March Against Monsanto
The March Against Monsanto is an international grassroots movement and protest against Monsanto corporation, a producer of genetically modified organism (GMOs) and Roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide. The movement was founded by Tami Canal in response to the failure of California Proposition 37, a ballot initiative which would have required labeling food products made from GMOs. Advocates support mandatory labeling laws for food made from GMOs.
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. Many protests occurred in Southern California, and some participants 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". Canal said that the movement would continue its "anti-GMO cause" beyond the initial event. Further marches occurred in October 2013 and in May 2014 and May 2015.
The protests were reported 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 The Guardian (outside the United States).
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 modified foods were safe and improved crop yields.
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. br 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, possible contamination of non-GM foods, effects of GMOs on the environment and nature, and the consolidation of control of the food supply in companies that make and sell GMOs.
There is a scientific consensus that currently available food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food, but that each GM food needs to be tested on a case-by-case basis before introduction. Nonetheless, members of the public are much less likely than scientists to perceive GM foods as safe. The legal and regulatory status of GM foods varies by country, with some nations banning or restricting them, and others permitting them with widely differing degrees of regulation.
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
Tami Monroe Canal, a homemaker and mother of two daughters, was living as a resident in California when Proposition 37, a ballot initiative that would have required labels on products containing genetically engineered food, was rejected by voters in November 2012. Monsanto spent $8.1 million opposing the passage of Proposition 37, making it the largest donor against the initiative. The combined total spent by food industry advocacy groups on the campaign to defeat Proposition 37 was $45 million. Canal credits Proposition 37 with "opening her eyes" to GMOs for the first time.
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. Canal was not only angry about the failure of Proposition 37 and frustrated with trying to find reasonably priced organic food, but she was also concerned about the health of her children.
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." Out of her anger, frustration, and concerns for the health of her children, Canal developed the idea for a "March Against Monsanto" social media campaign.
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. By May 21, the Facebook page had attracted 85,000 members with approximately 110,000 "likes" and about 40,000 daily visitors.
The Farmer Assurance Provision
President Barack Obama's signing, on March 26, 2013, of the Farmer Assurance Provision, which is Section 735 of US H.R. 933, provided further motivation for the protesters. 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".
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 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.
Opposition and counter protests
March Against Myths About Modification (MAMyths) is a grassroots organization set up to counter the March Against Monsanto protests, and the associated myths told about Genetically Engineered (GMO) crops and foods. MAMyths believes that the misconceptions associated with GMO's are harmful to the public because they influence public perception, which in turn influences policy.
- 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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- Quick, David (26 May 2013). "More than 100 participate in Charleston’s March Against Monsanto, one of 300+ in world on Saturday". The Post and Courier. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
- Amy Harmon for the New York Times. July 27, 2013 A Race to Save the Orange by Altering Its DNA
- "Protesters Around the World March Against Monsanto". USA Today. Associated Press. 26 May 2013. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
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- Forbes: The Planet Versus Monsanto. Robert Langreth and Matthew Herper. December 31, 2009.
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- For the original Bloomberg interview, see: Kaskey, Jack (15 May 2013). "Monsanto Sees 'Elitism' in Social Media-Fanned Opposition". Bloomberg. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
- "Say no to genetic engineering". Greenpeace.
- Nicolia, Alessandro; Manzo, Alberto; Veronesi, Fabio; Rosellini, Daniele (2013). "An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research" (PDF). Critical Reviews in Biotechnology. 34 (1): 77–88. doi:10.3109/07388551.2013.823595. PMID 24041244. S2CID 9836802.
We have reviewed the scientific literature on GE crop safety for the last 10 years that catches the scientific consensus matured since GE plants became widely cultivated worldwide, and we can conclude that the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazard directly connected with the use of GM crops.
The literature about Biodiversity and the GE food/feed consumption has sometimes resulted in animated debate regarding the suitability of the experimental designs, the choice of the statistical methods or the public accessibility of data. Such debate, even if positive and part of the natural process of review by the scientific community, has frequently been distorted by the media and often used politically and inappropriately in anti-GE crops campaigns.
- "State of Food and Agriculture 2003–2004. Agricultural Biotechnology: Meeting the Needs of the Poor. Health and environmental impacts of transgenic crops". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
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).
- Ronald, Pamela (May 1, 2011). "Plant Genetics, Sustainable Agriculture and Global Food Security". Genetics. 188 (1): 11–20. doi:10.1534/genetics.111.128553. PMC 3120150. PMID 21546547.
There is broad scientific consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat. After 14 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of 2 billion acres planted, no adverse health or environmental effects have resulted from commercialization of genetically engineered crops (Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Committee on Environmental Impacts Associated with Commercialization of Transgenic Plants, National Research Council and Division on Earth and Life Studies 2002). Both the U.S. National Research Council and the Joint Research Centre (the European Union's scientific and technical research laboratory and an integral part of the European Commission) have concluded that there is a comprehensive body of knowledge that adequately addresses the food safety issue of genetically engineered crops (Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health and National Research Council 2004; European Commission Joint Research Centre 2008). These and other recent reports conclude that the processes of genetic engineering and conventional breeding are no different in terms of unintended consequences to human health and the environment (European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation 2010).
But see also:
Domingo, José L.; Bordonaba, Jordi Giné (2011). "A literature review on the safety assessment of genetically modified plants" (PDF). Environment International. 37 (4): 734–742. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2011.01.003. PMID 21296423.
In spite of this, the number of studies specifically focused on safety assessment of GM plants is still limited. However, it is important to remark that for the first time, a certain equilibrium in the number of research groups suggesting, on the basis of their studies, that a number of varieties of GM products (mainly maize and soybeans) are as safe and nutritious as the respective conventional non-GM plant, and those raising still serious concerns, was observed. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that most of the studies demonstrating that GM foods are as nutritional and safe as those obtained by conventional breeding, have been performed by biotechnology companies or associates, which are also responsible of commercializing these GM plants. Anyhow, this represents a notable advance in comparison with the lack of studies published in recent years in scientific journals by those companies.
Krimsky, Sheldon (2015). "An Illusory Consensus behind GMO Health Assessment" (PDF). Science, Technology, & Human Values. 40 (6): 883–914. doi:10.1177/0162243915598381. S2CID 40855100. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2019-08-31.
I began this article with the testimonials from respected scientists that there is literally no scientific controversy over the health effects of GMOs. My investigation into the scientific literature tells another story.
Panchin, Alexander Y.; Tuzhikov, Alexander I. (January 14, 2016). "Published GMO studies find no evidence of harm when corrected for multiple comparisons". Critical Reviews in Biotechnology. 37 (2): 213–217. doi:10.3109/07388551.2015.1130684. ISSN 0738-8551. PMID 26767435. S2CID 11786594.
Here, we show that a number of articles some of which have strongly and negatively influenced the public opinion on GM crops and even provoked political actions, such as GMO embargo, share common flaws in the statistical evaluation of the data. Having accounted for these flaws, we conclude that the data presented in these articles does not provide any substantial evidence of GMO harm.
The presented articles suggesting possible harm of GMOs received high public attention. However, despite their claims, they actually weaken the evidence for the harm and lack of substantial equivalency of studied GMOs. We emphasize that with over 1783 published articles on GMOs over the last 10 years it is expected that some of them should have reported undesired differences between GMOs and conventional crops even if no such differences exist in reality.
andYang, Y.T.; Chen, B. (2016). "Governing GMOs in the USA: science, law and public health". Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 96 (4): 1851–1855. doi:10.1002/jsfa.7523. PMID 26536836.
It is therefore not surprising that efforts to require labeling and to ban GMOs have been a growing political issue in the USA (citing Domingo and Bordonaba, 2011). Overall, a broad scientific consensus holds that currently marketed GM food poses no greater risk than conventional food... Major national and international science and medical associations have stated that no adverse human health effects related to GMO food have been reported or substantiated in peer-reviewed literature to date.
Despite various concerns, today, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Health Organization, and many independent international science organizations agree that GMOs are just as safe as other foods. Compared with conventional breeding techniques, genetic engineering is far more precise and, in most cases, less likely to create an unexpected outcome.
- "Statement by the AAAS Board of Directors On Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods" (PDF). American Association for the Advancement of Science. October 20, 2012. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
The EU, for example, has invested more than €300 million in research on the biosafety of GMOs. Its recent report states: "The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies." The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.
Pinholster, Ginger (October 25, 2012). "AAAS Board of Directors: Legally Mandating GM Food Labels Could "Mislead and Falsely Alarm Consumers"" (PDF). American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
- European Commission. Directorate-General for Research (2010). A decade of EU-funded GMO research (2001–2010) (PDF). Directorate-General for Research and Innovation. Biotechnologies, Agriculture, Food. European Commission, European Union. doi:10.2777/97784. ISBN 978-92-79-16344-9. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
- "AMA Report on Genetically Modified Crops and Foods (online summary)". American Medical Association. January 2001. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
A report issued by the scientific council of the American Medical Association (AMA) says that no long-term health effects have been detected from the use of transgenic crops and genetically modified foods, and that these foods are substantially equivalent to their conventional counterparts. (from online summary prepared by ISAAA)" "Crops and foods produced using recombinant DNA techniques have been available for fewer than 10 years and no long-term effects have been detected to date. These foods are substantially equivalent to their conventional counterparts."REPORT 2 OF THE COUNCIL ON SCIENCE AND PUBLIC HEALTH (A-12): Labeling of Bioengineered Foods" (PDF). American Medical Association. 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-09-07. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
(from original report by AMA: )
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.
- "Restrictions on Genetically Modified Organisms: United States. Public and Scholarly Opinion". Library of Congress. June 30, 2015. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
Several scientific organizations in the US have issued studies or statements regarding the safety of GMOs indicating that there is no evidence that GMOs present unique safety risks compared to conventionally bred products. These include the National Research Council, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Medical Association. Groups in the US opposed to GMOs include some environmental organizations, organic farming organizations, and consumer organizations. A substantial number of legal academics have criticized the US's approach to regulating GMOs.
- National Academies Of Sciences, Engineering; Division on Earth Life Studies; Board on Agriculture Natural Resources; Committee on Genetically Engineered Crops: Past Experience Future Prospects (2016). Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (US). p. 149. doi:10.17226/23395. ISBN 978-0-309-43738-7. PMID 28230933. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
Overall finding on purported adverse effects on human health of foods derived from GE crops: On the basis of detailed examination of comparisons of currently commercialized GE with non-GE foods in compositional analysis, acute and chronic animal toxicity tests, long-term data on health of livestock fed GE foods, and human epidemiological data, the committee found no differences that implicate a higher risk to human health from GE foods than from their non-GE counterparts.
- "Frequently asked questions on genetically modified foods". World Health Organization. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
Different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways. This means that individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods.
GM foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved. Continuous application of safety assessments based on the Codex Alimentarius principles and, where appropriate, adequate post market monitoring, should form the basis for ensuring the safety of GM foods.
- Haslberger, Alexander G. (2003). "Codex guidelines for GM foods include the analysis of unintended effects". Nature Biotechnology. 21 (7): 739–741. doi:10.1038/nbt0703-739. PMID 12833088. S2CID 2533628.
These principles dictate a case-by-case premarket assessment that includes an evaluation of both direct and unintended effects.
- Some medical organizations, including the British Medical Association, advocate further caution based upon the precautionary principle:
"Genetically modified foods and health: a second interim statement" (PDF). British Medical Association. March 2004. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
In our view, the potential for GM foods to cause harmful health effects is very small and many of the concerns expressed apply with equal vigour to conventionally derived foods. However, safety concerns cannot, as yet, be dismissed completely on the basis of information currently available.
When seeking to optimise the balance between benefits and risks, it is prudent to err on the side of caution and, above all, learn from accumulating knowledge and experience. Any new technology such as genetic modification must be examined for possible benefits and risks to human health and the environment. As with all novel foods, safety assessments in relation to GM foods must be made on a case-by-case basis.
Members of the GM jury project were briefed on various aspects of genetic modification by a diverse group of acknowledged experts in the relevant subjects. The GM jury reached the conclusion that the sale of GM foods currently available should be halted and the moratorium on commercial growth of GM crops should be continued. These conclusions were based on the precautionary principle and lack of evidence of any benefit. The Jury expressed concern over the impact of GM crops on farming, the environment, food safety and other potential health effects.
The Royal Society review (2002) concluded that the risks to human health associated with the use of specific viral DNA sequences in GM plants are negligible, and while calling for caution in the introduction of potential allergens into food crops, stressed the absence of evidence that commercially available GM foods cause clinical allergic manifestations. The BMA shares the view that there is no robust evidence to prove that GM foods are unsafe but we endorse the call for further research and surveillance to provide convincing evidence of safety and benefit.
- Funk, Cary; Rainie, Lee (January 29, 2015). "Public and Scientists' Views on Science and Society". Pew Research Center. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
The largest differences between the public and the AAAS scientists are found in beliefs about the safety of eating genetically modified (GM) foods. Nearly nine-in-ten (88%) scientists say it is generally safe to eat GM foods compared with 37% of the general public, a difference of 51 percentage points.
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