Protesters against GMOs, but Monsanto says crops are safe
Maui’s “March Against Monsanto” drew more than 1,000 people who rallied to call attention to what they say are the health risks of genetically modified crops and their belief that such products should be labeled as a warning for consumers.
The protesters waved anti-Monsanto signs and walked from War Memorial Stadium in Wailuku to Hoaloha Park in Kahului.
Meanwhile, Monsanto maintained that the company’s genetically engineered crops are safe.
“There has not been a single substantiated instance of illness or harm associated with genetically modified crops,” Monsanto’s website says.
The Maui event was one of hundreds staged Saturday in locations around the world.
Maui march organizer Keoki Medeiros said that the rally was aimed at raising awareness among residents that Monsanto had “infiltrated” the Valley Isle years ago and that consumers want product labeling to alert them to genetically altered foods.
“We’re getting information out to our people,” said Medeiros, a Wailuku resident and a registered nurse at Maui Memorial Medical Center.
Another Maui march organizer, Pukalani resident and carpenter Cody Darcy, said that Monsanto’s cultivation of genetically engineered crops and its use of pesticides cause a “massive amount of damage to the land and to the people.”
When asked for evidence, Darcy said that a Russian study showed that rats developed tumors after consuming genetically altered corn. He said the herbicide Roundup has been “proven to cause fetal damage and increase cancer risk.”
Other studies are “coming out every day,” he said.
On the “food safety” section of its website, Monsanto says that several researchers have done studies claiming to indicate that genetically modified crops are unsafe, but such studies have been repudiated as being scientifically unsound.
“There is a large body of documented scientific testing showing currently authorized genetically modified crops are safe,” the company said. “These studies focus on the wholesomeness and nutritional value of genetically modified crops and upon the safety of the specific modifications used.”
On Maui, people suffer respiratory ailments from dust blown from genetically engineered crops treated with pesticides, Darcy said. Such crops also are on Molokai and Kauai, he added.
There hasn’t been any testing on the long-term health effects of genetically engineered crops, he said, and “the long-term effects are what we’re concerned about.”
“This is affecting future generations,” Darcy said. “We don’t know what is going to develop in the next 10, 20 or 50 years.”
Medeiros said that while he has not been sickened from consuming genetically engineered foods, more than 50 countries other than the United States have banned or required labeling for such products.
Alicia Maluafiti, executive director of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, disputed the protesters’ claims.
“There is a lot of incorrect information and fear-mongering about the health and safety of genetically modified foods and our companies who help to produce them,” she said. “Genetically modified crops are the most tested and regulated crops, and the scientific consensus about their safety is overwhelming.”
Another rally organizer, Pukalani resident Ann Evans, said that the demonstration was not against Monsanto but “for humanity.”
“We can’t let this happen,” she said of allowing the production of genetically engineered foods.
Evans said she believes that the public’s consumption of doctored foods has led to incidents of cancer, autism and Alzheimer’s disease, although she did not point to a scientifically proved link between the diseases and genetically engineered products.
“I’m not a scientist,” she said, although she asserted that “you can’t chemically change things and not know the outcome.”
Another health concern is Monsanto’s herbicide products, such as Roundup, that may “affect our genetic makeup,” Evans said.
Protesters are seeking a “better world, a better place and a better Maui,” she said. “They need to leave Maui alone.”
Medeiros said that the group plans to hold future demonstrations against Monsanto and genetically modified foods.
“We’re not going away. This is just the beginning,” he said.
Maluafiti said Monsanto proponents “value the concerns of the public and are committed to transparency and welcome respectful and open dialogue with anyone genuinely interested in learning more about what we do.”
“The seed industry in Hawaii, through advanced technology, helps farmers all over the world increase their production and yields,” she said. “They reduce pesticides use and soil erosion and help farmers face agricultural challenges such as drought.”
Evans said those speaking in support of Monsanto do so as paid lobbyists.
“If you pay somebody enough, they’ll say just about anything,” she said.
Those protesting genetically altered foods come from a wide spectrum of the community, including doctors, lawyers and teachers, she said, and they outnumber the few people speaking out in favor of Monsanto.
In response, Maluafiti said she’s paid by an association that represents feed farmers in Hawaii, and not Monsanto or other biotechnology companies.
She said that because anti-biotechnology activists can’t argue scientific facts in support of their position, they “make personal attacks against anyone associated with agriculture.”
“You can’t pay me enough to take personal attacks,” she said. “Once we start focusing on the facts, we can have a dialogue.”
Maluafiti said activists have every right to demonstrate against biotech companies, but “they do not have the right to take away the tool of biotechnology that helps over 17 million farmers across the world.”
Monsanto’s website (www.monsanto.com/newsviews/Pages/food-safety.aspx) addresses food safety and maintains that genetically modified crops are “as safe as conventional food.”
The first large acreage plantings of genetically engineered crops – herbicide-tolerant soybeans and canola took place in 1996 “after successfully passing U.S. regulatory review,” the company says.
“Since then, additional genetically modified crops with herbicide tolerance, insect tolerance and virus resistance have been given clearance for planting and consumption,” the company says. “These include varieties of corn, sugar beets, squash and papaya. All of these crops have been assessed for food and feed safety in producing countries, and many more countries have approved the import of food or food ingredients that contain genetically modified products. Hundreds of millions of meals containing food from genetically modified crops have been consumed.”
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.