The 2016 March Against Monsanto is set to take place on May 21, 2016. This event, held annually since 2013, was conceived by Tami Canal as a response to the fallout of California Proposition 37, a regional legislation that would have required genetically modified foods to be labeled as such. The protest was also fueled by President Obama’s signing of the Farmers Assurance Provision in March 26, 2013, which authorizes the United States Department of Agriculture to allow the planting of genetically modified foods while environmental reviews are being completed, even if there is a legal ruling against their approval.
Despite starting in the United States, the March Against Monsanto movement has had a tremendous success worldwide. The first march saw hundreds of thousands of people in over 400 cities show up to protest against the biotechnology giant Monsanto, which supplies 90% of genetically modified seeds worldwide. It is expected that a similar amount of people will show up this year.
If you are interested in partaking or are curious about the March Against Monsanto movement, this article is an all-you-must-know on the topic.
Before sinking its teeth into biotechnology and becoming the face of industrial agriculture, Monsanto was a chemical company. It was founded in 1901 and has been at the front of controversy ever since. Monsanto was among the companies that manufactured and sold Agent Orange, a substance that contained big amounts of Dioxin, which is a carcinogenic. Agent Orange was weaponized and used by the US military during the Vietnam War, maiming 40,000 people and causing birth defects for 500,000 children (Natural Society, W/D). Monsanto also sold DDT, PCBs, Aspartame and a controversial dairy cow hormone: rBGH. All of the substances mentioned above are banned in several countries for their adverse effects on the environment and humans.
With such a background, it is no surprise that when Monsanto sold its chemicals and plastics division in the 80s and decided to invest in biotechnology and bio-genetic research, they found certain resistance which has only intensified over the years, thus creating the need for movements such as March Against Monsanto. The friction was not obvious until 1996, when they decided to sell their genetically modified soybeans to England, which was riddled with Mad Cow disease. The Brits refused to eat what they called “Frankenfoods” and Monsanto fought back, further dampening its reputation.
But it was not solely the Brits. Monsanto has a history of conducting business very aggressively. The company has been known to sue farmers they think are infringing their patent agreements. These infringements often encompass genetically modified seeds blowing onto the fields of unsuspecting farmers, who are then sued because they are planting seeds they did not buy. Furthermore, Monsanto’s approach to the industrial agriculture is a monopoly. The company produces 90% of the genetically modified seeds worldwide, and as of 2013, it totally controlled the Argentinean soy bean industry. This is far from an isolated case.
In addition to its dubious reputation and penchant for disregarding human and environmental welfare, Monsanto represents massive losses for small farmers. Moreover, genetically modified foods have consistently proven unpopular in the global community.
People march against Monsanto because they think genetically modified seeds are unsafe. While the hard, cold facts are that there is not enough evidence to affirm that genetically-modified crops are harmful for human health, there is no proof that they are good for people either. This fear goes back to the British apprehension and to several journal articles treating the topic and asking people whether the food they were eating was really safe. Monsanto has not done much to debunk these beliefs.
People also march against Monsanto because they think there is a lack of transparency in the corporation’s evaluation, conducted by official institutions. Monsanto has financed the political careers of certain leaders and it has strong links with the institutions responsible for its evaluation –the EPA, for example--. This, in addition with the fact that all tests on genetically-modified crops were originally conducted by the company, creates a wide room for bias (March-against-monsanto.com, W/D).
This fear is natural. Genetically engineered crops are designed to produce pesticides so they are more pest-resistant, or with herbicide resilience, so they are not affected by the herbicides used to kill weeds. The genetic meddling and the herbicides designed by Monsanto as generated several byproducts, such as super-weeds, which the company said it would not cause, back when the company presented its Round-up herbicide for the first time in the 1990s.
Round-up is also one of the reasons people march against Monsanto. The active component in this herbicide, which is largely available at supermarkets and family stores, is glyphosphate. This substance has been classed as an A2 possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization, contrasting with reports from the United States’ EPA, which affirms that the product is perfectly safe to employ. Roundup has also been linked to chronic kidney disease in Sri Lanka, where it has been banned (Environmental Health News, 2015).
Now that Monsanto is meddling with genetic inhibitors --a way to silence the expression of certain genes-- the question is whether this new technology can be weaponized the same way Agent Orange was (March-against-monsanto.com, W/D)
Essentially, Monsanto represents the greed-driven corporation. It seeks to monopolize the global GM seed market, which it already has done in some countries through unethical practices. Monsanto also openly refuses to label genetically-modified foods, citing that it would instill fear in the hearts of the consumers and discourage them from purchasing its products. This has infuriated anti-transgenic, pro-organic activists, who demand proper labeling to be included on packaging as part of their right to know what they are eating.
It is entirely up to you. The March Against Monsanto movement is the expression of valid doubts and apprehension, namely the political favoritism displayed by north American politicians and institutions towards Monsanto, thanks to its long history of subsidizing politic careers. Moreover, March Against Monsanto focuses on the veracity of the results of the FDA (the US Food and Drug Administration), on whether GM crops are safe or not and if glyphosphate can continue to be used, despite its ban in several countries around the world and its status of “possible carcinogen”.
Genetically-modified crops have not yet been proven to harm human beings and they pose substantial opportunities for sustainable agriculture in the future. Genetic modification of crops can increase yields and create resilient seeds, such as water efficient maize, which can help reduce hunger in developing countries. In a world susceptible to drastic climate change and the tragedies it ensues, crops that use less resources and are capable to adapt might be the solution, but at present, they are entangled with too many problems that do not allow to see them for what they are: innovation.
There is a heated debate on whether this innovation can be conducted in an ethical, sustainable, responsible way and the March Against Monsanto movement is an expression of that. The answer is yes, but only if manufacturers place people’s wellness above their financial gain and design crops meant for people, not profit, in transparent processes. Until then, movements like March Against Monsanto will continue existing and gaining support of people who are on their right to make conscious, informed decisions about what they are eating and how the environment and other people were affected to put that food on their plate.