Outside looking in: March Against Monsanto

MAMyths-18

Walk for the Cure shaming? Really?

Last weekend I went to my very first protest. I’ve never been to a protest because I’m not really the kind of person who intentionally puts myself in situations designed to stir up trouble. Especially not one like the March Against Monsanto that is pretty well known for being an anti-GMO angry mob. Usually, I would stay far away from those kinds of protests.  But, this time was different because this year there was a group called March Against Myths about Modification (or MAMyths) protesting the March Against Monsanto with pro-GMO messages. That’s a little more my style, except I still don’t really like the idea of poking a hornet’s nest. One of the reasons I started this blog was to give myself an outlet to talk about these issues, because I don’t really like to do it at dinner parties, in line at the coffee shop, or at the bus stop with my kids in tow. I was pretty reluctant to go at all; I’m generally non-confrontational and agreeable with strangers. I decided to go by promising myself (and my husband) I was only going as an observer, as a journalist covering the event for my blog. I wouldn’t get into any angry debates and if it got ugly, I’d just get back on the bus and go home.  I took my camera and my notepad in my shaky hands and rode the bus to downtown Portland. I spent much of the ride practicing yoga breathing and giving myself a pep talk.

See what that shirt says on the far left? Classy.

See what that shirt says on the far left? And that child with a “Monsanto is hella sick” sign? Classy.

At first, I was afraid no one was going to show up. I arrived at the park and I didn’t see anyone holding a pro-GMO sign. At one end of the square was a stage surrounded by people holding signs that read, “Buzz Off Monsanto, You’re Killing Us,” “Monsanto is Murder,” “Hell No GMO,” and one pregnant lady was holding a sign that said, “Quit Trying To Get In My Genes.” There were little kids holding anti-Monsanto signs, people dressed up in bee costumes, people in straw hats passing out “GMO-free” organic tomato plants (I held back the urge to tell them that there aren’t any GMO tomatoes), a guy with an oversized bike, some people dressed up like clowns, and a couple of people wearing Halloween masks. I seriously started to re-think my attendance. But soon enough a few people came out of the woodwork wearing green and once a few people were standing together, 15 people emerged from nowhere. Understandably, no one wanted to be the first to hold up an, “Ask Me About GMOs” sign. But once there was strength in numbers, they set up a table, put some pro-GMO literature on it, passed out “I heart GMO” stickers, and turned to face the “angry mob.” There were about 20 MAMyths supporters facing about 200 who had come to March Against Monsanto.

MAMyths-25

See? Smiles.

And maybe they were a bit angry at the beginning, but amazingly, it never got ugly. People wandered over with pissed-off looks on their faces and started asking questions. One guy actually thought they were joking. But the MAMyths group faced them with smiles and calm voices. They handed out the flyer and started a conversation. I stood by the side and watched. Almost every single time, the anti-GMO person would start off really guarded and defensive but after a few non-hostile sentences from the pro-GMO side, their aggression deflated. They realized the group wasn’t there to fight. In fact, MAMyths had a sign that said, “Don’t start a fight, start a conversation.” And that’s what they did, conversation after level-headed conversation. A lot of them started like this, “Ok, I don’t know a whole lot, give me your spiel.” They talked about the scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs, and how GMOs have helped farmers increase yield and decrease the impact on the environment. For the most part, it was very civil. Some people remained unconvinced, agreed to disagree and walked away. Some talked for a good ten minutes or more and there were definitely a good number of people that seemed to walk away questioning their previous assumptions. Maybe a few were even fully convinced.

We love GMOs has a civil conversation with death bees.

We love GMOs has a civil conversation with death bees.

Some weird things did happen, though. A woman who seemed to be in charge of the march came over and demanded MAMyths get off the square because they had reserved the whole place. Fortunately, MAMyths had already called the city and confirmed they didn’t need a permit, so they stayed put and she didn’t bring it up again. One lady did a walk-by yelling, “I’m going to find out who funds you!” To which a few MAMyths folks mumbled, “Let us know when you find out.” One guy yelled, “You’re in the wrong F@!#ing place, you better get the f@!# outta here, I’m serious!” But the group ignored him. I overheard, “Oh, so you’re pro-vaccine, too?” and “You LIKE high fructose corn syrup?!” Then one of the MAMyths guys went and bought the whole group Starbucks coffee, which was awesome. But then the coffee drinkers caught flak for drinking Starbucks by one lady who walked by and yelled, “Starbucks? Really? Low wages and they treat their employees bad? Nice.” But that was balanced out when a lady gave the group a Starbucks gift card because she said her employer gave it to her and she wouldn’t use it, but they might. Maybe the craziest thing was when a lady dressed in a bee costume started doing a wavy dance at the group with her Stevie Nicks-style scarf and said, “I’m reprogramming you because you’re children of darkness.” Even though it was clearly a waste of time, one of the MAMyths crew engaged her in a very nice conversation about her conspiracy theories. All in all, I’d say it went pretty well.  I’m pretty sure most of the MAMyths crew felt good about it.

MAMyths-9There’s only one thing I’m really disappointed about. At the beginning of the event I looked around for reporters and spotted a few. I walked up to each of them to find out who they were and to make sure they knew about the counter protest. The Portland State University paper was there and a few other small publications, but I was pleasantly surprised when one guy said, “I’m with OPB News (Oregon Public Broadcasting).” I told him about the counter protest and said he’d know who they were because they’d be the ones wearing green and holding pro-GMO signs. I told him he’d be welcome if he wanted to talk to anyone in the group. He nodded.

Then he proceeded to ignore the whole group of 20 smiling people who were striking up difficult conversations about unpopular topics among people holding hate signs. Later that day he published 19 photos of the event, and not a single one of them included the MAMyths group. I can come to no other conclusion than he didn’t want to tarnish Portland’s “keep it weird” image with pictures of regular people supporting GMOs. I guess OPB would rather publish sensational images of clowns driving oversized bikes and people dressed up in bee costumes and people holding signs that say, “Monsatan Evil Seed” next to a hand-drawn picture of a skull, and a group of grandmothers singing anti-Monsanto songs.  Maybe he didn’t think a group consisting of farmers, scientists, moms, students and vegans who support GMOs was newsworthy enough. Maybe next year someone needs to dress up as a big dancing Arctic Apple if they want to get the attention of OPB. It would be one thing to deem the entire event not worthy of news coverage, like the Oregonian did. But to come to the event and only cover the part you want readers to see? As a journalist, I find bias like that pretty inexcusable. But, no worry. MAMyths will be back next year to give OPB another chance to do it right.

MAMyths-20

Wait, is that a Starbucks cup in your hand?! Oh the inconsistency!

I know they’ll be back again because we all learned something pretty important while we were there. March Against Monsanto is not intimidating. It took a lot of courage for that group of 20 people to show up to a GMO protest and hold a sign that said, “We Love GMOs.” But in the end, there was nothing scary at all. In fact, most of the people were just using the march as an excuse to get out and be angry about something. They weren’t even all angry about the same things – some people were marching with “increase the minimum wage” signs and some people were going on about chemtrails and government conspiracies. It was like everyone was pissed about a different issue and they were all coming together and talking about it like it was the same thing. They just use Monsanto as a catch-all for everything they’re upset about, even things that don’t make any sense. That’s not scary, it’s just well, kind of stupid.

I’m glad I went after all. It’s about time some reasonable people stood up next to March Against Monsanto so we can all see the juxtaposition of rational next to irrational. Maybe some people will change the way they think about GMOs, maybe not. But it’s a really good place to start.MAMyths-12

 

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12 Comments

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12 Responses to Outside looking in: March Against Monsanto

  1. Nicole Nichol

    I love the caption “We love GMOs has a civil conversation with death bees” very witty! Kudos for going! I had thought about making the drive, but we had other plans already in place. Next year I will put it on the calendar in advance!

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  3. Geezer

    Non-GMO short-and long-season varieties finish in top 10 in terms of yields and quality; diversified rotation, not GM trait, has greater impact on yield and soil health

    University of Vermont (UVM) field trials of short- and long-season corn found that non-GMO seed varieties performed as well as or even better than some genetically modified varieties. A cropping system trial found that corn grown in a diversified crop rotation produced higher yields and better soil quality than corn grown continuously year after year.

    Trials conducted to evaluate corn varieties
    The UVM Extension Northwest Crops and Soils Team evaluated yield and quality of both short- and long-season corn silage seed varieties and the impact of corn cropping systems on the overall health and productivity of the crop and soil. The trials were conducted at the Borderview Research Farm in Alburgh, VT.

    Short-season corn, which matures in 77-95 days, is grown in Vermont’s cooler climate, which has fewer growing days. By growing a short-season corn variety, farmers have more time in the fall to prepare their soil for winter by applying manure and planting cover crops. This helps minimize nutrient and soil losses.

    Long-season corn, which matures in 95-112 days, can be difficult to grow in Vermont’s cooler climate with its fewer growing days. However, on many farms, long season corn can produce higher yields and quality than many short season varieties.

    The corn cropping system trial evaluated yield and soil health of five different corn rotations: continuous corn, no-till, corn planted after perennial forage, corn planted after a cover crop of winter rye, and a perennial forage fescue.

    The UVM team was comprised of extension agronomist Dr. Heather Darby and extension crops and soils technicians Sara Ziegler, Erica Cummings, Susan Monahan, and Julian Post.

    UVM, along with other major agricultural universities, conducts the trials as a service to farmers and seed companies, allowing them to have unbiased replicated data that evaluates seed varieties from a range of seed companies.

    Seed companies adding non-GMO varieties
    UVM’s trials included non-GMO corn varieties. According to Darby, there have been fewer non-GMO seed varieties in university trials in recent years, but that may be changing.

    “Over the last few years farmers have been requesting non-GMO varieties, and companies are starting to add more to their lineups,” Darby said.

    Of 29 corn varieties grown in the short-season trial, four were non-GMO and the rest were GMO. The non-GMO seeds were submitted by Prairie Hybrids, Seedway, and Albert Lea Seeds.

    Of 45 varieties grown in the long-season trial, 13 were non-GMO and submitted by the same three companies. The GMO varieties were submitted by DeKalb, Mycogen, Pioneer Hi-Bred, T.A. Seeds, and Syngenta.

    Non-GMO varieties performed in top 10 for yield and quality
    In the short-season UVM trial, all four non-GMO corn varieties performed better than average in terms of yield, while three performed better than average in terms of both yield and quality.

    In the long-season trial, seven of the non-GMO varieties performed better than average in terms of yield and quality.

    “There were non-GMO varieties that performed in the top 10 for both the long- and short- season corn variety trials,” Darby said.

    Darby sees a growing trend of including more non-GMO corn varieties in university field trials.

    “I do think there is a trend, in the northeast anyway,” she said.

    Corn-alfalfa rotation produces better soil quality and yields
    The corn cropping system trial found that corn planted after perennial alfalfa performed best in terms of improved soil quality and yields, of all the corn rotations. Darby also said corn-alfalfa rotation also had no insect damage, while those in other rotations did.

    A Roundup Ready GM corn was planted in all four of the crop rotations, yet Darby said the GM trait had no effect on yield.

    “It goes to show that good rotation and soil management does far more for production and yields than GMO,” Darby said.

    – See more at: http://nongmoreport.com/articles/june-2015/vermont-corn-trials-highlight-better-non-GMO-yields-crop-rotations-over-gmos.php#sthash.uqyA1OCn.dpuf

    • Dmytriy

      Could you provide a link to the original study? I tried searching through UVM studies but no luck locating this one so far.

      I would like to read more about the set up of test groups because, unless I misunderstood, it seems from the write up above that non-gmo group used a full range of IPM and crop rotation techniques while gmo group did not use those. It seems like the study is comparing things that cant be compared. Is there a comparison of GMO group with full crop rotation to a Non-GMO group with the rotations as well?

      In addition to that, other studies have already determined that GMO roundup ready and bt varities only increase yields in bad years with high level of pest infestation. Was that factor taken into account with the length of this study?

    • Sara

      Geezer – I’d also be interested in the original study. I don’t consider a write-up from the Non-GMO report to be a very unbiased summary of the study. Can you please provide us with a link to the original study?

      Additionally, I’d be interested in what you’re trying to discuss here. Next time you post a comment, I’d appreciate it if you’d make a point to call out what you’re trying to get across instead of simply copying and pasting a story into a comment field. And how, exactly, does this relate to my post about my experience at MAMyths? The goal of the MAMyths movement is to dispel myths about GMOs – namely that they are unsafe. The story above has nothing to do with safety.

      Even if, for the sake of argument, there is no yield advantage when no significant stress is present (which has been extensively studied) that doesn’t make them useless, and it certainly doesn’t make the technology not worth investigating.

      • Dmytriy

        Looks like I finally found the link to the study. Actually it is multiple studies located here http://www.uvm.edu/extension/cropsoil/research The write up is a collection of results from multiple long and short season corn trials. I was correct about the crop rotations. Dont know why researchers would compare GM to (Non-GM + Crop rotations). Its a rather unfair comparison. In addition another major point is that almost all GM varieties were Glyphosate ready, however no glyphosate was used in conjunction. Not sure what was the point of planting the GM corn at all if you dont pair it up with a pesticide to which it is resistant.

        • Sara

          Thanks, Dmytriy, for finding that for us. You’re right, that doesn’t make any sense. Seems like it was a study designed to try to make a point.

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  5. Matt

    It is nice to see some coverage of this event in detail, even though, as the author points out, none that would be viewed by a large audience. The belief in pseudoscience mixed with conspiracy theory is so common in Portland that, at some point, it can even stop feeling so weird to see (mostly) otherwise rational people acting so nutty. Good job to all the people who showed up and did their best to converse with people and to try to add some facts to that conversation.

  6. Cassidy Johnston

    Oh my gosh I love this. I wonder if there’s anything like this happening in Denver (probably!) because I would love to support MAMyths here. My husband and I are cattle ranchers, but I have a degree in Environmental Studies from CU Boulder. I also just had my first baby, so what I’m feeding myself and my family is now extra-special important to me. (We’ll be eating conventionally grown produce, BTW.) When I was in school, I would get flack constantly (even from professors) about ranching/farming, even though what they thought to be facts led me to realize they had been sadly misinformed. SO happy I stumbled across this blog, I’m working on launching a ranching-specific one myself. Thank you!

    • Sara

      Thanks for reading! Boulder county and Portland are so similar in misinformation rates, so I’m not surprised to hear that. I’d definitely encourage you to start a blog. Another resource for you that might help you get started is AgChat, maybe you’re already familiar. Also, I’m looking for guest bloggers for this summer if you’d like to try out your writing legs before you get going. Email me if you’re interested: itsmomsense@gmail.com

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