But I think we should consider still another, less-discussed reason: certainty of where our food is coming from and how it’s produced.
California voters chose in the most recent US election not to pass Proposition 37, an initiative that would require big food companies to label their genetically modified foods (GMO). Some argue the measure didn’t pass because the food companies made some sizeable financial contributions to ensure it didn’t; others argue the initiative wasn’t watertight enough to protect the state from potential lawsuits and the taxpayer from higher fees.
But the activism and protests surrounding that election in general and Proposition 37 in particular highlights a growing global trend: Consumers are not satisfied with Big Food Producers, with the agricultural mechanisation of growing, with the blurring of ethical and healthful boundaries for the sake of mass production.
Genetically modified foods come from genetically modified crops. No surprise there. But what most people don’t know or care to know is the way crops are engineered. Scientists have found that genetically modified crops aren’t necessarily worse for us than organically grown crops, though there are a growing number of people who question that conclusion. But there are also issues around farming and the fact that Big Food Producers are using technology to make bigger, faster-growing and longer-lasting crops that are putting small-time growers out of business.
The little guys can’t compete with these “frankenplants”, as they’re sometimes called, without relying on fertilisers and pesticides and machineries that are expensive and bad for us.
One company in particular represents the big, bad wolf in this story. Seed producer Monsanto has been fighting the US government since 1992 for the freedom to produce genetically modified food without labeling it. New Zealand and Australia allow genetically modified foods to be sold on a case-by-case basis. Among those foods approved for sale are soybean, canola, corn, potato, sugarbeet, cotton, wheat, lucerne, and rice (MFE, 2012).
The genetically modified food fight (sounds like a 21st century schoolyard game, doesn’t it?) is important, but perhaps its most notable contribution to the global conversation has been an increase in awareness of food production in general.
The GMO conversation represents just one tentacle of a worldwide movement demanding simple answers from Big Food Producers: Where does our food come from? How do you process it? What are you putting in it? What are you doing to corned beef that gives it a 20-year shelf life?
Dozens of documentaries and books have been created to provide insight into an industry that’s for so long gone about its business out of the prying consumer eye. One in particular shows its viewers how some companies were using “pink slime” – ammonia and slaughterhouse scraps – instead of real hamburger meat because it lasted longer.
People are starting to speak up. One author has said of the growing food fight that people are starting to “vote with their forks.”
People are buying local, going to farmer’s markets, moving in larger numbers away from genetically modified and mass-produced foods.
Around the world, lawmakers are moving to tax and regulate fizzy drinks. (By the way, Coca-Cola uses genetically modified corn in its syrup.) Indeed, the Cook Islands government recently hopped on the bandwagon, raising the import levy on fizzy drinks to a fanfare of applause from doctors, the Ministry of Health, and anti-diabetes crusader Pa Marie Ariki.
These are important steps in the global scheme of things--toward local production and away from mass production.
Big producers of genetically modified food and junk food in general have gotten away with too much for too long–and they will continue to do so, but it’s refreshing to see people and governments putting pressure on them.
Of course I think it’s important to advocate for healthy eating. Avoiding that discussion will, frankly, result in more diabetes and more death. That’s one reason to buy locally produced fruits and vegetables and to eat locally caught fish.
But there are other reasons to grow local and buy local that we don’t often think about, like how much more important it is that we pay our own growers than continue to feed an offshore industry that’s concerned not with people but with profits.
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