Ojai farmer sounds warning
By Jesse Phelps
Co-owner of The Farmer and The
Cook and organic foods expert Steven Sprinkel gave a talk on
Saturday, followed by an organic vegetarian luncheon, hosted
by The Ojai Retreat as a continuing part of its "Health
and Healing" environmental education series. The topic was
"How Do Genetically Engineered Foods Affect Our Health?"
A group of around 12 concerned citizens attended the event. Sprinkel
wasn't disappointed with the turnout and termed the marketing
effort on the part of organizer Ellen Hall "excellent."
The intimate forum gave Sprinkel a perfect chance to answer specific
questions posed by the gathered people and the talk evolved based
on their input.
Discussion ranged from human health implications of genetically
engineered foods to social and economic issues. "Why do
we have genetically engineered foods? The people who are the
proponents, the inventors, these people who are promoting it
make two big claims that are very easily refuted," said
Sprinkel. "One is that with genetic engineering, we're going
to be able to feed a larger population. There's no evidence now
that we're not able to feed the current population, nor would
we fail to feed the current population even if it should double."
But what about the people starving in, for instance, the famine-
or civil-strife-plagued regions of Africa? "Those are distribution
issues," said Sprinkel. "Why does genetic engineering
answer a need that hasn't been met already? If people were in
power, or if any company promoting this had an urgent need to
feed people, they can do it right now. There's something like
8,000,000,000 glasses of milk, in dried form, in storage, that's
owned by the United States Department of Agriculture right now.
They want to feed them, they can."
The second inaccurate claim, Sprinkel said, is that genetic engineering
will lead to a decrease in the use of chemical pesticides and
herbicides. In fact, he said, the opposite is true. "That's
the biggest lie of all," he says.
The implications of genetic engineering, said Sprinkel, potentially
affect both personal health and the agricultural field as a whole.
In one notable case, a natural bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis,
or simply Bt, a natural, non-pathogenic bacterium found naturally
in the soil, has been spliced into the genes of certain plants.
Bt, which has become a highly effective weapon for the organic
farmer, now may become outmoded as the insects it fights begin
to grow immunity to it, thanks to genetic engineering, said Sprinkel.
"There are a lot of unresolved questions, questions that
haven't even been asked, questions we don't know who to ask,
or what to ask, about genetic engineering," he said.
Sprinkel has been active for years in attempting to raise awareness
about genetic engineering in addition to his double duties as
organic farmer and shop owner.
"I've been involved with the genetics engineering campaign
and education program nationally since 1996," Sprinkel said.
"I worked with the national organic program for the USDA
on that, national organic farmers organizations on that, and
groups in Iowa and Texas and in California."
Sprinkel publishes a column in "Acres USA," a 35-year-old,
15,000-subscriber alternative agriculture and environmental journal
targeted primarily toward independent and family farmers. It
and other informational sources on genetic engineering, organic
farming, and healthy eating are available at his shop, The Farmer
and The Cook, located on El Roblar in Meiners Oaks.
Meanwhile, said Sprinkel, the action for concerned people to
take is clear: support organic growers with your pocketbook and
stay aware of what's happening.
"We need to keep up and be vigilant with the work on limiting
and eventually doing away with genetic engineering as we know
it now," said Sprinkel. "The manipulation of the genes
and the crossing of the species and this other funny stuff we've
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