The Watershed Sentinel recently caught up with 17-year-old Canadian activist Rachel Parent during an Earth Day speaking engagement at Highland Secondary in Comox, BC. Rachel founded Kids Right to Know in Toronto at age 12, after learning about the issues surrounding Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Her activism has drawn the attention of the biotech industry and as a result she has been targeted since she was 14 by the pro-GMO lobby. In the face of this she manages to stay on target, continuing to educate young people about GMOs and promote our right to know what’s in our food.
Do you consider yourself an activist?
I do. I think being an activist is a very positive thing. When I was younger I never wanted to be called an activist … but then I looked up the meaning of the word and it said someone who’s so passionate about something that they want to make a difference – that’s when I knew that I was an activist.
You met with Canada’s former Minister of Health Rona Ambrose – how did that go?
So we met, and during the meeting I asked, who is responsible for labelling, and she said, well it’s not me, I don’t have the mandate. So I asked, well who is then? She said it’s the Health Canada officials, so she set up a meeting with them … they told me they also didn’t have the mandate. So then I’m asking OK, who is [responsible], and one person’s saying the Minister of Health is, and the other person is saying it’s the Canadian Food Inspection Agency but that they probably wouldn’t want to do it anyways because they don’t see any health concerns.
So nobody wants to take responsibility – and labelling happens in all these other countries…
Sixty-four other countries! And yet Canada doesn’t want to because they don’t think there’s an issue. Well, what are the other countries seeing that we’re not?
Have you been targeted by the pro-GMO lobby?
One hundred per cent. People say I was forced into it – and it doesn’t make any sense at all, because do you really think that I’d allow my parents to force me into something? So we’re dealing with these sorts of issues – where people are fabricating complete lies. Over this past year it has gotten worse, and I think it’s because they know that we’re really reaching people. And [it’s] not just me, but our entire movement – they’re targeting other people too.
What have you had to sacrifice to be so focused and engaged on this particular topic?
I’ve given up things like horseback riding and singing, a lot of my acting, dance … but I’d definitely choose this path again because it’s always so positive and inspiring to know that you are getting the word out somehow. And there’s such a fulfilment, knowing you’re doing something right versus just doing something like an extracurricular.
Have you talked to the new Minister of Health?
Jane Philpott – I’ve been trying to get a meeting with her … we’ll see how that goes.
[Rona Ambrose] also set up a meeting for me with Galen Weston, the CEO of Loblaws. I had that meeting in January, and he said that labelling is bound to happen, but that we need more people to get out there and speak up and become more like activists.