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.
A group of demonstrators who flocked to Syngenta Flowers in Gilroy last week was a modest-sized crew that lobbied against genetically engineered seeds, voicing their stance through colorful signs, chants, stickers, biohazard suits and even a chocolate Labrador named Lady, who wore a sign that declared, “No to GMOs! Dogs don’t like it either.”
Around 15 or so participants carpooled from various parts of the Bay Area to participate in Friday’s all-day peaceful demonstration. Syngenta and city staff anticipated the visitors, who hailed from Morgan Hill, Campbell, Santa Clara, San Jose and San Francisco. Parts of Hecker Pass were previously lined with Caltrans “no parking signs,” while a chain link fence barricaded Syngenta’s parking lot entrance. Four Gilroy police officers kept a watchful eye over the scene from the morning until 2 p.m. Two officers stayed on until 5 p.m.
“This is Goliath, and we are David,” said event spokesman Eduardo Abarca, 24, projecting his voice through a bullhorn toward the Syngenta facility at 2280 Hecker Pass Highway. “You don’t have a right to mess with nature and you can’t control how nature works.”
Formally known as “Occupy Monsanto” in protest of the American agricultural biotech company and leading producer of genetically engineered seeds, the gathering marked the final day of a nationwide “global week of action” against “evil biotech” facilities linked to the Genetically Modified Organism food system.
Protesters decided to demonstrate in Gilroy since “there wasn’t a Monsanto facility that we could find near San Francisco.” Staging a demonstration at Syngenta is just as legitimate, the group maintained, as the company also breeds, manufactures and sells genetically modified vegetable seeds that ultimately make their way into the food system.
While the local Syngenta facility in Gilroy doesn’t actually sell or manufacture vegetable seeds or vegetable plants – it’s a flowers-only operation – the Swiss biotech giant that employs more than 26,000 people in more than 90 countries is currently the world’s No. 2 vegetable seed proprietor, according to its website.
Abarca and company protested against Genetically Modified Organisms known as GMOs, as well as the absence of FDA regulations that require GMO food labeling. Biotechnology labeling is not required by the Food and Drug Administration, although it has been adopted by more than 40 countries, including New Zealand, parts of Asia and Australia and most of Europe.
Genetically engineered seeds, such as those manufactured by Syngenta, “are tailored for individual geographical regions to be high-yielding and reliable,” as well as “genetically enhanced with built-in insect resistance or herbicide tolerance,” according to Syngenta. Farmers may opt to use these types of seeds, which can be more efficient and yield a higher output. Some common examples of GMO crops include corn, soy beans, sugar cane, rice, cotton, vegetable/canola oil, as well as vegetables that have been genetically modified to remain fresher longer, and thus have a longer shelf life in grocery stores.
Arguments against genetically engineered seeds include: Risks to human health and the environment, GMO seeds being too expensive, resistant to weed killer, and genetically contaminating traditional crops – which are important to organic farmers, as well as conventional farmers who export crops to other countries that reject genetic engineering.
Syngenta, on the other hand, contends that “genetically modified food and feed products are the most extensively tested and regulated in the entire food sector,” according to Senior Communications Manager Lori Schwind with Syngenta Corporate Affairs, North America.
“Testing by independent public authorities and scientists throughout the world, including national and international food standards bodies, continues to demonstrate that approved genetically modified plants are just as safe as conventional varieties,” according to a company statement issued Monday by Schwind.
Friday’s protesters argued otherwise.
Activists touted signs with messages such as, “We risk becoming the best informed society that has died of ignorance” and, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature! No GMO! Yes 37!” in reference to Proposition 37, the “California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act.” The measure to make GMO food labeling mandatory in California is one of 11 statewide initiatives that is on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Monsanto and Syngenta are listed as donors to the “No on 37” campaign.
Genetic tinkering and the subsequent denial of the public’s “right to choose what we put into our bodies” prompted Campbell resident Robert W. Groff, 58, to participate in the Syngenta protest.
“I don’t think multinational corporations should be dictating our food chain,” said Groff, who has a master’s degree in engineering. “It’s not the right way to do things.”
Participant’s ages were as mixed as their origins. One of the younger protesters included 14-year-old Saul Navejas, who donned a white biohazard jumpsuit.
“Yeah,” he admitted, peeling off the top layer. “It’s really hot.”
Abarca also wanted to bring awareness to the fact that Syngenta manufactures an herbicide called Atrazine, “one of the most commonly detected pesticides that we find in our water,” he claims.
“If it’s so good for you, what do you got to be afraid of?” queried San Jose protester Joe Cernac, 64, who sat on the highway curb and played his harmonica while holding a sign that read, “power to the people.”
Cernac trekked to Gilroy Friday because he believes the fine print of food labeling is an “issue.”
“People need to know what’s in the food that they’re buying,” he rationed.
Adam Eidinger, Washington D.C.-based spokesman for Occupy Monsanto, claims studies have linked GMOs in food to autism, obesity, food-based allergies, dropping fertility rates, birth defects and “weird” neurological disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s a source of deep concern for Morgan Hill resident Loya Jackson, 58, a retired GUSD teacher of more than 18 years.
“I am passionate about what GMOs are doing to kids,” says Jackson, who claims asthma, allergies and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder have proliferated in the classroom.
“Talk to any teacher and we are beside ourselves with allergies,” she said, taking a break from chanting anti-GMO slogans through a bullhorn. “We have tons of EpiPens hanging in our classrooms.”
The EpiPen is an auto-injector for the emergency treatment of life-threatening allergic reactions.
Protesters argued that a lack of GMO food labeling is a direct impediment to “food sovereignty,” something 78-year-old Santa Clara resident Joan Bazar defines as “the right for people to have control over the source and type of their food.”
A former copy editor for the San Jose Mercury News, Bazar belongs to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She gathered video footage of Friday’s gathering for a documentary project on the global food crisis.
Giant corporations such as Monsanto and Syngenta “crowd out the local food production,” she argues.
“Monsanto and companies like them are dominating our food supply and contaminating our bodies,” echoed KateAnn Riser, 62, of Campbell. “If we don’t stand up and be counted, then we have no right to complain.”
Syngenta contends the company is helping to “protect the environment and improve health and quality of life,” the company states. “This includes agricultural biotechnology, which can improve crop productivity and yields and produce higher quality crops. If food production is to increase to meet projected population levels over the next few decades, GM and other biotechnologies must be available to growers as an option.”
An Idaho dairyman who bought the largest dairy in the state is growing genetically modified corn on state leasehold land in Hamakua, and a number of residents are upset about it, saying it violates the Hamakua Agriculture Plan.
County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong said Saturday that he has spoken to Big Island Dairy LLC owner Steve Whitesides, and that Whitesides “has been upfront” about growing GMO corn as feedstock on about 700 acres of land near Ookala.
“He said that if they were not to grow GMO corn but instead went to the feed store to buy feed that the corn in that bag would be GMO corn,” Yagong said Saturday morning while talking to about 20 protesters who lined both sides of Highway 19 by the cornfield at the 30-mile marker. Yagong, who represents Hamakua, said he was also told by Whitesides that GMO corn was already being grown on the site by the previous owner when he acquired the lease.
Whitesides bought the former Island Dairy Inc. from Bahman Sadeghi for $13 million late last year. The land is part of 2,081 acres Island Dairy signed a 35-year-lease on in 1998 and which Whitesides’ company assumed in November. Reports at the time of the purchase said Island Dairy had a herd of 900 milking cows.
“We’ve talked to each other on a number of occasions,” Yagong said. “He’s been gracious and has shown a willingness to sit down and talk, so I’m gonna facilitate some of the community members and Mr. Whitesides and give them an opportunity to express their concerns with regards to the planting of GMO corn here in Hamakua. … I told him that we have deep soil here in Hamakua and that he has the option to grow conventional corn and, I think, get the kind of yield that you do need.”
The protest was organized by GMO Free Hawaii as part of the “Occupy Monsanto Global Week of Action,” said farmer and anti-GMO activist Eden Peart, who called the cornfield “a genetic crime scene” and said that GMO crops could post health risks.
“Around the world, people are documenting genetic crime scenes, and we’ve got one here in Ookala. Big Island Dairy is growing GMO corn here in defiance of the Hamakua Ag Plan and it has to stop right away,” she said. One stated objective of the county-commissioned plan, which was completed by May 2006 but has not become law, is to “avoid contamination of crops, seed supplies, public lands, and native ecosystems by GMOs.”
Protesters held up signs for passing motorists with slogans such as “no GMO” and “GMO = poison milk (and) poison ‘aina.”
“I agree with everything they say,” said 87-year-old Marva Joy Bennett, who grew up on a small dairy farm in Utah. She held up a sign that stated: “We fed our cows hay not GMO corn.”
State Department of Agriculture Chairman Russell Kokubun, whose department administers the lease on the Ookala land, confirmed Sunday that the corn being grown there is a genetically modified strain for cattle feed.
“Yes, we need to be careful about what’s growing here and all, but I think we also need to be open minded and basing our decisions on science, in terms of what’s good for the land as well as the livestock,” Kokubun said.
He that the state “does not get into specifics” about crops grown on state-leased ag lands.
“Usually, the lessees come in with a farm plan on what they intend to grow, but for us, as long as it’s by a bona fide farmer to grow agricultural crops, we don’t get into what you can or cannot grow.”
“There are only, like, two major dairies left in the state,” Kokubun continued, referring to Big Island Dairy and Cloverleaf Dairy, which is also a Big Island agribusiness. “One of the real issues for them, and for any protein producer, actually, or livestock producer, is the cost of feed. … It’s the high cost of feed is amongst the major causes of livestock producers giving up. So the idea of us being able to produce our livestock feed is one of the keys to insuring that our livestock industry will be able to continue here.”
Asked if he believes the only way that could be accomplished is by genetically modified crops, Kokubun replied: “No, we’re open to all ideas.”
“One of the big things now is a byproduct of biofuel development with algae or jatropha,” he said. “… Once you extract the oil, the residue — it’s called cake — is very high in protein. So we think that’s going to be a boon for our livestock feed in the future.”
Demonstrators at Monsanto World Headquarters, Sept 17 2012. Photo: Sandy Griffin
Occupy Monsanto in St. Louis: Action 3
“Rats Who Eat ‘em Already Know…”
by Don Fitz
The Gateway Green Alliance/Green Party of St. Louis has over 10 years of experience picketing Monsanto World Headquarters (MWH). Long before the company was contaminating and dominating the food supply, it was producing toxic chemicals such as PCBs for insulation and Agent Orange for the Vietnam War. Its herbicide Roundup links its chemical past to its present focus on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Two-thirds of GMOs are created to make herbicide- and pesticide-resistant crops.
The demonstration at Monsanto was the largest of three during the last day of “GMO-Free Midwest,” the St. Louis portion of Occupy Monsanto. Many picketers came by bus, first from the Millennium Hotel in downtown St. Louis. There, those attending a panel on the use of GMOs for global economic domination were rudely greeted by a hotel supervisor who had reassigned them to a room as far away as possible from the industry-sponsored Symposium on Biosafety of GMOs. But Dr. Irina Ermakova, a researcher known internationally for verifying harm experienced by rats fed GMOs, left the industry symposium to comment at GMO-Free Midwest and later join its picket.
The second stop of the day was at Whole Foods Market (WFM), where safe food activists walked through a group of police protecting the store from “protesters” and proceeded to fill up shopping carts with food which might contain GMOs. Check out lines slowed down as they asked cashiers to verify if each item was GMO-free or not. The shop-in changed to a talk-in as they spoke with customers all over the store about WFM’s coziness with agribusiness. The talk-in then changed to a gawk-in as shoppers watched police gather at a car with a sign which had suddenly appeared on top of it saying “GMOs Contaminate Food” on one side and “WFM Sells GMOs” on the other.
Monsanto had a history before GMOs. Monsanto World Headquarters, Sept 17 2012. Photo: Don Fitz
With two highly successful events, the safe food activists expected the demonstration at Monsanto to be an uneventful repeat of the many actions held previously at that location. It was not. For years, the company had pretended to be accepting, even having pitchers of water and cups prepared for protestors on some occasions. But not on the day of Occupy Monsanto, September 17, 2012, the year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street.
No corporate greeters were on hand. A sparse line of police stood in military rigidity behind yellow rope. The cop apparently in charge walked over, saying, “You can demonstrate on your side of the rope as long as you stay on the grass and don’t step on the pavement.”
As he swaggered away John Wayne-style, a woman muttered to me, “Last time I was here they ordered me to stay on the pavement and not get on the grass.”
People were coming in so fast that it was hard to distribute banners and signs. They included three sets of “Burma-Shave” type signs that had to go in the right order if they were to make sense to motorists driving 40–60 mph down Olive Blvd. Each sign had 1 or 2 words:
“WHY IS – MONSANTO – PUSHING – FOOD THAT – RATS – WON’T EAT?”
Bonnie Boime at Monsanto World Headquarters, Sept 17 2012. Photo: Don Fitz
Event coordinator Barbara Chicherio was off taking a veteran demonstrator to the hospitals after she slipped and cut her head at WFM. So I was left coordinating the picket and making sure that there was enough room between people so drivers could read signs. I asked several people to go to the other side of the road and be sure to comply with police wishes for us to cross over at the light.
Several came back saying a cop had told them that they had to stay on this side of the road and could not cross over to reach drivers on the other side. “It must be my friend, John Wayne,” went through my mind.
Luckily, we had spoken with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) who provided legal observers. Attorney Maggie Ellinger-Locke asked the cop about his interpretation of safety law and he replied, “Oh, yes, you can be on the other side of the road, as long as you stay on the grass.” Maggie and I glanced at each other, both aware that an argument explained by an attorney can be effective while the same statement put forth with the identical logic by an average citizen can be ignored.
That problem was solved and picketers and banner-holders were having lively conversations. As everything was going dandy, cops invented a new problem. “Cars in Stacy Park can be towed if the driver is not using the park,” they told us.
Monsanto World Headquarters is at two busy streets and the few neighbors are a church and businesses that have ties to or dare not offend the Biotech Master. Parking is a real hassle. For years, no one cared if people left their cars at Stacy Park, especially at the time of day of our picket when the park is barely used. So off went several people to move cars, somewhat suspicious that Creve Coeur police might not be completely neutral defenders of public safety.
What a great victory it was! For years, Monsanto had judged us to be such a minor nuisance that they could ignore us or mock us with the feigned graciousness of water pitchers. But Occupy Monsanto was different. For the first time, Monsanto felt so much against the wall from global opposition that it felt the need to harass a picket at its front door.
Political activists do not use the word “transcend” to mean that someone’s mind is going into outer space, disconnected from reality. “Transcend” means to include while going into a deeper meaning. Occupy Monsanto was becoming transcendent. It included the basic concerns that people have with human health — the poisoning of our food and our families. But it went beyond personal experience and linked up people across the globe.
Zombie farmer at Monsanto World Headquarters, Sept 17 2012. Photo: Don Fitz
Those who had lost a family member due to poisoning while working for Monsanto. Low income communities of color which have become uninhabitable due to toxic releases. Veterans who still suffer from Agent Orange as well as Vietnamese who endure ghastly effects. Farmers who fear their land being invaded by seed police. Argentineans who see once diverse fields turned into Roundup-ready monocultures. Africans who watch traditional cultivation wisdom ploughed under mounds of greed. Indians whose neighbors commit suicide following GMO crop failures. On September 17, 2012, those who simply want to feed their families safe food knew that they had allies throughout the world and that they must stand with these allies if they are to win the quality of food they want.
Crystal Washington at Monsanto World Headquarters, Sept 17 2012. Photo: Don Fitz
One person who did not stand in solidarity was the woman going around with a camera obtrusively filming each demonstrator. As she walked up wearing a stern look, Crystal Washington asked, “Hey, why you got that gun on your hip?” Crystal is the Green Party Committeewoman for Ward 4 of the City of St. Louis.
Wearing no identification connecting her with Monsanto, Homeland Security, or local police, the woman did not answer but continued to film. Nor would she answer anyone else who requested that she identify herself.
Truly, the biotech company was not putting on its happy face for Occupy Monsanto.
As the departing hour of 5:00 pm approached, I asked Maggie to join me in posing a question for officer John Wayne. Standing well on the other side of the yellow rope, he yelled out asking what we wanted. I motioned for him to come over, indicating the seriousness of the question. “Officer, I want to apologize for not giving you guys much of anything to do today. But there is something that you could help us with. We would like a group picture and wonder if you could snap it so we could all be in it.” I held my camera toward him.
“We don’t do photos.” He strutted off.
Oh, well. He had the chance to transcend his John Wayne role; but, he blew it and will never go down in history as the officer who took the culminating photo at Monsanto World Headquarters.
Safe food activist at Monsanto World Headquarters, Sept. 17 2012. Photo: Don Fitz
During the entire event at Monsanto, reporter Charles Jaco had his mobile TV antennae extended 20–30 feet in the air for recording. Jakko is the reporter known internationally for interviewing Todd Akin, the candidate for US Senator from Missouri who educated the world on “legitimate” rape.
As people were putting their signs in a pile, Jakko’s cameraman shouted, “You’re not leaving, are you?”
“Yes, people want to be on the bus by 5,” I told him.
“We were going to show you live on the 5:00 news!” the cameraman let me know.
A quick huddle and we decided to march in a circle for the live shot. Rain dribbled down at first but slowly got heavier each minute we got closer to the taping. Remembering what she learned from the panel discussions, Crystal Washington came up with the background chant as Jakko put us on the air…
“Rats who eat ‘em already know,
GMOs have got to go!”
Banner hung at “Biosafety” Symposium makes it to Monsanto World Headquarters, Sept 17 2012. Photo: Don Fitz
A few minutes after 5 and the camera shut down; rain was heavier; and people were off to the Community Arts and Movement Center (CAMP) for the final wrap-up and reflection.
At Biodevastation 7 in 2003, CAMP was one of several locations raided by St. Louis police for the Monsanto-inspired hallucination that we were bringing 50,000 anarchists to destroy downtown. In 2012, Anne Petermann had come from New York to speak at GMO-Free Midwest. Explaining that she was originally from St. Louis, she let everyone at CAMP know, “Today, I was told that I was unwelcome at three different locations. It feels just like the St. Louis I left. It’s so good to be home.”
Activist ties up the checkout line at Whole Foods by asking the clerk whether each of the items in her cart contain GMOs. Photo: Langelle/GJEP
Occupy Monsanto in St. Louis: Action 2
“Ma’am, Please Don’t Take Off Your Shirt in the Parking Lot”
by Don Fitz
Several dozen people at GMO-Free Midwest, the St. Louis portion of Occupy Monsanto, went from picketing the industry-sponsored “Biosafety” symposium at the Millennium Hotel to Whole Foods Market (WFM) in Brentwood, Missouri. It was September 17, 2012, the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Safe food activists began a series of tactics which built on previous demonstrations and caught store management and local police completely off guard.
June 9 had seen a creative picket of WFM, including a 14 foot tall coyote puppet opposed to putting genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food. The picket provided an opportunity to talk with WFM workers who have been led to believe that the store does not sell GMOs. A few shoppers joined the picket upon learning that WFM brags that it labels GMO food when it only labels non-GMO food, leaving customers uninformed about potentially contaminated products.
On August 18 a new tactic challenged WFM. WFM aggressively censors “soliciting” which it says includes telling customers of dangers that GMOs poses to health and the environment. So, we went into its parking lot with signs on top of cars saying “GMOs Contaminate Food” on one side and “WFM Sells GMOs” on the other. Other cars had the same message on window signs or on home-made bumper stickers.
Police told drivers that they could not enter the parking lot with “protest signs” on their cars. But they were hard pressed to explain what was and what was not a protest sign. They were particularly befuddled at trying to figure out if they should order the removal of bumper stickers, since so many cars at WFM have safe food slogans on them. As we discussed what constitutes a protest message, other drivers came in, parked, and let their cars with signs on top remain throughout the afternoon.
Eric Herm, anti-GMO cotton farmer from Texas, stands by car sign in Whole Foods parking lot. Photo: Petermann/GJEP
A new level of action
On September 17, participants from GMO-Free Midwest took activities at WFM to a higher level. A few carried signs on the sidewalk. But most walked to the front of the store.
“If you are here to protest, you need to go to the sidewalk,” the police motioned. I buttoned up my jacket over my “Genetic Engineering — Don’t Swallow It” T-shirt and walked through the police. Since we didn’t appear different from the typical WFM customer, others did the same.
Some said, “I just came here to pick up a few items” as they walked by the police, who were again unsure of what to do.
Apparently warned that we would be there, WFM staff could be heard saying “What’s happening? They’re all coming in to shop.” Safe food activist wandered through the store looking at labels carefully. They did not put items in their carts if they read, “GMO-free,” “organic,” or “365,” which is the WFM house brand.
As shoppers went through the check-out line, they picked up each item and asked the cashier if it had GMOs in it. If so, it went in the “don’t buy” pile. Cashiers often weren’t sure; and that meant it also went in the “don’t buy” pile. One cashier claimed that everything WFM sold was GMO-free, which led to each item in turn being put aside by a disbelieving shopper.
Mindful of the bad working conditions at WFM, shoppers took the opportunity to explain our concerns to every employee. And there is no better opportunity to discuss potential food contamination than doing so with a customer waiting behind you in line. WFM is particularly vulnerable to such a tactic because the vast majority of its customers are concerned about food quality, but most think that store products are GMO-free.
From chatting with us, customers found out that, though WFM products cost more than those at other grocery stores, they are very likely to contain GMOs. With a bad rep for extreme anti-unionism and buying out competitors in order to destroy them, WFM is also resented for reversing its former opposition to GMO foods. It now babbles about “informed customer choices” but fails to inform customers by labeling food that might have GMOs.
A “superbug,” caused by consumption of GMO crops, argues with a police officer outside of Whole Foods. Photo: Langelle/GJEP
From Shop-In to Talk-In
Many safe food shoppers asked for the manager to come and verify whether food in their cart was GMO-free. At one point, a frazzled manager began grabbing handfuls of food and pushing it aside, saying “Yes, all this food has GMOs.” The manager seemed obsessed with keeping the check-out lane flowing as rapidly as possible.
Managerial distress was caused by two dictums: WFM policy says that every customer question must be answered; and, WFM also says that shopping must be a “pleasant experience.” But the shopping experience might be made unpleasant either by a slowed check-out line or by customers watching someone being hassled by police for the crime of asking if food quality is compromised. This particular manager decided that pleasant shopping would best be maintained by confirming that a large amount of WFM items might be contaminated with GMOs.
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) had told us that WFM could order us to leave and those who refused could be arrested. But it would have been impossible for WFM to determine who constituted “us.” WFM could have brought police from inside to harass those they thought were “protestors.” But doing so would run the risk of intimidating everyday customers who go to WFM concerned with the quality of food and happen to ask a question or two about what they are buying. Its liberal façade again makes WFM more vulnerable to a shop-in than any other supermarket chain.
Our friendly shoppers left the store with a single purchased item, confirming that they were, in fact, WFM customers. Others asked what all the commotion was about and what we were trying to accomplish. Some asked if they should boycott WFM. We explained that they could help lay the groundwork for a future boycott by telling everyone they knew about the true face of WFM.
The WFM ban on “solicitation” had been broken in store aisles, in check-out lines, and at the store entrance. Unable to distinguish “protesters” from “legitimate” customers, neither WFM management nor Brentwood police could stop people from asking “Why should we be concerned about what we buy at WFM?” Getting people to ask that question was the point of the action.
GMO farmer dressed for duty outside of Whole Foods. Photo: Langelle/GJEP
From Talk-In to Gawk-In
A stiff foam-board sign with holes for zip-ties can be fastened with bungy cords to the top of a car in 10–15 seconds by people who have practiced doing it. As cops and store managers were trying to figure out if they could do anything about the growing number of GMO conversations among customers, two people fastened a six foot long sign saying that “WFM Sells GMOs” atop a station wagon. By the time the cops figured out what had happened, the two were long gone.
Cops walked over and asked the people looking at the car who owned it; but they just shrugged their shoulders. Most picketers left their sidewalk location to see what the cops were doing. Friendly shoppers walked toward the car. Customers drifted over to hear everyone asking about why police were concerned with a car that had a sign on its hood.
There’s few things that people gawk at more than cops looking at something while a small crowd looks at the cops. Barbara Chicherio asked what bothered them. “Protest signs need to be on the sidewalk and not on cars,” a cop huffed.
Barbara talked through the car signs – window signs – bumper sticker questions concerning which needed to be removed as the cop scowled. Remembering that she was wearing a “Millions Against Monsanto” T-shirt, she had a flash: “Officer,” she asked, “If everything critical of Whole Foods and Monsanto is a protest sign, do I have to take off this T-shirt?”
“Ma’am, please do not take off your T-shirt in the parking lot!” The crowd laughed and even the cop chuckled. The absurdity of trying to wrestle through the twists and turns of exactly what type of free expression WFM could suppress was too much.
It had become clear that effects of the police presence had turned into their opposite. Intended to be soft-core harassers, the police were less than totally dedicated to protecting WFM customers from the horror of people asking about food contamination. As they drew a larger crowd, the show of police force served to increase discussion about WFM, thereby furthering goals of the action.
Many of the tactics used on September 17 had been worked out weeks before. Others arose as the event unfolded. Throughout the WFM action, neither store management nor police had any idea of what to expect next or how they should respond.
Within half an hour of the mini-confrontation in the parking lot, the police gave up efforts to get the sign off the car and walked off. Soon the crowd drifted away but the sign remained until the end of the action. Having reached over 10 times as many WFM workers and customers as all previous efforts combined, safe food shoppers boarded a bus and cars headed for their final destination of the day: Monsanto World Headquarters in Creve Coeur, Missouri.
Protest across the street from the GMO industry conference at the Millennium Hotel in St. Louis, MO. Photo: Langelle/GJEP
Occupy Monsanto in St. Louis: Action 1
“Stop Talking or You Will Be Removed from the Hotel”
by Don Fitz
On September 17 we were gathering to walk into the Millennium Hotel for the second day of “GMO Free Midwest,” the St. Louis portion of Occupy Monsanto. Daniel (digger) Romano told us that we had been moved from the “Lewis and Clark” room to the “Laclede” room on the other side of the floor.
As we entered the new room, it struck me that it was half the size of the one we had paid for. Conference coordinator Barbara Chicherio went to find the supervisor in charge. She walked down the hall to a roped off area guarded heavily by hotel security. On the other side of the rope were attendees of the industry-backed “International Symposium on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms.” [GMOs]
It appeared that the Millennium Hotel was as interested in making sure that we did not contaminate its audience as we were interested in preventing GMOs from contaminating the environment.
“Sir, are you in charge here?” Barbara asked. “Uptight” can barely describe the Millennium supervisor who starred back at her, stiff as a board. “I need to talk to you,” she continued. “Why were we moved from the room we rented?”
There was no answer.
“And why were we moved to the far end of the hall? And why were we put in a room half the size of what we paid for?”
Still, no answer.
“Could you tell me why there is a pot of coffee when I told staff that we could not pay $175 for it? And when can we get the table to go up in front of the room for the book signing that I explained we were having?”
“Did you read your contract?” finally came the response from the cardboard supervisor. “Read the BOE part of your contract.”
“What does that have to do with our being moved to a smaller room?”
“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.
Rich Martin threatens to throw out organizers and journalists from the GMO Free Midwest. Photo: Petermann/ GJEP
Months before, Brian Tokar had told Barbara that a major pro-GMO symposium would be happening in Monsanto’s home town of St. Louis during September 16–20. Occupy Monsanto activists thought it might be interesting to have an event critical of GMOs at the same time and place. Barbara went to work booking a room.
In May 2003, the need for early booking was driven home. Alerted to a major biotech industry event by Jim Scheff, the Green Party of St. Louis planned Biodevastation 7 to occur at the same time. Groups planning for street theatre hoped to reserve the park near the industry event. Unfortunately, they waited until 2–3 months before the event to ask the City of St. Louis for the park. By then, the City had been informed by the police of plans for protests and refused to rent it.
In St. Louis, virtually every large institution has received major funding from Monsanto. There is a history of people reserving hotel or college space for events critical of Monsanto having to confront the problem of rent zooming up or other pressure to leave the location.
With a contract signed months in advance of the event, we went to the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) to ask about our legal options if history were to repeat itself. One of the many pieces of useful information the NLG gave us was that the hotel would have the right to prevent us from entering if we were wearing T shirts with slogans they did not like. So, we covered our T-shirts with jackets before entering and took jackets off once inside. (Though the hotel could have told us we could not wear them, it is hard to treat people as a group when they are milling around.)
Madeline Buthod and her two children protest Monsanto and GMOs outside of the Millennium Hotel. Photo: Langelle/GJEP
This second day of GMO Free Midwest was to begin with our last panel before having multiple actions. The first day had included discussions of Genetically Engineered Trees, Health Effects of GMO Foods, Round Up as the New Agent Orange, Bee Colony Collapse, Dangers of Industrial Agriculture and GMOs as a Weapon of Global Domination.
Just as we were about to begin the final panel, a woman came in wearing a name tag of the Biosafety Symposium. We wondered if she wandered into our room by mistake. She introduced herself as Dr. Irina Ermakova and said she was more interested in what we were doing than in that conference.
Irina Ermakova, a leading scientist at the Russian Academy of Scientists, speaks to GMO Free Midwest. Photo: Petermann/GJEP
She was recognized as the author of some of the most important papers documenting dangers of GMOs. Dr. Ermakova is a Russian scientist who replicated work of Dr. Arpad Puztai. Dr. Puztai gained notoriety in 1998 when after reporting his research finding damage to the gut of rats fed GMOs. He had been a supporter of GMOs prior to his research but announced that he would never eat them after what he discovered. His employer, the famed Rowett Institute, then suspended him. Later, it came to light that Monsanto had given Rowett Research Services a grant of $224,000.
Dr. Ermakova found that offspring of female rats who had been fed GMO soy had a death rate of 50% within three weeks of birth. The death rate of infant rats whose mothers had eaten non-GMO soy was 10%. Offspring of GMO-fed rats were smaller and unable to reproduce when they reached adulthood. After reporting her findings, Ermakova experienced frequent verbal abuse from biotech enthusiasts and discovered charred remnants of papers placed in her office.
She felt much more welcome at GMO-Free Midwest than at industry’s “Biosafety” event. Orin Langelle and I delayed our panel on “Green Economics: Reality vs. Fantasy” so that Dr. Ermakova could review her research and concerns with GMO food.
The final panel of the conference built on information which had been covered the previous day to explain how GMOs are part of an overall thrust by neoliberalism to control the world economy. Orin spoke of the tragedy of Monsanto workers dying from chemical poisoning in addition to the contamination of entire communities. He detailed how false solutions for climate change such as the Green Economy and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) only serve to make corporations richer.
I pointed out that, during the twentieth century, the food industry faced the problem of how it could continue to grow once it became possible to feed the entire global population. Agribusiness continued to grow by inventing needs for pesticides, herbicides, processing, packaging, storing, advertising, and genetic modification, none of which increased the nutrition of food. The food industry is typical of other areas of production, which have grown not by improving people lives, but by developing wasteful and destructive processes and products.
With the discussion portion of GMO Free Monsanto over, everyone left the room, with many wearing T-shirts calling for the labeling of GMO food or noting its dangers. As several St. Louis cops began moving toward our room, we briskly walked outside.
Mutant corn is turned away from participating in the 12th International Symposium on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms. Photo: Langelle/GJEP
Across the street, our picket signs were joined by large puppets of mutant GMO corn and pesticide resistant larva. A banner was soon hung from the fourth floor of a neighboring parking building which read “THE WORLD DOESN’T WANT YOUR GMOs”
Banner hung across the street from the GMO industry conference Photo: Sandy Griffin
A few minutes later, the picket line was joined by our most honored guest, Dr. Irina Ermakova. We happened to have a “Burma Shave”-type sign series which read “WHY IS — MONSANTO — PUSHING — FOOD THAT — RATS — WON’T EAT?” Dr. Ermakova posed in the center for a photo that ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the next day.
Irina Ermakova, a leading scientist at the Russian Academy of Scientists, joins GMO Free Midwest picket. Photo: Don Fitz
In a recent French lab study, rats that were fed genetically modified foods had a tendency to develop tumors and suffer severe organ damage. GMO’s have become a hot topic in the United States and in California people are demanding GMO food be labeled in the state. Many consumers feel humans will suffer the same fate as the lab rats and are hoping to put a stop to GMO food. Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director for the Organic Consumers Association joins us with more on the startling consequences and why Americans should be aware if they are buying GMO foods or not.