Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Aubergine, Monsanto, Vilsack & The Future of Food

Who can resist those perfectly plump, purple brinjals (eggplants!) when they're piled high on the farmer's market table or dangling between leaves like summer jewels? But what about the semi-squishy, slightly browned imports heaped in the produce aisle during - say, an Oregon February? Or March?

The rubber meets the road when I am faced with choices on sustainably produced, nourishing food, and as much as I love eggplant, I'm given the opportunity to turn it down in the dead of winter in favor of holding out for the quality crop come August.

And apparently, the rubber has met the road in SE Asia, where only just this last month the Indian government formally rejected the genetically modified version of the popular crop.

Eggplant in India
That's right, Bt Eggplant ("Bt" for “Bacillus thuringiensis” -- a soil bacterium incorporated into the GMO crop which is toxic to certain targeted insects that often feast on the plants in the fields) now stands as banned in the country of India.

Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh stated, "It is my duty to adopt a cautious precautionary principle-based approach and impose a moratorium on the release of Bt-Brinjal until such time as independent scientific studies establish, to the satisfaction of both the public and professionals, the safety of the product from the point of view of its long-term impact on human health and the environment.”

Hooray for India and their 26% portion of the worldwide production of eggplant!~

There's related insidious news afoot: If you're curious about the ex-Director of Monsanto India's admission that the corporation provided "fake scientific data" to regulators, see here and hunt around some more on your own... It certainly isn't a surprise.

USDA Environmental Review of GMO Alfalfa
Interestingly, on home soil this past week, many activists including Food Democracy Now have been rallying the American people in an effort to contact our Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, about Monsanto's newest US push -- GMO alfalfa. Let's have that seed blowing freely across our fruited plain - contaminating conventional and organic fields and working its way into the food web supplying many of our meat and milk producers and thwarting the efforts of organic operations.

GMO Sugar Beets in Oregon
For more on Monsanto's GMO cross pollination risks hitting close to home, see this past week's developments on the lawsuit hoping to halt use of Roundup Ready sugar beets. Some of you may remember when, last May, uninvited sprouts of the beastly crop made an unannounced appearance in a batch of compost sold at a Corvallis, Oregon garden center.

From the Capital Press:
"Organic vegetable seed grower Frank Morton looks over red chard in a field on his Philomath-area farm. Morton was an instigator behind the lawsuit that put in question the future of Roundup Ready sugar beets."

Searching for Wisdom
It is interesting to wade through the myriad online sources of information about Bt technology, Monsanto's worldwide workings, and our very own situation with the USDA.

You may find the State of Oregon's simple fact sheet explaining Bt as a harmless, naturally occurring soil bacteria. You may find a flip side report on the effects of aerial application of similar Bt substances.

You may find Monsanto tooting it's own horn and promoting the work such people who would sidestep the issues and say "...the marketing strategy of the tobacco companies, of a known carcinogen, in developing countries makes the biotech companies look like saints," (emphasis mine). Or you may find a sanely, rationally presented response to the questionable marketing hype of "saving the world with GMOs."

You may find the government's rosy bio of Secretary Vilsack. You may find others' more cautionary views of the man.

Ultimately, we'll each be held accountable for the truths we learn and the choices we make.

Food For Thought
Three of my highly recommended resources for learning more about seasonal eating and GMOs -- just the iceberg's tip for insightful books, movies, and podcasts:

Full Moon Feast, Food and the Hunger for Connection
- A beautifully written and compiled book and series of recipes for food throughout the year...

"When we begin to heal the broken relationships in our food system, the nutrition of our food begins to improve... Ultimately, it is not something any one of us can do in isolation. Once we begin to acknowledge our interdependence with others, it becomes absurd to think I am healthy but my community is sick, or I am healthy but the world is sick. We are too much a part of our community and our world is too much a part of us for that to be viable."
Jessica Prentice, Full Moon Feast

The Future of Food
- An eye opening documentary about the "unlabeled, patented, genetically engineered foods that have quietly filled the grocery store shelves for the past decade."

Deconstructing Dinner - A fabulous podcast out of British Columbia, Canada. In particular as it relates to these topics, try "The GMO Trilogy - Unnatural Selection" featuring Vandana Shiva, Andrew Kimbrell, Percy Schmeiser, Marc Loiselle, Martin Pratchler and others...

My Two Cents in the Produce Aisle
Excerpt from an interesting (albeit pro-GMO) paper on Bt Brinjal:
"The brinjal fruit and shoot borer (FSB) is the most destructive insect pest in South and South East Asia. To control this insect pest, farmers all over the world use large quantities of chemical insecticides singly or in combination to get blemish free fruits. In the district of Jessore, farmers spray pesticides 140 times during a cropping season of 180-200 days. As a result farmers suffer numerous health problems (including skin and eye irritation, nausea, and faintness), resulting from direct exposure to pesticide during handling and spraying (Rahman, 2000; and Wilson, 2001)."

The issue is large and complex, and no quick two sentence summary can do it justice. But my thoughts at present are these:

-There are men and women farming fields of crops (eggplants and otherwise), putting their health and safety on the line because we, the demanding market, want blemish free, Cosmo-girl vegetables.

-There are enormous industries built on the broken model of "fresh" food on my kitchen table - NOW. No regard to season, to locale, to the natural systems of life and death, winter and summer, springtime and harvest.

-There are companies clamoring to push their biotech pills on farmers around the world, trying desperately (and quite effectively, I might add) to convince them that a quick tamper here, a fast lab experiment there, and boom! "Botox-produce and profits in your pockets."

-And some...some are standing up to this cunning trickery and crooked world-view. Props to India for going head on with one of the titanic forces of biotech industry. Props to the Montavilla Farmer's Market for hosting local growers just a few blocks down from my home... Props to Territorial Seed for providing me with cute little eggplant starts last springtime and the subsequent little purple crown jewels of my garden that made their way to our dinner plates.

My hope is for health and wholeness of life in India, in the USA, in Oregon, and around dinner in my own home... Thanks for coming along on the journey...



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