Author Archives: Charles W. Elliott

Super-Typhoon Devastates the Philippines – Emergency Aid Needed Now

World Food Programme Emergency Aid for the PhilippinesTyphoon Haiyan has caused massive loss of life and destruction in the Philippine Islands. The typhoon – described as perhaps the largest tropical storm ever to hit land in recorded history – has left nearly half a million people in the Philippines homeless and without basic necessities.  Those children and families need your help.  Please consider making a donation to the United Nations World Food Programme – the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger. You can make a donation at: https://www.wfp.org/donate/typhoon

Oxfam International is accepting donations for emergency relief at: http://www.oxfam.org/en/emergencies/typhoon-haiyan

You can also make a $10 donation to UNICEF USA by texting “RELIEF” to 864233

A Buddhist teaching  from the Tibetan Mahayana tradition is to think of all beings as our mothers. Recognizing that all of these suffering beings have been our mothers and in every other close relationship with us since beginningless time, we urge you to help as generously as possible.

The Costs of Economic Inequality: Social, Political, and Moral

by Charles W. Elliott

Gandhi once famously said: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” Over the past decade, we have witnessed an unprecedented grab of wealth—with its associated power and influence—by a few at the expense of everyone else. This increasing concentration of wealth for a few in the face of continuing struggles of poor and middle class families just to make ends meet is the consequence of public and economic policies that favor private interests over the public good. This inequality corrupts our political system.  And it ultimately corrodes social cohesion and threatens widespread unrest.

Most people do not have a true perspective of the gross inequality in our economic systems. Fewer still understand its corrosive effects. As writer Michael Lind observed in his article “To Have and to Have Not”[1]:

 The American oligarchy spares no pains in promoting the belief that it does not exist, but the success of its disappearing act depends on equally strenuous efforts on the part of an American public anxious to believe in egalitarian fictions and unwilling to see what is hidden in plain sight.

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More Food or New Colonialism for Africa?

Charles W. Elliott

In a recent (June 30, 2013) speech in Cape Town, South Africa, U.S. President Obama announced new overtures to support agriculture in Africa.  But the people of Africa need to be on their guard lest these renewed efforts to “help farmers” in Africa become mere Trojan horses for corporate colonialism.

President Obama declared that “Governments and businesses from around the world are sizing up the continent, and they’re making decisions themselves about where to invest their own time and their own energy.”  With phrases invoking American generosity, he proclaimed that:

Instead of shipping food to Africa, we’re now helping millions of small farmers in Africa make use of new technologies and farm more land.  And through a new alliance of governments and the private sector, we’re investing billions of dollars in agriculture that grows more crops, brings more food to market, give farmers better prices[.]

No one would complain if the United States and its corporate partners would help “millions of small farmers” grow more food.  But we wonder: what kind of agriculture is the beneficiary of billions of dollars of investment?  And what are the “new technologies” that purportedly will help those millions of small farmers?
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A Bad Month for Monsanto; A Good Month for Food and Farmers

It’s been a rough month for biotech and chemical industrial giant Monsanto. On May 25, 2013, millions of people in 250 cities in 52 countries around the world protested against Monsanto’s GMO activities and its corrupting influence in governments. Investigations confirmed that Monsanto’s unapproved GMO wheat has inexplicably escaped into the wild and now contaminates wheat fields in Oregon, even though the field trial experiments for that GMO wheat took place long ago and far away. Monsanto finally abandoned its intensive lobbying efforts to strong-arm European governments to approve its GMO plant varieties. And Connecticut became the first state in the United States to pass a bill that would require food manufacturers to label products that contain genetically modified ingredients. (For the Connecticut labeling requirement to take effect, additional states totaling at least 20 million in population must also pass similar legislation, and one of the states must border Connecticut.)
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GMOs: Food, Money & Control: Part III

Charles W. Elliott

(In Parts I and II of “GMOs: Food, Money & Control,” we explored the failure of the leading U.S. state proposal to require labeling of GMO foods (California Proposition 37), the control of crop seeds through GMO patents and licensing, the loss of seed and crop diversity, and the increasing domination of the seed industry by biotechnology firms.  In this post, we examine GMO contamination of other food crops and the impacts of GMO technologies on pesticide use.)

“When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe. —John Muir

Despite pervasive human intervention, the dynamism of the natural world overcomes virtually all artificial boundaries and limits.  We directly experience nature’s refusal to stay within the lines we draw. Plants penetrate concrete sidewalks; moving water inexorably surmounts or breaks through barriers; nature retakes land abandoned by humans.
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Buddhist Global Relief Makes Emergency Donation To Feed Syrian Refugees

Moved by the plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled the ongoing conflict in Syria, Buddhist Global Relief has made an emergency donation of $10,000 to the World Food Programme (“WFP”) to help feed families forced from their homes.

According to the WFP, over 1.2 million people are displaced inside Syria and some 250,000 people have fled the country and become refugees in neighboring countries. Many fled the conflict zones with their families under shelling and gunfire from both government and rebel forces, often able to bring along only the clothes that they were wearing. Harsh conditions in refugee camps—including plummeting temperatures and flooding—are making for a life of intense suffering. Many families living in tents lack heaters and winter clothing.

Food for these families is the most critical need. It takes only $72 to provide a month’s worth of food for a Syrian refugee family. BGR’s donation will feed 138 families for an entire month during the difficult winter season.

The WFP is the food assistance branch of the United Nations, and it is the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing global hunger. It is funded entirely by voluntary donations.  To read more about the humanitarian crisis in Syria, and to make a personal  donation, go here.

We are thankful to BGR’s generous donors who are making this emergency food donation possible.

GMOs: Food, Money & Control: Part II

Charles W. Elliott

It’s All About the Patents. And Control. And Money.

“Seeds are the most basic thing that we got. Everybody has to eat. We want to have a healthy planet with healthy people, we have to have good seeds.” – Seed Farmer, Dan Jason

For more than 10,000 years, humans have engaged in the simple free act of saving natural seeds from a season’s crop and replanting them in the next season. The primeval cycle of planting crops, saving seeds and replanting them in the next season is the practice of agriculture itself.  But we are now witnessing the passing away, in a single generation, “this ancient ritual as old as civilization, a ritual in many ways responsible for civilization.” [1]  This is due to the use of genetically engineered plants, protected by patents and contracts, which make saving seed and replanting them in the next season illegal. The replacement of nature’s bounty with increased sale of genetically engineered crops under such restrictions leads inexorably to expanded corporate control of our food supply.  This problem is exacerbated by the loss of crop diversity and increasing market concentration in the seed business.

Seeds and Patents

A patent is the exclusive right, granted by law, to commercialize a new invention for a limited period of time. Thus, patent law confers upon the patent holder a monopoly on the “exploitation” of the invention. Thanks to U.S. Supreme Court decisions that recognized the right to patent life forms[2], crop seeds and other agricultural products produced from genetic engineering are subject to patent rights.

In the context of crop seeds, this monopoly grants companies the exclusive right to sell the seeds and allows them to charge higher prices for them. As applied in most countries, such seed patents prohibit farmers from saving seeds from their own harvest. As a result, they must either buy new seeds each year or pay for a license to use the patented seeds they have saved. [3]

For non-hybrid crops that employ transgenetic biotechnology, agribusiness and seed companies use intellectual property law, tangible property common law, and strict contracts to prohibit farmers from saving seed. For example, when Monsanto sells seeds for its genetically modified crops, it requires that farmers agree to severe restrictions before they can open a bag of its GMO seed. Monsanto’s typical so-called “Technology/ Stewardship” license: (1) prohibits growers from using seeds for any purpose other than planting a single commercial crop; (2) prohibits growers from saving any crop produced from seed for planting; (3) prohibits supplying seed produced from seed to anyone for planting other than to a Monsanto-licensed seed company; and (4) prohibits transferring any seed containing patented “Monsanto Technologies” to any other person or entity for planting. The agreement also requires that the grower allow intrusive investigation of the growers’ records, including examination and copying of “any records and receipts that could be relevant to Grower’s performance of this agreement.”[4]
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