TAHOE CITY, Calif. — The familiar sound of beeping horns could be heard Saturday afternoon at the Tahoe City “Wye” — but it wasn’t in response to Memorial Day weekend traffic.
It was a show of support to the roughly 20 people standing around the intersection holding signs with sayings such as “There are better ways to feed the world, no GMO” and “Corn is supposed to be natural.”
This Tahoe City demonstration was part of a global “March Against Monsanto,” a protest against genetically modified organisms and their lead manufacturer, Monsanto, the multinational chemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation best known for producing Roundup herbicides.
“Is anybody thinking about the future and the impact of all the pesticides, GMOs and the highly processed nature of the foods we eat?” posed Marna Broida, an Incline Village resident who participated in the Tahoe City event with her children. “Let’s get back to the basics.”
Yet there is one challenge — many people don’t know about Monsanto or GMOs.
“(I have) a passion to make a difference because the problem is people don’t know,” said Doug Bratt, of Truckee, who led the protest. “They don’t know what’s going on and that’s what Monsanto wants; they don’t want us to know.”
In an effort to inform the public, Bratt handed educational fliers to those in idling vehicles with information on GMOs — organisms whose genetic material has been altered with DNA from other plants and animals using genetic engineering techniques.
Some benefit claims for GMOs include increased crop yields, greater drought tolerance and enhanced nutrient composition, while independent studies assert links between consumption of GMO foods to health issues ranging from allergies to cancer.
“Our feeling as a family is if there’s nothing wrong with genetically modified foods, then what’s wrong with labeling it?” Broida said.
In the US there are no GMO labeling laws despite more than 70 percent of processed foods in the country containing GMO ingredients, according to various reports.
“Why is it you can have a calorie count on all the items on a supermarket shelf, or you can have there is wheat, oats, whatever in bread, but you can’t say it’s GMO corn or GMO soy?” asked Bratt’s wife, Laurie Bethell. “It’s just bogus. It’s not allowing us to be knowledgable about what our food is about.”
Many participating in the demonstration advocated for others to look into the matter themselves.
“Awareness causes reaction,” said Ethan Indigo, of Alpine Meadows. “The only way institutions address things that are hurting individuals is by enough of us saying, ‘Wait a second. ... I’m not with that.’”
Indigo said he would like to see GMO use eliminated.
More than 60 countries, including Australia, Japan and the European Union, either have restrictions or bans on the production and sale of GMOs.
“It’s just opening your eyes, and saying, every other country overseas is basically booting GMOs out, why are they doing that?” Bethell said. “... We’re just trying to make a difference, especially for the future generations.”
While GMOs are allowed in the US, separate measures to ban most genetically engineered crops in two Oregon counties — Jackson and Josephine — were adopted, according to recent unofficial returns.
In addition, some states are starting to pass labeling laws, including Maine and Connecticut — which won’t go into effect until other states pass similar laws — and Vermont.
In California, there is a GMO labeling bill on the floor for a full senate vote by May 30.
Proposition 37, which would have required labeling of genetically engineered food in the Golden State, was defeated in the 2012 general election — 51.41 percent of residents voted against (6,442,371 votes), while 6,088,714 people were in favor.