SPOKANE, Wash.--Hundreds of protesters filled the streets of Downtown Spokane on Saturday as part of a nationwide protest against seed giant Monsanto.
Genetically modified plants are grown from seeds that are engineered to resist insecticides and herbicides, add nutritional benefits or otherwise improve crop yields and increase the global food supply. Most corn, soybean and cotton crops grown in the United States today have been genetically modified. But some say genetically modified organisms can lead to serious health conditions and harm the environment. The use of GMOs has been a growing issue of contention in recent years, with health advocates pushing for mandatory labeling of genetically modified products even though the federal government and many scientists say the technology is safe.
March Against Monsanto protesters said they wanted to call attention to the dangers posed by genetically modified food. Founder and organizer Tami Canal said protests were held in 436 cities in 52 countries. Organizers estimated that two million people marched worldwide.
About 700 people turned out for the march in Spokane. Organizers had only expected about 200 marchers. Spokane protesters said the event is about raising awareness about what is in your food and why it is modified.
“I love it, it’s a lot of good energy. What we want to do is bring as many faces in and gather and keep this going,” said Michael Beasley.
The 'March Against Monsanto' movement began just a few months ago, when Canal created a Facebook page on Feb. 28 calling for a rally against the company's practices.
"If I had gotten 3,000 people to join me, I would have considered that a success," Canal said Saturday. Instead, she said two million responded to her message.
Monsanto Co., based in St. Louis, said Saturday that it respects people's rights to express their opinion on the topic, but maintains that its seeds improve agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land while conserving resources such as water and energy.
The Food and Drug Administration does not require genetically modified foods to carry a label, but organic food companies and some consumer groups have intensified their push for labels, arguing that the modified seeds are floating from field to field and contaminating traditional crops. The groups have been bolstered by a growing network of consumers who are wary of processed and modified foods.
The Senate this week overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would allow states to require labeling of genetically modified foods.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization, a lobbying group that represents Monsanto, DuPont & Co. and other makers of genetically modified seeds, has said that it supports voluntary labeling for people who seek out such products. But it says that mandatory labeling would only mislead or confuse consumers into thinking the products aren't safe, even though the FDA has said there's no difference between GMO and organic, non-GMO foods.
However, state legislatures in Vermont and Connecticut moved ahead this month with votes to make food companies declare genetically modified ingredients on their packages. And supermarket retailer Whole Foods Markets Inc. has said that all products in its North American stores that contain genetically modified ingredients will be labeled as such by 2018.