Perspectives on GMOs grow from 'Sacred Seed'

After meditating with the upcoming book Sacred Seed (Golden Sufi Center, 2014), I envisioned hundreds of copies of the beautifully illustrated paperback showing up on Hillary Clinton's doorstep.

The copies would be gifts from organic farmers and members of the spiritual ecology community. 

The book, compiled and edited by the Global Peace Initiative of Women and due for release Nov. 1, features essays by teachers from a wide spectrum of spiritual traditions regarding the significance of seeds and their mistreatment and loss by the biotech industry, from ecological and mystical perspectives.

Among the well-known contributors are Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Orthodox church, and Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva, who inspired the series of essays.

[Related: "Sufi teacher explores spiritual ecology in new anthology"]

But of course, the next immediate thought in my vision was far more sobering: Would Clinton have the time and inclination to read Sacred Seed? Would she donate the rest of her copies to GMO corporations for their edification? Would CEOs opt to read the book, and have collective changes of heart, or at least terrible pangs of conscience keeping them awake at night? One would truly hope so.

Here's why: In June, Clinton, whose early career as an attorney included representing Monsanto, upset hosts of environmentalists when she reiterated her support for genetically modified organisms at the 2014 Biotechnology Industry Organization International Convention in San Diego.

As a keynote speaker she observed that the biotech industry needs to come up with "a better vocabulary" to change negative public perception about GMO agriculture.

Katherine Paul, communications director for the Organic Consumers' Association, has since initiated a petition, urging the former secretary of state and potential presidential candidate to "do what's right, not what the biotech industry lobbyists want you to do."

"We don't need a better vocabulary," Paul said in the petition.

She has called for leaders who will push back against Monsanto and points to scientists, medical professionals and climate experts who have warned "that a food and agriculture system built around poisons like Monsanto's Roundup and [Dow AgroScience's] 2,4-D, a system that promotes soy and corn monocultures instead of crop diversity, is unhealthy for humans and the environment."

Paul is correct about not needing a better vocabulary. We already have the words. The better vocabulary Clinton seeks lives in the earth-based traditions of world religions. Sacred Seed revisits them.

Chittister reminds us of the 14th-century English mystic Julian of Norwich, who holding an acorn in her hand said, "In this there is all that is." Chittister elaborates in her powerfully concise way, pinpointing the truth: "The Earth shakes at the thought of the simple truth of it."

Seeds of the food that nourish us, she writes, are the only genuine promise we have of the future. But we must never forget that humans are seeds, too. And some of us have become parties to destruction in the name of progress.

Said Chittister: "We are either seeds of eternal hope or we are seeds of starving despair … and now so accustomed have we become to destruction in the name of progress, we are on the brink of commercializing seed, of politicizing seed … of genetically modifying seeds for the sake of someone's control of creation, of making seed the new military weapon of the twenty-first century."

Bartholomew, the archbishop of Constantinople, directs us back to the Christian scriptures, theology and tradition, where seeds are seen as divine, ascribed to and describing the very Son and Word of God. The divine Word, he says, is "mysteriously planted in people's hearts, where it calls for proper care and nurture in order to bear fruit."

The green patriarch tells us that seeds are crucial for the life system of our planet, for the healing of disease, for providing fresh oxygen for people to breathe. By growing food organically and at home, we are decreasing our footprint on the plant, possibly even more than carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

"It is paramount that we dig deep and plant seeds," he wrote.

 Vandana Shiva -- probably one of the most internationally-known environmentalists and defenders of biodiversity -- started Navdanya, a network of seed keepers and organic producers in 1987,when she learned of corporate plans to patent seeds and genetically modify all types. Shiva has drawn her inspiration from the "sanctity of life, the sacredness of seed."

"How can corporations claim to be the creators and investors of life on Earth when all they have the capacity of doing is to introduce toxic genes into the cells of plants by means of gene guns and plant cancers?" she asks.

Her homeland of India has suffered terribly from genetically engineered crops. India had 200,00 rice varieties before the Green Revolution of the 1970s, Shiva said, but now this astounding diversity has been erased by monocultures. 

Before GMOs the tribal peoples and peasants developed special types of rice for lactating mothers, babies and the elderly.

"The intimacy and care that go with belonging to a place and a community allows diversity to flourish. Conserving and growing diversity comes as naturally as breathing," Shiva observes.

And care is intertwined in the process. But today's GMO agriculture, she said, is based on greed, and "greed cannot deal with care; it promotes carelessness."

Thanks to corporate carelessness, India today has eight globally-traded commodities, most of them in GMO corn and soy. Since the seeds are patented, corporations can collect royalties from farmers.

When "seed freedom disappears and farmers become dependent on GMO seeds, they, in effect become seed slaves," Shiva said.

Since 1995 more than 284,000 farmers have committed suicide, largely due to debt. Where is the "better vocabulary" here?

It cannot be found in the world of corporate culture. But it can be accessed within the pages of Sacred Seed.