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.
Posted: September 29th, 2012 | Filed under: Incident Reports | Tags: Anne Peterman, Barbara Chicherio, biotechnology, Black Bear Bakery, Brian Tokar, CAMP, Carmelo Ruiz Marrero, cotton, Creve Coeur, death, Don Fitz, Dr. Irina Ermakova, Dr. Ollie Fisher, Eric Herm, Fisher Wellness Center, Gateway Green Alliance, Global Justice Ecology Project, GM soy, gmo, GMO Labeling, GMO-Free Midwest, International Symposium on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms, Millennium Hotel, MO, Occupy Monsanto, Organic Consumers Association, Orin Langelle, Picket, Priti Cox, Rats, Safe Food Action St. Louis, St. Louis, Stan Cox, STL, Suzanne Renard, Whole Foods Market |
Photo by Don Fitz
By Carmelo Ruiz Marrero
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 (https://www.greens.org/s-r/).
Posted: September 23rd, 2012 | Filed under: Incident Reports, Photos | Tags: banner, Barbara Chicherio, Charles Jaco, Creve Coeur, Demonstration, Don Fitz, Dr. Irina Ermakova, GMO Labeling, GMO-Free Midwest, GMOs, International Symposium on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms, Maggie Ellinger-Locke, Millennium Hotel, Missouri, MO, Monsanto World Headquarters, National Lawyers Guild, Occupy Monsanto, Picket, Protest, Rats, road, signs, St. Louis, Stacy Park, STL, street, Whole Foods Market |
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 – SUING – FARMERS?”
“STOP – MONSANTO’s – GENETIC – CONTAMINATION – OF OUR – FOOD”
“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.”
Don Fitz works helped plan GMO-Free Midwest and is active in the Greens/Green Party USA.
Posted: September 20th, 2012 | Filed under: Incident Reports, Photos | Tags: Agent Orange, Anne Petermann, Barbara Chicherio, Bee Colony Collapse, Biodevastation 7, Biosafety, Brian Tokar, Chemicals, Director of Catering and Convention Services, Don Fitz, Dr. Irina Ermakova, Global Justice Ecology Project, GMO Foods, GMO Labeling, GMO-Free Midwest, GMOs, Green Party, Industry, International Symposium on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms, Millennium Hotel, Missouri, MO, National Lawyers Guild, Orin Langelle, Rich Martin, RoundUp, Science, Scientist, St. Louis, STL |
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
Don Fitz works helped plan GMO-Free Midwest and is active in the Greens/Green Party USA.
Posted: September 17th, 2012 | Filed under: Press, Video | Tags: Barbara Chicherio, Chemicals, Creve Coeur, Demonstration, Don Fitz, Gateway Green Alliance, gmo, KPLR, Missouri, MO, Monsanto, Protest, Safe Food Action St. Louis, St. Louis, Whole Foods |
CREVE COEUR, MO (KPLR) – Part of those occupy protests nationwide were aimed at St. Louis-based Monsanto, objecting to what organizers call the corporate food supply.
A few dozen demonstrators came to Monsanto’s international headquarters to protest Monsanto’s use of so called GMOs, genetically modified organisms.
The anti-Monsanto protestors started out at Whole Foods, angry that the organic food retailing giant also sells corn and other vegetables that are genetically modified.
Demonstrators were allowed to talk to customers. They were not allowed to carry signs or dress in costumes.
From there, they took their complaints to Creve Coeur and Monsanto world headquarters. They say most of Monsanto’s genetic tinkering, involves becoming resistant to bug killing chemicals.
“Mostly plants at this point by Monsanto are genetically engineered so that they’re resistant to their herbicides and pesticides, roundup,” said Barbara Chicherio with Safe Food Action-St. Louis. “So they’ve genetically engineered plants so they can spray the pesticide on it, which actually also has a lot of health concerns.”
“What Monsanto does is to corner the market on farming products and especially pressure farmers to buy GMO seeds and GMO seeds are something that can threaten human health, GMO seeds can be very bad for the environment, and GMO seeds can basically drive farmers into bankruptcy,” said Don Fitz with Gateway Green Alliance.
But while the protestors in front of Monsanto say genetically modified organisms are dangerous, Monsanto says they’re helping to feed the world.
No Monsanto spokesman would appear on camera. But the company did issue a statement:
“The 21,000 people who work for Monsanto are proud of our efforts to help improve farm productivity and food quality. Agriculture and its uses are important to Missouri, the United States and the world. Among the challenges facing agriculture are producing food for our growing population and reducing agriculture’s footprint on the environment. We respect each individual’s right to express their point of view on these topics. At Monsanto, we believe we can make a contribution to improving agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land while conserving natural resources such as water and energy.”
Other anti-Monsanto protests were held worldwide. But will protests like this alter the behavior of a multi-billion dollar bio-agricultural giant? Not likely.
Source: KPLR St. Louis, Missouri
Posted: August 24th, 2012 | Filed under: Incident Reports, Photos | Tags: Brentwood, cars, Commercial Speech, Demonstration, Don Fitz, Free Speech, gmo, GMO Labeling, GMO-Free Midwest, GMOs Contaminate Food, Missouri, Monsanto, Protest, Sign In, signs, St. Louis, trucks, Whole Foods, Whole Foods Market |
Car sign in Whole Foods parking lot. Photo by Don Fitz.
On Saturday August 18 several cars and a pickup truck with signs on top, in the windows or on bumpers drove into the Whole Foods Market (WFM) parking lot in Brentwood, which borders St. Louis, Missouri. Police approached as soon as they arrived.
“Yes, officer, we will take the signs off of the cars if you tell us which ones to remove and which can stay on.”
“Take them all off,” the cop scolded from inside his squad car.
Brentwood police orders removal of car signs. Photo by Sandy Griffin.
“Could you tell us why some signs are allowed on the top of cars and others are not?” I asked. We thought that the 24” by 16” signs atop cars that said “GMOs Contaminate Food” on one side and “Whole Foods Sells GMOs” on the other side looked great at WFM. There was no apparent difference between our signs and those like “Domino’s Pizza” that regularly adorn cars. A banner on the pickup truck which was five times as large added even more to the décor of parking at WFM.
Truck sign in Whole Foods parking lot. Photo by Sandy Griffin.
“You can’t have protest signs on your cars in this parking lot!” the cop snapped back. “Do you understand me?”
“Officer, I am trying to understand. Could you explain the difference between a protest sign and one that is not a protest sign?”
“Nothing which is on the top of your cars is allowed in this parking lot.” The cop did not indicate any understanding of what a GMO is or show any interest in learning. This was in sharp contrast to WFM customers, who are more likely than those who shop at other supermarkets to know that modifying genetic structure can be damaging to food. WFM customers are also more reluctant to serve food with GMOs. Yet, they more often have the mistaken impression that food sold at WFM is free of GMO contamination.
“What about a sign on the side of a car or one in the window like this one?” I pointed to a window sign reading “GMOs Contaminate Food — Whole Foods Sells GMOs.”
“It has to come off,” the cop huffed.
Brentwood police discusses legal philosophy. Photo by Sandy Griffin.
“But officer,” I asked, “we have photos of cars on this parking lot with business slogans on them. Why would a sign like ‘Joe’s Plumbing’ be legal while a sign critical of GMOs be illegal?”
“Because they are protest signs.”
“What about a bumper sticker that says something like ‘I don’t like Monsanto?’ Would that be a statement of personal belief or a protest sign?”
“That would have to be removed” the cop informed the half dozen who had gathered for the conversation.
“Are you saying that everyone who comes to shop at Whole Foods has to remove any bumper sticker saying anything about food quality before they park?” I listened carefully because at least one car had a bumper statement saying only “GMOs Contaminate Food” with no reference to WFM. Do WFM stores across the country intend to ask police to harass every customer making any statement about food quality or Monsanto?
As the discussion continued, cars with the anti-GMO slogans drove slowly through the parking lot. Saturday afternoon is the busiest shopping hour at WFM and it is not easy to find a place for a vehicle. The more the cop talked the more WFM customers wanted to know what was going on. That provided even more opportunity to explain dangers of GMOs. And not just in the parking lot. Customers throughout the store were asking what people with GMO signs were doing and why the police came.
Former employees had explained to us that a central part of WFM marketing strategy is to make the shopping experience as pleasant as possible. While we did not intend to get arrested, the cops seemed at least as hesitant to arrest us. Would handcuffing people in the WFM parking lot for discussing food safety make the shopping experience less than peacefully pleasant for those who watched?
After a couple of more exchanges, the cop changed his mind on bumper stickers. “They would be okay,” he decided. It seemed like a good time to introduce him to the ACLU observer who had joined us. The cop lost interest in pondering the philosophy of law. Soon, he was circling through the parking lot and scrutinizing cars with GMO signs which had now parked. But he made no effort to locate the owners.
At no time did the store manager or security guard of WFM ask us to leave. Apparently, WFM acted stealthily behind the scenes by contacting the local police department. The police, however, became totally befuddled as to how they should enforce what law concerning what violation which might or might not have occurred.
Of course, it was obvious that concerns by WFM triggered police action. Had WFM not run whining to them, there would have been no reason for the City of Brentwood to pay two cop cars to waste two hours in its parking lot.
Known for its high prices, the WFM chain has a reputation for intense anti-unionism and driving competitors out of business in order to monopolize the natural food market. But the reactions of WFM on Saturday August 18, 2012 constituted a novel chapter in its history.
Tolerating GMO contamination of food is not new for WFM. It has a history of supporting FDA approval of GMO contaminated alfalfa as well as packing its shelves with GMO products.
Nor is being duplicitous new to WFM. The chain orders its employees to tell the falsehood to customers that it labels GMO products. In reality, it merely labels products that are GMO free while putting the health of its customers at risk by failing to warn them of food that does contain GMOs.
Interfering with customers’ learning more about GMOs is not a new practice at WFM. The chain has a policy of not allowing “solicitations” in its parking lots, which means it actively prohibits anyone from distributing literature about GMOs.
What was novel about Whole Foods’ response during the St. Louis event was its uncompromising attack on free speech. WFM, in essence, said “Just as workers lose their civil rights when they are on the job, our customers lose their right of free speech when they enter our parking lot. Our workers can only say what we tell them to say. And our customers can only have signs on the top of cars, writing on the sides of cars, posters in the windows of cars, or stickers on the bumpers of cars if the information they convey conforms to the dictates of our thought police.” WFM showed that, in its corporate mind, the suppression of free speech becomes morally acceptable if it is able to get away with it. In WFM-land, might makes right.
After a few tense minutes with the police, most of our group took signs to the sidewalk. But several cars with signs on top of them remained on the parking lot. Two hours after we had arrived, there had still been no attempt to find the owners. While every picket that we’ve had has attracted WFM customers to carry signs with us, the signs atop cars sparked more widespread discussion than anything else we have done.
Whole Foods not the only corporation suppressing free speech
Monsanto, the world’s largest producer and marketer of GMOs, has curtailed critics and lied to farmers and the public about the environmental and human health hazards of this technology. At Occupy Monsanto actions on September 17, 2012, people in many cities will be challenging efforts of the St. Louis food behemoth to use genetic technology to subjugate small farmers throughout the world.
Most recently, Monsanto provoked safe food activists with its intense efforts to block people from knowing what they are eating. In October, 2011, the “Millions Against Monsanto” project organized protests in dozens of cities. The corporation has come back with what could be called its “Millions of Dollars Against Food Labeling” project by funneling over $4 million into efforts to defeat the California labeling initiative in November.
The St. Louis portion of Occupy Monsanto will be “GMO Free Midwest.” It will include two days of workshops, panels, movies, puppets, strategy discussions and potential interactions with members of the Monsanto family. The event is hosted by the Gateway Green Alliance, Safe Food Action St. Louis, Organic Consumers Association, Workers Solidarity Alliance, Missourians Organized for Reform and Empowerment, and St. Louis Animal Rights Team.
Workshops will explain the basics of GMOs and how genetic technology threatens human health and ecosystems, including forests. The emphasis will be on what is happening to farming, with speakers focusing on Latin America, Asia and Africa. They will look at how Western corporations are turning farmers into vassals who grow food not for their communities but to serve the profit needs of multinational corporations. Participants will hear about the global food industry and how only a small portion of it is actually dedicated to producing nutritious food that people eat. The most significant portion will be discussion of how safe food movements can confront those who putrify our sustenance.
The “sign-in” at WFM was just one of the tactics and strategies that have been developed by those who resist increasing corporate control of food. GMO Free Midwest will be a time to compare notes from each others’ experiences. Please join safe food activist on September 17 (or 16 & 17), if not in St. Louis, then where actions are planned closest to you. Register for the St. Louis event at GMOfreeMidwest.org
This GCU Incident Report was submitted by Don Fitz who’s with Safe Food Action St. Louis and the Greens/Green Party USA. He can be reached at email@example.com
If you have an Incident Report, please e-mail it to Incident@Occupy-Monsanto.com
Posted: June 13th, 2012 | Filed under: Incident Reports, Photos | Tags: Brentwood, Coyote Jim, Don Fitz, Gateway Green Alliance, gmo, GMO Labeling, Kate Klotz, Missouri, Occupy St. Louis, Photos, Safe Food Action St. Louis, Survey, Tim Lloyd, USDA, Whole Foods Market |
This entry was supplied to Occupy Monsanto as a follow-up to last week’s action. If your organization has food democracy-related action in the works, please send details to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to post it here.
Coyote Jim Joins Picket Line
Whole Foods Rejects Dialog on GMO Safety
by Don Fitz
Drivers passing by the Brentwood, Missouri Whole Foods Market (WFM) on June 9 spied a 14 foot tall coyote puppet. Next to the puppet was a sign reading “Coyote Jim Says” followed by “GMOs Contaminate Food” and “Whole Foods Sells GMOs.”
Twenty members of the Gateway Green Alliance (GGA) and Safe Food Action St. Louis (SFA), along with Occupy St. Louis supporters were reminding customers that higher prices at WFM do not necessarily buy better food. The action followed the refusal of WFM to discuss the safety of food it sells which contains GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
Many of the customers who stopped to talk were aware of health and environmental problems caused by GMOs and wanted to know how to avoid them. But they were mostly unaware of the large number of GMO products sold by WFM.
In April 2012 GGA and SFA presented WFM the results of a survey they did on attitudes toward food labeling by 315 participants in St. Louis. The poll found that 95% wanted labels on foods containing GMOs. If also showed that WFM customers were the least likely of five groups to be willing to serve GMOs. But, at the same time, they were the most likely to expect food at WFM to be free of GMO contamination.
Safe Food Action sent the April findings to WFM and asked management to contact them by May 14 to discuss the findings and recommendations. When WFM stonewalled them, the safe food advocates called a picket for June 9.