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Have Corporations Hijacked the Word 'Sustainable'?

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Oregon News Page, Millions Against Monsanto page, and our Genetic Engineering Resource page.

 

Sustainability is trendy, but what does "sustainability" mean? Unlike organic, a term that is defined and strictly regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, terms like sustainable, green and eco imply environmental friendliness but are not specifically defined. One might argue that shipping food grown in compliance with U.S. organic standards from China to sell them in supermarkets in New York is not sustainable due to the energy required to transport it, but that food could still be certified organic. And, on the contrary, a T-shirt made with genetically engineered cotton could never be certified organic (as genetically engineered seeds are prohibited in the U.S. organic standards), but could it be considered sustainable? Obviously, this wiggle room leaves plenty of opportunities for greenwashing.

Sustainable is defined as "capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage." But lately, some are trying to redefine the term to their own advantage. Ron Moore, a board member of the American Soybean Association, defines sustainable as "producing more food off of each acre while using less natural resources." Under this definition, he claims, soybean producers -- over 90 percent of whom use genetically engineered seeds and plenty of herbicide -- are sustainable. In fact, he notes, their recent advances in reducing tillage directly results in reduced fuel usage and carbon sequestration.

But does that make them sustainable? One might be able to say that a Ford Expedition that gets 14 miles to the gallon can do more while using less natural resources compared to a Hummer H2, but that does not mean the Ford Expedition is capable of "being maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage."