This Pennsylvania Community Is Determined to Ban GMOs and Pesticides
As an Episcopal pastor, Dan Hinkle is a man of peace and faith, but the issue of genetically modified foods (GMOs) makes him angry.
“We don’t know the long-term effects of genetic engineering; this is a questionable process,” said Hinkle, who lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “We have been force fed something we should not have been. People are being hurt by this technology. If GMOs are so safe and feed the world, why not tell us about it? These issues have gotten me fired up.”
Hinkle’s concern about GMOs led him to become a founding member of GMO Free Lancaster, a non-profit group that is working to ban GMOs and pesticides in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Zoe Swartz, a mother, started the group after the first March Against Monsanto in May 2013.
“There was no one involved in the march in Lancaster so we started organizing,” she said.
Zoe Swartz, leader of GMO Free Lancaster (left), with daugher Lily (in bee costume) and friend Sheena Good (right), at Lancaster's March Against Monsanto last May.
Hinkle calls GMO Free Lancaster a “classic American grassroots organization of concerned citizens.”
At first, the group focused on lobbying to pass a GMO labeling bill in Pennsylvania, but Swartz and other group members became frustrated by the political process.
“We met with our legislators but got disheartened because they weren’t responsive to a labeling bill,” Swartz said. “We came to the conclusion that it may not be a good idea to pour money into labeling.”
Since then the group has focused on community rights and working to ban GMOs and pesticides in Lancaster city. They plan to use a citizen initiative process to either get the city of Lancaster council to pass an ordinance restricting pesticides or put it on the ballot for a vote. According to Swartz, citizens’ initiatives can change state laws.
“We want to urge people to re-frame the conversation around community rights instead of on legislators’ terms,” she said. “People who are affected have the right to decide. We can just say no (to GMOs and pesticides), not on our lands, or on our tables.”
Breast Milk Testing
Because Lancaster County is an agricultural area, Swartz said that threats from pesticides are much greater.
“There are huge fields sprayed with pesticides that are near areas where children play,” she said.
To drive home the health dangers of pesticides, GMO Free Lancaster organized to test the breast milk of 50 mothers in the county for residues of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. The highest level detected so far is 91 parts per billion in a mother who lives on a conventional farm where glyphosate is used. Sadly, the mother has an infant child with neuroblastoma, a form of cancer that affects young children.
GMO Free Lancaster hopes the test results will encourage Lancaster’s city leaders to take action.
“We hope the breast milk test will compel people to support the ban,” Swartz said. “We want to ban GMOs and associated chemicals starting with Lancaster city and then moving forward into the county.”
Highest Number of Organic Farms in Pennsylvania
Lancaster County is fertile ground for taking action against GMOs. The county is home to the highest concentration of organic farms in Pennsylvania with more than 100; the county’s Amish population accounts for many of those farms. Lancaster is also a leader in farmland preservation. The area is known for its rich soils.
“Organic is a big thing in this area, but there are also a lot of agricultural chemicals and GMOs,” said Justin Snyder, an organic farmer with Lancaster Organic Growers.
GMO Free Lancaster is also trying to educate people about the benefits of organic food by providing resources for local organic food and giving presentations.
Susan Love, GMO Free Lancaster’s outreach coordinator, has seen positive changes in her family’s health since they switched to an organic diet. Her 20-year-old daughter is autistic, has Crohn’s disease and suffered from many ulcers. Since switching to an organic diet, her daughter’s health improved. A recent colonoscopy detected just one ulcer. She also started to talk more and recently began working at a local Goodwill office.
“We had lived with chronic illness for 20 years,” Love said. “It didn’t get better until we ate organic.”
“No One has the Right to Keep Us in the Dark About What We Eat”
Getting rid of GMOs and pesticides is just the first step for GMO Free Lancaster.
“We want to create a sustainable food system with urban gardens and people sharing food and growing the local food economy,” Swartz said.
Beyond the health and environmental concerns of GMOs and pesticides, Dan Hinkle has moral and theological reasons for being a part of GMO Free Lancaster.
“Food is sacred,” he said. “At the heart of Christian worship is a sacred meal, called the Holy Eucharist or Holy Communion. Eating means life. No one has the right to keep us in the dark about what we eat or feed our children and families."
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By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
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Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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