battling resistant weeds to spray a widening array of poisons sold by the same companies.

Growing resistance to Roundup is also reviving old, and contentious, chemicals. One is 2,4-D, an ingredient in Agent Orange, the infamous Vietnam War defoliant. Its potential risks have long divided scientists and have alarmed advocacy groups.

Another is dicamba. In Louisiana, Monsanto is spending nearly $1 billion to begin production of the chemical there. And even though Monsanto’s version is not yet approved for use, the company is already selling seeds that are resistant to it ­ leading to reports that some farmers are damaging neighbors’ crops by illegally spraying older versions of the toxin.

High-Tech Kernels
 Bo Stone, a sixth-generation farmer, in Rowland, N.C. The seeds on Mr. Stone’s farm brim with genetically modified traits.  (Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times)

Two farmers, 4,000 miles apart, recently showed a visitor their corn seeds. The farmers, Bo Stone and Arnaud Rousseau, are sixth-generation tillers of the land. Both use seeds made by DuPont, the giant chemical company that is merging with Dow Chemical.

To the naked eye, the seeds looked identical. Inside, the differences are profound.

In Rowland, N.C., near the South Carolina border, Mr. Stone’s seeds brim with genetically modified traits. They contain Roundup Ready, a Monsanto-made trait resistant to Roundup, as well as a gene made by Bayer that makes crops impervious to a second herbicide. A trait called Herculex I was developed by Dow and Pioneer, now part of DuPont, and attacks the guts of insect larvae. So does YieldGard, made by Monsanto.

Another big difference: the price tag. Mr. Rousseau’s seeds cost about $85 for a 50,000-seed bag. Mr. Stone spends roughly $153 for the same amount of biotech seeds.

For farmers, doing without genetically modified crops is not a simple choice. Genetic traits are not sold à la carte.

Two Corn Seeds, but Very Different
Manufacturing the corn seed on the left involves gene modifications by three additional companies. The seed on the right is created using only conventional breeding methods.

A genetic trait developed by Dow AgroSciences and Pioneer that creates a bacterium that breaks down the gut wall of insect larvae.  (The New York Times)

Mr. Stone, 45, has a master’s degree in agriculture and listens to Prime Country radio in his Ford pickup. He has a test field where he tries out new seeds, looking for characteristics that he particularly values ­ like plants that stand well, without support.

“I’m choosing on yield capabilities and plant characteristics more than I am on G.M.O. traits” like bug and poison resistance, he said, underscoring a crucial point: Yield is still driven by breeding plants to bring out desirable traits, as it has been for thousands of years.

That said, Mr. Stone values genetic modifications to reduce his insecticide use (though he would welcome help with stink bugs, a troublesome pest for many farmers). And Roundup resistance in pigweed has emerged as a problem.

“No G.M. trait for us is a silver bullet,” he said.

By contrast, at Mr. Rousseau’s farm in Trocy-en-Multien, a village outside Paris, his corn has none of this engineering because the European Union bans most crops like these.

“The door is closed,” says Mr. Rousseau, 42, who is vice president of one of France’s many agricultural unions. His 840-acre farm was a site of World War I carnage in the Battle of the Marne.

As with Mr. Stone, Mr. Rousseau’s yields have been increasing, though they go up and down depending on the year. Farm technology has also been transformative. “My grandfather had horses and cattle for cropping,” Mr. Rousseau said. “I’ve got tractors with motors.”

He wants access to the same technologies as his competitors across the Atlantic, and thinks G.M. crops could save time and money.

“Seen from Europe, when you speak with American farmers or Canadian farmers, we’ve got the feeling that it’s easier,” Mr. Rousseau said. “Maybe it’s not right. I don’t know, but it’s our feeling.”

Feeding the World
 Brazilian soybean plants at the end of their life cycle at Bayer’s research center in Durham, N.C. The plants have “stacked” traits, meaning they have been genetically modified for more than one specific trait, like bug resistance. (Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times)

With the world’s population expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, Monsanto has long held out its products as a way “to help meet the food demands of these added billions,” as it said in a 1995 statement. That remains an industry mantra.

“It’s absolutely key that we keep innovating,” said Kurt Boudonck, who manages Bayer’s sprawling North Carolina greenhouses. “With the current production practices, we are not going to be able to feed that amount of people.”

But a broad yield advantage has not emerged. The Times looked at regional data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, comparing main genetically modified crops in the United States and Canada with varieties grown in Western Europe, a grouping used by the agency that comprises seven nations, including the two largest agricultural producers, France and Germany.

For rapeseed, a variant of which is used to produce canola oil, The Times compared Western Europe with Canada, the largest producer, over three decades, including a period well before the introduction of genetically modified crops.

Despite rejecting genetically modified crops, Western Europe maintained a lead over Canada in yields. While that is partly because different varieties are grown in the two regions, the trend lines in the relative yields have not shifted in Canada’s favor since the introduction of G.M. crops, the data shows.

 Stink bugs raised by Bayer for experimental purposes at its research center in Morrisville, N.C. (Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times)

For corn, The Times compared the United States with Western Europe. Over three decades, the trend lines between the two barely deviate. And sugar beets, a major source of sugar, have shown stronger yield growth recently in Western Europe than the United States, despite the dominance of genetically modified varieties over the last decade.

Jack Heinemann, a professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, did a pioneering 2013 study comparing trans-Atlantic yield trends, using United Nations data. Western Europe, he said, “hasn’t been penalized in any way for not making genetic engineering one of its biotechnology choices.”

Biotech executives suggested making narrower comparisons. Dr. Fraley of Monsanto highlighted data comparing yield growth in Nebraska and France, while an official at Bayer suggested Ohio and France. These comparisons can be favorable to the industry, while comparing other individual American states can be unfavorable.

Michael Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University, said that while the industry had long said G.M.O.s would “save the world,” they still “haven’t found the mythical yield gene.”

Few New Markets
Battered by falling crop prices and consumer resistance that has made it hard to win over new markets, the agrochemical industry has been swept by buyouts. Bayer recently announced a deal to acquire Monsanto. And the state-owned China National Chemical Corporation has received American regulatory approval to acquire Syngenta, though Syngenta later warned the takeover could be delayed by scrutiny from European authorities.

 A research assistant at a Bayer center in North Carolina, where experiments are carried out to find new toxins to eradicate pests like stinkbugs, a problem at farms like Mr. Stone’s in Rowland. (Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times)

The deals are aimed at creating giants even more adept at selling both seeds and chemicals. Already, a new generation of seeds is coming to market or in development. And they have grand titles. There is the Bayer Balance GT Soybean Performance System. Monsanto’s Genuity SmartStax RIB Complete corn. Dow’s PhytoGen with Enlist and WideStrike 3 Insect Protection.

In industry jargon, they are “stacked” with many different genetically modified traits. And there are more to come. Monsanto has said that the corn seed of 2025 will have 14 traits and allow farmers to spray five different kinds of herbicide.

Newer genetically modified crops claim to do many things, such as protecting against crop diseases and making food more nutritious. Some may be effective, some not. To the industry, shifting crucial crops like corn, soybeans, cotton and rapeseed almost entirely to genetically modified varieties in many parts of the world fulfills a genuine need. To critics, it is a marketing opportunity.

“G.M.O. acceptance is exceptionally low in Europe,” said Liam Condon, the head of Bayer’s crop science division, in an interview the day the Monsanto deal was announced. He added: “But there are many geographies around the world where the need is much higher and where G.M.O. is accepted. We will go where the market and the customers demand our technology.”

India: Bengaluru Report links rising women's deaths due to burns to domestic violence Print E-mail

 Friday October 21, 2016

Burns, single largest cause of death among young women: Report

By Afshan Yasmeen

S.M. Jamdar, former Home Secretary, releasing the report in Bengaluru on Thursday.

Majority of the cases are associated with domestic violence, according to the study

Twenty-seven-year-old G. Jeevitha, mother of two girl children, still curses the fateful day on which she got married to her maternal uncle. She was constantly harassed for seven years for not giving birth to a male child, until one day, in a fit of anger, her husband poured kerosene on her and burnt her at their house in Yelahanka in the city.

Rushed by neighbours to the Mahabodhi Burns Ward in the Victoria Hospital, Ms. Jeevitha, who had suffered 20 per cent burns, has been single-handedly fighting a case against her husband for the last two years. Although her mother is taking care of her children in their hometown of Chittoor, circumstances have forced her to stay away from home to earn a livelihood.

She is one of the hundreds of harassment victims who end up at the burns ward in Victoria Hospital (or the Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute). At least 38 per cent of the cases are said to be abetted suicides or homicides.

Link to domestic violence
Although a majority of the burns cases are associated with domestic violence, it has been neglected as an area of research. To draw attention to this fact, Sochara, a community-based health group, and Vimochana, a forum for women’s rights, have brought out a report titled ‘Surviving burns with care: A gender-based analysis of burns epidemiology in Bengaluru and challenges to the health system’.

Documenting burn injury records spanning two decades, the report has revealed that the number of women who suffered burn injuries from 2001 to 2011 was 60 per cent higher than that of men. The average total body surface area with burns was 56 per cent for women as compared with 36 per cent for men, the report stated.

Medical and social challenge
Moreover, although burns cases among women increased at the rate of 28 cases per year, the number of beds in the two government-run burns wards has not increased.

There is a small six-bed ward at the St John’s National Academy of Health Sciences. The 54-bed burns ward at Victoria Hospital, which is one of the largest in Asia, gets at least eight cases a day.

Pointing out that burns are primarily seen as a medical challenge, the report stated that it is the single largest cause of death among women between the ages of 15 and 34 at Victoria Hospital. “Death by burns is the tip of the iceberg of domestic violence against women and there is an urgent need for a systematic response to reduce burn incidents and provide qualitative care and support to victims”.

Adithya Pradyumma from Sochara, who put together the report, recommended several interventions that could help prevent burn injuries, reduce violent incidents, and improve safety standards, burns care and other rehabilitation and supportive services.

India: Women & Girls hindered by fear of sexual harassment & violence epidemics in public spaces Print E-mail
 (V0LUME 33, #21) October 28 2015

Gender Issues

No country for women

Some young men being arrested for harassing women, on M.G. Road in Gurugram, Haryana, on September 4. (PTI )
Distribution of pepper sprays to girls as a self-defence tool

Harassment of women in public spaces is a major problem in India that needs urgent addressing.


POONA MOBILE (name changed), 15, had to drop out of school because of the incessant harassment she faced while returning home. Poona, who lives in a Mumbai slum, was just a year short of writing her 10th standard examinations. But her parents, fearing for her safety, decided that she should stay within the safe confines of her home and nearby lanes until the issue was resolved.

Public harassment of girls and women and violence against them is a widespread problem. It is well documented that women across the globe fear and experience all manner of sexual violence in public spaces. From lewd and verbally abusive remarks, touching and groping to rape, there are innumerable instances even in some of the safest cities. Such harassment has far-reaching consequences. It can curtail a girl’s (or woman’s) freedom of movement, leading to inability to study, work and participate in the community and in recreational activities, women’s rights activists said. “The enormity of the problem has to be understood, and the issue has to be addressed on a mature and massive scale,” said Medhavinee Namjoshi from Vacha, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that works with adolescent girls.

A survey conducted across four countries by Action Aid UK this year has some shocking data on India. It says four in five women in India experience some form of sexual harassment or violence. Respondents in the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups have emerged as the most vulnerable: 92 per cent and 87 per cent of them, respectively, have said that they feel at risk in their cities. Additionally, 84 per cent of women between 25 and 34 experience some manner of public harassment. Seventy-nine per cent of the women surveyed in the age group of 18 to 55 say they have been publicly harassed.

The survey reached out to 502 women living in cities across India. “The fact that women wanted to speak out and were willing to go on record to say they had experienced sexual harassment and even violence in public spaces is a good sign. The numbers are not registered cases, but direct responses,” said Sehjo Singh, director, programmes and policy, ActionAid India. “A girl’s or woman’s movements are seriously hampered by unsafe public areas. This can have an effect on many aspects, including the main one of earning an income.” Sehjo Singh said that it required a collaborative effort between the state and volunteer agencies to ensure safer spaces. “The system and processes have to reform for us to see improvement,” she said.

The survey was set in two categories: location of harassment and type of harassment. Public transport was the most unsafe of public spaces, said close to 65 per cent of the respondents. Among working women (18-24 and 25-35), 67 per cent and 70 per cent said this. The next most unsafe thing was returning home from work after dark: 58 per cent of the respondents said they had bad experiences. Fifty-eight per cent said they had been harassed while walking on streets. In this category, 74 per cent in the 18-24 age group had experienced abuse. Approximately 40 per cent of the respondents felt unsafe and had experienced harassment in parks and other public spaces for leisure activities. About 30 per cent of the student categories polled said they dealt with harassment on university campuses; 42 per cent said they had to tackle harassment on the way to schools and colleges and back.

The north of the country is the least safe for women in the overall figures. The average shows a staggering 74 per cent of women in the north having experienced harassment. At 67 per cent, the south is not far behind. Seventy per cent of the women in the north were harassed on the street, says the study. In the north-eastern region, 63 per cent of the respondents said they faced harassment while returning home after dark.

Staring seems to the most common form of harassment. Sixty-two per cent of the respondents had experienced it. It may be a relatively mild form of abuse, yet it is uncomfortable and should not be dismissed. Being followed came in second at 53 per cent. Insults­name-calling and wolf-whistling polled 43 per cent and 44 per cent respectively. Sexual comments polled 38 per cent, groping 38 per cent, and indecent exposure 34 per cent. The north recorded the highest percentages in all categories.

A public problem
Clearly the numbers indicate that it is a situation across cities and that the state needs to address the problem. Mumbai and Chennai have been listed among the safest cities in India. A Quality of Living survey conducted by a private consultancy firm released in February 2016 rates Chennai as the number one among Indian cities. Mumbai has held the “safest city” position for decades but is now grappling with the problem of women’s safety. Frontline spoke to members of citizens’ groups, activists, urban planners and government officials to understand the issue and how it is being addressed. All of them said that women feared public transport and the prospect of being out after dark. Unless this is dealt with, along with widespread awareness campaigns, Mumbai will lose its safe city tag.

Snehal Velkar, programme coordinator for the Youth for Change and Safe City projects of Akshara, an NGO in Mumbai, said: “When we interviewed 5,000 women in Mumbai as part of a study on women and public safety in 2011, 95 per cent of them said they had experienced staring, pushing, lewd comments and groping in public transport. The problem is that most of the time the woman ignores it and so it is not addressed.”

She added: “Of the women we interviewed, 46 per cent said they experienced harassment on buses. We never thought in Mumbai we would hear this.” She said that Akshara had approached Mumbai’s bus transport service, BEST. “BEST was extremely interested in helpingand even passed an order saying that bus conductors could intervene if a woman complained. Additionally, they have instituted a gender module within their training programmes. These small moves appear to have helped. However, the larger issue comes down to the police backing up the complaint. This is where it fails. Nobody wants to go through the lengthy process of dealing with the law,” Snehal Velkar said. Akshara has also conducted safe city audits in the past two years.

Snehal Velkar said that since public transport was a critical area of concern, Akshara decided to look at Mumbai’s famed local railway network. In a study conducted in 2015, Akshara created a database of 522 women and interviewed them extensively on their travelling experiences; 347 were regular commuters, while 175 said that they were occasional commuters. Here are the results: staring, 56.13 per cent; commenting, 51.34 per cent; unwanted touch, 60.92 per cent. Some women also named more serious forms of sexual harassment: stalking, 29.69 per cent; flashing, 14.37 per cent; pinching, 20.50 per cent; and groping, 15.52 per cent.

The Akshara report says that the percentage of women who preferred to ignore the harassment was quite high at 41.15 per cent. “It sadly reflects how women have become immune to the harassment meted against them in public places. Many women would also hesitate to take action against the harasser for fear that their actions might provoke even more harassment,” the report says.

It emerged from the study that the way in which railway stations were designed with their tapering stairs, narrow and cramped bridges and congested platforms contributed to the insecurity and discomfort among women, Snehal Velkar said. Additionally, public toilets are badly lit and located. Skywalks have entire sections that are dark. “Our city planners need to realise the fact that infrastructure plays an important part in women’s safety,” she said. “They need to view planning from a woman’s perspective now.”

Nearly everyone involved with the problem agrees that the city’s infrastructure is crucial in ensuring safety. Thankfully, the Revised Draft Development Plan (DP) 2034 has an entire chapter dedicated to provisions for women in public spaces. Concepts such as housing for single working women, homeless shelters, adhar kendras, skill centres and care centres for children are part of the plans. They may seem too ambitious given the city’s real estate problems, but activists are happy that there is some thinking going on. Better and more toilets, women-exclusive hawker areas and special timings for women sellers in local markets are also in the DP.

A different approach
“I think the issue of harassment in public spaces has registered with the state, but I don’t really think the enormity has sunk in,” said Sameera Khan, one of the authors of Why Loiter, a book on women and their negotiations of public spaces in India’s urban centres. “Even though we talk of smart cities and say women’s needs are in infrastructure plans, it’s lip service. To begin with the approach and basic attitude is skewed,” she said.

Sameera Khan pointed out that much of the public spaces in Mumbai was being privatised. Also, removing hawkers or throwing out pavement-dwellers does not solve anything. Law enforcement agencies advise young women to stay at home after dark, but this approach does not produce solutions. “We have to understand that public spaces are part of exhibiting our citizenry. Everyone in spite of class has to have a vested interest in their public space and therefore has to be included in the city’s planning. Unless you allow people to build a relationship with their space, they will not notice it and that will make it worse. For instance, if there is a park nearby, it won’t serve any purpose if you put a gate and lock it up. If you include people, and especially women, they become vigilantes and this will immediately improve the neighbourhood.”

Most women today strategise their lives and plan their commute and daily schedule, largely from a felt need to be safe, Sameera Khan said. “It would be liberating to be able to go freely and do what they want when they want. This is what we need to achieve.”

Change in perceptions
Harish Sadani, who works with young men on gender issues through the organisation Men Against Violence and Abuse (MAVA), said the absence of gender and sexual education for young people is among the most important factors that have created the present situation. Unless men change their attitude towards women, there will be little change, he said. MAVA works closely with college students and helps both men and women work towards gender equality.

Sadani added that women were now much more empowered than before, and many women had often told him that women’s problems should be explained to boys. Only that form of sensitisation will help improve the situation. “If we teach our boys the proper facts with sensitivity, it will go a long way in protecting girls and preventing harassment,” said Sadani, pointing out that boys often get their sex education from pornography.

He said one of MAVA’s projects in collaboration with UNICEF was to work with eighth and ninth standard boys in 100 schools in Chandrapur, one of Maharashtra’s poorest districts.

“We conduct simple sessions on love, infatuation, attraction, the need to respect a girl’s lack of interest, and so on. These programmes, if done across class and income levels, will see a change in attitude and in turn an improvement in this bleak scenario,” said Sadani.

India: Nation-wide rejection of claims touting advantages of genetically-modified Mustard Print E-mail

 Thursday October 6 2016

Vandana Shiva tells of loopholes in mustard biosafety report

Tribune News Service

Dehradun: Environmentalist and biosafety scientist Dr Vandana Shiva has submitted her evaluation on genetically modified mustard biosafety report.

The Union Ministry for Environment, Forests and Climate Change had placed some sections of the genetically modified biosafety report on its website and had invited the civil society organisations and experts to submit their comments by October 5.

Dr Shiva has raised several vital objections against the biosafety report and pointed out key loopholes in the report. “Far from providing food sovereignty, the herbicide absorbing mustard plant will destroy companion planting in India. Mustard is planted with wheat and gram and once the herbicide will be sprayed in the fields, it will kill wheat and gram, thus reducing overall yield and nutrition,” Dr Shiva said.

She said the report lacks information and evidence on patents and has no analysis to herbicide tolerance traits and further no socio-economic assessments had been carried out along with other health and biosafety tests.

It is noteworthy that the release of the biosafety report has started a heated debate among scientists, environmentalists, medical community and non-government organisations as many of the scientific and biosafety procedures have not been followed.
 Thursday September 29, 2016


To increase oilseed production, relaunch 'Yellow Revolution'

By Devinder Sharma

As India’s first genetically modified food crop – GM mustard – is under the Union government’s consideration, it has now become clear that the claims that transgenic mustard will boost production and reduce our burden of a huge import bill of edible oils, are largely unfounded.

Five existing hybrid varieties outperform the transgenic variety DMH-11 developed by Delhi University, for which approval is pending
. Among the five higher yielding mustard varieties are three in the same DMH series. The productivity of DMH-1 is higher by 11.35%; DMH-4 by 14.70% and DMH-3 by 3.54%.

No wonder, the civil society groups under the banner of Coalition for GM-Free India that made a presentation before the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the nodal agency whose clearance is obligatory, had rubbished the productivity claims of 26% higher yield being made for GM mustard. They had accused the developers of falsifying the data and comparing the yield performance of GM mustard with some of the useless varieties.

I therefore can’t understand how will a GM variety with low productivity eventually help in cutting down on edible oil imports? In any case, the reason why India turned into world’s second biggest importer of edible oils over the years is not because of any shortfall in domestic production but because the country had encouraged cheaper imports by lowering the import tariffs.

Thirty years ago, then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had laid the foundation for what was later called `Yellow Revolution’. The Oilseeds Technology Mission he launched in 1986 converted India from a major importer to become almost self-sufficient in edible oil production by 1993-94, in less than 10 years. In 1993-94, India was producing 97% of its edible oil requirement within the country. Only 3% of its edible oils need was being imported.

And then began the downslide. India happily bowed to World Trade Organisation (WTO) pressures to kill its Yellow Revolution. In fact, the demise of the Yellow Revolution is a classic case of how a promising domestic edible oil sector was sacrificed at the altar of economic liberalisation.

Severe cuts in import tariffs brought in a flood of cheap imports thereby pushing farmers out of cultivation. Import duties from a bound level of 300% were slashed to almost zero in a phased manner. As a result, farmers abandoned cultivation of oilseed crops and the processing industry too pulled down the shutters. India today imports more than 67% of its edible oil requirement costing a whopping Rs 66,000 crore.

Let us therefore be clear. It’s not because of any shortfall in oilseeds production that India imported Rs 66,000-crore of edible oils in 2015. It’s simply because we wanted imports to be encouraged that the country is finally saddled with a huge import bill.

Although the sub-committee of the GEAC has cleared three varieties of GM Mustard (including DMH-11 and two parental lines) as being ‘safe’, the fact remains that the safety data is being kept hidden. This had prompted the Central Information Commission (CIC) to direct the GEAC to share safety data with the public.

The safety data has since then been partly uploaded on the GEAC website and people have been asked to travel to New Delhi, seek permission, if they want to view the complete dossier. In addition, public comments are sought in a period of 30 days and too in a truncated manner in a proforma that has been posted on the net.

Interestingly, the GEAC members are not at all perturbed that GM mustard will increase the usage of chemical herbicides. They agreed that technically speaking, DMH-11 is a herbicide tolerant mustard crop which means it will require the application of only one brand of herbicide to eradicate weeds but they feel that herbicide being expensive will not be used by the farmers.

Herbicide tolerant genes
In fact, what is not being explained is the clever stacking of herbicide tolerant genes in GM mustard favouring the herbicide being sold by a multinational company, Bayer. Even Bt cotton had increased the application of chemical pesticides. Regardless of what the industry claims, the fact remains that the usage of pesticides has gone up in India.

According to the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), in 2005, Rs 649 crore worth of chemical pesticides was used on cotton in India. In 2010, when roughly 92% of the area under cotton shifted to Bt cotton varieties, the usage in terms of value increased to Rs 880.40 crore.

In China, where Bt cotton was promoted as a silver bullet case, farmers apply 20 times more chemicals to control cotton pests. In Brazil, which has recently taken over Argentina as far as the spread of GM crops is concerned, pesticide usage has gone up by 190% in the past decade.

At a time when cotton farmers in India have moved away en bloc from the genetically modified Bt cotton after the 2015 debacle with whitefly attack and the crop becoming susceptible to bollworms, I thought the Ministry of Environment would have learnt a lesson. The harmful impact of GM food for human health and environment notwithstanding, I see no reason why the controversial GM technology be introduced in food.

There is no shortage of mustard in the country and if the government is keen to reduce the import bill of edible oils it needs to bring back the policies and approaches that helped India launch the Yellow Revolution. Raising import tariffs to at least 70% and providing farmers with an attractive procurement price is what will help India turn the corner.

  Monday October 3, 2016

Delhi Govt opposes GM mustard policy

Tribune News Service

New Delhi:
Joining the nationwide protest against the Union government's GM mustard policy, the Delhi Government today celebrated the cultural richness of organic mustard during a programme called "Jashn-e-Sarson" wherein JD(U) MP KC Tyagi too supported the cause of farmers. The stage was shared by activists from ASHA, Swadeshi Jagran Manch, Bharatiya Kisaan Sangh and Bhartiya Kisaan Sangh.

The government stands by the farmers and consumers of this country, said Tourism Minister Kapil Mishra while adding that Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had earlier written a letter to the Prime Minister in January this year urging the Centre not to approve GM mustard.

The government will send public feedback and videos opposing GM mustard to the BJP-led Centre.

Bhartiya Kisaan Union and Bhartiya Kisaan Sangh too joined hands with the Kejriwal government at a time when various farmer groups are protesting against the GM mustard.

KC Tyagi, Rajya Sabha MP and senior leader of JD (U) stressed the need for everyone to rise above the party lines to ensure that the government understands the true issue of the GM mustard. Vested interests or poor science must not ruin the decision that will affect crores of farmers and consumers, he said.

According to MM Mishra, Bharitya Kisan Sangh, GM mustard is yet another way through which the farmer will lose his livelihood and multinational companies will gain at their expense.

"We appeal to the citizens to ensure that the government doesn't go through with this policy of GM mustard. It was BT-Brinjal last time and people mobilised. History will repeat itself," said Mishra


 Tuesday October 4 2016

Progressive farmers protest GM mustard

Rohtak: Progressive farmers and supporters of natural farming/organic agriculture have launched a state-wide campaign titled ‘sarson satyagrah’ against the government’s move to allow genetically modified (GM) mustard.

As part of the demonstration, the protesters observed a 24-hour fast which ended this morning. Following that, a delegation of the protesters met the DC and submitted a memorandum addressed to the Prime Minister against GM mustard .

Prof Rajinder Chaudhary, Adviser to Kudarti Kheti Abhiyaan, Haryana, said the danger of GM seeds is that they were likely to pollute the existing organic varieties as wind, bees and butterflies inadvertently caused cross-fertilisation.

“As a result, farmers as well as consumers lose their right to decide whether to sow/consume GM products or not. Once produced, it will be impossible to separate GM mustard oil from non-GM mustard oil. So the people will either have to stop using mustard oil or be compelled to use GM variety,” he added. ­ TNS

Poland: Thousands of black-clad women protest against proposed near-total abortion ban Print E-mail
~ Tuesday October 4, 2016, page A7

Protesters in Poland Rally Against Proposal for Total Abortion Ban

Video "Voices from the Abortion-Bill Protest" by NATALIA V. OSIPOVA

A proposal to ban abortions in Poland, even in cases of rape and when a woman’s life is in danger, sparked so-called Black Monday rallies in several European cities.
WARSAW ­ Despite pouring rain and a chill in the air, Anna Pietruszka-Drozdz, together with as many as 24,000 other Polish women and men, skipped work on Monday and instead came to Castle Square in Warsaw, dressed in black, to protest a sweeping new anti-abortion bill.

“A complete and total abortion ban? This is beyond my wildest nightmares,” said Ms. Pietruszka-Drozdz, 37, a mother of two. “Women don’t have abortions because they are promiscuous and it’s convenient. They do it because they need to, and it’s often the most traumatic decision ever.”

On Black Monday, as it was called, huge protests against the new legislation swept through 90 Polish cities. The Warsaw mayor’s office said 24,000 Poles took to the streets of the capital, waving black flags to draw international attention to the proposed restrictions. On the event’s Facebook page, organizers said the protest drew up to 116,000 participants nationwide.

Poland’s existing abortion law is already one of the most restrictive in Europe. Abortion is permitted in only three cases: a severe fetal anomaly, a threat to the mother’s health and life, or a pregnancy from rape or sexual abuse.

Under the proposed legislation, written by an organization called Stop Abortion, all abortions would be criminalized. Women, doctors and anyone who assisted with the procedure could face up to five years in prison.

“This is a barbarian proposal that will move Poland back to medieval times,” Barbara Nowacka, the leader of a liberal initiative, Save Women, said in a telephone interview. “The worst thing is that this barbarity finds approval in the eyes of those in power.”

Black Monday was the high point of protests that began two weeks ago. On social media, tens of thousands of Poles have posted pictures of themselves wearing black and staging demonstrations.

Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski dismissed the protesters, saying, “Let them have their fun.”

“There is no such problem as a threat to women’s rights,” he said in an interview with a private radio station, RMF-FM. “If someone thinks that there are no greater concerns in Poland at the moment, let them be.”

The protests have won the approval of numerous Polish employers, including restaurant owners, museum and gallery directors, the deans of several universities and mayors of a couple of large cities, all of whom allowed their female workers to take a day off.

The protest idea was inspired by the story of Icelandic women who paralyzed their country in 1975 by not going to work, and skipping housework and child-rearing tasks, to protest unfair employment practices and wage discrepancies. The women who participated in those protests sent the women in Poland a video message of solidarity, encouraging them to stand up for themselves and telling them in Polish, “Jestesmy z wami” (“we are with you”). On Facebook, Kenyan women also sent a message of solidarity.

The solidarity protests were also staged in other European cities, including Berlin, Brussels, London, Paris and Barcelona, Spain.

Poland introduced a restrictive abortion law, known as the “abortion compromise” and championed by the Roman Catholic Church, in 1993 after the collapse of Communism.

The church, which continues to be a powerful influence in this predominantly Catholic country, is often accused of exerting pressure on politicians. It actively supports the proposed legislation, though church leaders have said they oppose punishing women.

According to official figures, around 1,000 legal abortions are performed in Poland every year. Estimates of the number of illegal terminations vary widely, from 10,000 to 120,000, from anti-abortion and abortion rights groups.

“The abortion compromise was supposed to curb the number of illegal terminations and increase the number of births in Poland,” Ms. Nowacka said. “It has failed miserably on both accounts. We need a new law that actually corresponds with reality.”

Critics of the legislation, which is supported by senior members of the right-wing government, argue that if the bill is passed, doctors will stop performing invasive procedures on pregnant women, even to correct a fetal defect, unless the woman’s life is directly threatened. That is the only exception under which doctors could undertake a procedure and avoid prosecution if it ended in a miscarriage.

Dr. Romuald Debski, the head of gynecology and obstetrics at Bielanski Hospital in Warsaw, said every invasive procedure carries a minor risk of miscarriage.

“This would be the end of prenatal diagnostics,” Dr. Debski said in an interview. “I couldn’t do basic prenatal tests, like the amniotic fluid test that allows me to determine whether I’m dealing with certain genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome. Should the procedure go wrong, I could end up in jail. I won’t risk that.”

Tomasz Latos, a member of the governing Law and Justice party and head of the Health Committee in the Polish Sejm, or lower house of Parliament, said viewing the legislation as a threat to prenatal diagnostics was “either an act of ill will or incompetence.”

“No one is saying that this bill will be even passed in the end,” he said. “Our senators are preparing a separate bill.”

Katarzyna Plutowska, 44, and Malgorzata Zyra, 39, took a day off from their accounting jobs to join a demonstration held near the Palace of Science and Culture in Warsaw.

“Due to the protest, our entire office is closed today,” Ms. Plutowska said. “You cannot change the world from your couch, you know.”
 Monday October 3, 2016

Polish women strike against abortion ban

Warsaw: Thousands of black-clad women protested across Poland today against a proposed near-total abortion ban in the devoutly Catholic country, where the law is already among the most restrictive in Europe.

Pro-choice activists used social media to launch the country-wide "Women strike" protest, urging women to stay away from work and school to attend street protests.

Around 2,000 people rallied outside the Warsaw headquarters of the governing rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party, forming a "wall of fury" human chain, an AFP journalist saw.

PiS lawmakers in late September pushed ahead with a controversial bill that would allow terminations only if the mother's life is at risk and increase the maximum jail term for practitioners from two years to five.

The citizen's initiative tabled in parliament by the Stop Abortion coalition would also make women who have terminations liable to prison terms, though judges could waive punishment in their case.

Poland's influential Catholic Church gave the initiative its seal of approval earlier this year, though its bishops have since opposed jailing women.

"I don't like what the Polish government is doing to women," protester Jolanta Bienicka told AFP.

"Unfortunately, we're going in the direction of countries like Afghanistan and the worst countries in the world."

Protester Katazyna Goluch, a 17-year-old high school student, told AFP that "no one has the right to decide what I am supposed to do with my uterus".

"If this law comes into effect and I'm raped and I get pregnant, I'll have to give birth. It's the same thing if the foetus is deformed, so we just have to say no."

Passed in 1993, the current law bans all terminations unless there was rape or incest, the pregnancy poses a health risk to the mother or the foetus is severely deformed.

A poll published this week by the Newsweek Polska magazine showed that 74 per cent of Poles want to keep the existing law.

The European Parliament is expected to debate women's rights in Poland on Wednesday.

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