This is Vandana Shiva’s essay describing her story of Indian farmers committing suicide due to the financial effects of having to use GMO crops. Shiva states that 200,000 farmers in India have killed themselves since 1997. She places the blame on what she calls the “rapid indebtedness” that is taking its toll of the Indian peasant class. Two factors are involved here: one, that it is getting more expensive to produce food, and two, that food prices are falling. After the introduction of corporate-owned GM-seeds, farmers were unable to save their previous seeds, and the new designed seeds require chemicals and pesticides that are prohibitively expensive. Because the farmers have to essentially upgrade their seeds season after season, the extra expense of those purchases has begun to add up.
Shiva also mentions the dangers of monocultural farming, and how they have much higher failure rates than a more diverse system. She also relates that due to the World Trade Organization’s new free trade policies, food prices around the world have dropped, and these farmers simply can’t make enough to make up for it.
Vandana Shiva is described on her Huffington Post biography as a “Physicist, environmentalist, feminist writer, and science policy advocate.” She, for the intents of this essay, appears to be well-credentialed. Her essay describes a serious problem, but her connections to Monsanto and GMO in general have had many holes poked in them since. While she may be doing good spreading word of the plight of these farmers, to place the blame squarely on Monsanto is a little dangerous, and smacks of sensationalism for page views and speaking engagements.
This article from Discover also deals with Anti-GMO, environmentalist and feminist speaker Vandana Shiva. As mentioned in a previous posting, Vandana Shiva has been perpetuating a story that over 250,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide in the years since Monsanto GMO seeds were introduced to the country. Shiva describes this as “genocide”. Shiva posits that this is due to Monsanto’s business practices driving these farmers out of money. In the article, the author casts doubt on Shiva’s story by discussing how it may more likely be social and economic factors in India that are actually driving suicide rates up, and not Monsanto specifically. The author also mentions the documentary based on the Shiva story, Bitter Seeds, and mentions that while the connections to Monsanto might be more contrived, the connections made regarding India’s cultural practices and predatory lending might be more pertinent, if people were willing to pay attention to it.
The author then moves on to relating an event at which Shiva spoke at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. At the event, the author noted that when a member of the Gardens’ staff was introducing Shiva, they made it a point to mention that “over a quarter million Indian farmers have committed suicide because of GMO seed” to gasps from the crowd. This was able to prime the audience for when Shiva took over and discussed this story in more detail.
After the speech, the author had a moment to speak with Ms. Shiva, and he elaborated about how his journalism class was able to determine that Shiva’s story was overstated. Shiva’s response was simply to reiterate her point, and claim that any evidence against her version of events must be made up by Monsanto.
This kind of evangelism is concerning. A disregard for fact can severely discredit one’s position in an argument. To continue to repeat a lie until it becomes true doesn’t make it any more true than it was before. If people have genuine concern about GMO and the business practices surrounding it, then perhaps moving away from individuals like this would be advisable.
Monsanto is a very divisive company. Some think that they’re evil incarnate, threatening to enslave the world to only eating their food. Others still praise the conglomerate’s use of technology to attempt to increase food production across the world. Many people have heard of Monsanto, but not everyone knows their story.
Monsanto started as a chemical manufacturer, famous for developing saccharine, Agent Orange, and RoundUp. Over the years, they started developing and patenting GM-based seeds, after a US Supreme Court ruling in 1980. The company is well-aware of the public outcry surrounding its genetically-modified products, and does what it can to mitigate it. They suggest that farmers have a right to choose what kind of seeds they want to plant, and that laws precluding GMO-based crops are keeping said farmers from exercising that freedom. They also suggest that in light of the soon-coming food crisis that GM crops have incredible benefits in the future. The company has also been aggressive in its purchases of other seed companies, allowing it to widen its net on the agricultural market. Monsanto’s share of GM cord and soybeans is about 65%. These acquisitions have drawn the eye of antitrust regulators, but so far they haven’t had to make but a few concessions to them.
A large part of Monsanto’s profits come from the licensing of these seeds. This almost essentially creates a monopoly, but according to the article, does not truly constitute one, as even some of Monsanto’s competitors are actually licensees. And their business model requires farmers to buy fresh seed every year. Their “Violator Exclusion Policy” will actually deny farmers access to Monsanto’s seed and technology forever if they break any of the terms of the license agreement.
Monsanto is working hard to spin its business decisions into something positive. Or at least something that looks positive. They are attempting to make sure that the developing world still as access to its seed, but are still doubling down on increased productivity at whatever the cost. Maybe it’s because this technology is so relatively new, Monsanto’s quasi-monopoly, or that people don’t like companies all up in their food supply, but they still seem to have a long way to go.