Meeting Minutes from InspireSeattle Social on November 7, 2009

We had our eight social event of 2009 at Jeanne Legault s home.  We had a nice turnout with 30 guests.  Thanks so much to Jeanne for opening up their home!

Our Standard Reminder !

inSPIRe s goal is to provide a lively, fun as well as informative discussion on current issues.  As mentioned in our rules of engagement for our social events, we are not trying to obtain total agreement on topics discussed in our meetings, but rather to educate members as to different viewpoints.  In building our local Progressive community through grassroots efforts like ours, we believe it is important to provide people with educational opportunities to understand different aspects of current issues as well as a fun, friendly environment in which to discuss these.  Our guest speakers are encouraged to share their insights and thus to lobby for the support of inSPIRe members towards their goals.  Building community, providing education, inspiring activism and having fun remain our four primary objectives!


The Standard Apology !

As always, the open and engaging nature of our social events leads to our note-taker/recorder/editor (me) to get caught up in the discussion and thus miss writing everything down.  My apologies if I missed any important points made or issues raised, or if I did not capture or misinterpreted our speakers messages in any way. 



Habitat for Humanity

Meredith van Ry reported on her recent three week trip to Kenya to work on a Habitat for Humanity project.  Meredith indicated she had a fun and very rewarding experience, and strongly encourages us to consider a trip like this for ourselves in the future.  You can learn more at



On Nov 30th the World Trade Organization (WTO) will host a meeting of its highest decision-making body in Geneva 10 years to the day when we shut down the WTO!  On Dec 7th, the United Nations Conference on Climate Change launches in Copenhagen. Join in an effort to harness the spirit of the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle with a renewed commitment to justice and a strong message to Wall Street: People and the Planet are Not For Sale!   People s Summit Program: See updates at  All events FREE or by donation; no registration required.

  • Saturday Nov 28:  Opening Plenary & Workshops at Seattle University, 9 5pm
  • Saturday Evening: Reclaiming Community Plenary, Dinner & Music at New Hope Baptist Church, 6 10pm
  • Sunday Nov 29: Workshops, Plenary & Strategy Session on Cross-sector Organizing, at Seattle University, 10 5pm
  • Sunday evening: Closing Plenary at Town Hall, 6 9pm

Confirmed speakers: Leo Gerard, United Steel-Workers President, Dena Hoff, National Family Farm Coalition & Via Campesina, Eric Holt-Gimenez & Annie Shattuck, Food First, Rev. Robert Jeffrey, Black Dollar Days Task Force, David Korten (When Corporations Rule the World, Agenda For a New Economy), Thea Lee, AFL-CIO, Sylvia Ordu o, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and National Planning Committee, U.S. Social Forum

inSPIRe Book Club! We are now reading The American Way of War: Guided Missiles, Misguided Men, and a Republic in Peril by Eugene Jarecki for our Dec 9th (7PM) meet-up.  To join the book club and get on the list, just send an email to


Main discussion topic for this evening:  Genetically Engineered Foods

First Speaker:  Phil Bereano.

Phil Bereano is Professor Emeritus of Technical Communication and Adjunct Professor Emeritus of Women Studies and American Ethnic Studies at University of Washington.  Previously Phil was at Cornell University and earned degrees in Chemical Engineering, in Regional Planning and a law degree.  Phil began working on genetics policy issues in 1977.  Bereano is also an outspoken defender of civil liberties with respect to information technologies and computer databases (including bio-informatics).  He is a member of the National Board of the American Civil Liberties Union and chairs its Committee on Databases and Civil Liberties. This year received the William O Douglas award from the ACLU s Washington State affiliate for sustained contributions to the cause of civil liberties.  

Phil began our evening s discussion with an explanation that technologies are not values neutral .  Technologies can greatly impact our values, in extraneous ways as well as in direct ways.  Technologies represent conscious, purposeful interventions into our lives they are not randomly developed or implemented.  As a result, obviously new technologies can and do have a powerful impact on our societies. 

Technological development typically requires extensive capital investment as well as some of the best intellectual expertise offered within our society.  Therefore, by definition, technological development comes with the involvement of very powerful members of our society, both individuals and groups.  Technology is a typical way that people and organizations gain and maintain their power, especially power over the middle class and the poor.  Bill Gates, through his foundation, has been working to change the dominant ideology regarding agriculture in Africa through his investment in genetically engineered foods.

Often new technologies are develop in such a way where they seem to be separated from the political issues in a region, I.E., they are seen as apolitical.  But this is typically not the case.  Take the new technologies surrounding Green Energy .  As an example, so-called experts are back expounding on the virtues of nuclear energy in a global warming environment although we have never technologically solved the problem of nuclear waste disposal.  As we move forward with the search for clean energy , politics will be at the center of most key discussions and decisions.

Phil stated that our planet does not need genetically engineered (GE) foods.  GE does not increase food productivity.  More importantly, hunger is not a function of productivity.  Hunger is a function of poverty.  We have an abundance of food production on the planet.  It s the lack of equitable distribution of this food that results in hunger.

Phil then briefly discussed the extensive propaganda surrounding GE foods.  We are very frequently propagandized that technology will solve hunger .  It is striking that with all the technology surrounding food production that government regulation is effectively non-existent in this area.  No one government agency has been established to monitor and govern this development, and to protect the public.  This fact is highly concerning to many scientists that understand the potentially huge impact this new technology can have on us. 

GE crops come with three areas of extensive problems, including environmental problems, health related problems and political stability problems.  Food contamination is common from GE crops.  GE pollen easily can blow over to organic fields.  In discussing this issue with leaders from the GE industry off the record, they have admitted to Phil that contamination of organic crops is a key part of their strategy.  Soon, organics will be a thing of the past.  All crops will contain the genetics of the GE crops. 

Phil listed examples of many unintended consequences from GE foods.  One example is the massive dying off of butterflies.  Another particularly scary example is the dying off of bees.  Given that 75% of all our food crops need to be pollinated by these bees, their massive dying off is highly concerning and potentially disastrous for our planet.  In 1992 the Corporate Council on Competitiveness (headed by that intellectual powerhouse Dan Quayle) announced that GE foods would not be regulated.  Their rationale was that GE foods are not substantially different from other foods , thus don t need to be regulated.  It s telling that this is nonsense, given that the owners of the GE foods have taken out patents on them due to them being different .  Hmmm.  Today, 75% of the processed foods in our supermarkets contain GE corn or soy products. 

Food experts, scientists, etc. are very hesitant to publically voice their opposition to GE foods.  The power surrounding GE foods is so extensive that if one takes them on, one is surely going to face severe consequences.  So, we don t see many articles against GE foods.  Yet, great dangers exist.  One of the dangerous factors is the extensive amounts of chemicals and fertilizers used with GE food production.  These chemicals are highly dangerous to our environment, including groundwater, fish, insects, animals and humans.  The US Government has adopted a don t look, don t find policy regarding GE foods. 

The politics surrounding food are tremendous.  Basic foodstuffs are totally monopolized.  Regulation of the food industry includes extensive contradictions.  Even President Obama has appointed ex-Monsanto executives into key government regulation positions, effectively letting the foxes guard the henhouse.  Phil emphasized that no evidence of harm doesn t equal safety, and much greater regulation is necessary.


Second Speaker:  Travis English

Travis English is a researcher for AGRA Watch, which he helped co-found in 2007 a project of the Seattle's Community Alliance for Global Justice.  He is an undergraduate in Community, Environment, and Planning, a program in the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington.  His foci are in research methods, urban and rural relationships, and critical development studies.  Travis current research projects include: looking at how farmers in Kenya are resisting neo-colonization and, analyzing the role of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the new green revolution for Africa. Recently his work was cited in an article in The Nation.

Travis provided a brief history of the Green Revolution.  The Green Revolution began in the 1950s.  Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation, an institute was established in Mexico to begin research and development of hybrid seed varieties crops.  In the 1960s they introduced new seeds.  Their focus was on high-yield seeds .  These brought a problem in that they required extremely high use of fertilizers and chemicals, as well as a very high use of water.  These new seeds were provided throughout the world to farmers, including in Latin America, Asia and India.  Pitched as an opportunity for more profitable farms, these hybrid seeds actually were capital intensive and put severe financial pressures on the farmers that went with them. 

Failures spread throughout farms using these new capitol intensive technologies.  Extensive environmental degradation resulted from chemical pollution.  Farmers were driven off their farms.  High use of expensive chemicals resulted in the even greater need for more chemicals, frequently resulting in the financial ruin of the farmers.  The suicide rate of small farmers skyrocketed, and frequently the method of suicide was to consume the same chemicals that killed their farms.  Urban slums exploded as farmers went to the cities in search of a living.  Finally, the Green Revolution did not effectively address hunger.  From 1970 to 1990 food production increased 11%.  But over the same time span, the percent of people suffering from hunger also increased 11%.  Not a good trend.

The Green Revolution did not catch on in Africa, however, he father of the Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug received extensive funding through a Japanese funder, Sasakawa, to advance green revolution technologies in Africa.  Through this funding, mono-cropping was introduced in parts Africa in countries such as Ethiopia.  These crops became mainly export crops, even though the local people were suffering from starvation.  In 2004 the United Nations General Secretary, Kofi Annan, declared that there is a need for a new Green Revolution in Africa.  In 2006 the Gates Foundation created AGRA, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.  AGRA has stated goals of supporting small farmers, decreasing poverty and protecting the environment.  But their model is focused on production, not poverty.  Effectively, they have centralized the poor.  AGRA policies and process is not democratic and has not helped the local farmers.  The Community Alliance for Global Justice has been working on this critical issue.  Travis s wife Heather is the Executive Director of this alliance. 

Travis s research has shown the extensive reach of AGRA s connections to corporations such as Monsanto and GE food. Travis showed a map of the alliances, organizations and efforts of the Gates Foundation in African food production, and the overlapping correlation and connection of these efforts to Monsanto.  It is a dramatic and scary picture. 

Click here to see Travis's map of alliances for the Gates Foundation
[located at the bottom of this web page]


Q Why does the US Government push for GE programs in places like Africa?

A It s not a Republican directive , it s a directive from both parties.  The Clinton Administration pushed policies for GE in a big way, and prohibited negative comments to block bad news reaching Wall Street.


Q What is really going on with the actions of the Gates Foundation?

A They brought a scientist to the UW from Cal Tech for the price of $13M.  The efforts of this scientist were very questionable, but Gates believes that technology will solve everything .  Gates doesn t have expertise in the intricacies of Africa.  They seem to be blind to many of the problems they are creating.


Q Why do native farmers then agree to use GE seeds and grow these crops?

A They are propagandized.   They are sold an entire ideology around GE and get caught up in it.  If they resist, pressure comes to join.  Testing, assessing and evaluation is not being done.  It s a house of cards.


Q Michael Pollan wrote about this in Omnivore s Dilemma and stressed the harms from the massive growth of the corn industry.  Any comments?

A Pollan is a good writer, but not an expert on GMOs.  Monocultures are harmful.  The Gates Foundation has given Pollan s department at the University of California $5M to address the African Green Revolution, so Travis and Phil are concerned about Pollan s findings and ability to be unbiased. 


Q Why do local farmers keep coming back to the GE farming methods?

A It s like the crack dealer on the playground always there and hard to resist.  Even the micro-credit process is now heavily involved in GE food production. 


Q Are local stores like PCC ok?  Do they follow all this stuff and make the right choices?

A The main distributor for PCC has a monopoly on local business, which is not good.  However, corporations are needed to get required mass production of organics going.  As an individual, your best bet is to visit your local farmers markets and really get to know the producers individually, so you can have confidence in their goods and how they grow them.  The process of getting an effective national certification process has been a struggle.


Q What s the response to GE food in Europe?

A Most European countries aren t growing or selling GE food.  Also, they are also dismantling their subsidy programs, which will allow African farmers to compete in a global market.


Q Can GE food and farming contribute anything positive?

A Honestly, to really answer this question we need proper assessment processes and procedures, which don t now exist.  That is where a key element of the danger lies. 


As always, many, many questions were asked but not recorded.  Sorry!

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Previous meeting minutes


Previous IAN Events



Speakers: Travis English and Phil Bereano


Many thanks to Jeanne (left) for hosting!



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