East Enders take a stand against Monsanto

Protesting at the leaning tower of Shelter Island. Victoria Shields Weslek facebook photo
Protesting at the leaning tower of Shelter Island. Victoria Shields Weslek facebook photo

Protesters who have it in for genetically modified food took to the streets the world over on May 25 to argue their case against Monsanto, the multi-national agricultural biotechnology company that has a lockhold on global food production.

Two modest protests were held concurrently with the national protests in Shelter Island Heights and at Kirk Park in Montauk at 2 p.m. on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, in the midst of a day of dreary misty hours punctuated by occasional downpours.

Victoria Shelds Weslek, who participated in the Shelter Island protest, was undaunted by the rain and shared her photos of the event on Facebook.

“The weather didn’t stop us. Small but mighty group — we got some people honking and taking notice!” she wrote on the event’s Facebook page.

Monsanto has been under ever-increasing pressure in recent years to reign in its use of “Roundup-ready” seed, which is genetically modified to withstand the effects of herbicides. The Roundup-ready system was first developed and used in soybeans in 1974, and has since been used by the company on commodity crops ranging from wheat to corn to cotton to canola and sugar beets.

The company claims the seeds allow farmers to use less fuel and herbicides, and insists that its products are designed to help the world produce more food, conserve more resources and conduct more sustainable agricultural practices.

These unidentified wet marchers protested in Montauk on May 25. facebook photo
These unidentified wet marchers protested in Montauk on May 25. facebook photo

But Roundup-ready seeds are just one part of the movement’s beef with Monsanto. The company has an enormous hold on the world food market, as a large percentage of the seeds sold to both commercial growers and home gardeners are produced by Monsanto. The company has even taken to suing farmers who don’t buy its seed when windblown seeds from Monsanto-modified crops take root on their farms.

As the public groundswell against genetically modified food has grown, the firm has cozied up with lawmakers. The FDA is staffed with many former Monsanto employees, and the U.S. Congress in March passed a bill that critics call the “Monsanto Protection Act,” which prevents federal courts from halting the sale of genetically modified seeds.

The bill, a continuing resolution, is currently only under effect until September of this year, when Congress will once again debate the issue as part of the new Farm Bill.

The U.S.’s support of genetically modified food stands in stark contrast to the reception Monsanto has received in Europe, where the company announced this week it will plan to stop lobbying for its seed due to low demand from farmers there.

New York, along with 26 other states, is considering a bill that would ban genetically modified seed here, but the ultimate fate of that bill depends on the federal government’s actions.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is leading the effort on Capitol Hill to overturn the federal protection.

“Essentially, what that Monsanto Protection Act rider said is that even if a court were to determine that a particular product might be harmful to human beings or harmful to the environment, the Department of Agriculture could not stop the production of that product once it is in the ground,” he said in a May 28 interview with CNN. “So you have deregulated the GMO industry from court oversight, which is really not what America is about.”

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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