Tag Archive | Monsanto

March Against Monsanto 2015 – Richmond

Some media reports have forecasted hundreds of thousands will March against Monsanto corporation on May 23rd in over 400 cities around the world.  We went into Richmond to join the fun.

While this is a charming picture of a poster, it also has Oakers Sabrina, Sunya and Edmund int he background as well as Aster Acorn

A charming picture of a poster, it also has Oakers Sabrina, Sunya & Edmund in the background as well as Aster Acorn

The march began with background information about how it got started 3 years ago. The inspiration was the US congress passing the despicable Monsanto Protection Act, which was basically written by Monsanto to make things better for them. The most horrific parts of the 2013 Monsanto Protection Act are that even if it is found that GMOs have adverse health effects on consumers, companies using them 1) can not be sued, 2) can not be stopped from harvesting them and 3) cannot be blocked from planting more and selling more of them. Little could be more revealing of how sold out our elected leaders are.

MAM marchers in Richmond today

MAM marchers in Richmond today

The perhaps 100 marchers went through the fashionable Carytown portion of Richmond with a substantial police escort.  The response from the many people who saw us was pretty warm, especially the staff at the many restaurants on that trendy street. As for the tactics of the MAM i have strong split feelings (the technically correct definition of ambivalent).  I love the decentralized approach to the organization of these events.  People come, bring signs, and a megaphone.

There is a fairly informal rotation of speakers at most of these, anyone who is inspired can grab a megaphone and address the crowd.  While I did not speak this year, i did in 2013 in Washington DC.

Marchers with signs just before we head out (i am on the far right of this photo).

Marchers with signs just before we head out (i am on the far right of this photo).

This type of decentralize approach is important, because it is at its base populist.  Also it proves that the internet can be a highly effective organizing tool (not requiring strong–read authoritarian–leaders) with global reach and the capacity to facilitate multi-city/multi-country mass actions.

MAM 2015 official poster

March Wide propaganda image – this is one of the benefits of being in the franchise.

The problem with this lovely grass rootsie approach is that these decentralized groups do a third rate job with media.  There was some media at the Richmond event, and there might even be a bit of press coverage.  But overall, this movement is pretending that it is possible reach millions without a media budget, without media handlers and without carefully crafted messages sending. While i appreciated the considerable decentralized effort, i remember working with the experienced media folks at Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and Greenpeace US.  They speak at a high level about when a story has to be out by, what images make sense to broadcast, what are the talking points, what is the group demanding. With hundreds of protests around the world, there are but dozens of articles up (mostly in small papers or on local tv stations).  I can’t help but think if one of the better big green groups were to take on this cause, we would have much larger media echo.

Let's get right to that

Let’s get right to that

Tell the USDA what you really think

Acorn’s primary income engine is the seed business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  There are lots of wonderful things about this business.  We are advancing organic, heritage and non-GMO seeds.  We are fighting Monsanto’s effort to contaminate the food supply and bankrupt small farmers.

In court Monsanto was incredulous at the claim they would sue farmers "They are our customers" they claimed.

In court Monsanto was incredulous at the claim they would sue farmers. “They are our customers,” they claimed.

Every so often the government asks what we think about what is happening in the world of agriculture.  Until March 4th you can comment to the USDA on the “agricultural coexistence between GMOs and non-GMO crops.”  Here is the link if you want to comment identifying yourself.  Here is the link if you want to comment anonymously.  Here are the perfectly reasonable things which Southern Exposure wrote in our formal comments.

But i don’t want to be reasonable, because i am furious.  When i describe to people what is really happening with Monsanto the first general reaction is disbelief.  As it stands now, Monsanto’s army of lawyers have completely trampled property law.  As it stands now, Monsanto can sneak onto your property, steal your crops, have them tested and then if they find trace contamination by their GMO strains (at even trace levels) they begin a legal assault on you which forces you to choose 1) to go bankrupt defending yourself or 2) require you to agree to their terms which include never going public about the abuse they put you through.  This is classic corporate criminal behavior.

monsanto plank cartoon

Monsanto has been extremely effectively silencing farmers on GMO contamination for many years, with threats of lawsuits and legal action.  One of the few silver linings of the case we mostly lost against Monsanto is that it does set a 1% contamination threshold so that real trace amounts can’t be used to bankrupt farmers.

But what i really want is for some Monsanto criminal technician to bust onto some farmers land who lives in a Stand Your Ground state or one which has strong trespassing laws.  And then for the property owner to shoot him.  Okay i don’t want to kill anyone, but the current madness is Orwellian and must stop.  Monsanto should know that this predatory legal behavior is not safe.

"Because Monsanto owns me" Obama replied honestly

“Because Monsanto owns me,” Obama replied honestly.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

Gifts to Acorn and the First Day of Busy Season

Thanks to all the fine folks who contributed to our Indiegogo campaign; yesterday we made our goal of $10,000 with several days left to complete it.

There were some enlightening and curious things about this fund-raising campaign for me.  The people who are supposedly our competitors turned out to be some of our larger donors.  The folks who know our business are not surprised by this.  We do not really operate as competitors, especially when it comes to operating experience and mistakes made.

The shared  desire to practice and spread heritage and organic plants has created a collection of companies which support each other in ways competitors usually do not.  For many of us we see our competitor as Monsanto.

A new evolutionary trajectory

A new evolutionary trajectory

Acorn was also given $5000 by an anonymous donor, which was the cause for some celebration.

New member Falcon also arrived early in a somewhat vain effort to surprise his partner Dragon.  The smoke shack was hopping after our brief community meeting, and Falcon burst in to many welcomes after driving all day from Minneapolis.  But after perhaps too little festivity, i pulled the trick where i recruit from the smoke shack and get people to pick orders.  It was the first day of the busy season, we had over 100 orders in.

Dragon in the new picking room

Dragon in the new picking room

It was also the first full day of orders which was picked in the new picking room.  The space was large and much better able to handle the 6 and 7 people who were picking there late at night.  We finished the 100 orders in about 40 minutes, which bodes well for the busier days to come.

When i talk with Acorners about the busy season they are excited.  Not because we will finally get back into Heartwood after the Arson repairs.  Not even because we will have this new beautiful seed palace to work out of, but because (in my read) it brings the group together and directs our sometimes scattered efforts.

Falcon and Irena - forget the party, there is work to do.

Falcon and Irena late night picking – forget the party, there is work to do.

After our flash mob picking event, some of us went to the hot tub to relax.  For all the struggles of the last year, it is still an amazing place to live and work.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

Who owns Wikipedia?

Technically, there are two answers to this question.

The first is that “No one owns wikipedia” it is a crowd sourced encyclopedia with over 75,000 active registered editors from around the world, plus an uncountable number of unregistered editors who are all working together to try to make sure the information on Wikipedia is truthful and accurate.

The second answer is that this non-profit organization is owned by it’s 7 member board of trustees.  They are legally responsible for the wikipedia website and the collection of other Wiki Media projects which has sprung up around it.

But the “real” answer is more complex and a bit darker.

March Against Monsanto Dallas

March Against Monsanto Dallas

Five days ago i created the March Against Monsanto entry in wikipedia.  With a quarter of a million people signed up for this event, and possibly millions more likely to come, i was a bit surprised that no one had bothered to put it up on this popular free encyclopedia.  i was not surprised this morning when i got a message from wikipedia that my article had been proposed for deletion.

The case for deletion is pretty strong:

  • There is little media coverage for this event which was supposedly happening all over the world.
  • Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a newspaper. Articles need enduring notability to be included.
  • The article in wikipedia was created by someone with a conflict of interest (me)
  • News stories citing “millions” of participants seem to just be parroting the event organizers.

If you read the discussion about deleting the article there are thoughtful comments on both sides of the debate.  The current “vote” is 3 deleted and 6 keeps for the article.  In viewing the arguments and profiles of the people wishing to delete this article, i dont think any of them on are the take from Monsanto.

As much as possible, i try to avoid conspiracy theory thinking. Generally, i find it distracting, disempowering and at least somewhat fanciful (tho i do still fret about World Trade Center 7 collapsing).

No steel frame building has ever collapsed from fire alone - explosives are almost always involved.

No other steel frame high rise building has ever collapsed from fire alone – explosives are almost always involved.

But it would be foolish to think that Monsanto (and all large corporations) dont involve themselves in wikipedia monitoring and editing.  Looking at the “Talk” page on Monsanto article in Wikipedia reveals a couple of things.  There is lots of contention about the ill effects of Monsanto products.  Monsanto claims the scientific high ground currently, mostly because they are legally successful in blocking most studies of the round up ready product.  Certainly in the case of the entry on Monsanto in wikipedia, the post is owned by their legion of well paid writers, who are successful in keeping off most of the damning evidence from the wiki page (while there is quite a lot of it presented in the talk pages, which are view by well less than 1% of the people coming to the page.


But there is lots of contention over where or not the critiques of Vandana Shiva are worthy of entering in the article.  Mostly, they have been kept out – this does appear:

Critics, including Vandana Shiva, said that the crop failures could “often be traced to” Monsanto’s Bt cotton, and that the seeds increased farmers’ indebtedness, and argued that Monsanto misrepresented the profitability of their genetically modified cotton, Bt Cotton, causing farmers to suffer losses leading to debt.[236][237][238][239][240] In 2009, Ms. Shiva wrote that Indian farmers who had previously spent as little as 7 rupees per kilogram were now paying up to Rs. 17,000 per kilo per year after switching to BT cotton.[241] More recently, in 2012 the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Central Cotton Research Institute (CCRI) stated that for the first time farmer suicides could be linked to a decline in the performance of Bt cotton, and they issued an advisory stating that “cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers.” [242]

When we look at GMO effects on mice, we dont like what we see

When we look at GMO effects on mice, we dont like what we see

So years back a friend of mine who was an expert in cyborgs expressed his frustrations with wikipedia.  He had tried a number of times to correct the article on cyborgs, only to have his changes reversed and errors re-introduced.  Further the error recidivist was unwilling to communicate with him about the switch.  This left my friend feeling frustrated and hopeless that wikipedia would ever have the entry right.

i saw his some months back and asked how he was doing with wikipedia these days.  He replied he now makes part of his grad students work, maintaining and correcting the cyborg entry.  As for wikipedia he said “i love it now, because i own it.”

i have to wonder for how many pages does Monsanto feel the same way.

[Update:  The “vote” to delete the article is clearly swinging to keeping the article. With 15 keeps to 3 deletes at the time of this posting.]

March Against Monsanto – Death City

“Raise your hand if you like food” the six year old said into the microphone

one of the best speakers at MAM

one of the best speakers at MAM

“You know why i did not raise my hand?” he says to the crowd with their arms up in the air.  “Because 80% of food now has GMOs in it.  Now raise your hand if you like organic food.”

The crowd ate it up and enthusiastically raised their hands again.

“Now raise your hands if you don’t like Monsanto” He exits

The march was unpermitted and the police behaved well

The march was unpermitted and the police behaved well

There were perhaps a thousand protesters.  There was no big name group taking responsibility for the action.  The microphones were largely open mike and a great group of folks picked up the communication to the protesters, including a surprising number of kids.

I spoke once at the teach in before the rally and twice into the open mic to the assembled marchers.  I gave away a few hundred dark green zucchini seed packs to new organic gardeners.

loved the american flag heart glasses

loved the american flag heart glasses

Despite the depressing nature of the topic, including reports of 90% bee colony collapse last year attributed to Monsanto products, states rights being trampled by a bought off Senate, our own bad news about Monsanto suing contaminated farmers, and WikiLeaks proof that the US government plans trade wars with countries banning Monsanto’s GMO products, the protesters were nearly universally upbeat and engaged.

Monsanto is a threat to these and other bees

Monsanto is a threat to these and other bees

We heard incorrectly that Monsanto purchased the infamous security firm formerly known as Blackwater.  And what is true is that Monsanto is stepping up its intelligence gathering on anti-Monsanto activists.  If Monsanto is willing to shamelessly lie to block GMO labeling, one wonders what they might do with information about activist who are opposed to their products.

Of course Anonymous was there

Of course Anonymous was there

There were a surprising number (to me anyway) of people who had their faces covered.  Anonymous/Guy Fawkes masks were popular, Palestinian scarf sets and costume masks minimally reduced the efforts of the plain clothes video teams working the crowd.  Though none of the many people who addressed the crowd through the many open mic PA addresses concealed their identity this way.

Our hopes got tangled in the puppet strings

Our hopes got tangled in the puppet strings

All photo credits me.

Monsanto vs Occupy vs Iraq Protests

I think there are three principal classes of what i call catastrophic risk technologies:  nuclear, genetic modification, nanotechnology.  In each of these three cases the technopiles and capitalists are mostly winning, though we are pushing back in nuclear.  In each of these three cases, relatively accessible mistakes can have global detrimental impacts.

we are what we eat

we are what we eat

As of this writing there are 395 protests worldwide scheduled for this May 25th (this coming Saturday) against Monsanto for its work on genetically modified organisms.   Of these, 230 are in the US, which seems appropriate given Monsanto is a US creation.  Fortunately, i will be able to go to the protest in Washington DC.  [Which in this case is especially aptly called Death City]. Stay tuned for pictures of this protest.

395 is a lot of simultaneous protests.    Let’s look at some of the other big international protests in comparison.  This is about 1/3 the size of the Occupy movement at it’s height (which wikipedia claims were in 951 cities in 82 counties on the 15th of October 2011).  It is about 1/8th the size (in terms of number of locations) of the world-wide protests against the Iraq War in the lead up to the unlawful US invasion (which wikipedia estimates at over 3000 locations and over 36 million people between Jan 3 and April 12 2003).  The Iraq War protests were in a greater number of cities in the US, and possibly a bit smaller in number of participants than the mass protests against the Vietnam War in the US, which started well after the conflict began.

There are already 65 more locations than this poster indicates

There are already 65 more locations than this poster indicates

But there is something very different happening here.  Occupy had a huge agenda.   Most of the Iraq War protests took place in Europe which was keenly aware of the deceptions of the Bush administration about the invasion.  These Monsanto protests are targeted at a single corporation, which is in most of the protest countries operating legally.

There is another difference, which is that there is no real spark for these coordinated action.  There is no war looming, there is no financial crisis sharpening the inequities between rich and poor.  And the demands of the Monsanto protest are highly accessible:

  • Boycott Monsanto owned companies
  • Label GMOs
  • Repeal US “Monsanto Protection Act”
  • More research on health effects of GMOs
  • Holding Monsanto and supporting politicians accountable thru direct communication

Clearly missing from this list is a ban on further GMO product releases until the research on health effects is completed.  India and other countries have banned sale or cultivation.    Hungary went so far as to burn 1000 acres of GMO corn and make planting or selling GMO crops a felony.  Unwilling to wait for often slow government action, activists around the world are destroying GMO crops themselves; typically the test beds.  And they risking imprisonment to do this.


When i dig into who is organizing this March Against Monsanto, it appears to be tiny groups including:

These groups are so small, that Anti-Media has only 3 comments on their March announcement.  Activist Free Press appears to be a one person operation.  A-revolt is of slightly indeterminate size, but it could be just a few handful of people.

From event organizer a-revolt

From event organizer a-revolt

I was asked at lunch today what the spark for this global protest movement was and a couple people thought it was the passage of the Monsanto Protection Act.  The more i read about this legislation the more especially vexing it is. So much so that the national outcry has been loud enough to to spark the first congress person calling for provisions of the bill to be removed.

There is a long fight ahead to stop Monsanto, but it seems to have powerful memetic legs and global significance.

The author of this post, Paxus Calta, works for Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE) in central Virginia.  SESE is part of the ASGATA lawsuit against Monsanto to block them from suing farmers who have been contaminated by GMO seeds.

My suit cost more than your car

A dozen Southern Exposure folks got up and on the road before dawn to attend the oral arguments for the next phase of our lawsuit against Monsanto at the Federal Appeals Court in Washington, DC.  The hearing went better than I had expected, especially given that the previous judge had claimed our case was not worth her time and dismissed it.  The three long serving and experienced federal judges making up the Appeals Court asked sharp questions for the hour long session of our lawyer (Dan Ravicher from the Public Patent Foundation) but especially of the lawyers from Monsanto.  [We are challenging Monsanto’s GMO patents and preemptively suing to protect ourselves from suits if our farms should become contaminated.  See details here]

The Monsanto lawyers have a tough job.  They need to sound reasonable and fair, and they need to not give anything away.  This is problematic because some of the things they should be giving away are pretty clear.  At the heart of our case is the desire to assure farmers who are contaminated by GMO seeds, who don’t want them and have no intention of using Monsanto’s Round Up pesticide, to be free of fear of lawsuit. This is actually not what Monsanto wants; they want everyone to be afraid of their lawyers swooping in, finding contamination and then suing the farmer and destroying them financially regardless of whether the farmer is using their products or not.  They want this because they want a monopoly on seeds, because monopolistic prices are far higher than market prices and the profits are fantastic.

But the lawyers can’t very well say “we want to destroy every farm which is not paying us for our patented seeds even if they got them through contamination of their fields.”  Instead they have to say things like “Farmers are our customers, why would we create bad blood with people we want to sell to?” And they quote the very reasonable sounding things on the Monsanto website.  And if you have been a Federal judge for over 20 years, you have heard every type of dodge, redirection and elusive answer ever created.

Ira speaks at Rally at Lafayette park

Ira speaks at the Rally at Lafayette Park

“Are you saying that you would not sue farmers who are not using your Round Up pesticide?” asked one judge.  The Monsanto lawyer returned to the text from the website, like it was a religious doctrine.  He certainly had no intention of answering the reasonable question of the judge.  The judges pressed on.  “What if hypothetically a farmer was found to have 50% Round Up Ready seeds after 3 years, just from contamination and replanting their own seeds.  This is certainly beyond “trace” levels.  Would Monsanto sue then?”  More reasonable questions, more evasive answers.

Our lawyer believes that this hurts Monsanto, that you dont actually compel judges by evading their direct questions.  I hope he is right.

“How long have you been working on this issue?” An activist asked me “36 hours” I replied.

This is approximately what I said to the crowd in Lafayette Park near the White House and the Appeals Courthouse.

This is where Monsanto wants to be fighting us, in the courthouse.  Here they have all the advantages.  Laws which invert the idea of trespass so they can steal crops from farmers lands and test them for their poisons.  Patent laws designed to protect their profits, not public health.  Here they can out-gun us with fancy lawyers and technicalities.

We need to take this fight to the media, to activists like those of you in this crowd today.  We need to stop these predatory law suits that Monsanto is initiating with the intent of controlling the market and destroying farmers.   We need to ask the hard questions that the judges were asking today, but in forums where Monsanto can’t hide their answers in obscure precedent and legal terms which can’t be understood.

One reader was inspired to offer financial support for this important work.  We are directing donations to the Food Democracy Now travel fund for Farmers.  Please donate here and specify “Travel Fund for Farmers fighting Monsanto”.