(Beyond Pesticides, May 29, 2013) Last weekend across the world thousands of protesters rallied in dozens of cities against industry giant Monsanto and its genetically engineered (GE) products. “March Against Monsanto,” a coordinated day of action and protest, was held in 52 countries and 436 cities, including Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, even after Congress voted against allowing states to require labeling of GE foods.
The organizers of the May 25 rally call for labeling of GE foods and further scientific research on the health effects of GE foods. Demonstrators hoped to raise awareness of the issue and waved signs that read “Real Food 4 Real People” and “Label GMOs, It’s Our Right to Know.” They also urge supporters to “vote with their dollar” by buying only organic products and boycotting Monsanto-owned companies. Protesters in the U.S. urged opposition to the so-called “Monsanto Protection Act” which takes away the authority of federal courts to halt the sale or production of GE crops, undermining the courts’ ability to protect farmers and the environment from potentially hazardous GE crops.
“We’re marching to raise awareness,” said Dorothy Muehlmann, 30, of Corona, who organized the L.A. march with help from groups such as Occupy L.A. and Anonymous. “This is not just a ‘boo Monsanto’ protest. We want more people to know so they can make their own decisions.”
But just last Thursday the Senate rejected a Farm Bill amendment, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), to affirm the right of states to require labels on food or beverages made with genetically modified ingredients, even though federal law does not currently preempt the rights of states institute GMO label requirement. Senators from farm states that use a lot of GE crops strongly opposed the amendment, saying the issue should be left up to the federal government and that labels could raise costs for consumers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require GE foods to carry a label, but organic food companies and some consumer groups have intensified their push for labels, arguing that the engineered seeds are floating from field to field and contaminating traditional crops.
Protests in California against GE foods have been gaining momentum after the defeat of Proposition 37, a ballot measure last November that would have made California the first state in the nation to require labels on some fresh produce and processed foods, such as corn, soybeans, and beet sugar. Opponents of the proposition argued that it was expensive, bureaucratic and full of illogical loopholes for certain foods, such as meat, dairy products, eggs and alcoholic beverages. Even though the measure was defeated with 53% of voters casting ballots against it, supporters say the concerns of the more than 4 million who voted for it remains valid. The use of GE crops has been a growing issue of contention in recent years, with health advocates pushing for mandatory labeling of GE products even though the federal government and industry argue the technology is safe. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently ordered an environmental impact statement (EIS) for Dow and Monsanto’s new GE 2,4-D tolerant crops. USDA is requiring the review in response to overwhelming concern expressed by farmers, consumers, and public health officials during the comment period for these new herbicide-resistant crops.
GE seeds and crops pose unique problems to farmers, consumers and the environment. Unfortunately, since the 1980s, seed patent rights have been granted to agrichemical corporations that have since patented a number of varieties of GE seed, including corn, soybean, cotton and canola. Now, five companies account for 58 percent of the world’s commercial seed sales. These patents mean farmers cannot save seed for future plantings and can be held liable if their crop is contaminated with GE material. A recent unanimous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that farmers cannot replant patented GE seed because it violates licensing agreements. This means that farmers must pay industry giants like Monsanto for seed each growing season, fundamentally altering the nature of farming. The ruling was a blow to farmers who have been persecuted by Monsanto for ”˜trespassing’ on patent rights due to saving seed. The advent of these crops have led to environmental contamination of GE plant material that have contaminated farms, including organic farms, and wild plant species, which has led to the increase of “superweeds” highly resistant to chemical control. As of December 2012, Monsanto has filed 142 alleged seed patent infringement lawsuits involving 410 farmers and 56 small farm businesses in 27 states.
The March Against Monsanto movement began when founder and organizer Tami Canal created a Facebook page on Feb. 28 calling for a rally against the company’s practices. Protesters marched in Buenos Aires and other cities in Argentina, where Monsanto’s GE soy and grains now command nearly 100 percent of the market, and the company’s Roundup-Ready chemicals are sprayed throughout the year on fields where cows once grazed. They carried signs saying “Monsanto ”” Get out of Latin America.” In Portland, thousands of protesters took to Oregon streets. Police estimate about 6,000 protesters took part in Portland’s peaceful march, and about 300 attended the rally in Bend. Other marches were scheduled in Baker City, Coos Bay, Eugene, Grants Pass, Medford, Portland, Prineville and Redmond. Across the country in Orlando, about 800 people gathered with signs, pamphlets and speeches in front of City Hall.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Photo Source: LA Times