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Monsanto, Christa, and Me

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Last Sunday, I reread the Washington Post internet article "In My Twin Sister's Suicide, There Were Many Victims". Author Christa Parravani describes her identical twin's rape and subsequent death. Below the wintertime photo of two hooded girls was an ad for Monsanto. I stared in shock.

"Improving agriculture, improving lives", it said on the image of two happy farmers.

The ad sparked my anger. An estimated 250,000 Indian farmers who planted Monsanto cotton also took their own lives. Lower than expected crop yields, high farming costs, and skyrocketing debt resulted after planting Monsanto's genetically modified cotton.

Coincidentally, I had reread Christa's article on Sunday in hopes of tying a message (the ripple effect of suicide) to Monsanto's actions in Asia. While writing a paper on how Nepali farmers could adapt to climate change, I researched the company.   The US government had promoted Monsanto hard.   USAID pushed for their GMOs in Nepal and the State Department undermined democratic opposition overseas. Congress limited federal action over GMO safety concerns through the Monsanto Protection Act. Yet Monsanto's duplicitous marketing belied these truths, especially the huge -- if not record -- number of deaths linked to a product.    
by Alexis Baden-Mayer


Last week, I struggled to put it together for a friend. She immediately got the irony. "It's perfect," she said.

And so it was.


The web page presented not one but two stories to the informed reader. Overtly Christa's agonized reflection led to sharp insights that dismantled beliefs about the limited impact of sexual assault. But behind Monsanto's marketing lay violence as well.

Christa's accessible message was used to market a company whose actions led thousands to fatally poison themselves, just like her sister.  

Rural Indian farms seem to exist in a different world than Cara's American cities. But in both, once happy people were paralyzed by abject terror or quiet desperation that bound them in a straitjacket of hopelessness.

Survivor Christa "overcame" a struggle that nearly brought her to the same end as her twin, we would say. Yet victims' families would tell us we only believe little has changed when we wrap ourselves in the illusion that our loved one's passing erases their legacy.  

Christa finishes the article with what she will tell her toddler daughter. She will say for the one in three women who is assaulted, conservatively speaking, two loved or depended on her. Thus, all are harmed.  

That was the description of lasting impact I had sought for my paper.   The loss of 250,000 lives -- the same as in Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- is unfathomable. But a web of a million or more mothers, fathers, siblings, children and friends also saw their lives forever altered.

Suicides embody an urgent message for us, as we know. But when those final steps are taken by many -- rape victims, farmers, military veterans, and Guantanamo prisoners (if given that last freedom) -- we respond with an impotence unworthy of us.

Choose a value system: American ideals or Christian teaching. Reference the "pursuit of happiness" or serving the least among us. Visionary leaders of all stripes direct us to care for our most vulnerable.

We must look, with a clear and steady gaze, at the unbearable pain of so many today.

We must stop tolerating conditions of excessive debt, violent sexual abuse and other agonies that rob our fellow beings of their will to live.

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Veena Trehan is a DC-based journalist and activist. She has written for NPR, Reuters, Bloomberg News, and local papers.
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We must learn how to love ourselves and serve ours... by Cynthia Piano on Friday, May 24, 2013 at 3:42:05 PM