Development and Peace’s Sow Much Love campaign calls for greater support for small farmers who are up against a production and distribution system that puts large corporations in the drivers’ seat. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

Trying to reconcile faith with farming ethics

By 
  • November 23, 2014

Charina Umagat has been an involved, engaged parishioner at St. Emile parish in Winnipeg for 20 years. The last thing she expected to find in her pew on a Sunday was a pamphlet casting moral doubt on her job and her employer.

The pamphlet was part of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace’s Sow Much Love campaign highlighting economic justice, agriculture and environmental issues. Umagat works for biotechnology giant Monsanto Canada.

The Development and Peace pamphlet asked Umagat to go to her local grocer and ask the store manager to stock more local and organic products. It asked her to pledge to eat local and organic foods.

Though the Development and Peace campaign never mentions Monsanto, the dominant multinational that generated $15.8 billion last year in global revenues from sales of its Roundup herbicide and a wide variety of genetically modified seeds (some engineered to be resistant to Roundup), Umagat concluded that her Church development agency holds her employer in low esteem.

“I work for a biotech company but I’m also a Catholic. So what do I feel now?” asked Umagat. “Should I feel a little bit more welcome? Should I not feel welcomed because I work in an industry that we, the Catholics, are not supporting?”

Umagat has been a controller in the Monsanto finance department for 10 years. She previously worked for a Winnipeg agriculture technology company that Monsanto bought.

“We don’t condemn in any way the people working for Monsanto, earning their living,” said Ryan Worms, Development and Peace’s deputy director of in-Canada programs. “Nor do we blame farmers in Canada or elsewhere in the world who are using the products of agro-industry companies. We know what Canadian farmers have to face. It’s difficult work. It’s difficult for them to meet their economic needs and they also have to work the land. It’s not against the person… What we are against, and what we denounce in the campaign, is the system.”

By the system, Worms means a world food production and distribution system that puts large corporations in the driver’s seat and leaves poor, small farmers — who produce 70 per cent of the food in the developing world — barely able to feed themselves.

“Pope Francis said in his address for World Food Day last year that we denounce slavery to profit at all costs,” said Worms. “Pope Benedict explained in Caritas in Veritate that purchasing is always a moral and not just an economic act.”

As a Filipino immigrant whose family and friends were small farmers when she was growing up, Umagat supports the Development and Peace call for consumers to support small and local farmers.

“Anything we’re doing for the small farmers is pretty cool,” she said. “I came from a country of mostly small farmers as well. So I kind of understand how important that is.”

But Umagat is mystified by the insistence on expensive, fashionable organic products.

“Are we saying that all small farmers are organic? That’s what I’m asking,” Umagat said. “There are farmers who are actually big who are farming organic. It’s almost missing the point.”

“We encourage our members to buy organic and locally produced food knowing that not all families in Canada can buy that food. It’s more a way to simply ask that we reflect on our choices as citizens and as consumers,” Worms said. “Organic because we think that’s the closest way to how food is produced in the (global) south. It’s also maybe a way that respects more deeply God’s creation. The sustaining of creation is one of our responsibilities.”

An image of developing world subsistence farming tied to organic farming is out of touch with reality, said Trish Jordan, Monsanto Canada’s director of public and industry affairs. The highest growth in use of biotechnology is in the global south, Jordan said.

“We work with small landholders all over the world both in a commercial sense but also in a philanthropic sense,” Jordan said.

Monsanto has provided drought-resistant hybrid corn seed to poor farmers in Kenya that has allowed them to produce crops despite extremely dry conditions. A philanthropic program Monsanto runs in Malawi which provides hybrid corn seeds has tripled the production of small farmers there, Jordan said.

Development and Peace partners in Ethiopia have fought off drought with locally produced, drought-resistant seed that can be freely shared and saved because it’s not the proprietary technology of a huge multinational, said Worms.

Monsanto is in full agreement with Development and Peace’s emphasis on local produce, but it objects to the idea that the corporation has somehow forced any farmers to adopt GMO seeds, or that its chemical herbicides and biotech seeds are damaging the environment.

“The whole issue of eat locally, impact globally — fantastic for people to eat locally. We would agree 100 per cent with buying local produce whenever you can,” Jordan said.

“Does that produce need to be organic and is organic a better choice than conventional? We would probably disagree.”

Monsanto Canada is a major donor to Canadian Foodgrains Bank, a Winnipeg-based, ecumenical Christian organization that helps poor farmers worldwide. Development and Peace is one of Canadian Foodgrains Bank’s contributing partners, representing Canadian Catholics on the Foodgrains board. It’s time for Monsanto and Development and Peace to talk directly about their differences, Jordan said.

“What we’re trying to get is to sit down and have discussions with people we disagree with,” she said. “That’s kind of hard when people come from kind of polar opposite viewpoints.” 

Comments (9)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Ms. Umagat can take this opportunity to have a discussion with her congregation about modern agriculture. Only about 2% of farmers are organic in Canada, that eating locally in the winter months is impossible for all families too. Please see...

Ms. Umagat can take this opportunity to have a discussion with her congregation about modern agriculture. Only about 2% of farmers are organic in Canada, that eating locally in the winter months is impossible for all families too. Please see perspective on GMOs as Christian: http://nurse.farm/1uM0x44

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@ Sarah Schultz GMOs stand for God Move Over. Anyway you slice and splice it, biotechnology is playing God.
Leviticus 19:19 states, "Keep my decrees. Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed..."

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Also see Deuteronomy 22:9 - "Do not plant two kinds of seed in your vineyard; if you do, not only the crops you plant but also the fruit of the vineyard will be defiled."

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Thank you for taking a stand against Genetically Engineered food. We know it is unhealthy, so many people have been made sick and gotten better only when they take all GMO out of their diet and eat organic. It only makes sense since GE crops are...

Thank you for taking a stand against Genetically Engineered food. We know it is unhealthy, so many people have been made sick and gotten better only when they take all GMO out of their diet and eat organic. It only makes sense since GE crops are only made to withstand repeated dousings of poison

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I agree with Sarah. It's very important for us in the agriculture industry to share that our practices are safe, that we care about the food we produce and that we care about the land we use to produce it. Also, I read the "Sow Much Love"...

I agree with Sarah. It's very important for us in the agriculture industry to share that our practices are safe, that we care about the food we produce and that we care about the land we use to produce it. Also, I read the "Sow Much Love" brochure, and D & P clearly named Monsanto within it.

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Chrisitians should know God made the food and saw it was good.He is perfect in His creations and didnt need help from Mon$atan who is out to control population & the food supply & posioning everything in sight. Dont Be deceived. God has revealed...

Chrisitians should know God made the food and saw it was good.He is perfect in His creations and didnt need help from Mon$atan who is out to control population & the food supply & posioning everything in sight. Dont Be deceived. God has revealed the truth to me about GMO and they are not safe!

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This GMO business not healthy nor will it save the world. Monsanto sure to profit howeved, you must buys seeds from them only yearly. Sure you are aware of all of this. So more people, more pollution, more climate change, you still need water....

This GMO business not healthy nor will it save the world. Monsanto sure to profit howeved, you must buys seeds from them only yearly. Sure you are aware of all of this. So more people, more pollution, more climate change, you still need water. Wars will emerge over land, water, who has power.

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Overpopulation kills, poverty kills, wars kill. Unless you want to invest in space exploration & move off planet these problems will increase. Monsanto cannot save the world with GMO's. Very, very last resort hunger games kind of world, is that...

Overpopulation kills, poverty kills, wars kill. Unless you want to invest in space exploration & move off planet these problems will increase. Monsanto cannot save the world with GMO's. Very, very last resort hunger games kind of world, is that what you want? Namaste.

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don't you say!

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