Fuck GMOs: Ciclovida, Occupy Monsanto, and Occupy Boston protest corporate biotechnology conference in Boston

The police nearly outnumbered the protesters yesterday morning at Dewey Square, where roughly 20 activists associated with Ciclovida, Occupy Monsanto, and Occupy Boston stood holding a “NO GMO” banner and asking passersby, “Do you know what’s in your food?”

Though the group was small, their message was specific: they were protesting against the 2012 BIO International Convention, taking place down the block at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, where some of the major-players in the industrial agriculture and big pharma industries were gathered (from June 18-21). Later in the afternoon, the protesters marched to the convetion.

The two-day Ciclovida event -- raising awareness of the evils of GMOs, Monsanto, and corporate ownership of the food system in general -- began the night before with a counter-conference titled “Seeds of Resistance: An Alternative Gathering for Environmental Justice and Movement Building” at Spontaneous Celebrations in Jamaica Plain.

“One guy came up to us when I was holding the ‘No GMO’ banner and said, ‘I know Monsanto is evil but mass food production solves poverty,’” said one protester, Andrea, yesterday afternoon. “So we told him, ‘no, it doesn’t because monocultures destroy soil and displace local farmers, and disrupt communities.’ And he said, ‘well, just rotate the crops.’ But you can’t rotate a monoculture that has thousands of acres to itself. Education is definitely still important.”


Before their march from Dewey Square to the BIO Convention, we caught up with Ciclovida activists Ashley Trull, Taylor Miles, Matt Feinstein, Scott Guzman, and Dania Flores to talk about their day of action.

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What brings you all out here today?

Trull: My name’s Ashley. I’m out here with Ciclovida. I’m out here today protesting the 2012 BIO International Convention happening up the street. It’s a gathering of some of the largest corporations in industrial agriculture and the big farm industry. So it’s a lot of folks like Monsanto, Syngenta, Novartis. Sponsors like Coca Cola, Dupont, all the big players in the corporate world. And they’re right now having a week full of workshops, talking about how to get GMOs further into our food supply, how to further industrialize agriculture, and basically how to make people think GMOs are okay, and to want [GMOs] in their food.

We’re out here today to make sure that they know, and that the public k
nows, that there is another way … and we don’t want genetically modified food. We want local agriculture, small scale, family farms. We don’t want GMOs. There’s an enormous health risk with it, and it’s not sustainable for continuing to farm and provide food for ourselves.

We’re out here speaking in solidarity with friends, compañeros in Brazil and all around the world who are organizing against Monsanto and organizing against industrial agriculture that is displacing family farms in so many communities around the world.

Miles: Part of what we’ve been trying to do, with what we’ve been calling like a counter-conference and a coordinated action against the corporate control of food at the biotech convention, is to just basically say: we don’t even need what you’re been talking about in there. We’re going have our own counter-conference and bring together local farmers, food justice and environmental justice groups.

We had a really awesome alternative gathering last night at Spontaneous Celebrations, and we’re really hoping that with alternative solutions we can do things like sharing seeds. There was a lot of seed networking last night and we’re hoping to keep in touch about some of the seeds we’ve shared and how that development is happening and just stay in solidarity together in that way.

How is this protest related to Ciclovia? Can you explain that group?

Miles: Ciclovida is an international project, a group of activists, mostly based around a documentary of two landless workers in northeastern Brazil who traveled to Argentina and back slowly by bike. And they were spreading awareness about the devastating effects of industrial agriculture on the environment and communities and in all the places they were stopping they were getting seeds from that area and then brining those back and kind of creating a seed bank.

Feinstein: And we also launched a documentary called Agrofuels: Starving people Fueling Greed. I’m one of the filmmakers and it was the premiere last night. It educates people on a specific issue that’s being discussed at this bioconvention and that’s large, unsustainable biofuels.

People think of biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels, but in fact they are not creating any benefit for farmers, for climate change issues, they are in fact causing more deforestation and displacement of small farms throughout the world, and lots of health effects with the pesticide use that it takes to grow these agro fuels.  So that’s large plantations of soy, of sugar cane …. and now they’re trying to do what are called second generation agro fuels where they feel the pressure from the critique of food crops. We’re not going to use food for fuel anymore right? We’re going to use these crops that maybe take trees, like eucalyptus trees, and cellulosic fuels. They’re going to try to break down these very fibrous plants and make them into fuel.

Well it’s actually not very effective. They’re not generating a lot more energy than they’re using to create the fuels, and not to mention all the potential impacts from the genetically modified organisms that they’re using like trees that can spread their pollen for thousands of miles. So some scary stuff. So we’re doing some education, we’re doing some networking, we’re doing some public speak outs here today so we want to hit up all the different avenues to get the word out to empower folks to have more power over their local food.

Aside from Ciclovida, what other sorts of activism surrounding these issues is going on in Boston right now?

Trull: We’re connected to a lot of awesome projects happening here and around the northeast. A lot of our connections so far have been with folks doing urban agriculture projects, folks turning lots into farms, working on growing food organically here in an urban setting. I can’t speak specifics right now but we’ve also had a lot of great support from people doing farming all around the Northeast. And a lot of people who are just starting out, a lot of young farmers who are saying ‘I want to learn this, I want to do this’ and going out there and learning how to grow their own food, how to save seeds and building that network of support. So it’s been really cool to see that there is a growing movement around this. And a lot of it is very solutions oriented. It’s like saying we’re going to build what we want to see. We’re not going to waste more time yelling at a building trying to fight industrial agriculture, we’re going to learn what we need to learn and do it and create new systems of local food and local power.

Miles: We’re collaborating a bit with Occupy Monsanto and Occupy Boston, and I just generally think that we found that the Occupy movement is really relevant here because [their goals are in line with] what needs to happen within our food system. You know, the food system needs to be back into the hands of the 99 percent, so …. occupy the food supply.

Also, last night we had Claire Allen from Roxbury Safety Net come, who has been resisting the BU Biolab for about ten years now. So we were really trying to draw the connections there, because BU has been very supportive of the 2012 BIO International Convention.. So, part of our event last night was being in solidarity with the community of Roxbury who has not consented about the placement of that level four lab.

If you had to just really simply explain to someone how the conversation surrounding GMOs is relevant to their life, what one thing would you tell them?

Trull: It mostly comes down to food. Everyone needs food. And what’s happening now is a lot of our food has GMO products in it, and we don’t know what the health implications are, but it is thought to be attached to a lot of health concerns. So, it’s just the fact that this is something we used to nourish ourselves with. Food. Everyone needs healthy food  to sustain ourselves, but when you’re messing with genetics and what goes into the food, we don’t know the impacts. It is probably causing a lot of the diseases we’re seeing on increasing levels today. There’s a lot of research going on about it, but also Monstanto is doing a lot to cover up that research, to make sure it’s not getting out there. So people don’t know the health risks of genetically modified food. The biggest thing I say to people is, “hey do you know what you’re eating? Do you know that your food is genetically modified? Do you know what impact that has here? Wouldn’t you like to know if your food is genetically modified?” We don’t have a labeling for it here in the US, so there’s no way to know. But its very pervasive in a lot of the food that we eat.

That’s the main way I like to connect to folks about these issues. And then you can get into from there just to the fact that it’s not sustainable in the long term because of the seed issue. Genetically modified seeds are designed to be terminator seeds to not reproduce, so you can’t save the seeds, you need to keep buying them. And that’s not a way to sustain farmers and sustain small scale agriculture. Not to mention they’re usually paired with pesticide use, which is another toxin we’re putting in our food, connected with cancer levels and lots of developmental diseases and disorders that are happening with children.

So, yeah …. food. We don’t want to poison our food. It’s as basic as that.

Flores: I think also part of it is that [the seed market] is a created market. Seeds. Everybody should be able to have access to seeds. Usually farmers harvest the seeds for next season. And usually those are the best seeds that they collect from the crops. But right now they cannot do that … there’s going to be a point where we’re not going to be able to harvest seeds. We’re going to have to buy them. And it’s a created market. Having control over our food supply? That’s basically like playing God, for money. The way I talk to people is asking, “do you want to control what you eat? Or do you want somebody else to control it?”

And it’s not just food, it’s what animals eat, too. Because they grow [GMO-filled food] for animals too. And that modifies the animals. It’s dangerous stuff.

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