GMOs – need to know? Saturday afternoon musings on political peace

Exploring the intersections of political peace and food after a visit to the farmer’s market

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon, and I just returned from the farmer’s market with a beautiful bounty of local produce. One of the many beautiful things about living California is that so much grows here, and you can get really delicious fresh, local produce year-round. Today’s cornucopia yielded almonds, turnips, carrots, broccoli, arugula, spring onions, garlic, and other delights.

As I was unlocking my bicycle to leave, a woman approached me with a clipboard saying, “Are you registered to vote in California?” With my head bent down, I said “Yes?” and continued unlocking, prepared to have to politely tell her that I didn’t agree with her initiative.

“Will you sign this petition to support an initiative to have mandatory GMO labeling?”

Yes, please!

I happily signed and chatted with her about how they were doing (they need 800,000 signatures by April; she reckons they’re on track). My heart felt lighter knowing that this was a possibility for the ballot in November in California, that there were people out there organizing political initiatives like this, that there was a possibility we might actually know whether our food was genetically modified.

And then I recalled an article I was reading last night in Yes! Magazine on the implications of the Supreme Court Citizens United decision:

“The newly minted corporate rights doctrine has even swept away our right to know whether the milk, cheese, and ice cream we buy comes from cows trated with Monsanto’s genetically modified bovine drugs…When Vermont had the termerity to enact disclosure requirements so people buying dairy products could know whether their food came from cows treated with Monsanto’s drug, the corporate lawyers sued. Once again, the federal courts said that corporations have “speech rights”, this time the right to ”not to speak.” The court struck down Vermont’s law.”[1]

My thinking went from incredibly optimistic –  “Wow, isn’t it great that there’s a citizens group trying to get GMO labeling on the ballot? Maybe this will happen in California! Wouldn’t that be amazing?”  – to incredible deflated –“It’ll never happen so long as corporate money is in politics. They (Big Ag) will never let it happen, no matter how many signatures or votes this measure gets.” And I pedaled home (This article has me rethinking dairy, which I’ll save for another blog 🙂

To me, the fact that I had just read an article on a related issue, and that there are citizens who are organizing and working to make positive change in the food industry are sources of hope. Media (well, progressive media) are covering these issues. Citizens care and are spending their free time gathering signatures at a farmer’s market. Other people care and are signing. People want change.

But then when you consider the political side of things, it is daunting. We, the people, are struggling against corporate interests. Citizens can make a choice in the voting box, but have it overturned in the corporate-friendly Supreme Court. It kind of feels like what we say doesn’t matter.

I read a great quote yesterday that I can’t seem to remember, but it was something about people not realizing the true power that they have. In spite of our flawed political system, do we have the power to make change?

I would certainly like to believe yes – but how?

With respect to peace, the GMO issue hits on a number of levels, and certainly has to do with our own inner peace and health, as we do not know all of the consequences of eating GMOs, but do know there is potential for harm (for a quick read on GMOs check out this article from the WHO).  With respect to labeling, it has to do with the free flow of information. In a culture of peace, information is allowed to flow freely and there is transparency. A world where we are not permitted to know whether our food was genetically altered, or whether it was made using growth hormones is not peaceful. We have a right to know.

And certainly, it has to do with political peace, as the Vermont example demonstrates that our political system is not working in the favor of citizens but in corporate interests. If the government is not serving the people, this is certainly a threat to peace.

How can we, as active citizens striving to create peace through food, make change in the political sphere? What do we do here? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

[1] Yes Magazine (81), Spring 2012. “We’re the People: Undoing Citizens United,” b Jeffrey D. Clements, p. 22.

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