But what can I do?

Recently, I had the privilege of standing up to a Goliath of our time: Monsanto. I choose to exercise this privilege because here I can do it reasonably safely. There are many countries where it’s not safe to protest what some see as unfair, unethical, unreasonable, unjust and unruly multinational corporations.

Which brings me to why I chose to freeze my toes to tell Monsanto, the U of M — from which it pains me to admit I graduated — and Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers that they should be ashamed of themselves for spending millions on a research facility that I feel will destroy Manitoba’s canola industry and pollute the planet with another genetically engineered crop people don’t want to eat.

According to a Greenpeace report for Australia, “In the 12 years since the commercial introduction of GE (genetically engineered) canola to Canada, there has been a pronounced increase in both herbicide use and weed resistance problems. The segregation of non-GE canola in Canada has failed, leading to the collapse of its non-GE and organic canola industries.”

An author of the report goes on to state that, “Because contamination is so widespread, Manitoba farmers are unable to grow organic or conventional non-GE canola. Several markets including Japan, the European Union and much of the Middle East now have restrictions against Manitoba’s canola exports.”

Along with numerous layers of winter apparel I wore a box, each of its sides bearing a message. Eventually, the tiny brave group decided that a) it was really cold and b) we could have a lot of impact if we took our protest inside University Centre.

I strolled around the dining area in my box, asking people if they were eating safe food. “Is your food GE-free?” Some didn’t know what that meant. Others asked, “How can I know?” The chef and kitchen manager kindly promised to find out from suppliers, but I’m still waiting to hear the result.

I felt sorry for a chemically sensitive woman who was afraid to speak about her feelings toward Monsanto lest she be identified. It brought home the point that I fight for those who cannot.

I was pleasantly surprised by the interest and concern we encountered, especially the four reporters from Manitoba’s two universities. Those earnest young women displayed a heart-warming naiveté and hopefulness, yet I sensed an overwhelming dauntingness. The world has so many problems, and this woman’s asking me to care so much about just one of them — genetically engineered foods. “Why should I care, they asked me? What can I do?”

That question stayed with me. I felt my responses were inadequate and the question so important it deserved a better answer. Here are some ways we can all help to maintain the integrity of our food supply.

First of all, it’s important to get educated a little about the disastrous health and environmental impacts of GE crops. According to a Telegraph-Journal letter to the editor, Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette, has documented 65 serious health risks from genetically modified products of all kinds. According to BeyondPesticides.org, “The court outlined the many ways in which GE sugar beets could harm the environment and consumers, noting that containment efforts were insufficient and past contamination incidents were ‘too numerous’ to allow the illegal crop to remain in the ground.”

Learn why 200,000 farmers have committed suicide in India since the late 1990s. Or investigate why bee colonies are collapsing all over the world and how that will impact food supplies.

Get active. Write to federal politicians and demand labelling of GE food. Point out farmers have a right to save seed. Tell the province you don’t want your tax dollars supporting Monsanto and toxic farming practices. Ask for a pesticide notification registry so you can protect yourself and your loved ones from toxic exposures.

Be the change you want to see. Join a local food co-op or grow your own organic food (make sure you cover it up during fogging). Check out events happening across Canada like the Cross-Country Kitchen Table Talks.

Perhaps the loudest way to voice opinions is with our consumer voice. Every time you purchase food ask if it’s GE-free. Buy (local) organic food whenever you can. Look for produce with a five-digit code starting with the number nine and avoid codes starting with the number eight. Read ingredient labels: if the product contains any form of soy, corn, cotton, and now canola, it could be genetically engineered. Typically, the shorter the ingredient list, the safer the food. For more information, check out Beyond Pesticide’s “Eating with a Conscience” guide.

Use your employee voice, too. Seek employment that meets your personal values.
If you’re a farmer, going organic will protect you and your family, and it’s the right thing to do. Invest in the future; tell your broker to make sure Monsanto stock is not a part of your portfolio.

As I climb out of my box, I wish for the day we’ll extricate ourselves from the one Monsanto wants to keep us in.

Glenda Whiteman is an educator and environmental activist. She hopes to soon be growing her own organic vegetables.

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