By Kelly Sinclair
Texas Media Collective
An upcoming global initiative involving thousands of demonstrations will call out Monsanto Corporation for its seed monopoly, genetic modification of organisms (GMO), and court-sanctioned silencing of dissent.
Inspired by the urgency of the problem, new activists have sprung up in unlikely places. One of those is the scenic Central Texas community of Belton, where a March Against Monsanto rally is scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 25.
Cole Kelly, a native Texan, began the Belton effort with assistance from co-organizers Kim Berg and Kathe Berg Kitchens, twin sisters who own a small herb farm west of Belton named Bestemore Herb Farm. The rally will take place at Belton’s Confederate Park. The park’s name is a reflection of the area’s contentious past, but to judge by the growing number of Facebook followers of Kelly’s March Against Monsanto—Belton page, plans for the event are bringing out local progressives interested in 21st century issues.
Kelly explained that time and resources aren’t available to stage a full-scale march, “but a rally is just as good.”
Organizers have reserved the park’s pavilion, which is closest to the parking lot and offers a clear view of the nearby I-35 highway. “We’ll have signs facing the highway—like “No More GMOs”, so folks can see them.”
Asked if he has been inspired by the national March Against Monsanto effort, Kelly pointed out, “This is global, not just national.” k
Indeed, rallies by concerned citizens are slated in hundreds of locations, including the countries of Nigeria, South Africa, India, South Korea, Australia, Bosnia, and numerous European Union nations, as well as Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, and Canada. The number of participating nations is increasing daily, according to the movement’s website (www.march-against-monsanto.com).
Kelly indicated that volunteers are needed, in particular for the day of the rally, and he encourages participants to put up signs and to bring their own flyers of organic recipes and household formulas to share with others. His phone number is 702.353.6072.
Organizers are lining up speakers at the rally, with a focus on local farmers and organic nursery owners to speak about the impact of Monsanto’s policies on them.
They’ve also started a petition to get HEB—the area’s largest grocer—to label products containing GMO's.
Kelly is seeking input and support from other progressive groups. He’s already shared information with a natural parenting group.
Calling himself a faith-filled Christian, Kelly points out, “How can you make something better that the supreme being has made? It’s counter-intuitive to think that. But, I don’t want to narrow this down to religious issues. I saw a post online that said we’re not all Christians, not all Jews, Muslims, atheists, Republicans, Democrats, or independents. We’re who we are as individuals, but as a collective we have to fight this enemy.
“This is a nonviolent movement, a peaceful movement, but it’s a strong movement, a power-to-the-people type of movement.”
Co-organizers Kathe Berg Kitchens and Kim Berg have been organic gardeners and activists for decades. Kim is a retired physics and chemistry teacher and Kathe worked in the environmental industry for the past ten years.
Noted Kathe in an email to this reporter, “We are very concerned about the effects of modified organisms on all life forms, and most definitely support at the very least identifying them so consumers who understand their impact can more easily avoid them.
“Monsanto's increasing stranglehold on the plant market is scary at best, and we have to take care to avoid purchasing plants or seeds that come from their Frankenstein labs. I fully believe that many illnesses are rooted in the careless gene modification that has been taking place, and, yes, it can affect our business if we aren't diligent.”
Due to legislation passed by the U.S. Congress, courts are banned from halting the sale of Monsanto’s genetically-modified seeds.
This monopoly effectively grants Monsanto control in perpetuity of much of the world’s market in the most-trafficked seeds and related products. Previous corporate titans—such as oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, who cornered the market in oil—couldn’t copyright the molecular formula for petroleum.
Monsanto, on the other hand, goes Rockefeller several steps further. It patents products it genetically modified from natural seed stock, and by making its products sterile, ensures that farmers must purchase a fresh stock of seeds each year.
This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the seed in question had been produced through traditional Mendelian-style selection over generations of growth. Many breakthroughs in agriculture have occurred because of forward-thinking plant scientists and farmers.
Think of Texas’s own Ruby Red grapefruit, a naturally occurring mutant that has become a mainstay on grocery shelves. By controlling seeds, using GMO to make them unable to propagate, and, as upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court this month, preventing farmers from having any flexibility in using their seeds—Monsanto has proven itself hostile to natural home-grown innovation that can be shared from neighbor to neighbor.
Monsanto takes its control of the market to an even more stifling degree when it applies GMO techniques to pest control. Monsanto jumpstarts normal gene selection by inserting strands designed to act the same as artificial pesticides.
It’s one thing to spray a crop with the Roundup pesticide. Crops identified and marketed as Roundup-treated, can be labeled as non-organic—which gives consumers a genuine choice in the matter. They can choose not to consume a food item that at its root includes pesticide strains.
Monsanto’s executives, however, aren’t interested in allowing democratic participation by farmers and consumers in any aspect of its dominance of the market. For when Monsanto rigs the market in its favor, relies on government intervention led by ex-Monsanto executives at the Food and Drug Administration, and sues farmers who don’t toe the line—it far exceeds the ambitions of Gilded Age robber barons that author Mark Twain condemned.
Like many citizens around the globe joining in the March Against Monsanto, Kelly doesn’t have the deep pockets and political connections of Monsanto.
Kelly is an ex-military family man employed in the medical field. He recalls the wholesome example set by his grandmother, who was a dedicated gardener. “She was still working in her garden when she was in her eighties. All kinds of produce. Natural as can be.”
Working in health care, he has witnessed the effects of corporate chemically-based agriculture on patients.
“Diabetes does involve lifestyle choices. You can choose not to drink soda with aspartame. If GMOs and chemicals weren’t there, would we be healthier? I don’t know,” he acknowledged. “But I do know, it’s not such an issue when we have better choices. That’s the problem when just a few companies, like Monsanto, make all the decisions.”
Kelly said that March Against Monsanto’s national activists plan to produce a video about May 25 events, so “we’re going to try to get some footage and get it sent to them. We’re not Austin; we’re not a big city, but we do have people who are getting away from using mass-produced stuff and growing their own vegetables. People who care about what’s going on.”
When asked if he had a message for those on the fence about this issue, Kelly said, “If you don’t take a stand today, tomorrow you’ll be eating what somebody says you should be eating. You’ll be eating what somebody else is making; you won’t have a choice, whether it’s good for you or not.”
PEOPLE POWER POINTS
Goals of the global March Against Monsanto campaign, as listed on its website, include:
•Voting with your dollar by buying organic and boycotting Monsanto-owned companies that use GMOs in their products.
•Labeling of GMOs so that consumers can make those informed decisions easier.
•Calling for further scientific research on the health effects of GMOs.
•Holding Monsanto executives and Monsanto-supporting politicians accountable through direct communication, grassroots journalism, social media, etc.
•Continuing to inform the public about Monsanto's secrets.
•Taking to the streets to show the world and Monsanto that we won't take these injustices quietly.