It’s a tradition: Each July 4th, I celebrate our nation’s birthday on the banks of the Missouri River, at the base of my state’s capitol emblazoned with our state motto, which translated from Latin means: “The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law.”
As darkness fills the sky, patriotic music serenades the crowd under showering lights of booming fireworks. Despite our political differences, we stand united on this day, sharing national pride and confirming that we live in the land of the free.
But do we?
Despite the red-white-and-blue fanfare and parade of food trucks, I’m hungry for greater liberty and justice in our food system.
For example, consider the 5 Freedoms below, where our rights to produce “good” food and eat “well” have been compromised:
1. Freedom to produce and choose non-GMO foods.
It’s estimated that 70 percent of processed foods contain genetically engineered ingredients. Yet unlike citizens in 64 countries, Americans have been denied a simple food label identifying GMO ingredients.
2. Freedom from pesticides.
More than 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used in the U.S. each year, and almost a third of the produce tested by USDA had residues from two or more pesticides. The effects of such combinations are largely untested and unknown, and residues don’t simply wash off.
In addition, approximately 90 percent of the U.S. soybean, corn and cotton commodity crops are genetically modified to withstand herbicide sprays. As weed resistance develops, new traits are introduced which allow increased spraying and poisonous drift. Monsanto estimates that by the year 2025, corn seed will have traits allowing farmers to spray five different herbicides.
In Minnesota, organic farmer, Mary Jo Forbord fears neighboring sprays will harm her fruit trees and her family’s health; and many Minnesota residents have accepted tainted rural waterways as no longer safe for recreation.
Vandana Shiva, who cultivates “earth democracy”, describes the farmer who can save seeds as a “free farmer.” Richard Oswald, a Missouri-based farmer and member of the board of directors for the Organization for Competitive Markets explains that consumers, farmers and rural communities all lose access to seed and food variety with the consolidation of commercial seed companies and the patenting of seeds.
4. Freedom to know where our food comes from and how it was produced.
In 2016 USDA removed mandatory “Country of Origin Labeling” for beef and pork, thereby preventing consumers from knowing the source of their meat. Further, individuals who participate in whistle-blowing activities exposing livestock facilities where animals are mistreated may face prosecution under state “ag-gag” laws that forbid undercover filming or photography on farms without the owner’s consent.
5. Freedom to bear healthy children.
Sesame Street’s introduction of a new character with autism reflects our “new normal”: Increasing rates of children born with neuro-developmental disabilities. Increasing rates of childhood cancers, allergies, and birth defects may be explained in part by environmental toxin exposure.
Mothers should not have to worry about toxins passed along to their infants during pregnancy, through breast milk or their family’s food and water.
So what can be done?
Here are 3 strategies for reclaiming our food system:
1. Support cooperatives, CSAs, and farmers’ markets where we can partner with food producers and be mindful food citizens rather than mere consumers.
2. Choose organic foods, thereby supporting organic farmers who go the extra mile to protect our natural resources and the health of our families. Organic farming methods uphold our freedom to choose foods that don’t contain GMO ingredients, antibiotics, hormones, and toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
3. Share the tenets of “food sovereignty.” Discuss food, farm and labor policies with your representatives in local, state and national government. Attending a town meeting this summer? Share your thoughts about GMO labeling, fair wages, affordable health care, pesticide drift and water monitoring, or any other policy issue close to your heart and home. The upcoming 2018 Farm Bill impacts the food on all our plates.
Food is an avenue toward freedom. It is a keystone to a strong society, healthy nation, and homeland security. We the people have collective power in our food purchases and voices. In cooperation, let’s pay closer attention, ask questions, and take actions to transform our food system, and future.