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Students Support legal action against Monsanto

By Emma Sinai-Yunker

Occupy Grinnell members and allies gathered outside of the local Monsanto Plant with the purpose of a non-violent protest against the large corporation and its effects on organic farming on Tuesday, Jan. 31. The same day, in New York, members of around 60 family farms, seed businesses and organic agricultural organizations were facing Monsanto as plaintiffs. The lawsuit is led by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA).

Students carried signs and presented a letter to the Monsanto Corporation on behalf of organic farmers at Tuesday’s protest. Photograph by Emma Sinai-Yunker

“Monsanto has had a huge monopoly for a long time,” said local farmer and Grinnell College library assistant Chris Gaunt, “and it just so happens that there is one in Grinnell. We’re really here today in solidarity with the whole group of organic farmers facing Monsanto in New York.”

“We’re here, and we’ve reached out to other Occupy groups in Iowa to say, ‘Look, we’re here in support of the Organic Seed Growers and Traders,’” added Grinnell alum and Occupy Grinnell front man Aaron Wagner ’99.

The suit tells Monsanto to keep their GMOs out of organic farm areas, so that (largely natural and unintentional) contamination will cease. Monsanto genetically engineers seeds for the most common crops grown in Iowa such as corn and soy. These genetic alterations to the plant’s genome can allow them to be directly sprayed with herbicides and not be affected.

Monsanto primarily produces and sells these patented genetically modified plants so farmers who buy the seeds will then purchase Roundup, the most commonly used herbicide, which Monsanto also produces. When pollination happens and accidental cross-breeding occurs with local organic farmers, there are two serious side effects. The first is that the local farmer can no longer call those contaminated crops organic. The second is that this same farmer now has patented crops growing in non-company property, which can be viewed as theft.

“Once you learn about Monsanto’s business practices, it makes you want to get involved,” said Elle Silverman ’15.

Occupy Grinnell members, including locals, students, and even some farmers, gathered outside of the JRC just before noon. They performed a couple of ‘Mic-Checks’ in hopes of grabbing the attention, and maybe the attendance, of students as they headed into the Marketplace for lunch. Anticipation was high for people as they waited for the signal to head to the Monsanto Plant.

“I’m here is solidarity with Occupy Grinnell, but also with the movement to specifically Occupy Monsanto. As a new Iowa resident and long time supporter of organic crops and food, I feel like it’s really important for farmers to have the option to decide what kinds of crops they are growing,” said Maisie Dolan ’15. “The fact that Monsanto has genetically modified crops that are affecting the organic crops is unfair, unjust, and it needs to change.”

The group arrived in a caravan of cars, one painted with the words “Monsanto = Greed.” They were greeted by yellow vested Monsanto employees and directed to the appropriate place for their protest. One officer of the law was present, but it was evident on both sides that the event was intended to be completely non-violent.

“I really excited for the chance to protest against Monsanto here in Iowa and become more connected with the town and the farming community than just our little Grinnell College ivory tower,” said Devon Gamble ’15.

Signs were handed out to anyone willing to hold one, and the group chants began almost as soon as people had stepped out of their cars. After some time of holding signs and chanting, it became time to read the Occupy Grinnell letter addressed to Monsanto CEO, Hugh Grant. The group gathered in a circle, accompanied by the Monsanto employees. The letter stated that Occupy Grinnell was by no means against the Monsanto employees, just against the

contamination of organic farms caused by the companies, and the lawsuits that accompanied the cross-breeding of seeds.

The day after the protest took place Occupy Grinnell members met in the Drake Public Library for a debriefing and conversation about the protest and letter delivery.

“I have friends who work for Monsanto and whose parents farm on Monsanto fields. We want to make the point very clear: we are not against local Monsanto employees and contracted farmers. We’re very specific with this concern, and it is just that Monsanto stop intimidating organic family farmers,” said Aaron Wagner. “There’s room for both to coexist in Iowa, as Iowa moves toward an increasingly diversified food supply. It’s important that organic farming stays an option, and Monsanto should support organic farming in the state.”

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    Vera CousinsFeb 9, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    I am glad to see that Grinnell students were protesting and are supporting legal action against Monsanto. The GMO issue is one I have followed through “Organic Consumer” for a long time. I am worried about unknowingly being subjected to GMO foods with their adverse consequences on health becoming more known.