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By By Brian Tokar
Biotech companies are at the center of an unprecedented concentration of corporate control over seeds, food distribution, and pharmaceutical production.
One notable aspect of the actions in Seattle and Washington was activists' interest in a serious new threat to our food and health: the rise of genetic engineering as the technology of choice in countless new areas of business, the imposition of the new biotechnologies in developing countries through the WTO and the World Bank, and the centralization of this technology in the current expansion of global capitalism.
Current GM food crops (90 million acres were cultivated worldwide in 1999, of which 70% were in the US) pose a serious threat to public health, the integrity of living ecosystems, and the survival of conventional agriculture. Experimental genetic manipulations in humans are leading to the resurgence of eugenic thinking and practices.
"Bio-prospecting" companies are amassing tens of millions of dollars through the expropriation of genetic information and cultural knowledge from indigenous populations around the world. Monopolies over seed distribution, pharmaceutical production and research, and basic health care have spread to once unimaginable proportions.
The basis of all this development is the hegemonic influence of biotechnology companies such as Monsanto (now a subsidiary of the pharmaceutical giant Pharmacia), Novartis (formed from the Swiss giants Ciba Geigy and Sandoz) and DuPont (owner of Pioneer Hi-Bred, the world's largest seed company) along with the emerging technological preeminence of laboratory methods such as genetic engineering and animal cloning.
While Britain and much of Europe went through a true state of revolt against GM foods for almost two years, the passivity of the Americans seemed to silence any slight opposition to genetic engineering on this side of the Atlantic. Various motivations behind the European opposition (distrust of scientific authorities, devotion to traditional food and the presence of authentic popular movements against corporate power), were rejected as mere European entertainment. Here in the Monsanto home, the new GMO foods will likely continue to be accepted, even embraced as fervorly as if they were the latest model of Nike shoes.
While it was difficult for opponents of genetic engineering to get media attention, the entrenched rejection of genetic engineering in the US is as old as the technology itself. In the 1970s, the inhabitants of some of the most famous American universities rejected plans to establish the first generation of laboratories to experiment on the genetic alteration of bacteria, plants and viruses. In the 1980s, Californians opposed the first approved release of genetically modified bacteria into the environment, they quietly applauded in 1987 when the first crop of strawberries ready to be sprayed with GM bacteria was thrown to the ground in the middle of the night.
In the early 1990s, producer, environmental and consumer groups delayed approval of the HGB, Bovine Growth Hormone, created by Monsanto, clearly stating that the hormone was an economic dependency for farmers, and that consumers were willing to boycott dairy farmers who encouraged ranchers to inject their cows with this drug that increased production. In the late 1990s, activists engaged in a creative and varied series of strategies to introduce the introduction of GM food ingredients into the US market (the first GM crops were commercialized in 1996) but opposition waned over the models. Europeans. Companies could exploit the enormous lack of knowledge about genetic engineering to give the appearance that American consumers tacitly supported this technology.
The movement clearly changed on March 26 of this year, when some 4,000 people gathered in Boston's Copley Plaza to protest the annual meeting of the Industrial Biotechnology Organization, BIO 2,000. This has been, by far, the largest demonstration against genetic engineering in the United States, and one of the largest worldwide protests focused on genetic technologies. The Boston gathering and rally were preceded by two and a half days of lectures by activists at Northeastern University and MIT, in which nearly 1,000 participants attended the panels and papers.
Under the Biodevastation 2000 panel, activists in the northeastern United States firmly showed that opposition to genetic engineering had become a force to be reckoned with. They also showed that critics of biotechnology in the US were ready to focus their opposition on more than just GM foods.
Food policy was certainly an important aspect in the Biodevastation 2,000 conferences and protests, with speakers addressing the health and environmental implications of transgenic crops. Iowa attorney Steven Druker, the promoter of a lawsuit seeking to overthrow the American Food and Drug Administration's approval of GM foods, showed internal documents that reflected that the agency's own scientists had expressed serious concerns about safety. of these products. Dr Ricarda Steinbrecher, a scientific advisor to many anti-GI groups in Britain and around the world, joined American scientists and activists to update participants on the potential and dire consequences of GM crops. The Native Forest Network announced a new international campaign against genetic engineering in trees, and a selected group of Midwestern growers from the National Family Farm Coalition explained how companies are controlling the supply of seeds and promoting genetic engineering at the expense of farms. relatives from all over the country.
However, almost equal attention was devoted to many other impacts of genetic engineering on our health and healthcare, and on the sustainability of indigenous cultures around the world. They talked about the pitfalls of genetic determinism, and how mapping the human genome is not going to guarantee or even ensure a healthier future. We learned about the drawbacks of medical research reduced to genetic explanations (the identification of internal, inherited susceptibilities) at the cost of thorough investigations into the external causes of disease. Dr. Marcy Darnovsky of Bekerley's Techno Eugenics magazine. explained the myths of "gene therapy," a euphemism for the growing field of experimentation in human genetic manipulations., and Alix Fano of the Campaign for Responsible Transplantations described how animals are brutally mutilated in the false pursuit of one day being capable of transplant your organs into humans. Dr. Gregor Wolbring of Calgary, Canada, explained how the limited interest in genetics will further discriminate against the disabled, and many participants explained that patenting living matter (including human genes) has seriously distorted scientific practices to put them at the service of the priorities of the companies. Many of the current proponents of the "germ trend" (for example, heritable gene therapies), relentlessly defend the notion of improving people through
genetic intervention, with an arrogant disdain for those who see this new technology as an emerging threat to social equilibrium.
Other Biodevastation 2.0000 speakers contributed their experience as activists, from India, South Africa and Uruguay. Analyzing the Seattle experience and the demonstrations against the World Bank / IMF in Washington, some of the most engaged discussions revolved around the issues of corporate control, and the central role of biotechnology in advancing corporate globalization. The fact that biotechnology companies intend to incorporate everything that is alive in the sphere of what is bought, sold and traded in the global market, makes there a great expectation in financial markets that biotechnology will be the new source mega-benefits. The huge fortunes are increasingly based on public response to new developments in genome sequencing, animal cloning, and interventions in human genetic processes.
Biotech companies are at the center of an unprecedented concentration of corporate control over seeds, food distribution, and pharmaceutical production. While there was a major focus on the specific threats posed by GMOs in particular, Biodevastation 2,000 activists were at least opposing the patenting of life and the role of multinationals in promoting genetic engineering.
In the long term, the most significant impact of biotechnology may be the drive to circumscribe all life within the sphere of commercial products. This takes different ways. The first and most fundamental is that biotechnology alters the models of nature to better adapt it to the capitalist market. Where the patterns of nature are not well adapted to be exploited, biotechnology offers the means to redesign life forms in ways that meet the demands of the system.
If soil fertility is being depleted by monoculture and chemical fertilizers, herbicide-resistant crops will be made to use more harmful chemicals that destroy weeds, and attempts will be made to produce nitrogen-fixing cereal grains such as legumes . If irrigation on an industrial scale lowers the water table and turns soils saline, genetically modified food crops adapted to drought and salinity will be sought. If marketable fish species such as salmon have difficulty in surviving annually in remote northern fish farms, the aim will be to match the cold resistance of cold water species such as flounder, without considering the effect on indigenous populations. If natural farming cannot meet the demand of growing market margins, companies will instead offer clones of their most productive animals, genetically transforming them into bioreactors for drug synthesis.
Nothing in nature, from the bacteria that live deep within the searing, boiling geysers of Yellowstone National Park, to the molecules that make up the human reproductive and immune systems, will escape exploitation and, where the possibility, of its redefinition. Biotechnology is a means of ignoring essential problems.
To realize the benefits of this development, the biotechnology industry has fiercely promoted the patent on living matter all over the world, discussing in international negotiations the agenda to patent life as the GATT 1994 agreement. The countries resisting the patent of life, as India is threatened by trade sanctions from the US, which has taken advantage of the authority of the Intellectual Property Rights of the WTO to force that the patent laws of others countries adapt to ours. The patent on human genes is advancing at an astonishing pace, despite certain successful campaigns on behalf of three indigenous nations (Panama, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea) to overturn, in the mid-1990s, the patent on their genes by the National Institute of Health. Once the Patent Office gave free rein to patent DNA fragments, even if they are not completely sequenced, it was filled with millions of requests for those patents by researchers seeking to accelerate and privatize the work of the Genome Project. Likewise, the World Bank's Biotechnology Force is trying to accelerate the development of transgenic agriculture in countries such as Kenya, Zimbabwe, Indonesia and Mexico, echoing the fraudulent claims of the Industry that biotechnology is in some way the key to feed the world.
While many US NGOs are focused on the particular risks of GM foods, and on demonstrating with campaigns for labeling and better government regulation and oversight, the organizers of Biodevastation 2,000 tried to articulate a more extensive package of lawsuits. for a movement that is willing to reach beyond immediate concerns. Labeling is considered, at best, like putting a "band-aid", at worst, it would legalize a food system in which most people eat GM food, while products without those ingredients would only be a market specialty for wealthy consumers. Challenging the permanence of the labeling-focused strategies of many anti-genetic engineering campaigns in the US, at Biodevastation 2000, the organizers demanded:
End the commercialization of genetically modified products and hold corporations fully responsible for the negative consequences of what has already been released.
Abolish the property of any form of life, including patents on seeds, plants, animals, genes and cells. Make biopiracy a crime and protect the rights of people around the world to
maintain and strengthen their traditional ways of life.
Strengthen public regulation of potentially dangerous technologies, recognizing the inherent uncertainty of genetic manipulation and placing the "burden of proof" on supporters to demonstrate that their products are safe.
End corporate control over health and food, so reinforced by institutions such as the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank, and demanding public responsibility and democratic control over the decisions that affect our lives.
All of this was presented in a festive atmosphere in Boston, with great acclaim, among giant dolls, theater groups, and comedic performances. Seize the Day, the eclectic folk-rock group from Devon, England, which has become the band of refuge "for" anti-GMO "celebrations in Britain, also contributed their music and humor. The theater of fame The Vermont Bread and Puppet Theater, which has brought its satirical and scathing wit to major street rallies since the Vietnam War, led the rally down luxurious Boylston Street to the Hynes Convention Center, where some 8,000 biotech executives they were beginning their week of reunion.
After the Seattle protest against the WTO, the police vowed to be prepared for "riots". In fact, Seattle police officers went to Boston a few weeks before Biodevastation 2000 to give orders to Boston police about controlling protesters. They came with outrageous stories of activists using homemade guns to attack police, and even more exaggerated estimates of the damage to private property that occurred in Seattle. It was a challenge for everyone involved in preparing for Biodevastation 2000 in Boston, to end the media obsession about "Seattle" and violence "and to draw serious attention to the dangers of genetic engineering. In the end, without However, the authentic spirit of Seattle was floating in the air in Boston, and of course it had nothing to do with "violence" Since "Seattle" was not about violence, but about solidarity, the promise of alliance building and about the determination that the actions of an engaged society may have some impact.
Throughout the entire week of Biodevastation 2000, a variety of creative actions took place in Boston, muddying the celebrations of the thousands of Biotech executives. The protests rallied around official executive receptions at meeting venues as diverse as city museums of art and science, the John F. Kennedy Library, and the Boston Convention Center. A Group from New York represented a spill of transgenic food in the official replica of the Boston Tea Party ship.
Other groups unloaded soybeans in front of the Convention Center, and provoked a public debate (even with loudspeakers) at lunchtime, demonstrated with a group of children disguised by Boston Common to a garden recently dug by activists and represented the Biodiversity funeral Where in the end the coffin ended up being for Biotech Industry. Some people infiltrated the Biotech meeting to observe the industry strategy sessions, and on occasion to interrupt the talks with persistent complaints about industry practices.
This year, the United States' GM crops of corn, soybeans, and cotton are expected to be smaller than last year. After the American Corn Growers Association defined biotech crops as "a serious threat" to growers and urged its members to "study alternatives" to transgenic varieties, companies like Monsanto, DuPont and Cargill quickly stepped in to ensure to farmers that, despite the problems in Europe, there would continue to be a reliable market for transgenic crops. US biotech companies have launched a massive new campaign, costing $ 50 million, to put the humanitarian touch on their Frankestein creations.
After the Biodevastation encounter, (which was the fourth in a series of international popular celebrations that began two years ago at the Monsanto home in St. Louis), American activists are also launching their campaign. It is obvious that the heavily funded corporate ad campaign can only be effectively countered by activists working conspicuously in communities across the U.S. While a few NGOs will likely pool their resources to place large advertisements in national newspapers. (and perhaps on private TV too) a broad, popular campaign will more effectively equip America's towns and cities with the knowledge and confidence to see through industrial bombing. This will necessarily have to be combined with a wide collection of creative deals, from strategic lawsuits, to new actions such as uprooting crops after the nearly 20 GM crop pickups that occurred in the US last summer and fall. Popular networks of activists opposed to genetic engineering have emerged under the rubric of Resistance Against Genetic Engineering in the Northeast (NERAGE) the San Francisco area (Bay RAGE) the Pacific Northwest (NW-RAGR) the southern half (DownSouth RAGE ) the upper part of the western half GrainRAGE) and the southwestern desert (Desert-RAGE).
As social ecologist Chaia Heller often points out, a meaningful activist approach to the problem of genetic engineering requires us to move beyond the "Risk" discourse that is prevalent in the NGO community, to understand the importance of biotechnology to the development of the centralized information of the new capitalist economy and assimilate all the ways in which the new genetic technology threatens the quality of life of the world population. Activists realize that in the short term it is necessary to ask government agencies to revoke the rules that allow GM foods to be sold without guarantee of long-term safety, and to ask supermarkets and food handlers to stop using these ingredients in their products. A large number of companies have started, it is true, responding to public pressure in the past months and have promised to take such steps.
But this is not enough. If we are to develop a movement that can stop the excesses of current biotechnology, and have a lasting effect on our quality of life, we need to affirm the right of our communities to make decisions about the technology that affects us. To respond to genetic engineering, the inequalities of the global trading system, and the scourge of global poverty, we must reaffirm the power of a true democratic public sphere, where communities of people can debate issues and make authentic decisions in agreement. open. Confederations of democratic and self-governing communities can bring genuine counter-power to a large number of institutions, such as the WTO, the World Bank, and the IMF.Creating a different world style will require many more occasions in which tens of thousands ( perhaps millions) of people will take to the streets challenging the unjust institutions that govern us. It will also demand an alternative life, built from the ground up, through which people can begin to regain control over the decisions that affect our lives. It is through this creative game of confrontational and constructive approaches that we can begin to collectively discover what the real aspect of democracy is.
* The original title is "Gathering RAGE (Resistance Against Genetic Engineering), whose double meaning as an acronym and literal meaning of the word RAGE, does not coincide in Spanish.
Original title: Resistance Against Genetic Engineering: Gathering RAGE
Author: Brian Tokar
Origin: Z Magazine, June 2000
Translated by Jimena Puertas and revised by Déborah Gil, January 2001
Brian Tokar's new collection on biotech policy issues to be published in autumn by Zed Books of London