Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Genetically modified food danger

Published in The Fiji Times - Off the Wall with Padre J.S. Bhagwan - Wednesday, October 27, 2010

With a strengths, weaknesses and loopholes of consumer protection laws in Fiji beginning in Suva today, I have been thinking of the quality and type of foods that are imported into Fiji, some of them genetically modified.

In December 2007, I represented the Pacific Conference of Churches at a Global Consultation on Genetics and New Biotechnologies and the Ministry of the Church in Johannesburg, South Africa, where I shared my concern that while economic development is important for the nations of Pacific; governments and churches need to examine the possible negative social, economic and health implications of the introduction of farming of genetically-modified crops for export or local consumption.

Looking at the devastation of communities, local economies and cultures by the actions of Biotechnology companies involved in Genetically-Modified crop farming such as Monsanto, in Mexico, Paraguay and Latin America, but also the impact of large-scale GM farming on small farmers in North America, the Pacific needs to heed the "writing on the wall" and be proactive in this area.

The danger of overlooking the health and social implications and focusing on the immediate economic benefits for a few, when looking to introduce the planting of GM crops, is real.

Already we have heard of the States of Victoria and New South Wales in Australia, not renewing the ban on growing genetically-modified crops.

This has direct implications on Pacific Islanders as many of our countries import food products from Australia.

Genetically Modified Foods, Plants, Animals, Additives, Body Products, Fish, Crops and Trees have had their genes manipulated, changed, and put into other species that normally they would not mate with, blend with, consume, or grow in. Incredible combinations have been produced, and have been found to have mutations, diseases, abnormalities and trigger other diseases that otherwise may have remained dormant.

14 South Pacific countries - American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu - have recommended a moratorium on the import of GMOs pending the implementation of appropriate national risk assessment and risk management procedures.

Genetically Engineered Foods Pose Higher Risk for Children

In his publication, "Seeds of Deception," Jeffrey Smith writes that GM foods put our children at risk.

Children's bodies develop at a fast pace and are more likely to be influenced and show the effects of genetically modified (GM) foods. That is why independent scientists used young adolescent rats in their GM feeding studies. The rats showed significant health damage after only 10 days, including damaged immune systems and digestive function, smaller brains, livers, and testicles, partial atrophy of the liver and potentially pre-cancerous cell growth in the intestines.

Children are more susceptible to Allergies

Children are three to four times more prone to allergies than adults. Infants below two years old are at greatest risk-they have the highest incidence of reactions, especially to new allergens encountered in the diet.

Even tiny amounts of allergens can sometimes cause reactions in children. Breast fed infants can be exposed via the mother's diet, and fetuses may possibly be exposed in the womb. Michael Meacher, the former minister of the environment for the UK, said, "Any baby food containing GM products could lead to a dramatic rise in allergies." GM corn is particularly problematic for children, as they generally eat a higher percentage of corn in their diet. Further, allergic children often rely on corn protein. Mothers using cornstarch as a talc substitute on their children's skin might also inadvertently expose them via inhalation.

Children are more susceptible to problems with milk

Milk and dairy products from cows treated with the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rbGH) contain an increased amount of the hormone IGF-1, which is one of the highest risk factors associated with breast and prostate cancer. The Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association called for more studies to determine if ingesting "higher than normal concentrations of [IGF-1] is safe for children, adolescents, and adults." Sam Epstein, M.D., Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition and author of eight books, wrote, "rbGH and its digested products could be absorbed from milk into blood, particularly in infants, and produce hormonal and allergic effects." He described how "cell-stimulating growth factors . . . could induce premature growth and breast stimulation in infants, and possibly promote breast cancer in adults." Dr. Epstein pointed out that the hormones in cows could promote the production of "steroids and adrenaline-type stressor chemicals . . . likely to contaminate milk and may be harmful, particularly to infants and young children."

Children are more susceptible to nutritional problems

A 2002 report by the UK's Royal Society, said that genetic modification "could lead to unpredicted harmful changes in the nutritional state of foods." They therefore recommended that potential health effects of GM foods be rigorously researched before being fed to pregnant or breast-feeding women, elderly people, those suffering from chronic disease, and babies. Likewise, according to former minister Meacher, unexpected changes in estrogen levels in GM soy used in infant formula "might affect sexual development in children," and that "even small nutritional changes could cause bowel obstruction."

Children are in danger from antibiotic resistant diseases

Children prone to ear and other infections are at risk of facing antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, due to the use of antibiotic resistant genes in GM food. The British Medical Association cited this as one reason why they called for a moratorium of GM foods.

May the rest of your week be blessed with simplicity, serenity and spontaneity.

*Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma serving as a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva.

This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Saints Among Us

Published in The Fiji Times - Off The Wall with Padre James Bhagwan on Wednesday 20/10/2010

Shalom Aleichem!

On Sunday, I attended mass at St. Michael's Church in North Sydney with my nephew Amiel, cousin Lynette and her husband Assanke Mathes. Apart from the personal spiritual fulfilment of worship and the service of the Eucharist, the occasion was special for two reasons.

Firstly, Amiel is my Godson.

When his parents married, I was Assanke's Best Man and when their son was born, I was asked to take on the responsibility of being their firstborn's Godfather.

I may have made rather comic references to my role as my niece Sian's Godfather in a column in Mai Life Magazine, but still in my early twenties, I found myself taking responsibility for the religious education and spiritual formation this little boy.

This became physically difficult as Amiel and his parents moved to Australia but the decision to be a Godparent and the weight of that responsibility was a critical element in the paradigm shift my spiritual life was to take. Of course with one Godchild out of the country, when I accepted my niece as my Goddaughter, she was to receive a double portion of my commitment, as well as having to hear my attempts at speaking like "The Godfather," Marlon Brando.

So the opportunity to attend worship with my Godson (and his parents) at their church was one I cherished. We sat next to each other during the service, knelt, prayed, sang (I was fortunate to not only know the tune to the hymns but remain in tune during the hymns) and worshipped God together.

We affirmed our faith together and we affirmed his faith journey together.

The second reason that the service was special was that this was also the first feast day of Australia's first saint. Sister Mary MacKillop was that evening (this past Sunday) canonized by Pope Benedict XVI and is now known as St. Mary of the Cross

According to the St. Michael's Church Newsletter, Mary Helen MacKillop, at age 24, opened a Catholic School in a disused stable in Penola, South Australia.

In 1867, at the age of 25 she became the first sister and Mother Superior of the newly formed order of the sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart.

She adopted the religious name Sister Mary of the Cross.

In Adelaide they founded a new school at the request of the bishop, Laurence Bonaventure Sheil. Dedicated to the education of the children of the poor, it was the first religious order to be founded by an Australian.

The rules written up by Father Julian Woods (who had been her parish priest in Penola and had supported her desire and dreams to serve the poor) and Mary for the sisters to live by were an emphasis on poverty, a dependence on divine providence, no ownership of personal belongings and faith that God would provide and the sisters would go wherever they were needed.

The rules were approved by Bishop Sheil. By the end of 1867, ten other sisters had joined the Josephites who had adopted a plain brown habit.

The sisters later became colloquially known as the Brown Joeys.

During 1869 Mary and several other sisters travelled to Brisbane to establish the Order in Queensland.

Two years later she was in Port Augusta , South Australia for the same purpose.

In 1871 they also established a school in Burra. During this eventful year, Mary was wrongly excommunicated by Bishop Sheil, who was against most of the things that she had fought for, on the grounds that, "she had incited the sisters to disobedience and defiance."

Shortly before his death, Bishop Sheil instructed Father Hughes to lift the censure on Sister Mary. An Episcopal Commission was to later exonerate her completely.

By August 1871, the sisters had not only survived, they had thrived. Over one hundred and twenty women had taken vows and become Sisters of St. Joseph. Being only 23 years old on average and being sent away to any part of Colonial Australia that had need of their services, the sisters had to be tough.

Mother Mary MacKillop died on 8th August 1909 and was laid to rest at the Gore Hill Cemetery.

After her burial people continuously took earth from around her grave and as a result her remains were exhumed and transferred, on 27 January 1914, to a vault before the altar of the Mother of God in the newly built Memorial Chapel in Mount Street, Sydney.

As I listened to the parish priest of St. Michael's, father Michael O'Callaghan, speak on St. Mary of the Cross' life and work,

I began to reflect on another Australian woman who did similar work and is considered (unofficially of course) a saint by many in Fiji, Hannah Dudley.

Known to many as Hamari Mataji (our honoured mother), Hannah Dudley was born in New South Wales, Australia about the time Mary MacKillop was establishing her first school in South Australia.

This somewhat eccentric and fiercely independent woman was the founder of the Methodist Mission to the Indians in Fiji.

From her arrival in 1897 to her final departure from Fiji in 1913 due to illness, Hannah Dudley worked tirelessly, establishing the first school for Indian children in Suva on her verandah, visiting homes, holding night classes for young men, Christian instruction and on Sundays she held services on her verandah. On Sundays she also walked three miles to the local gaol to speak to 400 prisoners and pray with condemned prisoners about to be hanged.

She wanted a wooden church and collected money to have one built and it dedicated on 19 December 1901 at the site of the present Dudley High School, called the Indian Mission Hall.

To this day, under the somewhat infamous baka tree, you can still see the foundations of this building.

During her first year of arrival in Fiji, she began adopting orphans.

She started with two girls and a boy but soon the number of adopted children had grown to eleven.

The most famous of these was a boy given to Hannah Dudley by his father when the mother deserted him. He took his foster-mother's name and became Raymond Dudley. He went on to became the President of the New Zealand Methodist Conference in 1956.

As her adopted family grew, the Church decided to build an orphanage for her at Davuilevu but she refused to move there.

In 1904 an orphanage was built at Davuilevu, called The Dudley Orphanage for Indian Children. It is now known as Dilkusha Girls Home.

Many lives were greatly influenced and nurtured, not just by Hannah Dudley's personal work but in the legacy that lives on in the Indian Division of the Methodist Church, Dilkusha Girls Home and of course, the schools (Intermediate and High) that bear her name.

I am sure Hannah Dudley would agree with the words of St. Mary of the Cross, "The cross is my portion - it is also my sweet rest and support. We must teach more by example than by word."

As Australians celebrate their first Roman Catholic Saint and Fijians remember a Methodist Sister who was saintly, let us all commit to living the legacies we inherit. For in doing so we are blessed.

May the rest of your week be blessed with simplicity, serenity and spontaneity.

*Rev. J.S. Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily contain the views of this newspaper, the Methodist Church or any other organisation or group that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with.



Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Evergreen and Project Green

Published in "Off The Wall" - The Fiji Times, Thursday 7th October, 2010

ON Saturday afternoon (Sat 2/10/10) members of the Dudley Methodist Youth Fellowship and I visited the Nanuku Squatter Settlement in Vatuwaqa, Suva to distribute baigan (eggplant) and chilli potted plants in phase one of their Project Green. Project Green aims to encourage those in the Nanuku settlement to plant their own vegetables as most residents live impoverished lives. The Dudley Methodist Circuit has a small church there and runs a scholarship programme and food bank to support the community.

Project Green started as an initiative to get the Dudley Methodist Youth Fellowship involved in more community-based work as part of putting their faith into action. I am all for singing gospel praise and worship choruses, bible studies and quizzes and fun-nights but there is more to being a Christian than that. Being a Christian involves us going out beyond the four walls of our churches and out of our comfort zones, where we confront not only the reality of the suffering of those less fortun

ate then ourselves but our attitudes towards them.

The concept of "pot-planting" vegetables is the brainchild of Rev. William Lucas, Divisional Superintendent of the Indian Division and Culture of the Dudley Methodist Circuit. Rev. Lucas, who grew up in Navua comes from a farming background found himself involved in rice farming, which meant being knee deep in wet grassland, planting, milking cows as a child. During his stationing at Sigatoka, he used to encourage those in the rural farming community to plant their own crops in order to make use of the land available to them, giving encouragement and advise whenever he was on a visitation.

Now stationed in Suva, Rev. Lucas has turned his backyard into a small vegetable plantation, with round cabbage, lettuce, eggplant, long-bean, Chinese cabbage, tomato, pumpkin plants. While this is an excellent idea and something that the Methodist Church has tried to inculcate in its student ministers at Davuilevu Theological College, Rev .Lucas had more than supplying his family and grateful neighbours with fresh veggies in mind. His aim is to encourage as many people as possible, especially those living the poverty line to plant their own fruits and vegetables in whatever land they have available to them.

For some this may mean flowers sharing space with vegetables in residential gardens, for others small urban neighbourhoods setting aside pieces of land for communal plantations. However for the community in Nanuku, neither option is possible as what little land is available is not suitable for planting due to the high salt content in the water from the swamp.

Rev. Lucas suggested to our youth group to collected recycled paint tins, bottles, cans, cracked buckets and once the group had enough, they spent an afternoon at the Minister's residence, fill them with soil and planting the 30 eggplant, chilli and tomato seedlings. "Project Green" is an experiment of sorts. It is not a hand out, it is a form of "green-spiration". The residents at Nanuku who have received the potted-vegetables must nurture them. They have been challenged to follow the example and plant their own. They will also be called to share the results with their neighbours and encourage others to do the same. I understand that in this current age of political (or non-political) correctness, it may seem insensitive to use the term squatter instead of the now-accepted "informal settlement", but a visit to Nanuku where our brothers and sisters live on land that is reclaimed mangrove swamp or tiri and where one has to carefully navigate old tyres laid down to created safe paths to the sparse homes that are built, sometimes overnight, over the tiri reminds us of the precarious situation that residents of Nanuku live in. Many of us may not be comfortable with the word "squatter", with the lack of dignity that "squatters" may suffer. But perhaps it is important to feel uncomfortable, to be reminded that many people in our world, in our country continue to suffer structural oppression.

I sensed the "eye-opening discomfort" of our young people as they struggled to maintain their balance while walking on the tires, as their wrinkled their noses at the smell of the swamp, as they saw for themselves the conditions their fellow church members lived in. I saw understanding dawn on them as they witnessed the joy with which residents received the potted seedlings; the humility they experienced when they received gratitude from those they were helping through a project they may have grudgingly gotten involved in.

There is a lesson in this project that goes beyond merely feeding the hungry. It is in allowing yourself to be used as an instrument of the greater good, that you receive the most benefit - the joy of fulfilling your responsibility in the web of life.

"Be Still, Stand in Love, Pay Attention."

* Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva.

* Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva. This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email: