A gift to be shared

Do we really know what we are eating?
Why the push for genetically modified food?
How safe is our food?
Does the industrialised production of food respect its sacredness?

A Coalition of Religions has called for more independent research by government agencies to better regulate food labelling and the commercialisation of food production.

It also wants easier access to, and education about, healthy food and more publicly funded, peer reviewed, research into the relationship between human health and ecologically sustainable agriculture in Australia and overseas

The call was made following input and discussion by people from 10 different faith traditions at a Safe Food forum at Strathfield.

According to one of the organisers, Anne Lanyon, a key scientific expert on public health, Dr Judy Carman, demonstrated the poor quality of the safety assessments made on genetically engineered (GM) foods by the regulator, Food Standards for Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ). 

“According to Dr Carman, the regulator does no independent evaluation.  It relies entirely on inadequate testing and reporting by the GM companies themselves.  Because proper testing has not been done, we the public don’t know what the long-term effects will be on our children,” Mrs Lanyon said.

In responding to Dr Carman, Catholic ecologist Sandra Mentieth, spoke on the ethics of eating.

“Food, in fact, represents one of the most basic entry points for evaluating our companionship with God, with others, and with the earth,” Ms Mentieth said.

“The root meaning of the word companion is ‘one who breaks bread with another’ and so welcomes and enables others to join in the journey of life.

“Our Christian liturgy is centered on food images, as are many of the parables, with heaven itself is presented as a banquet. What is the significance of the push to fast food and industrialised agriculture? What does the prospect of genetically engineered food mean for the Christian community that gathers in the Eucharist to listen to the Word of God and break the bread?”

She said that Pope John Paul II, shortly before his death, spoke of food as being at the heart of our human and religious experience, calling for a ‘vast moral mobilisation’ to enhance life and respect the blessings of creation.

“In the central significance of the Eucharist we see the profound spiritual dimensions of eating. When we make Eucharist – the bread that is broken and shared – at our common table, we don’t want the bread that has been stolen from the mouths of the poor, or come as a result of destroying our lands or diminishing biodiversity, or produced as a result of unfair trade or labour without a living wage, or laced with toxic elements or threatening the integrity of creation…

“There is a huge role for faith communities to reset the terms of the debate by placing the concerns of social and economic justice, local food systems, and sustainability squarely on the global table…  ‘In the commitment to transform unjust structures to restore man’s dignity… the Eucharist becomes in life what it means in celebration.’  (Propositions of Synod on the Eucharist, #48)”

Mrs Lanyon said that Mehmet Ozalp (Muslim) also spoke of the moral, theological and spiritual dimensions of food production and eating.  Jill Finnane, a specialist in sustainable food systems, stressed the necessity of encouraging small-scale local food production. Frances Bodkin, a D’harawal woman, described some Aboriginal uses of plants for food and medicinal purposes. The sacred character of food was recognised in its sharing as a communal act.

The forum was the initiative of the Faith and Ecology Network (FEN), formed in 2003 to enable people of different faith communities to work together on major issues of common concern to all Australians. 

People came from city and country areas and from a variety of religious traditions:  Aboriginal, Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian (Catholic, Anglican and Uniting Churches), Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. 

A new DVD, ‘Unjust Genes’, produced by the Columban Missionary Society, on GM food crops and the serious effects of promoting this technology for farmers in Australia and the Philippines, was previewed at the forum.  This DVD is intended for widespread community education on Safe Food.

As part of the forum, a statement on safe food was produced.  It reads:

As a coalition of believers from ten faith traditions within the Faith and Ecology Network (FEN), we are grateful for and support the work of scientists, health professionals and campaigners who have alerted us to problems associated with access to nutritious food and the increasing presence of genetically modified foods in the market.

we believe that:
access to nutritious, culturally acceptable and safe food is a sacred gift and a universal human right
reliable food supplies are best assured by protecting ecological systems and traditional growing methods
food sovereignty helps national stability and security, and
human solidarity means ensuring that all people have access to food, locally and globally. 

we support:
research to increase the quality and yields of conventional farming
informative and accurate labelling of all food stuffs
overseas development aid which fosters local agricultural systems
international agreements and local laws promoting food self sufficiency
programs to give people access to quality food and education about it.

we are concerned about:
the increasing control of the food industry by agricultural-chemical companies and supermarkets locally and globally
the move towards the commercialisation of genetically modified crops and animals (GMOs), and subsequent negative impacts on species diversity and the little researched long term effects on human health

we call for:
independent research by government agencies to better regulate food labelling and the commercialisation of food production
easier access to, and education about, healthy food
more publicly funded, peer reviewed, research into the relationship between human health and ecologically sustainable agriculture in Australia and overseas
an Australian position at Trade Related Intellectual Properties (TRIPs) meetings that helps protect peoples’ traditional knowledge and rights to their natural heritage.

We invite the members of all religions to support this call for safe food as a moral and spiritual issue believing that food is a gift to be shared. To raise awareness about safe food and work to make it available fosters human solidarity and promotes the value of life, physical and spiritual.


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