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Posted: September 20th, 2012 | Filed under: Press | Tags: Agent Orange, autism, Bar Area, Bayer, CA, California, California Chamber of Commerce, California Retailers Association, Coca-Cola, ConAgra Foods, Evil Biotech, FDA, food-based allergies, Gilroy, Gilroy Dispatch, gmo, GMO Flowers, Hershey, Jennifer Scheer, Kellogg, Kraft, Lori Schwind, Monsanto, Nestle, North America, obesity, Pepsico, Prop 37., Proposition 37, Randy Armstrong, Smucker, Steve Costa, Syngenta, Syngenta Corporate Affairs, Syngenta Flowers Inc, the California Farm Bureau, Toby Nixon, Weed Killer |
by Blair Tellers, Staff Writer, September 20, 2012
Bay Area activists are planning a peaceful protest at Syngenta Flowers in Gilroy today, marking the final day of a nationwide “global week of action” against “evil biotech” facilities linked to the Genetically Modified Organism food system.
A provocative Facebook flier promoting the event depicts mutant zombie children gnawing on GMO-poisoned corn. Some participants will tout visual props such as signs and biohazard suits, while others will protest through music or street theater.
While the local Syngenta facility at 2280 Hecker Pass Highway 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.
Syngenta breeds, produces and markets “top-quality genetics to meet the needs of your retail-ready vegetable programs.” The company’s major field crops including corn and soybeans “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.”
Gilroy Syngenta Manager Randy Armstrong says the company is aware of Friday’s protest, but “unfortunately, I’m not allowed to speak about it,” he explained. “I can’t comment on anything.”
Senior communications manager Lori Schwind with Syngenta Corporate Affairs, North America, issued a statement Thursday morning, saying the company is “aware of activity planned for Syngenta and respects people’s rights to voice their opinions, even when they differ from Syngenta’s.”
Formally known as “Occupy Monsanto” in protest of the American agricultural biotech company and leading producer of genetically engineered seeds, the global movement that kicked off Monday and involves 65 events staged around the world aims to “confront the industrial agriculture system head-on,” with participants who are “unified in pushing back GMO food into the lab from which it came.”
“The main point is that we’re getting the word out about industrial agriculture and the food we eat,” explained Adam Eidinger, Washington D.C.-based spokesman for Occupy Monsanto.
Staging a demonstration at Syngenta is “just as legitimate as Monsanto,” he maintains. “It’s part of the same industrial food complex. It’s a fair target.”
Protesters decided to demonstrate in Gilroy since “there wasn’t a Monsanto facility that we could find near San Francisco” – although a branch of Seminis, Inc., a leading vegetable and fruit seed company acquired by Monsanto in 2005, is located at 500 Lucy Brown Lane in San Juan Bautista.
Organizers of Friday’s gathering explain on their Facebook page that, “Syngenta Flowers Inc, another evil biotech company, was the closest one. Honestly, this is more than just about Monsanto. It’s about GMOs in general. Occupy Monsanto is a rallying call to let all biotech firms making GMOs know that they are on notice.”
Opposition against genetically engineered seeds – which are used by farmers for greater efficiency and higher output – run the gamut. Reported arguments 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 countries that reject genetic engineering.
Monsanto itself has come under fire during the decades for “pollution, corruption,” and attempting to “take control of the world’s food supply,” as accused by one of many books against GMO seeds.
Eidinger says the protest in Gilroy is gaining steam through social media and organized carpool groups.
“It’s looking like this is a good one,” he noted. “They made their own flier and have done quite a bit of outreach.”
Approximately 31 people have RSVP’d to the 9 a.m. protest so far on the event’s Facebook page. The gathering is also being advertised on Craigslist and IndyBay, a non-commercial, democratic collective of independent Bay Area media makers and media outlets.
Owner Steve Costa with Headstart Nursery on Monterey Road in Gilroy believes the controversy projected onto the local Syngenta Flowers is misplaced.
“It’s kind of ridiculous to beat up a nice business” that’s an “asset to our area,” he rations.
“I don’t see the connection,” he added. “It’s huge company. That division (in Gilroy) doesn’t even know what the large seed division is doing.”
Executive Director Jennifer Scheer with the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau agrees the protest is “unfortunate,” but for additional reasons.
As the world population continues to increase exponentially, “we’re going to need to feed a third more people shortly with the same number of resources, or fewer,” she noted.
Genetic technologies employed by companies such as Syngenta have a lot of potential to address that reality, she reasoned.
Scheer can’t speak to the myriad arguments touted by activists such as Eidinger, who points out that GMOs in food have been linked to autism, obesity, food-based allergies, dropping fertility rates, birth defects and “weird” neurological disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We don’t know what the ramifications could potentially be either way,” Scheer speculated. “But at the same time, we don’t want to write it off and 20 years down the road have a mass food shortage worldwide.”
Occupy Monsanto was strategically timed with the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Movement, which began Sept. 17 on Wall Street in Manhattan and targeted, among numerous issues, corporate greed and corruption.
Protests this week mark the first global mobilization against GMOs in more than a decade, according to Eidinger.
Many individuals partaking in Occupy Monsanto are seizing the movement as a platform to dually voice their support for Proposition 37, the “California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,” one of 11 statewide initiatives that is on the Nov. 6 ballot.
A sample of groups who oppose the initiative include Monsanto, Syngenta, Kellogg, Kraft, Smucker, Bayer, Pepsico, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Hershey, the California Farm Bureau, ConAgra Foods, California Chamber of Commerce and California Retailers Association. Syngenta is listed as a donor to the “No on 37” campaign.
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.
Others activists, such as San Jose protester Toby Nixon, are using the event at Syngenta Friday as an outlet to protest against Monsanto for personal reasons.
Nixon is attending the protest in support of his father, a former member of the U.S. Army Special Forces for 27 years who was exposed to Agent Orange – an herbicide and defoliant used by the U.S. military during its herbicidal warfare program in Vietnam.
Monsanto, whom Nixon likens to “a thug on a street corner,” played a primary role in manufacturing Agent Orange.
Spokesman Eduardo Abarca with Occupy Monsanto-Syngenta, a 24-year-old San Francisco student and activist, wants 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,” Abarca claims.
Developed by Syngenta, Atrazine “has long been a mainstay of corn, sorghum and sugarcane farmers for its control of a broad range of yield-robbing weeds,” according to Syngenta’s website. The herbicide increases U.S. corn crop yields by more than 600 million bushels annually, and “helps protect the environment and critical wildlife habitats by reducing soil erosion by up to 85 million tons each year.”
Abarca also claims that Monsanto sells seeds to Syngenta, although Schwind was unable to verify this statement as of press time.
Sgt. Pedro Espinoza with the Gilroy Police Department confirmed law enforcement is aware of the planned protest and has a contingency plan in case things get out of hand. Espinoza said he doesn’t anticipate any issues, so long as everyone abides by the law.
“Our role is to make sure everyone is safe while allowing demonstrators to exercise their First Amendment right,” he said. “We’ll probably have a couple officers at the entry and exit points just to make sure no one tries to storm the place or destroy any property.”
Abarca maintains the protest is a peaceful demonstration.
GMOs “seep into our food supply,” he says, “and that’s what we’re here for – to really bring awareness to this issue.”
Source: Gilroy Dispatch
Posted: September 18th, 2012 | Filed under: Press | Tags: Agent Orange, Atrizine, BASF, ConAgra Foods, Dupont, Eastside, Fern Holland, gmo, GMO-Free, Ground Zero, Hawaii, Hawaii Board of Agriculture, Hawaii Department of Agriculture, International Food Information Council, Josephine Bonaparte, Kauai, keiki, Kekaha, Lopaka Baptista, Michael Schultz, pesticides, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Research, rice, Russell Kokubun, self-empowerment, Sol Kahn, SPAM, Syngenta, Tiana Laranio, USDA, Vietnam, Wendy Raebeck |
September 18, 2012, 1:00 am, Tom LaVenture – The Garden Island
LIHU‘E — Genetically modified organisms were the focus of a worldwide Occupy movement on Monday, and demonstrators in Lihu‘e said Kaua‘i is Ground Zero with experimental seed testing.
Most of the world was holding an Occupy Monsanto protest, a GMO company that has since departed Kaua‘i, but still has operations in Hawai‘i. The Lihu‘e demonstration focused on all major growers conducting testing, including Kaua‘i companies Syngenta and DuPont/Pioneer, along with ConAgra Foods, Inc. and BASF SE.
The issues were about expansion of testing fields from Kekaha to the Eastside, and the referendum to require labeling of GMO products in foods.
“I just want to know what I am eating,” said Sol Kahn, a demonstrator at the protest. “I don’t want to eat GMOs if I choose not to. It needs to be labeled with more information, and there needs to be more research.”
Kahn fears that poisons in the drinking water and soil is killing microorganisms and bacteria that are beneficial to life. The results of leaching pollution is killing the oceans, reefs and fish, he said.
“I am not necessarily against it (GMOs), but the science of it needs to be inspected,” he added.
Michael Schultz was demonstrating about the wealth of university research on pesticides and herbicides that damage the land and environment.
“I’ve been concerned about this for many years since the end of the cane industry,” Schultz said. “We are not just eating GMO food, but we are the guinea pigs for all these toxins.”
Fern Holland said she began researching the GMO issue five years ago as a student of environmental science, marine biology and wildlife management. She said studies from the Institute of Responsible Technology shows GMOs are not doing the right thing.
“They are chemical companies that are genetically modifying the world’s food supply to need chemicals,” she said.
The GMO issue should unify creationists and evolutionists, who agree that open testing of the world’s food supply is unacceptable. They also believe that breading across species is fundamentally wrong, she said.
“It might be an amazing technology to benefit pharmaceuticals and biotech,” she said, “but it needs to be treated unsafe until proven safe.”
Only numbers will make a difference, and Holland said that monthly community meeting for people on all sides of the issue will follow. She hopes to get 30,000 people to join the cause.
There are currently two lawsuits in state circuit and federal court against seed companies on Kaua‘i. The suits claim that violations of dust suppression orders are poisoning neighboring communities and are preventing organic farms from maintaining its status.
“The Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture supports all forms of legitimate agriculture, which includes conventional farming, biotech farming and organic farming,” said Janelle Saneishi, a public information officer for the department.
Hawai‘i Board of Agriculture Chairman Russell Kokubun was out of state and not available for comment.
Biotech farming is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and once it approves a crop for planting, it is considered like any other plant, she said. Research crops must also follow USDA conditions, but once approved for release they are considered a deregulated crop and not experimental, she added.
As of now, there does not appear to be scientific evidence of harm, she said. Biotech is regulated by USDA permits including inspections quarantine branch facilities.
“We do have some input into how they grow and the inspectors look at how they are following permit conditions and USDA regulations,” she said.
Lopaka Baptista said he grows his own garden and wants his family to have good food on the table. The GMOs ruins everything, he said, referring to his brother who suffers from the effects of Agent Orange during the war in Vietnam.
He said that Atrizine in the water supply is also deadly for humans, pets, animals and birds of Kaua‘i.
“My concern is for my family, my friends and neighbors,” Baptista said. “We have a lot of keiki and we don’t want them growing up in an environment where you cant even drink the water anymore.”
“This issue is important to me and its pretty critical that people of Kaua‘i participate in a meaningful way,” Wendy Raebeck said. “I am really heartened because a demonstration just two years ago people were asking what GMO is, when it’s now a mainstream issue and it needed to happen.”
Corn, soy and canola are taboo items to Raebeck. She buys only organic tofu and soy milk.
“I’m against GMOs and I’m for labeling foods so that we know what is in it,” said Josephine Bonaparte, an organic farmer and grandmother. “I want a life free of pesticides and free from food that is pesticide resistant.”
Tiana Laranio said she was raised a “GMO youth” on microwavable groceries and canned SPAM, sausage and white rice. She suffered from reproductive and gastrointestinal problems at a young age and said she saw a connection with food allergies.
“I started becoming aware, and really once you wake up, there is not turning back,” she said. “I want to help other people to wake up for themselves.”
She said Occupy is about self-empowerment through community outreach and education. She said people can learn to read labels and demand that stores sell GMO-free products.
Once people know and they choose the alternative, then the natural forces of the free market will make the adjustment. As for Hawai‘i, she would like to see remediation of the ceded lands used for sustainable programs that get more people working with community gardens.
As for protesting, this is Laranio’s first time and she was motivated by the sudden growth of GMO fields around the island.
“I don’t agree with what the GMOs do, but if they do it then they should do it in a lab and not in the open air of Kaua‘i,” she said. “We are all being poisoned whether we realize it or not, and I am not a science experiment. I did not agree to this.”
Calls to Syngenta were not returned by press time.
DuPont Pioneer responded with resources that explain the work of GMOs on Kaua‘i at www.hciaonline.org.
More Hawai‘i seed industry surveys and information on biotech food safety is available from the International Food Information Council at www.foodinsight.org.
Source: The Garden Island