Swallowing Bitter Seeds

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By Yann (Own work), Jan Satyagraha 2012The controversy surrounding the harm of genetically modified crops comes to a screeching halt when one considers the epidemic of farmer suicides caused by the introduction of genetically modified (GM) seeds in India. Some organizations including the American Medical Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the United States Institute of Medicine and National Research Council have made statements that no ill effects in the human population have been reported from currently marketed GM products. Suicide is a terrible effect, and an epidemic of suicides is a really horrific effect.

P1090025jjpBitter Seeds is the final documentary film in the Globalization Trilogy  by Micha X. Peled of Teddy Bear Films. The film follows a village farmer and his daughter through a season from sowing to harvest. Through their stories we see the on-the-ground reality of the implications of the insistence by the United States that the World Trade Organization demand India open its markets to GM seeds. Once farmers adopt GM seeds, and the accompanying required fertilizers and pesticides, they cannot reverse their decision and return to conventional farming. In this short interview with Micha X. Peled we hear about the cultural and political complexities of making the Trilogy and Bitter Seeds. The films offer us an opportunity to examine how our daily choices impact people all around the world. Award winning Bitter Seeds is deeply moving and the conversation with Micha inspiring.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, the Institute for Responsible Technology, and the American Academy of Environmental Medicine have made statements opposing the use of genetically modified foods and advocate for the employment of the precautionary principle. There is enough data from animal studies indicating that GM foods are associated with immune system dysfunction, asthma, allergies, infertility, altered lipid and carbohydrate metabolism, intestinal damage, and altered expression of genes responsible for cholesterol synthesis, cell signaling, protein synthesis, and insulin regulation. The strength of association in the animal studies is enough to infer causation when the criteria of consistency, specificity, biological gradient, and biological plausibility are applied.

Proponents for the use of GM foods claim no known human effects. Meanwhile we have a global epidemic of human asthma, allergies, infertility, diabetes, gluten intolerance, inflammatory bowel disease, hyperlipidemia, and disrupted cell signaling in the form of cancer. We can add the epidemic of farmer suicides in India to the list.

Supposedly, GM crops increase yield, yet the Union of Concerned Scientists reviewed several academic reviews on the topic and found that none of the several thousands of field trials conducted over the past 20 years have shown an increase in commercial food or feed crop yield. Any increases in yields were actually attributed to improvements in traditional breeding.

We can put all those debates aside when we consider that 17,000 farmers in India commit suicide every year, one every 30 minutes, because they bought the marketing of GM seeds. Because GM seeds grow into crops that do not naturally produce seeds, like normal healthy plants would, farmers are obliged to buy seeds every year, and the requisite chemicals that come as a package deal with the seeds. If the crops fail, or don’t offer the anticipated yield, well tough cookies, there’s no warranty on the seeds, and the farmer goes further into debt. Soon the debt becomes insurmountable and the only way the farmer sees out is to kill himself.

To add insult to this travesty, the poison most often being used by farmers to take their own lives is a highly toxic pesticide, monocrotophos, that the World Health Organization has been attempting to ban globally for at least a couple decades. Monocrotophos is on Pesticide Action Network’s list of highly hazardous pesticides that must be urgently banned worldwide.

Bitter Seeds also delves into how the dowry system is making matters worse. The cultural requirement that a

Wedding Procession- Bride Under a Canopy with Gifts. Circa 1800 India, West Bengal, Murshidabad, circa 1800 Drawings; watercolors Opaque watercolor on mica Gift of Miss Gertrude McCheyne (37.28.9) South and Southeast Asian Art

Wedding Procession- Bride Under a Canopy with Gifts.
India, West Bengal, Murshidabad, circa 1800

father pay a large dowry at the time of his daughter’s marriage contributes to the financial burden families who follow this custom face. A woman’s dowry is generally her only inheritance from her parents and thereby should in fact be commensurate with what her brothers are likely to inherit in the future. The dowry is meant to remain in her name and under the sole control of the daughter. However, this aspect of the custom has not been preserved. And thus, the groom and his family have become more brazen in their demands for larger dowries to accompany the brides. Asking for dowry as been illegal in India since 1961. The Hindu Succession Amendment Act of 2005 gave daughters an equal right to equal inheritance as sons. As in many parts of the world, customs often trump laws. Bitter Seeds depicts the poisonous influence of the distortion of the cultural custom of dowry, and how it intensifies the farmer’s decision to take his own life.

Beyond Holistic will be screening Bitter Seeds on 6 Dec 2014 at 1p at 150 University Hall in Berkeley, California as part of the series of events, “We All Live in Bhopal”, commemorating the 30 years of the Union Carbide Gas Disaster in Bhopal. For the full schedule of events visit the Beyond Holistic website.



Episode: Guest Bios & Individual Clips

Micha X. Peled
Micha X. Peled is a filmmaker based in San Francisco. He's been making films since the 1980s. He founded Teddy Bear Films, a non-profit organization, in 1999 when he was about to start a documentary about Wal-Mart. He was concerned that the corporation might sue him. If they did, he wanted the headlines to read "Wal-Mart sues Teddy Bear". His extensive and impressive bio can be found at http://teddybearfilms.com/about/

Listen to "Bitter Seeds"