To mark the sixth international March Against Monsanto activists in Sydney organised an event on May 20 to raise awareness about the dangers of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) food technology.
This year the focus was on Monsanto’s “Roundup” herbicide, an organophosphorus compound the company patented in 1974. In 2105, the World Health Organization urged people to stop using it due to its extreme toxicity saying that glyphosate “probably” causes cancer. The use of glyphosate has increased 16-fold since the mid-1990s when GMO crops were first introduced.
Roundup has been detected in air and rain samples, the breast milk of nursing mothers, childhood vaccines, prenatal vitamins and baby formula as well as 90% of the conventional food supply.
Ecologist Michelle Sheather from GM Free Alliance explained how GMO foods have their DNA altered with genes added from plants, animals, viruses or bacteria. “It is not as simple as cross-breeding plants, such as combining traits of white and red flowers to make them pink”, Sheather explained. “It is a much more bio-invasive procedure.”
“Monsanto did not test to check for adverse reactions before releasing GMO foods into the food chain. Australian governments have not carried out tests on the impact of GMO plants on our environment.
“Monsanto sells the GMO seeds to farmers with the lie the seeds will produce higher yields. But farmers have to use Monsanto’s pesticides and fertilisers to guarantee the higher yield; then the soil is depleted and pesticide resistance develops.”
US governments have long protected Monsanto. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration, tasked with ensuring food safety, is run by ex-Monsanto executives. The Obama administration also passed the 2013 Farmer Assurance Provision law, known as the “Monsanto Protection Act” that, among other things, bans courts from halting the sale of Monsanto’s genetically-modified seeds.
However, Sheather pointed out that “the food movement, public opposition and protests against GMO have had an impact”. GMO food has been fought off in Russia, most of Europe, Thailand and many parts of Asia, she said. In France, many farmers have taken part in protests. “In the English countryside where hedges act as fences, studies showed that GM crops caused a decline in the biodiversity of species including the collapse in the world’s bee population. This contributed to rejection of GM crops in Britain.”
GMO soy crops are grown in the US, Canada, Argentina and Brazil. Imported soy milk from those countries has a high probability of being GMO soy. In fact, about 90% of GMO crops come from the Americas.
“Brazil initially resisted GMO, and community organisations took court action against it, but the government caved seven years ago.” Monsanto campaigned hard in Eastern Europe, but the resistance especially from small scale farmers was considerable, she continued. Mexico has banned GMO corn, Sheather added, and besides South Africa, most of Africa is GMO free.
The 2011 Blewett Review in Australia which recommended the labelling of GMO food federally was opposed by the powerful Australian Food and Grocery Council. However there has been some success with local councils banning Roundup and other Monsanto pesticides. Sheather also said that a growing awareness had led to Australia being soy and corn GMO-free, stopping South Australia and Tasmania from growing GMO canola and farmers rejecting GMO wheat and rice.
Activists are calling on the Australian government to undertake comprehensive biodiversity studies including on four most common GMO crops: soy, cotton, canola and corn.