Anuradha Mittal is not just a picky eater. She is an outspoken critic of genetically engineered (GE) foods and the corporations that support them.
Draped in a saffron-colored scarf, Mittal made an appearance Saturday night at Portland's First Unitarian Church to give a talk sponsored by Northwest Resistance Against Genetic Engineering (RAGE). The talk, titled “The Myths of Genetic Engineering and the New Green Revolution for the World's Poor,” drew in a surprising number of people for a rainy Saturday night. The crowd nearly filled the church's downstairs seating area to listen to Mittal speak for just under an hour.
Mittal, 39, is originally from Kanpur, India. She is the founder and director of the Oakland Institute, a California think tank that focuses on activism and social movements. She spoke with Hot Action about the fertile resistance to GE foods, an activist's restaurant etiquette and the future of food spliced with human genes.
WW: What kind of regulations would you like to see on genetically engineered food?
Anuradha Mittal: Well, personally, I think that there should be a ban on the commercial usage of genetically engineered products until they have gone and they have proven to be safe for human health, for the environment and the livelihoods of farmers. [The] U.S. is increasingly the only country in the world, and especially among industrialized nations, not to have any kind of regulations, any kind of laws around GE products, and we need to move in that direction as quickly as possible. You need labeling of foods so people can make an informed choice. I think we need to have laws which are allocating research budgets instead of our public universities, which are getting funding from these corporations, which are determining research agendas.
Is trying to stop genetic engineering like trying to put the proverbial genie back in the bottle?
Oh, definitely not. In my talk, I mentioned the growing rejection around the world for GE crops. Most important, we're seeing this opposition grow in the United States itself…. There are only four countries that are commercially growing GE crops: the United States, Canada, Argentina and Australia. The world is much larger than that. They're only focused on four crops: cotton, corn, canola and soy. Looking at the rich biodiversity that we have, we can totally take that back. And that's beginning to happen anyways because it's a technology that does not work. So, it is not a question of genie is out of the bottle. As I said, the genie has been put back in the bottle and we're going to tighten the screws on it so it can never come out without the kind of public debate and discussion that needs to happen, because that's what democracy looks like.
How do you personally stay GE free with the food you eat and buy?
First of all, I'm a vegetarian. So, it really helps in terms of fruits and vegetables [that] are not right now genetically engineered. At the same time, choosing where I decide to go and shop—I love to go and shop at farmers' markets. I like to know where my food comes from. I like it to be connected. And then, when I go out to eat, I will emphasize that I want to know what I'm eating, where it came from, who grew it, what cooking oil it was cooked in, and these are very reasonable questions to ask.
Have you ever left a restaurant because you weren't satisfied by the answer to one of those questions?
I have. I've been very polite about it. I've thanked people for what they do, and I've had to express why I could not eat there. And that is very important, if there are more and more people doing that. It is really about the economics. Like the U.S. farmers have discovered, most of the countries' consumers in Japan, in South Korea, in the Philippines, in the E.U., are demanding food that is GE-free.
In your talk, you referred to genetically modified products that incorporate human genes. Can you tell us more about that?
Basically, this is the attempt by the pharmaceutical industry to grow crops that would have the potential to grow human genes. So they're basically seeing food, not just as for our stomachs and for our families and communities, but seeing a lab or a growing field for the certain human genes that they might need for their vaccines, etc.
But it's in the experimental stages at this point?
It's in the experimental stages, yeah. With a lot of investment being made by the pharmaceutical industry.
Do you think there's any potential for the Right to Life movement to get involved in the discussion because of the use of human genes?
I don't know about that. I believe in the woman's right to choose and women having complete control over their bodies. Having said that, I will say that I hope any one of us who thinks life is sacred needs to get involved. JULIE SABATIER
Check out Hot Action, WWire's weekly post about activists, demonstrations and other hot political action in and around Portland every week.
UPCOMING HOT ACTION EVENTS:
Friday, Feb. 16
Reading: Escaping the Gender Police
Writer, zinester and activist Tobi Hill-Meyer identifies as “a genderqueer transdyke.” Hill-Meyer hails from Eugene and will be in P-town to read from her latest fiction, Escaping the Gender Police
and Transcending Virginity
, and to spark discussion about gender variant characters, transgender issues and erotica as tool for education and empowerment. 7 pm at In Other Words Women's Books and Resources, 8 NE Killingsworth St. Free.
Saturday, Feb. 17
Panel Discussion and Screening: Fighting for Civil Rights in an Era of Terror
This event, sponsored by the Portland Japanese American Citizens League, will feature several speakers, including Brandon Mayfield, who was wrongly jailed in connection with the Madrid train bombings in 2004, and William Funk, a constitutional law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School, who drafted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The event will also involve a screening of the film A Most Unlikely Hero
, a one-hour documentary about Captain Bruce Yamashita, who won landmark case against the U.S. Marines for racial discrimination. Captain Yamashita and filmmaker Steve Okino will be on hand to discuss the film. 1–4 pm at PSU's George C. Hoffman Hall, 1833 SW 11th Ave. Free.
Sunday, Feb. 18
Screening: Legacy of Torture
Produced in 2006, Legacy of Torture
is a documentary examining the interrogation of Black Panther Party members in 1973 and the eight men who were arrested earlier this year and charged with murder in connection with Panther activities. The screening will also feature speakers Claude Marks, the film's co-producer and Floyd Cruse, former Minister of Information for the Portland Chapter of the Black Panther Party. 7 pm at Laughing Horse Books, 12 NE 10th Ave. Free.