PepsiCo: The wrong choice, baby! – Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva“PepsiCo, with annual revenues of $65 billion, holds the world’s largest portfolio of billion-dollar food and beverages brands. These snacks and soft drinks are also called “junk food”. The impact of such food on public health is well known. Globally two billion people are victims of diseases linked to the junk food industry.” – Vandana Shiva

Indra NooyiOn her recent visit to India, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi detailed how PepsiCo had created two lakh jobs and announced doubling investment in India. In a land rich in indigenous drinks such as panna, nimbu pani, sattu, bel ras, jal jeera and healthy snacks, Pepsi has, in fact, destroyed livelihoods in cottage industry and artisanal processing sector.

For example, 50,000 women in Bikaner made handmade bhujia. Today PepsiCo makes industrially processed bhujia and 50,000 women’s livelihood has been destroyed. If one adds livelihoods lost by such destruction we are talking of millions thrown into the ocean of unemployment. This is why in Navdanya we have created the Mahila Anna Swaraj movement to protect livelihoods in artisanal processing of healthy foods

PepsiCo, with annual revenues of $65 billion, holds the world’s largest portfolio of billion-dollar food and beverages brands. These snacks and soft drinks are also called “junk food”. The impact of such food on public health is well known. Globally two billion people are victims of diseases linked to the junk food industry.

PepsiCo entered India in 1989 during the Punjab crisis. PepsiCo announced its entry as PepsiCo for Peace. It was going to replace rice and wheat with tomatoes and potatoes. The tomatoes were processed into paste at the Zahura plant in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district which was exported to Japan and the US. Since tomatoes were bred for long-distance transport and industrial processing, their skin was too hard for domestic use.

PepsiCo gave the seedlings to Punjab farmers as loan, sold pesticides and fertilisers at a high price. It paid the farmers 80 paise per kg of tomatoes in 1993, while the market rate was Rs 2. When the cost of seedlings and chemicals are subtracted from the price farmers sold the tomatoes at, the farmers were left with nothing. In 1994, Hoshiarpur mandis were piled with tomatoes no one wanted and the price dropped to Rs 0.50 per kg. By 1996, the PepsiCo experiment had failed. The potatoes were for Lay’s chips. PepsiCo tied up with Tata subsidiary, Voltas, which would take responsibility for distributing chips and bottling soft drinks in western India. Tata ran losses of up to Rs 72 crore and packed up.

Lay's Potato ChipsPepsiCo has since spread to other parts, especially West Bengal. Nineteen blocks of south Bengal districts — Hooghly, Burdwan, Birbhum, Paschim Medinipur, Howrah and Bankura — are becoming potato districts. PepsiCo India, which in 2004 began contract farming in West Bengal with just 800 farmers, now has some 6,500 farmers growing potatoes for it on 2,250 acres.

PepsiCo makes super profits at three levels. First it is creating a seed monopoly in potato. It sells high cost propriety seeds and seedlings to farmers and collects royalties. By 2017, 80 per cent of PepsiCo crisps will be made from new, proprietary potato varieties.

PepsiCo is seeking control over potato biodiversity and has invested in the Agricultural Development Centre of Peru. Pepsi is already using native Andean potatoes for Lay’s Andinas and the yellow potato for Lay’s Peruanisimas.

Secondly, by creating a monopoly through monocultures, PepsiCo pushes farmers into distress and can buy cheap potatoes. Thirdly, it sells chips made from cheap potatoes at high cost. As in the case of Bt cotton, PepsiCo’s potatoes are pushing farmers into a debt trap and suicides. In Bengal, where potato farming costs Rs 14,000 a bigha, roughly one-third of an acre, farmers are getting into debt. Between October 2011 and March 2012, 34 farmers committed suicide in West Bengal. Many of the suicides are among potato farmers. A farmer in Gill Kalan village spent Rs 240,000 on cultivation and had to sell one acre to make up the Rs 100,000 loss. Bhagwan Singh, a potato farmer from Nadao village, committed suicide due to rising costs of production and falling prices. As farmers are encouraged to grow potatoes, there is overproduction and a crash in prices. In 2012, the price had crashed to Rs 0.20 per kg. While farmers’ incomes fall, PepsiCo’s profits rise. When potatoes are selling at Rs 0.20 per kg, industry sells chips at Rs 20 per pack of 90 gm i.e. around Rs 220 per kg. Farmers are receiving 0.1 per cent of what you pay PepsiCo for a packet of Lay’s chips.

Pepsico's Aquafina Bottled WaterThis is a transfer of billions of rupees from farmers to corporations. Agrarian distress and corporate profits have an intimate link.

The price of potato in the market has no relationship with the low price farmers receive. Retail prices had shot up to Rs 22 per kg, forcing the state government to offer subsidies — it bought potatoes from cold storages and sold them in 12 retail markets in Kolkata and its suburbs at Rs 13 per kg.

The state government has asked consumer cooperatives under the West Bengal State Consumers’ Cooperative Federation Ltd (Confed) to procure at least one metric tonne of potatoes from farmers at Rs 175 per 50 kg bag, or Rs 3.50 per kg. It has sanctioned Rs 400 crore for the proposed procurement.

Coca Cola and Pepsi have also created a water crisis wherever they have a bottling plant. That is why the women of Plachimada stood up and saw that the Coca Cola plant is shut.

Plastic water bottles and soft drink bottles are littered everywhere. Non-biodegradable aluminium packets mar our landscape. We are well on our way to becoming a junk food nation. Before we totally trash our farmers, our health, our environment, let us change course. Let us shift to our biodiversity and our foods that bring us health and enrich our diet, our land and society. – The Asian Age, 4 December 2013

» The writer is the executive director of Navdanya Trust

The valiant fight against GM crops – K.P. Prabhakaran Nair

K.P. Prabhakaran Nair“India must now ban all GM crops. A group of powerful unscrupulous scientists with the help of New Delhi is trying to pilot the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill (BRA). As per the provisions of this Bill, anyone opposing it can be fined, as much as Rs 50,000/-, and even imprisoned. This is draconian! It is a ruse to bring GM crops through the back door and must be opposed at any cost.” – Prof. K.P. Prabhakaran Nair

MonsantoOn 9 August, when a 31-member Parliamentary Committee (including nine from Congress, six from BJP) unanimously decided to put a ban on field trials of genetically modified crops in India, the decision had both historic significance and scientific significance. It was on this day in 1942 that Gandhi gave the clarion call “Quit India” to the British in an open letter to the Viceroy and nudged Indians to “Do or Die”. The next day the British arrested Gandhi, his wife Kasturba and his personal secretary Mahadev Desai; the latter two died in prison.

By coincidence, it was exactly on 9 August 2002 that this author first wrote an article entitled “Bt Cotton – Bane or Boon”, which was published in a leading English daily of India. The article warned that genetically modified cotton would destroy Indian cotton farmers, and is not suited for Indian conditions. This was immediately taken up by the Berlin based “Coalition for the South”, translated into German, and published widely all over the world. Knowledgeable scientists across the world endorsed this view.

However, here in free India, a coterie of agricultural scientists with vested interests in the crop biotechnology sector, ganged up to gag this author. A media war (print and electronic) broke out, with one Rajya Sabha MP openly clamouring for Bt cotton; he openly ridiculed the author and totally marginalized him.

MahycoIt is important to note that the ban recommended by the Parliamentary Committee came exactly a day after the Maharashtra Government cancelled Mahyco’s (Indian arm of Monsanto, the US-based agri business giant) licence to sell its Bt cotton seeds. Behind this lies the valiant fight of this author and a few other committed scientists and social activists, who have focused on the maximum number of suicides in Vidarbha district of Maharashtra, where farmers after switching to Bt cotton from hybrids and desi varieties, found themselves bankrupt. They had no option but to take their lives to escape the Shylockian clutches of money lenders.

In 2002, when Monsanto-Mahyco sold a packet of 450 grams of Bt cotton seed to Indian cotton farmers for an unheard of price of Rs 1950/packet, this author on a visit to China found that Monsanto was selling the same quantity of Bt cotton seed for just US $2/packet. Translated to Indian Rupee, the equivalence at the time worked out to less than Rs 100. The company made more than Rs 600 crores in one cotton crop season in 2002.

MangalsutraTragically, no other agricultural scientist in India questioned this unheard of fleecing of Indian cotton farmers. Matters came to a head when in September 2006 Monsanto with its Indian subsidiary Mahyco (Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company) thrust the unscientifically tested Bt brinjal on poor, illiterate and unsuspecting farmers of Andhra, in Warangal district.

This author and a band of committed scientists and social activists moved the Supreme Court against this. The then Chief Justice Mr Sabharval, just before his retirement, observed that “The entire question of genetically modified crops should be examined by competent, knowledgeable scientists, who are also patriotic,” and following this observation by the CJI, an Independent Expert Committee was formed of which the author was unanimously elected Chairman. The committee consisted of some eminent and independent experts, agronomists, entomologists, economists, plant physiologists and farmers’ representatives.

The committee submitted its report to the Supreme Court on 15 October 2006, clearly indicting Monsanto and Mahyco for unscientifically conducted field trials, putting not only Indian agriculture to crisis, but poor and illiterate farmers to great risk and the unsuspecting Indian population to health risks. Justice Sabharval was succeeded by Justice Balakrishnan as the Chief Justice of India. There followed endless foot-dragging, until Jairam Ramesh, the then Environment and Forest Minister, took a pro-active role in inviting many stake holders on Bt brinjal to give their opinions.

In an open letter to the minister published in The New Indian Express on 9 February 2010, this author pleaded for a moratorium on Bt brinjal. On 10 February, the very next day, the minister put a moratorium on Bt brinjal.

Jairam RameshMeanwhile, another drama was being enacted in the Supreme Court to subvert the efforts of committed scientists and social activists. The Government of India nominated two scientists to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), later rechristened the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee. The first was the reigning agricultural scientist of the country, with tremendous political clout, who was pulling strings behind the stage to promote GM crops; the second a person with absolutely no background in agriculture.

It was clearly a clever move to gag this author, as GEAC was vested with the supreme power for approval of all GM crops for field trials in India. The case for the author and his co-activists on GM crops was superbly and forcefully argued by noted Supreme Court Senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan. Anyway, the proceedings went on without a definite conclusion, until Jairam Ramesh took the decision on moratorium on Bt brinjal.

But truth always prevails, and now the Parliamentary Committee, after three years of looking into all relevant documents, has concluded that the field trials of GM crops should be totally banned, thus vindicating the stand taken by this author and his associates in the Supreme Court, and outside of it. We demanded a “thorough probe” into how permission was given to commercialise Bt brinjal seed when all evaluation tests were not properly carried out, as pointed in the Independent Expert Committee’s Report submitted to the Supreme Court in October 2006.

The Independent Expert Committee criticised the role of the GEAC and the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation. It is worth noting that at the height of the controversy surrounding Bt brinjal, the Minister of Science and Technology in the Government of India was putting pressure on GEAC, along with the biotechnology industry. It is also surprising that the minister of food, from Kerala, wrote an article in the leading regional daily Mathrubhumi, two years ago, openly pleading for Bt brinjal, and fully supporting GM crops!

Manmohan Singh & George BushIt is for citizens to conclude from all this that the Government of India is clearly for GM crops. Clearly American pressure is operating intensely to promote GM crops in India, as it thinks it can capture the vast Indian market. The “Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture” (KIA) signed by Manmohan Singh and George Bush in November 2005, rolling out the red carpet for American crop biotechnologists on Indian soil (where during the official discussions representatives of Monsanto were present) is a clear pointer which way Government of India wants to go on GM technology, inasmuch as agriculture is concerned. In a subsequent visit, Hillary Clinton made an open plea in this regard in India. Even the Prime Minister’s statement on GM crops last year reflects this mindset. It is a shame on free India that the largest number of suicides of farmers occurred from areas where Bt cotton was used. The Parliamentary Committee report clearly noted “The farmers had no option but to use Bt cotton”.

To rectify its mistakes, India must now ban all GM crops. A group of powerful unscrupulous scientists with the help of New Delhi is trying to pilot the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill (BRA). As per the provisions of this Bill, anyone opposing it can be fined, as much as Rs 50,000/-, and even imprisoned. This is draconian! It is a ruse to bring GM crops through the back door and must be opposed at any cost.

Monsanto!Indian agriculture is not similar to American or European agriculture. Our agriculture, where more than 70 per cent poor and marginal farmers are involved, is a “way of living”. Do we want to destroy this culture and bring in agri-business? The oft-repeated claim that “biotechnology is the panacea” for Indian agriculture, is rubbish. The idea is to control the seed industry and once the seed industry is controlled, the food supply chain is controlled. Even in the US, where Bt cotton originated, there is not a single instance where Bt cotton grew without the use of pesticides; this effectively negates all claims made by Monsanto. – Vijayvaani, 16 August 2012

» Dr. K.P. Prabhakaran Nair was Chairman, Independent Expert Committee, appointed to examine the role of Bt brinjal in India.