Reportback: Co-Founder of Biosafety Alliance Speaks in Seattle

Miguel Robles, co-founder of the Biosafety Alliance and Field Organizer for Proposition 37 to label GE Foods in California, visited Seattle in October to support Initiative 522 to label GE (genetically engineered) foods in Washington. On October 12, Mr. Robles spoke on “Traditional Foods of the Americas: Why I-522 & Labeling Genetically Engineered Food Matters!” at a bilingual event hosted by Community Alliance for Global Justice and Volunteers for I-522. Highlighting the role of food in connecting a range of social justice issues, Robles shared his personal experiences with food sovereignty in the context of Mexican and indigenous agriculture, and urged Washington food justice advocates to leverage their personal networks in support of I-522.

Robles’ personal journey into food activism framed his view on GE labeling as a social justice issue. Born in Mexico, he has worked on various aspects of immigration reform and human rights issues for Mexican-American communities in California. Experiences such as learning about the impact of industrial agriculture on indigenous Mixtec communities and speaking with elder campesinos whose grandchildren no longer understand where their food comes from led Robles to co-found the Biosafety Alliance and organize the first Justice Begins With Seeds conference in 2011.

Robles worked as a field organizer on the campaign in support of California’s Proposition 37 (to label genetically modified foods) and helped to achieve a 61% majority in support of the proposition among Latinos. Speaking about the impact of genetic engineering on indigenous and Mexican agriculture, he described seeds as the way that many people are able to connect to their indigenous backgrounds. In Mexico, the “Sin Maiz no Hay Pais” campaign emphasizes the importance of corn—one of the crops for which genetic engineering is most pervasive—to Mexican heritage and contemporary agriculture. The spread of GE crops into Mexico (facilitated by the North American Free Trade Agreement) can be seen as an assault on food sovereignty, as the corporate control of seeds becomes, in Robles’ words, “a weapon of U.S. imperialism.” Last week’s ban on GE corn, issued by a Mexican federal court, demonstrates mounting resistance to this threat.

Robles’ next step in California is a campaign for GM-free corn tortillas, but in 2013 he continued the fight to label GE foods by bringing the Justice Begins With Seeds conference to Seattle (co-sponsored by CAGJ). He encouraged Washington social justice advocates to see the campaign as an opportunity for conversation to change the way that people think about food, from a basic form of consumption to an embodiment of the link between local action and global justice. Washington state, and each of us as an individual, now has the opportunity to become a leader in the fight against corporate control of our food system.

Ballots are coming out now and only a short time is left to cut through all the misinformation in the public dialogue on I-522. Make sure to tell your family and friends—the people who trust you more than conflicting messages in the media—that voting Yes on I-522 is voting for:

  • Equity;
  • An equal chance for farmers who choose not to purchase GM seeds to bring their crops to market;
  • An equal chance for consumers to choose what’s in their food regardless of whether they can afford organics, and
  • An equal opportunity for all people to preserve their indigenous foods and agricultural traditions.
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