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Jen Bullard of Knoxville is the mother of two boys subject to allergies. One of them weighed five pounds when born, and doctors couldn’t figure out why he began to have severe painful breakouts all over his body. In researching, Bullard learned that genetically modified foods (GMOs) are a likely cause of allergies, autism and other health ailments. Since Bullard eliminated of GMOs in her family’s diet, there have been no more breakouts—and her own allergies have disappeared. That’s why she is hosting the March Against Monsanto in Knoxville on May 25—and it’s the same reason that Chattanooga organizer, Patricia Bazemore, a single mother with two children is joining in. The Chattanooga March will start at 2 p.m. on May 25 in Miller Park at 2 p.m. Marchers will proceed to Coolidge Park, and eventually end in Renaissance Park. The Knoxville event begins at 1 p.m. in Market Square.
Speakers in Chattanooga include local organic gardener Alex Macgregor, Rick Wright, executive chef for University of the South, and Garver Akers, an agroecologist, farmer and cancer survivor.
Both marches will challenge Monsanto’s practices as part of a worldwide effort to build public awareness regarding use of GMO technology, and the lack of labeling allowing consumers to decide whether or not to buy products containing genetically modified food. Monsanto has called the marches “elitist.”
National March Against Monsanto lead coordinator Tami Monroe Canal said, “Monsanto threatens what we most hold dear…our environment, our children, and our longevity. Monsanto’s genetically engineered crops and glyphosate, the chief ingredient in Round-Up, are linked to diabetes, autism, obesity; add the spike in childhood cancers, Parkinson’s, sterility, infertility, miscarriage and tumors.”
Currently, 80 –90 percent of mass-farmed corn is genetically modified, and this corn shows up in many other food products. Monsanto scientists have inserted the insect-killing gene of Bacillus thuringiensis into corn. “There are things that shouldn’t be sharing DNA,” Blazemore said. “There is no follow-up research; we don’t know the ramifications,” she added.
Tennessee State Senator Frank Nicely, a Strawberry Plains farmer, concurs. “Trans-genetic really bothers me…where you put animal genes in plants. I think it’s a scary time,” he told us. He asked, “What’s happening to the honeybees? What’s happening to red worms? Why so much autism? There’s something going on.”
Sen. Nicely will be speaking at the Knoxville event. He has introduced The Genetically Engineered Food Labeling Act of 2013 (Senate Bills 893 and 894) to mandate labeling for genetically engineered food and seeds. “Farmers and gardeners should be able to know what they’re raising. You need to be able to make an informed purchase. Genetic diversity is shrinking. I think we’re moving away from safer food,” he said.
During the Tennessee marches, citizens will be asked to support mandatory labeling of GMO foods as is already the case in Europe. The petition citizens can sign states, “We have a right to know about our food and the freedom to choose what we buy, what we eat, what we feed our families. GMOs are unnatural, imprecise, and prone to side effects. They may cause reproductive problems, and even infant mortality.”
The current list of US-approved GMOS includes corn, soybean, canola, plum, papaya, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beet, wheat, creeping bentgrass, rice, cantaloupe, flax, tomatoes, potatoes, radicchio, and squash. Groups involved in the effort to see GMO foods labeled feel that political clout on the part of big companies such as Monsanto is the reason GMO information is being kept from the public, and the reason Monsanto is being allowed to gain monopolies on access to seeds.
“Monsanto is so ingrained in the White House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the FDA,” said Mary Burton, one of the Chattanooga march organizers. “Hilary Clinton, Michael Taylor (deputy commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration), and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas [who recently ruled in favor of Monsanto] are all former Monsanto lawyers,” she said.
Jami Brown, social worker and Chattanooga master gardener, said, “I am against the monopolization of seeds, the revolving door in government between Monsanto and our regulatory agencies, and using the American people as guinea pigs for their science experiments with our food.”
In a 2003 statement before the Congressional Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Rural Development and Research House Committee on Agriculture, Lester M. Crawford, said, “The FDA has reviewed the data on more than 50 bioengineered food products, ranging from herbicide resistant soybeans to a modified canola oil. To date, the evidence shows that these foods are as safe as their conventional counterparts.”
Currently, Marches Against Monsanto are planned on six continents, in 36 countries, totaling events in more than 250 cities and 47 states in the US.