As early as 6 a.m. on May 24, around 100 protesters had already gathered at the Davis office of Monsanto Company at 1910 Fifth St. — known to most as just Monsanto — to express their discontent with the actions and legacy of the multinational agribusiness corporation.
“We’re just trying to spread awareness about their history and eventually bring them down,” said Kim Sloan, lead activist with the Anti-Monsanto Project (AMP) who was present at the protest.
The protest was initiated by the Anti-Monsanto Project, a movement composed of over 30 Northern California groups and organizations, as part of the worldwide March Against Monsanto movement. The movement aims to “bring awareness to health, agricultural, environmental and political issues associated with Monsanto,” according to the demand letter issued by the AMP.
That letter, according to Sloan, was sent to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the California Department of Agriculture, Gov. Jerry Brown and California Attorney General Kamala Harris, among others, as part of the lobbying efforts of the AMP. The AMP lobbied at the Capitol on May 22, in addition to marching at the Capitol on May 25 and attempting to shut down the Davis Monsanto office.
Protesters blocked off the driveways leading into the office parking lot from Fifth Street, although the building was still accessible from a back driveway. On multiple occasions, drivers, possibly Monsanto employees, attempted to drive into the lot from Fifth Street before realizing they were blocked and driving away. Protesters formed a human chain across the back driveway at approximately 7 a.m., but let police officers through.
“We’re just out here keeping the peace,” said Davis Police Lt. Ton Phan. “So far there have been no issues and we like that.”
At approximately 7:30 a.m., a man on a bicycle approached the chain, telling the protesters, “I’ll run you down,” if the protestors refused to move and let him pass. The man biked through, and a protester asked if he worked for Monsanto.
“Yes I do, and I’m proud of it,” the bicyclist said.
In addition to the formation of a human chain, protesters employed the use of various chants such as “human need, not corporate greed” along with “hey, hey, no, no, GMO has got to go” and “hey, hey, no, no, shut down Monsanto.” Many protesters stood along Fifth Street with signs and were honked at by motorists, seemingly in approval.
“This is the largest event we’ve ever had in Davis and and we’re expecting around 1,000 people to come through here today,” Sloan said. “On May 22, we lobbied legislators and sent out our demand letter, but today is about education. I believe highly in the value of public participation, especially considering what our government has done with Monsanto.”
Monsanto and politics
Sloan cited the Supreme Court ruling in Bowman v. Monsanto on May 13, in which the court ruled in favor of Monsanto and held that patent exhaustion does not permit a farmer to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the permission of the patent holder — in this case, Monsanto. Monsanto has the patent rights to 96 percent of the GM (genetically-modified) seeds planted in the US, according to a fact sheet issued by the AMP.
“Justice Clarence Walker was an attorney for Monsanto,” Sloan said.
Sloan mentioned a number of other factors that have fired up the opposition against Monsanto, such as the failure of Proposition 37 to pass in the 2012 elections, a ballot initiative which would have required the labeling of GMO products sold in California. Monsanto was the leading financial contributor in the opposition campaign.
A federal bill recently proposed by California Senator Barbara Boxer and supported by the AMP, the “Genetically Engineered Food Right-To-Know Act,” is once again tackling the issue, and would require the labeling of GMO foods. Sixty-four countries, including China, Japan, Russia and all countries within the EU, currently require GMO foods to be labeled.
“It’s a huge issue in California, but we don’t have as much power on the federal level, so we’re lobbying at the state level hoping to eventually reach the federal level,” Sloan said. “That’s our first step.”
The event attracted both seasoned and first-time protesters, all of whom had slightly different personal motivations for voicing their concerns.
“This is the first protest I’ve been to in my life,” said Sacramento resident Lynn Sagerdahl. “I’m not much of an activist, but I feel I don’t have a right to talk about it without doing anything.”
Sagerdahl expressed concern about Monsanto’s GM seeds and their effect on bee population, holding a sign reading, “All we are saying is give bees a chance.” March against Monsanto pamphlets available at the protest cite connections between GM seeds and colony collapse disorder (CCD).
“I used to go into my lavender plants and watch the bees, and in the last couple years there are less and less,” Sagerdahl said. “I don’t think companies like Monsanto see the big picture.”
Sagerdahl was not the only first-time protester at the event.
“This is the first protest I’ve been to in my life. I’m passionate about this because it’s killing us and killing our kids,” said physician assistant and midwife Margie DiFelice. “I bought a house in 1989 right next to the fields and would see the planes flying over and spraying. I wouldn’t let my kids play outside then.”
Also at the protest was Andrea Mrotz, leader and organizer of Label GMOs Vallejo/Benicia. Mrotz graduated from UC Davis with a degree in microbiology and is working to ban GMOs in Solano County.
“I did genetic modification in the lab there, so I’m familiar with it,” Mrotz said. “I think a lot of people don’t understand GMOs and what exactly they are, and with my scientific background I want to spread awareness in my community [Vallejo/Benicia].”
Mrotz became involved in the cause around the 2012 elections when she began volunteering on behalf of the Yes on 37 initiative. After the election, she began working with the California grassroots organization behind the initiative, Label GMOs, and wanted to form a group in her community.
“If Marin and Mendocino County can do it, why can’t we?” Mrotz said on banning GMOs.
Mrotz, who held a sign at the protest, has a tattoo on her forearm of an ear of corn. On closer investigation, it is apparent that several of the kernels are drawn to resemble human skulls.
“The biggest scare is biological contamination,” Mrotz said. “It’s not just about protesting, but educating people about the small things they can do, like gardening. We need more people speaking out to be heard.”
Tom Helscher, director of corporate affairs for Monsanto, issued a statement via email regarding the protest.
“While we respect the right of individuals to express their point of view on these topics, harassment of individuals is not an appropriate way to further their cause,” Helscher said. “At Monsanto, we believe we are making a contribution to improving agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land while conserving natural resources such as water and energy.”
Sloan connected her activism with the AMP to other issues of social justice she finds concerning.
“It’s all one for me. The raping and pillaging of our environment, to me, is connected to violence against women,” Sloan said. “That’s kind of out there. But that’s my ideology.”
MEREDITH STURMER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.