Santa Feans Say No to GMOs

CrowdAnalysis, photos and recordings by ERIC SHULTZ

This past Saturday, about a thousand santafesinos took part in the first global “March Against Monsanto” to protest genetic modification of food crops and corporate control of food production, and to demand laws requiring labels to disclose genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the food on local shelves.

Participants rallied at noon at the Farmers Market, a Santa Fe institution that represents many things contrary to Monsanto Corporation, world leader in genetically modified seeds, toxics-intensive agriculture and litigation to enforce its patents on life. Local farmer-activists were among the speakers who addressed the enthusiastic crowd (click the buttons between paragraphs hear speeches by Willem Malten, Poki Piottin and Dr. Jim McClure).

Buddhist baker businessman and bioactivist Willem  Malten addresses the Santa Fe March Against Monsanto.
Buddhist baker businessman and bioactivist Willem Malten addresses the Santa Fe March Against Monsanto.

Monsanto is doing absolutely nothing except to act in the spirit of capitalism, yet the throngs of activists protesting against that paragon of corporate values are far from any traditional Left, rather a hodge-podge with apparently little by way of a political common denominator. For example, Malten showed real empathy for small farmers getting crushed beneath Monsanto’s legal and economic machinery, but when his own Cloud Cliff Bakery and Cafe went out of business a few years back, he blamed its demise on Santa Fe’s living wage law. What might seem a troubling deficit in his sense of social justice does not appear to impair his acceptance by the local movement as an intellectual leader.

Poki Piottin of Santa Fe's Gaia Farms made a ceremonial gift of native corn seed to participating children.
Poki Piottin of Santa Fe’s Gaia Farms made a ceremonial gift of native corn seed to participating children.

Poki Piottin’s words raised the political disconnect to an even higher level. After giving “native” corn seeds to children in attendance, a pleasant and meaningful gesture, he went on to tell how the Guatemalan military’s “civil war” against that country’s Mayan majority in the 1980s had prevented the growing of corn. But he read this not as an example of classic warfare by starvation. Instead, he focused on the disruption this caused to the peoples’ ceremonial life tied to the life cycle of their chief crop. He singles out as horrible that a generation of children grew up without names because their communities didn’t have the right corn to perform naming ceremonies. There is no question that curtailment of ceremonial practices adds a dimension of ethnocide to the government’s recent engagement in genocide, but the generation of children growing up without parents, siblings and other family and community members who add up to hundreds of thousands wiped out systematically in spectacularly terrorizing massacres, to some of us seems the greater crime.

Piottin prefaced these remarks by asserting that the Maya make no distinction between people and corn, presumable to express their high regard for their ancestral seed lines such as Monsanto endeavors to replace around the world. But regard specifically for human life motivated the historic trial just weeks ago that convicted General Efraín Ríos Montt for directing an especially intense portion of the genocide. How the Maya value corn is of course interesting and certainly relevant to a discussion of Monsanto’s genetic imperialism, but by placing it at the center of discussion, Piottin either assumes his listeners understand the recent genocide and can weigh the hardship of curtailed ceremonial practices against the extermination of so many myriad humans, or he is brushing the genocide aside, himself.

In a discussion more political than spiritual, Guatemala offers a blazingly relevant example since our own CIA placed the military in power there, to replace a democratic government seen as insufficiently friendly toward U.S. agribusiness (in this instance, the United Fruit Company). From this perspective, the recent genocide was the direct consequence of capitalism in food production and an attack on a people organized with conviction against the interests that Monsanto and its brethren represent. But such considerations would have been out of place last Saturday, where expressions of spiritual solidarity rose like steam as the issues boiled down to consumer choices.

Last among the speakers at the gathering point was Dr. Jim McClure, who chose to forgo imaginative worries about future GMO catastrophes (such as are commonly hyphenated with a “Franken-” prefix) to discuss damages already occurring. While many claim that the GMO crops already in our foodstream are inherently toxic by virtue of their genomic alterations, Dr. McClure reminded listeners that the modification that forms the basis of Monsanto’s GMO division, the “Roundup Ready” gene, in fact gives crops resistance to the herbicide Roundup. This allows users to control weeds by soaking the fields with a toxic chemical that kills all plants except the genetically protected crop species. The health and environmental effects, not of the GMO crops per se, but of the toxics-intensive agriculture they allow, according to Dr. McClure are a problem that is already here.

The list of NM senators who voted to kill the GMO labeling bill was rad over the bullhorn. Yells of "shame!" followed each name.
The list of NM senators who voted to kill the GMO labeling bill was read over the bullhorn. Yells of “shame!” followed each name.

Once the marchers reached the capitol, one person used her turn on the bullhorn to read the list of NM senators who voted last session against a bill requiring GMO labeling, and she called on the marchers “to vote them out.” If this is the beginning of a new political movement, like a seed it is starting modestly, but the activists’ enthusiasm and outrage appear genuine.

Great diversity of color could be seen in the marchers' clothing, costumes and face paint.
Great diversity of color could be seen in the marchers’ clothing, costumes and face paint.

As one marcher remarked, this activism is not about a concept. It is about food, which is more substantial and universal than any concept. But history shows us that political movements, however visceral at the onset, engender concepts as they develop. And La Jicarita will be following the evolution of the March Against Monsanto.

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12 comments

  1. Great perspective on the issues, Eric, and wonderful photos! So glad you covered this important protest completely ignored by the local print press. From this giant worldwide event, we know what may be the unifying issue of our time: food. Can’t get more basic than that.

  2. Willem Malten has never been against people making better wages. Willem Malten has been against writing special laws that affect only 65.000 people or so, and not the rest of the state of NM or the rest of the country (of the US).

  3. Nice article. Santa Fe is indeed a bundle of contradictions. I sincerely hope that this movement becomes a strong force for global solidarity centered on food sovereignty and food justice (which requires political sovereignty and economic justice) and doesn’t get distracted by the siren song or moral purity, ethical consumption and consumer choice. By the way, Willem Malten, it is generally considered strange to refer to yourself in the third person. My apologies if there’s a good reason why you do it.

  4. Great coverage of this event! I attended the Albuquerque march & rally, and, as in Santa Fe, there seemed to be a wide diversity of viewpoints in evidence (i.e. not all traditional lefties). The speakers didn’t seem to hammer on the spiritual very much as they apparently did in SF, they were more down to earth. However, there was a lot of talk about “voting with your dollar” (consumer choice), which is fine and good if you can afford to shop at Whole Foods, or its ilk, many cannot. To be fair, one of the speakers (Eleanor Bravo of Food & Water Watch) acknowledged this. I think the March Against Monsanto movement can gather some steam, if it can encompass the huge social justice issues involved, and acknowledge that the problem with Monsanto is really, in a lot of ways, a problem of free market capitalism, not a problem of “choice”.

  5. Too little too late. I’m not supporting GMOs but if they want food that has not been genetically modified, move to France. This is like staging a protest against the Vietnam War, it’s a done deal.

      • ??? I saw the post on the Reader. I’m all for organic food and have serious questions about the proliferation of genetically modified food but think there might be more productive ways to protest and possibly divert this trainwreck. I’ve worked tirelessly for years as a Native American environmental lawyer and if it has taught me anything, it’s that you must play their game better than them i.e. government and big business. Protests often times provide a fall catharsis to these problems as they continue to grow. It was my opinion and if offended you then I’m sorry you don’t promote a diversity of views on your blog. Peace.

      • We at La Jicarita don’t believe in the kind of fatalism your previous post offered. If we did, we’d just shrug our shoulders and say, “Well it’s a shame that people–whole communities–are sacrificed for corporate profits. But I guess that’s just the way things are.” Yours wasn’t an opinion, it was a capitulation.
        David Correia

      • lol If you took that as a capitulation then you’re right, I have no reason to read your blog.I have testified at congressional hearings in defense of native lands and way of life. I have spent time on these reservayions that have been raped and pillaged by the same government and big businesses that you are protesting not only obtaining millions of dollars in funding for cleanup but also getting my hands dirty. If you want to stage protests, go ahead. I wish you nothing but success because from my point of view we want the same thing. Peace.

      • Two things: first, it sounds like you’ve done good and important work. All the stranger therefore to post such a reactionary comment. If we don’t want to eat genetically modified food, move to France?! That’s the rhetorical ploy of racists and jingoists. Second, why post anonymously? Who is digitalhegemon?

      • That’s my blog page lol and as far as my comment regarding France, that is where my family is from and France has done an excellent job of prohibting GMO. The US has actually banned many excellent organic products from being shipped to the US because France has not allowed shipment of genetically modified grain and corn to that country. It was a comment based on knowledge and experience.That’s it and that’s all.

      • And to answer your question about my comment regarding the protest, I had a long day and several sleepless ngihts dealing with the endless red tape strewn all over this problem. I have dealt with my share of people whose hearts were in the right place yet never quite grasped the endurance it takes to move an inch in this morass of beaucracy. You are right, I don’t know about your movement or any additional activites you are involved in. I was just skimming and was venting. Keep up the good work.

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