Behind the Label

India's blood stained cotton industry

Behind the Label Around 270,000 Indian cotton farmers have comitted suicide. Why? India has replaced almost all its native varieties of cotton with genetically modified plants. The price of cotton seed has soared from 9 rupees a kilo to a staggering 4,000. We ask growers and seed developer Monsanto if the trade is fair, in a film that cuts to the ugly heart of another staggering tale of GM being forced onto third world markets. A devastating tale of corporate greed.
India is the world's second largest producer, one of the largest consumers and one of the largest producers of organic cotton. Rural life revolves around it. Barefoot farmers plough their cotton fields. Traditional handlooms work the yarn - weavers working for wages their children would never accept. When the cotton is "sized" huge swathes of fabric run through the village.
Since 2002 India has replaced almost all its native varieties with genetically modified seeds - known as BT cotton - containing toxins that destroy pests. The price of cotton seed has soared from 9 rupees a kilo to a staggering 4,000. The cotton farmer's life is a hard one; they treat their crops "like children," since wildlife may destroy them and "man is so dependent on money." Children toil in the fields for less than $2 a day.

Monsanto says farmers buy seeds developed with its technology as they have confidence in their yields. But Greenpeace claims GM farmers get into 80% more debt. Farmers blame suppliers when their seed turns out to be sterile: "Everything they said was a lie." Experts examine plants and fail to find male/female parts to them. Monsanto denies its seeds carry a "Terminator" gene but Tiruvadi Jagadisan - former head of Monsanto India - alleges they do: "Introducing genetically modified seeds is murder!"

In response to a lack of choice seed banks are springing up. Ram Kalaspurkar was a farmer and engineer and fears the monolithic advance of GM in India: "First they ruined cotton, rice was next. They want to take our food chain into their hands". When several thousand cattle died after eating cotton plants, their intestines were found to be "shrivelled". Molecular biologist Pushpa Bhargava believes the GM toxin killed them, "but nobody wants to do the experiments".

Organic cotton is an alternative, as it preserves the "biosphere" and protects wildlife. Organic farmers maintain contact with nature. Organic may offer more incentives to farmers says cotton buyer Mani Chinnaswamy: "Organic is you feed yourself first, then go out and feed the world".

Over the past 15 years hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers have killed themselves in desperation, many drinking pesticide. Bereaved families struggle to cope. Yet cotton continues to be paraded on catwalks without reference to the pain felt by many of its producers. It's up to consumers worldwide to buy fair trade: "then the whole world changes".


The Producers

Barbara Ceschi - Born in Vicenza in 1958 - has achieved linguistic Baccalaureate and a following degree in Art History at Christie's Fine Arts Course in London. A citizen of the world, after graduation she moved to London, then New York and Rome where she worked on film production for several years. She moved then to Milano to work in advertising and fashion. From the birth of her children she made ​a difficult working choice and takes the pledge to safeguard the environment in the broadest sense of the word. She moved to Tuscany where she acquired significant expertise in the areas of agronomy, dealing with research and development within the EU over the chain of agro-fiber crops.

A native of Milan, Sebastiano Tecchio has studied film in Italy and the U.S. Since 1995 he has been working in Rome, as screenwriter, editor and director of documentary films. Tecchio is the director of Behind the Label, his most recent documentary. He is also a photographer, a film critic and a teacher of film language. He presently divides his time between Rome and New York.

Making The Film

Behind the label is a journey through India, in search of the hidden world that lies between the folds of cotton - the most used textile fibre in the world. But it also presents a globalization process from the perspective of those who have no access to information or privileges of any kind.

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