Dozens expected to protest genetically altered food


Published: Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 4:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 4:27 p.m.

More than 100 people from the Gainesville area are expected to join thousands of others around the world on Saturday to protest a corporation at the forefront of genetically modified crops and the use of insecticides.

Facts

About the march

What: March Against Monsanto, a protest over the corporation's use of pesticides and genetically altered crops.
When: Painting signs and preparations start at 1 p.m. Saturday, march starts at 2 p.m.
Where: Harn Museum of Art, at SW 34th Street and Hull Road, march goes north to the Publix at 125 SW 34th St.
Note:The event will take place at the same time and place as the commencement ceremony for the UF College of Veterinary Medicine. Police urge drivers to allow for extra time to find parking.

The March Against Monsanto spans more than 40 countries, with protests planned for about 250 cities, including 15 in Florida, organizers say.

While the St. Louis-based Monsanto is not the only company producing genetically altered food, it is being targeted because it is the largest, said Joanna Montana, an organizer of the Gainesville event.

“They own the largest share of agribusiness, pesticides and seeds,” she said. “They’re transnational, in food behind the scenes and a big conglomerate.”

Montana said she chose to protest at Publix because the corporation has the most stores in the Gainesville area and because it offers both organic and non-organic foods.

A Publix spokesperson could not be reached for comment. Betty Brunson, the manager of the 34th Street store, said Publix officials had emailed the stores about the marches. She said she would treat the event like just any other protests.

A Monsanto spokesperson also could not be reached for comment. Monsanto’s website states, “We understand the importance of Monsanto’s reputation, and although we aren’t above criticism, there’s a lot of incorrect and negative information about us — much based on the fact many simply don’t know or understand what we do. Or what we stand for as a company and how we view our impact on the world.”

Critics around the world have been upset by the corporation’s practices. In Hungary, the government recently burned 1,000 acres of corn after finding it had been grown from genetically modified seeds.

After the Haitian earthquake of 2010, the Peasant Movement of Papay, an organization of Haitian farmers, decided to burn 60,000 seed sacks or 475 tons of hybrid corn and vegetable seeds given by Monsanto. Debate has also risen on whether foods from genetically modified organisms should be labeled.

Montana said she believes that long-term consumption of genetically altered foods can lead to health problems, and protesters also contend Monsanto is at least partly responsible for the decline of the population of bees.

Harry Klee, a professor of horticulture who specializes in genetically modified crops at the University of Florida, said the protesters are misinformed about genetically altered crops.

“There is not one bit of evidence that says that it’s unsafe since genetic modifications started in 1995,” he said. “Some people just firmly believe that there is something wrong, like the people not vaccinating their children because they think they will get autism. It’s not science, it’s religion.’’

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