2000 March against Monsanto in Toronto

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Once upon a time, groups of people, all across the Earth, got together to protest a multi-billion dollar corporation, whose mandate is all about helping farmers “produce more food”. Hmmmm…. Produce more food for a global population that is ever expanding, with environments that are ever shrinking. So, why then, on May 25th, were there protests against Monsanto Corporation, in 36 countries? Perhaps you’ve never heard of Monsanto. Or even The March Against Monsanto (there was scant coverage in the media, other than on social sites). Let’s start with Monsanto, since they play the “Bad Guy” in our story, so I’ll need to give them equal billing here.

They are a U.S. headquartered agro business, who sells genetically modified seeds and “crop protection solutions” to farmers all over the world. The backbone of this science is to increase food security for growing populations. However, when I went on a site sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, Office of Biodiversity and Research (wow, that’s a mouthful), the list for the controversies of this technology was a bit frightening. I’ll get back to the scary stuff in a moment. Let me reintroduce you to The March Against Monsanto.

It was a beautiful, sunny day at Saint James Cathedral, in downtown Toronto, where approximately 2,000 protestors came out. The March began with five speakers, including Ramsey Affifi of Thegeneticengineeringdebate.Blogspot.ca. His message was passionate, but incredibly practical. “The fear is that the protestors don’t know the science behind genetic engineering. We need to focus on what the actual science is, so we can communicate more effectively (with legislators)”.

And indeed, there is a great deal of misinformation surrounding the hotbed controversy. There are sites that ascertain that Monsanto owns mega-companies such as Campbells, Kraft/Phillip Morris and Post Cereal. They in fact, don’t. These companies do, however, “make use of products developed by Monsanto (such as artificial sweeteners and agricultural products derived from genetically engineered seed)”, Snopes.com.

So, what exactly is engineered seed? Simply put, they are seeds that have been genetically modified. Not so simply, according our friends at the U.S. Office of Biodiversity and Research, “Combining genes from different organisms is known as recombinant DNA technology, and the resulting organism is said to be “genetically modified”, “genetically engineered”, or “transgenic”.

For instance, taking a gene from the thermoanaerobacterium thermosulfurogenes (I think I got that right)! for antibiotic resistance properties and splicing it with the gene of a tomato. (Essentially, combining genes of a bacterium with the fruit). So, the tomatoes at the grocery store might remain fresher, longer, but if there is a nasty outbreak of some infectious disease, does this mean, that if you’ve eaten these tomatoes (and you probably have, because they aren’t labelled as GE – the crux of the issue), will you and the rest of mankind be decimated in grand, apocalyptic style? Okay, I am being a bit melodramatic, but the problem is, science can’t prove otherwise.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, Office of Biodiversity and Research, “some controversies surrounding GM crops include potential health impacts, many of which are unknown, but also including allergens and the transfer of antibiotic resistant markers”, (take note of my aforementioned scenario). “Potential environmental impacts include the unintended transfer of transgenes through cross pollination, the unknown affects of other organisms (such as soil microbes) and the loss of biodiversity”. And once these materials are out there, you can’t get them out of the environment. They are there indefinitely.

Speakers Jacob Keary-Moreland of Occupy Gardens Toronto and the Toronto Seed Library, and Montana Jones, receiver of a CBC Literary Award and Ontario Arts Council Writer’s Grant, both referred to the imperativeness of biodiversity. Primarily heirloom seeds and heritage breeds including cow, sheep and fowl. What’s so important about biodiversity? Well, “The earth functions like an incredibly complex machine, and there don’t appear to be any unnecessary parts. Each species, from the lowliest microbe, to humans, plays a part in keeping the planet running smoothly. In this sense, each part is related”, states Josh Clark, of How It Works.

What Monsanto essentially has done is eliminate this biodiversity, by selling limited type of seed. AND, you have to sign a binding agreement that you will do so, in perpetuity. (Seriously). For instance, their Round Up Ready Soybeans, the most prevalent GE crop, uses 2 to 5 times more herbicide than non GE soybean varieties, that are actually MORE weed resistant than their version. Why would they create a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist? I can think of 13.5 billion reasons why they would (that was their net sales for 2012).

This brings us to another of that long named U.S. Department, and it’s stated controversies. “Domination of world food production by a few companies (including Monsanto) and the increased dependance on industrialized nations, by developing countries”. Oh dear. Let’s get back to The March, shall we?

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(Rachel Parent with Megaphone)

Zach Schieck of The Outlaws of Health Show and 14 year old (yes, you read that right), Rachel Parent rounded out the speakers, before the actual march. Miss Parent was a stand out. Poised, impassioned and well spoken, she pointed out that 30 countries have outright bans on GMO’s. (61 countries label GE products). She also noted that the United States and Canada are the only industrialized countries, that do not.

This extraordinary young lady, became interested in the subject when she wrote a paper on Proposition 37. This bill would have required all GE foods to be labeled in California. Monsanto spent 45 million dollars to squash the mandatory labelling, while the YES Campaign, those for the labelling, raised 6.7 million. (Guess who won that round).

And then there is the Monsanto Protection Act. A bill essentially written by and benefitting Monsanto Corporation, that came into law recently. It allows Monsanto and other such companies (DOW Corporation), to ignore food safety rules and continue selling genetically modified seeds, even if a court has blocked them from doing so. That sounds like “dirty pool” to me. And to a lot of other people as well, including Tami Canal, coordinator and founder of March Against Monsanto.

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(Mom - Mariane Foo, daughter's Pasha and Emmi Foo-Rukhaylo and Dad, Val Rukhaylo)

And so, on a gorgeous day in Toronto, families and individuals of all ages and economic backgrounds came out in support of this cause. People held placards, dressed their kids as bees and shouted in agreement with the speakers at hand. Jenny MacInnis, one of the protestors told me, “I want to stop Monsanto from destroying habitats, our earth. There is no issue more important than this”. Mariane Foo brought her family out to protest as well. Her 7 year old daughter, Pasha, stated, “GMO’s are bad”. Her mom hit the nail on the head. “We want to know what’s in our food.” Well, if Monsanto has it’s way, in spite of their mandate for transparency, (as read on their website under Our Pledge), we won’t. Consider this – according to Colorado State Extension, between 60% to 70% of all processed food on supermarket shelves contain at least one GMO. And who knows what the content is, in the fresh produce aisle. Just some food for thought for all of us to chew on.

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(Jenny MacInnis)

Photo Credit: J. Tanner

 

joy head shot

Joy Tanner

Joy Tanner hails from Pittsford, New York. Graduating with
honours with a double major in English and Theatre from
SUNY Potsdam, she also holds a diploma from the British
American Drama Academy (London/Oxford). She moved to
Canada in the early 90′s, and has been acting professionally
on both the big and small screens for over 20 years. She is
best know for her roles in Cold Squad, Life With Derek and
DeGrassi The Next Generation. Recent film credits include
The Phantoms, The House At The End Of The Street and
Neverlake.

3 comments

  1. Great job Joy…another issue I have is what they are doing to the farmers who are just trying to grown good food…
    I also believe this to be one of THE biggest issues of our time:(

    1. Thanks Kym. You are right, this is probably the biggest issue of our time. Glad we have great people like you fighting the good fight!

  2. Good job Joy. I’m a transplanted Torontonian who lives in Alberta. It’s indeed frightening to see these big companies basically take over the food industry and underhandedly feed us Genetically altered food under the radar. I took a tour of a beef feedlot (BIG MISTAKE) and was shocked to see the “xtras” that these animals eat before going to market. It isn’t just seeds that are being altered unfortunately. Changing it out here is nearly impossible too as these companies and Big Oil own pretty well every elected official in Alberta.

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