In conjunction with numerous other cities throughout Argentina, on September 17 activists in Rosario, Argentina demonstrated against Monsanto at the Monumento a la Bandera.
This is a Call to Action for a
Non-Hierarchical Occupation of Monsanto Everywhere
Whether you like it or not, chances are Monsanto contaminated the food you ate today with chemicals and unlabeled GMOs. Monsanto controls much of the world's food supply at the expense of food democracy worldwide. This site is dedicated to empowering citizens of the world to take action against Monsanto & it's enablers like the FDA, USDA, EPA, GMA, BIO, and the processed food companies that use Monsanto's products.
There’s a new crop growing in O‘okala and Pepe‘ekeo on the North Hilo/Hamakua coast—well, a new crop for the Big Island, anyway. Big Island Dairy, formerly Island Dairy, has planted field corn in O‘okala and Pepe‘eke‘o to help feed its cows. The corn will be fed as ensilage—“silage” as most farmers call it: green stalks that are cut, chopped and stored in a low-oxygen environment so that they ferment in a process similar to the making of sauerkraut. The silage is one solution to a problem that plagues all livestock farmers in Hawai‘i: the high cost of imported feed. Since the islands grow little grain, farmers are forced to rely on Matson and Young Brothers to bring in feed from outside, often at ruinous prices. The home-grown silage could be a major aid in the survival of one of the state’s only two remaining dairies.
But the new crop has still become a matter of concern for some local residents and farmers, because of one fact: Big Island Dairy is growing genetically modified corn.
The corn was already in the ground when the dairy was recently purchased by Steve Whitesides, who also runs Whitesides Dairy in Rupert, Idaho. But the reason that the GM varieties were planted, Whitesides says, is simple: “The way crops grow there, if you don’t have something planted that can control the weeds, they can overtake it.”
Whitesides didn’t specify what varieties of corn were being grown, but given that weed control is the object, the corn is probably one or more of Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” varieties. Monsanto has long touted both the GM corn and the herbicide Roundup, which is also makes, as safe. But in recent years, some studies have begun to challenge that assumption. And the company has drawn fire for its heavy-handed tactics in dealing with farmers—it’s sued farmers, for instance, for patent infringement when pollen from GM crops drifted into non-GM farmer’s fields. The company has also been accused of tampering with science and with the agencies that regulate it.
GM crops have generated negative publicity in the islands, as well. Pioneer Hi-Bred, for instance, is currently battling lawsuits filed by two groups of plaintiffs—one suit represents over 200 people—who claim that the company has not controlled spray drift and pesticide-contaminated dust from its GM test crop sites on Kauai. Some farmers and residents in Puna are still smarting from the state’s oft-bungled handling of GM papayas, originally developed by Cornell and UH-Manoa to fight papaya ringspot virus; small farmers claimed that the state’s “quarantine zones” set up to create a “sea of GM papayas,” isolating and protecting a few fields of non-GMO papaya for the Japanese market, discriminated against small farmers in favor of a few large export companies; organic farmers complained that their papayas have been contaminated that pollen drift from GM fields, and the GM papayas, though resistant to ringspot, have proved especially vulnerable to a fungal disease, forcing some farmers to periodically abandon their fields anyway. Native Hawaiians have taken offense at attempts to create GM versions of their beloved kalo, and Kona Coffee farmers have resisted attempts to introduce GM coffee.
That resentment boiled to a head in Honoka‘a on September 17, when a group called GMO-Free Hawai‘i sponsored a rally and reggae concert at the Honoka‘a People’s theater. The main target was Monsanto—the event was part of a world-wide “Occupy Monsanto Day”—but Big Island Dairy got some attention, too. Councilman Dominic Yagong introduced Scott Enright, the state Agriculture Department official who said he’d been “Charged by the Governor to assist Big Island Dairy.”
“He [Whitesides] is looking for varieties that will do well here,” said Enright. “He’s going to be doing his best to grow corn conventionally.”
But that clearly wasn’t enough assurance for the crowd. GMO-Free Hawai‘i spokesperson Eden Peart noted that the Hamakua Agricultural Plan “prohibits” GM crops in the district (Actually, it doesn’t prohibit them outright, but it does call for a moratorium on those crops until their possible impacts could be better assessed.)
“If there’s still GMO grown here, blowing pollen in the wind, that is a concern for us,” she said, and announced that protestors would be demonstrating along the Belt Road beside one of the dairy’s O’okala fields on Friday, September 21.
Yagong, in whose district the corn is growing, told Big Island Chronicle he shared some of the community’s concerns about GMOs with Whitesides.
Yagong had already approached Whitesides about the issue. In addition to the kalo and coffee controversies, he told the Chronicle, he had “Shared that in the leasing of [county owned] Hamakua lands, one of the conditions for leasing was no planting of GMO crops on county lands.” Yagong noted that the county’s farm lands and Island Dairy’s O‘okala corn fields were “practically neighbors.” Yagong said Whitesides would “strongly consider the community’s recommendations” but “fell short of saying that they wouldn’t grow GMO corn.”
Whitesides’ response to the Chronicle was similar. He made no commitment to replace the GMO corn with conventional varieties. But he did say his company planned to experiment with conventional varieties to “see if they could be grown at a cost that would still keep the dairy’s output competitive with mainland milk. “
He noted that 80 t0 90 percent of all corn grown in the U.S., now, was genetically modified. Even if his company did continue to grow GM corn, he said, “The product that’s coming over here from the mainland is GMO, so what’s the difference?”
How much of a difference genetically modified corn makes is very much a matter of debate. Dr. James Brubaker, the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s acknowledged authority on corn, maintains that the GM corn is perfectly safe; that the only difference between it an conventional corn was “A little piece of DNA which is very benign and only affects weeds.” He compared GMO opponents to the Creationist movement. “This is the scientific ignorance that we do face in the state of Hawai‘i,” he told BIC. “We don’t come equipped with a realistic appraisal of the achievements of science, so we’re frightened of anything scientific.” He noted that around a thousand scientific papers a year are devoted to GMOs, and that nearly a billion acres of GM corn had been raised: “We know that these are incredibly safe.”
The problem is that not all of science is in agreement with Brubaker’s assessment—and that scientific papers critical of GMOs find an instant and persistent world-wide audience. The Web is awash with stories and blogs citing those articles, but often with no direct documentation or links, and often at Web sites that make no pretense of being unbiased—sites with names like treehugger.com and naturalnews.com. A site called responsibletechnology.org,, for instance, which proclaims itself “the most comprehensive source of GMO health risk information on the Web,” ran an article entitled “65 Health Risks from GMO food,” with factoids such as “More than 20 farmers in North America report that pigs fed GM corn varieties had low conception rates, false pregnancies or gave birth to bags of water.” But the story gives no links or sources for any of its allegations.
Many of those factoids flying around the Web, however, are based on actual scientific articles that do seem to raise some basis for concern. In 2009, for instance, the International Journal of Biological Sciences published an article entitled “A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health “ by Joël Spiroux de Vendômois, François Roullier, Dominique Cellier, Gilles-Eric Séralinis, four well-credentialed scientists from French universities. The study fed three varieties of Monsanto’s genetically modified corn, including one of the Roundup Ready varieties and two containing genes from a bacteria, bacillus thuringiensis (BT), that is used as a natural insecticide. The French scientists found that rats fed the corn suffered from various symptoms, including higher liver and kidney toxicity levels and enlarged spleens and hearts.
“Our data strongly suggests that these GM maize varieties induce a state of hepatorenal toxicity,” concluded the article, which called for longer term studies of the three varieties.
But Brubaker said that there were already studies out refuting the French study. “[With] almost any report of that sort, you can be assured there will be immediately responding research studies to validate or invalidate it,” he noted.
There have also been scientific studies that questioned the safety of Roundup itself—and scientists who’ve gone public about their concerns. One of them is Dr. Robert Kremer of the University of Missouri—Monsanto’s home state—who has done extensive studies of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, since 1997. Glyphosate doesn’t kill weeds directly; it inhibits their ability to absorb certain nutrients, making them fatally susceptible to naturally occurring bacteria and fungi. As it turns out, Kremer discovered, glyphosate also makes crops more susceptible to diseases such as fusarium and to the toxins they produce, which can also affect animals and humans who consume those crops. And it can be toxic to some beneficial bacteria, including the ones that live in the roots of soybeans and other legumes and “fix” nitrogen in the soil—a vital function for maintaining soil fertility. Glyphosate, Kremer concluded, “is altering the whole soil biology.”
Kremer is not alone. In a 2009 article in the European Journal of Agronomy, Don Huber, emeritus professor of plant pathology at Purdue University, and Purdue botanist G. S. Johal, warned that widespread glyphosate use could “significantly increase the severity of various plant diseases, impair plant defense to pathogens and diseases, and immobilize soil and plant nutrients rendering them unavailable for plant use.” Huber has also approached the USDA with concerns about a previously unknown microorganism that has appeared in GM-based animal feeds and appears to be linked to an epidemic of livestock infertility and miscarriages.
An interviewer at the Web site nongmoreport.com asked Kremer if glyphosate was environmentally benign.
“Absolutely not,” he replied. “Glyphosate is the single most important agronomic factor predisposing some plants to both disease and toxins. These toxins can produce a serious impact on the health of animals and humans…. Toxins produced can infect the roots and head of the plant and be transferred to the rest of the plant. The toxin levels in straw can be high enough to make cattle and pigs infertile.”
Huber was among the many scientists, including agronomists, plant pathologists, veterinarians, nutritionists, pediatricians and medical doctors, featured in the documentary “Genetic Roulette,” which screened at the Honoka‘a rally before the musicians came on. Those researchers raised a host of apparent human and animal health problems, from infertility to cancer. The scientists also brought up problems in humans exposed to the GM crops/and or Roundup.
Some of the scientists also talked about pressure exerted on them, up to and including firing, by Monsanto, public officials and their peers. One Oregon researcher, for instance, talked about releasing a study critical of GMOs, then getting a call from the former president of her university, questioning whether she “belonged” at the school.
Caught in the crossfire of these scientific barrages and counter-barrages are companies like Big Island Dairy, who just want to give their corn a fighting chance against weeds such as elephant grass, which can quickly grow much higher than the corn.
“The weeds that we have are entirely different for the middle of IA, and they grow much more aggressively,” notes Brubaker, who also points out that some of those weeds themselves contain toxins that can harm cattle.
There are, in fact, non-GM varieties of corn bred specifically for Hawaii—Brubaker himself developed some of them—and it is possible to raise non-GM corn on the North Hilo/Hamakua Coast. Brubaker notes that Loeffler Farms, for instance, grows one of his conventional sweet corn varieties on that coast. But according to Brubaker, even the conventional corn may require chemical assistance from pesticides such as Atrazine, which have their own environmental consequences; they may get into groundwater if improperly applied, so they must be applied by a state-certified specialist—an additional cost for the farmer.
How the GM corn could affect those existing sweet corn crops is another issue. Corn for silage is cut green, but after the corn has tasseled—which means that pollen from it could get to other plants.
“That corn can cross with people’s sweet corn, and do people want those genes in their corn? Probably not,” local natural farming advocate Nancy Redfeather told BIC. She noted that bees carrying pollen could travel up to seven miles a day.
But aside from the dairy, GM corn is already on Hawai‘i Island, in thousands of food products imported daily. If you drink non-organic milk, whether it’s from the mainland or it’s from local cows fed with imported feed, you’re probably drinking milk from cows that have eaten GMOs. The only possible change would be if Island Dairy managed to grow conventional corn.
That’s the outcome Yagong hopes for. He notes that the number of dairies in the state has now shrunk from 24 to two, and he thinks it’s important to support the two that remain.
“I think that would make a lot of people very, very happy and may even distinguish his product further if they knew that the milk was GMO free and fed from conventional corn,” he says.
So here’s a little bit about yesterday’s action at the Big E’s Monsanto exhibit. What a wonderful day I shared with Nancy, Catherine and Trish. We roamed the fair, a pack of 4 committed women, looking forward to getting into the exhibit and raising a bit of a bother with questions and conversation. We wanted to wait until there were other people in line for the “tour” otherwise we’d be talking to ourselves and that we can do anytime!
While waiting for a good time to see the exhibit, we walked around the fair and got to know each other. Trish and Catherine came from up north and a bit of conversation sealed the deal on identifying with each other as sister activists for the cause.
In the city of St. Louis, there is no one who does not have a friend, relative or neighbor working at Monsanto. This city on the banks of the Mississippi river has the doubtful honor of hosting the world headquarters of the Monsanto corporation. Founded in 1901, it was one of the world’s leading chemical companies in the twentieth century. At the start of this century it transformed itself into a biotechnology giant, or as the company likes to put it, “a leader in the life sciences industry”. Nowadays, Monsanto is the world’s largest seed company (global market share: 27%) and owns over four fifths of the planet’s genetically modified (GM) seed.
Monsanto is therefore the very embodiment of the biotech-agricultural-industrial complex, the company has worked very hard to earn that distinction. That also means that it symbolizes everything that is wrong with the food system.
Monday September 17 was the Occupy Monsanto campaign’s international day of actions against the corporation (1). Concerned citizens all over the world were called upon to carry out protest actions at the Monsanto facility nearest to them. Groups as far away as Chile and Argentina picketed Monsanto offices and circulated photos of their actions on social media.
That day I was, of all places, in St. Louis picketing the company headquarters’ main entrance. I was accompanied by dozens of local activists plus some who came from as far away as Chicago and the San Francisco bay area (2). Among the demonstrators who addressed the small crowd was Texas farmer Eric Herm, who used to plant Monsanto’s GM Roundup Ready cotton but turned against chemical and biotech agriculture. He narrates his journey of discovery and transformation in his book “Son of a Farmer, Child of the Earth” (3).
This picket was the culmination of two days of protests and educational events organized by GMO Free Midwest (4) and Occupy Monsanto. A series of events were hosted by Safe Food Action, the Gateway Green Alliance (5) and the US Organic Consumers Association (6) in different parts of the city to agitate and educate about the threat of GM crops and foods to human health, small farmers, rural economies, and food sovereignty worldwide.
On Sunday the 16th the organizers held a day-long series of educational activities, including talks and film screenings, in the Community Arts and Movement (CAMP) (7) building between Cherokee street and Minnesota Avenue in South St. Louis, and the Black Bear Bakery a short walk away. CAMP is a community organization that promotes creative expression, social interconnection, healthy living and sustainability through a great variety of activities that celebrate diversity and encourage critical thinking, such as classes, projects, artists in residence, bicycle repair, community gardening, mural painting, and much more. The Black Bear Bakery, known for its Lickhalter rye bread, is a worker-owned collective that hosts a great deal of cultural, political and creative activities, including music performances, film screenings, meetings, presentations and press conferences (8).
Presenters that day included Dr. Ollie Fisher, a former Monsanto employee who turned his life around and is now dedicated to promoting integral holistic health and operates the Fisher Wellness Center (9); Priti Cox, an artist from India (10) who has been chronicling and analyzing the devastating effects of corporate globalization on Indian society; geneticist and author Stan Cox (11), who works at the Kansas-based Land Institute developing deep-rooted perennial food crops (12); Orin Langelle and Anne Peterman, both from the Global Justice Ecology Project (13), who work on a variety of issues ranging from climate justice to the campaign to stop GM trees; social and environmental justice activist Daniel “Digger” Romano, who helps create local food networks as an alternative to the corporate-dominated agrotoxic food system; organic farmer, beekeeper and teacher Suzanne Renard; Eric Herm, and myself.
In my presentation I provided a political and historical context to the current global battle around GM crops and the patenting of seeds, basing myself on two recent articles of mine, “The Grand Botanical Chess Game” (14) and “Seeds of Empire” (15). This is part of a much broader research work I’m doing on the geopolitics of seeds and genomes, from a social ecology perspective.
The following day was the big day: Occupy Monsanto Day. Activities began with a conference on the myths and realities of the much-ballyhooed “green economy” at the Millennium hotel in the downtown area, with Don Fitz of the Gateway Green Alliance and Orin Langelle as presenters and myself as moderator. On the same floor of the Millenium a biotech industry-sponsored international scientific symposium on the biosafety of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) was taking place that same day. Not a coincidence, but rather clever planning and foresight. Months earlier, professor Brian Tokar of the Vermont-based Institute for Social Ecology informed GMO Free Midwest organizer Barbara Chicherio of the upcoming industry symposium, noting that it would coincide with the Occupy Monsanto actions. So the protest organizers cleverly booked the Lewis & Clarke conference room in the hotel, directly across the hall from where the industry activity would take place.
But things did not go as planned. We were changed at last minute to a different conference room on the far end of the floor, half the size of the space that had been paid for. Here is Don Fitz’s account of what happened when Chicherio brought our complaint to the hotel executive in charge:
– “If you don’t stop talking to me, I will have you removed from the hotel,” was the most thoughtful answer he seemed able to come up with. Looking at his name tag, Barbara saw that he was “Rich Martin, Director of Catering and Convention Services.”
As the conversation was unfolding, Orin Langelle with the Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) pulled out his camera to film the interaction. Rich put up his hand, growling “No photos! You get away from me or I’ll have you removed from the hotel.” Nearby Orin was Anne Petermann, also with GJEP. She slid her camera away as she quietly caught Rich on film. –
Fitz’s full account plus some photos of the activity are available at the Occupy Monsanto site (16).
A Russian scientist participating at the industry symposium came over and briefly joined us as the conference was starting. It was none other than Irina Ermakova. Her name may be little-known to the American general public but she is a celebrity and hero among anti-GM activists. In 2007 she published the results of her ground-breaking animal feeding studies on GM soy. In short, she found that the offspring of rats fed GM soy had a death rate of 50% within three weeks of birth, when the normal rate is 10%. For her findings, Ermakova was badly abused by biotech crop supporters, particularly the editors of Nature Biotechnology magazine (17). Apparently, the industry symposium’s organizers felt they needed a token radical voice in their activity lest they be accused of “bias”. It was a pleasant surprise and a total thrill to have her briefly join us and address our conference. Later, she joined us again when we had an anti-GM picket across the street from the hotel.
Our following action of the day was at the local Whole Foods Market, the Wal-Mart of the organic movement (18). The Whole Foods retail chain, which many consumers believe sells only organic, natural, healthy, wholesome and of above average quality foods, actually sells some GM among its many items that are not labeled “organic”. No, not everything they sell is organic, and if it isn’t then there is no guarantee that it’s GM-free. Whole Foods does not have a GM-free policy and does not even support mandatory labels on GM foods. We walked up and down the aisles talking to customers about GM foods and the importance of labeling them. The reception among the clientele was overwhelmingly positive, and even employees wanted to know about the issues. Other members of our group took non-organic items to the cash register and questioned the cashiers whether their purchases were GM-free. There were no unpleasant clashes with the store’s management and there were no arrests, even though police did show up.
The grand event of the day was the picket at the main entrance to Monsanto’s main offices, in the Creve Coeur suburb (19). What surprised us was the number of passerby drivers who expressed their approval and solidarity with our protest. That is no small thing in the world’s ultimate biotech company town.
– Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican author, environmental educator, and long-time activist on biotech issues. He currently works at the Organic Consumers Association coordinating social media campaigns. Ruiz-Marrero, a graduate of the Institute for Social Ecology’s MA program, has been involved with Green politics since the 1980’s, when he was active in the Green Committees of Correspondence. He is currently on the editorial board of Synthesis/Regeneration, a journal of Green social thought (http://www.greens.org/s-r/).