Amid the heavenly rhetoric of Convention, one committee has been laboring to keep legislators down to earth. The Executive Council Committee on Science, Technology and Faith dug into the realities of 21st century food production, processing and distribution. The result: Resolution A016, Food Security.
It urges Episcopalians to be aware of the changing realities and inherent threats to future production within today’s agribusiness world. Genetically modified crops, degradation of the soil through heavy use of petroleum-based fertilizers and weed-killers, megafarms that treat animals inhumanely, and the demise of the family farm are among the issues committee members addressed.
Of the resolution’s status yesterday, committee member and South Carolina clergy deputy Kendall Harmon said: “I don’t know where it is. It was assigned to the Social and Urban Affairs Committee. I thought it passed the House of Deputies. It might be in Bishops.”
The legislative office had no record of action on it yesterday afternoon.
The resolution title grew from a conference held in 2001 at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City, explained Suzanne Youmans, a committee member and farmer’s granddaughter, during a hearing last week.
When the term “food security” raised concerns, committee co-chair Barbara Smith-Moran said, “This is a resolution about stewardship, not about the safety of biodiversity.”
Murray Hudson, a former farmer from West Tennessee, told the group in a Hyatt meeting room, “We need a cooperative, locally grown, regionally based food system.”
Youmans concurred, adding “We need to protect the biological life of the soil.”
Since 1995, genetic manipulation has enabled corporate agriculture to control crop varieties and limit natural diversity of crops. Youmans said “They claimed genetically modified food was the silver bullet to care for hunger in the world.”
Elizabeth Tattersall, a priest and molecular biologist from Nevada, cautioned the committee not to demonize all genetically modified foods. “It has positive and negative points. In some circumstances, genetically modified foods can be extremely helpful,” she said.
Warning against mono-cropping, in which companies exert tight control of seed varieties available to farmers, Deacon Phina Borgeson of Santa Rosa, Calif., said, “We would wind up with a single type of food.”
“There’s a farm crisis all through my ministry,” said Stephen Schaitberger, a northern Minnesota priest who supported the resolution.
Three corporate giants use technology to control their bottom line,” he said. “The church needs to stand with those who have less power.”
“This resolution has a profound impact,” said Steven Charleston, a Native American priest who heads Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass.
One of his newest programs engages students with food as a learning opportunity. “The dining hall has become a classroom as well. We see and teach environmental justice as the ground for all other forms of justice. We emphasize prayer and spirit-filled attitude toward food and those who preserve, prepare, and serve it.”
So far, however, amid the furor of bishops, blessings and budgets, the 16-line document has drawn about as much attention as a snowflake in a Minnesota winter.