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.
The World According to Monsanto seeks to report on various controversies regarding the use and promotion of its products. Monsanto became the pioneer of genetically modified foods when, in 1983, created a tobacco plant that was resistant to antibiotics. Around 5 years later, it also became the first bioagricultural company to conduct field tests of genetically modified crops. Monsanto is also well known for its herbicide product commercially available under the brand name “Roundup”. The films director, who researched the company and the effects of its products worldwide for over 3 years, makes the claim that Monsanto, in collusion with various government entities, sought to suppress and manipulate the scientific data regarding its products. They are also recognized as developing rBST (recombinant bovine growth hormone) for use in dairy cows which increases milk production by 11-16%. The film makes the point that rBST leads to decreased health for dairy cows, often causing mastitis requiring antibiotics which then leach into the cows milk, ultimately consumed by humans.
The film definitely has some points worth considering regarding the mega corporation Monsanto. Being the largest seed producer in the world and with over 70% of the American food supply containing Monsanto’s genetically modified crops, Monsanto is a powerful lobbyist that can wield its influence to push products that may or may not be detrimental not only to humans, but to the environment as well.