Hundreds rally in Santa Rosa to protest Monsanto, genetically modified food
Published: Saturday, May 25, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 25, 2013 at 10:21 p.m.
Hundreds of people marched in downtown Santa Rosa Saturday as part of a worldwide protest against seed giant Monsanto Co. and genetically modified foods.
The multi-generational crowd wielded signs and chanted slogans as they gathered at Juilliard Park at 11 a.m. and marched to Old Courthouse Square, where they held a two-hour rally featuring several speakers.
“There's a lot of concern with what's happening with Monsanto and our food supply,” said Karen Hudson, coordinator of the group Sonoma County Label GMOs that helped put on the Santa Rosa event.
Organizers said “March Against Monsanto” protests were held in 52 countries and 436 cities. “March Against Monsanto” Protesters said they wanted to call attention to the dangers posed by genetically modified food and the food giants that produce it.
The use of genetically modified organisms in food products has been a growing issue of contention in recent years, with health advocates pushing for mandatory labeling of genetically modified products even though the federal government and many scientists say the technology is safe.
Genetically modified plants are grown from seeds engineered to resist insecticides and herbicides, add nutritional benefits or otherwise improve crop yields and increase the global food supply. Most corn, soybean and cotton crops grown in the United States today have been genetically modified. But some say genetically modified organisms can lead to serious health conditions and harm the environment.
The “March Against Monsanto” movement began just a few months ago, when founder and organizer Tami Canal created a Facebook page on Feb. 28 calling for a rally against the company's practices.
“If I had gotten 3,000 people to join me, I would have considered that a success,” Canal said. Instead, she said, 2 million responded to her message.
Hudson, the local organizer, partnered with Occupy Sonoma County activists and others on the Santa Rosa march. She estimated the crowd at up to 1,000 people. Participants, ranging in age from 5 months to 80 years, took residential streets and sidewalks on D and Fourth streets on their way to Old Courthouse Square.
“It was very boisterous,” Hudson said.
The protest follows the defeat last year of Proposition 37, the ballot measure that would have made California the first state in the nation to require labels on some fresh produce and processed foods, such as corn, soybeans and beet sugar, whose DNA has been altered by scientists.
Opponents of Proposition 37 successfully argued that it was expensive, bureaucratic and full of illogical loopholes for certain foods, such as meat, dairy products, eggs and alcoholic beverages. The measure was defeated with 53 percent of voters casting ballots against it.
Supporters, however, said they intend to continue their anti-GMO campaign with a push for state legislation and public education.
“We will continue until Monsanto complies with consumer demand. They are poisoning our children, poisoning our planet,” Canal said. “If we don't act, who's going to?”
St. Louis-based Monsanto said Saturday that it respects people's rights to express their opinion on the topicbut maintains that its seeds improve agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land while conserving resources such as water and energy.
The Food and Drug Administration does not require genetically modified foods to carry a label, but organic food companies and some consumer groups have intensified their push for labels, arguing that the modified seeds are floating from field to field and contaminating traditional crops. The groups have been bolstered by a growing network of consumers who are wary of processed and modified foods.
The Senate this week overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would allow states to require labeling of genetically modified foods, a move that many large commodity-crop farming interests oppose.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization, a lobbying group that represents Monsanto, DuPont & Co. and other makers of genetically modified seeds, has said it supports voluntary labeling for people who seek out such products. But it says that mandatory labeling would only mislead or confuse consumers into thinking the products aren't safe, even though the FDA has said there's no difference between GMO and organic, non-GMO foods.
This article includes information from Staff Writer Brett Wilkison, the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times.