I was late. Not as late as I had figured I was, but some minor engagements online had kept me from being the kind of early I wanted to be. I arrived in Veterans' Park across from the Library in downtown Red Deer on May 24/14 expecting a throng of angry citizens ready to hurl a Molotov cocktail at the establishment. Instead, what I found was a peaceful demonstration already in process. Thank God. Signs with slogans such as 'OMG GMO WTF are you eating?'; 'HECK NO GMO' and many other creative and colourful motifs filled the square. By square, of course, I mean the recently christened Veteran's Park, a section of Ross that has since been blocked off, filled with wrought iron tables and benches and is centered on Red Deer's cenotaph. So, not a square, but still a distinct area where we had gathered to voice our disapproval to Frankenfood.
Genetically Modified Organisms, GMO's, Genetically Engineered, Frankenfood. Whichever label it goes by, it is equally controversial. The Monsanto Corporation, the first and largest developer and manufacturer of GMO products, along with countless other controversial products, has been under fire recently for it's pushing of GMO food into the mainstream without the consent of the public. It is said that this corporation has it's hand in so many pockets in the business and government worlds that it's penetration into our daily lives is nearly complete. A company that has been around since 1901, Monsanto has been primarily an agricultural research company since the 1940's. Among their claims to fame are plants that release their own pesticides, the all purpose plant killer Round-Up and the notorious secret weapon of the Vietnam War, Agent Orange, one of the deadliest dioxins known to man. Dioxins were also largely developed by Monsanto.
A company with so much negativity surrounding it cannot surely be legitimate, you might say. Well, if by legitimate, you mean it is supported unilaterally by the governments of North America and has as members of it's corporate board people like a former president of McDonald's USA, a University president, an energy magnate and a representative of Microsoft, then sure, it is as legitimate as they come, maybe more so. As it stands, Monsanto owns $20 billion in assets and nets roughly a billion a year. They are certainly not struggling.
So here we are, in Veterans' Park in Red Deer, far from Creve Coeur, Missouri, where Monsanto is headquartered, complete with signs, shirts with slogans, a loudspeaker and an intention to bring a message to the community at large. I can see two representatives from the local media looking very bored and aloof off in a corner. I take it upon myself to do their job for them and start interviewing participants. Interview is more of a formal word. I'd like to think nothing I ever do is formal, especially participating in a protest march. I could have worn a suit but decided against it due to the humid warmth.
Asked what they feel the biggest danger posed by Monsanto is, the protesters I spoke to were emphatic about their responses. One man spoke two words that summed it up, for him at least: It's Nasty. Hear hear. The consensus among marchers seemed to be surrounding the ideas of control, enslavement, secret agendas and our right to choose what we eat. Some had the opinion that we are slaves to a process that started so long ago it is now entrenched in our lifestyles, attitudes and education. We are complacent when we should be proactive.
Control of the food supply was a big topic touched upon by many I talked to. The idea that a company can produce proprietary food and charge for it simply by administering it to the greater manufacturing food supply as a whole is a terrifying idea indeed. Sugar beets, corn, canola and soy, the four largest crops forfood production, are all monopolized by Monsanto. These four base crops provide the world with most of it's processed foods and therefore supply an unsuspecting public with GMO food.
Labeling was another solemn issue. The idea that organic food must be labeled and show exactly what is in it is dubious when we consider that GMO food produced by Monsanto is not required to be labeled. Patents protect Monsanto from having to provide details of what is actually in it's products. Trade secrets may be compromised if we were to know what is in our food. We would be breaking copyright law by analyzing it ourselves without their permission. The almighty dollar trumps reason and humanity. Their need to manipulate the population to accept their agendas leads us to wonder, how far they can push us.
I finished up my interviews, noticing the local news would not deign to interview random protesters in this way, opting instead for a personal interview with the event organizer. I have no way of knowing if the local press actually engaged protesters, but even if they did, it was not many. A good cross section of a group of fifty of so isn't one or two, it's all of them. A group that size is easy to talk to in small groups and glean opinion disparity that way. In this case, the opinions were largely homogeneous.
As I was finishing, the speaker for the event, April Reeves, a hardcore anti-GMO activist, was taking the stage. A slight woman, she doesn't look like she will have much to say, until she opens her mouth. At that moment, I was electrified. A powerful speaker even without a powerful voice is hard to come by. A powerfully effective speaker is one who is completely aware of her convictions and devoted to spreading her message. A terribly ineffective speaker is one who mumbles and stutters, not knowing quite why she is there. Our speaker was definitely a powerful speaker who engaged the crowd personally and personably.
Her story began in 1997 when April first encountered GMO, or GE (Genetically Engineered) as it was called then and I am led to believe still flies. As she was shown the genetically modified plants, she marveled that we as humanity were this far along in science and research that we now had lab-grown food. Her excitement changed when the demonstrator showed her that the genetically modified plants he had grown could produce their own pesticide. Any bug that landed on it would die after touching it. April knew then that she had to get this message out there: FOOD SHOULDN'T KILL!
Food is meant to be nourishing, to give us energy and nutrients needed to facilitate life. If food has it's own built-in poisons, the consumer is getting the nutrients plus an added bonus. This is not all. To even modify the genes in the first place, the scientists involved had to play a little cut and paste. The spliced gene is not native to the code it is being introduced to so it must be held there and allowed to 'express' itself to the code. This of course means, as April noted, that the gene itself is always on because it always has to express itself, always has to make sure the code knows the modification is part of it so that it replicates properly.
Did you understand that? I imagine maybe you did. Maybe you didn't. So science isn't your thing. Some people don't get science. What people DO understand is when their rights are taken away, trampled on or misunderstood. We have the right to eat. We have the right to eat good food, free of modification and additive if we so choose.
That is the fundamental theme of this movement as I have been able to see it. We are not saying 'Don't do this research, don't make these products' so much as we are saying 'We want the right to choose whether to buy and eat them.' In Canada, a woman has the right to choose whether she will have an abortion. Suicide is discouraged, but it is still up to the individual to decide whether to kill himself. But the food we eat has no such choice. We eat not from a garden in today's world, but from the dusty grey gondola shelves of the local supermarket. We rarely have the option to grow or raise our own food. Even farmers are not immune, forced to sell their crops and stock overseas when we are suffering shortages here. Corporate greed is to blame for these disparities in resources between nations.
Now, these are thoughts I have had for some time regarding many different industries, but no one before has so clearly and succinctly used a megaphone to impress on the gathered crowd such a message as April Reeves did on May 24th. This is not just for us, it is for our kids and their kids and their kids. We have been putting off action for generations, always saying that the next generation will take care of it. Well, we are the next generation. All of us, regardless of age. We are a generation unto ourselves by virtue of all being on the planet at this particular point.April ended her speech right on time, or at least it must have been right on time as we began marching right afterward. Marching toward traffic (on the sidewalk of course) our motley band of young and old alike began our trek around the block. Children so young they were in strollers were there with parents and grandparents. Teenagers, young adults, middle-agers, men and women alike, we all were one when we formed an amorphous mass and began to undulate down the street. Solidarity for our cause, because we are stronger together than by ourselves. United as a front against corporate greed and indecency, we finished our march satisfied we had reached the public in a good way.
In the end, we might not have shut Monsanto down, as I know at least some would like to do. We might not have actually thrown that Molotov cocktail through the window of establishment, but we got out there, we got loud and lively and we made our voices heard.
So what's in your food? Do you have the right to know? Will you continue to let Monsanto and their ilk monopolize and manipulate our food, our children's food?
If you want to know more, please visit https://www.facebook.com/MarchAgainstMonstanto for information.