Today is World Food Day and around the world communities are taking a stand against hunger. But the solutions put forward differ dramatically depending on what one understands the “food problem” to be. For many, every day is World Food Day and presents both the necessity and opportunity to fight for farm and food justice; for them it is a matter of integrity and survival.
Walking past the ancient Roman Coliseum on my way to the recent International Symposium on Agroecology, the surprising twists of history were on my mind. Even a few years ago, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization — host of the symposium — would never have organized such a meeting. “Agroecology” was considered far too radical and dangerous a concept to many in FAO who had dedicated long careers to exporting the chemical-intensive “Green Revolution” model of agriculture around the world.
Yet there I was, along with 400 other scientists, agri-food system researchers, farmers and social movement leaders, commencing an intensive two-day exchange of agroecological knowledge, science and practice in the heart of Rome.
One morning a few weeks ago, I received an email from the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council (NRC), announcing the makeup of a provisional committee of experts that has been tasked with carrying out a comprehensive new study of GE crops. This study is supposed to assess the history of GE crops around the world, the diverse experiences of farmers in different countries and a wide range of “purported” negative and positive impacts of GE seeds and their associated technologies (for example, pesticides).
Done right, this could be an illuminating investigation, right? But as I looked over the bios provided on NRC’s webpage, I quickly realized that the Council appears to have a pretty poor idea of how to carry out such a challenging, complex and multi-faceted study. In fact, this week 67 scientists and researchers publicly rebuked the NRC for failing, right at the outset, to put together a slate of experts equipped for the task (full letter here).
“This pesticide is toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates. Do not apply directly to water… Drift or runoff may be hazardous….The use of this chemical…may result in groundwater contamination.” Does this sound like a green chemical of the future, something that you’d want drifting over fields, rivers, streams, schools and homes? Not so much. But our Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may disagree.
EPA has been stumbling hard and making some bad decisions lately, including this latest announcement: the agency intends to approve Dow AgroScience’s new formulation of the highly toxic herbicide, 2,4-D — to be used with the corporation’s genetically engineered (GE) 2,4-D resistant corn, cotton and soybean seeds.
Growing environmental threats of climate change on top of ever-intensifying economic stresses are pushing many farmers around the world to their edge. At the same time, a growing number of these farmers and scientists are realizing that 1) continued reliance on the energy, water and chemical-intensive industrial model of agriculture is simply no longer an option and 2) our most robust response to today’s converging stresses lies in cultivating resilience and food democracy.
Last Friday, USDA welcomed in the new year by presenting Dow AgroSciences with a bountiful gift: a virtual green light for the pesticide company’s new genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybean seeds. These crops are designed specifically to be used with Dow’s infamous herbicide, 2,4-D.
Dow has been waiting two years for the go-ahead from USDA to start marketing its 2,4-D-resistant corn and soy. And it now appears the corporation will get what it wants, despite strong opposition from farmers, healthcare professionals and concerned communities across the country.
Last month, a few news outlets carried a story about Filipino farmers trampling a test plot of genetically engineered (GE) “Golden Rice.” The news triggered a swift avalanche of more stories and opinion pieces, with ample space devoted to Golden Rice proponents’ harsh accusation that skeptics and critics are holding back a desperately needed, promising technology and, in so doing, are causing children’s deaths around the world.
We’ve seen all this before: both the promises that ultimately fail to deliver, and the attempts to silence those asking important questions. Why, after 30 years of research and millions of dollars poured into development of this supposed miracle seed, are we still talking about Golden Rice?
Early in July, Monsanto rolled out the red carpet for farm media in North Dakota, promoting its new, yet highly controversial, herbicide-resistant genetically engineered (GE) seeds. Touted at an industry field day in Cass County, these new soybean seeds are designed to be used with the volatile herbicide, dicamba — a close cousin of 2,4-D.
Dicamba-resistant soy is still awaiting USDA approval, as are 2,4-D-resistant corn and soy. And after receiving hundreds of thousands of comments opposing the approval of these crops, the agency recently extended its decision-making timeline. Despite the outcry, however, Monsanto has plowed full speed ahead, planting and spraying these crops in large, field-sized “Ground-Breaker” demonstration plots in North and South Dakota and in research plots in undisclosed locations.
Last month, the 2013 World Food Prize was bestowed on Monsanto and Syngenta in recognition of their development of genetically engineered seed technologies. The news shocked the sustainable food and farming community — driving farmers, people’s movement leaders, reknowned scientists and development experts the world over to express their outrage and dismay.
Many excellent responses blasting the decision have been published (here, here and here). Perhaps the most powerful rebuke came from 81 laureates of the Right Livelihood Award and members of the prestigious World Food Council, who shredded the Prize organizers’ argument that GE seeds are feeding the world.
The surprise appearance of Monsanto’s unapproved GE wheat in an Oregon field last month dominated the “bad GE news” cycle of the day, stoking worries among farmers, millers, bakers and eaters about the extent of the contamination.
Public outcry and demands to end open-air field testing of experimental GE crops are growing louder. And the discovery of rogue GE wheat in Oregon has driven key trading partners — like Japan and Korea — to suspend some wheat imports. All this exploded just days after millions of people around the world marched against Monsanto, denouncing its control, corruption and contamination of our food systems.