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GMO Free Midwest Challenges 'GMO City'

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

 Monsanto's World Headquarters has been located in St. Louis since its founding in 1901. While Monsanto gives money and support to many institutions in the community, the impact of this giving quiets local opposition to its corporate practices and products. Locally Monsanto has built a public relations stranglehold on the city through funding and long-term relationships with diverse St. Louis institutions. While the depth and quantitative nature of many of these relationships remains to be investigated, their public expression is very open resulting in a climate of intimidation in the St. Louis area from publicly speaking out about Monsanto's crimes.

While Monsanto supports many institutions in the St. Louis community, this is a pre emptive tactic to silence potential critics of their policies. Monsanto created a climate of political intimidation through direct giving in St. Louis. For example, through their Grow St. Louis and St. Louis Grown campaigns, Monsanto gives to community based organizations and placed billboards on St. Louis highways. Most recently Monsanto cynically purchased a billboard with the message: "Monsanto + United Way = Feeding Families." Monsanto has a board member and has given years of support to Gateway Greening, a non-profit that supports over 150 community gardens in St. Louis. Monsanto in 1981 gave a contribution to the renamed Monsanto Family YMCA in a low-income African American neighborhood in north St. Louis.  Monsanto and the Monsanto Fund have given to Earth Day, the arts, theater, education and Teacher awards. Monsanto has also contributed millions to the Missouri Botanical Garden and their research center, the Monsanto Center.  Monsanto has given to Washington University and their Medical School, often focusing on life sciences research. These organizations have connections to green festivals, the arts, local food, community development organizations as well as politicians. Monsanto gives to politicians across the nation, recently focusing on pro-GMO labeling hot spots, such as California.

Monsanto received immense support from the Danforth Foundation, originating from Ralston Purina. This foundation gave more that $1 billion in grants before its dissolution in 2011. Its final grant was $70 million to the Donald Danforth Plant Sciences Center, located across the street from Monsanto. Total giving to this biotechnology center was $226 million, and this giving had widespread pubicity. A Danforth served as Chancellor of Washington University and their foundation gave $423 million to the University (the Danforth Campus) since 1950. The Danforth Foundation also gave to St. Louis University, park organizations, the St. Louis Symphony, community revitalization programs, on-line news and education.

Monsanto currently employs over 5,000 in St. Louis and has thousands of retired employees in the metro area. These employees can be found representing the company and their interests in institutions all over the city, including in the local food and social justice movements. One social justice organization blocked the hiring on numerous occasions of an applicant known for anti-Monsanto organizing. The former directors spouse is a retired Monsanto employee. The community development field locked out or chastised an anti-Monsanto organizer within the community development and funding community for anti-Monsanto activities.

The influence of this funding and these public relationships, as wells as their employees, extends Monsanto's influence throughout the St. Louis area, making opposing GMOs and Monsanto in St. Louis a very challenging experience.

But there is a long history of anti-GMO organizing in St. Louis. In 1998 the Gateway Green Alliance hosted the First Grassroots Gathering on Biodevastation: Genetic Engineering bringing together farmers, scientists, and activists from around the world for the first time to discuss and plan around GMOs. Conferences again in 2003 and 2004 were planned in conjunction with the GMO promotion organization World Agriculture Forum. In 2003 this anti-GMO conference led to police harassment of bicyclists, and raids on a hosting community center and collective house with over 30 police (following the police "Miami model" response to anti-free trade organizing). News articles in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch changed from a pro- and anti-GMO debate to speculation on whether the activists would be "violent". An activist lawsuit resulted in a police apology, and the police returned the confiscated puppets, construction materials and musical kazoo. It was later revealed that Monsanto's intelligence agency had met with St. Louis police, leading to 10 foot fencing and window boardups of the Post Office and AG Edwards before the anti-GMO conference.

The result of this repression was activists focused on different issues until 2012 with the GMO Free Midwest/Occupy Monsanto conference that focused on a rally at Monsanto, Missouri Botanical Gardens and location of a pro-GMO conference.  Recently when Gateway Greening posted on facebook a video positive on GMOs and hosted a workshop that included a positive take on GMOs, local activists commented and dropped news items critical on GMOs on the page.

The May 2013 March Against Monsanto was St. Louis' largest protest at their World Headquarters to date. The March Against Monsanto's over 2 million participants in over 430 cities worldwide inspired the launching of St. Louis-based GMO Free Midwest among veteran and new activists and their energetic monthly educational and organizing events. One event was hosting the GMO Fishycorn car fleet in their travels from Washington DC to Washington state to support the GMO labeling campaign. These creative art cars had mounted to their rooftops 6 foot or longer genetically modified fishy tomato, fishy soy as well as others. In September over two dozen concerned citizens gathered to talk about almost 30 topics related to Monsanto's corporate practices and products.

On October 12, we witnessed St. Louis' largest and most spirited protest converge on Monsanto in St. Louis as part of the global Marches Against Monsanto. The theme in St. Louis is: From PCBs to GMOs, Monsanto Has Got to Go! Support for the critical struggle against GMOs in St. Louis has come from all over the world from Chicago and the International March Against Monsanto to Navdanya and the Organic Consumers Association. On November 8-9th, GMO Free Midwest will host the People's Hearing on Monsanto: Crimes and Repression. Over 40 people will give testimony on dozens of topics locally and globally on Monsanto and their crimes. A special emphasis of the People's Hearing is on reparations: how can Monsanto make good on all their bad deeds? For example clean up their chemical and genetic pollution? This People's Hearing is in the spirit of Bertrand Russell's War Crimes Tribunal.  The public is invited to attend to give testimony or skype testimony. Coming up in December is the 'Demon Seed' movie fundraiser and in January an action on the PCB-contaminated Carter Carburetor plant in north St. Louis and annual attendance at the Monsanto shareholders meeting by the fishycorn car activists.


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