Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
This past Tuesday, January 15th, I was privileged to participate in a “Pray-In for the Climate” held in Washington D.C. The gathering was organized by the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate (IMAC), a coalition of people from different faiths united in the recognition that we need to act—and act promptly—to stop the warming of our planet. The pray-in was deliberately scheduled for the actual birthday—rather than the official birth celebration—of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. During his life Rev. King had been an outspoken critic of the “triple scourge” of racism, poverty , and militarism, and we all concurred that if he were alive today, he would have added climate change to this set.
The slow heating of the earth’s ecosystem not only threatens to unleash planetary disasters of unprecedented scale but also presents us with the most weighty ethical challenge we face today. The moral dimension of climate change emerges from the unbalanced distribution of its consequences between agents and victims. While the advanced industrial nations of the north, most notably the U.S. (and now China), bear primary responsibility for overloading the air and oceans with carbon emissions, the poor countries of the south pay the heaviest price. It’s East Africa and Southeast Asia, the Caribbean islands and Central America, that bear the brunt of the floods and droughts, the failed harvests and water shortages, that are driving their populations over the cliff of poverty and hunger. It’s the small island-nations of the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific that must face rising seas, which are likely to swallow them whole and leave them no place to go. Though our sense of human solidarity should compel us to share their plight and take effective action, we normally just go about in the dull daze of complacency, absorbed in our personal affairs and pursuing “business as usual.”
Charles W. Elliott
It’s All About the Patents. And Control. And Money.
“Seeds are the most basic thing that we got. Everybody has to eat. We want to have a healthy planet with healthy people, we have to have good seeds.” – Seed Farmer, Dan Jason
For more than 10,000 years, humans have engaged in the simple free act of saving natural seeds from a season’s crop and replanting them in the next season. The primeval cycle of planting crops, saving seeds and replanting them in the next season is the practice of agriculture itself. But we are now witnessing the passing away, in a single generation, “this ancient ritual as old as civilization, a ritual in many ways responsible for civilization.”  This is due to the use of genetically engineered plants, protected by patents and contracts, which make saving seed and replanting them in the next season illegal. The replacement of nature’s bounty with increased sale of genetically engineered crops under such restrictions leads inexorably to expanded corporate control of our food supply. This problem is exacerbated by the loss of crop diversity and increasing market concentration in the seed business.
Seeds and Patents
A patent is the exclusive right, granted by law, to commercialize a new invention for a limited period of time. Thus, patent law confers upon the patent holder a monopoly on the “exploitation” of the invention. Thanks to U.S. Supreme Court decisions that recognized the right to patent life forms, crop seeds and other agricultural products produced from genetic engineering are subject to patent rights.
In the context of crop seeds, this monopoly grants companies the exclusive right to sell the seeds and allows them to charge higher prices for them. As applied in most countries, such seed patents prohibit farmers from saving seeds from their own harvest. As a result, they must either buy new seeds each year or pay for a license to use the patented seeds they have saved. 
For non-hybrid crops that employ transgenetic biotechnology, agribusiness and seed companies use intellectual property law, tangible property common law, and strict contracts to prohibit farmers from saving seed. For example, when Monsanto sells seeds for its genetically modified crops, it requires that farmers agree to severe restrictions before they can open a bag of its GMO seed. Monsanto’s typical so-called “Technology/ Stewardship” license: (1) prohibits growers from using seeds for any purpose other than planting a single commercial crop; (2) prohibits growers from saving any crop produced from seed for planting; (3) prohibits supplying seed produced from seed to anyone for planting other than to a Monsanto-licensed seed company; and (4) prohibits transferring any seed containing patented “Monsanto Technologies” to any other person or entity for planting. The agreement also requires that the grower allow intrusive investigation of the growers’ records, including examination and copying of “any records and receipts that could be relevant to Grower’s performance of this agreement.”
Charles W. Elliott
The recent battle over California’s Proposition 37, a ballot initiative to require consumer labeling of genetically modified organism (“GMO”) food, has shone a harsh spotlight on the impacts of biotechnology on agriculture and our food supply, and on corporate influence over the political process and the public’s right to information. As corporate efforts to expand the use of genetic engineering in agriculture march onward, we see a counterweight in the movements for sustainable food production and support for organic and small scale farming. We’ll be taking a look at some of the issues surrounding use of genetic engineering in food production in a series of blog posts on GMOs: Food, Money & Control.
Consumers Kept in the Dark: Big Push to Label Genetically-Modified Food Fails
Proposition 37 — the ballot initiative that would have required GMO food labeling in California, the world’s ninth largest economy — drowned under the tsunami of corporate money opposing it. Monsanto, a leading maker of genetically engineered seeds, contributed $8.1 million alone. More than $45 million was spent by large agribusiness, big processed food manufacturers, and chemical companies, including DuPont, PepsiCo, General Mills, Nestle, Conagra and Dow. It should come as no surprise that Dow, the company that brought us dioxin-laced Agent Orange, would prefer that we not know whether the food we eat contains foreign genetic material.
Charles W. Elliott
Each October 16 is World Food Day, a celebration of the founding of the lead international agency for global efforts to combat hunger: the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). World Food Day has been observed every year since 1979, in more than 150 countries, raising awareness of global poverty and hunger. It serves as a wonderful example of international cooperation and community-building to help the poor, exemplifying our common humanity and basic goodness.
For World Food Day 2012, Buddhist Global Relief joins the FAO and our partner, Oxfam America, to both celebrate FAO’s work and to raise awareness of how much more work must be done to ensure a world in which everyone has enough food. We still confront the unacceptable: one billion people continue to suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition in a time of unprecedented plenty.
The FAO’s tireless work to end hunger is well worth an annual celebration. It has been a central driving force for worldwide fulfillment of the human right to food. It responds to soaring food prices by helping small scale farmers raise their output and providing direct aid. It supports projects in more than 100 countries to enhance food security, providing early warning and emergency response to mitigate the impact of natural disasters on food security. Its Alliance Against Hunger and Malnutrition (AAHM) creates global connections between local, regional, national and international institutions which share a common commitment to the rapid eradication of hunger and malnutrition. FAO “Goodwill Ambassadors” such as Jeremy Irons and Céline Dion attract public and media attention to the problem of hunger. Its online campaign against hunger, www.EndingHunger.org, is a vital networking campaign to build the movement through social networks, presenting world governments with more than three million signatures on a global petition to end hunger.
World Food Day is a wonderful opportunity to share your concern for the world’s poor and hungry with your family, friends and community. You can “walk the talk” and join Buddhist Global Relief’s Walks to Feed the Hungry by walking with us, or simply making a walk donation through our First Giving page.
As Oxfam America suggests, you can host a simple World Food Day dinner on October 16th that “fosters a conversation about where your food comes from, who cultivates it, and how you can take personal actions that will make the food system more just and sustainable.” You can get discussion guides and free materials from Oxfam at: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/campaigns/food-justice/world-food-day. You can organize a “food and fund drive” for local food banks and pantries. In the United States, if you don’t know where your nearest food bank is located, you can find one in the nationwide list at: http://www.feedingamerica.org/Home/foodbank-results.aspx. Food banks help feed tens of millions of people in the United States. They need your support and food donations.
Taking action can be as simple as picking up the phone. Call your political leaders and representatives and ask them: what specific, concrete steps are they taking to end hunger? Each one of us can find our own best way to help on World Food Day. For more information, visit Buddhist Global Relief’s World Food Day page at http://www.buddhistglobalrelief.org/active/WorldFoodDay.html
Posted in Agriculture, Global Hunger, Hunger in America, Walk to feed the hungry
Tagged Children's hunger, FAO, Food and Agriculture Organization, food insecurity, Global hunger, Hunger in America, Oxfam, United Nations, World Food Day
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
Last month, the international relief agency Oxfam issued a briefing entitled Extreme Weather, Extreme Prices, which deals with the impact of extreme weather events on global food prices. The briefing, a summary of a longer research report, makes an important distinction between two kinds of effects that climate change will have on food production as our planet grows ever warmer. The first, the one with which agronomists and climate scientists have primarily been concerned, is the incremental decline in average crop yields caused by gradual increases in global temperature and changes in precipitation patterns.
As temperature rises to a certain optimal range, crop yields rise proportionally until a peak is reached, at which point, with further increases in temperature, they start to decline. Studies of rice harvests in the Philippines, for example, show that for each degree Celsius rise in temperature above the optimum during the growing season, yields of rice decrease by 10%. A similar pattern has been noted for other staples. Drops in production inevitably cause food prices to escalate. Research suggests that the average price of staples such as corn could more than double over the next twenty years, with up to half the increase due to changes in average temperatures and rainfall patterns.