This is one in a series of stories; visit The Daily Meal Special Report: GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) for more.
While protestors' concerns about GMOs and their goals for protesting vary from organization to organization and locality to locality, many people who actively protest genetically engineered foods cite the following issues as being at the root of their apprehension: an increased risk of crop contamination, altered nutrients, potential toxins, antibiotic resistance, amplified allergens, and ethical concerns.
The multinational chemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto, which is at the forefront of GMO seed development, has been the target of a significant portion of the protests. Many of the concerns about Monsanto originate from the fact that the corporation has historically manufactured many products that proved to be extremely detrimental to the health of people and the environment, which the U.S. government now acknowledges, including Agent Orange, DDT, and PCBs. Protestors argue that Monsanto does not have a good track record of corporate citizenship and responsibility; therefore, Monsanto’s assertions that they are concerned with the health and welfare of the environment surrounding their testing centers should not be trusted.
Protests against GMOs have taken different forms. Some protestors have taken to crop destruction. Last August, a field of golden rice — bioengineered to biosynthesize beta-carotene, a source of dietary Vitamin A, in which diets in underdeveloped parts of the world are often deficient — was uprooted in the Philippines by protestors who believe the crop could be harmful. But very few protests have involved crop destruction: most activists have instead chosen to make their point heard through demonstrations, picketing, and spreading information about GMOs.
This winter, over a thousand locals from Hawaii were joined by a group of world-famous surfers bearing picket signs in the pouring rain as they raised their voices and picket signs against Monsanto, which has been developing GMO testing in Hawaii."I call the seed and chemical producers drug pushers, because basically what they want me to do is get addicted to their product and keep on buying more and more. Seeds are the source of life, and they are meant to reproduce in nature — not in a lab."
A quiet — but powerful — act of resistance that some small farmers have taken up has been developing seed collectives: rather than relying on GMO seeds, there are farmers who believe in keeping and exchanging heirloom, organic, non-GMO seeds that they can try to protect by keeping them separate from GMO crops.
We spoke with farmer and activist Gail Taylor about her concerns regarding GMOs, the role of farmers in GMO protests, and the strides activists have made in recent years. Taylor is a market gardener and yoga practitioner who lives in an intentional community in Washington, D.C. She is the owner of Three Part Harmony farm; an urban farm near her Petworth home, a member of the DC Black Growers' Network and the Mid-Atlantic Seed-Keeper's Cooperative, and a founding member of the Community Farmers' Alliance.
What efforts have you and your fellow protesters made that you are most proud of?
I was pretty pleased with our humble little group of folks who planted Blue Navajo corn on May 25th this year, which was also a day that people around the world held protests against Monsanto. I had already been invited to be part of a seed-keepers' collective, and since we have a growing site that's pretty isolated, it was possible to grow corn and not have it be contaminated by neighboring farms. Our efforts carry this sacred seed stock forward a few more generations. It was an honor to take the ears which had been given to our friend as a gift from others who grew it in New Mexico, and carry it forward. And this year we'll pick another corn variety to preserve. I feel like corn may seem symbolic, but in real terms it's terribly endangered because of cross-contamination issues. It's getting harder and harder for organic, GMO-free seed suppliers to certify their seed stock using third-party labs because GMO corn is becoming so pervasive and invasive. I'm lucky that I'm not surrounded by industrial, conventional farmers growing commodity crops. It's one of the advantages to being in a city.
How do GMOs negatively affect the "hands-on knowledge of food production and social justice values" that you hold in esteem?
For our farm, an important part of upholding social justice values means caring about our impact on the environment, and the people who do the work. I think one of the most devastating things about the use of GMOs is their forced reliance on increased amounts of chemical-based pesticides and herbicides. I call the seed and chemical producers drug pushers, because basically what they want me to do is get addicted to their product and keep on buying more and more. Seeds are the source of life, and they are meant to reproduce in nature — not in a lab.
It seems counterintuitive that a farm, a place so vibrant with life and growing things, would also be a place where humans, animals, and soils are poisoned from these chemicals. But each time the technology brings us a new and better version, it comes with even more pounds of poison that I have to use. If it's too toxic for me, it's too toxic for all of the workers, the volunteers, and especially the families who come through and visit our urban farm. There's no justice in a food system that purports to make food for the masses while at the same time poisoning the workers.