Moments of grace on the GMO front

Rebelling against genetically modified foods can happen in a variety of ways. Whether it involves speaking out at a corporate shareholders meeting, voting in favor of GMO labeling, writing articles for law journals, participating in parish informational potlucks, or grocery shopping for our families, each action can become “transient moments" of grace.

That idea comes from the late Fr. Thomas Berry, venerable environmentalist, whose words from The Great Work headline the latest on-line newsletter from Genesis Farm: “We must note that moments of grace are transient moments. The transformation must take place within a brief period.”

Transient moments of grace are showing up in a variety of settings. A rising chorus of voices is saying “no more” to contemporary corporate chemical tinkering; it is demanding a return to old-fashioned food, the kind that has nourished us since antiquity. 

Here are a few soul-cheering examples, one quite astonishing. 

In late September, Harriett Crosby, a corporate shareholder of General Mills stock and the great granddaughter of co-founder John Crosby, called for the company to return to its former reputation as “a world leader producing the healthiest and most wholesome food in the world by phasing out genetically modified ingredients.”

Crosby, who is also a Friends of the Earth board member, said at the General Mills shareholders meeting that most of her family members try to avoid genetically modified foods.

She questioned why General Mills products in European Union nations -- where GMOs are regulated and member states can opt to ban GMO cultivation on their lands -- are GMO-free, but “why not here?”

Ultimately, nearly 98 percent of stockholders voted against Crosby’s proposal. Perhaps at next year’s meeting, Crosby will garner enough supporters to move General Mills away from CEO Ken Powell’s assurance that “we know and believe GMOs are very safe.”

Safe for the planet and its inhabitants? Crosby likely has an ally in Debra M. Strauss, associate professor of business law at Jesuit-run Fairfield University, in Connecticut.

Strauss, whose studies food safety and international law, has written on the labeling and monitoring of GMOs in food. In June, she received the university’s outstanding research paper award for her article “An Analysis of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act Protection for Consumers and Boon for Business,” published by the Food and Drug Law Journal.

In the article, which presents a case for a new global food security policy, she “noted the time is ripe for a reassessment of other areas of food laws,” such as GMOs and the use of milk and meat from cloned animals, all of which “are  allowed under current U.S. law with no labeling, preapprovals, or post-market monitoring,” according to a press release.

In an interview with NCR last summer, Strauss stressed the importance of safe food: “It’s troubling that so much of our food supply is in the control of one company,” she said, adding that her research has prompted her to purchase more organic foods for her own household.

Meanwhile, Dominican Sr. Miriam MacGillis, Genesis Farm’s founder and director, writes in the October newsletter that dozens of farmers across New Jersey supports the state’s proposed GMO labeling law.

An Oct. 15 letter from 70-plus farmers flies in the face of the agribusiness industry’s assertions that the state’s farmers are opposed to the legislation, she said. In addition to New Jersey, voters in Oregon and Colorado will consider in November mandatory GMO labeling laws. So far, Connecticut, Maine and Vermont have passed labeling legislation.

In the newsletter MacGillis pointed toward two shopper’s guides for avoiding GMO food, including one from the Center for Food Safety.

In a similar vein, Interfaith Power and Light has offered a “Cool Harvest Potluck Kit” for faith communities looking for ways to use local or organic foods in preparing climate-friendly meals and engage conversation about the impact of the food industry on the earth’s climate.

The website notes that nearly one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions comes from the food industry. Numerous aspects of modern agribusiness, such as GMOs but also the use of pesticides, factory farming, and long distances from farm to plate, all factor into the generation of high emissions levels.

Choosing local and organic foods, the kit states, is “an excellent way to respond to climate change and it’s better for your health and the environment.”