On March 27, I attended the University of Victoria President’s Distinguished Lecture by Vandana Shiva.
Shiva, a physicist and activist, called claims made for GE (genetically-engineered) crops false: there has been no increase in yields, no reduction in crop losses and huge increases (she used a figure of 8,000 per cent overnight) in costs. Cotton yield is down 40 per cent, and there is an epidemic of Indian farmer suicide.
She spoke of food as a living web, not a commodity to be owned, bought and sold. We could follow the example of Gandhi’s historic salt pilgrimage when he walked to the coast and gathered salt in defiance of unjust colonial laws. Today, we have the task of protecting nature and ancient knowledge by saving seeds and banishing the genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) which are “undoing evolution, culture and history.”
She reminded us that 50 per cent of industrial food – which she characterised as “not worth eating” – is wasted, mainly due to transportation over unreasonable distances. Seventy-five per cent of environmental degradation can be traced to industrial food production. She said small-scale farms could feed two Indias, not that she advocates such over-production.
Touching on the economics of food, she pointed out that industrial food puts profit before nourishment. She challenged the myth of “cheap” food with the statement that $400 billion in subsidies is not cheap.
Farmers must cultivate and it is the duty of academics to deconstruct the myths of “more” and “cheap.” She promoted the localisation of food production to put an end to the tyranny of corporate control and restore democracy.
She reminded us that three times a day, when we feed ourselves, we have the opportunity to resist the tyranny of corporate control of food. All the efforts of this brilliant, hard-working, courageous woman are wasted if we do not bestir ourselves to take some action, however small, to safeguard the land from contamination by plants which present a threat to our food strength in diversity.
We must demand labeling of GMOs, boycott GMOs, support local ecological food projects and help to save open-pollinated seeds.
Marjorie Stewart is board chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.