By April M. Short, Alternet
“OMG, GMO, WTF?” Nine letters printed on a protester’s T-shirt summed up the frustration of the thousands who gathered in San Francisco’s Justin Herman Plaza for the culmination of the local March Against Monsanto action on May 25. San Francisco’s protesters joined more than two million people in 400 cities around the world in a backlash against the $58 billion multinational corporate giant Monsanto, responsible for chemical poisoning, genetically engineered seeds, and a multitude of offenses since its founding as a chemical company 100 years ago.
Pamm Larry—the self-proclaimed Grandma behind California’s Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food Initiative (Prop. 37)—spoke to the crowd about ongoing efforts to follow the momentum of the global march.
“It’s the little tiny things that add up, which have made this movement explode around the world and the country, and I’m so excited to see that it’s moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas getting out there,” she told the crowd via megaphone, noting that a mother started the March Against Monsanto (MAM) effort via a Facebook page. “I’m gonna ask you all not to let this energy die, please.”
While Prop. 37 failed to pass a vote in 2012, Larry and other organizers are pushing for another labeling initiative on the 2014 ballot.
“It takes a willingness to stand, to talk to people not like us, and meet them not with anger but with love—and to meet them with an open heart, because an open heart is what draws people in and they can’t help but want to join us and listen to us,” she continued. “Everybody eats, everybody breathes, everybody wants to breathe good fresh wonderful juicy clean air. We cannot allow them to take over our planet while we sit by and decide to go out and have another beer.”
Monica Lopez, who works with a grassroots organization called Label GMO in San Francisco and helped organize the city’s MAM rally, says the anti-GMO movement is in defense of a fundamental tenant of democracy.
“I believe that many have not yet understood the association between democracy and the situation we find our food system today,” she says. “Real food is not a privilege for the elite but rather a fundamental right for every human being. Yet our grocery stores are filled with toxin-ridden foods that could not even enter 60 other nations in the world. Is this really how we want to nourish the American population?”
While March Against Monsanto was among the largest global efforts in history with 400 simultaneous events in 60 countries around the globe, no major corporate media outlets in the U.S. covered the live event. CNN ran a followup short on the event on May 28, and mainstream coverage has trickled in here and there, but has been sparse.
Despite the mainstream media’s decision to ignore thousands of people marching down the nation’s busiest thoroughfares, the movement to end Monsanto’s toxic hold over agriculture is gaining more participants everyday.
Reports across some of the major media outlets like the Washington Post revealed Monsanto’s most recent crime when a farmer in Oregon discovered that unapproved GMO wheat was growing in his field. After testing, scientists confirmed the wheat was of a strain tested by Monsanto that was not approved due to concern that other countries would not import the GM wheat.
The Washington Post reports:
“Japan, the largest market for U.S. wheat exports, suspended imports from the United States and canceled a major purchase of white wheat on Thursday after the recent discovery of unapproved genetically modified wheat in an 80-acre field in Oregon. Investors drove down the price of Monsanto shares by 4 percent on May 31 as South Korea joined Japan in suspending imports of U.S. wheat after an unapproved strain of genetically modified wheat was discovered in a field in eastern Oregon.”
Among the many concerns the March raises about Monsanto is the pervasiveness with which Monsanto products appear in foods we eat, according to a column on the Huffington Post.
While the March Against Monsanto and followup efforts are primarily focused on exposing the dangers of GMO food products and Monsanto’s toxic chemical history, some have also used the protest as an opportunity to expose the ties between corporations like Monsanto and the government. Perhaps the most glaring example of Monsanto’s hold on government is the fact that the US Food and Drug Administration, the government agency charged with protecting people against potentially dangerous products that corporations might produce, is run by ex-Monsanto executives. However, the GMO industry’s influences on the US government are more insidious still.
According to an analysis by the nonprofit, nonpartisan research group MapLight, dedicated to revealing money’s influence on politics, members of the US senate received $1,260,384 in campaign contributions from the PACs of key companies supporting the use of genetically engineered crops from January 2009 to March 2013.
Additionally, on May 23—just two days before the March Against Monsanto—the Senate defeated an amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont that sought to ensure states’ rights to enforce their own laws labeling GMO foods, by a vote of 27-71.
The New York Daily News reports that Sanders’ primary goal was to protect states that want to label GMOs from facing lawsuits:
If the state of Vermont wants to go forward, I don’t want to see us sued in a multimillion-dollar suit by a very powerful, wealthy corporation who says, well, you don’t have the right to do it, it is a federal prerogative.
Monsanto has responded to calls for labeling with claims that it would be unfair and harm its business:
We oppose current initiatives to mandate labeling of ingredients developed from GM seeds in the absence of any demonstrated risks. Such mandatory labeling could imply that food products containing these ingredients are somehow inferior to their conventional or organic counterparts.
Following the March Against Monsanto, the Daily Kos and Credo launched a petition to demand the U.S. Senate repeal the law that has been dubbed the Monsanto Protection Act. The petition has gathered more than a million signatures and counting.
The Monsanto Protection Act came to be when President Obama signed spending bill HR 933 into law in March, a bill primarily concerned with the threat of government shutdown. With HR 933 the president also signed in a piece of fine print located under Section 735, called the Farmer Assurance Provision. The provision bars federal courts from halting the sale or planting of GMO seeds.
Food Democracy Now’s executive director Dave Murphy told MSN the provision is “basically an ATM machine [and a] corporate handout to Monsanto.” Murphy adds that every farmer and consumer is at risk.
The provision allows Monsanto to continue using GE seeds in farms across America and was written in collaboration with some of Monsanto’s representatives. It allows Monsanto and other large corporations to ignore existing food safety rules, and continue selling genetically modified seeds even if a court blocks them from doing so.
The March Against Monsanto has spurred additional efforts, including a July 4 Moms Across America March on main streets throughout the US to label GMOs. The upcoming march is organized by Occupy Monsanto, whose stated mission is “empowering citizens of the world to take action against Monsanto and its enablers like the FDA, USDA, EPA, GMA, BIO, and the processed food companies that use Monsanto’s products.”
Following the march, more than 800 scientists from around the world have called for an end to what they call a dangerous “global GMO experiment,” and created the Institute of Science in Society—a nonprofit group that calls for an end to GMO crops. In their open letter, the scientists highlight why governments need to stop the use of genetically modified crops before they cause irreversible effects to human and animal health worldwide.
Additionally in the week following the March Against Monsanto a printable list of Monsanto-owned foods has gone viral on Facebook, encouraging a boycott of its products.
Label GMO’s Monica Lopez says the best things people can do is to support their local organic farmers, read labels, and align their actions with their individual ethics by purchasing only certified organic or non-GMO certified foods. She also suggests supporting restaurants and food companies that exercise fair, sustainable and organic food practices, boycotting GMO products, signing petitions in support of food system restoration.
“Get involved with local food justice groups,” she says. “Call and/or write your local political leaders and let them know you care about our food system and the long-term health of our children for generations to come.”
Only time will tell whether the outpouring of citizen support and millions of petition signatures can compete against the corporate giant, but it is likely no coincidence that Monsanto’s stocks have steadily fallen following the global march and this week’s widely publicized GMO wheat debacle.
April M. Short is a Bay Area journalist focusing on social justice reporting.
This article was written by April M. Short and originally published by Alternet on June 3, 2013.