Dr. Shiv Chopra: Food safety, security and sovereignty all interlinked

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Recently rabble had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Shiv Chopra, the Health Canada microbiologist who blew the whistle on bovine growth hormone (rBGH) in milk. The following is an excerpt from that interview where we spoke about food safety, our health and trade deals.


How did you come to be traveling across the country to talk about food security and trade?

The TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), food security and our health is what I've been speaking about. We were sponsored by the Council of Canadians across the country. I did some extensive touring in B.C., Ontario and Montreal. It just keeps going. It's interesting from my point of view because I have this inside information that nobody else does. Food safety, security and sovereignty are all interlinked.

Also, food production is a major cause of climate change. When you see that producing crops and animals -- people are eating far too much meat -- and when you see producing corn to create ethanol, that's wasteful of the land and is putting toxic substances into the ground.

When you put it all together, we're bringing toxicity at all angles.


What about the animals?

Well, the animals, the way they are raised in factory farms, that's extremely harmful. Generally there would be 100,000 chickens, 25,000 cows, 10,000 pigs, all being treated with drugs and chemicals. All those are coming out into the soil and water. That gets back to the people which affects their health.

The TPP and all these trade agreements are asking for no restrictions on [chemical use] at all. We're now producing cheap food and cheap food is produced under poor hygiene conditions which is creating disease that requires drugs to treat and that in turn ends up in our food supply, in the soil and in the water. It's a cycle.

In nature, the three things we cannot survive without are air, water and food. Air you can survive without for about five minutes. Water, you have five or six days. Food, maybe five or six weeks. If the air is toxic, you can live a bit longer. Water, if it is contaminated, you can still go to a pond or a river, live a bit longer. But food is something that every living thing has to work for.

Humans for a long time haven't wanted to do anything to produce food. That's a calamity.


Why is that?

Because food is an industrialized system. We're taking kids away from the farms, kids of today don't know where food comes from. They've never seen a cow being milked. They've never seen a chicken. They just think food comes from somewhere.

We need to rethink industrialized education. All education, from kindergarten on up, should be given on growing food. Whether they're learning about bees and worms and so on when they're quite young, when they grow up they will learn about soil and soil chemistry and biology. They can even learn some engineering, make their own greenhouses, set up solar panels for renewable energy.  

If we go back 500 years, slow down food production while still using modern technology, it will take care of our health, it will take care of our jobs.


That's how we "de-industrialize?"

Yes, that's how we de-industrialize. I'm not saying we get rid of machines, but they should be for the benefit of all. Everybody's rushing around, off to their jobs, we don't even have time to enjoy food.


So we're just not thinking about what we're putting into our mouths, just what's convenient.

Exactly. We need a fully integrated society. Now we have older people going into old age homes, young children are going to nurseries, and the parents are stuck between, rushing around. We need to rethink that. Slow down.


Back to food, what is it in food that is toxic, that people should really be concerned about?

In our food, to make it cheaper and automated, and this happens in other parts of the world, we are using hormones that are toxic, that cause cancer and  reproductive disorders, all kinds of things. Then we're using antibiotics that cause anti-microbial resistance and create superbugs that are killing people because we have exhausted all the antibiotics that we used to have.

We're feeding animals slaughterhouse waste. Many of the animals arrive at the slaughterhouse dead because they have been transported over thousands of miles, unfed and unwatered. Millions of pounds of meat get recalled, but only after people start to die. We don't have to have slaughterhouses that are a mile long. Why can't we have smaller slaughterhouses locally, use local feed and take food out of this trading business?


Bring things back down to a more human scale.

A human scale, but using technology, using solar panels, conserving water,  all those things. Work with nature rather than fight nature. We're always at war. Why are we doing genetic modification? We don't need it.

Forty per cent of the world's food is being wasted, even in places like India where people are still starving. That's because of corruption, not because there isn't enough food. Predictions are that by 2050 the world's population is going to reach it's maximum, maybe around nine billion, and the population will start dropping from there.

If that's what is projected, and we already have all this food surplus, then why do we need to keep producing so much? We're putting all this pesticide into the soil, we have these GMOs, to produce corn for ethanol. That production creates greenhouse gases, and then we burn it using our cars. That's not green energy. That's what our carbon footprint is.

Most of the world is going towards solar energy. Other countries are actually getting ahead of us because they lack  fossil fuels. They have no choice but to go with solar and wind and other energies. These are not philosophical things I'm talking about, they're very practical.  

There has to be a general discussion on the subject. Politicians have to listen and not be [controlled] by the corporations.


Meg Borthwick has been working in alternative media, in broadcast, print and online, for nearly 30 years. She is a freelance writer and is the moderator for rabble's discussion forum, babble.

Photo: flickr/mhall209

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