When I was a little girl, we vacationed at my Gran’s house for a few weeks almost every summer. I treasure my memories from these visits. My gran always kept a tin of baked treats for us, it was never empty. Cookies, cheese straws, granola squares, rusks, and these hard, dry savory toast squares which sound awful but were one of my favorites. Our walks through the wildflowers were special, my gran could name them all, as were our walks along the beach because she could tell you about each shell, the creatures who made them and lived in them. My gran knew everything. Another memory I have, is that at noon sharp, we were expected to present ourselves with brushed hair and clean hands at the table for a cooked lunch. Lunches were always delicious, but there was no talking because my grandfather turned the radio on to listen to the twelve o’clock news. Sometimes the news upset him and he flicked that radio off early, most often we listened to the whole broadcast, my sister and I eagerly waiting for the bit at the end about the weather and beach tides. Afterwards, lively discussions ensued about the current events over dessert and tea, until my sister and I could make our escape out into the sunshine to look for crabs or build sandcastles.
How much times have changed! I am not talking about THAT long ago, I mean, we HAD a TV, but it was only turned on in the evenings. Never during the day. Now, we have news streaming from multiple devices and sources 24/7. It’s become so noisy, it’s hard to know what to listen to, and harder to prioritize what’s important. The headline about the UN’s suspension of aid to Syria after trucks carrying food, winter clothes, and medical supplies was bombed, is sandwiched between Angelina’s divorce from Brad, and a story about a man who buys his dog an iPhone 7.
Is it any surprise that we are so distracted we miss the opportunity to string some important bits together? For instance, in the news last week was a notice that German company, Bayer, has agreed to buy Monsanto in a $66bn cash deal. The deal should close by the end of 2017. If it is proven that this would give Bayer unfair monopoly of the market, Bayer is prepared to pay a $2bn dollar fine, according the article on Reuters. The deal would give Bayer control over 25% of the world’s seeds. Think about this: the ‘bad guy’ in the GMO labelling war, i.e. Monsanto (March Against Monsanto) would cease to exist. By naming a villain in our fight for labelling we were able to mobilize people, but in so naming that villain, we risk having that energy disappear in a poof. March Against Bayer doesn’t have the same ring and is bound to cause consumer confusion. It is no surprise, at all, that this deal was announced AFTER President Obama signed the DARK act into law in July 2016 squashing state GMO labelling initiatives.
Here’s another one. In 2013, on a Friday just before a holiday weekend, the USDA quietly announced that it would allow imports of chicken that was processed in China, but slaughtered elsewhere. In other words, the birds would be raised and slaughtered here in the US, or Canada, shipped to China for processing, and then sent back to the US for distribution. In November 2014, a year later, the USDA announced it would allow chickens raised and processed in China to be shipped to the United States cooked, frozen, or refrigerated. Then, in December 2015, as part of an ombibus budget bill, the Congress repealed the COOL Act, requiring the ‘country of origin’ to be on meat labels. It is no longer required for grocery stores to label country of origin on those steaks, ground beef, chops, or chicken thighs. You could be eating chicken from China right now, and you would never know. And ‘organic’ chicken can be imported too. Poultry farms in the US have come under fire in recent news for the inhumane living conditions of their chickens, and the best way to resolve that problem, it seems, is to outsource it. To China.
In the absence of GMO labels, and country of origin labels, we are powerless. We unknowingly eat what we’ve been given. If news was news, we could pay better attention, don’t you think? But let’s at least sit at the table, get some dessert and a cup of tea and have a discussion about what is happening to our food system, before we escape into the sunshine to build sandcastles. And by the way the answer to this problem, is to buy local. Know your farmer.
by Pam Denholm