Bt Bitterness

Check out the production company’s homepage for the Bitter Seeds. You might also look at the film’s page on the site of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. You may also read this interview with the filmmaker Micha X. Peled, this review and this blog posting, which includes other links. Share your thoughts on the documentary and on the social consequences of GM seeds in India. It is a tough tale to watch, given the bad choices that farmers make, the bad policies in place and the corporate irresponsibility that appears to be on display. The question is: what is to be done?

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  1. Winnie Tsang Wing Ying

     /  22/02/2012

    Debates on whether GMO is an evil technology cannot sustainably catch public attention. The bad effect of GMO is often unknown and long-term. Its impact on biodiversity and its security are still undergoing research. Issues involving complex ethical grounds and value system is hardly understood and dealt by the general public and is always ignored. But the corrupt business practice can be easily recognized by every one of us. This is simple right- or wrong judgment. I believe getting more people informed about the corrupt practices of Monsanto will give more pressure to US organizations like FDA and USDA and help destroy Monsanto’s evil business plan. The film is a tear jerking and successful one. I encourage more campaigns carried out and more education done concerning the issue.

  2. From what I’ve seen, there seems to be a conflation of at least three separate problems regarding GMO in agriculture.

    The first would be the unethical or maybe even criminal business practices from which Monsanto seems to profit in Maharashtra. The seed retailers are apparently ready to obscure facts and even commit fraud when they market the properties of their product to unirrigated farmers such as Ram Krishna. Bitter Seeds is a step towards exposing these practices and putting pressure on governments and NGOs to intercede, as well as naming and shaming Monsanto and its retailers. Legal support for victims and information campaigns might be one way to address this problem, as well as subsidies for the development of irrigation.

    The second problem is one of the application of IP law with regard to biotechnology. Since this is field with enormous potential for profit, a close watch must be kept on striking a balance between creating incentives for innovation and guarding the common good. There is little reason to simply apply the same principles that governed innovation in the industrial age. Policymakers must be very wary of corporate lobbying, and NGOs together with academia have a role in shining a light on these processes.

    The third issue is that of potential adverse effects on health and environment of GMO, both in production and consumption. Since GMO does seem to have great potential to be part of the solution to world hunger and wildly fluctuating food prices, the technology and its effects must be explored. I am reminded of a scene in Jimmy Doherty’s documentary where a Ugandan government official (seemingly well fed) proclaims that his people would rather starve than accept any “poisonous” GM foods. If you ask one of his starving constituents, my guess is that you would get a different answer.

    I think that much good would come out of not treating each of these issues as dependent on the other. If fraudulent behavior by retailers in Maharashtra tricks farmers into debt, it does not necessarily mean that Indian GM-cotton should be boycotted by consumers elsewhere. Instead, compensation should be paid and seed sellers should go to jail. Likewise, if IP legislation offers Monsanto unfair advantages against its organic competitors or effectively enslaves its customers, the laws should change to the benefit of society as a whole – it is an unjustified logical leap to attack the technology of GMO in itself. If a particular strain of GM-crop reveals itself to be more harmful that beneficial, that strain should be banned, not the science that brought it into existence.

  3. Minji Choi

     /  25/02/2012

    Living in a developed society, most of the news we encounter in regards to GMO is related to its health risks. The health risk concern was also a major controversial points in last week’s class discussion. So it was interesting for me to watch Bitter Seeds because it gave another perspective to GM crops issue. I found it ironic that as a consumer in the West battling whether GM food would be detrimental for our health and adding a premium price on organic food, While on another side of the world, in India, farmers have all of their hopes on GM seeds and ultimately resorting to suicide when all their hopes are gone.

    Given what I have seen from the film, I think that there should be an another important point added to GMO debate which is the role of global biotech companies like Monsanto. Governments and NGOs should have convergence of interest to pressure companies like Monsanto to stop illegal practices. Furthermore, governments should implement policies to restrict GM seeds to be used only in places where irrigation and systematic farming is available.

  4. Bella thomson

     /  26/02/2012

    I thought this documentary was fantastic because It provided an insight to just how desperate the situation in India is due to the effects of GM crops. What is worrying is the nature of farmers having to gamble large sums of debt in order to borrow land. Furthermore, the shocking stats- in less than two decades 250,000 of the region’s independent farmers have committed suicide. The desperate situation was enhanced as the documentary is shown through the eyes of Manjusha incorporating an emotional and subjective side as she tells the world about the farmers’ predicament. I am very pleased that the documentary is to be shown at 100 film festivals, the message about the biotechnology giant monsanto’s false advertisement needs to be addressed.

  5. Tiffany Ho, nga ting

     /  26/02/2012

    Genetically modified foods have the potential to solve many of the world’s malnutrition and hunger problem. Yet there are many challenges ahead for governments, especially in the areas of risk assessment for the environment, safety testing and international trade regulations. The documentary illustrates the failure of Indian government in the role of anticipating the feasibilities of international GM seeds in the domestic soil.

    When GM seeds/foods are traded internationally, the lack of specific international regulatory systems poses a threat to less developed countries. In countries like India, it is not surprise to see that India will decide that the benefits of GM foods would outweigh the risks because Indian agriculture has to adopt drastic measures to counteract the country’s endemic poverty and fed its exploding population. And this facilitates big corporations such as Monsanto to sell its products without strict method of research undertaken. It is a tragedy for those individual farmers but it brings out awareness to the world that we must carry on with caution to avoid causing unintended harm to human life and the environment as a result of this powerful technology.

  6. Alyssa Wang

     /  29/02/2012

    This comment is a little late, but I was sent the linked story today and was thinking about eating GMOs. Given the choice and unlimited amount of money to spend on groceries, I’d choose to eat organic non-GMOs. But realistically, I know it’s neither possible for me to eat organically all the time or non-GMOs all the time. I’m okay with the idea of eating crops that have been bolstered to be more photosynthesis-efficient, but not okay with the idea of eating tomatoes with fish genes in them. As for the blurry area in the middle… I’m not sure. And I think a part of that has to do with the fact that we don’t even know how the groceries we’re buying are being modified from the “original” states. Wishful thinking that in grocery stores, we could easily tell how “natural” the products are, and what modifications have been made…

  7. Paul Ryu Nagao

     /  02/03/2012

    If I may go back a few comments, Harald and Winnie both bring up the corrupt practices of Montesanto and have de-linked their business model with the potential good that can come from GMOs. Yes, there are still questions that remain on its unknown effects, such as biodiversity and environmental safety, but I believe that most of us can agree it has the potential (emphasis here) to increase food production. Thus, while I understand the ethical issues that Alyssa has brought up, I find it narrow-minded to attach a completely negative image to GMOs. It should be industries that practice exploitative business models, such as Montesanto, that have a negative image. Research and experiments should continue in order for us to have a better understanding of its effects.

    However, from a macro viewpoint, GMO is only one solution to the daunting question of feeding an exponentially growing population at a sustainable level. It may sound extremely insensitive, but the Bitter Seeds documentary only highlights one problem in the interlinked chain of energy, food, and water resources. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an issue that must be addressed, but I simply don’t want people to only focus on food as a problem by itself. Regardless, It was a great documentary, and as Bella said, I’m glad that it’s being widely promoted.

  8. To add to Paul’s point; GMO is but one of the problems facing Indian cotton producers. The Indian government has now banned all export of cotton to drive the price down for domestic manufacturers of textile. Story on the following link:

  9. Magan Haycock

     /  16/04/2012

    I agree that GMOs cannot be rightfully blamed if we look at the bigger picture.

    Ideally, we would all be consuming organic, fair trade and local products. This would support healthy and natural ways of farming with limited pesticides (and no unforeseen negative affects on our health or the environment in the future), products that are grown in ethically friendly conditions, and we would support local farmers.

    Realistically, to do this a large portion of the world’s populace would have to re-design their diets to exclude products simply not grown in their regions. For example, coming from Canada, I would stop eating tropical fruit and consuming coffee, chocolate, and tea. I know very few people that are likely to agree to this.

    Also, if we only consumed ethically-friendly products we would have to be prepared to pay a lot more for products that are widely known for using devastatingly cheap labor, and I’ll use the examples of chocolate, tea, and coffee once again. Again, I know few people that are willing to be 4USD for a chocolate bar, when they are accustomed to having it for $1.

    Also, restricting altering the genes of fruits and vegetables and seeing what the possibilities are could have consequences for scientific experiments and research. No, we do not truly know what the effects of GMOs are on our health or the environment. Neither do we know how we are going to provide for future generations if the rate of population continues, how we are going to reverse pollution and what we are going to do about global warming.

    GMOs cannot be stopped because arguments used against GMOS would not be successful in other fields either.


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