At 19 years old, Rachel Parent is already a luminary leader who encourages everyone—no matter their age—to join her in the fight for GMO labelling and protecting the planet. Find out how this activist found her cause and the passion that illuminates her path.
When she was 11 years old, Parent needed to choose a topic for a speech at school. She was “extremely passionate” about animal rights and deforestation. Naturally, she began researching those topics and stumbled on information about genetically modified organisms (GMOs for short—laboratory-created organisms, which make up at least one ingredient in more than 75 percent of the food products sold in Canada).
That was the first time Parent had ever heard of GMOs. The thing that really caught her attention was the fact that GMOs aren’t labelled in Canada or the US (and we’re the only two developed nations in the world—besides Israel and San Marino—that don’t have mandatory GMO labelling).
Parent also discovered there could be health and environmental risks to GMO use. Further, Parent was concerned that companies were patenting nature and that GMOs could possibly contaminate nature and organically grown crops.
Parent didn’t stop thinking about GMOs after delivering her speech. She believed if she didn’t take a stand, then who would?
Lacking in resources or connections, Parent turned to social media, which she found to be a useful platform for discussion. Social media also helped Parent found Kids’ Right to Know, an organization built on the belief that we all have the right to know what’s in our food. Accordingly, Parent argues for the mandatory labelling of GMOs. The organization’s first march, composed of 300 people, took place in Toronto in 2012.
Eventually, Parent started to become more vocal as a speaker and sometimes travelled to deliver her message.
In 2013, Kevin O’Leary (a Canadian TV personality) called those concerned about GMOs “stupid,” and proposed they stop eating so we could get rid of them. Parent felt O’Leary’s statements were an attack on the choices we should all be allowed to make when it comes to the food we eat and dismissive of the possible risks involved in eating and growing GMOs.
So, in response, Parent recorded a YouTube video challenging O’Leary to a debate. A month later, Parent’s mom picked her up from school and told her the news: the CBC had received thousands of requests to see the debate (the most requests they had ever received from the public), and O’Leary had accepted her challenge.
While acknowledging she felt a lot of pressure to represent her cause on national TV as a 14-year-old, the need to “set the record straight” erased that fear.
“We all deserve the basic right to know what’s in our food,” asserts Parent.
During the debate, Parent articulately represented her cause on national television, despite O’Leary’s arrogant comments during their talk. Since then, more than 9 million people have watched that debate on YouTube.
Parent is also a proponent of regenerative agriculture.
Chemical agriculture is thought to damage soil, releasing carbon and contributing to the climate crisis. In 2016, more than 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada were produced by chemically based agriculture.
Regenerative agriculture, Parent explains, stores carbon in the soil and can assist with increasing nutrition, food production, and building drought tolerance. To find out if the foods you’re buying were farmed using this process, contact the farmer and ask if they use biodiverse or biodynamic practices.
“When we support regenerative farmers, we’re supporting part of the solution that draws carbon into our soil,” says Parent.
Parent encourages anyone interested in food activism to get in touch with her organization (see sidebar). Beyond that, Parent also recommends signing petitions, attending events, planting seeds or trees without using chemicals, or discussing issues with friends and family members.
“Small actions are often the ones that make the biggest difference and change the most mindsets,” says Parent.
Parent says her generation is facing many new issues, and their voices, drive, and energy have incredible potential to create change.
“[But] this isn’t just a one-generation issue,” emphasizes Parent. “We all walk this planet and have an opportunity to make the world a better place every single day.”
There are 64 countries that require GMO labelling, including countries within the European Union, Malaysia, Brazil, China, Australia, Cameroon, Denmark, and Saudi Arabia.
In the US, some companies (including General Mills and Campbell’s) voluntarily label GMOs.
For updates on events, go to gen-earth.org/news. Events feature inspiring speakers—and sometimes educational films—and the chance to mingle with other like-minded individuals. Family-friendly marches also happen frequently on issues including GMO labelling, defending pollinators, protecting the environment, and upholding seed freedom.