The tragic true story of the failure of GE technology in India has been told in a powerful new documentary by Micha Peled. Bitter Seeds — now showing at the San Francisco International Film Festival — details the predicament of central Indian cotton farmers, trapped in Monsanto's genetically modified seed scheme.
Farmers, refused loans by legitimate banks, borrow from illegal moneylenders at exorbitant interest rates in order to purchase Monsanto's expensive GE cotton seeds.
Engineered to contain the insecticidal bacterium Bt, Monsanto's GE cotton seeds are marketed as silver bullets that will make farmers rich. But the GE crops often fail — they require a steady supply of plentiful water (unavailable in this arid rainfed region) and lots of fertilizer (which farmers cannot afford), and at times the insecticidal action fails and the crop is destroyed by pests.
With no other crops or income sources to resort to, the farmers fall deeper and deeper into debt. Out of shame, thousands of farmers have been commiting suicide by drinking pesticides. Such deaths reached nearly 200,000 in the last decade alone, according to The Independent.
Unfortunately, the destruction of farmers' livelihoods is nothing new to Monsanto, a Big 6 pesticide company well known here in the U.S. for its flagrant violation of national laws — price-fixing, bribery, superfund sites, superweeds and superbugs are among the company's dubious claims to fame.
Holding corporations accountable
Like Monsanto in India, the global pesticide industry has a long history of getting away with human rights abuses around the world, in part because there is no single set of laws to which they are accountable as global corporations.
Last December, on the 27th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, PAN International launched a landmark initiative to hold the pesticide industry accountable for human rights abuses. The Permanent People's Tribunal, held December 3 – 6, 2011, in Bangalore, India, brought the six corporations that dominate the global pesticide industry — Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, DuPont, Bayer, and BASF — to trial in the first ever global tribunal seeking justice for victims of the pesticide industry.
At the end of an intensive public trial spanning four days and five languages, the jury issued a scathing verdict that called for a roll-back of corporate control over the food system.
Learn More » Those in Northern California can catch a screening of Bitter Seeds at the San Francisco International Film Festival on April 21, 24 or 26. And on April 20, join PAN Senior Scientist Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, filmmaker Micha Peled and others for a discussion on the impacts of genetically engineered food and farming around the world.