By Denise Nanni and Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following our interview with Claire Jordan and Courtney Sexton of the Center for Food Safety. Center for Food Safety (CFS) is a national non-profit public interest and environmental advocacy organization working to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture. CFS also educates consumers concerning the definition of organic food and products. CFS uses legal actions, groundbreaking scientific and policy reports, books and other educational materials, market pressure and grass roots campaigns through our True Food Network. CFS’s successful legal cases collectively represent a landmark body of case law on food and agricultural issues.
Which are the main objectives of the Center for Food Safety?
The main issues that we work on at Center for Food Safety focus on promoting a sustainable, just and secure food future for all. In particular, we work against the devastating impacts of a pesticide-intensive industrial agriculture system. This system promotes contamination of air, land and water from dangerous pesticides; exposes our communities and our food to toxic chemicals; threatens global seed diversity (which is essential to maintain in order to preserve our food system in the face of a changing climate); and encourages unsanitary and unethical food animal welfare standards that lead to the spread of antibiotic-resistant infections, compromising public health.
Can you explain what are the short-term and long-term effects of GMO usage?
The widespread planting of GMO crops puts at risk the livelihoods of independent farmers; threatens our diverse global seed supply; and provides increased incentives to make agriculture more pesticide-intensive and pesticide-dependent. A food system that relies on GMO crops in turn relies on the pesticides and chemicals that are manufactured side-by-side with those crops by the same big agrochemical companies to make them grow. This wreaks havoc on public health, small and family farmers, and the environment, and threatens our ability to adapt our food supply in a changing climate.
Pollen from GMO crops is easily carried by the wind, bees and wildlife, and has the potential to contaminate neighboring farms, gardens, and pastures. Many farmers depend on contracts they have to provide food manufacturers with organic and/or non-GMO crops, such as corn for use in organic and products labeled by the Non-GMO Project. If those products are tested and found to contain GMOs, those farmers lose their contracts.
Because of GMO crops, more than 100 million more pounds of Roundup are used on America’s croplands each year. So for Monsanto and other chemical companies, genetically engineering crops is just another way to significantly increase profits. They sell the seeds and the poisons sprayed on those seeds. GE crops significantly increase the use of toxic herbicides while not increasing yield, so they help poison the world’s food supply but do not increase it. These toxic chemicals pollute our water and air, and kill wildlife and native plants. In 2015 the World Health Organization’s research arm found that the active ingredient in Roundup is a “probable carcinogen.”
How do you advocate community empowerment?
We work at the local and state levels to engage members and farmers, and advocate with them on their behalf. We educate people about issues affecting them – like contamination, pesticide drift, pollution from CAFOs, etc. – and help them to be a part of the solution. We provide opportunities and tools to reach out to legislators, sponsor and deliver citizen-signed petitions, and create platforms for members to speak out about the social injustices of a corrupt food system.
We encourage our members to be active participants in this fight for a just and healthy food system by providing the information and tools needed to engage in their own communities and contact their legislators. Some of these tools include blogs, press releases, and reports that verify all of our claims and through the use of research, back up our facts. Because we are a national organization, we encourage our members not only to participate in our actions, but to form their own amongst their community members.
How important are civil society capacity building and media coverage in your activity?
Civil society capacity building is the foundation of our food movement. A successful food movement that brings about much needed change in our food system must be built by the people for the people. We would not be an organization without the input and support from our members, and it is imperative to us that we are transparent with all of our work. We want this food movement to be a diverse and inclusive movement that advocates for everyone impacted and puts the health of people and the planet at the forefront. Without the engagement and participation of civil society, our attempts would be thwarted.
Media coverage is, of course, also a very important component for the success of any issue-based organization. We cannot be advocates without being educators, and realizing those educational goals depends on reaching broad and diverse public audiences with our scientific findings, policy analyses, and reports, and the messages that they carry. Whether we are trying to elevate the voices and concerns of our members, share new information with the public, compel political leaders to take action, or make progress in a campaign, media coverage is crucial – that includes traditional outlets, and blogging, social and digital media outreach as well.
Do you cooperate with local authorities and institutions? If yes, how?
Yes, we frequently cooperate with local authorities and institutions. We often work with scientists at academic and research institutions when we are analyzing and drafting policy recommendations and writing and producing reports. We also collaborate and strategize with local organizations where our various campaigns and offices are located to enhance our impact and ensure that local organizers are at the forefront of these movements. We ensure that local groups are consulted when relevant for our various forms of work.