Tag Archives: Politics

Linking Dolphins & High Fructose Corn Syrup

Note: This summary is from a blog post at The Snap Blog, where I will be blogging going forward.

Immediately after watching The Cove, I needed to catch my breath after the final 10 heart-pounding minutes. Neither my 10-year-old son, who had been sitting closely by my side, especially during the final scenes, or I could find words right away.

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Guess Who’s Controlling Our Food Supply

It’s no secret that I have a difficult time accepting genetically modified (GM) foods at face value. My primary concerns have to do with what we know, and, more importantly don’t know about how this “promising” technology may or may not be impacting human health and our environment.

For those who prefer to avoid serving as human lab rats, myself included, our non-GM food options, according to advocates of GM food, boil down to eating USDA Certified Organic, which do not allow any genetically modified seed or crops to be used on such labeled food products. Their idea of severely limiting consumer choice, since they are adamantly opposed to “GMO Inside” labeling, goes against their own argument of freedom to choose, which also goes against the very fabric of what makes America’s version of capitalism work so well.

I couldn’t imagine the situation getting much worse, but it just did.

The latest issue of Scientific American Magazine includes the chilling article “Do Seed Companies Control GM Crop Research?” The magazine’s editors take readers beyond initial “government” approval of GM food, which reportedly utilized industry-sponsored research rather than independent government research, to the current state of independent research on genetically modified seeds and crops:

Unfortunately, it is impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised. That is because agritech companies have given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers.

It would be chilling enough if any other type of company were able to prevent independent researchers from testing its wares and reporting what they find—imagine car companies trying to quash head-to-head model comparisons done by Consumer Reports, for example. But when scientists are prevented from examining the raw ingredients in our nation’s food supply or from testing the plant material that covers a large portion of the country’s agricultural land, the restrictions on free inquiry become dangerous.

It is hard to understand how a handful of companies have amassed so much control over food ingredients found in an estimated 75 percent of processed foods in America’s supermarkets. Making matters worse, and as the Scientific American editors point out, we are talking about a basic physiological need – food, which joins water, shelter and a handful of other needs defined by Abraham Maslow in his hierarchy of needs.

Without extensive independent research on GM foods on how they impact human health and the environment, the distinct possibility exists that we’re setting ourselves up for significant and potentially irreversible problems down the line.

To keep the mainstream in check, we get slick multimillion dollar advertising campaigns from company’s like Monsanto claiming they have the solution to feed the estimated 9 billion people expected on the planet in the not to distant future, among other claims. Who cares if these claims have not been independently verified. Who cares if the Union of Concerned Scientists have released a report on GM crop yields debunking industry claims of significant yield improvements.

Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.

The ongoing debate is not about stopping public relations (PR) efforts by these companies. Companies market products and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Nor is it about whether I or anyone else thinks GM foods are good or bad. Making such claims today are mostly opinion, since independent research is not available to properly inform discussions.

The debate needs to be about how our regulatory structure has sold out to industry, which is represented by a highly concentrated, centralized  power structure that controls our conventional food system. It needs to be about holding the food system and our government accountable. Most important, it needs to demand companies and the government do what is right, just and fair.

We are a long way from that, it would seem, which is why initiatives like Pro Food and Slow Money are gaining steam. These efforts actively engage everyday citizens in developing and supporting transparent sustainable food systems, building on unique competitive advantages in comparison with today’s industrial food system players.

Let’s just hope that a sustainable food economy is not far behind.

10 Questions For Farmers About Farms

Over the last six months, I’ve tried to learn as much as I could about our conventional food system and options to that system focused on sustainability. Many people from around the country (and world) have provided much insight, but also have shown me yet another polarizing issue in America.

With that, I am asking anyone interested in food, but especially farmers, to consider 10 questions that continue getting in the way of constructive, innovative and action-oriented conversations on how to make our food system stronger.

So, here is an opportunity to enlighten me (and others reading this blog) by answering 10 questions. Just remember the one ground rule – civility. I will not publish comments that unnecessarily attack one side or the other of this debate.

  1. Do most federal subsidies go to larger farms?
  2. Are all federal subsidies granted to farms growing commodity crops (monoculture in many instances)?
  3. Given #1 and #2, are small farms growing specialty crops (e.g., human edible fruits & vegetables) at a considerable financial disadvantage in the marketplace?
  4. Do you believe that consumer demand for sustainable and organic specialty crops exceeds supply?
  5. Do you believe that the farm lobby has less money than environmental lobbyists targeting the food supply (as opposed to the overall environmental field, which covers a lot beyond food)?
  6. If a subsidized farm no longer wants subsidies, what options are available to move away from them? Do you have any examples of farms that have successfully abandoned subsidized operations?
  7. I don’t know anyone disputing jam-packed shelves in our supermarkets and cheap food. What I do hear is a rapidly growing concern that cheap and edible food-like substances (i.e., highly processed food) do not necessarily equate to healthy. In fact, some research shows that with the decline in food prices, we are seeing an opposite increase in health care costs. Does this make sense?
  8. Do you consider organic and sustainable food “movements” or a food category, e.g., produce?
  9. Should there be more small-to-medium sized farms free to grow what they want to serve local markets?
  10. Should the government shift subsidies to those farms to level the playing field? Or should the government scale back subsidies?

I look forward to any and all responses.

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