Strawberries make me happy. They are tasty, bite sized and cute. They fight cancer, give you a boost of Vitamin C, and even improve brain function. And last Sunday, they arrived en masse to the farmers market in my very own Oakland, California neighborhood. A sweet, true sign of spring. I wandered by several farmstands, tasting samples of Albion, Seascape and Chandler, finally settling on several organic pints from Tomatero Farm.
Last week offered hope for science and strawberries, both. Three newsworthy events marked progress toward the slow crumbling of chemical industry influence on government. Each crack, however small, offers an opportunity toward food democracy, and the use of science in powerful service of the public good.
When I hear news of Syngenta, my ears perk up. This corporate giant has poisoned my family's water with a pesticide that wreaks havoc on our hormone systems, and is linked to cancer and reduced fertility.
Atrazine, the culprit, can't be used in Europe because it sticks around in the water far too long for European standards. Yet Swiss-based Syngenta set up their North American Syngenta Seeds headquarters in a Minneapolis suburb to make sure they keep hold of the U.S. Midwest — all the while gobbling up seed companies and positioning themselves alongside Monsanto as major players in the genetically engineered (GE) seed market.
It's often unnerving to face multinational corporate capture of chemical policy and science. I certainly felt like I'd been kicked in the gut last December, when, after a diligent, multi-year review that actually kept science and the health of Californians as core commitments, chemical company influence won out as California legalized "one of the most toxic chemicals on earth" — despite the analysis and recommendations of their own scientists and overwhelming public opposition.
Today Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians, called for the initiation of a new era of U.S.-tribal relations as he delivered the annual State of Indian Nations address. As he addressed tribal and U.S. government leaders in Washington, D.C., Keel noted the significance of the Obama Administration's December 16, 2010 announcement that the U.S. is "lending its support" to the The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. What's important now is implementation.
Judging by what's unfolded at the end of 2010 and these first few days of 2011, the PAN community is energized as never before to take on chemical company control of government and food. Record numbers of people like you joined PAN to take action (we're near 50,000 strong now and growing fast — that's up from 12,500 just 18 months ago!), and these first days of 2011 have been action packed. On Monday we announced a lawsuit against Arysta, the largest privately-held pesticide corporation in the world, and the state of California — both — over the cancer-causing strawberry pesticide methyl iodide. Alongside the lawsuit we delivered 52,000 requests to incoming Governor Brown urging him to reverse the state's decision to allow that chemical to be used in agriculture.
This is a year-end post of gratitude for all of you who offer deep and sustaining nourishment to our world. Gratitude for soil, for the earth’s caretakers, for courageous scientists and persistent agitators. And it is an invitation to join this community at PAN. Because together, we get things done.
This time of year I find myself seeking out the places that remind me what is right with our world. Amidst global tragedy and hourly acts of injustice, our existence depends on connecting with those soul sisters and beings of all kinds who sustain and nourish us with their acts of profound grace and fortitude. One of the key reasons that I am honored and motivated to work with PAN is that I have the chance to meet these people each and every day. Via email, SMS texts, phone calls and evening conversations around kitchen tables, I am regularly reminded of the many people working for ecological sanity, for equity – acting out of profound love and possibility, rather than fear. People speaking truth at times and in places that are risky and deeply needed, both.
Today, California approved a cancer-causing pesticide that scientists call "difficult, if not impossible to control," and "one of the most toxic chemicals on earth."
Why? Here's my bet: the intense lobbying effort waged by Arysta LifeScience, largest private pesticide company in the world, who hired a Kentucky-based PR firm to create a "CA grassroots campaign" in favor of the pesticide, and who engaged the likes of a former assistant to Karl Rove in their efforts. Bluntly put: chemical company interests trumped the science and the concerns of Californians. Now we've all got an incredibly potent, new carcinogen to deal with while Arysta heads home to its headquarters and makes money off its sales.
Big Ag is on the defensive, and women are coming to the rescue. Citing Michael Pollan and Food, Inc. as two particularly large blemishes to overcome, large-scale agriculture commodity and marketing associations hired the PR firm Osborn & Barr (a regular for Monsanto) in search of a better image. They unveiled their approach in November: a woman-to-woman marketing campaign targeting urban and suburban women. Knowing that women control most household spending, Osborn & Barr is betting on farm women as messengers that offer a more palatable face for industrial agriculture, and who offer a relationship that is difficult to turn down. Amy Nuccio of Osborn & Barr commented, "Consumers don't want a slogan, they don't want an ad campaign. They want a real relationship, which led us to this strategy of woman-to-woman." They’ll have to be careful, though, because it turns out women oft dig past the hype when it comes to the health of our children. Witness a recent attempt to woo moms, Corn Syrup Lobby Courts Mommybloggers, Gets Spanked.
Today, PAN joined a diverse coalition of farmworker, children’s health, farm, and environmental groups to release our priorities for the incoming Brown administration. Healthy Children & Green Jobs: A Platform for Pesticide Reform lays out scientifically-grounded priorities for protecting children’s health and supporting healthy, safe and climate-friendly agriculture and pest management in California.