A Look at Labeling GMOs

Monsanto-Tries-To-Patent-The-Natural-TomatoesRegarding the labeling of genetically engineered crops (GMOs), 64 countries around the world have laws requiring such labels, but in the United States we see millions of dollars being spent to fight such legislation.

Perhaps we need to think about it in another way.  Take a hypothetical example of two glasses of drinking water.  One glass of water comes from raw (untreated) toilet water which has been flushed down to a water treatment plant.  At this treatment plant, disease-causing solids are coagulated through the use of additives such as aluminum and iron salts.  Then, other chemicals are added (such as chlorine, ozone, ammonia, chlorine dioxide, or potassium permagranate) to disinfect the water.  These chemical disinfectants react with the microorganisms in the water, as well as with naturally occurring organic matter, to produce contaminants referred to a ‘disinfection byproducts’ (DBPs), such as trihalomethanes, which can be toxic at high concentrations.  To avoid this toxicity, many chemical disinfectants are only added after the water has already been filtered.

pure-water-splashing-two-glasses-6969632The other glass of water comes straight out of the earth from a clean, unspoiled natural spring.

You can choose either glass to drink, but before you do, you should have a few facts:  The spring water is free, but the treated water is expensive due to the fact that it contains a special formula of additives (namely fluoride for teeth, and alkaline substances to reduce corrosion in plumbing pipes).  These additives have allowed the producers of this water to have their special formula patented, meaning they own all commercial rights for the making, using, and selling of this water.

Both glasses appear to be ‘substantially equivalent’, meaning that they look and taste about the same, only a laboratory test can tell if the water came from the earth or from a treatment plant.   Many scientists have declared the treated water to be ‘safe for consumption’, but there is not yet a scientific consensus on this point.  Many of those who are concerned about the health effects of the treated water say that the ‘safety approval’ was based predominantly on studies that were conducted or funded by the producers of the treated water.

spring waterThe spring water is part of the natural water cycle, in which the groundwater is replenished through rainfall and filtered through the earth’s bio-diverse ecosystems.  The treated water is chemically tainted, and the byproducts of the treatment process may include endocrine disruptors from agricultural or household hormone use (i.e. growth hormones or hormonal contraception), which evidence has shown can have an adverse impact on humans when re-used for drinking water.

So there you sit with two glasses in front of you.  You would like to make the best decision based on health, environmental impact, cost, and ethics.  The only problem is that the two glasses are not labeled.

pesticide_applicationAgain, this is just a hypothetical example (however, much of the treatment process is an accurate description of what happens to recycled water), but the point of this example is that we have two choices to make when it comes to our agricultural food production systems.  The current ‘industrialized’ agricultural system is geared towards monocropped production.  It is predominantly owned and run by agribusiness interests who hold commercial patents for various genetic alterations which have been made to seeds, plants, and animals.  This system is chemically-dependent, and often involves the use of toxic pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.  Some of this toxicity has been genetically engineered directly into the plants themselves (as in the case of Bt-crops), or they have been genetically engineered to be resistant to the free-for-all spraying of herbicides (as in the case of ‘Roundup Ready’ crops).  This model of agriculture is expensive (it has been estimated that it takes about $100 million dollars to bring one genetically engineered seed variety from conception, to research, to market), locking farmer’s into economic dependency on the constant repurchasing of seeds, fertilizers, and chemicals.  Genetically engineered crops have also been exempted from a great deal of regulation under the guise of ‘substantial equivalence’, meaning that GMOs should be ‘just about the same’ as regular food (the falseness of this lying in the fact that they are ‘substantially different’ enough to warrant a patent).

Many scientists have claimed that GMOs are ‘safe to eat’, however there is not a consensus on this point.  When it comes to safety, GMOs cannot be viewed in isolation from the ‘whole picture’.  When one considers the add-on consequences of increased use of glyphosate (a ‘probable carcinogen’ according the World Health Organization), the disruption of natural ecosystems leading to a collapse of keystone pollinator populations (such as bees and butterflies), the inherent direct-to-consumer toxicity of Bt crops, the growing incidents of pest and disease resistance (resulting in even more chemical use), the increased rates of malnutrition due to a monocropped over-production of high-carbohydrate low-nutrient staple foods, and the economic dependency created by a corporate control of global seed supplies and food production systems, it becomes clear that GMOs are not an appropriate, nor sustainable, approach to food security.

DSC_0330On the other hand we have agroecological approaches, such as Permaculture, which strive to mimic the immense interactions of natural ecosystems.  These systems of agriculture use non-chemical approaches to protect from pests and diseases and to restore soil and water health (such as integrated pest management, protector plants, natural predators, crop rotation, agroforestry, mulching, compost, biochar, swales, guilds, etc).  These organic practices also reduce the costs involved with the purchasing of fertilizers and chemicals, and even more money can be saved by safeguarding and replanting open-pollinated seeds from year to year.  Agroecological approaches make use of diversified, annual, perennial, and highly-nutritious cropping choices to ensure food and nutrition security throughout the entirety of the year.  This ‘polycultural’ approach also allows for diversification of income generating activities (rather than relying on the one-time harvest and sale of one or two crops).

image_miniSo, here we sit with two choices in front of us.  We want to make decisions based on health, environmental impacts, cost, and ethics.  The only problem is that the choices are not labeled.  (If any labels exist, it is due to the fact that organic certification requires farmers to spend their own money to prove that they are using healthy systems, while the chemically-dependent and genetically-altered systems are being promoted and subsidized with taxpayer money).  Consumers have a right to make informed decisions about the products we purchase and the systems that we support through those purchases.  The time has come to advocate for systems that support and foster: Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share.  One very small step in that direction is to require a label telling us which system we are buying into.

New Page!

Hi all!  People often ask us to recommend a few resources to get started in Permaculture, so we have put together a new page of some of the things that we have found helpful, practical, and useful over the years.  (Many of these resources can be purchased online and easily found with a Google search).  We have separated the resources into three sections:  Getting Started,Advanced, and Technical Help.  We will be continually adding to this page, but if you have any suggestions for us regarding resources that you have found to be extremely useful please let us know and we’ll try to get them included  (send suggestions to neverendingfood@gmail.com).  Here is s a sample of what can be found by visiting ‘Recommended Resources‘, but there are many more resources listed on the actual page so give it a visit.

Getting Started–The following are resources that are great for beginners or for those who are teaching people who are just being introduced to Permaculture ideas and practice.

Earth-Users-Guide-to-Permaculture-2nd-Edition-0Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture” by Rosemary Morrow--This helpful manual walks through the basics of Permaculture implementation including: understanding the land, creating a design, adding resilience, and even takes a look at the ‘invisible structures’ of social Permaculture.







381990“Permaculture in a Nutshell” by Patrick Whitefield–This short booklet is a great introduction to Permaculture ideas.  It is focused a bit more on temperate climate implementation, but takes a good look at both urban as well as rural application of Permaculture ideas.







20130702introductiontopermaculture“Introduction to Permaculture” by Bill Mollison–This book is a combination of two older books called ‘Permaculture One’ and ‘Permaculture Two’.  It has revised the materials and made a more concise presentation of  introductory Permaculture concepts.






A Visit from E3!

Kusala teaching about Permaculture guilds and composting toilets!

Kusala teaching about Permaculture guilds and composting toilets!

We recently had a wonderful visit from and organization called ‘E3′ (Educate, Empower, Employ).  This is a faith-based group that works in the Dowa District of Malawi, primarily in a community called ‘Gusu’, to “help create ways to stimulate the local economy; build and use local assets which are then leveraged for greater and fairer market participation.”

This group received training in Permaculture Design several years ago and are now using these principles and ideas to address issues of food security, health, education, and economic development.  For this visit, E3 brought about 35 participants which included local farmers, members of local community groups, and project staff.

Chiku teaching about worm farming!

Chiku teaching about worm farming!

We are fortunate enough to currently have three interns at Never Ending Food (Emmanuel, Chiku, and Kusala) who can now give entire tours in English or Chichewa.  They decided to divided the large group into three smaller groups and spent the morning teaching about Permaculture Designs.  Their tours exposed the groups to concepts of:  Permaculture guilds and zones, water harvesting, nutrition, compost making, worm farming, fish farming, animal management, bee keeping, tree planting, mulching, Malawi’s 6 food groups, composting toilets, diversified staple field production, solar drying, fuel efficient stoves, the importance of using local resources, and much more!

Emmanuel teaching about compost making!

Emmanuel teaching about compost making!

Never Ending Food has recently received a donation of money from a group in Canada, which the interns are planning to use to take a group of local women farmers to visit the E3 project in the near future.  This ‘idea sharing’ fits in nicely with Permaculture’s third ethic of ‘Fair Share’ and helps to promote the implementation and uptake of ecologically sustainable ideas.

A big thanks to E3 for arranging the visit and to our three hard-working interns for the work they put into making the day a success!

Never Ending Food visits Norway!

Stacia and Kristof giving a Permaculture Presentation

Stacia and Kristof giving a Permaculture Presentation

Never Ending Food just had a wonderful opportunity to give a Permaculture presentation at the Telemark University College in Norway.  This college has four campuses located throughout the county of Telemark and the presentation took place at the campus located in the city of Bø.

Stacia and Kristof Nordin spoke about their experiences in using Permaculture principles to address development work in Malawi, Africa.  Their presentation was one of three presentations which were given that day to an international group of students who are interested in environmental, social, and ecological issues.  The first

A Trip to the School Garden

A Trip to the School Garden

presentation was on the Fairtrade movement in Norway, the second presentation was on Permaculture, and the third presentation was an interactive session which took place in the Bø campus school garden which is used for community outreach (including a local kindergarten which is located next to the campus).  The group that tends for this garden showed us around the garden, cooked us a soup from freshly picked garden veggies, and discussed their efforts to make the city of Bø a ‘Transition Town‘.   Transition towns are grassroots community projects which seek to build resilience in response to peak oil, climate destruction, and economic instability by creating local groups that uphold the values of the transition network.

Jaw-dropping Natural Beauty!

Jaw-dropping Natural Beauty!

Despite working a bit in Norway, we also took some time for a bit of rest and relaxation.  Norway helped us to renew our commitment to using Permaculture principles to heal the earth.  It is absolutely remarkable what a country can do when it commits itself to a sustainable future.

Electric Tesla Fueling Station

Electric Tesla Fueling Station

Despite having large reserves of fossil fuels, the government of Norway is investing in clean and renewable energy, offering incredible incentives for the use of electric vehicles, and working to safeguard their immense wealth of natural beauty: soaring mountain ranges, majestic fjords, crystal clear water, and trees as far as the eye can see.  Let’s hope that the rest of the world can learn a few valuable lessons from Norway!

Another Successful PDC!

Kusamala PDC 2015 292aKusamala Institute of Agriculture and Ecology has just completed another fantastic Permaculture Design Course (PDC)!  This was a truly international group of people with participants coming from Malawi, Somalia, Germany, America, and Austria.  Kristof Nordin, from Never Ending Food, was brought on to assist with the facilitation of this course.

Kusamala PDC 2015 177aThe course followed the international curriculum for a 72-hour PDC and covered a wide range of topics from Permaculture principles to the hands-Kusamala PDC 2015 080aon application of these principles.  All 17 participants worked very hard to earn their certificates and they should be very proud to now call themselves internationally certified Permaculture Designers!

We hope that this latest batch of Designers will be able to apply their newly acquired Permaculture skills to every situation in every country that they come from.  All the best in the future!