By Doug Porter/ San Diego Free Press
While the oldstream media is obsessing on the current crop of Washington’s politi-dramas, an international protest movement is gathering steam. Activists in on six continents, in 36 countries, and in 47 U.S. states — totaling events in over 250 cities — are coordinating demonstrations to occur simultaneously at 11am Pacific time on Saturday May 25th under the general theme “March Against Monsanto”.
The St Louis-based biotech behemoth Monsanto has come under increasing attack from environmentalists, agriculturalists and average consumers in response to the company’s conduct in the realm of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) and genetically-engineered foods.
Efforts aimed at forcing the company to engage in transparent business practices, like providing consumer information about products incorporating GMOs, have exposed a corporate culture willing to use raw power and virtually unlimited amounts of cash to protect their interests.
Questions on the long-term health effects of eating GMO products have led 61 countries, including China, to institute labeling restrictions. Eight European countries—Poland, Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece and Bulgaria—have gone as far as to ban the cultivation of GMO crops inside their borders.
Suspicions about the company’s motives are fueled by Monsanto’s past. The company’s manufacturing history includes such ecological scourges as Agent Orange, DDT and Saccharine.
And Monsanto’s heavy handed tactics in the US legislatures, the courts and overseas have made it a natural target for those concerned about food safety and nutrition.
The Monsanto Protection Act
In March, Congress passed a biotech rider dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act” by its critics that essentially allows that company and others that use GMOs to plant and sell genetically-altered products without gaining federal permission.
“The provision would strip federal courts of the authority to halt the sale and planting of an illegal, potentially hazardous GE crop while the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) assesses those potential hazards,” dozens of food businesses and retailers wrote Congress before the bill was passed.
From the New York Daily News:
Further fueling the animosity toward Monsanto is the inclusion of what has been dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act” into a spending resolution recently signed into law by President Obama. The provision has been painted as a government gift to the company.
“This dangerous provision, the Monsanto Protection Act, strips judges of their constitutional mandate to protect consumer and farmer rights and the environment, while opening up the floodgates for the planting of new untested genetically engineered crops, endangering farmers, citizens and the environment,” the group Food Democracy Now said on its website.
Lawsuits Threatened in Vermont
Vermont’s House of Representatives passed a bill on May 10 requiring foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled. Although approval by the Senate is still needed (and won’t happen until early next year), this is the furthest any such legislation has made it through the legislative process in the United States.
The bill was stalled in the Vermont legislature for three years, in part because of a concern that biotechnology companies would sue the state if it passed. The concern seems justified, as Monsanto reportedly threatened
“Monsanto has used lawsuits or threats of lawsuits for 20 years to force unlabeled genetically engineered foods on the public, and to intimidate farmers into buying their genetically engineered seeds and hormones.”, according to Organic Consumers Association Executive Director Ronnie Cummins and Vermont farmer Will Allen.
The Vermont legislation would prohibit Monsanto from labeling products as “natural,” “naturally made,” “naturally grown” or “all natural,” if, in fact, they are not. For the corporation, it would seem that moving products and making money is much more of a worthwhile venture than telling its customers what exactly they are consuming.
State Department Funds Overseas Sales Trips
Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2011 showed that the State Department was lobbying worldwide for Monsanto and other similar corporations, and a new report based on the cables by nonprofit consumer protection group Food & Water Watch published Tuesday shows Washington’s shilling for the biotech industry in distinct detail.
The report exposes in great detail the depth of the partnership between the federal government and a number of controversial biotech companies that have slowly but surely pushed their GMO products on a number of new countries in recent years.
Tax dollars have been used repeatedly to fund visits by biotech lobbyists for hold talks with politicians and agricultural officials in “target countries” in areas like Africa and Latin America, where genetically-modified crops were not yet a mainstay, as well as some European countries that have resisted the controversial agricultural practice.
From Food & Water Watch:
…the United States has aggressively pursued foreign policies in food and agriculture that benefit the largest seed companies. TheU.S. State Department has launched a concerted strategy to promote agricultural biotechnology, often over the opposition of the public and governments, to the near exclusion of other more sustainable, more appropriate agricultural policy alternatives.
The U.S. State Department has also lobbied foreign governments to adopt pro-agricultural biotechnology policies and laws, operated a rigorous public relations campaign to improve the image of biotechnology and challenged commonsense biotechnology safeguards and rules — even including opposing laws requiring the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods.
Food & Water Watch closely examined five years of State Department diplomatic cables from 2005 to 2009 to provide the first comprehensive analysis of the strategy, tactics and U.S. foreign policy objectives to foist pro-agricultural biotechnology policies worldwide.
A Monsanto Victory at the Supreme Court
A unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court this week came down on the side of the agricultural giant Monsanto, dashing hopes by farmers nationwide looking to challenge the growing power over modern farming wielded by giant agricultural and biotech firms.
By the start of 2013, Monsanto had filed 144 lawsuits against 466 farmers and small farm businesses alleging patent infringement, according to a report from the Center for Food Safety.
From The Guardian:
The case – which was cast by the farmer’s supporters as a classic tale of David vs Goliath – could well dictate the future of modern farming.
In an unanimous ruling written by Justice Elena Kagan, the court ruled that the farmer, Vernon Bowman, had infringed on Monsanto’s patent for its GM soybeans when he bought some of those seeds from a local grain elevator and planted them for a second, late-season crop. Monsanto sued, arguing that Bowman had signed a contract when he initially bought the Roundup Ready soybeans in the spring, agreeing not to save any of the harvest for replanting. The seeds are genetically modified to be resistant to Roundup Ready weedkiller.
Three big companies, including Monsanto, now control more than half of the global seed market – a position that has sent prices soaring. The average cost of planting an acre of soybeans had risen 325% between 1995 and 2011.
Deflect, Distort and Delay Tactics
California’s Proposition 37, an initiative that would have required labeling of foods containing GMOs started out of the gate with solid public support. In October 2012 a USC/ Los Angeles Times poll announced that the measure was leading by a large margin, “with 59 percent of voters in favor versus 28 percent who are opposed.”
Using the same campaign tactics (and some of the same spinmeisters) utilized by tobacco companies in the past, large agribusiness and chemical companies—such as Monsanto and Dow—and big food manufacturers—including PepsiCo, Nestle, and Conagra—who dumped more than $45 million into the fight. Monsanto’s share amounted to $8.1 million.
The measure lost narrowly in November. Jennifer Hatcher, senior vice president of government and public affairs for the Food Marketing Institute, who had previously said that Prop 37 “scared us to death,” said in an official statement, “This gives us hope that you can, with a well-funded, well-organized, well-executed campaign, defeat a ballot initiative and go directly to the voters. We hope we don’t have too many of them, because you can’t keep doing that over and over again…”
The May 25th Protest Movement
As noted earlier, the protests against Monsanto are spreading far and wide. Here’s a handy dandy spreadsheet listing every one of the hundreds of world wide events slated for May 25th. I have to say I am impressed with the amount of under the radar organizing that has already taken place.
Over 1750 people have already RSVP’d for the local Balboa Park rally via Facebook. Organizers are asking attendees to wear RED shirts as a symbol of solidarity support for this action.
The San Diego event schedule (tentative) is as follows:
**** 11:00 to 11:30 – Meet at the fountain by the Ruben H. Fleet Museum
**** 11:30 to 12:30 – Guest speakers will share their knowledge about Monsanto, GMOs, and much more.
**** 12:30 to 2:30 – March from fountain – Route to be determined.
**** 2:30 to 4:30 – March will conclude at the World Beat Center for a people’s assembly for networking solutions and discussion.
At 8pm the Overhead Light Brigade has invited activists to join them in a demonstration hanging lit banners on the Clairemont Bridge over Interstate 5 to protest against Monsanto.
Stated goals of the organizers include:
**Voting with your dollar by buying organic and boycotting Monsanto-owned companies that use GMOs in their products.
**Labeling of GMOs so that consumers can make those informed decisions easier.
**Repealing relevant provisions of the US‘s ‘Monsanto Protection Act.‘
**Calling for further scientific research on the health effects of GMOs.
**Holding Monsanto executives and Monsanto-supporting politicians accountable through direct communication, grassroots journalism, social media, etc.
**Continuing to inform the public about Monsanto’s secrets.
**Taking to the streets to show the world and Monsanto that we won’t take these injustices quietly.”
Get the Buycott App
Well, now you can, thanks to some programmers based in Los Angeles. They’ve created a smartphone (free for iPhone or Android via iTunes or Google store) app allowing shoppers to swipe barcodes to check your choices.
The app itself is the work of one Los Angeles-based 26-year-old freelance programmer, Ivan Pardo, who has devoted the last 16 months to Buycott. “It’s been completely bootstrapped up to this point,” he said. Martinez and another friend have pitched in to promote the app.
Pardo’s handiwork is available for download on iPhone or Android, making its debut in iTunes andGoogle GOOG +1.09% Play in early May. You can scan the barcode on any product and the free app will trace its ownership all the way to its top corporate parent company, including conglomerates like Koch Industries.
Once you’ve scanned an item, Buycott will show you its corporate family tree on your phone screen. Scan a box of Splenda sweetener, for instance, and you’ll see its parent, McNeil Nutritionals, is a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson JNJ +1.3%.
Even more impressively, you can join user-created campaigns to boycott business practices that violate your principles rather than single companies. One of these campaigns, Demand GMO Labeling, will scan your box of cereal and tell you if it was made by one of the 36 corporations that donated more than $150,000 to oppose the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food.
The app also allows consumers to identify companies that are involved with support of progressive causes, like LGBT rights.
The May 25th Video
Danny Devito, Bill Maher, Dave Matthews and a host of other celebrities make an appearance in this video in support of the upcoming anti-Monsanto demonstrations.
The above is an excerpt from Doug Porter’s daily column, The Starting Line.