Image: People rally against Monsanto in Brisbane, 25 May 2013. Credit: Damian West.

A food fight has erupted on a global scale as growing collective action in the United States against agricultural giant Monsanto went viral, attracting worldwide attention through social media. Monsanto’s core business is the production and sale of genetically modified seeds to the agricultural sector.

Monique Mitchelson coordinated ‘March against Monsanto Brisbane’ in the CBD on Saturday coinciding with similar demonstrations in over 400 locations spanning 40 nations across the globe. Rallies were staged in every Australian capital city.

“The rally is all about raising awareness that there are GMO (genetically modified organism) foods in Australia… It’s also about fighting for our rights as citizens to have a say in decisions that are made by the government regarding GMO foods and that’s something that has actually been limited in the past,” Ms Mitchelson said.

The story of humankind’s attempts to domesticate plants and animals is an ancient one which, according to scholars like Jared Diamond, initiated a chain of events that would bring about the formation of the written word, mega cities, the silicon chip, rock & roll and rocket ships blasting off into outer space.

What makes this new chapter more alarming though is the focus on increasing the resistance of plants to chemical-intensive farming practices through genetic modifications.

“The original purpose of GMO foods was to produce crops that are more high yielding and can feed more people… so the original purpose was positive,” Ms Mitchelson said.

But the focus has progressively shifted to genetic modifications that make plants more resistant to herbicides and pesticides.

“What’s actually happened in reality is that these pesticide-resistant plants mean that people can spray more pesticides on them and that’s what happens. They now spray more pesticides and more harsh pesticides,” she said.

The consequence is that the health of people and the surrounding environment is suffering.

Another concern surrounds the application of intellectual property rights to GMO seeds. The genetic information contained in seeds is patentable in the same way as code contained in computing software meaning that businesses in the game of genetic modification can assert ownership rights over their seed stocks through generations of seed germination.

“Monsanto has patented its seeds so that farmers cannot save their seeds. Before, farmers would save their seeds and replant them every year. Now the farmer has to pay every year a high fee to Monsanto for the right to plant crops, which is unethical,” said Ms Mitchelson.

Dr Richard Hindmarsh, an expert on GMO from Griffith University, has strongly advocated for more careful consideration of the wider environmental impacts of GMO crops on the broader ecology. His research highlights the ease at which genetically altered crops can cross-pollinate with other species, leaving fewer unaltered plants in existence.

The upshot to all this is an overall reduction in biodiversity which, amongst other things, is already hampering bee populations both in Australia and other countries.

“The bees are being affected by it because they’re not able to get a variety of their foods that were present in nature. The scary thing is we need bees to pollinate our plants,” Mitchelson said.

Mitchelson says that accurate information on the impacts of GMO foods is generally hard to come by and that the best way for people to become better informed is to consult peer-reviewed academic sources. But she also believes the effort is worth it:

“I think that food is one of the most important things in the world. I mean, what else do you need that you buy every day to keep you alive? We have food three or four times a day, what else is there? Food is so important and I think especially young people need to become more aware of where their food comes from and they need to value their food.”

The March Against Monsanto Brisbane facebook page can be accessed at:

Dr. Richard Hindmarsh’s page at Griffith University can be viewed at:

The Greens are currently the only Australian political party with a clearly articulated policy on GMO foods. This can be viewed at:

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported.

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