About 110 protesters of all ages, many with signs calling for accurate food labeling of genetically modified organisms, applauded here Saturday as Shannon Kahler (right) led a protest on the Yellowstone County Courthouse lawn.
Ms. Kahler, 43, is the Billings leader of a coordinated worldwide response calling for the defeat of Rider 735 in House Resolution 933, the Continuing Resolution that funded the government for a few more months. The rider, opponents say, shows the Monsanto company’s ability to ride roughshod over the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the main agency charged with regulating GMOs.
Protests were held Saturday in more than 330 cities and 40 countries, according to the March Against Monsanto website. Ms. Kahler urged the crowd to demand that Monsanto halt the altering of crops with genes from other species, to support small farms in Montana and to plant their own organic gardens.
Ms. Kahler herds and shears sheep for a living. From about noon to shortly after 1 p.m. on Saturday, she lambasted Monsanto, introduced other speakers also hostile toward Monsanto and, after the protest ended, answered questions as some in the crowd approached her.
Farmers and opponents of genetically altered foods gathered around her after the hour-long protest and pledged to help the fledgling Montana Seed Savers nonprofit organization accomplish its mission of making non-genetically changed seeds available to farmers, gardeners and others.
Ms. Kahler alleges that GMO food gave her thyroid cancer. She recovered only after changing her diet to mostly organic foods, she said. The Green Party Shadow Cabinet, which endorsed the Monsanto protest, says that not enough research has been done to confirm that GMOs pose a significant danger to people’s health, although past studies have turned up disquieting information.
Ronnie Cummins of the Green Shadow Cabinet asserted in a statement on the organization’s website (www.greenshadowcabinet.us) that Monsanto’s history of hiding data illustrates the public’s need for more detailed and thoroughly publicized studies about the effects of GMOs on people, animals and the food supply. Organic farmers, gardeners, mothers and their children expressed their concerns about Monsanto in many different ways at the protest.
Kids at the protest had their faces painted with images of non-genetically modified raspberries and anti-GMO symbols. Savannah Niles, 24, a face-painter at the protest and co-founder along with Elizabeth Bryson of a new nonprofit called Montana Seed Savers, said she wants to distribute organic and heirloom seeds.
“I basically want to grow what my grandmother and great-grandmother grew and her grandmother before her ... what we want to harvest, save and bring to market,” said Niles. “We are going to have our own seed library. Monsanto is buying all the seeds and all the [seed] companies ... . The seeds Monsanto sells are sterile,” she said.
A 77-year-old farmer, Jack Martinell, held up a sign inscribed with, “Give Bees a Chance,” on one side and a list of almost 20 countries that had banned Monsanto products on the other. He said he owned Boja Farm - Montana, a farm in Bridger that boasts chemical-free status, 16 varieties of apples and heirloom potatoes.
Darren Means, who held a “NO to GMO” sign, said farmers get locked into buying seeds from Monsanto. For instance, farmers with non-GMO crops can have their fields unintentionally pollinated by GMO pollen blown onto it from another field or by birds or bees carrying pollen.
Farmers without GMO seeds can be sued, their crops seized and they can be locked into buying from Monsanto to stay in business, Mr. Means said. He added, “Monsanto is basically putting farmers out of business.”
One of the other impromptu speakers, Shayla Walker, said she is starting her own organic farm. Another, Erin Brighta, said she is a recent Montana State University Bozeman graduate with a major in environmental studies, and she is angry about GMO food being forced upon unwitting consumers and depriving small farmers of their livelihoods. Regarding Monsanto, she said, “I want to see these guys taken down.”
What was the impetus for the strident reaction that resulted in a worldwide protest? According to blogger Dustin Siggins on Mother Nature Network, the impetus was legislation that lawmakers sneaked into the latest Continuing Resolution Act. Siggins wrote: “This can all be boiled down into a single common phrase: a special interest loophole, and a doozy at that ... . This is a situation in which a company is given the ability to ignore court orders, in what boils down to a deregulation scheme for a certain set of industries.” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D.-Ore., said May 20 on The Raw Story website that he plans to seek repeal of Rider 735, which is set to expire in September.