Protests hit genetic engineering

When over 2,500 protesters rallied and marched against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Ministerial Conference in Sacramento on June 23, the streets were filled with hundreds of police officers decked out in Darth Vader-like riot gear and the latest weaponry.

The “terrorists” they were armed against included a colorfully-dressed, loud and peaceful group of women and men dressed as butterflies and ears of corn and, at the head of the march, Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers union (UFW).

The UFW is part of the broad worldwide coalition, including Via Campesina, Food First, the Pesticide Action Network and other organizations, pushing against the USDA’s and the Monsanto Corporation’s drive to sell unsuccessful genetic engineering (GE) technology to the rest of the world.

“Genetically modified foods have never been tested by the EPA and FDA,” said Huerta at a rally before the march. “Nobody knows what they will do to people or the environment.”

Officials from 180 nations came to Sacramento under the guise of reducing world hunger by promoting new technologies for food production. The Sacramento Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture, Food First, Public Citizen and other opponents of GE food held a series of packed events around the conference, including a teach-in, debate, and organic food fair.

“This isn’t about feeding people throughout the world,” Huerta said. “It’s about Monsanto or other large corporations making profits from selling GE food.”

She said that the technology being proposed at the Sacramento Ministerial is part of the same unsustainable, unproductive and toxic agriculture that drives small farmers off the land in Mexico and other countries and forces them to go to work in U.S. fields for low wages.

“Farm workers and small farmers don’t profit from genetically modified food or other agricultural technology,” said Huerta. “The large agribusiness corporations are putting small farmers out of work. The small corn farmers in Mexico have lost their farms and come to work in the U.S. for slave wages. It’s all about control of the world’s food supply by large corporations, not about solving hunger.”

The Ministerial is one of the key international meetings leading to September’s WTO meeting in Cancun, Mexico.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org