The March Against Monsanto, an international day of protesting the environmentally unfriendly work of a major multinational corporation, will have a budding Cleveland presence this Saturday, May 25. Led by Kalina Jones, the group will meet up to march in opposition to Monsanto's GMO (genetically modified organism) use and ethically troubling food production process. Monsanto, a prominent agricultural/biotech company that specializes in genetically engineered seeds, has worked to keep GMO-related information far from the public eye. Along with Cleveland's own event, there will be marches held in more than 250 cities around the world. International organizer Tami Monroe Canal explains: "I feel Monsanto threatens [my daughters'] generation's health, fertility and longevity. I couldn't sit by idly, waiting for someone else to do something." Jones, organizing efforts locally, hopes to step up and join the call.
Eric Sandy: How did you get involved as an organizer?
Kalina Jones: I got involved because I found information about the event on Facebook. A lot of the March Against Monsanto event pages are already created for a lot of cities. They were just waiting for somebody to come in and organize them. So a lot of Clevelanders were already interested in participating, but there wasn't anyone willing to organize. I really want to make sure this is a success, so I decided to step in and try.
Where will people be gathering and what can they expect on Saturday?
We're going to gather in Market Square Park - across from the West Side Market - at 2 p.m. It's basically an event to gain awareness in the community. We're going to be holding signs, we're going to be reaching out to people in the area and we're going to be trying to provide information about the cause.
Has this sort of work been an interest of yours for a while?
I've been following the issue of GMO labeling for several months. That's a big part of the march.
Obviously, raising awareness is the main thing here. In your conversations with people, would you say that many aren't aware of the work that Monsanto is doing? Would you say awareness is problem at this point?
I would say it's a really big problem. I didn't realize how big of a problem it was until I started talking to people about it once I started organizing locally. I'd tell people about March Against Monsanto and they would just look at me - they didn't know what Monsanto was. Then I'd tell them about GMOs and a lot of them didn't know what GMOs were. It was very surprising to me.
How would you sum up the work of this corporation? What's your explanation to people who don't know?
I would say that Monsanto produces a lot of genetically engineered seeds and they have a lot of political influence. They're not necessarily looking out for the best interests of people in the world. GMOs pose a threat to the environment and to human health. And Monsanto isn't really considering that when they're producing because, as a big corporation, the bottom line is profit.
They've done quite a bit to halt opposition, like shutting down Proposition 37 in California to make sure GMO labels and awareness aren't out there. To the uninitiated, how often are people coming in contact with GMOs and not really knowing? If the labels aren't out there, are people consuming these products without knowing?
Yes. Most of us are consuming a lot of GMOs, because they're in the large majority of foods being produced. Even foods that are labeled organic - while they're not exposed to pesticides, they still contain GMOs a lot of time.
Could you give an example of a type of food that people might be eating regularly?
Corn is a big one. A lot of us consume corn. And 90 percent of corn is genetically modified. It's really hard to find some that's not.
How can people learn more about what's going in to their food?
A good thing to do is to buy locally at farmers markets. You can talk to the farmers and find out exactly how some of them are committed to staying away from those things. But even at local places, you'd have to actually educate yourself to make sure that you could identify GMO use.
It seems sort of like a convoluted process, which may be what corporations like Monsanto desire. And this is a fairly widespread practice all over the world, right?
Yes. Well, it's actually most prevalent in the United States. Europeans really don't consume many GMOs. They shun them. They really have the exact opposite response compared to how Americans approach the subject.
Taking that European line of thought and shunning GMOs, which a lot of people may already do, what are some ways that people can get involved and promote awareness about this?
One thing people can do is to buy foods that aren't owned by Monsanto, obviously. And get involved with the legislation that's currently going on. There are three states right now working on labeling GMOs. They need all the support they can get, I think. There are also grassroots efforts like March Against Monsanto to get the word out locally so more people know about it.
This is an international effort, as far as this weekend's event. What are some other goals outside of raising awareness. Are you and other organizers hoping to continue reaching out to state and federal legislators to promote regulations?
Yes. The founder of March Against Monsanto is from California. She wants to continue after Saturday - continuing to raise awareness and staying involved with legislation. There may be more events in the future.
For you personally, what other interests are you pursuing and what other work are your doing relating to GMOs?
The main thing I'm doing is just keeping up with the efforts to label GMOs. Vermont and Connecticut are working on that now. That's really important. At least at that point we would have the right to choose whether or not we want to consume them. There's still so little information on what they do to the environment and to people.