Call for action: It’s time to March Against the March Against Monsanto

For the last two years, protestors have marched under the banner of the March Against Monsanto (MAM) in coordinated demonstrations around the world in opposition to genetically engineered crops, the companies that make them or market them, and governments that approve their sale. Thousands of people have participated. While many protestors may have good intentions, hoping to improve the food system, the organizers of the March Against Monsanto and many prominent NGOs that promote this event often misrepresent biotechnology and farming.

It’s time to take back the science; it’s time to march against the March Against Monsanto. In this spirit, Karl Haro von Mogel, David Sutherland and Kavin Senapathy are planning a counter protest to take place on May 23, 2015—the same day as this year’s March Against Monsanto.

Karl is a research geneticist based in Madison, Wisconsin, active science communicator and public speaker. He spends much of his free time helping people understand the complicated science of GMOs.

David is a Chicago-based artist by profession, vegan & animal rights activist in his free time. As part of his early activism he contributed efforts to anti-GMO activism. With a discovered interest in science and critical thinking he had a change of heart and mind. Now he has a mission and passion to undo those wrongs by demystifying the issues surrounding GMOs and biotech.

Kavin is a freelance writer, science communicator, and mother of two young children based in Madison, Wisconsin. She promotes the idea that critical thinking is key in raising well-rounded children, and that embracing biotechnology is imperative in this objective.

While all three come from diverse walks of life, they have united in this movement to promote evidence-based information about our food system, and combat fear-mongering about the same.

The idea for the counter demonstration, originally conceived as a symbolic event in Chicago or Madison, has grown into a coordinated movement, with people around the world organizing events to coincide with and challenge the March Against Monsanto. Currently, the movement convenes on a public Facebook page, here.

Issues surrounding food incite passion. Food intersects everything from culture to science, politics, land use, nutrition, genetics and history. But because food is so important to human well-being, it is crucial that the claims made about it be carefully scrutinized. The MAM organizers don’t do that. The organization’s mission statement is a collection of false claims and conspiratorial leanings, and the group actively encourages extremist dialogue. Instead of saving people from poison, it is poisoning the debate about our food.

A few of the myriad fallacies MAM promotes:

  • “Research studies have shown that Monsanto’s genetically-modified foods can lead to serious health conditions such as the development of cancer tumors, infertility and birth defects.”
  • “Organic and small farmers suffer losses while Monsanto continues to forge its monopoly over the world’s food supply, including exclusive patenting rights over seeds and genetic makeup.”
  • “Monsanto’s GMO seeds are harmful to the environment; for example, scientists have indicated they have caused colony collapse among the world’s bee population.”

Sign "I want to know WTF I'm eating"We believe that these claims corrupt the debate and sidetrack the political will of concerned people who want meaningful changes to our food system. There are real problems with our food and distribution system. Inventing fictitious problems, or grossly exaggerating minor ones, or claiming that problems that affect all agriculture are unique to genetic engineering, has no place in a fair-minded public discussion. Obesity, malnutrition, lack of access to healthy food, poverty, environmental challenges and climate change are genuine concerns surrounding food. Misrepresenting science and scapegoating a single company, in this case Monsanto, as the root of all of these problems is not only wrong, but will make it harder for genuinely concerned citizens to address these real issues.

This is why we are taking to the streets ourselves, starting a new movement centered around educating the public about the facts about genetically engineered crops, real issues with food and agriculture and civil discussion. It’s time to oppose the fear-mongering and distortions promulgated by the March Against Monsanto. Global food security and the health of our food system are serious issues. Let’s rally to restore sanity, science and compassion.

Messages of MAM are confused, misleading, and wrong.

Most of the marchers are concerned citizens, with a belief that they are marching for justice, marching for public well-being, marching against the specter of Corporate Greed. With hearts in the right places and emotions running high, they take to their annual protest. Yet, rather than providing an accurate and coherent message, the March Against Monsanto is an annual spectacle of absurd claims, often represented by scare slogans and signs.

Protest sign "quit trying to get in my genes"

MAM uses images of children supposedly subject to imminent danger from consuming GM foods to play on the emotions of concerned, but scientifically ill-educated parents.This type of imagery is is representative of the irrational “genetic engineering will control you” rhetoric rampant at these marches. Meaningless slogans like “My DNA is not for sale,” and “Quit trying to get in my genes” are catchy and invoke Orwellian-like Big Brother fears of malicious corporate bigwigs using genetic engineering to control the masses. While utterly unrealistic in a scientific sense, the vague allegation that Big Biotech can indirectly control the public via its genes has become a rallying cry at MAM events.

little girl next to lab rat

The repeated comparison of consumers to lab rats and science experiments has firmly cemented the notion that Big Ag unleashes products without regard to whether they are safe.

MAM frequently invokes heroes of the American Civil Rights movement, when there is no attack on civil rights taking place. In recent Facebook posts, MAM has used images of national heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks to push its agenda. Quoting these leaders, MAM attempts to compare its movement to iconic and ongoing efforts to grant equal rights to all humans. Nevertheless, MAM’s effort only serves as an insult. Co-opting social justice heroes is a deceitful tactic that is offensive to victims of true civil rights abuses.

Rosa Parks

MAM leaders sow seeds of distrust about government and science. Not only do leaders paint the picture of Malevolent Monsanto, and Bad Big Ag, they also paint the government as conspiratorial cronies with an underhanded motivation to forgo public safety. It’s a reckless anarchism, drawing on tactics of the far right, that feeds cynicism.

Sign "FDA stop poisoning our families"

Those who use these tactics should be held accountable.

We are starting a movement to combat misinformation and fear-mongering, and promote science-based information on agricultural biotechnology:

The weight of evidence shows that the GMOs that people eat are safe. Just last week, in a survey of the scientist-members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the largest independent science organization in the world, 88 percent said GM foods are safe—a consensus higher than that for the belief that humans are mostly responsible for climate change.

We see the environmental and health advantages GM products provide, and we are excited about the promise these innovations hold—if the kind of hysteria and fear generated by groups like MAM don’t scuttle that. Technologies like recombinant DNA techniques, gene editing and RNAi have the potential to become an important tool in the challenge to feed the Earth’s growing population and combat malnutrition in increasingly sustainable ways. While biotechnology comes across as daunting to many people, we believe scientists and savvy citizens can come together to help demystify them and inform fellow concerned citizens about how “genetic enhancement” has helped shape agriculture as we know it for thousands of years.

Scientists and lay people alike have banded together on social media to spread awareness of the benefits of GMOs. Why not take this momentum a step further, to establish an organized movement?

Tomato injected with syringeFringe activists like the leaders of March Against Monsanto spread unscientific propaganda, promote distrust of scientific consensus, use junk rhetoric, and leverage fear. Conversely, we hope to leverage the public’s thirst for reason and knowledge to showcase the potential of GMOs to alleviate hunger and promote sustainability. While fringe anti-GMO activists play on consumer ignorance using scary, fallacious imagery like syringes in tomatoes, we’re convinced the majority of the public is intelligent, albeit misinformed, and eager for an objective view of food, farming and biotechnology.

Upon its founding in 2013, March Against Monsanto issued a mission statement addressing the questions: “Why do we march?” and “What are solutions we advocate?” Here, we present the first draft of our Mission Statement:

Why we will march:

  • The weight of scientific evidence shows that GMOs are safe and beneficial. With reasonable public policies in place, biotechnology has the potential to help feed and nourish the world.
  • We oppose the fallacies propagated by March Against Monsanto and other biotech activist opponents.
  • For too long, extremist advocacy groups have used the specter of “Monsanto” as a scapegoat to oppose GMOs and attack biotech supporters.
  • Ill-informed opponents of GMOs have manipulated the public discussion and the political process by flooding the internet and media with misinformation.
  • The growing chasm between the pro-science and anti-biotech camps does not promote solutions to global hunger and sustainability. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
  • Biotech fears have harmful, real-world consequences. GM technologies are not a homogenous product to be demonized, but a toolbox to be utilized to improve our current food system.

Solutions we advocate:

    • Call and write food companies and organizations that have kept GMO ingredients in their products to thank them for standing with science.
    • Call and write companies that may be debating whether to go GMO free to to encourage them to keep GM ingredients.
    • Food without fear! Aim for a diet high in fruits, vegetables and other wholesome components without worrying about GMOs (unless they add vitamins.)
    • Educate friends and family about the science and benefits of GMOs in a non confrontational way.
    • Encourage people to get involved, learn and be a part of the conversation about GMOs and food.
    • Support businesses, NGOs, and educational organizations that take an evidence-based stance on GMOs.
    • Offer your expertise. If you’re a scientist, farmer, teacher, or industry expert, donate your valuable time to speak at schools and conferences about the real role of biotechnology in agriculture.

“Why we march” and “Solutions we advocate” are evolving lists. As our movement grows, we will work together to refine our mission.

While our name–“March Against Myths”–denotes our opposition to much of what MAM represents, we will communicate a positive and diplomatic message. MAMyths is our acronym, it has more than one meaning; we also fancy ourselves March Against Myths About Modification.

Further, MAMyths is not just a one-day event, but a movement. We hope it will resonate with media, soar in cyberspace and stimulate face-to-face conversations. We promote spreading awareness and sharing science-based information in a proactive, non-combative manner.

Call to action:

If you’d like to help, head to Facebook to join the movement. If you’re unable to organize or attend a local event this year, we’re also looking for artists and writers willing to help with publicity material, and potential sponsors willing to donate toward the costs of educational handouts and bottles of water for marchers. Remember, we’re still in the infancy of our movement. Please stay tuned to watch us grow and hone our messages!

Hopefully and sincerely,

Kavin Senapathy, Karl Haro von Mogel, and David Sutherland

10 thoughts on “Call for action: It’s time to March Against the March Against Monsanto

  1. I just wanted to say I very much like your thoughtful, non-antagonistic approach to this issue. In particular, I like your optimism in the “public’s thirst for reason and knowledge.” Personally, I’m not inclined towards marches & rallies as a means of exerting influence (more inclined towards white papers and advocacy meetings with policymakers, myself). But I absolutely see the value of attracting public attention to the issue and think your having a counter-march is ingenious. A small band of intelligent, articulate counter-protesters will get you attention. Please be sure to alert all Chicago area media to your efforts.

    I can’t join you as I’m working hard on a public science festival we’re hosting May 28-30. (http://ChicagoScienceFest.org) However, one of our presenters (on Sat. May 30) will be giving a presentation on the science of GMO foods. Hopefully that will enlighten some people to the science rather than the rhetoric around the issue.

  2. Monica, thanks so much for your support! I’m a big fan of ISC! It’s good to know that there’s a Science Fest/GMO talk too, we’ll spread the word on that.
    Thanks for the note. Science forever!

    1. You know about ISC?! Yeah! If you email me directly I can send you more info on the Fest, and flyers too! (I couldn’t find an email for any of you, which is why I posted here.) ~MM

  3. I was alerted to this movement by ACSH and I wholeheartedly support your efforts. I often feel like a Stranger in a Strange Land with all the misinformation, ignorance, and stupidity floating around. And it becomes disheartening to try to fend off the lies.

    Kudos to you for this.

    M

  4. The biggest objection by thoughtful people who might be on the fence is how Roundup ready seeds contribute to the overuse of Roundup. Would you barrage us with rebuttals to this notion?

    1. Hi Dave, thanks for your question. I agree, the pesticide conversation is one that I have frequently with very reasonable people.

      First and foremost it should be noted that Roundup and GMOs are not the same thing. That’s obvious, right? So why am I bringing it up? Because lots of people think that GMOs are bad because Roundup is bad. Neither of those are true, but even if Roundup was bad, it wouldn’t mean that GMOs are bad. So that’s an important distinction. There are lots of other applications for biotechnology that don’t involve the use of Roundup, and not all current uses of biotechnology involve Roundup.

      Now that we have that out of the way, I’m assuming that when you say the “overuse of Roundup” you’re really referring to weeds that have become resistant to glyphosate as a result of its use? If that’s the case, something important to keep in mind when you think about resistance is that it’s nothing new and not specific to glyphosate. Basically every herbicide that has ever been used has resulted in weeds resistant to that herbicide. And relative to most of the other herbicide classes, there is less resistance to glyphosate even though no herbicide has been used more than glyphosate. Because of the recognized safety and environmental benefits of glyphosate, many farmers relied on it as the sole herbicide to control weeds, and we now know that this practice was not sustainable. Agronomists are now recommending other herbicides and to incorporate non-chemical weed-control practices into their overall weed management program. This increased diversity will lead to a reduction in future resistance.

      Important to note is that farmers really prefer glyphosate over other commercial products for use in industrial farming such as atrazine that are more toxic than glyphosate, and linger longer in soil and contaminate groundwater (glyphosate is readily broken down by microbes in the soil). It’s not just about risk, it’s about relative risk. What are the alternatives to Roundup? Some of those alternatives (like atrazine) are significantly more toxic, and others like organic methods cost more and are less effective.

      Controlling weeds is an immensely important part of farming for a number of reasons, but one of those reasons is important use of finite resources like water and fertilizer. If farmers don’t properly control weeds, those resources are lost to weeds when they could have been used for food.

      Hopefully that helps.

  5. The polarization between GMO supporters and GMO antagonists is definitely not good for anyone nor the planet.
    With that said— I ask you these few questions and look forward to the thoughtful answers [Just answers please, no vitriol, Thank you]:

    How does the CEO and Chief legal counsel of Monsanto Michael Taylor, walk out of his Monsanto office into a newly made office and job description as the Head of GMO Health Safety, without money motivated manipulation of the American Government?

    How can Monsanto say GMO is safe with only limited 90 day studies of rats?

    Where are the studies by unbiased research centres?

    How can Monsanto and its affiliates stop the publication of a study showing great damage in a long term study of GMO corn fed to Rats suffering tumours and infertility?

    Does Monsanto’s numbered companies own Elsevier [Publisher of the LANCET who published the long term study and then withdrew it under pressure]?

    If GMO is GRAS and healthy and good for us…WHY does Monsanto et al pay millions upon millions to stop labelling of foods containing GMOs?

    Why not shout from the roof tops and with PROUD LABELS all the facts and the wonders and value to us of GMO?

    Thank you for your time and answers, for my edification, and us all.

    1. Hi Natch. I appreciate your questions, and while I think they are good questions, this is not the right place for them. This organization is not here to defend Monsanto, and we’re not taking a position on them as a company. Our purpose is to dispel myths about the technology, not to apologize for the companies that make that technology. Fortunately, there’s a good place you can go to ask those questions – to Monsanto themselves. They’ve created a website specifically for people like you who have questions to ask them and get them answered: http://www.discover.monsanto.com. I recommend you go right over there and ask away.

      The only two questions about that I will actually answer are: “Where are the studies by unbiased research centers” and “Why not shout from the roof tops with proud labels.”

      For the first: there is a database of studies on GMOs here at Biology Fortified: http://genera.biofortified.org/ Roughly half of those come from independent peer-reviewed research without industry funding.

      On labels: as a parent, I think labels are really important. I read labels, I’m very interested in making sure that my kids are eating healthy, safe food. Thankfully, GMOs are as safe as their non-GMO counterparts, so that’s just one less thing we parents have to fret over. I hope that some day the marketing situation surrounding GMOs will become less toxic, and companies CAN actually do what you suggest: label GMOs as beneficial for the environment. But you know as well as I do that the only reason we’re even here having this conversation is because of the controversy over GMOs. We’ll see what happens when the Arctic Apple and the Innate Potato start to hit consumer markets. Maybe the marketing will be just as we hope.

      Why is there so much opposition to GMO labeling? The answer comes down to perception. Let’s say you didn’t know what GMOs were and you were at the grocery store and the tortilla chips you always buy all of a sudden had a fat label slapped on them that said, “Contains GMOs.” You might think, “what the heck are GMOs? If they have to label them, they must be bad, I’ll buy this other brand instead.” And that, right there, is what the fight is all about.

      Because a mandatory punitive label will unnecessarily scare people away from a perfectly safe technology that increases agricultural efficiency (reduced pesticide spraying, increased yields, better use of resources.) Even if you don’t care about that, there’s also cost. Food manufacturers will want to avoid this punitive label and will try to source non-gmo ingredients which are more expensive because they are less efficient. That will increase the cost of that product and they’ll pass that cost on to all of us.

      Third, demonizing a technology with a punitive label will make it less attractive for researchers to continue to develop new biotech products. And for me, this is the reason I oppose the label the most. Biotechnology holds immense promise to help us address very important issues facing agriculture as our population grows and our climate changes. We need this technology, so let’s not scare people away from it.

      I hope that helps.

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