Mahatma Gandhi’s spinning wheel and Gandhi’s ghani (the indigenous cold press oil mill) are both symbols of swadeshi as economic freedom and economic democracy.
Gandhi inspired everyone in India to start spinning their own cloth in order to break free from the imperial control over the textile industry, which enslaved our farmers to grow cotton and indigo for the mills of Lancashire and Manchester, and dumped industrial clothing on India, destroying the livelihoods of our spinners and weavers. The spinning wheel and khadi became our symbols of freedom.
Gandhi promoted the ghani to create employment for the farmer and processor and to produce healthy, safe and nutritious edible oils for society. What the spinning wheel is to “kapda”, the economy of clothing and textiles, the “ghani” is to “roti”, the economy of food.
Fresh, local and artisanally processed food without chemical additives and industrial processing is recognised as the healthiest alternative. That is why until the 1990s, food processing was reserved for the small-scale and cottage industry sector. The World Trade Organisation rules changed our food and agriculture systems dramatically.
Today we are living in food imperialism. We have become a sick nation due to the rapid spread of industrially processed food and junk food, which are destroying our healthy food traditions.
The oils most Indians are consuming today, as “vegetable oil” are industrially processed imported palm oil and genetically modified organism (GMO) soya oil. Unlike sesame, mustard, groundnut, linseed and coconut these are not true oils because they cannot be processed in ghanis or through cold press.
The oil from soya is extracted at high temperatures in hexane solvent extraction plants. Hexane (CH3 (CH2) CH3) is a crude oil-based organic solvent with many industrial uses and is a neurotoxicant. No tests or labelling inform citizens about this process and the inclusion of GMOs in our food chain.
In industrial refined oils, 30 per cent “blending” in “refined” oils is legal. The adulterants are labelled as “vegetable oils”, without letting consumers know that vegetable oils include oil from the toxic GMO cotton seed. GMO foods are not allowed in India, yet Bt cotton seed oil is being freely blended in industrial “edible” oils.
The industrial soya lobby has consistently attempted to monopolise the Indian edible oil market. In 1998, it manipulated a ban on our ghanis and got a law passed that each tiny ghani had to have labs — each costing lakhs — and hire two chemists. Women working with Navdanya organised Mahila Anna Swaraj and undertook the “Sarson Satyagraha” to bring our cold press mustard oil back.
Instead of regulating those selling unhealthy, unsafe oils without proper labelling, the government is trying to close down Gandhi’s ghani — producing pure oil in front of the eyes of consumers — because it does not have a lab attached to it.
It is industrial food with chemicals which needs to be tested in labs, not just for artificial ingredients, but also for the impact of chemical additives and industrial processing on our health.
The new food safety rules are arbitrary because they do not differentiate between artisanal, chemical-free processing of oil from the industrial chemical crude oil based processes. Imposing chemical labs on a ghani ensures that safe foods made in the artisanal sector are shut down to create a monopoly by corporations for unhealthy and unsafe foods.
The pure virgin oil from the ghani is sold at Gandhi’s Sewagram Ashram and people come from far and wide to buy it. Food safety in the artisanal sector needs participatory systems where citizens who produce the oil and those who consume it set the standards of quality and reliability.
Just as there are participatory guarantee systems for organic production, we need participatory systems for artisanal food processing.
Imported and adulterated edible oils are dominating the market because they are subsidised and their ecological and health costs are hidden and externalised. Even the price of these artificial oils is made cheap through subsidies. The import duty of edible oil was reduced from 300 per cent to zero, which is an indirect subsidy. In addition, the government gives `15 per litre to soya oil. This is over and above the subsidy given by the US government.
The expansion of palm oil plantations is also the primary reason for the destruction of rainforests of Indonesia. The expansion of GMO soya plantations is a major reason for the destruction of the Amazon rainforests and Cerrado, in Brazil and Argentina. This counters the big myth that industrial agriculture is contributing to protection of wilderness and biodiversity. Forest destruction contributes to 18 per cent of greenhouse gases while 85 per cent of
rainforest destruction is for expansion of industrial agriculture, primarily GMO soya and palm oil.Oil palm cultivation in Indonesia accounted for an estimated two to nine per cent of all tropical land use emissions, from 2000 to 2010. Indonesia was the world’s seventh-largest polluter in 2009, and deforestation accounted for about 30 per cent of these emissions, ranking second (behind Brazil) in pollution due to deforestation. This threatens wildlife and biodiversity. It also
adversely affects people, the global climate, water reserves and soil quality.Soya cultivation in India is destroying soil fertility and destroying farmers in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Gandhi’s ghani is a symbol of our freedom in times to a new corporate imperialism trying to control what we grow on our farms, how we process our food and what we eat. While the current food safety laws originate in the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement of WTO, with the Doha Round of WTO as good as dead after the recently concluded Nairobi Ministerial, the toxic food industry is getting ready to impose the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal which will fully dismantle our food safety systems. We must act now to reclaim our right to grow and eat safe, healthy, indigenous foods.
On January 30, Gandhi’s martyrdom day, I will join Gandhians in Sewagram, in defence of Gandhi’s ghani as a symbol of the swadeshi food. Anna Swaraj (Food Freedom) is the birthright of every Indian.
The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust