The court in Dendermonde, Belgium has convicted the 11 activists accused of ‘forming a criminal gang’ as part of their protest against a GMO potato trial planting. I posted about their lack of a fair trial a few days ago.
Have a look at their press release for more information.
Sign the petition
Spread the word!
In a few days the verdict is due in one of the biggest challenges to democracy in Belgium in recent memory. The ‘Potato 11′, the people charged with the destruction of a GMO potato test field I posted about before, are facing disproportionately serious charges for what was little more than exercising their rights to free speech. In addition, during their trial, they were denied the right to present their own defence.
The following is from their own website:
Belgium – Judges deny anti-GMO activists a fair trial
Debate on GMOs refused by court
Dendermonde/Brussels, 15/01/2013 – In the presence of a huge crowd of supporters from a range of organisations, the court of Dendermonde (Belgium) has denied 11 anti-GMO activists the legal right to a defence in court. The court refused to allow defence witnesses to give their statements, and also refused to allow video footage to be shown. This is in violation of article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees defendants the right to a fair trial. In response, the 11 field liberators and their lawyers decided unanimously to leave the court room.
In contrast to the vast majority of Belgian court cases, no independent investigating judge was appointed. This is despite the fact that the prosecution has politicised the trial by introducing the charge of forming a criminal gang. The summons to appear was issued directly by the public prosecutor. The investigation was therefore only conducted for the prosecution. In order to be a fair trial, the investigation should also be conducted for the defence. In order to ensure a fair trial, the defence lawyers wanted at least an investigation during the trial, including a number of defence witnesses and video clips. This was refused by the court. At this point the defendants and their lawyers left the courtroom, let the case continue in their absence, and took no further part in the trial.
The civil parties to the case – including ILVO (The Flemish Institute for Agricuture and Fisheries Research), VIB (Flemish Institute for Biotechnology), University of Gent, Hogeschool Gent – put forward their case, and demanded damages.
The judgement is expected on 12th February: in the event of a guilty verdict, the activists will appeal.
The court has refused to allow a debate about sustainable agriculture, the role of GMOs, and pubic research. The struggle for freedom of expression, justice for activists, and a sustainable agricultural system will continue.
See you again soon in Dendermonde.
This is what the executive director of Greenpeace International has to say about the case:
Across the Internet, the debate is raging. Which is more ethical, eating meat or quinoa? I posted about this a few days ago, and I’m pleased to see a different point of view has appeared on the Guardian website today. I was a little brief in my last post about some of the underlying issues, so I thought I would take the time to expand on them a bit here in plain English.
I’m really happy more people are getting interested in this!
Commodity Crops and Subsidies
The basic problem is the majority of the world’s food depends on commodity crops, like corn and soy. In the US more corn is used, and in Europe more soy. Corn and soy are not normally environmentally unfriendly to grow, but the same companies which sell the seeds also sell the chemicals, so there is more profit is growing it in energy intensive and environmentally unfriendly ways. Views in the world have also changed in the last 100 years or so, and we now look down upon the idea of producing food with manual labor. We expect all of our food will be produced with a minimum of labor, and with as much heavy equipment as possible. This heavy equipment also causes a lot of damage to the topsoil, severely inhibits it’s ability to sequester carbon and releases significant amounts of greenhouse gases. It’s not cheap to grow food with all this heavy equipment, chemicals and fossil fuels, so governments step into subsidize the costs, in the end making it far cheaper than all other kinds of foods, anywhere. These foods then get exported around the world, where they compete unfairly against other small farmers.
The commodity crops are then used to produce ‘processed foods’. Processed foods are nearly everything you buy at the supermarket or eat at a restaurant, with the exception of fruits and vegetables. In a sense even fruits and vegetables can be processed, because these are often grown with lots of chemicals and fossil fuels too. Meat and dairy rank among the most processed foods, because far more raw ingredients are used in their production than other foods, with meat representing the highest level of consumption.
Unprocessed foods are generally those bought at the farmers market, from a local farmer. You can even buy environmentally friendly meats this way, pasture raised, instead of on commodity crops. The problem is this sort of meat is very hard to come by, and in very high demand. A single cow needs about 5 acres or 2 ha of land to meet all it’s needs, and when it’s 4 years old, will perhaps only provide 500-1000 meals. That’s only one person for a year, who eats meat twice per day! Even if we used all available space in the world, we still couldn’t meet current demand with pasture fed meat.
When you consider all aspects of processed food production, and all sources of greenhouse gases, it means processed food production is the single greatest contributor to climate change — more than all the worlds transportation systems combined! This includes the release of carbon from the soil, the fossil fuels that go into the chemicals and fertilizers used, the transportation involved, the processing, flatulence of the animals, retail and so on.
In addition, minerals are and ground water are mined unsustainably in order to make all of this work.
One way or another, something needs to change. We need to eat less meat, or we need some new technologies for meat production.
One of the problems with our current food system, is we are effectively trapped, in many different ways.
All over the world small farmers have been disadvantaged for decades, and there aren’t a lot of them left. We certainly aren’t in a position to turn to them and expect them to feed the world today. They certainly have the potential to do it over time, but not immediately.
One of the major obstacles to small farmers are all the laws, rules, regulations, intellectual property rights and consumer expectations. The big seed and agricultural companies have had decades of exclusive control over these things, and they all take time to change. For a long time now, the agriculture companies have been collecting patents and other rights on almost all of the worlds food supplies or potential food supplies, that it’s unlikely anyone except them will have future rights to sell us food.
The big seed and chemical companies of today are making good money, and have little reason to change. Occasionally there is a concession here or there, like providing certified organic or fairtrade foods, but these often come at much higher cost to the consumer. It’s often argued that organic or fairtrade foods aren’t ‘special’, they’re normal! It’s processed foods and foods grown with chemicals that are special, and these should be sold at their true and unsubsidized prices. But even if the big seed and chemical companies were to see the err of their ways tomorrow, there’s too much momentum in our current food system, and it would take decades to unravel. A big issue in unravelling the current system is meeting consumer expectations, because there would be big changes in the food we eat.
There are huge environmental obstacles to overcome. Nearly all of the worlds agriculture land has been seriously damaged by modern farming methods. There’s a common myth that all land is suitable for organic production after 3 years, no matter what, because this is part of the definition of certified organic foods. There’s a big difference between certified organic, and being able to produce abundant food with organic and environmentally friendly methods.
Finally, governments are trapped into paying huge subsidies. The big agricultural companies control the laws, rules, regulations and intellectual property rights, then turn to governments for subsidies. It’s a sort of legalized extortion. If they don’t get their ever increasing subsidies, they won’t produce food. Politicians don’t want to see food shortages! There’s no indication subsidies are coming down any time soon.
What Can you Do?
Forget everything you’ve ever learned about nutrition. Forget about calories, protein, carbohydrates, Omega-3, sugar, salt — everything. Don’t buy any food that has related health claims. Food companies regularly spend billions of dollars on this sort of education, and in Europe alone recently spent €1,000,000,000 (that’s right, 9 zeros) lobbying for the new European food labels, to teach consumers how to buy processed foods. There is no proof that any health benefits can come by eating more or less of any of these things. Don’t pay attention to these labels.
WHO guidelines state the healthiest diet is one that’s varied and based mostly on starchy carbohydrates like potatoes, rice, pasta, bread or other grains, and fruits and vegetables. It should have some protein sources, like meat or fish if you eat it, but vegetables and whole grains are also a suitable source of protein if you’re vegetarian or vegan.
Buy food that’s as unprocessed as possible, and preferably directly from local farmers. Choose normal, non-GMO sugar, over highly processed sugars like GMO high fructose corn syrup. If it’s not possible to buy from local farmers, eat as low on the food chain as possible, emphasizing natural grains, fruits and vegetables, and other minimally refined foods from trusted sources. Remember chain health food stores are often not any more ethical or environmentally friendly than supermarkets, and many of those are often accused of selling GMO products.
Don’t buy GMOs.
Eat vegetarian or vegan food, partly or completely. You don’t need to be a raving lunatic who demonstrates in opposition to fur coats and leather shoes, or indeed even think meat doesn’t taste good, in order to enjoy good vegan food. In fact most of the worlds population is vegan or nearly vegan, and not political or outspoken about their diet. It’s not at all deviant, haute, trendy, lower class or unusual to enjoy vegan food. There are no common or credible health issues associated with vegan food, and it’s not necessary to supplement it in any way. You can just eat and enjoy it, and you don’t have to pay attention to any insensitivities, accusations, demands, requirements or fear mongering from others. Vegans are naturally just as healthy as anyone else, and in fact avoid many diseases associated with eating too much meat. By eating vegetarian or vegan, you avoid all or most of the environmental and social issues that go along with meat and processed food production.
Think about where your food comes from and how it’s been made! Use common sense, and avoid novel foods. Read the label, and if it has too many or unfamiliar ingredients, don’t buy it.
Choose heirloom or world foods. Quinoa is a great example! These foods are often not yet patented, and farmers are able to save and replant their own seeds. Like with quinoa, they have well established and sustainable methods for growing it, and high demand means more profits for small farmers! Lots of other examples can often be found at farmers markets, or small local health food stores.
Choose foods with as few pesticides and grown as sustainably as possible, for example vegetables usually have fewer pesticide residues than fruit; cabbage family vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts) usually have very few pesticide residues; and citrus and grapes are among the worst for residues. Avoid certified organic unless you are buying a normally high pesticide residue food, or it comes from a local farmer. Certified organic food is often unfair competition against small farmers who can’t afford to spend the time or money for certification. Most small and local farmers can’t afford chemicals, so their produce is usually naturally pesticide free.
If you eat meat, think about where it comes from. Raise it yourself, or buy it from a farmer who raises his animals on pasture. Think about eating less meat.
Worldwide Shortage of Quinoa!
I came across this silly article on quinoa the other day on the UK Guardian website. I think it goes to show how uninformed many people are, about the food they eat and the world around them. Have a look at some of the comments too, many of them are way off the mark. Just for the record, it’s the nature of being a vegan that they try to avoid disrupting food supplies in this way, and it’s very unlikely they ever would.
Quinoa is a member of the Chenopodiaceae or ‘Goosefoot’ family, more or less a domesticated weed. It grows in pretty much any agricultural area, and can even be grown in home gardens. In spite of what the above article says, it has been grown by the Fife Diet people in the UK. It does require some special equipment for processing like seed cleaning screens, and a way to remove the bitter saponins from the seed coats. I’ve grown it before, here in Amsterdam. It does not use an unusal amount of water, and there’s no reason for it to be imported from Bolivia or any area affected by drought. If any unusual demand for this grain is disrupting supply and demand in any region, or markets are flooded with cheaper alternative foods that are less healthy, it’s only a symptom the world’s food supply is very broken.
It’s a good thing if more people eat quinoa.
If you’ve never had quinoa, it’s very nice! You can eat it like rice. It cooks just like white rice, with the same proportion of water. It works fine in a rice cooker, which is what we use. The flavor is more complex and a little bitter, and it’s a bit more filling than rice. Start by making about half as much as you would normally rice, and taste it before mixing it in with other foods like fried rice or soup.
Quinoa is one of the so-called Lost Crops of the Incas, sometimes called Incan Rice. It’s from the Andes, the same region as the potato, and has the potential to become a food as important as the potato.
Don’t be afraid to eat and enjoy it!
Have a look at this blog post by EcoSuave.