Food activists from Nevada County take on Biotech Goliath, Monsanto in court | TheUnion.com

Food activists from Nevada County take on Biotech Goliath, Monsanto in court

Laura Petersen
Special to The Union

Since her early days of activism in the 1960s protesting the Vietnam War when she was an undergrad student in Texas, Grass Valley resident Pamela Osgood has been arrested 150 times as a practicing "steward of the world."

Last May, her loyalty to the health of the human race landed her in the Woodland Jail after she and a small band of folks from Nevada County and other parts of the state formed a blockade in front of Monsanto's largest seed research center in the U.S.

Monsanto is a Fortune 500, modern agricultural company that employs over 20,000 people globally in 69 countries, according to Monsanto's website. Monsanto, acquired by Bayer Crop Science Ag in 2016, is known for its biotech seeds like Roundup Ready Corn.

"The work that is going on in there is really dreadful. We have to get people educated about what Monsanto is doing. Monsanto is poisoning everyone," Osgood said.

Osgood and her sister (a grandmother) were among 10 environmental and human rights activists known as the "Monsanto 10" arrested in the early morning last spring when they tried to block Monsanto staffers arriving to work at the 90,000-square-foot research facility in Yolo County. The protest was one of more than 400 "Anti-Monsanto/Anti-GMO" demonstrations held worldwide in 47 states and 52 countries on six continents.

Debate and research over the safety of glyphosate, Monsanto's first branded herbicide, continues in the scientific world while human rights activists and many in the organic farming movement maintain Monsanto products like Round Up Ready seed are unsafe to humans and a threat to the environment.

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"The future of all life is really at stake," said Osgood, a Green Party member who can be found regularly attending Nevada Irrigation District meetings about the proposed Centennial Dam and risking arrest during vigils at Beale Air Force Base protesting the military's drone surveillance program.

Court date set

At an arraignment in August, charges for the "Monsanto 10" were downgraded from three misdemeanors (resisting arrest, unlawful assembly and stopping a vehicle illegally) to a single infraction for loitering. As a result, defendants will be heard by a judge rather than be given a jury trial and counsel. The trial has been rescheduled twice.

In January, witnesses subpoenaed from the county sheriff and Monsanto did not appear. A hearing has been rescheduled in Yolo County Superior Court to Feb. 27 and Osgood is inviting the public to attend.

Shining a light

Glyphosate is known as a non-selective herbicide, meaning it kills most plants. Monsanto's genetically engineered seeds can tolerate glyphosate, allowing farmers to apply it to entire fields without destroying crops, according to Reuters.

According to an article in the Davis Enterprise, Yolo County is the home of the world's largest site dedicated to vegetable seed health research. Half of the vegetables grown in the U.S. are grown in California.

In 1901, John F. Queeny founded a company that produced saccharine at one-sixth the cost of sugar. He named the company after his wife, Olga Monsanto Queeny. In the 1940s, John's son Edward Queeny introduced an insecticide called Santobane. Soon, the company expanded to provide fertilizer for farmers, according to Monsanto's website.

From 1965 to 1969, the former Monsanto company manufactured the defoliating herbicide known as "Agent Orange" for the U.S. military as a wartime government contractor, according to the Monsanto website.

The first Roundup branded herbicide made its debut in the 1970s after the development of glyphosate. In 1983, scientists modified a plant cell through biotechnology for the first time, leading to field trials of the first genetically modified crops in 1987. In 2005, the industry touted a milestone: the billionth acre of biotech crops was planted.

Globally, 300 regions have outright bans on growing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and more than 60 countries — including Australia, Japan and all the countries in the European Union — require GMOs to be labeled, according to the Non GMO Project.

Last June, California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) added glyphosate to California's list of chemicals known to cause cancer. Monsanto vowed a legal fight against the designation, according to Reuters. The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer said it was "probably carcinogenic" in 2015.

With the designation, warning labels would be required on packaging of glyphosate commonly sprayed on gardens, golf courses, orchards, vineyards and farms.

"I have two innocent granddaughters who are 4 and 5 years old. I want them to have a future. I want them to grow up with healthy chemical-free food and water," said Pamela's sister, Shirley. The sisters say consumers make a difference when they choose to buy organic and non-GMO food products and question chemicals sold at local nurseries.

"I was at the gates of Monsanto for my husband Ben, who suffered colorectal cancer, my mother-in-law Barbara with breast cancer, my father-in-law Bob with Parkinson's and my own father George Roberts who died of dementia," wrote Sue Roberts Emery in a statement for her court appearance.

People who care about the safety of their food are welcome to join in support and speak at 1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27, in the Yolo County Superior Court in Woodland.

"My hope is that by shining a light on the crimes of Monsanto, more people will become aware of the issues and rise up and say 'no' to this corrupt and destructive company," said Shirley Osgood.

Learn more at Monsanto.com and Nongmoproject.org.

Contact freelance writer Laura Petersen at laurapetersen310@gmail.com.