Food - taking back responsibility

By Ellen Teague
July 26, 2010

“Eleanor’s courgette has grown so much this past week, and she’s checking it all the time”. My friend’s young daughter was in the children’s programme at the National Justice and Peace Network of England and Wales Conference last weekend in Derbyshire – ‘Our Daily Bread – Food security, People and Planet’.

They had a session planting a food seed in a little pot of compost and marking up what they could expect it to grow into. The children’s faces are hardly visible in any of the photos because they were so engrossed in their little seeds and pots.

When I came back from the conference I noticed that my 20-year-old son Luke, back from university for the summer and doing a holiday job as a gardener, was planting out in a freshly dug trough in our garden some food seeds that had begin to sprout. He had just finished when the skies opened and there was deluge. He came running in asking for an umbrella. I thought he was simply determined to finish the job in the rain, but he was holding the umbrella over his delicate plants.

I refuse to believe that young people are so enamoured by fast and processed food that they are not interested in growing food and eating healthy food. With a bit of encouragement from adults they will do so. And I also believe that all of us need to take more responsibility at an advocacy level for our food, particularly protecting food seeds and biodiversity.

In the adult programme of the conference, Indian ecologist Vandana Shiva urged the 350 people present to lobby to protect the right of small farmers internationally to control their own seeds. She accused bio-technology companies, such as St Louis-based Monsanto, of peddling lies with their claims of saving the world with genetically modified (GM) technologies. Vandana dismissed the companies’ claims of feeding the world as a public relations ploy intended, in the main, to disguise a grab for control of the food chain. She told how over the past 25 years the companies had campaigned first for international treaties that enabled them to get a monopoly and then to patent seeds.

She took the view that Monsanto in particular “doesn’t create seed, it corrupts seed” and suggested these companies are “positioning themselves as God”. She called for a disinvestment campaign from Monsanto, and told of the damage already being done by GM technology across the world, including 5.4 million acres in the US that have now been taken over by superweeds, after using genetically modified products.

Vandana was particularly critical of “terminator” technology which ensures that “terminator” seeds can germinate only once and so the farmers using them must go back to the company to buy more the following year. She described the development of this technology as “evil” and dangerous because the long term outcomes in the environment are unknown. Though a moratorium on the use of terminator seeds is currently in place, Vandana reported that in India they are getting more and more cases of seeds not reproducing themselves and this needed to be investigated. Vandana claimed that GM technology is at the heart of new hunger and poverty. “There is no yield gain”, she pointed out, “and how can it be cheaper if there are royalties on each seed?”. She warned that the GM companies are pressurising Europe to accept their technologies in the near future.

Justice and peace activists were urged to promote organic agriculture and the rights of small farmers who are struggling the world over. Vandana argued that organic production is the only sustainable way to feed the whole world in the decades to come. She said that when you measure organic production in terms of nutrients, organics provide more food. “Ecological cultivation is the solution to solving problems of hunger and unemployment” she suggested. “Fifty percent of those not getting jobs would have livelihoods on the land”, said Vandana, who called on the UK and other northern countries to turn away from privatisation and look to “a transition to ecological agriculture” and “the expansion of seed banks”.

So, members of the National Justice and Peace Network, which is a liaison body of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, will be supporting the ‘GM NO!' campaign of the Soil Association and following the work of the London-based Institute of Science in Society, which follows the long-term risks of GM crops and is directed by Dr Mae-Wan Ho, author of ‘Genetic Engineering – Dream or Nightmare’, who ran a workshop at the Derbyshire conference.

They will also be monitoring information provided by the UK-based Food Ethics Council and sourcing their food using the LOAF principles developed by Christian Ecology Link, that is food which is Locally produced, Organically grown, Animal friendly, and Fairly traded. Let’s get more engaged and help our children get more engaged with the food system.


Ellen Teague is a freelance Catholic journalist who works regularly for The Tablet, JUSTICE magazine, Independent Catholic News, Redemptorist Publications and the Messenger of St. Anthony. She is also a member of the Columban Missionary Society Justice and Peace team, and chairs the Environment Working Group of the National Justice and Peace Network of England and Wales.

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