If you happened to be walking around Lower Manhattan this morning, you might have noticed the anti-Monsanto chants echoing from Foley Square. In a protesting trifecta, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Big Food, and Food Democracy Now joined forces to support family farmers as the first phase of their federal court case against food industry giant Monsanto. The crowd of around 200 people included farmers from as far away as Maine as well as local food activists and chefs.
The case against Monsanto (Organic Seed Growers Trade Association et al. v. Monsanto) aims to protect farmers against aggressive lawsuit and crop contamination from Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds. Organic and non-GMO crops can be severely damaged by the introduction of GMO seeds and farmers whose crops have been infiltrated are vulnerable to lawsuits from Monsanto who owns a vast majority of the genetics on commodity crops such as corn, soybeans and cotton.
Farmers’ fear of being sued by the multi-billion dollar company is not unfounded. According to Monsanto, since 1997, it has filed 144 lawsuits against farmers and settled 700 other disputes out of court.
Today in Federal District Court in Manhattan, Judge Naomi Buchwald will hear complaints from farmers and determine whether or not their case against Monsanto will move forward. Protestor and organic farmer Deb Taft of Mobius Fields in Westchester, New York said she was “cautiously optimistic” about the outcome of this morning’s hearings.
Many protestors felt it was an accomplishment in itself that the case has made it to Federal District Court. An unnamed protestor and chef at a local private school said he came out to stand with farmers who finally got their day in court. He has been wary of Monsanto since the mid 1980s, when the issues of genetically modified organisms were mostly talk, rather than reality.
While all of the protestors united around their distrust of and frustration with Monsanto, their specific reasons for being there were varied. Some were concerned with the lack of seed choice now that Monsanto has put many local providers out of business while others were concerned with Monsanto’s global presence (Monsanto is currently being sued for biopiracy in India).
Protestors pointed to a long history of infractions on the part of Monsanto, which they demonstrated by creating a human timeline of the company’s history. Monsanto genetically modified its first plant in 1982, but the company’s story goes back to the beginning of the 20th century. John Francis Queeny, a pharmaceutical industry veteran, founded the company in 1901 and in 1902 Monsanto sold its first product to Coca-Cola — saccharin, the artificial sweetener that has been linked to cancer. Protestors this morning also referenced Monsanto’s role as one of the companies that manufactured Agent Orange, an herbicide used by the U.S. Army in Vietnam that has been proven to caues severe health damage and birth defects.
But the protestors main focus today was the effect that that GMOs have on biodiversity and farmer livelihood. Andrew Faust, a permaculture teacher and founder of The Center for Bioregional Living in Ellenville, New York, urged consumers to use their buying power to boycott Monsanto products. Currently, advocacy groups working under the slogan “Right to Know” are lobbying for GMO labeling, which is already required in the European Union and China, and which Monsanto is fighting against.
According to a tweet from someone present in the courtroom, the judge will give her ruling on this morning’s hearings, which ended around 11:30 am, by March 31st. Those interested in supporting the farmers’ cause can sign Food Democracy Now!’s pledge to support America’s farmers and donate to the Right to Know campaign.