AGRICULTURE AND FOOD RIGHTS
WHAT IS IT AND WHAT’S WRONG WITH IT?
"We are what we eat."
A key issue in food rights: “Genetically Modified Organisms” (GMOs). GMOs are plants or animals, whose DNA has been genetically altered with DNA from bacteria, viruses, or other plants or animals. Environmentalists believe GMOs are not safe to eat and should be studied further before being sold to the general public. Many believe that genetically modified food should be labeled. Currently, in the U.S., they are not, so anything you eat that isn't 100% "organic" may be genetically modified. There are many health concerns associated with GMO foods, including obesity and decreased fertility. Most of Europe bans GMO seeds. Environmentalists believe GMOs should be banned worldwide.
Farmers’ rights are a big environmental justice problem. One way in which small farmers are adversely affected is by big farmers’ use of GMO seeds, pesticides, and other harmful agricultural practices. If GMO seeds unintentionally end up on farmer’s soil and he/she did not pay for the GMO seed use, then the seed patent holder has the right to sue the farmer for not paying the licensing fee. Thus, large corporations holding the seed patents drive smaller farmers who cannot afford these lawsuits out of business. In many instances, as the food rights leader Vandana Shiva points out, many small farmers in locations such as India, cannot afford to buy GMO seeds (nor do they want them).
In other instances, the practice of land expropriation by the governments of many nations harms farmers by forcing them to abandon their properties, as can be seen now in China. The leaders of many countries seize farmland in an attempt to drive citizens toward city centers so former farmland may be used to the government’s economic gain, be it through resource extraction or industrial development. As a result of such stressors on farmers, massive suicides have occurred among indigenous farmers in places like India and China where many farmers lose everything and cannot feed their families anymore. Food sovereignty, then, is an environmental justice issue. Large agricultural corporations and corrupt governments can easily put small farms and family farms out of business or deny them the right to use their land for subsistence purposes.
THE “INDUSTRIAL CROP”- MONO-CROPPING, CHEMICALS, PESTICIDES, POLLUTANTS:
One characteristic of an “industrial crop” is mono-cropping. In a monoculture, farmers grow only one kind of crop; these are usually soy, wheat or corn. The U.S. government subsidizes these crops and therefore makes it easier for corporate and other farmers to produce this one single crop. However, monocultures deplete the vitality of the soil and leads to the need for increased use of pesticides.
The concentration of chemical fertilizers and pesticides found in our food, water, and soil remains one of the biggest problems that we face today. Environmentalists believe that all food should be organically produced whenever possible, while industrial farms douse their crops with poisons to keep away “pests” like insects and herbivorous mammals and birds. According to the Ecofeminist activist Vandana Shiva, agricultural production should be chemical and pesticide free, and should be locally produced, sold and eaten. When big corporations use deadly pesticides to spray their crops, and those pesticides run-off and contaminate water supplies used for drinking or irrigation, or if the chemicals are unintentionally sprayed on a neighboring farmer’s crops, human and environmental health are put in jeopardy. In addition, when food is shipped worldwide, this contributes to CO2 production and global warming.
Agriculture is the world’s number-one consumer of fresh-water, sucking up approximately 70% of fresh water sources worldwide each year. This places enormous strain on Earth’s already depleted surface and groundwater sources. Big farmers’ leaky irrigation systems and poor farming practices waste a lot of water. It is estimated that only a small fraction of farmers worldwide use efficient “micro-irrigation” systems.
WHAT’S BEEN DONE?
A world leader on food issues: Vandana Shiva. We recommend her sites and all of her many important books. For more on Shiva, go to her site: http://www.navdanya.org/
50 countries all over the world, including Germany, Spain, Japan, Australia, and Brazil have significant restrictions or bans on GMO foods and crops. Currently, the United States does not have any bans on GMOs, though many American states are considering legislation that would require the labeling of GMOs. Connecticut and Maine passed GMO labeling legislation in early 2013, but those laws will not take effect until more neighboring states pass similar measures; places like Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York. According to the US Center for Food Safety, approximately half of all US states have labeling bills in their statehouses at this time.
Fortunately, some companies have taken the initiative to get their food Non-GMO certified, by the Non-GMO Project. Non-GMO Project is an American non-profit organization that serves as the country’s only third party verification and labeling source for non-GMO foods and products. Many high-quality food producers have found it beneficial to label their foods, sending a clear message of environmental care and health-consciousness to their consumers. Find verified Non-GMO foods and products here.
Coalitions and unions of small farmers dedicated to bringing quality food products to consumers via more environmentally friendly farming practices are forming and finding support. Grain is one such organization; an international non-profit that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems. Such groups adhere to a standard of Farmers’ Rights to protect the maintenance of crop biodiversity, which is essential for healthy food and agricultural production. One group, Pesticide Action Network (PAN) works to promote alternatives to pesticides in farming worldwide, providing education and resources for small farmers to adhere to healthy and sustainable agricultural practices. In India, Vandana Shiva has helped develop the Fibres of Freedom project, which provides farmers with native, organic cottonseeds so they may grow, sow, and use raw cotton to make sustainable clothing!
Small towns and big cities alike are establishing organic community gardens in which people of all walks of life may participate in growing their own food. Individuals may grow all sorts of fruits and/or vegetables on their own plot(s) within a community garden. Larger community farms and gardens may organize Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Programs in which people may pay a fee for a share of the farm or garden’s harvest. Community gardens and CSAs are a GREAT way to get inexpensive, healthy, and FRESH produce! You may buy such fresh, organic produce and products at local farmers’ markets as well. This helps ensure a healthy planet and people: pesticide-free and local foods mean no toxins on the earth or in your body, and less CO2 emitted into the atmosphere!
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
-Eat low on the food chain (less biomagnification and better for both you and the environment). Eat veggies, whole grains, legumes, and fruit!
-Stay away from meats and meat products that are nonorganic: they have pesticides, anti-biotics, and hormones in them.
-If you can't afford to buy organic, start your own garden, or join a community organic garden.
-Tell your grocery stores you want honest food and GMO labeling and you don't want GMO foodstuff products: visit http://www.nongmoproject.org
LEARN MORE HERE:
-California Certified Organic Farmers’ “Understanding Organic Labels: What Does It Mean?” Fact Sheet (2013)
-Explore Beyond Pesticides’ website for more information about the effects of pesticides on humans, animals, and the earth.
-Food, Inc.’s “Take Action Now” Page: Easy ways YOU can change the food system!
-Right to Know-GMO’s “In the News” Page (constantly updated)
-Mother Nature Network’s “Surprising Facts About Global Agriculture Use: Infographic” (2012)
FDA Targets Trans Fat in Processed Foods by FDA (2013)
Food Companies Fear Even One State GMO Label Law by Erik Sherman, CBS (2013)
GMO Labeling News Archive by The Huffington Post (2013)
Leaving the Land Series (3 parts) by Ian Johnson, The New York Times (2013)
Supreme Court Supports Monsanto in Seed Replication Case by Adam Liptak, The New York Times (2013)
The Seeds of Suicide: How Monsanto Destroys Farming by Vandana Shiva, Global Research (2013)
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, Camille Kingsolver, and Steven L. Hopp (2008)
Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food by Wendell Berry and Michael Pollan (2009)
Making Peace with the Earth: Beyond Resource, Land, and Food Wars by Vandana Shiva (2012)
Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss (2013)
Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education by Michael Pollan (2003)
Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply by Vandana Shiva (2000)
The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan (2002)
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan (2007)
The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry (1996)
Food, Inc. (2008)
Food Fight (2008)
Supersize Me (2004)
The Future of Food: Vandana Shiva (2009)
Vandana Shiva on Global Food Crisis (Al Jazeera, 2008)
Vandana Shiva- The Future of Food and Seed (Talk at the Organicology Conference in Portland, Oregon; 2009)