"No more GMOs! Monsanto has got to go!" shouted an estimated 250 protestors from the steps of City Hall and through the streets of St. Petersburg on Saturday. Across the bridge in Tampa, a crowd estimated between 250-300 people marched from Hyde Park to Curtis Hixon Park, carrying signs and shouting slogans denouncing the Monsanto Corporation. Locals joined in the March Against Monsanto, a global day of action with sister protests in 52 countries and 436 cities.
In Tampa, Greenpeace's Christine Wall said that people need and deserve the right to know what's in the food they eat, and denounced Monsanto's fight to put ingredients on the labels of the products they sell.
"The people need to know the dangers of GMO's," she said. "Genentically modified organisms pose a threat to our health, to our children’s health, and people need ot be made aware of that."
In St. Pete, the march took to downtown's people-packed Central Avenue and Beach Drive, ending at at Williams Park. Melissa Mitchell, 34, said she found out about the march right after the passage of "the Monsanto Protection Act." She attended the march with three friends from Tampa.
"GMOs are banned in most countries, or at least labeled," Mitchell said. "All we want are labels so we can decide for ourselves."
Mitchell said she works in the medical field, dealing mostly with cancer patients. She sees a link between cancer and GMO-laden diets.
"Monsanto has embedded itself in our government," Mitchell said. "The number one pest company in the world should not be in charge of making our food."
Angie Cruzado, of St. Petersburg, said she was raised eating a diet "very low in veggies and lots of meat."
"I used to have problems with depression," said Cruzado. "But since I started eating organic, and using natural products, I've felt a huge change in my health. Just from those simple changes."
Christina Risola from Hudson in Pasco County said she suffered from fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, but after she changed her diet and went organic she's had almost a 95 percent improvement. She said she noticed the difference immediately on her skin and energy levels.
"Seeds are life, you can’t patent life," Risola said at the Tampa march. "You control our food supply, you control everything. And that’s a really scary thought. The more that we can go out there and push it — as a global peaceful issue — this is something that affects the lives and health of everyone, the more we push it, the more people can ask questions and the more people learn. It’s about that education. It’s about that empowerment. "
Seeds were a big part of Saturday's conversation, mostly because President Obama signed HR 933 into law. Hidden inside the spending bill was a provision, under Section 735, called the Farmer Assurance Provision. The language allows big agriculture biotech companies like Monsanto to continue use of GMO seeds on American farms. That's despite little to no study of the long-term affects of such products to consumers and the environment.
"This is what democracy looks like!" Stein said through a megaphone at the rally. "This is what a healthy food system looks like! This is what survival for food looks like, because what Monsanto and the GMO's are doing is absolutely nuts, and we're not going to let them get away with it!"
Referring to the hundreds of millions of dollars that Monsanto and other agriculture food giants have spent on lobbying and campaign contributions in the past decade, Stein said, "They have basically bought their way thru a corrupt political system, making it more corrupt as they went in order to engineer this coup through closed doors."
Stein called for an immediate complete phase out of all GMO's, and for the repeal of the "Monsanto Protection Act" that could allow seeds deemed unsafe to be planted regardless of judicial order.
In a statement issued on Saturday, representatives for Monsanto said they respects people's rights to express their opinion, but believes their seeds help farmers produce more food, while conserving water and energy.
For some people, Saturday's march was their first political action.
Clearwater resident Linda Mitchell learned about the protest on Facebook and said she attended Saturday's event in Tampa, despite the fact that she's never participated in a protest. She said it's important to her to "get rid of this evil corporation who's trying to run the food supply of the world and trying to run the average farmer out of business."
"That's why you should grown your own food," said Dawn Bednar, co-owner of Largo's Simply Hydroponics. "We are all about organic seeds and you don't have to worry about GMOs when you grown your own."
As marchers in St. Petersburg made their way down Beach Drive, onlookers snapped photos from a luxury car show on the waterfront. Horticulturalist Bob Tucker said he was "gratified" to see the turnout for Saturday's march.
"This, here, is about grassroots democracy," Tucker said. "GMOs are destroying our food chain and it's become a political weapon worldwide."