The world exploded in chants and rallies Saturday, which saw more than 2 million people taking to the streets in a global form of solidarity against Monsanto, the world’s leading biotechnology company responsible for the genetic modification of crops and patenting of seeds.
The “March Against Monsanto” rallies sprouted up in 436 cities and 50 countries around the globe and across the United States, drawing those concerned over a food supply increasingly dominated by seeds genetically modified to absorb exorbitant amounts of pesticides without destroying the crop, and according to several studies, potentially leading to illness and various cancers.
Most crops grown in the U.S., including soybeans, cotton and corn, have been genetically modified. Critics say genetically modified organisms (GMOs) — and the pesticides they are designed to survive — can cause serious health conditions and lead to environmental damage.
Concerned advocates not only called for awareness and a ban of GMO products, but also rallied for labeling regulations that would allow consumers to make their own decisions. Currently, roughly 80 percent of processed food sold in the U.S. contains genetically modified ingredients, which the consumer has no way of knowing by checking the label.
Chris Schleicher of Minneapolis, Minn., rallied with thousands at the State Capitol Saturday, calling for an end to an unsafe food market.
“I think its important to show how many people are frustrated with the way the corporations are running something as important as our food supply,” he told Mint Press News.
A father of two children under the age of three, Schleicher said he’s cautious of what he gives his children, and thinks everyone should have the opportunity to know what is in the food they’re purchasing.
“I think absolutely it (food) should be labeled,” he said. “I think its very important that people can make their own decisions and know what they’re eating.”
‘We want a label’
Currently, there are no labeling requirements for genetically modified food. A bill introduced in the Senate this month died almost immediately in the face of fierce opposition and more than 30 years of lobbying on behalf of the industry. A referendum asking California voters whether or not to label GMO products failed in November after biotech giant Monsanto spent more than $4 million in lobbying efforts to stop the labeling effort.
This month, Vermont and Connecticut pushed forward with votes that would mandate companies to label GMO products. Others are taking matters into their own hands.
Supermarket chain Whole Foods, for example, has said that its North American stores will label products containing genetically modified ingredients by 2018.
The organic food giant argues that there is growing demand for GMO-free products, citing an internal study that showed products with a “Non-GMO” label doing between 15 percent and 30 percent better in terms of sales.
Lisa Kelley and her daughter Ami Kelley were among the advocates Saturday that wanted to highlight the control corporations like Monsanto have gained through lobbying efforts aimed to keep consumers in the dark.
“I believe we have the right to have healthy choices and healthy foods, and I’m tired of these corporations sneaking all these chemically and genetically altered items in our food products to increase their profits,” Lisa Kelley said.
Paul Karlson, chairperson for Minnesota’s Move to Amend movement set up shop at Saturday’s rally to highlight the need for transparency within government, especially in terms of corporate spending.
“Monsanto’s negative influence is just one case of the many where what the public needs is the opposite of what the amoral trans-national corporations take,” Karlson said in a statement to Mint Press News.
The demise of the bee
While some of those present Saturday focused on the need for labeling, Lisa Kelley said that even then, consumers need to take command.
“I believe labeling is a small step but something more drastic has to happen — the cases of cancer and the dying and the honeybees… I think corporations need to quit pretending they’re God.”
Recently, Monsanto has come under fire for allegedly causing the demise of the bee population. In 2012, more than 800,000 colonies were wiped out in a phenomenon known as colony collapse. Honeybees are key to the agricultural industry, serving as the pollinator for more than $20 billion worth of agricultural goods each year.
Monsanto’s solution to this dilemma came through its purchase of Beelogic, a biotech company aiming to treat the bee decline — through yet another pesticide.
This year, a group of U.S. beekeepers sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to protest the bees from insecticides sold by Monsanto, among other chemical corporations.
The buzz over the bee decline is just one on a long list of concerns. Argentine farmers filed a lawsuit last year against Monsanto for allegedly instructing tobacco farmers to use exorbitant amounts of pesticides without proper safety measures. As a result, the farmers claim their children are being born with birth defects.
Protesters in Argentina’s capital flooded the streets on Saturday as well, bringing attention to an issue that is causing an increase in illnesses and lawsuits for using patented seeds in their own backyards. It’s estimated that nearly 100 percent of all crops in Argentina are GMO.
Yet there are some glimmers of hope for anti-GMO advocates.
Parts of Europe have already recognized potential health defects, banning GMO seeds in eight European countries, showing concerned people around the world that the change they seek is possible after their own bee colonies declined en masse.