On October 13, I joined fellow food democracy activists from around California at a press conference on the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall. We were there to welcome the release of a new Global Citizens’ Report on transgenic crops, aptly entitled The GMO Emperor Has No Clothes.
As World Food Day approaches (Sunday, October 16), what better way to honor and support small-scale and family farmers around the world than by publicizing the report’s message: genetically engineered crops have utterly failed to deliver, it’s time to cut our losses, save our seeds, defend our rights and Occupy the Food System.
This much is clear: after 25 years of research, 14 years of commercialization and millions of dollars in public funding, genetically engineered (GE) crops have failed to deliver on promises again and again. GE crops neither increase yield nor provide nutritional benefits. No drought or salt-tolerant crops have yet been commercially developed; GE crops won’t feed the world and - unlike agroecological approaches - GE technology can’t help farmers in the U.S. or anywhere adapt to the complex and shifting challenges of global climate, water, energy and biodiversity crises. (For a great primer/infographic on GE, see here.)
Even Howard Buffet (Warren’s son) acknowledged as much at this week’s World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines. Buffet spoke of the need for a biological-based, sustainable soil management plan, and urged Africans not to sacrifice crop biodiversity in order to imitate U.S. monocultural industrial farming methods. While some of his other statements indicate that he has a woefully deficient appreciation of African farmers’ rich knowledge and capacities, his comments created quite a stir at this typically pro-Green Revolution venue.
With mountains of scientific and empirical evidence from the field, it is therefore even more insulting and outrageous that the U.S. State Department continues to applaud the naked GE emperor and push transgenic biotechnology so aggressively throughout the developing world, as revealed in these leaked cables. Offensive, but not so surprising; with former Crop Life pesticide lobbyist, Islam Siddiqui, firmly ensconced as Chief Agricultural Negotiator at the U.S. trade office, we can expect more of the same.
Back out on the streets of San Francisco, people are gathering this Saturday for an Occupy San Francisco march and rally. Part of what makes the emerging food movement and the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations so simultaneously main street and radical is that their diagnosis of our shared problem hinges on fairness. It’s not fair that a few mega-corporations are making record profits at the expense of the health and livelihoods of ordinary people here in the U.S. and the world over. This is why farmers from India to Iowa are demanding food democracy, in which ordinary people take charge of establishing the food and agricultural systems we need to build up resilient farms and strong communities. This is why many of us — from San Francisco to Seattle to New York — will be making the gap between the 1% and the 99% — and the connection between food and democracy — explicit as we continue to Occupy the Food System.