AVON — If your goal is to bring awareness to something, then getting a large group of people to march the streets is always a good start.
On Saturday, a group 80 or so local residents took to the streets of Avon in an effort to bring awareness to the topic of genetically modified organisms in the food we eat, and the effects they say we will face as a result.
Saturday’s march was the Vail Valley component of a worldwide effort for “World Food Day,” which brought out thousands of people in cities like Chicago, London, Sydney and Mumbai, where demonstrators are calling for legislation to ban genetically modified organisms.
“We’re starting to see some progress,” said Kory Prior, who helped organize the event. “Our goal is not to say whether they’re bad or good, obviously destroying GMOs is the overall goal of the worldwide effort, but we just want to say here’s the information, make your own opinion of it and do what you want to do.”
An attorney by trade, Prior has seen first-hand the litigious side of the food industry. And he says it’s become pretty ugly.
At the center of the worldwide demonstrations is a company called Monsanto, which Prior says has been able to obtain patents on their particular brand of genetically modified organism, resulting in some unprecedented lawsuits.
Before moving to Avon, Prior worked for the international law firm King and Spalding in Atlanta, who represents Monsanto.
“The way the laws are set up in the United States, the GMO is a property right of Monsanto,” said Prior. “And you can’t prevent the cross pollination; once it’s in the food stock, it’s really hard to get it out ... So if you decide to grow some corn to feed your family, and Monsanto came and tested some of it and found some markers which have their GMO in it, they can actually take you to court and exact money from you for infringing on their intellectual property.”
Monsanto has been genetically engineering and modifying food since the ‘60s; they say the genetically modified organisms people are currently protesting against are perfectly safe. The company’s response to the criticism they are facing is detailed on their website.
“We are 22,000 people committed to helping farmers feed a world that is growing at an explosive rate,” Monsanto writes. “Experts on the record defending the safety of GMOs and foods containing GMO-derived ingredients include the FDA, USDA, American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the National Academy of Sciences, and the European Commission’s Chief Scientific Advisor.”
‘Corn in everything’
Prior says Monsanto’s pull in the scientific community was one of the main reasons why he was marching in Avon on Saturday.
“Monsanto has introduced genes to make certain corn crops, for example, able to sustain certain pesticides so it kills everything else and leaves the crop there,” he said. “And what they typically do is insert it through a virus, because viruses are very effective at getting into cell walls. Now days, here in the U.S., you have corn in basically everything. And our point is, there really hasn’t been enough study on this stuff, because in our history this kind of technology has never occurred.”
Monsanto says there has been more than 600 peer-reviewed studies saying that genetically modified crops on the market are as safe as other crops.
“A small handful of studies have claimed to find health risks and these studies have been reviewed and seriously considered,” Monsanto said. “In the end, those studies have been widely discredited by the scientific community.”
Before getting into the business of genetically modified organisms, Monsanto worked on the controversial herbicide known as “Agent Orange,” used in U.S. war with Vietnam, which that country claims was the cause of nationwide birth defects.
From 1965 to 1969, the former Monsanto Company was one of nine wartime government contractors who manufactured Agent Orange, Monsanto details on their website.
“U.S. courts have determined that wartime contractors (such as the former Monsanto) who produced Agent Orange for the government are not responsible for damage claims associated with the chemistry,” Monsanto wrote.
At the Avon demonstration on Saturday, U.S. Vietnam war veteran Barbara Richardson spoke about her involvement with Agent Orange. She said after working as a nurse in Vietnam and marrying another Vietnam-war vet who was exposed to Agent Orange, all four of their children were born with congenital heart defects, and two have since died.
October is being promoted as Agent Orange Awareness Month by the Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance.
Prior said that’s just one of the many reasons he wants to bring attention to their cause.
“One of the main things we’re asking is ‘Do you trust this company?’” Prior said. “If you trust them, that’s fine, we’re not trying to make that decision for you. We just want the decision to be an informed decision.”
Co-organizer Maria DeSimone says labels on products that say “non-GMO product” would go a long way to helping people make that decision.
“I think GMOs are the greatest threat to humanity that exists right now,” DeSimone said. “We believe GMOs affect fertility, so I mean that literally.”