Protest against Monsanto blasts genetic pollution, boosts free market

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Video streaming by UstreamJami Brown and farmer Alex McGregor talk about the health crisis prompted by the corporate combine Monsanto, and why Chattanoogans should take part in a protest Saturday at 2 p.m. at Miller Park.

 The Monsanto protest in Chattanooga is organized by people making intelligent free market case against the pepper that spices — or splices — the genes in corn, wheat, soy and other crops destined for our tables and kitchen counter cutting boards.

This pepper is invisible, not marked on grocery store labels as an ingredient. It’s tasteless. But its presence is blamed at least partly for Chattanooga health crisis noted in the latest Och’s center report on area.

Jami Brown, helping organize a protest against Monsanto on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Miller Park downtown, says the genetic lab work to make crops less immune to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide involves injecting cells with a virus. Uncertainty about the virus is one reason Monsanto refuses to allow second-year use of seeds, says Mrs. Brown, a social worker and UTC student studying food and public policy. Plants are growing resistant to Roundup. “What happens is that they end up having to use more and more, because nature is adapting to it. So what we have now is an increase in chemical use which we were promised we wouldn’t.”

“Infertility, endocrine disruptions, autisim, arthritis, fibromyalgia — there are all different disorders that could be associated with [GMOs]. And the thing is, glyphosate itself, which is the active ingredient in Roundup, supposedly isn’t a threat to humans.”

‘We deserve a free market’

Organic farmer Alex McGregor is also concerned about food freedom and the danger posed to Chattanoogans and others by Monsanto’s research and marketing. I ask Mr. McGregor if Americans are getting what they deserve in the food marketplace, suggesting that perhaps we don’t.

“We deserve a free market,”  says Mr. McGregor, the area’s first organic farmer who for 22 years has operated Walden Farm on Signal Mountain.

“We need to un-handcuff the farmers; we need to stop farmers from being regulated; we need to start regulating the corporations that are taking over our food system, that are taking over agriculture. The corporations sit back and drive farmers into bankruptcy. They come in and buy the farmland, and then they hire the farmer back to run the tractor on it. So they [farmer] go from being entrepreneurs and business owners and primary producers to employees that can be laid off at any minute.” This program has been in progress for 30 years, and began with farmers going into debt in the money economy (decried by the authors of I’ll Take My Stand in 1930, the Agrarians), “and they lost everything,” he says.

Mr. McGregor indicates that he does not run his farm or his stand at Brainerd farmers’ market as a corporation. He operates without limited liability behind a corporate shell and with no distributors or middlemen. He and his wife, Leslie, sell to you, the customer, in person, and take a personal care for you and are scrupulous because of that personal connection to avoid selling carrots and other vegetables sprayed by herbicide or pesticide.

“I consider it very important that we produce the most nutritious, best-tasting, freshest thing that we can because it is a very grave responsibility to produce something that is going to feed someone and we are going to give someone health, and not illness.”

Protesters on Saturday will march across the Tennessee River to Renaissance Park, the one near Coolidge Park marked by the tall, grassy knoll.

Mrs. Brown said Monsanto calls critics “elitist,” perhaps because they appear to be connoisseurs who care what they eat and who are willing to pay more for organic fare. Federal subsidies have distorted agriculture across the U.S., allowing Americans to pay about 6 percent on food rather than the 10 or so percent in other parts of the world, Mr. McGregor indicates. While food may be cheap, Americans are getting payback in their gut.

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