Restoring the Integrity of Food

How Organic Agriculture Can Save the Planet

“Only after the last tree has been cut down. Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only after the last fish has been caught. Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.” – Cree Indian Prophecy

“We should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible.” – Monsanto director, in The Ecologist, May 2005

“What kind of world will we leave to our great-great-grandchildren? And on what basis will they judge us?” – G. Miller, Ontario’s Environment Commissioner, Toronto Star, October 22, 2004

On September 10, 2003, in Cancun, Mexico, Lee Kyung-hae, a member of the South Korean parliament turned farmer, led thousands of activists from around the world up to the edge of the building where the World Trade Organization was meeting behind heavily policed 10-foot high barricades erected to keep protesters out. International public protest scuttled the WTO’s Seattle meeting two years earlier. The lords of globalization did not want to have demonstrators again mess up their plans that include control over the world’s food supply. Lee climbed the barricades when the delegates emerged from the building. A sign around his neck read “WTO Kills Farmers.” His own once successful farming operation had been destroyed, like hundreds of others, by American agricultural imports sold at up to 40% less than production cost — part of U.S. foreign policy since the 1930s designed to control foreign economies. In full sight of the WTO, Lee plunged a knife into his heart and fell from the fence.

This suicide shocked the “developing” nations to action. Led by India, Brazil and China (together representing 60% of the world’s farmers), they made Cancun the second Seattle: this new “Group of 21” confronted the U.S., Canada, and Europe with the “hypocrisies [of agricultural policies] that enable global wealth and power to become increasingly concentrated in a small group of players,” as Christopher Cook describes in his outstanding book, Diet for a Dead Planet. The book shows how standard food production is at the very heart of our environmental crisis, being the major cause of global warming.

The truth is that corporate agriculture is not designed to produce good food and is ruining the planet’s life-support systems. India’s anti-globalization activist Vandana Shiva said in the documentary The Corporation, “we need to produce food that nourishes the Earth,” because we and the Earth are ultimately one great organism.

Christopher Cook writes: “The food we eat is the product of a whole system that is in the process of destroying itself — poisoning our air and water, grinding topsoil into useless dust, and putting farmers out to pasture . . . we all suffer, some quickly from tainted meat and foreclosed farms, others gradually from pesticide sprayings and sugar-and fat-laden carcinogenic diets. The only winners are large-scale subsidized farmers, agribusiness executives, and shareholders. But even they must eat. What if we want to purchase food that is truly healthy — not only for our bodies but also for our local farmers, our communities, the environment? No supermarket chain offers that option. It’s not in their business plan.”

MODERN AGRIBUSINESS HARMS HUMANS AND ENVIRONMENT

Interestingly, all this evolved out of the long-standing U.S. policy of creating food scarcity to control world markets, which so appalled President Dwight Eisenhower that he coined the term “military-industrial complex” and warned against its dreams of world control. Even Adam Smith, the patron saint of globalization and 18th century economic philosopher, warned that lack of external public controls on commerce could lead to monopolies that would harm the consumer.

Because governments leaves the food industry largely to monitor itself, Cook states we now have resultant incurable prion-mediated diseases, brain-destroying lead in baby food, a chicken industry infested with bacteria against which there are no effective antibiotics, and carcinogens and hormone disruptors in everything.

Standard agriculture depends on the wholesale pirating of the planet’s oil and water. According to an April 10 press release from geneticist Mae Wan Ho, director of the U.K.’s Institute of Science in Society, corporate agriculture runs on a global deficit-financing philosophy that requires:

• 1,000 tonnes of water to produce one tonne of grain;

• 10 energy units to produce just one energy of unit of food on your plate;

• 1,000 energy units for every energy unit of processed food.

A whopping 20% of all greenhouse gases in the world arise from agriculture. In order to maintain pre-determined profits, the U.S. annually subsidizes $318 billion to corporate agriculture, dumping the surplus [at up to 40% below production costs] on poor countries to create political dependence and destabilize their economies, while simultaneously more than two billion subsistence farmers in poor countries try to survive on the equivalent of $2 a day. Ninety percent of these subsidies benefit the large corporation, while 500 family farms close down every week in the U.S.

Ho asserts that “Getting our food production sustainable is the most urgent task for humanity; it is also the key to delivering health, ameliorating the worst effects of climate change, and saving the planet from destructive exploitation.” Shortly after this statement, The Independent in the U.K. broke the news on May 25 that Monsanto had hidden the results of “secret research which shows that rats fed genetically modified corn had smaller kidneys and variations in the composition of their blood” not found in rats fed non-GM food.

Cook’s research shows that destructive exploitation appears wherever corporate farming takes over causing:

• a tremendous increase in occupational illness;

• increased child abuse due to stressed-out parents;

• increase in asthma rates, highest near large farms because they are excluded from clean air legislation;

• degradation of soil, rivers, groundwater, and ocean fishing grounds: billions of fresh- and salt-water fish die annually from the waste produced in factory farms and the algae blooms caused by pesticide runoffs;

• topsoil destruction due to decades of monoculture, the soil being used up 30 times faster than it can re-generate, which also causes enormous dust storms;

• depletion of aquifers; the major ones in North America may be depleted within thirty years, never to re-fill again.

Shortly after Cook’s book was published, the insertion of human liver genes into rice was announced. This gene is expected to produce an enzyme (CPY2B6), which helps to break down harmful chemicals in our bodies and might, therefore, permit rice plants to survive application of up to 13 different herbicides at once (The Independent, April 25, 2005). The rice might survive — but we wouldn’t.

SOLUTION – A RETURN TO ORGANIC AGRICULTURE

Switching to sustainable, organic farming is estimated to:

• reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the soil by up to 92%;

• every tonne of nitrogen fertilizer phased out reduces emission by the equivalent of 5 tonnes;

• small farms, compared to corporate ones, are up to 10 times more efficient and also support birds, wild life and fish;

• communities buying in local farmers’ markets generate twice as much money for the local economy than supermarkets;

• organic foods contain far more vitamins, minerals and other nutrients than conventional produce with enormous financial consequences for public health.

In January, the 24th Annual Organic Agriculture Conference was held at Guelph University under the theme “Local Organic – A Global Solution.” It was attended by a record 1,600 participants. Interestingly, Ontario’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture was one of the speakers. Could it be that government is beginning to get the message? Poll after poll has shown, always in the 90% range, that Canadians want clear labelling of all foods. With crop after crop of Canadian GMO wheat and corn being lost to international markets that reject GMOs, a spokesperson for Canada’s National Farmers Union observed, “Farmers are really starting to question the profit-enhancing ability of products that seem to be shutting them out of markets worldwide.” (The Ecologist, May 2005). The message seems to be coming through to some of the big corporations: last November, Bayer pulled out of all genetic engineering research, and the other big players got their wake-up call in April this year when the European Union banned all imports of animal feed from North America (worth to the U.S. $450 million annually just for GMO-contaminated corn).

This year, the Guelph conference focused on how organic agriculture has the power to repair Earth’s life support systems. The workshops on climate change brought together farmers and scientists discussing the energy and pollution issues involved. Significantly, the presenters included Tom Manley of the Green Party of Canada and David Orchard of the Progressive Conservative Party, as well as representatives of the NDP — all of whom were in agreement on these issues and expressed outrage at what standard farming is doing to Canada and the planet through deforestation, increased methane production (even worse than carbon dioxide for our atmosphere), chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Organic is no longer fringe. All of Canada’s great universities were represented by speakers who criticized Canadian government policy favouring corporate exploitation of everything from people to aquifers and soil. African and Mexican presenters showed how successful those areas of the world are in developing their organic food economies while simultaneously raising the standard of living.

On the subject of renewable energy and how to escape the dependence on oil and electricity, Ross and Kathryn Elliott discussed their amazing “energy efficient soap bubble greenhouse” that allows one to grow produce in winter in the bitter-cold Ottawa region (www.homesol.ca).

Keynote speaker John Ikerd of the University of Missouri spent his entire professional life studying the crimes of corporate farming and the rebirth of organic farming. He observed that over the decades that “organic farmers’ philosophical commitment to stewardship and integrity was replaced by the government’s assurance of conformity. The earlier hopes that organic farming might restore health to the land and renew life in rural communities grew dim. The solution to the current dilemma, however, is not to respond to feelings of hopelessness with acts of recklessness, but instead, to act with the calm assurance that it is always darkest before the dawn. Markets for locally grown, organic foods are growing faster than ever and smaller, independent organic producers have a distinct advantage over the larger producers. Deep organics requires the personal commitment to relationships of integrity, among people and between people and the land, that must characterize sustainable, community-based food system of the future.” This guy really had something to say. Visit his website at www.ssu.missouri.edu/faculty/jikerd.

The most exciting presentations for me were those by Ann Slater and Carol Francom. Ann has for 20 years farmed a two-acre certified organic market garden outside St. Mary’s, Ontario, which is her sole source of income. On it she grows 35 different vegetables and 25 varieties of crops. Eight ewes provide the fertilizing manure. She sells almost all her produce directly to the consumer. Carol farms a mere 1/6 of an acre growing gourmet vegetables that she sells to local restaurants and health food stores in the Stratford area. Talk of the power of the local and the small!

The International Fund for Agricultural Development reported that organic farming continues to increase because it saves money traditionally spent on pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, increases wages in poor countries for farm workers to the level of decency, and it is profitable: within less than 10 years China’s earning went from a mere $1 million to $142 million. India brought 2.5 million hectares under organic cultivation and 332 new organic certifications were issued in 2004 alone. That same year, 36 countries, of the 108 in organic farming, achieved “organic mega status.” Between them they work 26 million hectares and earn $25 billion annually.

More than 90% of genetically engineered crops are grown in the U.S., Canada, Argentina and in China. Bt cotton caused serious environmental problems and crop losses, so now only 700 farms worldwide still plant it — down from 3,000 in just a couple of years (https://www.grain.org). The particularly hard-hit African nations have, as result, emerged as the most effective opposition to the proliferation of GMOs and formulated a strict liability regime over which the battle is still raging. I suspect they will win. The age of empire is over.

When I asked my husband what we as individuals can do to help save Mother Earth, he, being a firm believer in the power of one transforming the many, said “Avoid the SCUM!” That stands for Super (market, sized, energy-gobbling); Corporate  (as opposed to small, local and seasonal); Under-regulated (GMOs, pesticides, carcinogens – all of which are allowed in our food by our gutless governments); Mess. Towards that end, read the books and articles cited below; especially Cook who has excellent ideas on what action can be taken. See the new documentary, “The Future of Food” www.thefutureoffood.com.

Laughter is always the best remedy: the Organic Trade Association (Call 630-256-2218 or go to www.StoreWars.org) created a delightful film inviting you to join the adventures of Cuke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Cannoli, Chewbroccoli and other Organic Rebels against Darth Tater and the Dark Side of the Farm, and salutes you with: May the farm be with you!


References

• C. Barslow, The Eco-Foods Guide, New Society 1-800-567-6772; information on all aspects of organic food in Canada, from farming to home cooking

• C.D. Cook, Diet for a Dead Planet, The New Press, New York, 2004; an information goldmine; extensive resources for political action and organic food;

• H. Ferrie, Dispatches from the War Zone of Environmental Health, Kos inc., 2004, informs on food and cancer connection $25, call 519-927-1049 or info@kospublishing.com

• J. Krop MD, Healing the Planet One Patient at a Time (second, revised edition) 2003, Kos Inc. directly from the author 905-816-9657; extensive resources, health issues and GMOs, treatment of food allergies; $25

• B. Tokar ed. Redesigning Life?, McGill Queen’s Press, 2001; on GMOs and health/ environmental problems

• K.-G. Wenzel MD & R. Pataracchia ND, Earth’s Gift to Medicine: Minerals in Health and Disease, Kos Inc., 2005 (519-927-1049); guide to prevention and treatment of nutrient-related health issues, translated from German, introduced by Dr. Abram Hoffer $25

www.organicconsumers.org

• Sign up for the 2006 Annual Organic Agriculture Conference at Guelph (705) 444-0923, organix@georgian.net

• For a global review of climate change from all sources, including agriculture, see The New Yorker’s three part series: April 25, May 2 and May 9th

• For an overview of how humans have shaped world climate beginning 20,000 years ago see W.F. Rudiman in Scientific American, March 2005.

• Join Robert Kennedy’s world-wide virtual internet-based march against global warming: www.stopglobalwarming.org/campaigns/sgw/partner/nrdc/.

• PEI is trying to make the island a GMO-free zone. To help, contact p.felds@netaxis.ca

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