Leave us alone!
— Devinder Sharma’s response to my question, ‘What do you want the U.S. to do to help India?’
The well-respected scholar/activist Devinder Sharma tells me that at minimum 28,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide over the last ten years, in great part as a consequence of the business practices of Archer Daniels Midland (sponsor of The MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour), Monsanto, Wal-Mart and others.1
Most people reading this probably know the basic story/cold facts, but my contribution is to offer up a recommendation for meaningful action, designed to –at the very least– make a dent in related criminality/immorality being perpetuated in the United States. Beyond that, it is obvious that the health of the world, making life livable for us, is contingent upon our being concerned with the welfare of one and all, above and beyond what NGOs (under the influence of the IMF and World Bank) have done. Haven’t done.2
To do so, Andrew Kimbrell, public interest attorney, activist, and author has been indispensable. His service as Executive Director of the International Center for Technology Assessment and the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C. has enabled him to edit an astoundingly helpful work titled The Fatal Harvest Reader.3
His listing of the seven worst/most prominent myths concerning agribusiness are well worth running through here, as they can serve as talking points for influencing others in the scenario suggested below.
Cutting through the Corporate Lies –and making a difference in practical terms– requires that we not fight against industrial agriculture on an issue-by-issue basis exclusively. Altering the thinking and habits of a lifetime is a monumental challenge, but…our lives depend upon being successful in this realm.
The Myths Confronted:
A) Poverty and landlessness deny people access to food. This causes world hunger, not a lack of food. “Industrial agriculture actually increases hunger by raising the cost of farming, by forcing tens of millions of farmers off the land, and by growing primarily high-profit export and luxury crops.”4 Industrial Agriculture will NOT feed the world.
B) Everyone has heard about how industrial agriculture contaminates –with pesticides– what we eat. In addition, its life-threatening bacteria is slipped into our lettuce, and genetically engineered growth hormones (in milk) guarantee that obesity is the norm. Food-borne illnesses are one thing. Cancer, easily traceable to agribusiness practices, is quite another. One doesn’t have to donate more money for cancer research, the scorecard is in on several counts, and we all now simply wait for the obligatory action to be taken. Industrial Food is NOT safe, healthy and nutritious.
C) Industrial Food is NOT cheap… if you add up its real cost. Health, environmental, and social costs must be factored in with current supermarket prices. Duh. Hmmm, I wonder who’s making out like a bandit here… with (our tax) subsidies too.
D) “Small farms produce more agricultural output per unit area than large farms. Moreover, larger, less diverse farms require far more mechanical and chemical inputs. These ever increasing inputs are devastating to the environment and make these farms far less efficient than smaller, more sustainable farms.”5 Industrial Agriculture is NOT efficient.
E) Our local supermarket provides an illusion of choice. Labeling of products is guilty of The Sin of Omission with regard to pesticides and genetic modification. What happened to the right to reject what we don’t want to eat? “Most importantly, the myth of choice masks the tragic loss of thousands of crop varieties caused by industrial agriculture.”6 Industrial Food does NOT offer more choices.
F) Not even the U.S. Military –which has made uninhabitable (in the U.S. alone) a land mass the size of the state of Florida– can compete with Industrial Agriculture as the largest single threat to the earth’s biodiversity. Industrial Agriculture does NOT benefit the environment and wildlife.
G) Biotechnology will NOT solve the problems of Industrial Agriculture. Rather, it will compound them. And, in the process, a few of the world’s largest corporations will gain ever greater control over our food supply.
There you have it. Now, as promised, I’m obligated to tell you WHAT YOU CAN DO.
It’s simple. I recently wrote a piece which urged parents and other interested parties to march into local schools, and demand that teachers do away with perpetuating the lie that our system of government is based –in reality– on checks and balances.
Well, let’s take it from there. Authorities in schools can be confronted –easily– with the facts delineated above. How much time does it take to pass around the Fact Sheet to one and all? Of course, one would have to follow that up with a very focused, clearly laid out plan/demand for a STRIKE! A student strike. And, where possible, PTA participation would be desirable. Independent parents, neighbors et. al. should be welcomed.7 A civilized food fight (!!!) in the cafeteria, if you will. Or simply a classic sit-in. No fasts necessary.
Before you rule this out –out of hand– as pie in the sky, look at what actions are already being attempted in educational settings out of concern over obesity alone. You’d think that a Gym teacher or two might want to run with the ball you put on the court, yes? And Science? Really, the number of relevant disciplines here is high. And the stakes are much higher than overweight kids not being able to climb a rope, or –please don’t take this the wrong way– acquiring diabetes. Our landbase is threatened with extinction.
Coordination with several schools might be an option. Huge Government $$ Here!!8
Cooperation with several organizations might prove fruitful.9 Considering the looming threat to the integrity of organic standards, those interested in establishing more stringent standards would be prime candidates, for starters. Frustration and fear in all quarters of the Green Ecological/Agrarian Movement, however, would quickly give organizers the necessary minds and bodies to begin.
Let everyone look at the where the food-related expenses are going at present.10 Whose pockets are being lined. Whose kids are being assigned… obesity problems. And worse.
I mean, it’s one thing to want your kid to not miss any classes ’cause you want him/her to become a Rocket Scientist. It’s another thing to have the child grow up and become a Rocket Scientist with colon cancer.
And to be bringing down most of India in the process… to get one’s missiles off.
- Those interested can verify this by reviewing Seven Stories Press’ Censored 2008: The Top Ten Censored Stories of 2006-07, Vandana Shiva’s appearance on Democracy Now! (December 13, 2006) Arun Shrivastava’s “Genetically Modified Seeds: Women in India Take on Monsanto (Global Research, October 9, 2006), and Suman Sahai’s “Sowing Trouble: India’s ‘Second Green Revolution.'” Devinder Sharma is a distinguished journalist, author, thinker and analyst based in New Delhi, India. [↩]
- Mike Davis’ Planet of Slums (the “Illusions of Self Help” chapter) provides a definitive take on this fundamental point. [↩]
- Island Press, 2002. [↩]
- The Fatal Harvest Reader, p. 6. [↩]
- Ibid., p. 19. [↩]
- Ibid., p. 23. [↩]
- As far as what demands should be made, the list of organizations referred to in the #9 footnote below is a good starting place. Advice on tactics/strategies would follow naturally. And coverage from media outlets is virtually guaranteed. I would be more than happy to recommend organizations which are near given locations, upon request. [↩]
- It’s pretty ugly how governmental food support must take the form –‘cross the board (in and out of educational institutions)– of subsidies for corporations producing unhealthy fare exclusively. [↩]
- The great number of groups listed at the back of The Fatal Harvest Reader is a good point of departure for contacting interested parties. When considering working with NGOs, however, one always has to be on one’s toes, asking the right questions, not jumping too quickly into the arms of someone who’s already in bed with The Enemy. [↩]
- One of the many hidden aspects of financial support for the industry lies in the fact that very often the same companies that receive assistance for providing food own and/or run transportation that’s necessary for delivery. That’s one. The “aid” goes way beyond the surface support…which is unseemly enough at $30.5 or so billion per year. [↩]