Updated and Revised May 31, 2013 by the author
Late Thursday, according to news reports, the U.S. Senate voted by a substantial majority, 71-27, against a bill which would have allowed states to make individual decisions on whether to require GMO labeling on foods. That decision was met with varying reactions from proponents, and its timing fueled the fervor of March Against Monsanto organizers who have planned demonstrations across the country for Saturday, May 25.
Sen. Bernie Sander from Vermont, who sponsored the bill, noted that 64 nations around the world now require the labeling he seeks. He sponsored a similar bill last year, which also was voted down. Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chair of the agricultural committee, however, argued that such labeling would “run counter to science and the public in healthy food.” Read more here.
Dallas, Fort Worth and several other cities in Texas, including a protest at the State Capitol in Austin, are slated to begin at 1 p.m. local time.
The simultaneous demonstrations, originally the idea of Tami Monroe Canal who started a facebook page that went viral, are planned to begin at the same time throughout the nation. Organizers of both the Dallas and Fort Worth events have said the marches will continue despite the forecast of rain; and both have urged supporters to keep the gatherings peaceful, respectful and non-violent. Protesters said that almost 200 cities in the United States were expected to participate. The first March was held in New Zealand, then Australia. The last was expected to be in Hawaii.
Approximately 2,000 people are expected to participate in the Dallas version of the March, which will begin outside of Dallas City Hall, with some opening remarks before proceeding along a prescribed route to the Farmers Market and back. A representative from the city’s office of special events had no knowledge of the planned protest; but noted that “it is their right to gather there” without any need for a permit. She did note that for the planned “parade,” participants must remain on the sidewalks.
Likewise, a Dallas Police Department spokesman said the event was not on their calendar, even though a Friday afternoon post on the Dallas event page claimed that a police presence was planned. Organizers of both Metroplex events are concerned with safety and decorum, urging all participants to remain calm, and to remember that these are family events.
The facebook page detailing the Fort Worth March, planned at General Worth Square on Main Street, notes that required permits have been secured, that music and speakers are allowed in the park as long as the volume is below 80 decibels and amplification is pointed away from windows and doorways; and that chairs must be kept on concrete and not on the grass. More than 1,000 people have signed up to participate in the Fort Worth gathering.
A post by organizer Natasha Vzx notes that “The March Against Monsanto campaign is committed to nonviolence and nonviolent action.” She also explains that marchers must stay on sidewalks, and must obey traffic signals, but she adds, “We have plenty of time.”
More than 200,000 individuals are expected to demonstrate in the nationwide gatherings and those planned in other countries. Labeling requirements differ in other nations, and while most European Union nations do not endorse GMOs, the regulatory bodies have not banned nor disapproved GMO seeds or products. Many simply have not approved them.
Associated with the “Occupy” movements, and supported by those who not only favor disclosure through labeling, but also would advocate regulation or cessation of genetic engineering and a revamping of the entire food production and distribution systems in this country, these demonstrations signal a growing concern about food safety as it relates to health and well-being.
The Institute for Responsible Technology, founded in 2003 by Jeffrey Smith, has worked in more than 30 countries in investigate, catalog, and educate about genetically modified organisms, but as a resource draws mixed reviews regarding the “science” used. Their Campaign for Healthier Eating in America has adopted a goal of achieving widespread consumer rejection of genetically modified products.
Monsanto has become a symbol for all that is wrong with the system, according to one supporter. But, although they are a giant, multi-national company, the problems extend far beyond Monsanto, according to all reports. Critics say that more than 80 per cent of processed food on the market today contains some genetically-modified ingredients. With no disclosure requirements, say critics, consumers are unable to make wise choices for their families. The concern is that information about possible side-effects and health concerns is simply unavailable. In addition, the FDA has made no rulings on many foods, including an engineered salmon sometimes termed a “frankenfish.”