As evidence of a climate crisis continues to mount, the concern regarding retention of necessary resources climbs accordingly. These fears are not unfounded. Human-driven biodiversity decline is reflected in the rapid loss of species, which is estimated by the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) to be 1000 to 10,000 higher than the background extinction rate.
Generated from the age of human-driven depletion is the anxiety regarding diminished diversity of agriculturally produced foods. Although the introduction of genetic modification provides the opportunity for improved food availability, it also encourages food resource monopolization and single-species dominance that disadvantages adaptation to a changing environment.
Anxieties regarding limited food access are not unfounded. Over 53% of the world’s commercial seed market is controlled by three commercial firms: DuPont, Syngenta, and Bayer, previously known as Monsanto.
One example is Monsanto’s entry into the Indian seed sector, which was made possible through its deregulation in 1988. Indian companies were locked into joint-ventures, and seeds that were openly available to farmers became intellectual property that had to be purchased. Open-pollinated cotton seeds were displaced by GMO-hybrids, and the renewable resource many farmers depended upon for a living became a patented, non-renewable commodity. The cotton plants, which had been previously planted among food crops, had to be grown as a monoculture, as the single strain became vulnerable to a wider range of disease and pests.
An additional example is identified in North American efforts to outline the concerns regarding food resource privatization. A 2013 report titled Seed Giants vs. U.S. Farmers, written by the Center for Food Safety and Save Our Seeds campaign groups, revealed corporate efforts to prevent farmers from re-planting Monsanto-acquired seeds. Seed Giants vs. U.S. Farmers identified 142 patent infringement suits against 410 farmers and 56 small business across the United States. A total of $23m has been won by the company from its American targets.
In Monsanto vs. Schmeiser, a Canadian example which was ultimately ruled in Monsanto’s favour, modified canola was deemed corporate property. Although Monsanto has rightfully declared its ownership of its genetically modified products in the described examples, the circumstances in which its autonomy is exercised conflicts directly with public access to necessary resources for food and livelihood.
Similar conflicts have arisen over the global freshwater supply, of which one-fifth is located in Ontario. Although water is not destroyed by human use, freshwater needs to be in a particular place and time to be considered useful. Unfortunately, Canada only has 7% of the global supply of renewable fresh water, as most is retained as fossil water in lakes and underground aquifers. Water conflict—defined as a conflict between regions over access to water resources—have been noted globally over the past decade, and have been followed by land mass sinks, civil wars, and corresponding changes in agriculture.
Contributing to increasing water scarcity is the decision to open the opportunity for multinational corporations to bottle water for commercial purchase. In Vittel, France, mega-company Nestlé depleted the town’s water table by over 100 centimetres over the course of three decades, threatening the availability of drinking water in the French town. Similar water extraction by Nestlé was identified in Florida despite attempts from local authorities to defend the springs from unsustainable over-pumping.
Locally, the involvement of Nestlé with Canadian waters demonstrates a similar record. Nestlé Canada has a well-documented history of contributing modest donations to communities to maintain political favour while profiting millions. Between 2011 and 2015, the finite aquifer that predominantly supplied Nestlé Canada’s productions was depleted 1.5 metres, and Nestlé’s intake increased 33% over the same time period. During this time, Nestlé paid as little as $2.25 CAD for every million litres it drew from Canadian aquifers.
In Fall 2016, Nestlé outbid the municipality of Centre Wellington, located 100 kilometres west of Toronto, for the exclusive use of the town’s well. When public outcry asserted that Nestlé’s actions would “jeopardize the local water supply”, the company deflected by offering to “share” the water with the public. As of 2019, Centre Wellington describes their predicament as a “David-and-Goliath situation” as the small Ontario town continues to fight Nestlé for the water gorge that helps supply the town’s needs.
Structural changes that protect our waters—as opposed to individual efforts—are the most effective. Yet, Premier Doug Ford’s government announced that the provincial moratorium preventing new permits to bottle and sell Ontario water would expire in October 2020, putting Ontario water back up for privatization and purchase.
Unfortunately, citizen input regarding privatization is limited: the Ontario government’s online process for public consult and deliberation typically value comments that are technical in their nature. Concerns that more closely relate to structural changes in regard to clean water accessibility—e.g., microplastics in drinking water and concerns regarding drinking water privatization—are deemed “out of scope”. In the same way, it is similarly difficult to suggest changes regarding privatization of food sources on an individual basis.
The most effective method to have a say in corporate involvement with public resources is to maintain our understanding of government-level decisions. Although change occurs at the voting booth and on feedback polls, regular involvement with local and provincial organizations will aid in supporting an emphasis on maintaining consistent communal responsibility.
One example is the Council of Canadians, a non-profit organization founded in 1985 that advocates for “clean water, fair trade, green energy, public health care, and a vibrant democracy”. Their website (canadians.org) lists resources to stay in-touch with Canadian movements, including external links for city-specific events. Their movements regarding clean water access seek to address short- and long-term issues, which range from fact sheets that have resulted from their long-time boycott of Nestlé products to its recent solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en community in their fight to maintain their rightful sovereignty over their land and corresponding resources.
Equally important is our engagement with our elected members of provincial Parliament (MPP) or members of Legislative Assembly (MLA), to whom we should express our concerns. Their names, riding of representation, and contact information are publicly available on the Ontario Legislative Assembly website, as are resources to identify the riding and MPP of interest.
Whether our involvement is with fellow citizens or our elected members of representation, the important aspect is consistency. Maintaining an ongoing awareness of government decisions permits citizen input in an effort to limit corporate takeovers before they can happen. A consistent understanding of government decisions also prevents personal misinformation and provides opportunity for overall community involvement.
Our democracy is not limited to one-time actions at voting polls. Our sovereignty over our resources and policies require full-time attention to ensure food availability and clean water for all individuals.
- World Wide Fund for Nature. How many species are we losing? Available at: https://wwf.panda.org/our_work/biodiversity/biodiversity/. (Accessed: 10th February 2020)
- Harris, P. Monsanto sued small famers to protect seed patents, report says | Environment | The Guardian. The Guardian (2013). Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/feb/12/monsanto-sues-farmers-seed-patents. (Accessed: 13th February 2020)
- Shiva, V. The Seeds Of Suicide: How Monsanto Destroys Farming – Global ResearchGlobal Research – Centre for Research on Globalization. Global Research (2013). Available at: https://www.globalresearch.ca/the-seeds-of-suicide-how-monsanto-destroys-farming/5329947. (Accessed: 18th February 2020)
- Water: frequently asked questions – Canada.ca. Environment Canada Available at: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/water-overview/frequently-asked-questions.html. (Accessed: 13th February 2020)
- Parker, L. What You Need to Know About the World’s Water Wars. National Geographic (2016). Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2016/07/world-aquifers-water-wars/. (Accessed: 13th February 2020)
- Chazan, D. French town of Vittel suffering water shortages as Nestle accused of ‘overusing’ resources. The Telegraph (2018).
- Allen, G. The Water Is Already Low At A Florida Freshwater Spring, But Nestlé Wants More. NPR (2019).
- Council of Canadians boycott Nestlé bottled water – TheBulletin.ca. The Bulletin (2016). Available at: https://thebulletin.ca/council-of-canadians-boycott-nestle-bottled-water/. (Accessed: 19th February 2020)
- Cribb, R. & Marotta, S. ‘We’re in a David-and-Goliath situation.’ Small Ontario town taking on Nestle to save its water. The Toronto Star (2019).
- Bueckert, K. Groups accuse Nestlé, Centre Wellington of ‘backroom deal’ to privatize water. CBC News(2017).
- Mike Balkwill. Doug Ford government puts Ontario’s water up for grabs – NOW Magazine. NowToronto(2019). Available at: https://nowtoronto.com/news/doug-ford-nestle-ontario-water/?fbclid=IwAR2obTWENbe7ZY9j_YiMO7GOKlxoYMeJDWiDgeejJZJiZAHVKeb9-ReZeT4#.XcRwBNgzvAN.twitter. (Accessed: 10th February 2020)
- The Council of Canadians. Available at: https://canadians.org/. (Accessed: 19th February 2020)
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