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by Pea Holmquist and Suzanne Khardalian, Directors
A Cinema Guild Release, NY, NY, 2005
DVD, VHS. 73 mins., col.
Sales: $225; rental: $85
Distributor’s website: http://www.cinemaguild.com.

Reviewed by Jonathan Zilberg


Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you have seen, and ask yourself, if the steps you contemplate are going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore to him control over his own life and destiny?
Mahatma Gandhi

Bullshit is an important film, despite its flaws in cinematographic terms, which are assumedly supposed to have an endearing populist effect. It is the story of Vandana Shiva’s energetic and creative struggle against the patenting of biodiversity, her quest to preserve and promote species diversity and thus food security, and her tireless work against multi-national corporations such as Monsanto. Above all, the documentary is a call to halt the mass suicides occurring amongst Indian farmers who have been trapped into debt through the failing promise of new supposedly high yielding, insect resistant genetically modified crops. According to the documentation in this film, instead of reducing poverty, these particular developments in agricultural biotechnology are having acutely adverse effects in India.

Vandana Shiva returns us to the continuing relevance of Shumacher’s Small is Beautiful. She walks with us in fields of gold, in the footsteps of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. This avatar keeps Gandhi’s grace and hope alive. In fact, if you were not an activist before, and if you do not work for neo-liberal causes and the likes of Monsanto or the WTO, the chances are that this film will compel you to become an eco-activist working for social justice. Certainly, if you have academic inclinations, you will be impelled to explore the ethical challenges of agricultural biotechnology in developing countries and take very seriously Shiva’s radical position that patenting the biodiversity of the Third World amounts to genetic colonialism. In fact, her highly cogent view is that the systematic abuse of patent law by multinationals constitutes bio-piracy, that is, the outright legalized theft of Third World resources and control of products derived from those resources. As she and other eco-activists believe, this is a part of the larger system of the continuing north-south extraction of wealth through international laws and trade barriers which enrich multi-nationals and the developed world while impoverishing the poor in the name of development.

Shiva is a convincing radical. Despite her critics’ puerile attempts to disparage her project, her argument is perfectly sensible, that biodiversity and local knowledge are inalienable common property. Her eloquent voice is the voice of the dispossessed American Indian, the voice that speaks for the stolen rights of indigenous peoples and the oppressed everywhere. The following excerpts lifted (but not modified) from her speeches in various contexts encapsulate the essence of her struggle. As she urges: "A seed grows on its own terms. It is the ultimate expression of freedom. Can you really patent a tree? Is the whole of creation for sale?" Always, her voice is clear and strong, and noble: "We have a vision. Life cannot be made subservient to money. Biodiversity and knowledge are common property. We need a world of no seed patenting. We will reclaim the earth. We will reclaim our food freedom." Though Shiva, and those encouraged to join the struggle both working in government and non-governmental agencies, are fighting seed by seed, patent by patent, what is needed is a Geneva Convention which prohibits the patenting biodiversity and thus annuls the original WTO TRIPS treaty which abrogated these rights.

Twenty thousand deaths in the afternoon in Indian groves — suicides all. What to do? Blame the victims? Condemn the widows and children? Bullshit. It reveals to us how the promoters of multi-national corporations, as well as the Indian government, prefer to ignore the problems of farmer’s suicides and the food security crisis and blame the victim instead. Yet with a perverse logic, critics accuse Vandana Shiva of perpetuating poverty through her struggle against globalization and particularly against GMO’s. Little wonder, Shiva’s rage when on the way to the WTO conference in Cancun she read on the plane that 650 farmers had committed suicide in one month in one district in India alone. Little wonder the outrage eco-activists feel when we witness the arrogance of officials explicitly stating that it is a simple fact of international law that corporations can patent seeds anywhere in the world.

Though Vandana Shiva does unfortunately have a Cro-Magnon attitude towards molecular biology, her point is that biodiversity and traditional knowledge concerning plant are inalienable common property. Indeed, the British Government’s Department for International Development’s Commission on Intellectual Property Rights issued a report in 2002 for the alteration of the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights WTO agreement. The report advises that genes, plants and seeds should be excluded from patentability.

In essence, Monsanto, according to Shiva, is impoverishing Indian farmers through a devious manipulation of science, industry and hope that promises insect resistant genetically modified crops - which nevertheless require the ample use of Monsanto herbicides. As far as we can see from this film, the miracle seeds are certainly miraculous in terms of creating wealth for Monsanto but are without doubt the death of the smallholder. Yet time and time again, the victim will be blamed. In this case the government says the farmers are responsible for failing to manage their loans, having squandered them on liquor and prostitutes and that the problem is a psychological one when in fact the crops repeatedly failed for multiple reasons. As Shiva relates, the facts of the matter is that the scale of farmer’s suicides correlates directly to the progressive globalization of the Indian economy. The documentation provided in the film is heartrending. It proves the link between Monsanto’s government-supported "services" and these deaths. What then of the promises of the neo-liberal proponents of globalization and the GMO miracle?

What more can be said than to return to Gandhi:

"Recall the faces of the wives and children left by those men who could not face tomorrow - the impossible debts owed for the failed new miracle seeds and pesticides. And ask yourself, is this biotechnology of any use to them now that they lie dead below the earth. Have their wives and children gained anything by it? Has it restored to them control over their lives and destiny?"



Updated 1st August 2007

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