Date: Tue, 25 May 1999 00:36:51 EDT
Report on GE Conferences
Dear Health Freedom Fighters,
It was an active time in Seattle, Washington last week as representatives of groups supporting and opposing genetic engineering met in separate conferences.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization held their BIO '99 annual meeting with thousands in attendance. In response, well over 100 activists from around the world gathered to hold Biodevastation 3. This conference was sponsored by the Edmonds Institute, the Washington Biotechnology Action Council and co-sponsored by many other activist organizations.
On Tuesday, May 18 at noon, approximately 150 activists met outside the front entrance of the Washington State Convention and Trade Center where the BIO '99 conference was going on to hold an anti-genetic engineering demonstration. There were many costumes and lots of signs demanding that genetically engineered foods be labeled. Next the group marched through the streets of Seattle. Because of all the signs and costumes, the police allowed the march become a mini-parade and allowed us to walk down the streets closing off traffic as we went. Then the demonstration moved to Freeway Park which immediately borders the Washington Convention Center, where a stage had been set up. There activists listened to speakers and enjoyed entertainment for several hours.
Attendants of the BIO '99 event were shocked to see the level of protest taking place. As Brian Tokar, educator at Goddard College, author of Earth For Sale, and keynote speaker at Biodevastation 3 stated, "The biotechnology industry has been holding these conferences for years and this is the first time they have seen this level of protest and activism."
The Biodevastation 3 conference was held on Wednesday and Thursday. It was an excellent educational event and provided a great opportunity to network with others. Speakers included Dr. Michael Hansen of Consumers Union, Ronnie Cummins of the Campaign for Food Safety, Charles Margulies of Greenpeace, Edward Hammond of RAFI, U of W technical communication professor Philip Bereano who sits on the board of the Council of Responsible Genetics, and many, many others. Thanks to Beth Burrows of the Edmonds Institute for her leadership in organizing this event. Special thanks to Bill Aal and many other activists who worked for weeks in preparing for the demonstration and conference.
And, yes, the media did hear about our activities. Below is an article that appeared on the FRONT PAGE of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper on Thursday. This was also the day that the story about monarch butterflies being killed by the pollen from genetically engineered corn hit papers all over the world. It was front page news in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and many other newspapers. In case you did not see any of those articles, I am including below the one that ran in the New York Times.
Finally citizens of the United States are learning about the potential devastation that genetically engineered foods pose to personal and planetary health. Europeans have been protesting genetically engineered foods for several years. The biotechnology industry has been telling Europeans and others around the world that American citizens have looked at the issues surrounding genetically engineered foods and feel they are safe. The truth is that most Americans don't even know their foods are genetically engineered. There has been a virtual news blackout. However, as activists organize in the United States and major news media begins to report on genetically engineered foods, the biotech industry will soon realize that American consumers are also rejecting these foods. Like Europeans, citizens of the United States, Canada, Japan and other countries around the world are beginning to demand that genetically engineered foods be labeled.
If all of you in the U.S. reading this e-mail right now will send letters to your elected officials requesting labeling of genetically engineered foods, and get at least 10 of your friends to send letters, and have your friends tell 10 of their friends to send letters, and so on, we will get labeling legislation passed in the U.S. Congress by next year. Go to the web site of The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods at http://www.thecampaign.org and print out the form letters to Clinton, Gore, your two Senators, and your House Representative. Make photocopies and give them to you friends. Your efforts can make a big difference. Thanks!
Executive Director, The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods
6920 Roosevelt Way NE #277
Seattle, WA 98115
Tel: 425-771-4049, Fax: 603-825-5841
E-mail: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org, Web Site: http://www.thecampaign.org
The Campaign's Mission Statement: "To create a national grassroots consumer campaign for the purpose of lobbying Congress and the President to pass legislation that will require the labeling of genetically engineered foods in the United States."
DEBATE RAGES OVER LABELING OF GENETICALLY ALTERED FOOD
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer; 05/20/99) (Front Page)
Both sides in the debate over agricultural biotechnology say Americans likely and perhaps unwittingly eat more genetically engineered food daily than consumers of any other country.
Critics of genetically modified foods say that's because the public is not adequately informed. The United States, unlike other nations, doesn't require labels that identify foods that have been genetically modified.
Proponents of agricultural biotechnology say such labeling is unnecessary because U.S. consumers have faith in their system of food safety.
"The industry has successfully fought labeling of genetically engineered foods in this country," said Bill Aal, member of a consumer advocacy group called Washington Biotechnology Action Council. "That's because they know consumers wouldn't buy it."
Jeff Bergau, a spokesman for agri-chemical giant Monsanto Co, agreed that most people eat genetically modified food every day. Bergau said his company has opposed labeling such food because of the implicit message.
"Labeling genetically modified food could mislead consumers by implying that such foods are different or not safe," he said. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires labels if any alterations compromise safety or change the nutritional characteristics of the food, Bergau said. A label that simply states the food was genetically altered in some way isn't reasonable or fair and "implies something's wrong," he said.
But critics such as Aal contend that something is wrong if the industry in the United States prevails in not informing consumers about what they're eating.
Labeling was one of the main topics of discussion yesterday in the first day of a two-day conference called Biodevastation 3. It is being held at Seattle's Plymouth Congregational Church as a counterpoint to Bio '99, the annual meeting of the international Biotechnology Industry Organization.
Bergau and thousands of others who celebrate the power and progress of biotechnology have been meeting all week at the Washington State Trade and Convention Center. Bio '99 closes today as well.
The 100 or so people gathered for the Biodevastation 3 meeting were outnumbered, but most of the speakers said they believed U.S. consumers were finally awakening to an issue being debated in Europe and in industrialized countries elsewhere in the world.
"We're at a crossroads," said Ronnie Cummins, director of the Minnesota-based non-profit Campaign for Food Safety. The biotechnology industry has promised to provide consumers with better drugs, seeds and food, Cummins said, but many people are recognizing those as empty promises.
The use of bovine growth hormone, he said, was rejected by the public despite Monsanto's massive public relations and lobbying campaign. Consumers in Europe and Britain have demanded labeling and are forcing supermarkets to offer foods guaranteed free of genetically engineered products, Cummins said.
Charles Margulis, a member of Greenpeace, said the biotechnology industry assures the public that genetic engineering is no different from selective breeding. But the scientific community isn't so assured, he said. Speaking yesterday, Margulis cited a report issued Monday by the British Medical Association - the U.K.'s equivalent of the American Medical Association - that urged caution and more study of genetically modified food:
"The British Medical Association believes that any conclusion upon the safety of introducing genetically modified materials into the U.K. is premature as there is insufficient evidence to inform the decision-making process at present," the report stated.
Margulis said that while some genetically engineered foods are allowed for distribution in the European Union, they are not allowed to be grown as crops anywhere in Europe. Many Europeans, he said, view the environmental risk from genetic engineering of crops as akin to chemical pollution.
"What we're facing now is biological pollution," Margulis said.
Bergau and Libby Mikesell, spokeswoman for Bio '99, said Britain's negative reaction to genetically engineered foods comes from broader concerns and lack of confidence in food safety following the so- called "mad cow disease" episode in which people were sickened by tainted meat.
"There's a lot of debate in Europe now about the safety of biotechnology," Mikesell said. "Americans are more trusting of their regulatory system."
Dr. Peter Welters, chief executive officer of an agricultural biotechnology company called Phytowelt, thinks the lack of debate over agricultural biotechnology in the United States is simply the result of ignorance. "In Europe, Germany especially, we've been debating this for more than 10 years," said Welters, who is a German citizen and was one of the speakers and exhibitors at Bio '99. "People are very informed about it."
Welters said he finds the U.S. biotech industry's opposition to labeling curious and perhaps counter-productive. "If there's nothing to fear from genetic engineering, why do they fear labeling their products?" he asked. Welters noted that the Germans do label genetically engineered foods, and consumers don't appear too concerned. "In Germany, I think many people are tired of hearing about the threat of biotechnology," he said.
P-I reporter Tom Paulson can be reached at 206-448-8318 or email@example.com