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.
NARRATOR: This week, the United States Supreme Court is hearing a symbolic case concerning a small farmer’s lawsuit against agribusiness giant Monsanto concerning their pesticide-resistant soybean seeds.
Since its introduction of genetically modified crops, Monsanto has generated a sea of controversy among small farmers across the U.S., and the company is now trying to expand south into Mexico. After years of trying to penetrate the Mexican market, Monsanto, Dupont, and Dow had a breakthrough when outgoing Mexican president Felipe Calderón granted them the right to cultivate GMO corn in various northern Mexican states.
Protesting the influx of genetically modified crops in their country, activists, farmers, and academics all across Mexico have been mobilizing to urge the new Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto to reject these permissions. In early February, UNORCA, the National Union of Autonomous Regional Peasant Organizations, held a week-long fest with 50 campesino farmers from all over the country participating in Mexico City.
FRANCISCO JIMÉNEZ MURILLO, MEXICO CITY COORDINATOR, UNORCA (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): So we believe that the only relation that we have left, us the growers, with mother nature is specifically with the natural seeds. And we have to remember something. Mexico has 60 distinct varieties of corn that we have cared for over the last 10,000 years, and with this the world has been nourished. We will fight to the end. This is a struggle that we have started for life, the healthy life of our country.
NARRATOR: At the conclusion of their fast, thousands of people marched in central Mexico, uniting their voices against the introduction of GMO corn and urging President Peña Nieto to take a stand against these crops.
LUÍS PINEDA, UNORCA MORELOS (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): What does Peña Nieto do? Peña Nieto lies to the people. Look at how he is now inventing things. This will result in sickness. They conducted studies at the Autonomous University and also conducted studies in France with rats consuming GMO corn to see what results it would yield. The results in France were that the rats had tumors. The rats had cancer. What will happen with Mexican citizens here? We can’t take it anymore. Leave, Monsanto! This is what we ask, all of us Mexicans who eat tortillas made with native maize.
NARRATOR: A delegation of hundreds of farmers from the northern states where the GMO corn will be planted traveled a whole day to arrive at the march.
GERARDO GARCIA, UNORCA DURANGO: I believe [corn] is the plant and seed that is most consumed in our country, our native seed, native to Mexico. It is important to have movements and peaceful protests like this in support of food sovereignty, and healthy production of corn that can nourish all of our families.
NARRATOR: Mexico has one of the highest per capita consumption rates of corn in the world. In 2005, Mexico occupied the fourth place for maize production. But this has since dropped to seventh place, largely due to importation of corn from the U.S. that has driven the crop’s prices down in Mexico.
DEYANIRA NAVARRETE, ASSEMBLY OF ENVIRONMNETALLY AFFECTED PEOPLE (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We have distribution problems, because here in Mexico it seems that we produce enough corn and beans, yet many corn farmers do not have a way of distributing their products to cities and centers of consumption and it’s not moving. Current policies merely increase foreign imports every year. So now they say: you know what, not enough corn is arriving to Mexico City; we must increase production by increasing the external supply. And a solution they are questioning is to increase the production of genetically modified corn instead of relying on the local ancestral knowledge of indigenous communities.
NARRATOR: In the United States, 86 percent of corn is grown from Monsanto genetically modified seed. And since its introduction, seed prices have grown 259 percent. For already impoverished small farmers in Mexico, this increase in prices will have devastating effects. Mexican President Peña Nieto has declared a war on poverty and hunger. Protesters decried this initiative as hypocritical, believing that GMO corn will increase hunger and poverty.
MARIA GUADALUPE BENITEZ, PROTESTER FROM MORELOS (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): [GMO corn] is going to cause more hunger because we don’t even know how it grows because it is different. The people who are used to cultivating one type of corn are angered because they are paid a very low price. Therefore hunger will just continue. Peña Nieto says things just so people in other countries will believe him without knowing the truth.
NARRATOR: Monsanto commonly sues farmers who have not purchased their seeds but have GM seeds present in their fields due to contamination or cross-pollination. Hugh Bowman, a seventy-five-year-old soybean farmer from Indiana is countersuing Montsanto in the Supreme Court after they sued him for over $84,000 for planting and reusing seeds from GMO soybeans, which he purchased at a grain elevator. It appears that many of the justices, including Clarence Thomas, who was formerly a lawyer for Monsanto, are in favor of the corporation’s position. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked, quote, why in the world would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if as soon as they sold the first one, anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?
The result of this lawsuit could have very strong repercussions in Mexico if GMO crops are introduced.
PETER ROSSET, LA VÍA CAMPESINA ADVISER: Well, I have to say, I was just reading the transcript of the hearings today, and I was somewhat disappointed that the attorney who was challenging Monsanto didn’t actually call into question the right to patent life, but was really only arguing about something called patent exhaustion doctrine, which is whether or not the second or third generation would still be the property of the patenting company. It’s kind of nibbling around the edges, because as far as I’m concerned and farmer, indigenous peoples’ organizations are concerned, there should never be any law that allows property rights over living things. And that we would like to see that challenged.
Of course, if Bowman loses and Monsanto wins, it means that any GMO seed that’s found because of contamination, because of accidental planting, whatever, in a farmer’s field means that Monsanto or any other company who owns that patent could sue those farmers and recover damages from them. Of course, that’s very bad. But it doesn’t really get at the larger issues around GMOs and around patents on life.
NARRATOR: In the coming days, the Supreme Court will make their decision on the Bowman v. Monsanto case. Mexicans say they will continue to mobilize to prevent the introduction of genetically modified corn in their country.
Andalusia Knoll with Christiane Rasguado for The Real News Network in Mexico City.
Monsanto Annual Shareholder Meeting
800 Lindberg Road
Creve Coeur, MO
January 31, 2013
Good Afternoon. I am here speaking on behalf of Harrington Investments, the Pesticide Action Network and my 75 shares . Our resolution for consideration by fellow shareholders addresses serious and potential risks associated with our Company’s genetically engineered crops, the toxic chemicals applied to these crops, and the related civil liability our Company may face due to their continued sales.
I realize our resolution is the same as last year and is unlikely to receive enough votes today to pass. So instead of speaking to the merits of the resolution or the Board’s prepared response, I am going to use my limited time to inform fellow shareholders that a massive tidal wave of consumer rejection of foods derived from our company’s patented technology has yet to crash down, but will soon.
What I am speaking of is a historic re-ordering of what crops farmers will be permitted to grow and the near-complete collapse of our customer base if we don’t change our business practices. Customers in our value chain are beginning to reject our patented technology due to the unsustainable consequences its use brings for human health and that of our soil and water.
First of all, why is our Company and it’s industry partners as a whole so vigorously hostile to new independent, peer-reviewed research? Last Fall, Dr. Seralini’s research clearly showed that rats fed this Company’s NK603 corn over their lifetime had serious health issues versus rats fed the control, a non-genetically engineered diet. We know the Company’s Technology Agreement does not permit farmers to give their seed away to scientists for research purposes. But in order for Monsanto to uphold its official pledge of “Transparency,” the Company’s patented technology must be scrutinized by scientists in every country in the world, without restrictions. The Company must embrace all research, in all its forms, to be truly transparent with current and future customers.
It is clear from the research of Dr. Seralini, that exposure to glyphosate and our Roundup Ready family of herbicides in only trace amounts of drinking water was linked to severe tumors in these rats over a lifetime of feeding. Moreover, our Company’s own rat feeding trials were woefully inadequate in measuring the long-term health risks of foods derived from our Company’s technology because our studies took place over only 90 days versus a rat’s entire lifetime as shown in Dr. Seralini’s study. To dismiss long-term animal feeding studies that were reviewed by the same scientific journal that years earlier did not reveal the long-term impacts of eating GMOs in Monsanto’s own studies is another example of this Company being two-faced and opaque. Customers, government regulators, and concerned scientists deserve nothing less than crystal-clear transparency from this Company. This starts by welcoming research by scientists who may be critical of our patented technology.
Secondly, last year I warned shareholders and the Board of Directors that the Company’s misguided hostility to safe food activists and farmers was fueling a consumer backlash. There was the Just Label It campaign, which last year sent over 1.1 million petition signatures to the FDA requesting labels for GMO foods. This effort led by Stoneyfield Organic CEO Gary Hirshberg, set the record for the most public comments on a petition to the FDA ever. And most recently social media campaigns have emerged, like the GMO Inside campaign, which urges grocery shoppers to label the suspected GMO foods and post the photos to Facebook and Twitter, as they have done by the thousands.
And then there was Proposition 37 in California. When I asked you Mr. Grant straightforwardly last year, “How much would this Company spend to defeat the California Right2Know Ballot initiative,” you refused to answer my question. Today fellow shareholders I am displeased to report our company wasted $8.2 million dollars to defeat transparency in food labels. Spending millions of dollars through lies and misinformation is not the way to stop the customer backlash towards GMOs. It’s only made it worse. Shareholders need to take this breech of trust very seriously.
While the proposition to label GMO foods in California failed to pass by a slim margin, people now say that if this Company was so proud of its patented technology, it would demand labels just as much as grocery shoppers do. This paradox exists because the Company is not being transparent with itself. This blatant denial of the wishes of customers in our value chain has the fuel to generate a wild fire of grassroots activism against this company. Customers recognize the lack of transparency in our food labels means there must be something to hide and they are wising up to the fact that its our patented technology that is being concealed.
For that matter why is this a closed-door meeting and no video feed made available to the hundreds of millions world-wide who eat our patented technology? Why must we meet in secret if the Company truly embraces transparency?
Since last year’s shareholder meeting we know more than 6 million Americans have voted & signed petitions demanding more transparency in food labels. This voting block is not going away because they vote three times a day- breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Throughout 2012 there were over 150 large-scale protests against this Company’s opaque & undemocratic control of global food policy. There were at least 50 protests at Monsanto facilities world-wide this past September 17 alone and just this last Tuesday there were thousands who took to the streets of Argentina protesting this company. Unless things begin to change and become more transparent, these protests will increase in size and number. Mr. Grant, the grassroots are Roundup resistant.
The way forward is by upholding the Company’s pledge to transparency. First, this means following the lead of other Fortune 500 companies like Apple, Coca-Cola, and Walmart and begin to stream over the Internet audio & video of all future shareholder meetings. Second, the Company should cease its efforts to stymie legislative solutions that provide increased transparency around GMO foods. States like Washington, Hawaii, Connecticut, Oregon, New Mexico, Vermont, and even here in Missouri have legislative solutions in the works. These efforts should be embraced by the Company, not fought off with lobbyists & lawyers. Third, the company needs to provide scientists access to the Company’s seeds & existing body of research. Let independent scientists provide the much-needed peer-reviewed studies, so the public at large believes this Company is being truly transparent.
A video published yesterday on the Wall Street Journal’s website, Mr. Grant said quote “we need to do much better job explaining where food comes from” We wholeheartedly agree. From independent scientific experimentation to honest food labels to streaming future shareholder meetings, this Company needs to look inward and become transparent.
Thank you for your time and I will answer questions shareholders may have.
2012 was the year the lights came up on the biotech industry. Its claims, its tactics and its products all came under scrutiny and some of its biggest PR fairytales bit the dust. Here are some prime examples.
1. Fleeing Europe: The biotech bubble needs to appear to be constantly expanding but in early 2012 came the news that the GM and chemicals giant BASF was pulling its GM division out of Europe because it was facing opposition “from the majority of consumers, farmers and politicians.” BASF also announced it was stopping the commercialization of its GM Amflora potato, one of only two GM crops authorized for cultivation in the European Union. The crop had been a commercial flop. The industry’s only other crop grown in Europe, Monsanto’s Mon810 GM maize, continued to face bans in a number of countries including Germany, Austria, Hungary, Luxembourg, France, Greece, Italy, Bulgaria and Poland. Even GM crop trials are in decline and with BASF quitting Europe they’re expected to decline still further.
2. Meltdown in India: Bt cotton in India has been claimed as one of the industry’s biggest success stories but in 2012 the PR claims completely fell apart. First, a leaked agriculture ministry advisory to cotton-growing states admitted, “Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers.” Two new award winning films also helped expose the truth about GM cotton in India to a wider audience. So too did a powerful report from India’s Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, after its committee members visited five States, examined thousands of documents and talked to large numbers of farmers and experts. The 31 MPs also met around a hundred widows of Bt cotton farmers, including 14 in a village promoted by Monsanto as a model for Bt cotton’s success. It turned out the farmers in Monsanto’s “model village” wanted a ban on Bt cotton. The shocked MPs issued a unanimous report saying GM crops were not the right way forward for India and called for an immediate ban on all GM crop trials. Not long afterwards an expert panel of scientists set up by lndia’s Supreme Court recommended a 10-year moratorium on GM crops.
3. Opposition grows in the US: Everyone knows about California’s referendum on the labeling of food containing GM ingredients, which was narrowly lost in the face of a massive advertising blitz by its industry opponents. But it took all kinds of lies, dirty tricks and a cool $45 million to kill off the initiative, and still 48.6 percent of voters supported it. Worse still for the industry, the controversy it stirred up helped spread GMO awareness nationwide. Many other states and local governments are now picking up the fight for GMO labeling, while the national Just Label It campaign has already submitted over a million signatures to the FDA asking the agency to require the labeling of GM foods. Some activists even took to the supermarket aisles to label GMO foods themselves. The industry has also been facing street protests across the US, with at least 60 protests targeting Monsanto on the anniversary of the Occupy movement.
4. Opposition grows worldwide: In 2012 protests against GM crop trials and the biotech industry’s activities took place across the globe. And although 60 countries already have GM food labeling, important new breakthroughs were achieved in: India, which is to introduce labeling for the first time in 2013; South Africa, where GM labeling is being tightened up to help enforce food industry compliance; Brazil, where the courts forced the multinational food company Nestle to label GM ingredients in its products; and Turkey, where mandatory labeling is to be extended to include GMO-fed animal products.
5. The reality of GM farming overwhelms public relations – nature cannot be fooled: US farmers are having to use still more pesticides to try and save their crops as infestations of rootworms have exploded on GM (Bt) corn engineered to eradicate them. “I lost $25,000 in yield,” said Charles Sandager, a Minnesota farmer. “They are going to outsmart us, them bugs.” Likewise, in order to combat the ever proliferating numbers of herbicide-resistant superweeds, the GM industry is preparing to roll out crops resistant to older and even more toxic herbicides, as well as to multiple herbicides. Washington State University agronomist Charles Benbrook says what the GM industry is doing “makes about as much sense as pouring gas on a fire to put it out.” Benbrook’s research shows that GM crops, far from cutting agrochemical use in the US as the industry likes to claim, have unleashed a pesticide gusher.
6. Toxics exposed: Among the toxic herbicides GM crops are now being engineered to resist is 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange. Research has shown 2,4-D to be an endocrine disruptor, and has linked exposure to cancers, neurological impairment and reproductive problems. As a result, Norway, Denmark and Sweden have banned it, but the new wave of 2,4-D-resistant GM crops will massively increase the exposure of farmworkers and consumers to this dangerous herbicide. In 2012 there was also growing evidence of the dangers of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide, which with the considerable help of GM Roundup Ready crops is the most heavily used herbicide worldwide: + Glyphosate found in people’s urine – A German university study found significant concentrations of glyphosate in the urine samples of city dwellers. All had concentrations of glyphosate at 5 to 20-fold the limit for drinking water. News of this study came not long after the publication of a study confirming glyphosate was contaminating groundwater. Last year also saw the publication of two US Geological Survey studies which consistently found glyphosate in streams, rain and even air in agricultural areas of the US. Glyphosate has also been found circulating in women’s blood and can even cross the placental barrier and so reach the developing fetus. + Glyphosate and Roundup damage DNA in human mouth cells – A 2012 study by Austrian researchers raises concerns over the safety of inhaling glyphosate, one of the most common ways in which people are exposed to the herbicide in the GM soy-producing countries of South America. + Glyphosate damages nerve cells – A new study adds confirmatory evidence to previous studies that found a correlation between Roundup exposure and Parkinson’s disease. + Roundup can cause amphibians to change shape – A 2012 study found that tadpoles exposed to environmentally relevant concentrations of Roundup grew abnormally large tails. + Roundup kills rat testicular cells – A new study showed that at low doses Roundup reduced testosterone by 35% in mature rats. At high doses, it destroyed testicular cells. + Roundup harms beneficial gut bacteria – A study by scientists at Leipzig University found that Roundup negatively impacted the gastrointestinal bacteria of poultry in vitro. The researchers found that highly pathogenic bacteria resisted Roundup, whereas beneficial bacteria were moderately to highly susceptible to it. The study provides a scientific basis to farmer reports of increased gastrointestinal disease in animals fed GM Roundup Ready soy. + Roundup probably causes birth defects, according to a new peer reviewed paper published in the Journal of Environmental and Analytical Toxicology
7. Monsanto guilty of false advertizing: An advertisement for Roundup that Monsanto placed in Dutch newspapers made a number of misleading claims, according to the Dutch Advertising Code Commission. Earlier in the year, the Advertising Standards Council of India concluded that Monsanto’s claims of economic benefits to farmers from its GM cotton were baseless. Monsanto has also previously been found guilty of using wrong, unproven, misleading and confusing claims to promote either its GM crops or Roundup by advertizing watchdogs in the UK, South Africa and France.
8. Unethical research practices and scientific fraud: In December the Chinese authorities sacked three officials who had approved and conducted a controversial US funded research project that involved testing GM golden rice on school children. The officials were punished for “violating relevant regulations, scientific ethics and academic integrity.” The Chinese investigation into how the research was conducted has also provided evidence that contradicts the claims made about how much golden rice was fed to the children in a paper on the study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. As a policy researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences has commented, “Either the researchers are lying about this now or they lied about it in their paper. It’s a serious offence either way.” Earlier in 2012 came the retraction of a study by researchers at the Monsanto-backed Danforth Center that claimed to have found a way through genetic engineering to boost the protein content of cassava. The retraction occurred “after researchers failed to find any supporting data to back up [the paper’s] claims.” In late 2012 there was also news of researchers studying the Bt toxins used in GM crops having doctored images in a whole series of published papers. Neither of the researchers involved seems to be facing the sack, although one of the researchers is having to step down as head of their university’s Committee on Bioethics! In October of 2012 came the headline, “Top GM researcher falsified patent claim to grab national award.” Back in February 2012 there was yet another remarkable headline, “Untangling India’s Bt cotton fraud: ICAR’s top research institutes and GEAC [the key GM regulator] exposed in Bt cotton research scam.” The scam apparently involved, among other things, stealing a Bt cotton gene from Monsanto, but Monsanto itself and various Indian agricultural universities also stand accused of theft – criminal biopiracy – in the case of another GM crop. And that’s all in just the last 12 months! Some see all this as the result of an over-commercialised public science sector, while others suspect it is the inevitable by-product of GM crops being based on a fraud themselves – a massively hyped technology rooted in entirely false premises.
9. Seralini publishes explosive GMO/Roundup study: Prof Gilles-Eric Seralini’s research found serious adverse health impacts in the rats fed Monsanto’s GM corn (NK603) and/or small amounts of the Roundup herbicide that the crop was engineered to withstand. Wave after wave of dubious criticism, fuelled and orchestrated by those with industry connections, attempted to silence the questions raised by the long-term study, as well as to stifle scientific discourse and get the paper retracted. But as the dust starts to settle over the controversy, the study not only remains unretracted but there is a growing recognition of the need for long-term studies on GM crops of the sort Seralini has conducted. Worst of all from the biotech industry’s point of view, their supporters’ savage attacks on Seralini’s study have exposed the fact that a careful comparison of Seralini’s research with Monsanto’s own safety trials shows that if the Seralini experiments are considered insufficient to demonstrate harm, then those carried out by Monsanto cannot prove safety. This is because, whatever its limitations, Seralini’s study was conducted to generally higher scientific standards than the studies underlying GM food approvals. As a result, the attacks on Seralini’s study are bound to fuel calls for mandatory long-term testing of all GMOs and their associated pesticides before they’re commercialized, as well as bringing into question all existing GM crop approvals.
10. Regulatory capture exposed: The other damaging consequence for the biotech industry of the attacks on Seralini and the rush by the likes of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to reject the study, has been the resulting exposure of the double standards of regulators who have accepted Monsanto’s studies claiming safety for their products at face value while demanding that public researchers like Seralini prove any harm from GM crops beyond all doubt. This is why 140 French scientists in a public statement published in Le Monde, declared that it was contrary to all scientific ethics to damn an experimental protocol when it gave results that were not wanted, while accepting it when it gave results that were. EFSA’s behaviour has also brought further focus on the problems of regulatory capture and of serious conflicts of interest among the regulators. This was already an open scandal, not least after EU member states earlier in 2012 had had to refuse the nomination of an ex-Monsanto employee to EFSA’s management board. By the end of 2012 there was growing awareness of the extent of regulatory dysfunction and the scandal of government agencies doing exactly what multinational corporations ask them to do.
As you can see in the video, some customers were shocked to discover that Whole Foods sells GMOs in their store. The majority of Whole Foods customers, it turned out, had no idea the company was selling GMO. (more…)
In the city of St. Louis, there is no one who does not have a friend, relative or neighbor working at Monsanto. This city on the banks of the Mississippi river has the doubtful honor of hosting the world headquarters of the Monsanto corporation. Founded in 1901, it was one of the world’s leading chemical companies in the twentieth century. At the start of this century it transformed itself into a biotechnology giant, or as the company likes to put it, “a leader in the life sciences industry”. Nowadays, Monsanto is the world’s largest seed company (global market share: 27%) and owns over four fifths of the planet’s genetically modified (GM) seed.
Monsanto is therefore the very embodiment of the biotech-agricultural-industrial complex, the company has worked very hard to earn that distinction. That also means that it symbolizes everything that is wrong with the food system.
Monday September 17 was the Occupy Monsanto campaign’s international day of actions against the corporation (1). Concerned citizens all over the world were called upon to carry out protest actions at the Monsanto facility nearest to them. Groups as far away as Chile and Argentina picketed Monsanto offices and circulated photos of their actions on social media.
That day I was, of all places, in St. Louis picketing the company headquarters’ main entrance. I was accompanied by dozens of local activists plus some who came from as far away as Chicago and the San Francisco bay area (2). Among the demonstrators who addressed the small crowd was Texas farmer Eric Herm, who used to plant Monsanto’s GM Roundup Ready cotton but turned against chemical and biotech agriculture. He narrates his journey of discovery and transformation in his book “Son of a Farmer, Child of the Earth” (3).
This picket was the culmination of two days of protests and educational events organized by GMO Free Midwest (4) and Occupy Monsanto. A series of events were hosted by Safe Food Action, the Gateway Green Alliance (5) and the US Organic Consumers Association (6) in different parts of the city to agitate and educate about the threat of GM crops and foods to human health, small farmers, rural economies, and food sovereignty worldwide.
On Sunday the 16th the organizers held a day-long series of educational activities, including talks and film screenings, in the Community Arts and Movement (CAMP) (7) building between Cherokee street and Minnesota Avenue in South St. Louis, and the Black Bear Bakery a short walk away. CAMP is a community organization that promotes creative expression, social interconnection, healthy living and sustainability through a great variety of activities that celebrate diversity and encourage critical thinking, such as classes, projects, artists in residence, bicycle repair, community gardening, mural painting, and much more. The Black Bear Bakery, known for its Lickhalter rye bread, is a worker-owned collective that hosts a great deal of cultural, political and creative activities, including music performances, film screenings, meetings, presentations and press conferences (8).
Presenters that day included Dr. Ollie Fisher, a former Monsanto employee who turned his life around and is now dedicated to promoting integral holistic health and operates the Fisher Wellness Center (9); Priti Cox, an artist from India (10) who has been chronicling and analyzing the devastating effects of corporate globalization on Indian society; geneticist and author Stan Cox (11), who works at the Kansas-based Land Institute developing deep-rooted perennial food crops (12); Orin Langelle and Anne Peterman, both from the Global Justice Ecology Project (13), who work on a variety of issues ranging from climate justice to the campaign to stop GM trees; social and environmental justice activist Daniel “Digger” Romano, who helps create local food networks as an alternative to the corporate-dominated agrotoxic food system; organic farmer, beekeeper and teacher Suzanne Renard; Eric Herm, and myself.
In my presentation I provided a political and historical context to the current global battle around GM crops and the patenting of seeds, basing myself on two recent articles of mine, “The Grand Botanical Chess Game” (14) and “Seeds of Empire” (15). This is part of a much broader research work I’m doing on the geopolitics of seeds and genomes, from a social ecology perspective.
The following day was the big day: Occupy Monsanto Day. Activities began with a conference on the myths and realities of the much-ballyhooed “green economy” at the Millennium hotel in the downtown area, with Don Fitz of the Gateway Green Alliance and Orin Langelle as presenters and myself as moderator. On the same floor of the Millenium a biotech industry-sponsored international scientific symposium on the biosafety of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) was taking place that same day. Not a coincidence, but rather clever planning and foresight. Months earlier, professor Brian Tokar of the Vermont-based Institute for Social Ecology informed GMO Free Midwest organizer Barbara Chicherio of the upcoming industry symposium, noting that it would coincide with the Occupy Monsanto actions. So the protest organizers cleverly booked the Lewis & Clarke conference room in the hotel, directly across the hall from where the industry activity would take place.
But things did not go as planned. We were changed at last minute to a different conference room on the far end of the floor, half the size of the space that had been paid for. Here is Don Fitz’s account of what happened when Chicherio brought our complaint to the hotel executive in charge:
– “If you don’t stop talking to me, I will have you removed from the hotel,” was the most thoughtful answer he seemed able to come up with. Looking at his name tag, Barbara saw that he was “Rich Martin, Director of Catering and Convention Services.”
As the conversation was unfolding, Orin Langelle with the Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) pulled out his camera to film the interaction. Rich put up his hand, growling “No photos! You get away from me or I’ll have you removed from the hotel.” Nearby Orin was Anne Petermann, also with GJEP. She slid her camera away as she quietly caught Rich on film. –
Fitz’s full account plus some photos of the activity are available at the Occupy Monsanto site (16).
A Russian scientist participating at the industry symposium came over and briefly joined us as the conference was starting. It was none other than Irina Ermakova. Her name may be little-known to the American general public but she is a celebrity and hero among anti-GM activists. In 2007 she published the results of her ground-breaking animal feeding studies on GM soy. In short, she found that the offspring of rats fed GM soy had a death rate of 50% within three weeks of birth, when the normal rate is 10%. For her findings, Ermakova was badly abused by biotech crop supporters, particularly the editors of Nature Biotechnology magazine (17). Apparently, the industry symposium’s organizers felt they needed a token radical voice in their activity lest they be accused of “bias”. It was a pleasant surprise and a total thrill to have her briefly join us and address our conference. Later, she joined us again when we had an anti-GM picket across the street from the hotel.
Our following action of the day was at the local Whole Foods Market, the Wal-Mart of the organic movement (18). The Whole Foods retail chain, which many consumers believe sells only organic, natural, healthy, wholesome and of above average quality foods, actually sells some GM among its many items that are not labeled “organic”. No, not everything they sell is organic, and if it isn’t then there is no guarantee that it’s GM-free. Whole Foods does not have a GM-free policy and does not even support mandatory labels on GM foods. We walked up and down the aisles talking to customers about GM foods and the importance of labeling them. The reception among the clientele was overwhelmingly positive, and even employees wanted to know about the issues. Other members of our group took non-organic items to the cash register and questioned the cashiers whether their purchases were GM-free. There were no unpleasant clashes with the store’s management and there were no arrests, even though police did show up.
The grand event of the day was the picket at the main entrance to Monsanto’s main offices, in the Creve Coeur suburb (19). What surprised us was the number of passerby drivers who expressed their approval and solidarity with our protest. That is no small thing in the world’s ultimate biotech company town.
– Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican author, environmental educator, and long-time activist on biotech issues. He currently works at the Organic Consumers Association coordinating social media campaigns. Ruiz-Marrero, a graduate of the Institute for Social Ecology’s MA program, has been involved with Green politics since the 1980’s, when he was active in the Green Committees of Correspondence. He is currently on the editorial board of Synthesis/Regeneration, a journal of Green social thought (http://www.greens.org/s-r/).
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.”