Two hundred and fifty U.S. activists, joined by campaigners from Japan, Europe, India, Canada, and Mexico, attended spirited meetings and workshops in Milwaukee, Chicago, and St. Louis between July 14-19. These meetings were organized to begin building a mass movement in North America against genetically engineered foods and the globalization and industrialization of agriculture. The week of strategy sessions were highlighted by a keynote address in St. Louis on July 17 by Dr. Vandana Shiva of India, as well as a protest by 150 people at Monsanto's St. Louis world headquarters on July 18, both part of what was billed as North America's "First Grassroots Gathering on Biodevastation." (See Food Bytes #9).
The activist gatherings were sponsored by a broad coalition of public interest groups that include the Green Party USA, Greenpeace, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Sustain, the Edmonds Institute, RAFI, the Pure Food Campaign, and the Organic Consumers Association, among others. Meeting participants in all three cities endorsed the call for coordinated global citizen action, including Global Days of Action in October, but stressed the importance of building truly mass-based consumer, farmer, and environmental campaigns in the U.S. and other nations to slow down or halt the Biotech Express and to promote sustainable and organic agriculture. As Brian Tokar, Vermont-based environmental author and one of the organizers of the St. Louis meeting put it, "We need a powerful political movement in the U.S. to counter the lies and propaganda of the biotechnology industry."
As Don Fitz of the Gateway Greens told Food Bytes in St. Louis: "Monsanto and the American government are the ringleaders in forcing this dangerous and unpopular technology down people's throats, but we've lagged behind the rest of the world in terms of getting organized." Yet, despite limited organizing in the U.S. thus far, activists in all three meetings were heartened by reports of campaign successes in Europe, India, and Japan. North American campaigners are emboldened as well by the recent backlash of over 280,000 organic consumers against the USDA and the Clinton administration's attempts to degrade organic standards, criminalize dissent, and allow the gene engineers and factory farm interests to take over the multi-billion dollar organic food system. (See Food Bytes #10).
Organizers also pointed out that polls of U.S. consumers show strong opposition to unlabeled, untested gene foods such as recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH or rBST) being forced onto the marketplace, and stressed that there is tremendous potential support for the federal lawsuit launched in Washington, DC on May 27 by attorneys for the Center for Technology Assessment to require mandatory labeling and safety testing of all gene-altered foods and crops, as well as removal from the marketplace of all currently approved biotech foods. (See Food Bytes #9). The major problem thus far with developing opposition to the rapidly expanding menu of 37 genetically engineered foods and crops approved for commercialization in the U.S. is that the mass media haven't yet reported on these new "Frankencrops." As I stated in addressing the opening plenary at the St. Louis Biodevastation Gathering:
"To fully inform and arouse the American public, to force the mass media to cover the genetically engineered foods controversy, it will be necessary to build a mass grassroots movement comparable to what we've built before-Civil Rights, the anti-war movement, the anti-nuclear movement."
Marion Burros summed up the challenge which American activists face in an article in the New York Times on July 20:
"American shoppers would be surprised to know that much of the food that they buy has genetically engineered ingredients. But they cannot tell just how much, because the United States, unlike many other countries, does not require the labeling of gene-modified food. Because most consumers are unaware of the amount of genetically engineered food that is available, with the exception of milk that contains a gene-altered hormone, it is hard to judge their resistance to such products."
News and Analysis on Genetic Engineering & Factory Farming
by: Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association
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