Science in Society Archive

Science in Society #37 - Letters to the Editor

Science in Society 37

Science in Action, In and For Society

BT Allergy in North India Crying Out for Attention

As follow up to your articles More Illnesses Linked to Bt Crops, and Mass Deaths in Sheep Grazing on Bt Cotton (SiS 30) describing health problems associated with genetically modified (GM) Bt cotton in India, I draw your attention to further symptoms of allergy reported this year in Sadalpur Village near Hisar in Haryana State, India. Farmers say skin itching is very common and even buffaloes and dogs are affected.

The itching started to appear during the Bt cotton season this year. The village Ayurvedic Hospital Compounder says that on average, 10 cases of skin allergy/itching symptoms in humans come to the hospital every day, and there is an increasing trend over the past three or so years. Even cotton factory workers in the area are complaining of itching problem. Itching is observed mainly on the skin and in reproductive organs.

Animals are also affected. On average, 5-10 cases of skin allergy/itching in buffaloes are presented at the village veterinary hospital daily.

Thousands of sheep have died in Andhra Pradesh in past years, but there is still no real action on the part of Indian Government. Even the local and national media are not paying any attention to this problem. We have asked the local and national TV channels and newspapers to investigate into the problem caused by Bt cotton in humans and animals.

I am really afraid for the future of India and our farmers. Sooner or later, the effects of transgenic pollution will be more pronounced and will affect people who do not live in cotton fields or villages next to cotton fields.

Why do we still allow Bt cotton to be grown in India? Isn’t the death of thousands of sheep enough for us to wake up and speak and support the truth?

How can the scientific community be so dead to issue like deaths and health problems due to Bt cotton? I am really ashamed at the silence of scientific community though I am one among them.

In India, we are really fed up with the insensitivity of our Government and other regulatory authorities. People say that India is one of the largest democracies, but I feel we do not deserve this reputation if that means the Government cannot protect its citizens against this poisonous crop.

Dr Sudhir Kumar Kaura is a geneticist and biotechnologist based in Hisar, Haryana State, India, and can be contacted at Tel: 09354172987 in India and 00919354172987 from outside India. E-mail:

Important Letter to Nature Biotechnology

Your very important Letter to Nature Biotechnology: Systematic bias in favour of no adverse impacts from GM feed (SiS 37) should be disseminated widely along with a summary of Ermakova’s paper. It covers the key issues succinctly:

  • The remarkable harmful effects on the rats
  • How key Nature Biotech and pro-biotech scientists suppress uncomfortable information
  • The low quality of pro-biotech research
  • The inadequacy of the GM food safety assessment procedure
  • The uncritical or biased stance of our regulators

It should be sent to all EU leaders and parliamentarians.

Jaan Suurküla, M.D. Chairman of PSRAST, Tallinn, Estonia

Biodynamic farming a hit

Thank you so much for such a brilliant review Saving the World with Biodynamic Farming (SiS 37), the best ever! We hope the film will be playing on a TV station near you soon. I’ve sent it on to every biodynamic organisation I know. Also, we have a new website:

Barbara Sumner Burstyn, Producer, Hastings, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

Thank you ISIS for your fantastic work on so many essential subjects. Your articles are a source of very important information; and your presentation of biodynamic agriculture and Peter Proctor’s work in India is no exception. I can judge as I am a project manager in the Danish Biodynamic Association and have been working with biodynamic agriculture and food quality research for several years. Meeting Peter Proctor and seeing the film about him are some of the very positive experiences in my job.

You may already known that the best scientifically performed trial comparing conventional, organic and biodynamic farming was done at the FiBL Institute in Switzerland over a period of 21 years, and  biodynamic method is the one that gives the most fertile soil (measured in several biological, structural and physical parameters), and the only of the three methods that is building up carbon in the soil. This is important for mitigating climate change.
Klaus Loehr-Petersen, Danish Biodynamic Association, Aarhus, Denmark

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho replies

More details on the trials can be found in our forthcoming report, Food Futures Now. The Swiss results are interesting, but it should not be generalised, as many other non-biodynamic, organic farming systems succeed in sequestering considerably more carbon in the soil compared to conventional, non-organic farming.

Anaerobic Digestion Rules

Your article Bug Power (SiS 27) regarding hydrogen and methane production from potato waste is very interesting and possibly very useful. Are there any potato farms in the world and specifically Canada that are using this technology effectively to achieve energy self- sustainability, or at least to reduce greenhouse heating costs and vehicle fuel costs? A friend owns a large potato farm here on Vancouver Island.
Geoffrey Thomas, Vancouver Island, Canada

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho replies

China has a very active biogas programme (Biogas China, SiS 32). Canada has just started an active anaerobic digestion programme, restricted to Ontario Province, so far. It announced an Ontario Biogas Systems Financial Assistance Program of Cad $ 9 million in 2007 to provide funding for biogas systems. There are also other sources of funding and subsidies, all in Ontario.

Potato peel is a very good feed stock for biogas digesters and can yield up to 68 m3 biogas per tonne. Mixed feedstock is being used in Ontario, with 50 percent livestock manure. For more details, please look up the Ontario provincial government website, and look out for our Food Futures Now Report.

The Cuban experience can be replicated in India

I have sent your article Organic Cuba without Fossil Fuels (SiS 37) to Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, the father of the Green Revolution in India, with the following remarks.

The following article shows how Cuba has engineered an agricultural revolution o the Triple Bottom Line approach:

  1. Social equity of the endeavour, which means the benefit should go directly to the poor.
  2. Economic returns, which means unsupported by state subsidies, and the farmers should also not experience negative subsidy as at present with rising costs and falling farm gate prices
  3. Environmentally safe and benign activities, without externalised costs to the environment.

Santhanam Ramasubramanyam, New Delhi, India

Economic potential for mitigating climate change?

Your article, IPCC Final Climate Warning Before Bali (SiS 37) states that the IPPC sees much evidence of substantial economic potential for mitigation.” This is nonsensical economist speak, turning cause and effect on their head. Our economic activities are the cause of climate change. Claiming that cklimate change has economic potential means ultimately that we need more climate change so as to boost the economy.

The honourable Dr. Rajenda Pachauri is missing the point in as far as he claims that the costs of mitigating climate change will only fractionally reduce economic growth.

If Dr. Rajenda Pachauri wants growth to continue he should specify that this should be for those areas and people that really need some betterment of their lot, and this growth must be compensated by an equivalent and even higher reduction of the rich's standard of living and luxuries.

If mitigation were an economic potential, as IPPC suggest, we should increase climate gas emissions. We could then get the oil from the arctic regions that will be free from ice thanks to climate change and global warming. The melting water from the Greenland ice cover can be used to generate electricity that will again boost the economy and create work and help R&D that will ultimately produce the inventions which will allow us to boost the economy further. Though all that will be immaterially because we will then have to grow without any material consumption, possibly there will be none left, and we can start living on thin air.

This is approximately the ideology of mainstream economists extrapolated to its absurd conclusion. As an environmental scientist I have no choice but to denounce the
ideologies of economists who claim we must and can grow forever and their perverse notion that climate mitigation would present a chance for the economy i.e. growth.
Helmut Lubbers BE MSocSc DipEcol, ecoglobe - ecology discovery foundation, New Zealand

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho replies

Good point! But to be fair cost means reduction in consumption here. Also, there is economic potential in clean technologies.

Article first published 26/02/08

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