First, I want to say how much I appreciate the opportunity to write in this magazine about food. I have learned so much during my research and have been encouraged by positive feedback. Sometimes it may seem like I am on a bit of a rant, and to that, I plead guilty.
That is because I am both sad and angry at the state of modern agriculture today. Never before has agriculture become a David and Goliath war zone, where the conscientious farmer is pitted against a powerful company that dictates what seeds to plant and what chemicals to use. The planting of GMO (genetically modified organisms) food crops has been likened to letting the genie out of the bottle, because this practice threatens to contaminate all life forms with new, untested and potentially dangerous genetic material.
Although there are several companies producing GMO seed, Monsanto controls 90% of the industry. In the beginning years of GMOs, many European farmers rejected them, after learning how respected scientist Arpad Pusztai had studied rats fed genetically engineered potatoes, and found disturbing evidence regarding GMO safety. In an interview on television, he said that more safety research was required, and that “If you gave me the choice now, I wouldn’t eat it”, and also that it was “very, very unfair to use our fellow citizens as guinea pigs”. He was suspended after decades of conscientious service as a geneticist, and his contract not renewed.
Big Biotech suddenly had a significant public relations problem, and intentionally made sure that Pusztai’s story did not reach North Americans. They found scientists (perhaps paid?) to assure us of the safety of GMOs, even though no one really knew because they were a new thing. The last hurdle was to get regulatory agencies to give the green light. The whole process was rife with corruption, as described in the powerful 2008 documentary, The World According to Monsanto. These agencies allowed GMOs into our food supply by describing them as “substantially equivalent” to their original counterpart. Is this not an abuse of language? How can tampering with a plant’s DNA be equal to anything natural?
Now, hundreds of millions of acres of land are planted in GMOs. Initially in the US, farmers were convinced by Monsanto and other biotech companies that making the switch to GMO seed would increase crop yields, decrease chemicals needed to grow them and that overall costs to farmers would decrease. Now, farmers are revealing that all of this was a lie, because the opposite is true. After critical masses of farmers were hooked on GMOs, Monsanto began to raise prices. Imagine you used to pay $100 for a bag of corn, and in only two years, that same bag costs $300! Monsanto also began to buy up seed companies! They even took over control of the ability of these farmers to mix their own chemicals and save their own non-GM seed, with the end result being a widespread loss of agricultural freedom among American farmers. Now, most farmers have little choice but to continue planting GM crops. However, some courageous farmers are attempting to sue Monsanto.
Perhaps you have heard that 250,000 poor subsistence farmers in India have committed suicide because they planted GMO seed (mainly Bt cotton) that did not yield as promised. The land and water supply were degraded, they could not pay for more seed, nor feed their family. Under threat of losing their land, they drink the poison insecticide to escape this form of hell, only to leave wives and families to grieve and continue the struggle to feed themselves.
Such extreme human suffering, and the environmental degradation that accompanies it, is a direct result of huge multinational corporations that have no loyalty to any country or society. They appear to have no interest in helping make the world a better place, despite the oft heard expression that GMO crops are the way to ‘feed the world’.
On the contrary, GMO crops very often fail to increase yield, but do increase, not decrease as promised, the use of chemicals (thus farmers are paying more) and which ultimately results in the creation of ‘superweeds’ on which the herbicide chemicals fail. Non-GMO farmers must even pay royalty fees if any GMO patented seeds are found in their crop regardless of how they got there, and, even if they don’t know they are there. It is a shameful picture, and this is how those who feed us are being treated!
The Big Biotech spin about ‘feeding the world’ sounds and feels more and more like propaganda, telling us what we want to hear. But many of us are acknowledging it is time to take our heads out of the sand and educate ourselves. We are being humbled by seeing the consequences of human arrogance, of playing god with the natural world. We are becoming increasingly more aware that small-scale sustainable farming is the real way to feed the world.
When the going gets tough, it is worth remembering the powerful message of the eloquent serenity prayer: ‘Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.’
It will take some kind of miracle to undo the damage to the environment caused by GMO food crops. While we continue to pray for that miracle, there are things we can do.
We can avoid eating GMO foods. Since it is not mandatory to label a GMO food ingredient here in North America, avoid foods that contain soy, corn and canola, because unless they are organic, they probably contain GMOs. This also applies to foods at health food stores. Serious health conscious eaters learn to always read labels.
Know that an extensive body of evidence does exist linking GMO foods to disease, especially the book Genetic Roulette by Jeffrey Smith. You can hear and see him talk online. Or read Seeds of Deception, his telling of how GMOs were allowed into our food system.
Learn about the sugar we eat. There is a highly processed sugar made from GMO corn, called High Fructose Corn Syrup, or HFCS. It is not and never will be, a healthy and nutritious sugar. Unfortunately, many food items containing sugar do not list the type of sugar used; if so, use your discrimination. Mostly likely, the sugar used is HFCS. Think to yourself, does this product, such as peanut butter, really need sugar in it? Even some sugar beets are now GMO.
Support small-scale subsistence farmers who are principled and who have chosen to take care of the land. These people are our real heroes now, for they are working to feed us with authentic food. Think of the Law of Supply and Demand. The more we demand high quality food, more farmers will choose to grow it. Help protect traditional knowledge.
Advocate for your city or municipality to be a GMO free zone. Recently, the city council of Richmond BC just passed such a resolution. Although it cannot be legally enforced, it is a statement of intent and I see it as a soulful symbol of resistance to tyranny.
Be part of any campaign to stop Monsanto. There are several places online to get involved, including: Millions Against Monsanto, and Occupy Monsanto. Both of these groups are working to get one million signatures for GMO labelling of foods, and are joining forces to protest across the US the week of Sept. 17th, 2012.
GE Free BC is a coalition of groups and individuals across BC and the Yukom – gefreebc.wordpress.com
Organic Bytes newsletter which has a readership of over 250,000, and is a good way to keep up with efforts focused on issues involving health, justice and sustainability.
If you can, donate to farmers suing Monsanto. Hundreds of farmers have been sued by Monsanto, with many settling out of court. In this way, Monsanto has created an atmosphere of fear in rural North America and has driven dozens of farmers into bankruptcy, and sometimes even off their land.
California residents will have the opportunity in November to demand mandatory labeling of foods with GMO ingredients. And Poland has banned GMO maize, the first country to formally acknowledge the link between Monsanto’s GMO corn and Colony Collapse Disorder that has been devastating bees around the world.
If you need some inspiration, listen to Vandana Shiva speak about the issue of seed –how she started her organization Navdanya in India to save biodiversity and the richness of nature, and also to defend the freedom of farmers to save their own seed, as they have done since the beginning of agriculture. Or plug in the words ‘Vandana on Monsanto’ into your search engine. She is strong and clear about the need to stand up to bullies: “The GM model of farming undermines farmers trying to farm ecologically. Co-existence between GMO and conventional crops is not possible because genetic pollution and contamination of conventional crops is impossible to control. …GM companies have put a noose around the neck of farmers. They are destroying alternatives in the pursuit of profit”.
The world is so interconnected. We really are the ones we have been waiting for, and we are here, alive right now, to do our part. n
Tsiporah Grignon is a Gabriolan of 38 years, and considers herself “an old foodie”. She is a keen observer of our times, through looking at geo-politics, and through her study of Evolutionary Astrology, which offers in-depth insights into our potential as compassionate human beings.