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To GE or not to GE

Organic NZ asked four organic growers to share their stories of how they navigated ethical considerations regarding the Pfizer vaccine. 

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Renewed focus on nutrition and health 

Everyone we spoke to is hopeful we emerge from the pandemic with a new commitment to local healthy food production. Dom Ferretti, of Ferretti Growers near Nelson, says their vegetable box deliveries are doing very well: “More people are taking the plunge into organics who may have been on the fence before. We are struggling to meet demand.” This growth in sales is also true for Untamed Earth Organic Farm in Christchurch. Co-owner Penny Platt told Organic NZ the pandemic has been a mixed bag:  
“In some ways it’s been challenging. Managing staff interactions to stop the spread, and with the markets closed, we’ve had to change how we work. But we’ve also benefitted. Vege box sales have gone up. People are thinking more about local food and eating at home. We’ve built our profile and connected with more people who are coming to us instead of buying from supermarkets.” 

When it comes to staying healthy, a focus on good nutrition and active stress management have been key planks for Dom Ferretti. “We’ve been mindful of the extra stress and hard work as a result of the pandemic. Our focus has been on eating well and ensuring we get enough zinc and vitamins C and D. These are efforts to keep all viruses at bay. Relaxation and stress release through yoga have also been important for us, and we’ve been doing a lot of cold-water therapy, which has some great benefits.” 

“In general, there is not enough focus on empowerment of the people to take their health into their own hands. It’s a tragedy to have to rely solely on outside help when there is so much opportunity for self-sustainability, and endless available resources out there to get people started!”

KELLY DIGGLE, ĀRĀMA GARDENS & NURSERY
Dom Ferretti and Jeaneatte Ida from Ferretti Growers, near Nelson, which delivers vege boxes, runs a farm shop and offers gardening workshops. 

What about the vaccine? 

The importance of people having the right to make their own personal decision about vaccination was common to everyone we spoke to. Penny Platt’s view is that GE technology has been used recklessly, but that in the pandemic we have to look at a wider set of concerns. “Not being an expert on the science, I defer to people who are. I am trusting of the public health response, and that it’s been conducted with peoples’ needs in mind. I don’t feel concerned about that. 

“Regarding our organic philosophy – the core of it is about health and well-being and fairness. The thing I  
am prioritising is the vulnerable and their health and wellbeing. The vaccination programme helps us to support other people as well as ourselves.” 

Penny is still opposed to the use of GE in foods. “I am opposed to GE because it enables patenting tech that disempowers local food growers and indigenous communities, and takes ownership away from the people and gives it to corporates. What gets lost when we replace heirloom seeds and the natural varieties through GE? This is not the same for the vaccine. The use of GE tech has often been reckless, and unjustified, which is the problem. It doesn’t mean there aren’t justified ways of using it.” 

“The GE technology isn’t GMO or anything like that. Yes, it uses GE technology and that is hard to square with organics but this is such a unique and hopefully very rare situation.”

TIM GOW, MANGAPIRI DOWNS

Dom Ferretti draws a parallel with the chemical revolution in agriculture and the mistakes that were made around chemical safety. “Our gut feeling was that this was not right. We have spent so many years being very aware and careful of what we put into our bodies. Then when we looked into it, we found plenty of evidence which caused concern. Lots of evidence suggested more caution needed to be taken with the vaccine than people were taking. My observation has been that these industrial products are always presented as safe and effective at the outset. Then only later do we realise the harmful effects. This is true of the chemical revolution in farming. My grandfather moved out from Italy and became a market gardener in the early 20th century. He and his family got swept up in the chemical revolution. In the end, my father told me that organics is the only way for the long term. We ended up with a lot of cancer in the family from chemical exposure.” 

Kelly Diggle of Ārāma Gardens & Nursery near Kaitaia, says a GE vaccine doesn’t sit well with her growing philosophy. “There’s a deep connection to the food sustaining me because I have participated in the growth and health of that plant before it essentially transforms into the very cells living in this body! The likes of a GE vaccine – which does not require the time, effort and commitment that is needed for a rich interpersonal relationship to develop – in its very nature goes against the flow of life.” 

Southland organic farmer Tim Gow says he wrestled with the decision for a long time. “We haven’t vaccinated our sheep stock in nearly 20 years and haven’t needed to. But then I looked at how this is a bit of a unique situation, being a global pandemic with essentially a completely new virus. So that was the deciding factor for me. The GE technology isn’t GMO or anything like that. Yes, it uses GE technology and that is hard to square with organics but this is such a unique and hopefully very rare situation. I’m also in that category of people more at risk due to my age.” 

Penny Platt co-owns Untamed Earth Organic Farm in Ōtautahi/Christchurch, which provides vege boxes for the local community. 

Getting back to a new normal 

Regardless of opinions, everyone is hopeful we can build better connections with food as we emerge from the pandemic. Kelly Diggle wants to see more encouragement towards things like organic gardening, food security, community building and food sustainability. “In general, there is not enough focus on empowerment of the people to take their health into their own hands. It’s a tragedy to have to rely solely on outside help when there is so much opportunity for self-sustainability, and endless available resources out there to get people started!”  

Dom Ferretti agrees: “We hope that people take more charge of their immune system; and that they utilise nutrition and other health practices to protect themselves. We also hope that mandates are dropped and never used again, and that we accept that this virus needs to run its course as nature intends.” 

Penny Platt hopes that the high vaccination rate will enable us to move through this pandemic safely. “The location of our farm means we work around vulnerable people – a residential care facility for people with disabilities. So we take extra care. But I am also looking forward to returning to more of a balanced life. I hope we can have less heated conversations once the direct effects are not so acute.”  

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