GMO – perhaps no other acronym incites the ire of organic producers more. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are relentlessly troublesome for organic producers and yet they remain a domineering feature of agribusiness conglomerates. As agriculture becomes increasingly immersed in globalized trade, these conglomerates gain more and more control over the global food system despite their implementation of genetically modified inputs into food production. Indeed over the years GMOs have become a force to be reckoned with. From the contamination of Saskatchewan canola fields to the impending introduction of genetically modified alfalfa, GMOs threaten traditional agriculture and the biodiversity of the land. For centuries, organic farms have controlled the erosion of biodiversity, limiting the negative effects of climate change. Maintaining seed varieties as well as natural (contamination-free) production conditions is essential not only to organic farmers but to the integrity of the global food system as a whole.
Article by Angela Sawatzky
In order to reduce the influence of agribusiness conglomerates, a “decentralized model of agriculture where production, processing, distribution and consumption are controlled by the people and not by transnational corporations” is strongly advocated by La Via Campesina. La Via Campesina (the peasant’s way), is an international social movement which formed in 1993 to oppose the neoliberal economic globalization of agriculture. It calls for the removal of agriculture from the clutches of the World Trade Organization and transnational corporations and for its return to the people. It seeks gender parity, preservation of natural resources, food sovereignty, and sustainable agricultural production. Its membership consists of 148 small-farm organizations from 69 countries around the world, including the National Farmers Union of Canada. Via Campesina has emerged as the international guardian and symbol of fair and just food production.
According to Via Campesina, a key component to defending traditional local agriculture is the promotion of food sovereignty. La Via Campesina has defined food sovereignty as “the right of peoples, countries, and state unions to define their agricultural and food policy without the “dumping” of agricultural commodities into foreign countries…[with] small farmers [receiving] access to land, water, and seed as well as productive resources and adequate public services”. With such necessities in place, local sustainable agriculture in accordance with local culture and traditions is possible. In most cases, peasants and farmers possess the knowledge and experience necessary to implement locally available resources, producing the right quantity and quality of food with few external inputs.
Choosing to oppose the actions of transnational corporations and agribusiness conglomerates can be a daunting task for a single farmer or local association. The beauty of Via Campesina is that it offers built-in international support no matter where the injustice is taking place. Via Campesina directs international attention to the plight of its members through protest at world conferences and key communication through its international website. In a Canadian context, Via Campesina has most recently drawn international attention to the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network/ National Farmers Union of Canada/ Union Paysanne GM Alfalfa tiny seed Big Problem campaign to stop the introduction of Monsanto’s genetically engineered alfalfa.
Canadian individuals looking to become involved with the Via Campesina movement can do so through the National Farmers Union (NFU) of Canada (or Union Paysanne if in Quebec). As a founding member of Via Campesina, the NFU remains actively involved with the movement today. Direct memberships are reserved for Canadian farm families though the NFU welcomes and offers associate memberships to non-farmers. In association with Via Campesina, NFU campaigns currently include: Ban Terminator Seeds as well as the NFU Seed Saver Campaign.