Activists around the world are gearing up for a weekend of rallies to protest Monsanto, the biotechnology giant accused of genetically engineering agriculture and food while turning a blind eye to their potentially deadly health ramifications.
Organized by the 'March Against Monsanto' movement, an estimated 200,000 activists will participate in the massive campaign spanning six continents, 40 nations, and at least 48 US states.
Angered by the lack of action from governments on the issue, activists in hundreds of cities – including New York, Chicago, Montreal, Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Moscow and Melbourne – will stage coordinated protests against Monsanto and demand a ban on Genetically Engineered and Genetically Modified Organisms (GE/GMOs).
Initially a small, grassroots event, the march became a globe-spanning movement through the efforts of local activists and environmentalists. The protest is being organized on Facebook and Google Documents, where users can find a list of events near their location.
March Against Monsanto Director Nick Bernabe told the Natural Society that genetically engineered food could affect everyone, even the apathetic: “What we’re trying to do is bring awareness to GMOs and the health effects that they’re causing and bring about some solutions about what people can do to take back their food supply,” he said. “They’re expecting more than 15,000 people in San Francisco alone… We want to get people working together in their communities.”
Monsanto has described current research into GMO crops as "inconclusive," and has lobbied hard in Washington and around the globe to continue manufacturing lab-made foods without the oversight demanded by activists.
In March, Congress passed a biotech rider dubbed the 'Monsanto Protection Act' that effectively allows Monsanto and other companies that use GMOs to plant and sell genetically altered products even if legal action is taken against them.
Up until it was signed, “the USDA [US Department of Agriculture] oversaw and approved (or denied) the testing of genetically modified seeds, while the federal courts retained the authority to halt the testing or sale of these plants if it felt that public health was being jeopardized. With HR 933 now a law, however, the court system no longer has the right to step in and protect the consumer,” explained James Brumley, a reporter for Investor Place.
“They own the largest share of the agribusiness, pesticides and seeds,” Joanne Montana, who organized a protest in Florida, told the Gainesville Sun. “They’re transnational, in food behind the scenes and a big conglomerate.”
The 'Monsanto Protection Act' was co-authored by a senator who has received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the company — a revelation that did not surprise many, given that another important figure in Washington, Justice Clarence Thomas, served as an attorney for the corporation before he was nominated to the Supreme Court, only to eventually preside over a case involving his former employer.
But according to Food & Water Watch, the relationship between Monsanto and the government extends beyond Congress and the Supreme Court. In a statement accompanying a health report, Food & Water Watch wrote that communications uncovered by WikiLeaks detailed how “the US State Department lobbies foreign governments to adopt pro-agricultural biotechnology policies and laws, operates a rigorous public relations campaign to improve the image of biotechnology and challenges commonsense biotechnology safeguards and rules – including opposing genetically engineered (GE) food labeling laws.”
With the protest approaching, organizers have accused Monsanto of going on the offensive and wrote on the event’s Facebook page that the mass rallies had not been cancelled, debunking a false rumor they accused Monsanto sympathizers of spreading.
“Events are disappearing, posts are being put on city event pages that say events are being cancelled,” said Tom Canal, an administrator for the March Against Monsanto Facebook page, according to the Organic Prepper blog. “In no way, shape or form, has any event been cancelled. I believe Monsanto is behind this. Some of the people on the page that are commenting have newly made profiles and seemingly those profiles were made strictly to cause problems and get a rise out of our participants on the page.”
In an interview with Bloomberg earlier this month, Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant portrayed those who do not agree with his business tactics as snobs: “There is this strange kind of reverse elitism: If I’m going to do this, then everything else shouldn’t exist,” he said. “In the US, we’ve got a system that works.”
In their ongoing struggle to reach a wider audience through the mainstream media, anti-GMO activists have outlined a number of solutions and goals for which they are advocating, including the "labeling of GE/GMOs so that consumers can make those informed decisions easier," "further scientific research on the health effects of GE/GMOs," and, perhaps most importantly, "taking to the streets to show the world and Monsanto that we won't take these injustices quietly."