Recently I had the honour of attending a special convocation to honour the work of Dr. Vandana Shiva, seed-saving activist and advocate for sustainable farming. She was awarded an Honorary Degree at the University of Victoria, in a packed hall of hundreds of admirers who gave her three standing ovations.
The program biography reads as follows: ‘Dr. Vandana Shiva is a physicist, eco-feminist, philosopher, activist and author who has almost singlehandedly changed the way the world thinks about environmental sustainability and food security.’
In this light, many of us know her as a passionate spokesperson about the threat to our food supply by GMO crops. We have seen her be a fierce woman-warrior standing up to bullies versed in the biotechnology rhetoric that GMOs are the way to feed the world. I trust her motivations and her extensive knowledge as an academic scholar, teaching us, reminding us, that the fundamental link in our food supply is the humble seed. To this end, she is a down-to-earth activist who has organized communities in her native India since 1987 to save seed. She knows first hand the results of GMO crops in India—in her words, the GM emperor has no clothes. Since the introduction of Monsanto’s GMO Bt cotton there, the price of its seed jumped 8,000%, while cotton production decreased by 40%. These extreme numbers help explain the farmer suicide epidemic in India that now numbers 275,000—because of crop failures and the insane debt trap of poor farmers forced to buy expensive seed every year from a seed monopoly. Monsanto profits grow as farmers’ debt grows.
I do not trust GMO proponents who appeared on the popular Dr. Oz television show, broadcast in 118 countries, in October 2012. I could barely contain my incredulity at the words spoken by both GMO advocates. Dr. Pamela Ronald, Professor of Plant Pathology and Chair of the Plant Genomics Program at the University of California, insisted that GMO foods use “the best farming practices and best science”. Plant geneticist Martina Newell-McGloughlin, who directs the Biotechnology Research and Education Program at all 10 University of California campuses, claimed that GMO agriculture is ‘the most sustainable productive system you can find out there’. I wonder about her definition of ‘sustainable’.
How is agriculture sustainable if a farmer must buy seed every year, as required by those farmers who plant Monsanto’s GMO seed? And what is sustainable about environmental degradation of water sources and topsoil caused by poisonous chemicals and genetically altered seed? Perhaps ‘sustainable’ means sustaining the biotech companies!
In her lecture, Dr. Shiva provided the big picture. Food is seen as just another commodity, to be produced for profit. Health or ecological balance hardly matters. We learned that five companies control 75% of the world’s seeds, a situation that threatens our fundamental freedoms. One company, Monsanto, produces 90% of GMO seed, the same company that brought us Agent Orange, PCBs, dioxins, and rBGH (bovine growth hormone)—all poisons. And good reasons not to trust Monsanto with the future of our food supply!
To hook farmers into buying their GMO seed, Monsanto persuaded farmers that its seed would decrease use of pesticides. However Dr. Michael Hansen, ecologist and Senior Researcher for Consumer Reports Magazine, told us on the same Dr. Oz show, that GMO crops have actually increased use of pesticides by 330 million pounds!
Big Biotech also promised increased crop yields. But after a few years of using ‘Roundup Ready’ seed (Monsanto seed with herbicide inside that would resist Monsanto’s Roundup brand herbicide) farmers noticed a decline in soil productivity and thus decreased yields. This is because glyphosate, the ingredient in Roundup that kills weeds and pests, weakens the plant by depriving it of vital minerals, and suppresses the plant’s immune system by killing beneficial soil bacteria. Conclusions from emeritus professor of plant pathology at Purdue University, Don Huber, who has studied glyphosate for over 20 years, show more plant diseases from glyphosate use because it stimulates the virulence of pathogens that kill plants.
And how has nature responded to the use of Roundup? Wherever it was used, the weakened plant must now compete with resistant strains of superweeds! Farmers have responded by doing ‘burndowns’ to try to kill the superweeds – several times a year they saturate their land with chemicals even stronger than Round-up, such as the deadly chemical Paraquat, banned in 32 countries, and Agent Orange, the famous defoliant used during the Vietnam war. Do you want these poisons in your food and in the soil that grows your food? Is it not absurd to refer to GMO agriculture as ‘sustainable’ or using the ‘best farming practices’?
Logic and common sense will help us discern fact from fiction. For example, Dr. Oz pointed out that several European countries have banned GMOs from being grown within their borders. But still, his guest Dr. Ronald claimed a worldwide consensus among scientists that GMOs pose no health risk to humans! Doesn’t this European ban indicate that some scientists have grave concerns that GMOs do pose health risks? She also stated that GMO technology is a ‘precise process’. I have read Seeds of Deception by researcher Jeffrey Smith, another guest on the same show, and I recall his description of how imprecise GMO technology is. Although not a scientist himself, Smith interviewed many scientists for his second book on GMOs, Genetic Roulette, who provided extensive scientific evidence on 65 adverse effects of GMO technology. Yet Dr. Ronald wants us to trust her statement that there hasn’t been ‘a single instance of harm to human health or to the environment from using GMO crops.’
While we were honouring Dr. Shiva, Monsanto was rejoicing from the previous day’s victory, when President Obama signed into law HR993, being called the Monsanto Protection Clause. It provides total immunity to Monsanto and other biotechnology companies from being prosecuted regardless of any adverse effects on our health their products may have. No safety reviews or environmental assessments can be done. No court can rule against the planting of GMO crops! In the words of Vandana Shiva, this new law signifies ‘the emergence of food fascism’.
GMO, she said, stands for God Move Over. For GMOs are an artificial creation—the plant’s DNA has been altered. Yet Monsanto’s Mission Statement reads: ‘There is no need for, or value in testing the safety of GM food in humans. So long as the introduced protein is determined safe, food from GM crops determined to be substantially equivalent is not expected to pose health risks.’ Monsanto seems to be saying: we know all there is to know, and WE are the ones doing the ‘determining’. Furthermore, Monsanto’s principle of ‘substantial equivalence’ makes no sense, since genes have been ‘modified’, and therefore are not equivalent to the original plant.
During her lecture, I was especially galvanized when Dr. Shiva said we are slaves if we continue the ‘superstition’ of obeying unjust laws, and that we owe it to the ‘richness of diversity, and integrity of the seed’ to ‘obey a higher law, to protect the rights of future generations’. It was the WTO (World Trade Organization) that globalized and imposed laws to enable companies to actually own seed. To help us change some of these unjust laws, she mentioned using an international instrument called the Biological Safety Protocol.
She reminded us that food security is too basic an issue to not be part of the solution. In an academic setting, Dr. Shiva urged those who study at universities to focus on deconstructing the myths surrounding cheap food—to instead nurture Food Security to give us our future.
The messages are dire. Our food supply has been poisoned, and the perpetrators have legal protection. We have to think about the big picture. Dr. Oz himself has recently come under fire for recommending red palm oil because of its ‘incomparable, powerful nutritional virtues’, while failing to mention that rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia are devastated to make way for palm oil plantations. I suggest to read about these issues. Researchers and writers tell us that GMOs were allowed into our food supply through corruption and lies. Do an internet search of Jeffrey Smith and Vandana Shiva, and hear them talk.
This knowledge is necessary to give rise to people power. We know that experts and politicians can be bought, and that seekers of profit are irresponsible when they deceive us. Recently, successful people power aided through the alternative media forced Whole Foods to announce it would require GMO labels on all products by 2018, in response to being challenged about large letters outside their store advertising ‘Nothing artificial, ever’ while carrying many products with very unnatural GMO ingredients.
Every time we eat, it’s another opportunity to nourish the body. Mother Nature generously gave us the humble seed, which until recently, has been part of the Commons—her heritage and gift for all of us. May we always be grateful to centuries of farmers saving seed from year to year. 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.