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Fighting Frankenfoods – Part I

Genetically modified foods are everywhere. Grown primarily in the U.S., they’ve become a staple of the North American diet, unmarked and unnoted but found on dining tables throughout the continent. Meanwhile, the major chemical companies that have brought us corn with its own toxic pesticide built in are poised to bring their “Gene Revolution” to the developing world, foisting it on farmers there with the promise of larger, safer yields based on modern technology. Goats are being genetically altered to produce pharmaceuticals in their milk; salmon are being engineered to grow 30 times faster than they normally would. Other genetically engineered (GE) foods include tomatoes, potatoes, canola, soy, papaya, and several varieties of squash. In the U.S. there’s been little concern about the impact of these “frankenfoods.” Not so in the rest of the world. A determined international cadre of scientists, environmentalists, farmers, and citizens is calling for a moratorium on genetically modified foods until human safety and environmental issues can be assessed. Many of these activists are feminists, and in true feminist fashion, there is no top-down hierarchy. Instead, coalitions are working side by side in a people’s revolution to create a society that reflects the needs of its citizens. The following are some of the key players.

Vandana Shiva, India
Ecofeminist Vandana Shiva believes that although people everywhere have the right to know what it is they are eating, in reality, not everyone has access to that information. “Let food security stay in women’s hands. We ensure good food at acceptable prices, and we ensure the livelihood of millions of peasant women.” Shiva has been a veteran of the food wars since the so-called Green Revolution ushered nonindigenous seeds and agricultural chemicals into India’s food system in the 1960s. The idea was that “miracle” seeds and chemically based fertilizers would increase crop production. Then, as now, the multinationals insisted that the new systems were needed to feed the world. But, in fact, the Green Revolution has led to greater hunger: traditional farming systems disappeared, farmers became ever more dependent on expensive chemicals, and many who lost their land were unable to buy the food they needed. Crops from the Green Revolution rotted in warehouses. And now, Shiva says, the pharmaceutical companies of the developed world want to implement expensive new genetic methods. Shiva castigates international trade laws and patenting systems that allow multinationals to appropriate the developing world’s resources. She has led the fight to revoke patents on plants native to India, such as the neem (gum) tree and basmati rice. Recently, she won a precedent-setting victory in European courts, challenging the right of U.S.-based W.R. Grace Corporation to hold a patent on the neem. “The free-trade economy, according to capitalist patriarchy, would like to lock up the free resources of the earth and make them the monopoly property—through patenting—of a handful of multinationals,” she fumes. Continued

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