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Resistance to GM in Asia

 Philipino woman holding a rice dish painted with the words: Resist Agro-chemical Transnational Corporations  

 

Key Information

Claims that GM crops bring benefits to small farmers mostly focus around China and India. However, evidence to the contrary is fast stacking up, and India in particular is becoming a centre for powerful, farmer-led protest against GM and for organic and other sustainable agricultural practices. Additionally, many Asian consumers, especially in Japan and China are increasingly reluctant to accept GM.

 

China

The Chinese government has invested heavily in GM research1. Over one million GM trees have been planted in "reforestation" initiatives since commercialisation was approved in 2002. The GM poplars are so widely planted that cross-contamination cannot be prevented, and there has been so little monitoring that the trees would be very hard to trace.2 Surveys in China have shown that although farmers initially did well with bt (insect-resistant) cotton varieties, over time farmers had to return to the pesticides that the GM crops were supposed to replace.3 4 There were even indications that the resistance to bollworm declined over time, while damage to the environment was permanent.5 Several surveys have shown that Chinese consumers are increasingly reluctant to eat GM food.6 7 8

 2004

  • A Greenpeace consumer protest involved people blind-folding themselves whilst holding out products believed to contain GM ingredients, as part of a call for labelling.9

     

India

GM was approved in India in 2002, despite fierce media debates, court battles and a direct action campaign led by the Karnataka farmer's movement, who adopted the slogan "Cremate Monsanto" and pledged to burn all GM trial sites in southern India states.10 However, the GM PR lobby also went on the offensive: the marketing of bt cotton in particular was widely accused of dishonesty11 and many farmers adopted GM cotton varieties. An independent three year study released in 2005 confirmed that the bt cotton completely failed to live up to the hype, and brought massively reduced profits for the farmers, often driving them into debt.12 As well as being a factor exacerbating farmer suicides,13 GM in India has sparked a wave of protest and a movement that embraces organic agriculture. In 2010 government ministers placed a moratorium on India's only GM food crop, Monsanto's insect resistant aubergine, just four months after it was approved.14

 2010

  • On World Food Day small farmers carried out hunger strikes and occupied land to express an outright rejection of GM and a desire for food soveriegnty.15

2009

  • April 65 protesters were arrested in Tamil Nadu for staging an "active protest" to demand the immediate destruction of a Monsanto trial of insect resistant maize, that the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) was hosting for free on behalf of the company.16

  • March: A rally was held outside the university and 11 representatives from farmers organisations presented recommendations to halt the trials. 17

  • February A rally was held with over 50 000 farmers, who presented the acting Prime Minister a memorandum that demanded "instead of promoting GMOs, the government must support ecological agriculture."18

  • Jan Doctors for Food & Bio-Safety called for a moratorium on GM crops/foods while the Indian Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) were discussing proposals for large scale trials of insect resistant aubergine.

 2008

  • In Andhra Pradesh, more than 5000 farmers participated in anti-GM rallies, while others took place in over 50 villages in the Medak district.

  • 150 farmers marched for 4000km through 5 Indian states, and talked to around 52, 000 other farmers about seed sovereignty and the problems with GM.19

  • Death Procession of bt brinjal in Madhya Pradesh More than 250 people took part in a protest meeting in Hyderabad, including those who suffered losses with Bt cotton, those who had experienced allergies while working in Bt cotton fields, those who had lost their livestock that grazed on Bt cotton and also scores of farmers who practice ecological farming.

  • In Madhya Pradesh, around one thousand farmers took part in a "funeral procession" of Bt Brinjal.

  • In Orissa, the Coalition for GM-Free Orissa submitted a petition signed by more than 30 000 farmers, intellectuals and activists in the state to the Minister for Agriculture. In Bhubaneswar, the state capital of Orissa, more than 5000 people joined in a rally exhibiting more than 500 indigenous paddy varieties to highlight the variety of rice species that was in danger of being lost and demanding that Orissa become a GM-free, organic state.20

2006

  • Angry farmers' unions burnt trial plots of GM rice in two northern Indian states. The protesters alleged that an Indian company leased the farmers' plots for trials without explaining the full implications of GM crops to them.21

  • The 'Coalition for GM free India' was formed, uniting individuals and organisations from over 15 states. The coalition aims to create informed debate on the issue, and believes that use of farmers' own knowledge, especially with regards to ecological farming, is the way towards sustainable agriculture in India.22

2005

  • 3000 women made a bonfire of hybrid and genetically modified seeds of cotton and other crops. Walking through the streets of the city, the women shouted slogans saying the GM seeds had pushed them into a cycle of poverty, indebtedness and hunger. They announced that they have already declared 200 villages in the tribal belt of the State as "organic villages" and are presently cultivating indigenous seeds in more than 17,000 acres in Orissa.23

     

Indonesia

Indonesia was the first country in south east Asia to permit planting of GM crops. Again, the crop in question was BT (insect resistant) cotton, and again it proved a disaster for farmers, with poor yields, high susceptibility to drought and a massive increase in the numbers of pests. The same company, a subsidiary of Monsanto, sold the seed to farmers and bought their harvests, and in 2002, this company simultaneously raised the price of seeds and reduced the price they paid for the harvests. Several farmers burnt their fields in protest, and refused to pay the money they owed, eventually leading to the ousting of Monsanto from the region.24 In 2005, Monsanto was found guilty of authorising a bribe paid by its subsidiary to the Indonesian government, and paid to pay a fine of $1.5million.25

Indra Lubis, part of a coalition of 13 Indonesian peasant unions with 900,000 members, explains that rejection of genetically modified seed and pesticides is about self-determination: 'With Monsanto, who have planted GM cotton in south Sulawesi, we'll have to depend on them for seed. They want to control cotton and food production. As peasants, we'll be made dependent on multinational corporations. But we are independent when we develop our own agriculture. We use our own productive system, with no chemical fertilizer or herbicides. We use local seeds and local fertilizer. In Indonesia we have so many varieties of seed. It is a deep part of our culture.'26

 

Japan

Japan began importing GM foods in the 1990s, and although no GM is approved for cultivation crops have been found to be contaminated. Japan has powerful farmer and consumer campaigns against GM, calling to create GM-free regions, to introduce labelling on imported GM products, and gathering pledges from farmers that they will never grow GM.27 In a petition with signatures from organisations representing 2.9 million people, the Japanese group 'No! GM campaign' claims to have stopped Monsanto crop trials, and requests that Australia, a major exporter to Japan, maintain its moratorium on GM.28 (In some states this Moratorium has ended - see Resistance to GM: Australo Pacific) .

2005

  • Rapeseed growing near roadside is various areas was pulled up by farmers and concerned citizens: when tested it was found to be contaminated with GM.29

     

Philippines

2004

  • Around 1,000 farmers along with scientists and other NGOs, charged Monsanto guilty for violating farmers' rights to seeds, technology, land and other genetic resources. To support the case against Monsanto, farmers and NGOs presented facts and evidences gathered from the farmers' experience in the fields.30

2001

  • Farmers, supported by various groups including the Philippines Earth First, destroyed a Monsanto test site for GM maize, and escaped in vehicles without arrest.31

     

Thailand

In 1999 it became apparent that, despite official denial, the Thai government was allowing research into GMOs: there were widespread reports of contamination of papaya, maize, soya and cotton from all over the country. Thai people tackled this on a number of levels - the Thai Working group on Biosaftey organised petitions and demonstrations until in 2007 the government announced new rules on GMOs, including a requirement that any testing be subject to a public hearing, and a recommendation that approval should be gained from the affected community, academics and NGOs before tests go ahead. At the same time, the Khao Kwan Foundation worked on raising awareness among farmers and building on their knowledge of their crops, to enable them to root out GM seedlings before they flowered, effectively controlling the spread of the contamination.32

 

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Footnotes

1: BBC news, GM crops find friends in China, 24.01.02, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/1778132.stm, last viewed 09.05.10

2: Burcher, Sam, 'GM Trees Lost in China's Forests', 01.03.05, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/GMTGL.php, last viewed 08.05.10

3: Lang, Susan, 'Seven-year glitch: Cornell warns that Chinese GM cotton farmers are losing money due to 'secondary' pests', Cornell university chronicle online, 25.06.06, http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Ju ly06/Bt.cotton.China.ssl.html, last viewed 07.05.10

4: Connor, Steve, 'Farmers use as much pesticide with GM crops, US study finds', 27.07.06, http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/ farmers-use-as-much-pesticide-with-gm-cro ps-us-study-finds-409414.html, last viewed 29.04.10

5: GM Damages Environment But Not Pests, Says Study, 18.01.09, http://biotechnology-zone.blog spot.com/2009/01/gm-damages-envi ronment-but-not-pests.html, last viewed 09.05.10

6: 'Chinese rejecting GM technology, claims Greenpeace', 16.03.05, http://www.ap-foodtechnology.com/Formu lation/Chinese-rejecting-GM-techn ology-claims-Greenpeace, last viewed 30.04.10

7: Chinese consumers wary of GMO food: Greenpeace, 07.06.07, http://www.reuters.com/article/healthNews/idUSPEK17009120070607, last viewed 06.05.10

8: Chinese want GM-free, chemical-free foods, 19.12.08, http://greenbio.checkbiotech.org/news /chinese_want_gm_free_chemical_free _foods, last viewed 09.05.10

9: Chinese public wants labelling of GM food, 07.05.04, http://www.scidev.net/en/news/ chinese-public-wants-labelling -of-gm-food.html, last viewed 01.05.10

10: Scoones, Ian, 'Mobilizing Against GM Crops in India, South Africa and Brazil', published online 25.04.08, University of Sussex, http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/ cgi-bin/fulltext/119421443/HTMLSTART, last viewed 06.05.10

11: 'Marketing of bt cotton in India: aggressive, unscrupulous and false...', Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, http://ideas.repec.org/p/ess/wpaper/id1225.html, last viewed 09.05.10

12: Qayum, A and Sakkhari K, Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh: a three year assessment, 2005, www.grain.org/research_files/BT_Cotton_-_A_three_year_report.pdf, last viewed 13.03.10

13: Friends of the Earth International, February 2008, 'Who benefits from GM crops? Questions and Answers.' available at www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/who_benefits_questions.pdf, last viewed 29.04.10

14: 'GM in the public eye in Asia,' GRAIN, http://www.grain.org/articles/?id=67, last viewed 18.07.10

15: 'Peasants Worldwide Rise up Against Monsanto, GMOs,' available at http://www.combat-monsanto.co.uk/spip.php?article422, ast viewed 19.10.10

16: http://safefoodalliance.blogspot.com, last viewed 01.05.10

17: http://safefoodalliance.blogspot.com, last viewed 01.05.10

18: 'Farmers rally in India,' 24.02.09, http://www.viacampesina.org/main_en /index.php?option=com_content& task=blogsection&id=7&Itemid=29, last viewed 23.05.10, memorandum can also be downloaded from this page.

19: 'Farmers conclude 4,000-km march against GM seeds',Thaindian News, 13.04.08, http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=9000, last viewed 10.05.10

20: All the above from http://www.i-sis.org.uk/gmProtestsIndia.php?printing=yes, last viewed 01.05.10

21www.scidev.net/en/features/gm-in-india-the-battle-over-bt-cotton.html, last viewed 01.05.10

22: 'Mass Protests against GM crops in India', 30.04.08, www.i-sis.org.uk/gmProtestsIndia.php, last viewed 10.05.10

23: http://www.grain.org/h/?id=69, last viewed 01.05.10

24: Ching, Lam Li, 'Broken promises', 12.05.04, available at http://www.i-sis.org.uk/BrokenPromises.php, last viewed 03.05.10

25: Gala, Rhea, 'GM Cotton Fiascos Around the World', 26.01.05, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/GMCFATW.php, last viewed 08.05.10

26: Ainger, Katharine, 'The new peasants' revolt', New Internationalist magazine, January / February 2003, http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/ Food/New_Peasants_Revolt.html, last viewed 06.05.10

27: Omura, Mika, The Asahi Shimbun, 25.02.05, available at http://www.asahi.com/english/nation/TKY200502250146.html, last viewed 06.05.10

28: No! GM campaign, 'Statement: Japanese Consumers Request Australian State Governments to Continue GM Moratorium', 12.10.07, available at http://cujtokyo.wordpress.com/2007/10/24/statement-against-gmo/, last viewed 04.05.10

29: Omura, Mika, The Asahi Shimbun, 25.02.05, available at http://www.asahi.com/english/nation/TKY200502250146.html, last viewed 06.05.10

30: Filipino farmers "convict" Monsanto Corporation, 14.06.04, http://www.grain.org/h/?id=105, last viewed 27.04.10

31: 'Report from Earth First! Anti-Genetix action in Philippines', undated, http://www.325collective.com/eco-struggle_anti-monsanto-phili.html, last viewed 17.05.10

32: Fighting GMO contamination around the world, Jan 2009, http://www.grain.org/seedling/?id=575, last viewed 27.04.10