At the end of the article is a well placed quote from Vandana Shiva, one of the most outspoken and articulate critics of bioengineered crops, and one of the most ardent supporters of honest trade and land rights for Indian farmers. Here’s the excerpt:
A few weeks ago, I was in Punjab. 2,800 widows of farmer suicides who have lost their land, are having to bring up children as landless workers on others’ land. And yet, the system does not respond to it, because there’s only one response: get Monsanto out of the seed sector–they are part of this genocide — and ensure WTO rules are not bringing down the prices of agricultural produce in the United States, in Canada, in India, and allow trade to be honest. I don’t think we need to talk about free trade and fair trade. We need to talk about honest trade. Today’s trade system, especially in agriculture, is dishonest, and dishonesty has become a war against farmers. It’s become a genocide.
Please check out the complete interview that Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! conducted with Vandana Shiva (read the transcript or watch the video). I *heart* Vandana Shiva, saw her speak at the World Social Forum in Nairobi and she is a RIGHTEOUS passionate woman who knows her shit. She is NOT one to be messed with. Love her.
Our country has been told that a gargantuan government rescue of the private sector is necessary because the collapse of major financial institutions would lead to unthinkable outcomes for society. Almost as if by magic, our nation’s leaders conjure up vast sums to respond to this crisis.
Yet when advocates point out that our nation is facing an altogether different kind of crisis, one of soaring hunger and homelessness, and that a large-scale bailout is needed to prevent social service providers nationwide from buckling under the increasing load, we are told that the money these agencies need just doesn’t exist.
In 2006, fully 35.5 million Americans, 4 million more than in 1999, lived in households that couldn’t afford enough food, according to the Agriculture Department. Those households included more than 4 million children.
Last December, the U.S. Conference of Mayors reported that out of 23 major American cities, 80 percent had an increase in people using emergency soup kitchens and food pantries and 43 percent had an increase in the number of homeless children. All that happened between November 2006 and November 2007.
How did the federal government respond? It didn’t.
The only federal program that provides cash to both emergency feeding programs and homelessness prevention services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program, wasn’t expanded by a penny…
…When we ask members of Congress and lobbyists to help obtain serious funding increases to meet the soaring needs, we are patronizingly praised for our good work but told that times are just too tough to increase budgets. Maybe there will be more money when the economy improves, they tell us, oblivious to the reality that funding for our programs is most needed when the economy is weakest.
This year, the final stops will be pulled, and NAFTA will be the great train derailing everything in sight. On 90.7FM (KPFK) in Los Angeles, I heard a wonderful interview (can’t remember who it was with) but essentially, this is what’s happening — we’re pulling the final stops on any restrictions (tarriffs, etc) on our huge corporate agribusiness companies’ exports of corn and beans to Mexico, this year.
What does this mean?
In simple terms, we’re putting the rural campesino, the rural farmer who grows and sustains his family on corn or beans, two of Mexico’s staple crops since Aztec and mayan times, IN DIRECT COMPETITION with ConAgra and other huuuuuuuge multimillion dollar multimillion acre American companies.
Mexican rural farmers will be buying our corn and beans from the United States. And they won’t be able to compete because we’re bigger, badder, and yes, our government subsidizes these goods. So not only is the rural campesino pitted against big American corporate business, we’re given the unfair advantage of heavily subsidized (therefore cheaper to the mexican govt than their own farmers’ goods) goods. Yes, yes. And 80% of “illegal immigrants” (for those in america who have the gall to call ANYONE illegal) come from rural parts of Mexico. It’s not so hard to connect the dots.
Oh yes! The show was Connect the Dots — where I heard this interview. NOW it’s all making sense.
I’ve not gone into how NAFTA hurts American farmers, that will be saved for another post. other than the quick mention that more than 1 million US jobs have been lost as a result of NAFTA, wages have stagnated, and outsourcing became the norm because of NAFTA.
But this brings me to this point — who of the leading democratic candidates is passionate about repealing NAFTA’s unfair “free trade” that benefits NEITHER mexicans NOR working Americans (only benefits the corporate elites on either side). Who? ONLY John Edwards. Because he cares about the workers, the middle class.
I’m feeling Obama’s talk and his visions of hope, and yes they’re very moving, but underneath that talk I’m not feeling any commitment to the middle class on issues of “free trade”. Very recently he supported a unilateral USA-Peru Free Trade Agreement. When the US cannot con a whole region into believing the virtues of its free trade, it attempts to create unilateral free trade agreements where other countries can be manipulated a bit more. And this is what happened with Peru. If you look at the details of the US/Peru free trade agreement, it helps NEITHER the middle class in Peru, NOR the middle class in the United States. [of note, and of IMPORTANT note -- Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton didn't even show up for the vote on the US-Peru free trade issue, but they both noted their support for it previous to the vote].
It’s all pretty infuriating. There’s not much making me feel like a vote for Obama or a vote for Clinton would be a vote for the status quo of the democratic party (the party that pushed through NAFTA). Not to say they couldn’t be nudged to the left if one of them wins the dem nomination. But come on, people want change. And change shouldn’t have to be nudged right now.
Is it too much to ask to not HAVE to nudge? To not beg and plead?
Some Edwards love, as I’ve been doing, and will continue to do, as long as he’s in the fight:
Here’s a wonderful visualization of obesity in various countries around the world (ok and it’s super cute too):
“The percentage of the population older than 15 with a body-mass index greater than 30.” We in the United States officially win. It’s interesting that Mexico’s 2nd in the world. Is the fast food industry as hopping in mexico as it is here? Does any of this have to do with NAFTA and cross-border exports into Mexico? Our other neighbor, Canada, is doing much better than both of us. What intuitively about mexico on its own could contribute to this high a rate of obesity? And what’s with the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic both scoring in the top 10? And my dorky comment of the day — Hungary isn’t very hungry.
(though that’s a joking commentary about hungary. I know that food insecurity and food insufficiency are huge in the United States even though we’ve got the most obese people by percentage of total population, in the world).
On a recent day, patients on American-financed AIDS drugs and their families streamed into a food distribution point at the Lewanika Hospital in the town of Mongu. Already, as the World Food Program’s stocks were running low, rations had been almost halved. Some were so hungry that they scooped handfuls of corn-soy powder into their mouths without even adding water to make porridge.
One of the patients, Annie Mubita, a 32-year-old mother of six, said her strength was returning, and so was her appetite, which had shriveled when she was sick. Mrs. Mubita assumes her children are also H.I.V. positive, she said, but has not had them tested because if they, too, go on the drugs, they will be as hungry as she is.
“If the children have an appetite like me, the food won’t last even two weeks,” she said. If the rations end, she said, “me and my children will die.”…
I don’t know much about U.S. food policy — I’m just starting to read about it especially after my trip to Africa. This NYTimes article goes into recent Bush Administration requests to allow the World Food Programme to buy food from the countries in which it operates (instead of the only using the expensive method of buying US grown food, shipping it in US ships and setting up in US warehouses in other countries — a process that also takes up to 6 months and can be dangerous in times of more urgent appeals for food). I’m surprised that the Bush administration is actually pushing for this common sense approach — because they usually pander to US interests — and even more so becuase I believe the Bush family and friends have stock in Cargill, one of the biggest agribusiness sellers of US food to the program. As a side note, it’s interesting that the biggest critics of the US government and the ones who want to break it down and give it all away to the private companies — are the same ones who invest in companies who sell to the US Government because it’s oh-so-profitable.
Anyway, back to the interesting article. It ends with this heartbreaking story:
Munalula and her barefoot cousins scraped their bowls clean, savoring each unsweetened bite. But some children barely touched theirs.
Sisi Negenda, a 6-year-old with little braids, shyly explained. She has a younger sister, 3, and several orphaned relatives at home. She said she wanted to share with them. She carried off the bowl, still heavy with porridge, as though it were a precious, breakable object.
I promise I’ll share more.
This kind of thoughtfulness is not unlike my experience in rural Tanzania this year. Families would have literally nothing of material good other than the clothes on their backs (tattered) and their worn shoes and a mud hut with not more than 2-3 pots and pans and a small amount of porridge or ugali cooking. However, when we went house to house to perform a health survey, we were always offered food or other things.
The answer is: When it is a farmed fish. The U.S. Department of Agriculture routinely distinguishes between organic carrots and the regular kind when it decides whether to grant an “organic” label. But it has gotten into trouble over how to decide whether a fish is organic or not. The fishing industry is eager to call wild salmon “organic” as a way of denoting quality to consumers.
But there’s a problem. Carrots are either grown organically – without conventional pesticides – or they’re not. A wild carrot, to most people, is barely a carrot, but the flower called Queen Anne’s lace.
A wild salmon is a glorious thing, and every bit as delectable as its cousins raised in fish farms that are, or are not, organic. But to call a wild salmon organic is to demean it, since it comes from a place where the word has no meaning. That is a little like calling the ocean “natural.” The trouble is, there is no USDA “wild” label, nor should there be, for that would represent some final surrender to ourselves.
There are really two answers to what is, after all, a problem of terminology. The first is consumer education. There are few shoppers out there who know as much as they need to know about the fish they buy, how the fish are harvested or what effect industrial fishing is having on the oceans. The other answer is to continue to be strict and judicious with the USDA “organic” label and use it as a tool to help distinguish between fish-farming that is done responsibly and fish-farming that is not.
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