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.
Shareholders for Monsanto gathered on the campus of the Creve Coeur agri-giant’s world headquarters Thursday to elect members of the company’s Board of Directors.
Approximately eight demonstrators, calling themselves Occupy Monsanto, spent several hours Thursday afternoon holding signs and banners along Olive Boulevard. The group was protesting Monsanto’s use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and its lack of transparency in research.
Adam Eidinger, speaking on behalf of Harrington Investments and the Pesticide Action Network, read a statement to protesters before heading inside to speak to other shareholders. Eidinger said he owns 75 shares of Monsanto stock.
Eidinger said he was going to speak to the shareholders about transparency in labeling, research and business practices.
His speech read, in part:
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 and video of all future shareholder meetings. Second, the Company should cease its efforts to stymie legislative solutions that provided 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 and lawyers. Third, the Company needs to provide scientists access to the Company’s seeds and existing body of research. Let independent scientist provide the much needed peer-reviewed studies, so the public at large believes this Company is being truly transparent.
Eidinger quoted Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant from an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Grant said “we (Monsanto) needs to do a much better job explaining where food comes from.” To view the full WSJ interview, click here.
LIHU‘E — Wendell Berry once said, “To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.”
Environmental attorney Andrew Kimbrell shared Berry’s quotation with a standing room only crowd on the final evening of the Hawai‘i SEED Tour event featuring Dr. Vandana Shiva Thursday at the Kaua‘i War Memorial Auditorium (see Saturday’s online edition for a full story about Shiva’s presentation).
Berry’s quotation resonated the most during the evening, with Dr. Shiva also paraphrasing it before announcing that she would return to Kaua‘i, “only when you have driven those criminals off this island.”
Opening the event for Dr. Shiva Thursday night were Kimbrell and Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte.
In introducing Ritte, emcee Nancy Redfeather of Hawai‘i noted his work in 1975 reclaiming Kaho‘olawe from the U.S. military, which was using it for target practice.
She also recalled watching him and his two sons testify to stop a company from doing biological drug testing in Hawai‘i and how they successfully blocked the effort.
“On Moloka‘i, we are fiercely protective of our natural resources,” Ritte said. “We have a cash economy and a subsistence economy and we need both to survive.”
He said some islands have lost one of those economies and people get by on a cash economy.
On Moloka‘i, though, he said, “We fiercely protect the environment because that’s how we feed our family. The skills that allow us to harvest these resources and feed our families are traditional skills. Monsanto is the No. 1 problem we have right now.”
He said Native Hawaiians are asking him ‘We have sovereignty and rights to take of, why are you wasting your time on GMOs?’
For him, the answer boils down to food sustainability.
“If we are not going to learn how to feed ourselves, we are never going to be independent, self-sufficient and sovereign, never. Never,” he said.
Ritte described having the doors shut on protesters last year during an anti-GMO rally at the State Capitol.
“It was a horrible feeling,” Ritte said. “These elected officials have joined the corporations. They have declared a war on our environment and this island has the most to lose, because it is the most beautiful island in all of Hawai‘i. You have the most to protect.”
He said his job for the evening was to instill in the audience the idea that talk alone would not solve problems.
“If we don’t do anything, we are going to lose. We need you to participate in government,” Ritte said.
He praised the efforts of the Hawai‘i SEED leadership in getting people involved on both leading a three-mile march from UH to the Capitol on O‘ahu and in filling the entire facility on Kaua‘i.
“It’s these women who have all this energy and commitment. Holy burning on my ballbearings, I cannot keep up with this group,” Ritte said to applause. “The leadership right now coming from Kaua‘i is ahead of any other island. No other island can fill rooms like this. The leadership is coming from your island. You guys are in the lead, just like you were on the Superferry.”
Ritte also addressed the issue of the Public Land Development Corporation, calling on Gary Hooser to take the lead on making changes. With the changes in House leadership, Ritte said the doors are open to affecting change statewide.
Ritte said yesterday marked the 120th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. He said the issue needs to be made pono, to be corrected in order to move forward.
“If you build the foundation of how we’re going to protect our environment, using the most powerful laws in the state, it’s not going to be just the Hawaiians rising up. It’s going to be all of us joining up and rising up together because of the love we have for future generations,” he said.
In thanking the crowd for allowing him to share his mana‘o, he said, “We are all here because we love our environment and we love our Islands. We need to protect them come hell or high water.”
Along with Shiva was Andrew Kimbrell, who became the executive director of the International Center for Technology Assessment in 1994 and the executive director of the Center for Food Safety in 1997. As one of the leading environmental attorneys in the nation, he has authored several books on the environment, technology in society and food issues. In 1994, Utne Reader named him as one of the world’s leading visionaries.
Kimbrell opened his talk by paying homage to emcee Nancy Redfeather and her work in the legislature and to Jeri Di Pietro, president of Hawai‘i SEED.
He shared a story about Walter Ritte after he stopped the genetic engineering of taro. A group was sitting around trying to figure out the next step and Kimbrell suggested the company might try to patent taro, to which Ritte replied, ‘They can’t patent my older brother!”
The next thing Kimbrell knew, Ritte and his Hawaiian warriors chained themselves to a building where the Regents for the University of Hawai‘i was meeting to give up the patents they had on taro, which ultimately they did.
“To my knowledge, it’s the only time a patent holder has ever given up a patent, particularly under the threat of imprisonment,” Kimbrell said. “They say if you want something done, give it to a busy man. I say if you want anything done, give it to this man.”
Kimbrell said he met Dr. Vandana Shiva in 1989 at the first global warming conference for NGOs. He said the “beauty and nobility of her presence” immediately drew him to her.
He said that during that first meeting, Dr. Shiva said that in India, her people “have for millennia lived, more or less, in harmony with the world, but here in the West, in less than 150 years, you’ve created almost a terminal threat to the planet. So from now on at this conference, why don’t we call you the underdeveloped world?”
Kimbrell fired off a long list of products his group has stopped, including the Flavor Savor genetically engineered tomato to wheat, alfalfa, sugar beets, slo mo grass, rice, even biopharmaceuticals.
“Monsanto can be stopped. We were outspent 20:1 by Monsanto and won,” Kimbrell said to applause, adding that it’s not a matter of “if we’re going to have labeling, but when.”
He described writing Proposition 37 in California, and how they lost the proposition 51 to 49. He said Monsanto spent $50 million and only won by a narrow margin.
“I love suing Monsanto,” Kimbrell said in discussing gene and patent cases heading to the U.S. Supreme Court. “It never stops them from being passive aggressive cause we just get to sue them.”
He noted there are five major companies equal to Monsanto including Dow Chemical, DuPont, Syngenta and Bayer.
The crowd loudly tried to correct him, shouting out “Pioneer!” to which Kimbrell reminded them that Pioneer is a subsidiary of DuPont.
Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta own 51 percent of the world’s seeds, he said.
The seeds are designed to withstand huge applications of pesticides, which the same companies sell, Kimbrell said.
He said the Big 5 put out 115 million more pounds of pesticides and “we get rid of 40 million pounds of pesticides,” but it creates an adaptation of super weeds through survival of the fittest and weeds that can’t be killed with RoundUp.
Dow Chemicals said took over and created 2,4-D resistant crops.
“2,4-D is one of the elements in Agent Orange. So then they start a chemical arms race because Monsanto says they are going to go with Dicamba,” Kimbrell said, adding that these crops are currently up for USDA approval.
Kimbrell said Dicamba is one of the most terrifying weed killers as well because it volatilizes. “That means that under certain warm and wet conditions, it comes back up in a cloud after it’s been sprayed and can move miles over an organic farm and kill everything there. We’ve had conventional farmers say they don’t want this thing, so our work is not done.”
He went on to say “one of the most troubling things for me” is that the FDA is currently finalizing the approval of genetically engineered salmon.
“The salmon was originally engineered with human growth genes to make it grow larger, faster, and now they put some pout genes to do the same thing,” Kimbrell said.
He added that researchers said it would take a very small number of these salmon to decimate all salmon.
“Sixty fish like this, if they are released into a population of 60,000 native salmon, can cause extinction in thirty generations,” Kimbrell said.
He said there are about 45 days left for people to contact the FDA and tell them not to approve the fish.
Kimbrell added that 1.25 million people so far have signed a labeling petition asking President Obama to label GMO foods and said it is the largest response the FDA has ever had.
Based on the passion shown for the petition, Kimbrell encouraged the audience to have passion for their convictions.
“People who make war just for making war will fight for any side and quit when they want, but if you’re a lover … If you are a lover of seas, if you are a lover of lands, if you are a lover of rivers, if you are a lover of animals, then you will fight. You will fight for that. Lovers are the best fighters.”
Kimbrell once got called out for being against progress, but offered that the question needs to be “progress toward what?”
“The U.N. just came out with a report that said the way we are going to feed the world is not through genetic engineering, is not through toxic inputs, is not through pesticides, is not through the 2,4-D and the Dicamba and the RoundUp that is in the dust on Moloka‘i and hurting and killing children on this island. We know it’s the toxic herbicides. That is not progress. That can never be progress,” Kimbrell said, adding the companies are destroying the Earth and making “zillions of dollars” in the process, all in the name of progress. “We’ll occupy progress,” he said.
He said biotech companies would like for people to remain passive consumers, but noted that Ritte said everyone is a creator capable of making decisions, “in the food we grow, the food we buy, the food we feed out children, the food we allow in our schools and in our communities is either going to progress this terrible mechanistic nightmare that’s now reached it’s endpoint in the actual engineering of the seed to be intolerant to these horrifying toxins and poisons or be organic and beyond, which is the fastest growing sector in American agriculture that is organic, local, appropriate scale, humane, socially just and biodiverse.”
Kimbrell encouraged the audience to be creators by getting involved to no longer be part of the desecration as described by Wendell Berry.
“Don’t just read a poem, write a poem. Don’t just listen to music, write music. Don’t just eat food, grow food. That’s the way to do it. Don’t just watch romantic movies, make love,” he said.
In the end, he encouraged the crowd to come together in the food movement.
“As you fight every battle here, I hope you all together, in cooperation, in love, can knowingly, skillfully, lovingly and most important reverentially, come together to create a new food future.”
Demonstrators at Monsanto World Headquarters, Sept 17 2012. Photo: Sandy Griffin
Occupy Monsanto in St. Louis: Action 3
“Rats Who Eat ‘em Already Know…”
by Don Fitz
The Gateway Green Alliance/Green Party of St. Louis has over 10 years of experience picketing Monsanto World Headquarters (MWH). Long before the company was contaminating and dominating the food supply, it was producing toxic chemicals such as PCBs for insulation and Agent Orange for the Vietnam War. Its herbicide Roundup links its chemical past to its present focus on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Two-thirds of GMOs are created to make herbicide- and pesticide-resistant crops.
The demonstration at Monsanto was the largest of three during the last day of “GMO-Free Midwest,” the St. Louis portion of Occupy Monsanto. Many picketers came by bus, first from the Millennium Hotel in downtown St. Louis. There, those attending a panel on the use of GMOs for global economic domination were rudely greeted by a hotel supervisor who had reassigned them to a room as far away as possible from the industry-sponsored Symposium on Biosafety of GMOs. But Dr. Irina Ermakova, a researcher known internationally for verifying harm experienced by rats fed GMOs, left the industry symposium to comment at GMO-Free Midwest and later join its picket.
The second stop of the day was at Whole Foods Market (WFM), where safe food activists walked through a group of police protecting the store from “protesters” and proceeded to fill up shopping carts with food which might contain GMOs. Check out lines slowed down as they asked cashiers to verify if each item was GMO-free or not. The shop-in changed to a talk-in as they spoke with customers all over the store about WFM’s coziness with agribusiness. The talk-in then changed to a gawk-in as shoppers watched police gather at a car with a sign which had suddenly appeared on top of it saying “GMOs Contaminate Food” on one side and “WFM Sells GMOs” on the other.
Monsanto had a history before GMOs. Monsanto World Headquarters, Sept 17 2012. Photo: Don Fitz
With two highly successful events, the safe food activists expected the demonstration at Monsanto to be an uneventful repeat of the many actions held previously at that location. It was not. For years, the company had pretended to be accepting, even having pitchers of water and cups prepared for protestors on some occasions. But not on the day of Occupy Monsanto, September 17, 2012, the year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street.
No corporate greeters were on hand. A sparse line of police stood in military rigidity behind yellow rope. The cop apparently in charge walked over, saying, “You can demonstrate on your side of the rope as long as you stay on the grass and don’t step on the pavement.”
As he swaggered away John Wayne-style, a woman muttered to me, “Last time I was here they ordered me to stay on the pavement and not get on the grass.”
People were coming in so fast that it was hard to distribute banners and signs. They included three sets of “Burma-Shave” type signs that had to go in the right order if they were to make sense to motorists driving 40–60 mph down Olive Blvd. Each sign had 1 or 2 words:
“WHY IS – MONSANTO – PUSHING – FOOD THAT – RATS – WON’T EAT?”
Bonnie Boime at Monsanto World Headquarters, Sept 17 2012. Photo: Don Fitz
Event coordinator Barbara Chicherio was off taking a veteran demonstrator to the hospitals after she slipped and cut her head at WFM. So I was left coordinating the picket and making sure that there was enough room between people so drivers could read signs. I asked several people to go to the other side of the road and be sure to comply with police wishes for us to cross over at the light.
Several came back saying a cop had told them that they had to stay on this side of the road and could not cross over to reach drivers on the other side. “It must be my friend, John Wayne,” went through my mind.
Luckily, we had spoken with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) who provided legal observers. Attorney Maggie Ellinger-Locke asked the cop about his interpretation of safety law and he replied, “Oh, yes, you can be on the other side of the road, as long as you stay on the grass.” Maggie and I glanced at each other, both aware that an argument explained by an attorney can be effective while the same statement put forth with the identical logic by an average citizen can be ignored.
That problem was solved and picketers and banner-holders were having lively conversations. As everything was going dandy, cops invented a new problem. “Cars in Stacy Park can be towed if the driver is not using the park,” they told us.
Monsanto World Headquarters is at two busy streets and the few neighbors are a church and businesses that have ties to or dare not offend the Biotech Master. Parking is a real hassle. For years, no one cared if people left their cars at Stacy Park, especially at the time of day of our picket when the park is barely used. So off went several people to move cars, somewhat suspicious that Creve Coeur police might not be completely neutral defenders of public safety.
What a great victory it was! For years, Monsanto had judged us to be such a minor nuisance that they could ignore us or mock us with the feigned graciousness of water pitchers. But Occupy Monsanto was different. For the first time, Monsanto felt so much against the wall from global opposition that it felt the need to harass a picket at its front door.
Political activists do not use the word “transcend” to mean that someone’s mind is going into outer space, disconnected from reality. “Transcend” means to include while going into a deeper meaning. Occupy Monsanto was becoming transcendent. It included the basic concerns that people have with human health — the poisoning of our food and our families. But it went beyond personal experience and linked up people across the globe.
Zombie farmer at Monsanto World Headquarters, Sept 17 2012. Photo: Don Fitz
Those who had lost a family member due to poisoning while working for Monsanto. Low income communities of color which have become uninhabitable due to toxic releases. Veterans who still suffer from Agent Orange as well as Vietnamese who endure ghastly effects. Farmers who fear their land being invaded by seed police. Argentineans who see once diverse fields turned into Roundup-ready monocultures. Africans who watch traditional cultivation wisdom ploughed under mounds of greed. Indians whose neighbors commit suicide following GMO crop failures. On September 17, 2012, those who simply want to feed their families safe food knew that they had allies throughout the world and that they must stand with these allies if they are to win the quality of food they want.
Crystal Washington at Monsanto World Headquarters, Sept 17 2012. Photo: Don Fitz
One person who did not stand in solidarity was the woman going around with a camera obtrusively filming each demonstrator. As she walked up wearing a stern look, Crystal Washington asked, “Hey, why you got that gun on your hip?” Crystal is the Green Party Committeewoman for Ward 4 of the City of St. Louis.
Wearing no identification connecting her with Monsanto, Homeland Security, or local police, the woman did not answer but continued to film. Nor would she answer anyone else who requested that she identify herself.
Truly, the biotech company was not putting on its happy face for Occupy Monsanto.
As the departing hour of 5:00 pm approached, I asked Maggie to join me in posing a question for officer John Wayne. Standing well on the other side of the yellow rope, he yelled out asking what we wanted. I motioned for him to come over, indicating the seriousness of the question. “Officer, I want to apologize for not giving you guys much of anything to do today. But there is something that you could help us with. We would like a group picture and wonder if you could snap it so we could all be in it.” I held my camera toward him.
“We don’t do photos.” He strutted off.
Oh, well. He had the chance to transcend his John Wayne role; but, he blew it and will never go down in history as the officer who took the culminating photo at Monsanto World Headquarters.
Safe food activist at Monsanto World Headquarters, Sept. 17 2012. Photo: Don Fitz
During the entire event at Monsanto, reporter Charles Jaco had his mobile TV antennae extended 20–30 feet in the air for recording. Jakko is the reporter known internationally for interviewing Todd Akin, the candidate for US Senator from Missouri who educated the world on “legitimate” rape.
As people were putting their signs in a pile, Jakko’s cameraman shouted, “You’re not leaving, are you?”
“Yes, people want to be on the bus by 5,” I told him.
“We were going to show you live on the 5:00 news!” the cameraman let me know.
A quick huddle and we decided to march in a circle for the live shot. Rain dribbled down at first but slowly got heavier each minute we got closer to the taping. Remembering what she learned from the panel discussions, Crystal Washington came up with the background chant as Jakko put us on the air…
“Rats who eat ‘em already know,
GMOs have got to go!”
Banner hung at “Biosafety” Symposium makes it to Monsanto World Headquarters, Sept 17 2012. Photo: Don Fitz
A few minutes after 5 and the camera shut down; rain was heavier; and people were off to the Community Arts and Movement Center (CAMP) for the final wrap-up and reflection.
At Biodevastation 7 in 2003, CAMP was one of several locations raided by St. Louis police for the Monsanto-inspired hallucination that we were bringing 50,000 anarchists to destroy downtown. In 2012, Anne Petermann had come from New York to speak at GMO-Free Midwest. Explaining that she was originally from St. Louis, she let everyone at CAMP know, “Today, I was told that I was unwelcome at three different locations. It feels just like the St. Louis I left. It’s so good to be home.”
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
The US is infamous for its food and drink portion sizes. Movie theatres offer beverages in sizes as large as 1.5 litres.
But now New York has become the first city to approve a ban on the sale of super-sized sugary drinks.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the ban is an attempt to tackle the city’s soaring obesity rate.
More than half of New Yorkers are either obese or overweight. The city’s health authority estimates 5,000 people die every year from obesity-related health problems.
But the measure has been fiercely criticised by the US soft drinks industry – which spent more than $1m in an advertising campaign against the move – arguing that the law restricts consumer freedom.
And the issue points to a wider debate about food safety and regulation.
The powerful food lobby – made up of more than 50 food and beverage groups – has spent more than $175m lobbying since Barack Obama, the US president, took office in 2009.
One of its principal targets is to prevent a California law coming into force that would force labeling on products made with genetically-modified organisms, or GMOs. That is despite concerns over the safety of GMO products.
Among the key findings in the report GMO Myths and Truths co-authored by genetic engineers and released in June are:
genetic manipulation has not been proven safe in the long-term
genetically-modified seeds can produce toxins or allergens in the food itself
animal feeding trials have shown disturbances in liver and kidney function, and in immune responses
most GM crops are engineered to incorporate either herbicides or pesticides into a plant’s DNA
one heavily-used pesticide – Monsanto’s Roundup – was found to cause birth defects, reproductive and neurological problems, cancer and even damage to DNA
In the 1990s, the meat, dairy and agricultural industries pushed a series of “food disparagement laws” through some state legislatures – 13 states have some form of these so-called “veggie libel laws” – making it easier to sue people and groups who criticise food products.
Critics say the laws actually lowered previously existing legal standards for malice and falsehood. In some states, it is illegal to even photograph corporate farms.
On Tuesday a new report is expected to paint a bleak picture of obesity rates in the US.
Earlier Al Jazeera asked John Banzhaf, a public interest lawyer who in recent has been focusing on the food industry’s role in the nation’s obesity, why he believes using the law was the correct strategy to combat public health problems.
Among other things, he said: “All the conventional remedies aren’t working, education isn’t working… We litigate until the legislators begin to legislate… The US agribusinesses, food corporations and regulatory bodies are all too incestuous…
“All too often our agencies and also our foundations are more interested in getting the co-operation and cuddling up, for example, with the manufacturers of soft drinks rather than simply imposing restrictions on them.”
In this episode Inside Story Americas asks: Will regulation help improve our eating habits?
Joining presenter Shihab Rattansi to discuss this are guests: Tom Philpott, the food and agriculture correspondent for Mother Jones magazine; Per Pinstrup-Andersen, a professor of food nutrition and public policy at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and the former president of the American Agricultural Economics Association; and Adam Eidinger, a spokesperson for the Occupy Monsanto movement, a group campaigning for labelling of food products containing GMO.
“We need to do everything we can to stop the growth in obesity and chronic diseases in the US…right now one-third of the US population is overweight, another third is obese and the last third will become obese if we don’t do something.”
– Per Pinstrup-Andersen, a professor of food nutrition and public policy
“A better angle would be to tax sugar inserters and to do that in a fairer way is to tax sugar and then take the proceeds and invest them in expanding access to healthy foods in low-income areas.”
– Tom Philpott, a food and agriculture blogger
“We are the only country that believes that GMOs are both substantially equivalent and at the same time unique enough to patent, and that was a policy that put in place by the industry. It’s a monopoly and the government is doing the bidding of this monopoly. It’s time to break it up.”
– Adam Eidinger, an ‘Occupy Monsanto’ spokesperson
HEALTH PROBLEMS LINKED TO SUGARY FOODS:
There is plenty of evidence that eating sugary foods contributes to high rates of obesity. But a recent series of studies have also linked sugar intake to Alzheimer’s.
Scientists believe that Alzheimer’s is largely caused by the brain becoming resistant to insulin.
Recent research suggests excess sugar consumption leads to insulin resistance.
In addition to other functions, insulin regulates the neurotransmitters crucial for memory and learning.
It is also important for the function and growth of blood vessels which supply the brain with oxygen and glucose.
Over 75 Protests to Target Makers of Genetically Engineered Foods on Anniversary of Occupy Movement
WORLDWIDE – An expanding network of concerned individuals known as Occupy Monsanto has emerged over the past 9 months staging numerous protests at companies connected to the global trade of genetically engineered foods, also known as GMOs. The network announced today that on September 17, 2012 protests will begin for an entire week in St. Louis, home of the Monsanto Corporation, and across the US including California where voters will decide if they will label GMOs this election and worldwide in Argentina, Canada, Germany, India, Spain, Philippines, Paraguay and other countries where concern over GMO impact on the environment and human health is growing.
The protests will vary in size and nature but are unified in pushing back GMO food into the lab from which it came. An interactive map with times, dates and locations of the 75+ protests can be found at https://occupy-monsanto.com/genetic-crimes-unit/ .
Occupy Monsanto means to confront the industrial agriculture system head-on. Some protests could result in widespread arrests of people who choose to engage in non-violent civil disobedience. Despite the peaceful nature of these planned protests, organizers are concerned about surveillance of Occupy-Monsanto.com by the US Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies worldwide. Nevertheless Occupy Monsanto protests will feature costumes made of bio-hazmat protective gear that can also protect against pepper spray from police who have routinely attacked occupy protests in the past year.
“There is something wrong when a chemical manufacturer, the same company who made Agent Orange, controls the US food supply,” says Jaye Crawford, a member of the Genetic Crimes Unit in Atlanta, Georgia that has planned a week of events. Info: https://occupy-monsanto.com/atlanta-gcu-schedule-of-events/ .
“Wall Street and the American political elite have underestimated and even ignored our potential to effect rational policy change on GMOs which would include labeling for GMOs and restrictions on GMO cultivation,” says Gene Etic an anti-GMO campaigner based in Washington, DC. “If Occupy Monsanto’s anti-GMO actions are successful, after September 17 the media and increasingly more voters will ask tough questions about these experimental GMO crops especially within the context of the Presidential election, as that office holds the power to determine American food policy,” says Etic.
“People are stirred by the evidence that GMO foods compromise human health,” says Rica Madrid, a member of the Genetic Crime Unit of Occupy Monsanto. “Politicians and their sponsoring corporations ignore public outcry over GMOs to protect huge profits over health. Since GMOs’ introduction to the food supply in the mid 1990’s, food allergies have expanded according to Center for Disease Control data,” says Madrid.
“By purchasing influence via massive campaign donations, Monsanto ensures the essential duties of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are neglected. One example of this corporate coup is President Obama’s appointment of Michael Taylor, former Monsanto Vice-President and legal council for the chemical company, to head the FDA’s food safety efforts despite his obvious conflict of interest,” says Ariel Vegosen, a member of the Genetic Crimes Unit. She adds, “Monsanto is the biggest maker of genetically engineered crops so it must be stopped before it is too late to shift to healthy organic agriculture practices as a result of widespread genetic contamination by GMOs. ‘Coexistence’ as defined by the USDA of Organic and GMO crops is a myth.”
“At the US State Department it’s apparent Monsanto has duped leaders in Africa to ask the US for foreign aid in the form of GMO technology and equipment,” says Monsanto shareholder Adam Eidinger who last year walked from New York to the White House in Washington, DC with hundreds of other food activists to demand labeling of GMO foods. “The generous use of US tax dollars, endorsed by the likes of rock-star Bono and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a former legal council for Monsanto, is actually another taxpayer funded subsidy for Monsanto’s pesticide and herbicide hungry crops.”
Occupy Monsanto will be heard at the offices and facilities linked in the GMO food system. In St. Louis a major anti-GMO conference will take place in the same location as the ‘12th International Symposium on GMO Safety.’ A lead organizer of the conference is Barbara Chicherio who believes, “’Monsanto’s push to control agriculture and what people are eating poses a great threat not only to consumers in the US, but to farmers and communities throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia.” Info on the conference is at https://gmofreemidwest.org/ .
Media may arrange interviews with Occupy-Monsanto.com by contacting Adam Eidinger at 202-744-2671 or write to gmo@Occupy-Monsanto.com Visit https://Occupy-Monsanto.com for more information and to see video and photos of protests from earlier this year. All images and video are available for free and unrestricted use by members of the media.