Activists ‘say no’ to corporate agriculture
Protestors march against big business food production practices at university
Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 22:07
Several dozen students, farmers, Occupy protestors and an Austin City Council hopeful banded together to protest the corporate takeover of agriculture and food production at Texas A&M, one the nation’s largest agricultural research universities.
The protestors converged Monday in Academic Plaza holding signs, chanting and passing out flyers, then marched to the headquarters of Seminis, Inc. in the Centeq building on West Campus. The group sought to raise awareness of the practices of Monsanto Co., specifically its use of genetically modified organisms in food and other agricultural products. Seminis Inc. is a vegetable seed company with local headquarters that is owned by Monsanto.
“I’m a small farmer. We’re against the corporate takeover of the food industry. More regulations and punishment should go to the corporations, not small farmers,” said Millican-based farmer Zach Peoples. “We’d like to see the University supporting small farmers and not large corporations.”
Peoples was a student at A&M, but dropped out to help his family with their farm in Millican. He wanted to study sustainable farming methods, but said the curriculum only focused on corporate farming methods — of little worth for a small farmer.
Another local farmer, Laura Cauvel, joined the protest.
“We want to get Monsanto out of A&M, out of town and out of the food system altogether,” Cauvel said.
Monsanto employs more than 21,000 people in 66 countries, selling agricultural and vegetable seeds, plant biotechnology traits and crop protection chemicals. Though not a part of Texas A&M, Seminis’ offices are located in the AgriLife Research headquarters and the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center on campus.
The protestors went inside the Seminis office to deliver their 100-page petition including more than 1,500 signatures. Once inside, they found that the branch manager for Monsanto Co., Rick Jones, was not present.
Bhimu Patil, A&M professor and director of the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center, accepted the petition and agreed to deliver it to Jones. The protestors still voiced their views and concerns to Patil.
“We are against genetic engineering food crops, Roundup and Agent Orange,” protestors said adamantly to Patil. “We have a cease-and-desist order detailing the crimes of Monsanto. We don’t think that a corporation should be allowed to kill for profit.”
Patil told protestors that he works for A&M, not Seminis or Monsanto, and that Seminis is not affiliated with the university. Patil said that his work does not involve genetically modified organisms and recognizes that all food products must be tested before going to the market.
“Here, we work with fruits and vegetables to improve human health by reducing human diseases,” Patil said.
Clean water, food and air is a cause that can unite all people, said Austin City Council hopeful John Duffy.
“We are going to cities with Monsanto extension offices to raise awareness of this issue that impacts all areas of life,” Duffy said.
Duffy said the campaign is utilizing film to reach out to a larger audience.
“We are at the beginning of a campaign against Monsanto across central Texas,” Duffy said. “We are having screenings of the movie The World According to Monsanto across the state where people of the typically urban Occupy movement can connect with rural agricultural communities.”
Another protestor, sophomore early childhood education major Maggie Patterson, said the film has received positive reception in the area.
“The owner of Brazos Natural Foods came to the screening and gave her support for us,” Patterson said. “She put up our petition in her store, too.”
Many Occupy protestors said they came to College Station to protest because the Monsanto office is here on campus and they want to reach out to Aggies.
“They want to control all aspects of production,” protestor Rob Gorr said. “Professors are afraid to speak out because of Monsanto funding.”
Patterson said many concerned citizens in other cities around the world joined to protest the practices of Monsanto during the past week.
“This is not just a political issue. [Monsanto] work[s] with the Food and Drug Administration. There are health and planting issues, too,” Patterson said. “We are targeting a whole array of issues. When we ask our congressmen to go to the FDA to get labels on [genetically modified organisms], they say ‘no’ because it conflicts with their private interests.”
The university police department was aware of the protests, said Sgt. Allan Baron, and several officers observed from a distance.
“We had no problems and handled the situation like any other similar case,” Baron said.