Have you heard the latest news on the genetically engineered food front?
Scientists have figured out how to put vaccines into potatoes:
and put human liver genes into rice:
This scares me. The human liver genes make the crops immune to more types of pesticides. This is a good thing I suppose if all you care about is controlling bugs to increase profit. But what about the impact that pesticides have on the water supply, wildlife and even the very human livers in question? And what about pollen drift? If this gets into the wild it is likely to create "super-weeds," just what we need to further devastate the few natural habitats left.
And putting vaccines into plants? How can you regulate the doses? Again, what about pollen drift? We are recklessly messing with eons of innate wisdom in these plants. There may be humanitarian motives here - the statistics say that 3 million infants die each year from preventable diseases such as tetanus, diphtheria and measles. I'm not against all vaccinations, but I'll bet the reason those diseases become rampant is poverty not lack of immunization -- loss of access to clean water, decent housing, healthy food. Vaccine laden vegetables will not solve those problems. And what other unknown problems could the genetic engineering release in the process? Developing local, sustainable sources of nutritional food and pure water will do much more to help those babies.
I read a great article in this month's Ode Magazine about the "local food" movement and excerpted part of it below. It gives me great hope to see the many ways people are taking back power over their food sources.
Local food's challenges and opportunities
Eating at home
Ode issue: 23
Food travels thousands of miles before ending up on our plate. While travelling, the taste doesn¹t get any better. This globalization of the food supply has serious consequences for the environment, our health, our communities and our tastebuds. A new movement is emerging to bring home the bacon, the bread and the vegetables and to connect land, food and people.
...Long-distance travel requires more packaging, refrigeration and fuel and generates huge amounts of waste and pollution. Instead of dealing directly with their neighbours, farmers sell into a remote and complex food chain of which they are a tiny part‹and are paid accordingly. Farmers in the developing world producing cash crops for export often find themselves hungry as they sacrifice the output of their land to feed foreign mouths. The supposed efficiencies of the long-distance chain of food production leave many people malnourished at both ends.
...The changing nature of our food in many ways signals what the changing world economy means for the environment, our health and the tenor of our lives. The quality, taste and vitality of our foods are profoundly affected by how and where they are produced, and how they arrive at our tables. Food touches us so deeply that threats to local food traditions have sometimes provoked strong, even violent, responses. José Bové, the French shepherd who drove his tractor smack into a McDonald¹s to fight what he called "culinary imperialism," is the best-known symbol in an emerging global movement to protect and invigorate local food systems and traditions. It is a movement to restore rural areas, enrich poor nations, return wholesome foods to cities and reconnect suburbanites with the land by reclaiming lawns, vacant lots and former industrial sites to use as local gardens, orchards, and farms.
...At first blush, "food democracy" may seem a little grandiose - a strange combination of words. But if you doubt the existence of power struggles in the realm of food, consider a point made by Frances and Anna Lappé in their book Hope¹s Edge. The typical supermarket contains no fewer than 30,000 items. About half of those items are produced by 10 multinational food and beverage companies. And roughly 140 people‹117 men and 21 women‹form the boards of directors of those 10 companies. In other words, although the seeming cornucopia of products you see at a typical supermarket give the appearance of abundant choice, much of the variety is more a matter of branding than of true agricultural diversity. Rather than coming to us from thousands of different farmers producing different local varieties, these food products have been globally standardized and selected for maximum profit by just a few powerful executives.
...Eating local allows people to reclaim the pleasures of face-to-face interactions around food and the security that comes from knowing what one is eating. In this sense, it might be the best defence against hazards introduced intentionally or unintentionally in the food supply, including E. coli bacteria, pesticide residues, biowarfare agents and untested genetically engineered ingredients. In an era of climate change and water shortages, having farmers nearby might be the best hedge against other unexpected shocks. On a more sensual level, locally grown food served fresh and in season has a definite taste advantage‹one of the reasons this movement has attracted the attention of chefs, food critics and discriminating grocery shoppers around the globe.
The local alternative also offers huge economic opportunities. In every country, money spent on local produce at farmers markets and locally owned shops stays in the community, cycling through to create jobs and raise incomes. Developing nations that emphasize greater food self-reliance can avoid the whims of international markets. Depending on sources outside your borders for basic food needs seems a very risky proposition in these volatile times.
Despite the many advantages of a shorter food chain, change will not come easily. Control of the food system has been largely lost to a dwindling number of companies; most farming regions have abandoned crop diversity; and most shoppers have forgotten what to do with food that is not already prepared, packaged and ready to serve. But look around the world, and you can glimpse the change. Farmers in Hawaii are uprooting their pineapple plantations to sow vegetables in hopes of replacing the imported ingredients in salads at resorts and hotels. In Zimbabwe, the wives of peanut farmers grew tired of buying expensive peanut butter and have invested in peanut mills to make and sell their own. School districts throughout Italy have launched an impressive effort to make sure cafeterias are serving a healthy Mediterranean diet by contracting with nearby farmers. At the rarefied levels of the World Trade Organization, officials are beginning to make room for nations to feed themselves, realizing that this might be the best hope for poor nations that cannot afford to import needed food.
From Brian Halweil's book Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket (W.W. Norton, 2004) available at www.worldwatch.org