Published on Saturday, March 25, 2000 in the Boston Herald
Biotech Foes Challenge Industry Insiders To An Open Debate
by Jose Martinez
Activists kicked off their anti-biotechnology teach-in yesterday by challenging biotech industry insiders to debate them publicly on the merits and potential dangers of genetic tinkering in the name of food and medicine.
``If they don't agree to have a public forum with us, that just substantiates our position that they don't have the science to prove their products are safe,'' said Jessica Hayes, an organizer of this weekend's grass roots gathering at Northeastern University.
Hayes is one of the organizers behind Biodevastation 2000, a three-day series of discussions about the potential hazards posed to humans and the environment by genetically modified crops, foods and medicines.
Biodevastation is meant as a foil to BIO 2000 - the largest ever gathering of scientists, CEOs and others in the growing biotechnology industry. Biodevastation ends tomorrow with a rally at Copley Square and a march down Boylston Street to the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center to protest the opening of BIO 2000.
Police, hoping to head off the chaos that Seattle experienced during last year's World Trade Organization demonstrations, have tightened security around the Hynes and plan to be out in force to keep the peace during tomorrow's march. Police say they have spotted a ``miniscule'' number of agitators linked to the Seattle unrest in Boston.
``We have seen certain factions come into town - enough to heighten our awareness,'' said Sgt. Detective Margot Hill, a police spokeswoman. ``We expect acts of civil disobedience.''
BIO organizers have said the protesters can voice their concerns directly inside the biotechnology conference, which is open to anyone willing to pay the $200-a-day entry fee.
Hayes said she planned to meet today with Janice Bourque, executive director of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, to discuss the possibility of having both sides meet in a public debate next week.
Bourque has said she would meet privately with the protest leaders, but BIO spokesman Charles Craig yesterday said he was uncertain if the meeting would take place - let alone a forum.
Protests aside, Iowa farmer George Naylor took advantage of the conference at Northeastern to finally shake hands with outspoken biotechnology critic Steven M. Druker.
Naylor is part of a class-action lawsuit accusing agricultural giant Monsanto Co. of violating anti-trust laws and selling modified crops with too little testing. Druker and the Alliance for Bio-Integrity are suing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to get mandatory testing and labeling for genetically modified foods.
``We farmers are at ground zero in the battle against (genetically engineered food),'' Naylor said. ``It's been a nightmare.''
Even though Naylor does not use seeds modified through biotechnology to make his corn and soybeans more resistant to pests or to let him use a cheaper pesticide, his neighbors in Churdan, Iowa, do. And the results aren't always what his fellow farmers expected.
``Some forms of BT corn are meant to resist the corn borer, which attacks the stalks, but some of these new corns actually have weaker stalks so they fall victim to other diseases and just fall over,'' Naylor said. ``Almost everyone has experimented with it, but it hasn't paid off.''
Meanwhile, Naylor and his neighbors have been told by their local grain operator to be sure to tell him which of their crops came from gene altered seeds since Japanese and European markets have been closed to certain strains.
But Naylor said he cannot guarantee that his pure crops are not getting mixed with BT corn or BT soybeans when they reach the grain elevator or even when he plants.
``I have to worry about the pollen from my neighbors drifting over to my crops,'' Naylor said. ``The consumers can be assured they are getting (genetically modified organisms) in their corn and beans and who knows what the unexpected consequences will be.''
Copyright 2000 Boston Herald