Marches and rallies against seed giant Monsanto were held across the U.S. and in dozens of other countries Saturday. Moab-area residents joined the world-wide protest with signs and chants as they walked from 300 East, down Main Street, and toward the Moab Arts Festival held at Swanny City Park the morning of Saturday, May 25.
"March Against Monsanto" protesters say they want to call attention to the dangers posed by genetically modified food (GMO) and the corporations that produce it. Organizers said protests were held in 52 countries and 436 cities.
Genetically modified plants are grown from seeds that are engineered to resist insecticides and herbicides, add nutritional benefits or otherwise improve crop yields and increase the global food supply.
Most corn, soybean and cotton crops grown in the United States today have been genetically modified. But some say genetically modified organisms can lead to serious health conditions and harm the environment.
Annie Thomas walked in the Moab protest with her four children: Jaidyn 10, Anja 7, Rosalee 6, and Matao 3.
“They have food allergies. The more I learn about GMOs, the more I believe the allergies are from GMOs,” Thomas said. “If you look at the skyrocketing increase of allergies in this country, it is scary to see how they may be linked.”
Thomas said her children have gluten and dairy allergies and sensitivities related to food coloring and preservatives. While at the Moab Arts Festival, Thomas had a hard time finding something for her children to eat from the vendors.
She considered the roasted corn, but with 70 to 80 percent of all corn grown in the country is genetically modified, Thomas opted to take her children home for lunch.
Monsanto Co., based in St. Louis, said Saturday that it respects people's rights to express their opinion on the topic, but maintains that its seeds improve agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land while conserving resources such as water and energy.
The use of GMOs has been a growing issue of contention in recent years, with health advocates pushing for mandatory labeling of genetically modified products even though the federal government and many scientists say the technology is safe.
The Food and Drug Administration does not require the labeling, but organic food companies and some consumer groups have intensified their push for labels, arguing that the modified seeds are floating from field to field and contaminating traditional crops. The groups have been bolstered by a growing network of consumers who are wary of processed and modified foods.
The Senate this week overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would allow states to require labeling of genetically modified foods.
The 'March Against Monsanto' movement began just a few months ago, when founder and organizer Tami Canal created a Facebook page on Feb. 28 calling for a rally against the company's practices.
"If I had gotten 3,000 people to join me, I would have considered that a success," she said Saturday. Instead, she said an "incredible" number of people responded to her message and turned out to rally.
"It was empowering and inspiring to see so many people, from different walks of life, put aside their differences and come together today," Canal said. The group plans to harness the success of the event to continue its anti-GMO cause.
"We will continue until Monsanto complies with consumer demand. They are poisoning our children, poisoning our planet," she said. "If we don't act, who's going to?"
The Biotechnology Industry Organization, a lobbying group that represents Monsanto, DuPont & Co. and other makers of genetically modified seeds, has said that it supports voluntary labeling for people who seek out such products. But it says that mandatory labeling would only mislead or confuse consumers into thinking the products aren't safe, even though the FDA has said there's no difference between GMO and organic, non-GMO foods.
Thomas said that the lack of labeling GMO food makes it difficult to buy food at grocery stores, as it is expensive to buy all organic for a family of six people.
“Am I feeding them real food, or am I feeding them food that is harmful to them?” she asked.
Deena Whitman walked in the Moab Monsanto March with her four-year-old son, Bjorn.
“A lot of people asked, 'what's a GMO?', 'who is Monsanto?'” Whitman said. “It was amazing how many people are oblivious.”
She said it is hard to afford an all-organic diet, but she strives to eat fresh and have no processed foods for her and her son.
“My rule is: If I can't pronounce it in the ingredient list, I don't buy it,” she said. “Food is health. Good food equals good health. Good health equals a good mind.”
State legislatures in Vermont and Connecticut moved ahead this month with votes to make food companies declare genetically modified ingredients on their packages. And supermarket retailer Whole Foods Markets Inc. has said that all products in its North American stores that contain genetically modified ingredients will be labeled as such by 2018.
Whole Foods says there is growing demand for products that don't use GMOs, with sales of products with a "Non-GMO" verification label spiking between 15 percent and 30 percent.
Thomas' children carried signs they made.
“The kids made their own signs and had their own opinions on their signs,” Thomas said. “With their allergies we talk a lot about food.”
Jaidyn Thomas held a sign that said, “No GMOs we want real food.”
The Thomas' families concerns go beyond Monsanto's food. It was related to decline in Monarch butterflies, due to the eradication of milkweed by Monsanto's herbicide Roundup.
“Save the butterflies,” chanted Anja Thomas, who was wearing butterfly wings during the march.
Monarch lay their eggs on milkweed plants, and the larvae eat it. According to insect ecologist Chip Taylor from the University of Kansas, more than 100 million acres of milkweed is now gone.
Associated Press contributed to this story.