Letter: The difference between famine and starvation

The difference between famine and starvation

Editor of the Reformer:

The current primary election debacle highlights the importance of language and historical context in the way we perceive and interpret the world and our history, and in the way others use words to mislead and confuse.

In that vein, I would take issue with a small part of your Jan. 19 Denver Post editorial reprint concerning the GMO label debate in which you refer to the "Irish potato famine." This is a reference common where history has been written by those who were unaffected or, indeed, benefited by the events in Ireland form 1845 to 1852.

In Ireland the events are called "the starvation," and for good reason.

The dictionary defines famine as "an extreme scarcity of food." But as a transitive verb, "starve" is defined as "to kill with hunger."

There is no doubt that the potato blight had a disastrous effect on the crop, which was a mainstay of the diet of the poor. But there was no scarcity of other food — oats, wheat, beef cattle, etc. — which could have been used to feed the hungry. But those were commercial crops grown on land owned by British overlords. Historians generally agree that there was enough food exported from Ireland to feed the entire starving population.

In short, the "one percent" in the United Kingdom allowed the peasants of Ireland to die of starvation while they continued with business as usual. The result was to sew the seeds that led to the push for Irish independence in the next century.

Had GMO potatoes been available back then, they might have helped. But a fair economic and political system that would have avoided the problem in the first place would have helped a lot more.

The point for today is not so much GMO labeling as basic questions about why GMOs are being pushed on us to bolster the bottom line of mega corporations like Monsanto. Just as in Ireland in 1845, the question is why the "one percent" gets to push the rest of us around.

George Carvill, Brattleboro, Jan. 21


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