Iowa Pays Non-GMO Protesters $50,000 to Settle First Amendment Rights Lawsuit


gmo protesters iowa arrest

World Food Prize protesters Frank Cordaro and William Talen are arrested outside the pro-GMO World Food Prize event in 2016. Photo courtesy of Iowa99Media


With companies spending tens of millions of dollars to prevent GMO labeling and the Biotech industry still on the receiving end of favorable treatment from the Trump Administration, it’s safe to say that the deck is stacked against non-GMO activists.

While protests against the controversial crops, and for GMO labeling have been wildly successful since the first March Against Monsanto in 2013, the movement has been suppressed due to a lack of coverage and what many would call media favoritism toward the Biotech industry.

The marches have been peaceful, but suppression has also occurred: the first March in 2013 resulted in the arrest of one protester for the dubious charge of “using a megaphone,” for example, and Iowa demonstrators were prevented from making their voices heard during a 2016 protest of the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa.

Now, the same Iowa protesters have been awarded a cash settlement by the state, after allegations that they were prevented from exercising their First Amendment Rights at a crucial time for the non-GMO and organic movement.

State Settles With Non-GMO Activists Over First Amendment Allegations 

According to a report from the Des Moines Register, a $50,000 settlement has been given to the protesters, who were forcibly moved away from the site of the pro-GMO World Food Prize event in 2016.

Their demonstration was forced to be held about 110 yards away from the Iowa State Capitol’s west entrance at the food of a steep hill, which made them virtually invisible to those attending the event, rendering their protest ineffective.

This treatment was a violation of their First Amendment rights, the protesters said.

Frank Cordaro and Sharon Donovan of Iowa, as well as William Talen, an actor-turned-pastor from New York, argued as plaintiffs in the case that they could not “be heard in the marketplace of ideas” during the event, which has historically given awards to major players in the GMO industry.

Frustrated with their inability to be heard, Cordaro and Talen were arrested with trespassing as they attempted to approach the State Capitol Building.

The court rejected the state of Iowa’s attempt to prevent their First Amendment request from being heard, and as a result the state opted to settle the case, placing the $50,000 bill at the foot of its taxpayers.

While the notion of paying activists accused of trespassing may sound frustrating to Iowa citizens, it’s important to realize that the state is actively involved in receiving subsidies that result in the planting of GMO corn and soy.

Iowa was the top corn producing state in 2016, and over $18 million was allocated for growing it from 1995 to 2016 from the federal government. Huge amounts of this corn are genetically engineered, and much of it is used for ethanol instead of food (over 90 percent of all corn in the United States is GMO).

Protesters Get Closer in 2017

In 2017, the protesters were allowed to demonstrate closer, next to a driveway about 350 feet away from World Food Prize dignitaries were being transported, the article said.

According to the plaintiffs’ attorney Glen Downey, the case showed that violations of constitutional rights “can not be bought and paid for by the highest corporate bidder.”

“We are happy the state recognized that violating the First Amendment rights of its citizens is not something that can be tolerated,” Downey added.



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