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Issue #1596      June 5, 2013

March against Monsanto

On a mild Saturday afternoon several hundred people gathered on the steps of the Western Australian parliament in Perth to protest and make their voices heard against the actions of global agri-food giant Monsanto.

(Photo: Richard Titelius)

The protest in Perth was but one of over 420 that had taken place globally against Monsanto for its actions in trying to patent the seed of food crops around the world and for their role in promoting genetically modified foods and the associated chemicals that accompany their propagation.

Outside Parliament House Greens Senator for Western Australia Scott Ludlam addressed the rally and spoke about the farmers who were voicing their concerns in the community and standing up to Monsanto, in particular Kojonup farmer Steve Marsh who, had his non-GM canola crop contaminated by his GM cropping neighbour. He lost his ability to market his crop as GM free as 70 percent of it was contaminated. He has decided to take the bold step and sue his neighbour with the help of pro bono work from law firm Slater & Gordon and in the process take on Monsanto.

Ludlam advised the rally that the matter was listed for hearing in early 2014. If successful it will be the first time that a farmer has stood up to Monsanto and won. The action is not only about the right of farmers to grow non-GM crops but also in the long term about sustainable agriculture, reasserting our sovereignty over our food products and food security.

Other speakers included local Greens Legislative Council member Lynn McLaren who asserted, “Monsanto is challenging the notion that we can grow our own food and that the seed to grow our food can be corporatised. We are here to oppose that notion and to show that there are environmental, health and economic risks to allowing GM crops to enter the food chain.”

Julie Newman of the Network of Concerned Farmers and a farmer from Newdegate in the state’s Great Southern region spoke about how the dominant genetic material from GM plants can overrun the genetic material of naturally occurring varieties of plants.

Newman was concerned over the majority government owned food research organisation InterGrain being now 19.8 percent owned by Monsanto with the option to own up to 26 percent, which would give it considerable power and influence over what research would be conducted and what wouldn’t i.e. that which didn’t suit its bottom line.

In Western Australia, a number of farmers in the southwest have had their GM-Free certification revoked as their fields are contaminated, including a farmer from Cunderdin who after a deluge from a thunderstorm had GM canola wash over his land from a neighbouring farmer.

From parliament the protesters marched along St Georges Terrace, down one of Perth’s busiest shopping malls, with their many colourful and informative banners, certainly catching the eyes and ears of the Saturday shopping crowd. And then through Northbridge to Russell Square where others present swelled the crowd to over 1,600.

At Russell Square other speakers addressed the rally about the consequences of Genetically Modified Organisms entering the food chain, including chef Adam Duncan who spoke of the many food safety requirements he is required to comply with. These include measuring the temperatures of 17 fridges twice a day and recording the data on paper and keeping the record for seven years. But there is no requirement to indicate if the food that was being cooked and served to people had GMO.

After the rally I also spoke to one of the leading organisers of the Perth rally and March Against Monsanto, Janet Grogan of Foodwatch.

She said that the numbers at the rally had really surprised her and the other organisers and she attributed this interest to social media such as Facebook which had 1,800 hits by the morning of the rally. There was also another rally attended by 250 people in Albany, on the states’ south coast.

Finally, Grogan spoke of the need for improved food labelling, especially when the government’s organisation Food Standards Australia New Zealand does not independently assess the data by Monsanto but relies on the assessments supplied by the corporation.

When the next federal election comes up, Grogan said it was important for all voters to ask their elected representatives where they stood on food labelling, especially as to the presence of GMOs and where they stood on GM crops and ultimately on sustainable farming practices, our food sovereignty and security.

The CPA recognises the risks to food sovereignty and security but that the close ties which many capitalist food corporations such as Monsanto have with governments make it difficult for governments to act in the genuine interests of the people. It is up to the people’s actions to make governments accountable and transparent on our agriculture and food production and these rallies are a visible and vocal first step towards putting governments and corporations on notice.   

Next article – Notes on violence against women in the neo-liberal age

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