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Mar/Apr 2001 issue (#50)


'60s Dream Lives On

Party Troopers

Suit Filed Against George W. Bush

"Friends in High Places"

Baby Bush Bombs Baghdad

Don't Put the Utilities Back in Charge

Biblically-Grounded Movements For Progressive Change In Washington

How to Run for City Council

Mad Cow: Coming to the U.S.?

Monoculture and Mad Cows

Itching to Ride Light Rail

Is Work Killing You?

Escaping the Globalized Gym

Seattle's Clattering Poets

A Puppetista Manifesto

Living Outside Empire

Don't Put the Utilities Back in Charge

ACORN's Falling

Social Transformation Explained? Technogod

Spokane Free-speech Battle


Reader Mail


Urban Work

Media Beat

Nature Doc

Rad Videos

Do Something!

Reel Underground

Monoculture and Mad Cows

Global Ag Giants Invade India

book review by Renee Kjartan

Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply

Vandana Shiva

South End Press, $14, 146 pages

In India, man and nature have worked together patiently over centuries to create some 200,000 varieties of rice. Each type suits its climate or topography: some are saline resistant, other types are flood- or drought-resistant, etc. Free exchange of seeds and worship of seeds are part of this culture.

Cows are closely integrated with agriculture. They graze on crop wastes or grasses on uncultivated land and “do not compete with humans for food,” says author Vandana Shiva. “[T]hey provide organic fertilizer for fields and thus enhance food productivity.” Cows also are linked to the world of women, who feed and milk the cows, collect the dung, use it for energy, and nurture the sick cows.

Enter the global food corporations, and each of these highly integrated functions is severed from the other, destroyed, and replaced by corporate offerings that are harmful to all concerned. Shiva, one of India’s foremost physicists, turned environmental activist when she saw what the international food giants were doing to her country. In her latest book, Stolen Harvest, she shows how small farms are pushed to extinction; monocultures replace biodiverse crops; farming is transformed from the production of nourishing and diverse foods into the creation of markets for genetically engineered seeds, herbicides, and pesticides; how farmers are transformed from producers into consumers of corporate-patented agricultural products; and how markets are destroyed locally and nationally but expanded globally.

Her book is important because the same process is taking place around the world, Shiva says. She notes that today, ten corporations control 32 percent of the commercial seed market and five corporations control the global trade in grain. She strongly criticizes their seeds and the effects on their farming methods.

The Green Revolution, which reached India in the 1960s, was supposed to prevent famine by yielding more food per acre, but it “produced more grain by diverting production away from straw,” Shiva says. “This was achieved through dwarfing the plants, which also enabled them to withstand high doses of chemical fertilizers. However, less straw means less fodder for cattle and less organic matter for the soil to feed the millions of soil organisms that make and rejuvenate soil. The higher yields of wheat or maize [corn] were thus achieved by stealing from farm animals and soil organisms. Since cattle and earthworms are our partners in food production, stealing food from them makes it impossible to maintain food production over time, and means that the partial yield increases were not sustainable,” she says.

The planting of two or three monocrops for export also meant stealing from the Indian people, Shiva says. The beans, legumes, fruit and vegetables that the people had intercropped “disappeared.” “More grain from two or three commodities arrived on the national and international markets, but less food was eaten by farm families in the Third World.”

Shiva says the present genetic engineering revolution is worse than the Green Revolution because it focuses monocultures and herbicide resistance, not higher yields.

“In place of hundreds of legumes and beans eaten around the world, there is soybean. In place of diverse varieties of millets, wheats, and rice, there is only corn. In place of the diversity of oil seeds, there is only canola…. As the biotech industry globalizes, these monoculture tendencies will increase, thus further displacing agricultural biodiversity and creating ecological vulnerability.”

India’s highly developed cow culture is also being destroyed. In India’s “inefficient” model, cattle eat what humans cannot, and provide more food than they consume. In the globalized model, “grain is diverted from human consumption to intensive feed for livestock. It takes two kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of poultry; four k of grain to produce one k of pork; and 8 k of grain to produce 1 k of beef.”

Corporations force cows to eat high-protein feed, but this is “inappropriate” since cows need roughage. Industrial cows are then fed plastic pot-scrubbing pads, which remain in the rumen, the cow’s first stomach, for life. This method is unsustainable, is violent to animals, and lowers productivity “when all systems are assessed,” Shiva says.

Shiva notes that feed for animals in the globalized system increasingly comes from the carcasses of dead animals, setting the conditions for mad-cow disease. “Mad cows are symbols of a worldview that perceives no difference between machines and living beings,” Shiva says.

“What we are seeing is the emergence of food totalitarianism,” she concludes, “in which a handful of corporations control the entire food chain and destroy alternatives so that people do not have access to diverse, safe foods produced ecologically…. [T]rade rules, property rights, and new technologies are used to destroy people-friendly and environment-friendly alternatives and to impose anti-people, anti-nature food systems globally.”

Movements to fight globalized agriculture are occurring, from local organic farms in India and elsewhere, to massive protests against corporations such as the anti-WTO rally in Seattle in 1999, where Shiva was a featured speaker. Her book should be read by anyone wanting to learn about what the global ag giants have in store for the future.

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