Protesters join global call against Monsanto
A protest against American genetic engineering and seed giant Monsanto saw almost 300 people march down New Plymouth's main street on Saturday.
Waving pictures of skulls and signs reading "Don't mess with our food," and "Stop Monsanto before they kill again," the protesters chanted "Say no to GMO" as they walked to rally at the Puke Ariki Landing.
Similar protests were held in Christchurch, Wellington Rotorua, Whangarei, Tauranga and Nelson and were planned for 250 other cities around the world, organisers said.
Genetically modified plants are grown from seeds that are engineered to resist insecticides and herbicides, add nutritional benefits or otherwise improve crop yields but some say the modified organisms can lead to serious health conditions and harm the environment.
One young Taranaki activist was Luther Donselaar, 6, who said his mum had told him about what Monsanto was doing with seeds and food.
"They're putting stuff in our food and it's making people sick."
Luther's handpainted sign read "Save our yummy food."
The New Plymouth protest was spearheaded by Jill Ridgewell, who whipped up interest in the protest via Facebook.
She said she had only been expecting 100 people and was thrilled and humbled by the turnout to the march. "I think it shows the grass roots feelings around these issues."
New Plymouth District Council hopeful Chris Wilkes spoke at the rally, decrying the Government's proposed free trade Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement with countries, including the United States.
"The problem with dealing with America is the administration is infiltrated heavily with Monsanto executives and the like."
"They've got some serious problems there and I don't think we really want to be doing trading and doing business with those sort of people, but unfortunately our government is heading that way."
Monsanto, based in St Louis, said on Saturday that it respects people's rights to express their opinions but maintains that its seeds improve agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land while conserving resources such as water and energy.
At Saturday's rally Witt horticulture tutor Dee Turner said Monsanto has come under scrutiny in the last decade following the reported suicides of thousands of Indian cotton farmers who began drowning in debt after borrowing money to pay for GM cotton seeds which subsequently failed.
On Monsanto's website the company maintains the suicides started before their seeds began being sold in the country in 2002.
The use of genetically modified seeds has been a growing issue of contention in recent years, with health advocates pushing for mandatory labelling of genetically modified products even though the US government and many scientists say the technology is safe.
Organic food companies and some consumer groups have intensified their push for labels, arguing the modified seeds are floating from field to field and contaminating traditional crops.
Taranaki Daily News