Hundreds of Big Islanders came together Saturday in Kailua-Kona for one of many March Against Monsanto events held worldwide to call attention to the dangers posed by genetically modified foods.
Hoisting signs with slogans like “Honk to Exorcise Monsatan,” “Plants=Medicine, GMO=Poison,” and “Don’t let Monsanto Poison our Ohana,” the line of people protesting against seed giant Monsanto stretched about two-tenths of a mile as the group meandered from Old Kona Airport’s Makaeo Events Pavilion to Alii Drive and back.
“I’m just sick of always having to look and read the whole package of food before I can buy it,” said Melissa Carlucci about why she took part in the march along with millions of people in more than 250 cities in 50 countries around the world. “I want to make people aware (of GMOs) because it’s about the kids — their generation — I don’t want all of the soil on our island poisoned.”
The intention of Saturday’s Hawaii Island Community Gathering grassroots effort, said co-organizer Sharon Wileford, was to provide a town hall atmosphere where people can have a voice. It’s also about educating and making people aware of genetically modified foods and their impact as well as other issues affecting Hawaii Island surrounding geothermal energy, biofuels and the ocean.
The march was followed by a panel discussion featuring Melissa Yee, of Seeds of Truth; Hector Valenzuela, with the University of Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture; and Mauna O Wakea, of Idle No More Hawaii. It also included speakers discussing geothermal energy, biofuels and the ocean.
“It’s a peaceful demonstration,” said Yee before taking part in the march herself. “They (Monsanto) would like to portray us as aggressive or threatening, but we are not like that. We just want healthy food and labeling.”
According to Occupy Monsanto, which helped organize the worldwide events to empower citizens to take action against Monsanto, “March Against Monsanto” organizers are calling attention to the dangers posed by genetically modified food and the companies that produce it including not only Monsanto, but other companies like DuPont and Syngenta.
Genetically modified plants are grown from seeds engineered to resist insecticides and herbicides, add nutritional benefits and improve crop yields. Some believe they can lead to health problems and harm the environment. Opponents have pushed for mandatory labeling, though the federal government and many scientists say the technology is safe.
Valenzuela, one of the panel speakers, said much of the concern surrounds not knowing what potential effects genetically modified food can have on the body and the environment. He also noted issues with regulation because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, based upon manufacturer testing, considers a genenetically modified food safe it is “substantially equivalent” to the unmodified product in terms of chemicals, minerals and vitamins.
While studies have been conducted independently, though inconclusive but raising some red flags, Valenzuela said the manufacturer’s studies are not available for public review or to compare — and that is cause for concern.
“We’re dealing with an organism that never existed before in nature with every cell in a plant having new genetic material,” said Valenzuela. “Humans have never consumed this before — it’s something that never existed and we’re consuming it without knowing the consequences.”
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, according to The Associated Press.
The company also released a local statement when contacted by West Hawaii Today on Saturday.
“We are making a considerable effort to improve agriculture by helping farmers to reduce inputs, use less water, use less energy while at the same time increase the farmer’s productivity, yield, and efficiency. Monsanto Hawaii is proud to be a part of an overall effort to help improve farm productivity and food sustainability worldwide,” according to the statement provided by Community Affairs Manager Alan Takemoto. We recognize that there are varying opinions about our work and we welcome respectful dialogue with anyone who truly would like to learn more about who we are and what we do.”