Connecticut residents rally during March Against Monsanto
By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Region - posted Tue., May. 28, 2013
A steady rain and temperatures in the 40s undoubtedly affected the size of the crowd, but the group of marchers still stretched more than the length of two city blocks as they made their way from the State Capitol building in Hartford to a grassy area along Asylum Street the afternoon of May 25. The marchers, shouting “Hell No, GMOs,” were a part of Connecticut’s contribution to the March Against Monsanto, and residents came from all over the state to register their concerns regarding the activities of the seed-production giant.
An estimated two million people in 52 countries and 436 cities joined their Connecticut counterparts, motivated via social media by a grassroots effort that began on Feb. 28 with a Facebook page created by Tami Canal of Farmington, Utah.
Monsanto released a statement on Saturday defending its practices. “Among the challenges facing agriculture are producing food for our growing population and reducing agriculture’s footprint on the environment,” said Tom Helscher, the company’s director of company affairs. “While we respect each individual’s right to express their point of view on these topics, we believe we are making a contribution to improving agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land while conserving natural resources such as water and energy.”
But Monsanto opponents say that the company’s positive contributions are overstated, and are far outweighed by destruction to human and animal health, to the environment, and to the livelihoods of small farmers and organic growers.
Due to its global dominance, Monsanto, the original developer of Agent Orange, has become the symbol for other companies such as DuPont, Dow, Bayer and Syngenta, which are promoting similar technologies including pesticides, herbicides and GMOs (genetically-modified organisms).
Studies have shown a link between Monsanto pesticides and cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimers’s and other diseases. Monsanto’s RoundUp has been linked to cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, nerve and respiratory damage. Monsanto products have been linked to a serious decline in the world’s honeybee population.
GMOs, either engineered to be resistant to pesticides such as RoundUp or to produce their own pesticides, are seen by many as a physical and environmental threat. Monsanto's genetically modified Bt corn, for example, has been equipped with a gene from soil bacteria called Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which produces the Bt-toxin. It's a pesticide that breaks open the stomach of certain insects and kills them.
GMOs, “are plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE). This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding,” according to The Non-GMO Project, “a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, offering North America’s only third party verification and labeling for non-GMO food and products,” according to the organization’s website. GMOs have been linked to autoimmune, fertility and other disorders in animal studies.
According to the Non-GMO Project, high-risk crops for GMOs in the U.S. include: alfalfa, canola (approx. 90% of U.S. crop is GMO), corn (approx. 88% of U.S. crop in 2011), cotton (approx. 90% of U.S. crop in 2011), papaya (most of Hawaiian crop), soy (approx. 94% of U.S. crop in 2011), sugar beets (approx. 95% of U.S. crop in 2010), zucchini and yellow summer squash (approx. 25,000 acres).
The European Union already requires food with GMOs to be labeled, while some nations, including France, Switzerland and Peru, have banned GMOs altogether.
The U.S. Senate last week rejected a bill that would allow states to require the labeling of genetically-modified foods.
In Connecticut, the state House of Representatives recently watered down a bill approved by the Senate that would mandate labels on foods with GMOs. The law would only take effect if certain conditions are met: five other states with an aggregate population of 25 million people must pass similar legislation, and two of those states must be New Jersey, New York or another state that borders Connecticut.
In Hartford, Connecticut March Against Monsanto organizer Brian Ben-Michael called for solidarity. “We need to come together as a community,” he said.
“We need to preserve every type of heirloom, every type of seed that we can. We all need to become farmers,” continued Ben-Michael. “We all need to be in touch with our food.”
Organizer Jennifer Tirado likened Monsanto to a monster. “They’re hurting us, they’re hurting our children,” she said. “If we don’t take them down now, things look bad for future generations.”
For more information about March Against Monsanto, including plans for future actions, go to https://www.facebook.com/MarchAgainstMonstanto. For more information about GMOs, including tips regarding how to avoid them, go to http://www.nongmoproject.org/.