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Charleston’s ‘March Against Monsanto’ Demonstrates Against GMOs

Charleston, South Carolina's rally was one of over 400 worldwide held on May 24
Charleston, South Carolina's rally was one of over 400 worldwide held on May 24
Rob Groce

Demonstrations against genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) took place in six different continents and over 400 cities on May 24, including Charleston, South Carolina. About 80 people joined host Moms Across America in its third annual “March Against Monsanto” event, waving signs from Wragg Mall park and communicating with the many locals and tourists in town for the nearby Spoleto Festival. Pamphlets offering more information, even listing brand names to avoid, were distributed to the public.

This local rally wasn’t against the one Monsanto company noted in its name, however, but against all of the many producers of food, cosmetic, and agricultural-maintenance products containing GMOs still used in the U.S. despite their restriction and even outright ban in other countries.

Genetically-modified food items and chemicals are found in 85 percent of American food items, according to local rally host Moms Across America, and are linked to medical crises that are affecting U.S. children at rapidly rising rates, including food allergies, autism, and asthma. One-third of American youth is now diagnosed with obesity or asthma, and autism is rising in incidence so quickly that one out of every two children could be afflicted with the disorder by 2025, the group says in its literature.

Today’s demonstration was personal for Beth Dalton, organizer with the local Moms Across America. Her child has peanut allergy to a life-threatening degree, she said.

Dalton advised attendees to purchase safer products, which she says are improving in grocery-store presence. “Organics is becoming a million-dollar industry.” While some non-GMO items are still more expensive than traditional products, even limited-budget consumers can begin healthier consumption, if only in steps, she suggested. “Just take one item from your pantry, and commit to purchasing its organic alternative,” Davis said.

The lower cost of genetically-modified products isn’t because they’re any cheaper to produce, though, said Gabrielle Heatherdale, who organized last year’s “March Against Monsanto” in Charleston. The unsafe chemicals used too often in agriculture are expensive, she says, but “GMO food is government-subsidized. In Europe, it’s the opposite – organic farmers get subsidies.”

A native of Stuttgart, Germany, Heatherdale said she and her children were personally affected by GMO products shortly after moving to the U.S. in 2008. “After about one and a half years, we developed gastrointestinal problems,” and were diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, she said.

GMO foods are also nutritionally comprised, Heatherdale said. “They contain the same chemicals used in pipe cleaners, and that eliminate minerals that build up and clog in pipes. Those are the same minerals we need in our diets.”

Dalton said she tried to communicate her concerns to congressional representatives, but to no avail. “(U.S. Sen. Tim) Scott replied with a letter that said the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) makes sure that food products are safe. That’s not true, though,” Davis said. “The FDA doesn’t issue safety ratings on any food.”

FDA can only approve additives to food for humans and animals, and doesn’t even have oversight on nutritional labels. It does review new GMO items before they can be sold to the public, but only using lab-test data provided by the producing companies.

“(Scott’s) letter said that his duty is to protect the companies that provide food to the public,” Davis continued. “Isn’t he supposed to protect the public first?”

A few political candidates attended, but not necessarily in search of votes. “I didn’t come here to ask for your support,” said Rebekah Patrick, Democratic candidate for State House Dist. 98. “Instead, I came here to offer you my support. When I’m elected, I will introduce legislation calling for GMO labeling in South Carolina.”

So far this year, 25 states (not including South Carolina) have introduced 67 bills pertaining to GMO products, but are quickly facing opposition. The first to pass legislation calling for product labeling, Vermont now faces threats of lawsuits from chemical companies.

To date, 64 countries have laws requiring labeling of GMO food products and even banning particular chemical use.

The rally lasted four hours in downtown Charleston, where it got ample support in horn-honks and handshakes from the heavy traffic on Meeting Street, and included a march to the nearby Farmer’s Market at Marion Square.