VALPARAISO | Whitney Hibbitts' concerns about genetically modified organisms, called GMOs, first began after she attended the May rally in Chicago where protesters called for clear labeling of food produced using what she describes as "today's accepted experimental growing technology."
Hibbitts and more than 100 others from Northwest Indiana gathered Saturday on the lawn of the Porter County Courthouse marching with signs to protest genetically modified plants that some complain are harmful to health.
"Before a friend invited me to the the Chicago rally, I didn't really know just how many unanswered questions there are about GMOs and this farming method," said Hibbitts, who lives in Valparaiso and organized Saturday's event.
"My daughter Corinna is 2 years old, and right now, there are too few studies and not enough research to answer the questions about this subject, despite the impact on her future and so many generations to come," Hibbitts said. "Today, we have people from as far as LaPorte to Crown Point gathered here to spread a message."
In May, a similar organized effort in Chicago had people rallying in 436 U.S. cities and 52 countries to March Against Monsanto, an industry leader in producing GMOs, and to voice opposition to the practice. Organizers are pushing for labeling food products derived from them.
Saturday's rally included a keynote address by chemist George Smolka, of Griffith.
Genetically modified plants are grown from seeds engineered to resist herbicides as well as insecticides, to add nutritional value and improve crop yields.
Because of potential health issues, more than 60 countries around the world, including Australia and Japan and all the countries in the European Union, impose significant restrictions or outright bans on producing and selling GMOs.
Although GMOs, which came on the U.S. market in 1996, are researched, tested and approved by federal agencies, critics say they can hurt the environment and lead to serious health issues. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine cites animal studies showing organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility among animals fed GMO grain.
According to the academy, human studies show how genetically modified food can leave material behind, possibly causing long-term problems. The toxic insecticide produced by GM corn was found in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn fetuses.
"What concerned me so much was why our FDA wasn't doing more to look into this area of research," Hibbitts said.
"What I discovered was several of the FDA members who are high ranking, have former ties to Monsanto. This is like the wolf protecting the sheep."
Eagle Creek Township farmer Bob Little, who also sells for Pioneer Seed, has said "GMOs are a great benefit to everybody. Our food supply is much bigger, and, I believe, we have a safer food supply as well."
He said farmers would be unable to produce enough grain to "feed the world" were it not for genetic modification that increases production.
He told The Times in June that genetically modified seeds for corn and other foods represent earth-friendly progress that enhances life on the planet.
Less insecticide is needed with genetically modified seeds, Little said at the time, which means there is less risk for the environment.
"In corn, species invade and get in ears and produce molds and microtoxins. There is less incidence of that with GMO," he said.
While the protesters' numbers represent a small percentage of the world population, they have networked effectively, Little said.
Amy Mattingly, 29, of Valparaiso, marched on Saturday with her daughter, Kayla Doyle, 10, a fourth-grader at Central Elementary School in Valparaiso.
"Even bees can be affected by what's being done with this farming," said Doyle, who said she hadn't yet been taught about GMOs in her science class.