Author Jason Sibert is NLN Environmental Editor
(Photo: Jason Sibert / NLN)
ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis based Monsanto needs no introduction anywhere in the world, as the company is a multi-national biotechnology firm and a leading producer of genetically modified seed.
While Monsanto and other genetically modified food advocates often tout genetically modified organisms as a way to increase agricultural yields and fight world hunger, others have responded to the company’s practices with protest. The St. Louis chapter of the Occupy Monsanto movement engaged in more than one act of protest this month, according to Gateway Green Alliance Co-Coordinator Don Fitz.
From Oct. 16 to Oct. 17 OM held a demonstration against the chemical giant’s business practices at an industry conference at the Millennium Hotel in St. Louis, demonstrated in front of Whole Foods Market in Brentwood, Mo. and also held a demonstration outside of Monsanto world headquarters in Creve Coeur, Mo. The demonstration in front of Whole Foods occurred because OM said that the grocery giant stocks genetically modified foods.
In addition to his role with the Gateway Greens, Fitz is also an advocate of Occupy Monsanto. Like other anti-GMO activists, Fitz’s critique is multi-faceted. He said that the capital intensive nature of the GMO business allows huge corporations like Monsanto to establish too much control over the world food supply and that such power could lead to higher costs for consumers. Fitz also said the large amount of capital required of this form of agriculture drives more farmers from the land. Daniel Romano, an organizer with Gateway Greens and Safe Food Action, an organization that promotes organic foods and smaller systems of agriculture, is also worried about the power on Monsanto. He said patented GMO seeds establish intellectual and commercial control over particular seeds and that Monsanto’s technology fees drive up the cost of business for farmers. In addition, he objected to farmers not being allowed to save seeds after a harvest. He also said that approximately 50% of the seeds sold in the United States are from companies owned by Monsanto.
“Being able to patent human life is just unprecedented,” Romano said.
Fitz also said there were problems with GMO’s from a human health standpoint. He referred to a 1990’s study in the United Kingdom by Ampad Tuztai that revealed that rats fed GMO’s ended up with impaired immune systems.
“This could be a problem in places like Africa which struggle with AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome),” Fitz said. “If people’s immune systems are weakened it could make matters worse.”
AIDS patients experience a weakening of the immune system, according to websites. Romano also said scientific studies support the dangers of using GMO’s. He said they cause internal organ damage, stunted growth and that fetuses are most susceptible to damage.
Fitz sited environmental the alleged environmental impacts of GMOs as a point for concern. He said using GMOs leads to more chemical use in agriculture, as GMOs designed to control weeds often lead to more pest evasion and therefore led to increased pesticide use. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, “pesticides can cause health problems such as birth defects, nerve damage and cancer, but the overall effects depend on how toxic the pesticide is and how much of it is consumed.”
The website also says “pesticides are regulated at the state and local level to make sure that these products are used with reasonable certainty that they will pose no harm to infants, children and adults.” Romano had doubts about the EPA’s statement.
“Big agriculture, biotechnology companies and the EPA are intertwined,” he said. “EPA’s figures are supplied by industry. Their pesticide limits are way too high. Their figures aren’t solid independent science.”
Some GMO advocates say GMO’s increase yields and represent an answer to the problem of world hunger on a planet that keeps growing in population, an idea Fitz doesn’t agree with, as he said GMO use could lead to famine. He said there are only six to 12 varieties of any crop and if a GMO version of a crop goes into failure, it means a greater damage to the supply of that particular crop due to the lack of agricultural diversity in today’s agriculture. Romano said that weeds and insects eventually develop a resistance to GMOs and farmers end up having to use herbicides and pesticides to control weeds and insects.
Fitz and Romano both advocate organic farming and feel it hasn’t been given enough credit by the powers that be, as he said the U.S. Government gives subsides to other types of agriculture through farm programs and subsidizes infrastructure that is used to transport agricultural products from one place to another. Fitz said these subsides mask the costs of current agricultural practices against more expensive organic products. Fitz advocated using public research and development dollars to improve organic techniques such as crop rotations that repel insects.