Saturday, September 5, 2009

Tikkun Olam/Pikuach nefesh on Shabbat

Yeah, I know, as Jews we're supposed to rest from our weekday labors on Shabbat, even including the practice of tikkun olam, repairing the world. Jews who observe Shabbat more traditionally than I do tend to refrain from social action on Shabbat. However, there is a ruling in Talmudic law (isn't there always?) that allows us to sidestep Shabbat prohibitions against typical activist activities, called pikuach nefesh, saving a life (soul). Here's a more complete explanation of the concept.

So why am I violating Shabbat by posting on my blog today? I should explain that my personal level of observance allows me to use my computer on Shabbat, but I do try to create a separation between how I spend my time on Saturdays and what I do the rest of the week. It's my way of making Shabbat different and special, even if I don't adhere to the traditional prohibitions on work.

So what's such a big deal that I choose not to wait til tomorrow to write about it? Taking down Monsanto. You think I'm being funny? I'm as serious as a heart attack. IMO, Monsanto is currently one of the most dangerous companies operating on the planet, for innumerable reasons. Here are some:

• The folks at Monsanto gifted us with Agent Orange, aspartame (otherwise known as NutraSweet) PCBs and bovine growth hormone, among other products.

• Monsanto controls 90% of the soy, 65% of the corn, and 70% of the cotton market, and has a rapidly growing presence in the fruit and vegetable market. That's just in North America. Their influence in developing nations like India is even greater (check out this 2006 article in the New York Times about Indian farmer suicides for a direct link to the need for pikuach nefesh). India Together, an independent online news outlet based in India, reports that there have been 182,936 farmer suicides in that country since 1997. Other news outlets and blogs, including The Daily Mail and The Ethicurian, attribute these suicides directly to debt incurred when the farmers were urged by the Indian government to plant GM crops, like those engineered by Monsanto. (In the interests of balance, here's a different take on this issue in a study cited in The Guardian, which suggests the farmer suicides are a result of lack of financial support rather than GM crops specifically.)

Percy Schmeiser is a farmer from Saskatchewan, whose canola fields were contaminated with Monsanto's genetically engineered Round-Up Ready Canola by pollen blown by the wind from a nearby farm. Monsanto said it didn't matter how the contamination took place, and demanded Schmeiser pay their Technology Fee (the fee farmers must pay to grow Monsanto's genetically engineered products). Monsanto outlined their request for patent infringement seeking damages totaling $400,000. Click here to learn more about Schmeiser's case.

• In order to be productive, the entire line of Monsanto's seeds essentially require the use of Roundup herbicide, forcing all of their customers to purchase it. Roundup is owned by Monsanto.

• In the middle of a recession, while farmers' incomes are dropping, Monsanto recently announced a 42% price hike on its most popular genetically modified seeds. In many areas of the country, seed distributors carry only Monsanto's GM seeds.

Can you spell M-O-N-O-P-O-L-Y, boys and girls?

CREDO Action is calling for a federal investigation of Monsanto for violation of anti-trust and monopoly laws. They're circulating a petition to be sent to President Obama's antitrust chief Christine Varney. If you're interested, you can sign it here.

I'm the first to admit an online petition is a relatively spineless form of activism, but it's a start. Shabbat shalom.


Anonymous said...

Let us not forget that the reason these GMO crops exist is to increase yields, and the yields we are putting out is unsustainable in a crop monoculture. Essentially, we are killing the land with monoculture. Monsanto doesn't care, as they will happily sell you a chemical to eliminate diversity in your fields (roundup), as well as another chemical to increase the yields (fertilizer).

All of this is made possible with oil.

reject Monsanto.

Liz said...

Couldn't have said it better myself, Anonymous. Thanks.