March Against Monsanto
|This article is outdated. (July 2014)|
The movement was founded by Tami Canal in response to the failure of California Proposition 37, a ballot initiative that would have required labeling food products made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Advocates support mandatory labeling laws for food made from GMOs and oppose what they and others call the "Monsanto Protection Act", a policy rider found in the Farmer Assurance Provision.
The initial march took place on May 25, 2013. The number of protesters who took part is uncertain; figures of "hundreds of thousands" and the organizers' estimate of "two million" were variously cited. Events took place in between 330 and 436 cities around the world, mostly in the United States. Canal said that the movement would continue its "anti-GMO cause" beyond the initial event, and a second march occurred on October 12, 2013. A third march is planned for 24 May 2014.
- 1 GMO controversy and Monsanto
- 2 Origin of the protests
- 3 May 2013 protests
- 4 October 2013 protests
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
GMO controversy and Monsanto
Monsanto, headquartered in Creve Coeur, Missouri, is the largest producer of genetically engineered seed. Monsanto has been involved in high-profile lawsuits, as both plaintiff and defendant, and its current and former biotechnology products, its lobbying of government agencies, and its history as a chemical company have made it a controversial corporation. In the United States, the majority of corn, soybean, and cotton is genetically modified.
Prior to the march, Monsanto's CEO Hugh Grant had accused opponents of genetically modified foods of wanting to block others from choosing more affordable food options, thus being guilty of "elitism".
Advocacy groups such as Greenpeace, The Non-GMO Project, and the Organic Consumers Association say that risks of GM food have not been adequately identified and managed, and they have questioned the objectivity of regulatory authorities. They have expressed concerns about the objectivity of regulators and the rigor of the regulatory process, about contamination of the non-GM food supply, about effects of GMOs on the environment and nature, and about the consolidation of control of the food supply in companies that make and sell GMOs.
There is, however, broad scientific consensus that food on the market derived from GM crops poses no greater risk than conventional food. No reports of ill effects have been documented in the human population from GM food. Although labeling of genetically modified organism (GMO) products in the marketplace is required in many countries, it is not required in the United States and no distinction between marketed GMO and non-GMO foods is recognized by the US FDA.
Origin of the protests
California Proposition 37
Proposition 37 was a California ballot measure that would have required labeling of genetically engineered food, with some exceptions. It would also have prohibited labeling such food as "natural".
March Against Monsanto was created by Tami Monroe Canal. Canal was residing in California when Proposition 37 was on the ballot in November 2012. According to the Epoch Times, "Canal began the project as a Facebook page on Feb. 28, and says her anger was sparked by California’s Proposition 37 campaign to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The measure failed, but the fight gave her a clearer picture of GMOs, Monsanto, and the food manufacturers who spent $45 million to defeat the initiative." Monsanto spent $8.1 million successfully opposing the passage of Proposition 37, making it the largest donor against the initiative.
Soon after, Canal moved to Utah where she had difficulty finding the same kinds of fresh foods and farmers' markets she had left behind in California. "I became increasingly angry every time I would go to the grocery store and spend a small fortune to ensure I wasn't feeding my family poison", she recalled, referring to her two daughters. Talking about her personal motivations for starting the movement, Canal told the Salt Lake City Weekly, "Companies like Kellogg's and General Mills are putting things like Fruit Loops on the market that are basically 100 percent genetically engineered ingredients. And that's marketed to our kids."
The Farmer Assurance Provision
The protest was also motivated by President Barack Obama's signing, on March 26, 2013, of the Farmer Assurance Provision, which is Section 735 of US H.R. 933. The section of the bill is called the "Monsanto Protection Act" by critics, and it authorizes the United States Department of Agriculture to allow the planting and cultivation of genetically modified food while environmental reviews are being completed, even if there is a legal ruling against their approval. Independent US Senator Bernie Sanders attempted, unsuccessfully, to introduce Senate Amendment 965 to the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013, legislation that would require labeling of GM food products. Sanders criticized Monsanto for its opposition to his initiative, saying that Monsanto and other biotech companies "were able to gather a whole lot of support in the Senate".
Prior to the march, the March Against Monsanto group hosted an essay on their website highlighting what they saw as lack of attention to the Act in the mainstream media. Dave Murphy, founder of Food Democracy Now!, called the controversy over H.R. 933 "the turning point in the debate on political lobbying and genetic engineering in the U.S." and he described the March Against Monsanto as raising "one of the most pressing issues of our time".
Social media campaign
Canal started a Facebook social media campaign on February 28, 2013. She stated: "For too long, Monsanto has been the benefactor of corporate subsidies and political favoritism ... Organic and small farmers suffer losses while Monsanto continues to forge its monopoly over the world's food supply, including exclusive patenting rights over seeds and genetic makeup." She argued that Monsanto benefited from corporate subsidies and political favoritism and that its patent rights over the genetic makeup of seeds resulted in losses to small and organic farmers. Activists Emilie Rensink and Nick Bernabe worked with Canal to promote the march on various social media sites.
May 2013 protests
On May 25, 2013, demonstrations protesting genetically modified crops took place around the world. Events took place in between 330 and 436 cities around the world, mostly in the United States. The number of protesters who took part is uncertain; figures of "hundreds of thousands" and the organizers' estimate of "two million" were variously cited.
In Southern California, protests occurred in Los Angeles, including Venice, Long Beach, and San Diego. In Los Angeles, protesters marched from Pershing Square to City Hall. Some carried signs expressing support for mandatory labeling of GMOs that read "Label GMOs, It's Our Right to Know", and "Real Food 4 Real People". Dorothy Muehlmann, organizer of the L.A. march, said that they were marching to raise awareness. "This is not just a 'boo Monsanto' protest. We want more people to know so they can make their own decisions."
Environmental journalist John Upton of Grist magazine noted that the march took place two days after Senate Amendment 965, introduced by US Senator Bernie Sanders in an attempt to allow states to label GMO foods, was rejected. "Any U.S. senators paying attention to what was happening in the entire world over the weekend may have noticed a teensy disconnect between their protectionist votes for Monsanto and global discontent with the GMO giant," Upton wrote.
The March Against Monsanto published a list of concerns and its positions on a number of GMO issues on its website. According to the group, the protests were held to address health and safety issues, perceived conflicts of interest, and agricultural, environmental, and legislative concerns.
The marchers expressed the belief that GM foods can adversely affect human health, with some of the protesters asserting that such foods cause cancer, infertility, and birth defects. Protesters also asserted that GMOs might harm the environment, and play a role in declining bee populations.
The protesters argued that the Farmer Assurance Provision legislation allows Monsanto to ignore court rulings, and have called for the bill's repeal. They believe that the legislation has drawn what they call "a blurry line between industry and government".
They also believe that there has been a conflict of interest between former employees of Monsanto who work for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and that Monsanto has used their patent rights to create a monopoly of the food supply which has resulted in economic losses by small farmers. Activist and journalist Emilie Rensink, who helped organize the march, said that in her view the appointment of ex-Monsanto executives to head the FDA has resulted in political favoritism, including Monsanto subsidies which have given them an unfair advantage over small farmers. Organizer Canal points to Michael Taylor, a lawyer who has spent the last few decades moving between Monsanto and the FDA and USDA, saying that she believes that US food regulatory agencies are so deeply embedded with Monsanto that it's useless to attempt to affect change through governmental channels.
The protests were reported on by news outlets including ABC News, the Associated Press, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and CNN (in the United States), and Russia Today and The Guardian (outside the United States).
No major media outlets in the US provided live coverage of the event. AlterNet expressed the opinion that mainstream coverage of the event was "sparse", and it criticized what it characterized as "the mainstream media's decision to ignore thousands of people marching down the nation's busiest thoroughfares". Radio host Thom Hartmann compared what he saw as scant coverage of the protests, which he attributed to the media avoiding topics that might make their advertisers appear in a negative light, to the greater media attention garnered by small Tea Party rallies.
Monsanto and industry response
Monsanto said that it respected people's rights to express their opinion on the topic, but maintained that its seeds improved agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land while conserving resources, such as water and energy. The company reiterated that genetically engineered foods were safe and improved crop yields. Similar sentiments were expressed by the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, of which Monsanto is a member.
October 2013 protests
A second protest was organized and held on October 12, 2013. The group Occupy Monsanto estimated that over 400 marches were held worldwide, with other reports estimating participation at 500 events in 50 different countries. The October march was scheduled to coincide with World Food Day, and came after Monsanto executives had been awarded the World Food Prize; the Des Moines, Iowa protest on October 12 took place in front of the World Food Prize building to oppose this award. Monsanto commented on the protests with a statement reasserting the safety of genetically modified food.
- Organic Consumers Association and its campaign, "Millions Against Monsanto"
- Associated Press, 25 May 2013 in The Guardian. Millions march against GM crops
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- FAO, 2004. State of Food and Agriculture 2003–2004. Agricultural Biotechnology: Meeting the Needs of the Poor. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. "Currently available transgenic crops and foods derived from them have been judged safe to eat and the methods used to test their safety have been deemed appropriate. These conclusions represent the consensus of the scientific evidence surveyed by the ICSU (2003) and they are consistent with the views of the World Health Organization (WHO, 2002). These foods have been assessed for increased risks to human health by several national regulatory authorities (inter alia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, the United Kingdom and the United States) using their national food safety procedures (ICSU). To date no verifiable untoward toxic or nutritionally deleterious effects resulting from the consumption of foods derived from genetically modified crops have been discovered anywhere in the world (GM Science Review Panel). Many millions of people have consumed foods derived from GM plants - mainly maize, soybean and oilseed rape - without any observed adverse effects (ICSU)."
- Other sources:
- "Contrary to popular belief". Nature Biotechnology 31 (9): 767. 2013. doi:10.1038/nbt.2700. PMID 24022131.
- Union der Deutschen Akademien der Wissenschaften(German Union of Academies of Science and Humanities).Are there health hazards for the consumer from eating genetically modified food?, Union of the German Academies of Science and Humanities, Commission Green Biotechnology. Accessed in 2013. "food derived from GM plants approved in the EU and the US poses no risks greater than those from "conventional" food. On the contrary, in some cases food from GM plants appears to be superior with respect to health."
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- 14 Italian scientific societies produced a Food Safety Consensus Document that said: "GMOs on the market today, having successfully passed all the tests and procedures necessary to authorization, are to be considered, on the basis of current knowledge, to be safe for use in human and animal foods."
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- International Council for Science (ICSU)New Genetics, Food and Agriculture: Scientific Discoveries - Societal Dilemmas (2003) "Currently available genetically modified foods are safe to eat." Their benefits include "improved nutritional quality", "removing allergens and/or toxic compounds from certain foods (e.g. peanuts)", "Pest tolerant crops can be grown with lower levels of chemical pesticides, resulting in reduced chemical residues in food, and less exposure to pesticides. Disease resistant crops may have lower levels of potentially carcinogenic mycotoxins."
- American Medical Association (2012). Report 2 of the Council on Science and Public Health: Labeling of Bioengineered Foods "Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature." (first page)
- United States Institute of Medicine and National Research Council (2004). Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects. National Academies Press. Free full-text. National Academies Press. pp R9-10: "In contrast to adverse health effects that have been associated with some traditional food production methods, similar serious health effects have not been identified as a result of genetic engineering techniques used in food production. This may be because developers of bioengineered organisms perform extensive compositional analyses to determine that each phenotype is desirable and to ensure that unintended changes have not occurred in key components of food."
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- Amy Harmon and Andrew Pollack for the New York Times. 24 May 2012 Battle Brewing Over Labeling of Genetically Modified Food
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