Taking on a corporate giant

May 30, 2013

On May 25, activists in more than 400 cities in at least 52 countries across the globe rallied as part of a worldwide "March Against Monsanto" to take on the greed and environmentally destructive practices of this producer of genetically modified seeds and pesticides.

Here, Cindy Beringer, David McCarthy, Kathleen Brown and Dave B. report on actions against Monsanto in several cities--and on the fight to stop the company from poisoning the environment and destroying the lives of people around the world.

SOME 1,000 soggy but spirited people in Austin, Texas, joined the worldwide March Against Monsanto on the morning of May 25. They marched in a steady rain from a local park to the state Capitol for a rally in which speakers demanded the right to a safe food supply, labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and an end to Monsanto's dictatorship over nearly every bite we eat.

It is estimated that 90 percent of processed food contains GMOs, and the possibility of finding any form of soy or corn that is free of GMOs is highly unlikely.

The crowd was diverse and included small farmers and others concerned about the future of the food supply. Posters and protesters were colorful--one woman wore a horn of plenty hat of vegetables.

One sign pointed to the effects of pesticides like those manufactured by Monsanto in the widespread hive collapse of bees, reading, "All we are saying, is give bees a chance." Another proclaimed, "The root of all evil begins with a Monsanto seed."

A huge sign prominent on the steps of the capitol represented the type of coalition that is growing around the "save the food supply" movement: "No coal; No GMO: Support Fayette County pecan farmers." The sulfur dioxide emitted by coal plants has killed thousand of pecan trees.

Marching against Monsanto in San José, Costa Rica
Marching against Monsanto in San José, Costa Rica (Kathleen Brown | SW)

Two Vietnam veterans stood on the outside of the crowd carrying a sign "thanking" Monsanto for the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. The evils of Monsanto go way back.

OVER 1,000 people gathered in San Francisco as part of the Monsanto day of action.

The day began with protesters gathering at Union Square to hear speakers, who ranged from anti-Monsanto and ecological activists, to immigrant- and indigenous-rights activists, including a number of activists from the Idle No More movement.

People spoke on a range of issues ranging from the health and ecological effects that GMOs put us at risk for; to the economic monopolies that Monsanto has in Latin American countries on seed crops, which has meant hardship for local farmers; to Monsanto's role as one of the primary producers of Agent Orange for the U.S. military during the Vietnam war.

Many in the crowd came out in colorful costumes, including numerous people dressed as bees--an acknowledgment of the role that pesticides, the kind that Monsanto is genetically combining into its seeds, have played in the recent die-off of the honey bees that are essential in pollination of many crops.

The rally ended with some short political theater and a prayer from Native American activists, at which point the crowd proceeded to march through downtown. Contingents that came out included activists involved in Proposition 37 advocacy (the 2012 California initiative that required labeling on foods containing GMOs), eco-socialists and the Occupy movement, among others. Chants ranged from, "Hell no to GMOs," to "We have a right to label/the food that goes on our table."

The march ended near the San Francisco Ferry Building, where there was a final rally and musical performances.

COSTA RICA may bill itself as a rainforest paradise and "100 percent natural," but the reality is much different.

Over 800 demonstrators took to the streets in San José, Costa Rica, in a spirited march against Monsanto May 25. To the shouts of "Queremos Chicha, queremos maiz, queremos a Monsanto, fuera del pais!" (We want Chicha, we want maize, we want Monsanto out of the country!) and "Monsanto, fuera!" (Monsanto, out!) the demonstration wound its way through downtown San José, with protesters distributing educational leaflets and chanting.

The march took place after over a year of various actions--activist and legal--to draw attention to Monsanto's creeping entry into Costa Rica. As Mauricio Alvarez, president of the Federacíon Ecologista de Costa Rica (FECON) noted, "We are part of a movement that is taking place in over 425 cities. We are together to experience this historic moment. We want the world to take note that we repudiate Monsanto in Costa Rica, and in the rest of the world."

While Monsanto does not have as large a presence in Costa Rica in comparison to other Central American countries, like Honduras, this year Monsanto's subsidiary, Delta and Pine Land was granted permission to grow "experimental" GMO corn. The decision is facing a constitutional challenge, and will go to Costa Rica's Supreme Court at some point this year.

In response to Monsanto's entry, 56 cantons of Costa Rica have declared themselves "GMO Free," and activist group Bloque Verde has initiated a series of actions.

As reported by El Financiero, there are 443.1 hectares (1,094 acres) of genetically modified crops on the country, the majority corn, soy, banana and pineapple. Most of these crops are either for seed exportation or research.

Apart from the threat of GMO crops from Monsanto, Del Monte, Bayer and Semillas del Tropico, Costa Ricans face other environmental and health questions in their food. According to the World Resources Institute, Costa Rica is the largest consumer of pesticides in the world, using 51.2 kilos per hectare in 2011. Between 1977 and 2006, the importation of pesticides grew 340 percent. With little regulation, this has lead to water pollution and poisoning of farm workers and their families.

A study by Kathlyn Gay found that farmers who handled pesticides more than 20 times a year were six times more likely to develop cancer. Costa Rica also has one of the highest rates of stomach cancer, leading some researchers to investigate the connection between high pesticide use and cancer rates, particularly in rural areas.

We need to defend our right to access clean food that does not destroy the environment or pose a risk to our health--as workers or as consumers. Part of this struggle must take on Monsanto's role in monopolizing and patenting seeds, as well as the health risk we face by consuming GMOs.

Continuing this fight means opposing Monsanto, and raising awareness about the risks of pesticide use, too.

MORE THAN 300 people protested against Monsanto in Montpelier, Vt. Undeterred by rain and temperatures only in the high 30s, the protesters marched through the streets before converging on the Vermont State House, chanting, "GMO? Hell no!" and "Monsanto, get off it, food is not for profit!"

The protesters represented a diverse range of experiences. Eighth-grader Josie explained, "The next generation of teenagers needs to be involved...we are all being poisoned by these huge companies."

Isaac, a roof worker in Burlington, stated, "When you're working and you go on your lunch break, most of the stores don't have organic and non-GMO food, food where Monsanto doesn't have its fingers. We'll need more collective action like this in order to change things because the government isn't doing it. The fox is guarding the hen house."

Speakers emphasized the importance of continued activism, and after the rally activists could be seen networking, exchanging contact information and planning next steps.

Further Reading

From the archives