April 11, 2016 by Rachel Parent
When you are a kid it’s easy to think that you don’t have any power. But that’s simply not true.
When I was 11 years old, I had to do a speech in front of my classmates. I considered the environment, animal cruelty, and poverty and food security. While researching the food security topic, I came across industrial farming and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The more I researched, the more concerned I became.
GMOs were linked to important issues like our health and the environment, but also impacted our pollinators, seed freedom, food security, and our freedom of choice. I also learned that trees were being clear cut to grow GMO soy to feed animals in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which contributed to climate change.
GMOs touched on all of the topics I was considering, so I decided chose GMOs for my speech. I realized that none of my classmates or even the teachers knew much about them, even though they’d been eating them for years.
I learned that over 70% of the foods we eat contain GMOs. Ingredients such as corn, canola, soy, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame and vegetable oil, found in most processed foods, come from genetically modified crops. The frightening thing was that our government wasn’t doing any independent testing on the long-term effects of GMOs. This, despite the fact that many independent, peer reviewed studies questioned their safety both for our health and the environment.
Even more concerning was the fact that these products were unlabelled, so we don’t even have the freedom to choose. Unfortunately, I discovered that we were part of a big science experiment – unlike citizens of 64 countries around the world that had mandatory GMO labelling laws. Canada and the US are the only two industrialized nations that don’t have such laws.
I asked myself, WHY NOT US? And I began to realize what I needed to do. I had to tell others about GMOs, especially children, so I founded a not-for-profit organization called Kids Right to Know.
At the time, I didn’t know much about social media, and I didn’t have any funds, so I felt a march through the streets of Toronto to raise awareness about GMOs would be the best place to start.
I reached out to family, friends, and some health and environmental organizations, and to my surprise, many children showed up with their parents dressed like bees and butterflies to join the march. It was like a Kid Revolution!
Little did I know that it would be the beginning of a relentless campaign for GMO labelling and food safety. This campaign has allowed me to debate Kevin O’Leary on his CBC TV show, to meet with our former Minister of Health, Rona Ambrose, to question our Prime Minister on GMO labelling, and to travel to several parts of the world spreading awareness about GMOs.
Recently emails released to the US Right to Know group under the Freedom of Information Act showed that agricultural biotech companies were trying to find ways to publicly discredit those who speak out against GMOs. The list was full of scientists who oppose GMOs – but I was on it too! Essentially they wanted to shut down any discussion or opposition. It’s pathetic, but it also means that we are winning.
Through some of my efforts, and the huge efforts of the entire movement, major food manufacturers such as Campbell’s, Kellogg’s, Mars, Con Agra, General Mills and Del Monte have recently committed to GMO labelling. But this is just the tip of the iceberg and I’m committed to continue my efforts until we have mandatory GMO labelling in Canada and the US.
Kids today are tomorrow voters and shoppers. We have a right to expect that the future world will be safe and sustainable. It’s not always easy to demand it, but we can’t be afraid if someone else disagrees with us or criticises us – or even if corporations, governments, or TV personalities try to stop us from speaking out.
There are many issues facing our planet today; issues such as climate change, poverty, ocean acidification, child labour, animal cruelty, and the list goes on. As the youth, we’ll have to live with these issue, so I encourage all kids to find a topic you feel passionate about and become informed and engaged – and take action.
Perhaps you can join an existing organization, or even just start telling people about what you’ve learned. No actions are too big or too small. You can make a difference; you just have to believe you can.
I especially encourage everyone, especially children to learn more about the food we eat, and how it’s produced; that’s why I really like the idea of starting a conversation with other kids across the world about food and farming.
Our Food Our Future is a really creative activity that can help kids in the US, Canada and Mexico and elsewhere in the Americas get the message out about GMOs. I really hope lots of you will take part and show that kids can be a force to be reckoned with and that we can shape our future the way we want it to be.
One Planet for All, All for One Planet!
Rachel Parent lives in Toronto, Canada and is the founder of Kids Right to Know. Founded on the belief that we all have the “Right to Know” what’s in our food, regardless of age, Kids Right to Know seeks to inform, educate, and motivate kids to stand up and make a difference. Click on any of the links below to watch some of Rachel’s recent videos: