ORLANDO, FL - More than 400 Central Floridians turned out here on May 25 for the March Against Monsanto, part of an international day of protest targeting the U.S.-based biotechnology mega-corporation (2012 sales of $13.5 billion) and its role in the propagation of genetically modified seeds.
The event began with a rally at City Hall, followed by a march through downtown Orlando.
Many participants held signs with slogans such as "Monsanto Kills" and "Monsanto Is Bad For Our Health." They strongly supported mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients because of concerns about their environmental and health impact, including allergic reactions, cancer and degenerative diseases. Such labeling already is required in 64 countries - including all member states of the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia and China.
"I don't trust them [Monsanto] at all because of their proven history of poisoning people, and lying about it on top of that," said Rich Hillwig, one of the organizers of the Orlando march. "This is the same company that swore for decades that PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls] were safe, that swore that bovine growth hormone was safe, that manufactured Agent Orange [an herbicide used by the U.S. in the Vietnam War], and we're just supposed to take their word for it, that [GMO foods are] safe?"
Polls conducted by MSNBC, Reuters/NPR, the Washington Post and others show that more than 90 percent of the American public want labeling of genetically modified foods. Up to 75 percent of processed foods include GM ingredients, according to the Center for Food Safety.
"I want to know what I'm eating," said Donna McMillan, who carried a sign that said, "No Labels, No Peace."
Many of the seeds Monsanto markets under the name Roundup Ready have been genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides such as glyphosate, which the company sells under the name Roundup. Around 90 percent of the soybeans and 75 percent of the corn produced in the U.S. are grown from Monsanto seeds.
The Los Angeles Times reported that a "controversial" study by French scientists, published last year in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, found that rats fed corn grown from Roundup Ready seeds had "developed health problems, including tumors and trouble with their livers and kidneys."
Jeanie Economos, pesticide project coordinator for the Apopka, Fla.-based Farmworker Association of Florida, told the rally about the effects of pesticide exposure on agricultural workers, including breathing problems and the potential to develop other health issues, such as neurological diseases.
"In the shadow of this beautiful downtown Orlando, 10 miles away [in Apopka], we have a community of people, mostly brown and black, who work every day in the hot sun in all kinds of conditions to grow the food that we eat," said Economos. "In your campaign to hold Monsanto accountable, don't forget about the most vulnerable people - the farmworkers in the field who are the first line of exposure to Monsanto's horrible, dastardly deeds."
Nation of Change reported May 5 that "a new review of hundreds of scientific studies surrounding glyphosate - the major component of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide" had shown how it could cause health problems in humans, including diabetes, heart disease, and Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.
Biotechnology companies, such as Monsanto, tout genetically modified seeds as a way to reduce the use of chemical herbicides; however, research has shown that this impact is, at best, temporary. Eventually the evolutionary process of natural selection causes the appearance of herbicide-tolerant "superweeds" because only the weeds that survive the herbicides can pass on their genes.
A 2012 report by Earth Open Source, a UK-based NGO that works for the sustainability, security and safety of the global food system, found that:
"GM herbicide-tolerant crops have led to massive increases in herbicide use and a resulting spread of herbicide-resistant weeds. Farmers have to resort to spraying more herbicide, or mixtures of herbicides, to try to control weeds. This 'chemical treadmill' model of farming is especially impractical for farmers in the Global South, who cannot afford to buy more or different herbicides in an effort to control resistant weeds."
The Center for Food Safety reports that since the use of GM seeds began in the U.S. more than a decade ago, the use of herbicides on corn, soybeans and cotton has increased by more than 527 million pounds.
The authors of the Earth Open Source report also looked at the results of 10 research projects on the safety of GM foods that were funded by the European Union, and noted that "the [research projects] were not able to conclude that the GM foods tested were safe."
GMO seeds also may be one of the factors in the decline of bee populations in North America in recent years. The Daily Beast reported (May 8) that just this winter nearly a third of U.S. bee colonies had died. One theory is that genetic modification of flower pollen leads to bees becoming malnourished and losing their resistance to diseases and parasites.
"Monsanto needs to stop killing our pollinators," said Pam Treadwell, an Orlando beekeeper, who carried a sign that said "Buzz Off Monsanto." "There's a whole host of problems occurring due to these pesticides, and the damage being created by them and the GMO plants is far more extensive than the problems they're trying to cure."
Photo: March Against Monsanto Orlando Facebook page