Our Right to Real Food

Many of you may have been following the GMO stories in the news since last month – the deregulation of GMOs and the push to get GMO alfalfa and sugar beets into the ground for spring planting.

After signing petitions, writing to the president and my two Oregon senators, I held on to a thread of hope that this wouldn’t happen. But the truth was, it had been set in motion long before it came to my attention and my efforts (and those of so many others) seemed to be in vain.

I feel despair over this decision. Again and again, I feel our government operates only for profit. Only to benefit big business. Only to protect the flow of money.

They argue that GMOs are safe, that they will not contaminate the rest of the food system and that GMOs protect middle and lower class families by providing affordable food.

Here’s what geneticist David Suzuki has to say about safety:

I’m a geneticist. What bothers me is we have governments that are supposed to be looking out for our health, for the safety of our environment, and they’re acting like cheerleaders for this technology, which… is in its infancy and we have no idea what the technology is going to do.

…At the cutting edge of scientific research, most of our ideas are far from the mark – wrong, in need of revision, or irrelevant. That’s not a derogation of science; it’s the way science advances. We take a set of observations or data, set up a hypothesis that makes sense of them, and then we test the hypothesis. The new insights and techniques we gain from this process are interpreted tentatively and liable to change, so any rush to apply them strikes me as downright dangerous.

Here’s what the Associated Press has to say about contamination:

None of [the preventative measures proposed by the government or the USDA] will be enough to prevent contamination, said Jeff Wolt, an agronomist with Iowa State University’s Seed Science Center.

“Some degree of cross-pollination will occur regardless of what mechanism is going to be put in place,” he predicted.

…Unmodified corn, soybeans, canola and rice all suffered contamination after genetically engineered varieties were introduced, said Kristina Hubbard, director of advocacy for the Organic Seed Alliance in Washington. She said measures to protect unmodified and organic crops should have been in place before genetically engineered alfalfa was deregulated.

“It seems backward to initiate those measures after the decision has been made,” Hubbard said.

As for the cost of food – we are a nation that has consistently chosen cheap over healthy for years, if not decades. We buy foods in boxes, foods made in laboratories, foods colored with dyes and enhanced with chemical flavorings because they are cheap and fast. Yet studies have proven again and again that the SAD (Standard American Diet) makes people sick and is more expensive in the long run than just eating real foods. So bringing genetically altered alfalfa and sugar beets into our food system may keep things just as cheap as ever, but it certainly will do nothing to enhance our health, and may be downright detrimental to the health of the earth (which ultimately affects us all).

It seems crazy to me that one company (Monsanto) is being allowed to infiltrate and dominate our entire food system. Now that statement may sound ridiculous, but that is the reality we are now facing. There are no measures being taken yet to prevent the cross-pollination of GMOs into standard or organic crops. And can we honestly believe that we humans can control the effects of pollination over 21 million acres, across our vast country? Can we control the wind, the bees, the forces of nature? That answer has consistently, since the beginning of time, been a big, fat, resounding NO!

Dan Charles for NPR

We have already seen GMOs infiltrate standard and organic American cash crops. According to The Organic and Non-GMO Report, “GM varieties all but eliminated the organic canola market.” Organic farmers just across the mountains from me in the Willamette Valley are already having to stake their crop claims in order to build boundaries between GMO and organic farms in the hopes to prevent cross-pollination. Many are worried about losing business, because we are all smart enough to know that it is not possible to prevent cross-pollination. The organic dairy industry is also poised to receive a huge hit from this, as alfalfa is a staple in their animal feed. Eventually – and soon – we will have to redefine the standards of the organic industry, because every level of our food chain will have been contaminated with GMOs. There won’t be any more non-GMO organic dairy.

And the floodgates are open now, wider than ever before. Our biggest cash crops are now GMOs. Watch out for the GMO sugar beets that are being planted as we speak. What else is to come in a largely deregulated industry? The rest of our produce? Can we say with certainty that anything will be left untainted as we plow ahead into GMO territory?

We cannot forget the other consequences, either. These GMOs were created to withstand pesticides and herbicides, which means more freedom to use them liberally. Sure, this makes things cheaper and easier for the agribusinesses, but what do those chemicals do to our earth, as we pour more and more into the soil? What will they do to our bodies as we ingest what was poured over the crops?

Image credit: The Non-GMO Project

Further, we have done something with no thought to the consequences it may bring to our neighbors to the north and south. Being as we cannot control cross-pollination between GMOs and regular crops, we certainly can’t pretend that this issue will miraculously remain inside our own borders. This is something that can – and probably will – eventually affect Canada’s and Mexico’s agriculture, as well.

In America, we prize our individual rights. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms… But what about the freedom – the right - to choose what we consume? A decision like this has such far-reaching consequences that it essentially eliminates our ability to choose what we want to eat. Of course, there is no constitutional amendment stating anything about the right to eat real food,  or the food of our choosing. I’m sure our forefathers never saw this one coming – never saw a need to protect the citizens of the United States from an agri-monopoly with so much money that it could steamroll over every citizen of our country on its hellbent journey to harvest fields where the crops blossom into hundred dollar bills.

So once again, we are at the mercy of a government that chooses profits over people. A government that accepts the risk of destroying our Gulf Coast because of its reluctance to turn its back on oil-based energy sources. A government that ignores the protests of hundreds of thousands of citizens who want MORE regulations on GMOs – not less. A government that makes a choice that will alter the entire agricultural system of our country and affect every one of us. A government that does not protect our health, our food, our small, struggling farmers.

I often wonder why these things continue to happen. Do enough people notice? Do enough people care? If millions of us protested, would it even make a difference? I don’t know. I can only hope that if we put enough of our collective energy forward, eventually, something will shift. So if you have written to your senators, to the president…write again. Keep trying. If you don’t write to them, please do so now. It is so easy and can all be done online here and here.

Maybe the government and some people will think it is too much for us to ask for an amendment to the constitution. Too much to ask for the inalienable right to choose real food (food not contaminated with GMOs, for instance) for ourselves and our families. But it is a new time now – a world of technological advances that could not have been fathomed 200 years ago. So things need to change. And the only way to make change is to fight for it.

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4 thoughts on “Our Right to Real Food

  1. this is a fantastic post Yancy. I agree 100%. Monsanto has already sued many a Manitoban farmer for cross contamination (well- that they sold their crop after it was contaminated with GMO and didn’t pay Monsanto… even though it was Monsanto that contaminated their crop).

    David Suzuki rocks- and he’s right. I love how he points out that nature doesn’t understand country, state, province or continent boundaries. Pollen will go where it very well pleases- wind will blow through the states to Canada and across the globe. A decision made in one country DOES affect us all.

    All we can do is speak out. Thank you!!

    • @EcoYogini: I thought of you when I added the Suzuki quote. He is truly amazing.

      And that bit about the Manitoban farmers infuriates me. Just infuriates me! This has to stop!

  2. This makes me so sad. If only Americans were willing to pay more for quality food. I think so many would rather have more “stuff” so they want to cut back on their food bills, and will gratefully accept these cheap imitations. I think materialism definitely has a part in this.

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