A voice from Benton County, OR
by Harry MacCormack
There is a disturbance on the Land, in our intestinal tracts, and in our cells and genes. It is not a new terror. It has been deteriorating life quality for over four generations. Wreaking havoc daily at subtle, mostly unseen levels, the devastation is more and more widespread. Putting a face to this overpowering activity leads to illusive, mostly hidden figures who only surface as giant international corporate names with which we’ve all become familiar.
In the 1950’s its slogan became “Better Living through Chemistry.” In the 1980’s it began a campaign to “Feed The World Through Genetic Engineering.” We as modern humans accepted what passed for science supporting this campaign, even though technologies based on that science were able to legitimatize the patenting of life processes, the turning into private-corporate property of our inherited Genetic Commons.
Study after study – world-wide – has shown the effects of allowing this disturbance free reign. Bio-chemical cellular level sickness and death have become the normal condition of our soils, water, air and the digestive, neural and mental states of all beings. Endocrine disruption and epigenetic consequences of this disturbance have been shown to be multi-generational.
The question for all of us at this time on this fragile planet is DO WE HAVE TO PUT UP WITH THIS IMPOSED POISONING?
The answer is of course NO. But that No implies that we get off our collective acceptance butts and act to change this situation. Usually we heave a collective sigh at this directive and claim these disruptive forces are too large, too entrenched to confront. But that attitude does not regain balance and harmony necessary for the health and welfare of all life.
There is a way to collectively disarm those few who have without open consent gained so much control over all our lives. First we have to be very clear about the world, the conditions we collectively wish to live in. Then we have to enact those conditions as legal Rights to which we have all agreed.
The Benton County Local Food System Ordinance models this push-back process. It was written by a group of mostly small famers with the help of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund over two years ago. It has survived three court tests, signature gathering, and is now Measure number 02-89 headed for the May 2015 ballot.
In this county ordinance we have (1) given legal status to our Local Food System (2) given legal standing to our Heritage Seeds (3) given legal status to Natural Communities, and (4) curtailed the Rights assumed by Corporations and the preemptive power of the State.
Which begs the question: What Is a Local Food System? And why is a Local Food System important now and the very near future?
Local Food Systems (LFS’s) are generated by communities of people who share practices oriented toward food security, locally based cuisine, and the vitality that comes from eating what is grown in a particular climatic zone where the eater lives. Gardeners, Farmers, Processors, Wholesale and Retailers may all be active participants in an LFS. Farmer’s Markets have been the most visual promoters of LFS. Obviously, consumers with a commitment to health and locally based economy are the necessary digesters of the products of an LFS. Local Food systems have been consciously building over the last 40 years, but they have no legal standing. The Benton County LFS Ordinance gives legal standing to all of the players that make our locally based regional food system possible.
So, why is it necessary to give legal standing to our Heritage Seeds? For generations, hundreds or even thousands of years, seeds have been grown, harvested, and shared by individuals in communities. Sometimes those seeds were gifted, traded or marketed outside those communities, worldwide. In 1980 in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision ( Diamon vs. Chakraberty) seeds and all other life forms, the very foundations of food culture, were suddenly given the “right” to be patented. There were earlier seed and plant patenting regulations, but the 1980 decision secured the right of privatization through ownership of The Genetic Commons. Since that time the Genetic Engineering of seeds, animals, all cellular life has expanded to the point that whole genomes are lost to patents. Sugar beets are an example: fully 97% of that seed is now patented GMO. Current risk crops include corn, rice, wheat, soy, flax, canola, and an ever- growing list of fruits and vegetables including papaya, apple, strawberry, tomato, summer squash, lettuce, beets, chard, potatoes etc.
When a local food systems seeds are threatened or even polluted by patented agricultural processes, all the necessary participants in the LFS loose control and have been found by the courts to have no legal standing vs. the large agrichemical/seed corporations. In fact, seeds grown by farmers under contract to patent holders, if found in a genetically patented form in non- contract fields are deemed property violations by the courts. Pollen is often how such gene transfer happens as it has for thousands of years. Insects, birds, rodents, even surface water can be causative factors in genetic transference and subsequent legal claims by the big agri corporations. The only way to insure our LFS future is to STOP genetic engineering from controlling the basis of our LFS. The Benton County Ordinance does that.
Why are Natural Communities given legal standing by our ordinance: Specifically those communities necessary for our soils, water and air, (and by extension many of those same communities as they populate healthy digestive tracts in humans and all other species}?
In the production of health promoting foods it is essential that microorganisms, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes to name a few, be stimulated not retarded as they cycle primary soil nutrients such as Calcium, Phosphorus and Nitrogen. Since the dawn of industrial agriculture essential nutrient levels in foods have dropped worldwide by more than 60%. Much of this downturn is attributed to synthetic chemical damage by herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, fumigants etc. Our collective digestive tracts are also continually hammered by direct or residual ingestion of these pesticides, all of which are required parts of genetically engineered production contracts with patent holders (who are most often the producers of both the seed and the pesticides). Those Violators of Natural Communities – as the basis of an LFS – have never before been confronted by defenders of those communities and their Natural Community inherent Rights to exist, persist and flourish. The LFS Ordinance of Benton County expresses such Rights and gives We The People of this county legal authority to stand up for those Natural Community Rights.
Finally, why is it necessary for this ordinance to block assumed Corporate rights and deny the State preemptive powers over what we the people want as our living conditions?
Corporations have for more than 100 years lobbied and procured Corporate Commerce “Rights”, Corporate Personhood “Constitutional Rights” and Nature as Property “Rights”. The State has become little more than a tool of powerful Corporate money. The State either explicitly or by field preemption claims to trump ordinances or municipal decisions made which conflict with State statutes or agency regulations, even when those ordinances are passed through election by the people in accordance with the State Constitution and State approved Local Charters. Because the State more and more clearly acts on behalf of Corporate lobby money and subsequent influence, We The People are denied any power or authority, in this case as it has to do with the basis of our health and welfare. The Benton County LFS Ordinance directly challenges such limitation within our supposed democracy. Our ordinance specifically blocks Corporate/State authority to regulate the quality of the food system that is the basis of the quality of our individual and collective lives.
When We The People pass this ordinance in May the push-back in the forms of lawsuits will come from the faces that front for the large Agri-chemical/seed Corporations who presume to control all genetic life on this planet. We’ve been locked in court battles with them since submitting this ordinance for the people’s vote. It Is therefore necessary that we feel the strength of this ordinance and that we collectively exercise that strength to carry forth the health and balance of the communities with whom we choose to live.
This struggle will not end with our YES votes on measure 02-89. Our vigilance and volunteer efforts will necessarily consume the days of our lives on this one of a kind planet. Get involved, wherever you live. For more information or to donate: www.bentonccrc.org. or www.celdf.org.