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 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.