Prince Charles was deeply moved when he learned of the plight of Indian farmers killing themselves following their use of genetically modified (GM) seeds, but it has now been found the problem is far worse than anyone thought.
Genetically modified foods, touted as the salvation of food supply, have instead destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of people across the world, many in under-developed countries, media reports have found. These people live in fear and poverty each day. Unable to care for their families, some simply kill themselves because there is no future, no hope for another day.
The Daily Mail describes the anguish of these farmers. It tells of a prosperous and respected farmer who killed himself because he and his family could no longer survive in a system where there was no way to earn a living. The article describes how Shankara Mandaukar , as his family and neighbors stood around, drank a cup of chemical pesticide, then died in agony on the ground.
The description of this event tells us poignantly, in deeply moving detail: “As neighbours gathered to pray outside the family home, Nirmala Mandaukar, 50, told how she rushed back from the fields to find her husband dead. 'He was a loving and caring man,' she said, weeping quietly.
'But he couldn't take any more. The mental anguish was too much. We have lost everything.'
Shankara's crop had failed - twice. Of course, famine and pestilence are part of India's ancient story.
But the death of this respected farmer has been blamed on something far more modern and sinister: genetically modified crops.”
Prince Charles, touched by the plight of families in India like those of Shankura, set up Bhumi Vardaan Foundation, as a charitable group to help these “suicide” farmers. 125,000 farmers have killed themselves became of GM seeds and the practices of the companies that make them.
Shankura had been promised prosperity if he used GM seeds, but when his harvest failed the money he had borrowed to buy the seeds was gone; and he was left with debts. His family is now left without a father and with a future compromised by poverty and grief.
It is reported more than 1,000 farmers commit suicide each month, most in the painful death Shankura suffered, by swallowing an insecticide the GM folks had told them they would not need when they were manipulated into growing GM crops.
Monsanto has been highlighted as one of the worst offenders in the GM industry. Its website extols the benefits of genetically modified seeds. These seeds are said to rescue farmers and provide them prosperity, on a website showing pictures, videos and telling success stories of enticement to sell the idea of how these seeds are the answer to farmers’ successes.
In the United States, Monsanto has what they call America’s Farmers Grow communities. It describes the program as one where “farmers the opportunity to register to win $2,500 for their favorite community charity.” This is the way the company says it calls attention to farmers by allowing them an opportunity to donate to a charity. But given India’s example, it may be the farmers themselves seeking charitable help, given the track record of GM seeds.
In 2008, the magazine Vanity Fair had a feature entitled “Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear.” It tells of a storekeeper in Eagleville, Missouri named Gary Rinehart who was threatened by a Monsanto agent, accused of violating the company patents somehow. But Rinehart wasn’t a grower. He simply sold the seeds. Nevertheless, Monsanto is described as a “Gestapo” type organization that intimidates and threatens farmers to maintain control of the industry.
How genetically modified seeds came into being is detailed by Vanity Fair. It reviews initially the ancient and traditional farming practice of planting and harvesting crops , with seeds being reclaimed and cleaned over the winter to be used for replanting the following season.
What Monsanto did was to develop seeds that would resist its own herbicide, Roundup, so the seeds could be planted with the weed killer negatively affecting crops. They then patented the seeds. Seeds had never been patented before, but in 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court set the foundation for corporations to gain control of the world’s food supply in a five-to-four decision that turned seeds into “widgets, by accepting these genetically modified creations weren’t seeds but that something else that could be patented..” From this developed what Vanity Fair goes on to describe as that “harvest of fear”as corporations, like Monsanto, took control of the seed supply, dominating the farming industry. If Monsanto seeds happen to blow onto an adjacent farmer’s land from other acreage, that farmer is visited by their “Gestapo” agents.
The problems taking place in the United States are also reported in Canada and other countries as well. According to an organic farmers organization, threats against farmers have occurred in Canada. It explains how farmers are threatened with lawsuits when seeds are blown by air onto farmlands not purchasing GM seeds. Monsanto agents arrive and threaten these farmers, accusing them of using these GM seeds without paying certain fees. This is seen as a form of coercion to get farmers to pay for and use GM seeds. And frequently these farmers report these seeds fail to produce the promised crops.
Those who have tried to stand up to Monsanto have found themselves in complicated lawsuits, like Whole Foods was involved in its efforts to prevent GM seeds from contaminating organic farms. A dispute over what constitutes organic caused Whole Foods to back down and end its lawsuit, allowing Monsanto to continue its advances in taking over how and what we eat in the coming years.
Corporate Watch spoke with Monsanto’s CEO Hendrik Verfaillie before he ended his management career with the company. In an interview in 2001 Verfaillie outlined the company's expansion plans, specifically to some of the under-developed countries like India.