Beyond Biodevastation: Through the Mind and Eyes of a Demonstrator

[ Image detail from “Biodevastation” poster created by the Beehive Design Collective. ]

Sunday the 25th of June 2001 was the day the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) began a conference to discuss the use of biotechnology in the future. BIO consists of representatives from the world’s largest and most influential multinational agricultural and pharmaceutical corporations, as well as some smaller national corporations. These corporations all share the desire to use biotechnology as a tool to create and patent genetically modified forms of life in their effort to make enormous profits all around the world.

In response to the BIO conference, political and social activists of all ages, well respected authors, dedicated farmers, investigative reporters, university educators, students, parents and workers joined together at a church in the Hillcrest section of San Diego and then at San Diego City College to learn from each other about the harmful repercussions of biotechnology and promote sustainable organic farming methods. The event was called Beyond Biodevastation and 2001 was the fourth year that people came together for this annual teach-in and demonstration. Many in attendance were local to San Diego, while other people traveled from the eastern United States and other countries such as India. It was wonderful to experience all the people gathered together, sharing their ideas with one another in discussions and by distributing written pamphlets, books, newspapers, bumper stickers, and t-shirts. The display of amazingly artistic murals and street theatre performances were inspiring, informative, and entertaining.

There is a growing international social movement, known to many people as BioJustice!, promoting sustainable farming and small scale farmers. Information about organic, conventional, and genetically modified food production and distribution in the US and worldwide was a major focus of the teach-in, but the need for all levels of civic participation, the corporate control and censorship of mainstream media, and the importance of biodiversity were also important topics. Biodiversity is the diversity of all living things found in the natural world. The concept usually refers to the different species but also includes ecosystems and the genetic diversity within a given species.

The teach-in took place on Friday and Saturday, the 22nd and 23rd of June, and was followed on Sunday by a gathering of even more people in San Diego’s Balboa Park. Some people wore colorful cardboard butterflies, others dressed up as organic corn, but most people dressed like they would on any other sunny day in San Diego. Street theater artists performed a skit on Monsanto, a talented folk singer and activist was leading the crowd in folk songs, and a huge circle was formed by holding hands and walking through Balboa Park while singing to each other and the world that our lives will not be controlled by corporations. I felt good about my decision to show my support of the resistance to biotechnology by gathering in the park before we legally marched a couple of miles in the streets of San Diego from the park to the Convention Center where the BIO meeting was getting to started.

This entire peaceful gathering in the park was temporarily interrupted by the sounds of police helicopters flying overhead and numerous police vans with their sirens blaring, unloading countless policemen dressed in riot gear. It was a deliberate effort on the part of the police to intimidate and discourage us and other people from taking part in future gatherings and demonstrations of resistance. Our spirits grew upset by the extent of police intimidation, but it was not enough to get us down for long. The march took place as planned, and about a thousand people paraded through downtown San Diego.

My mind was in a very intense state as emotions ran through my body. I began to question my own motivations for demonstrating while standing on an overpass on the 1-5 watching thousands of people in cars speeding by seeming to not care about our march and protest. I am not saying that the people speeding below us on the freeway did not care; it is just that most do not know about the processes of agricultural production and distribution, the dangers of biotechnology, or the terrible history of corporations such as Monsanto. Despite brief moments of self-doubt, my beliefs, my experiences, my education, as well as delicious food handed out by Seeds of Peace and Food Not Bombs provided all the energy I would need to march however far I was marching on that hot and dry day on San Diego’s black asphalt roads.

Corporations have the money to organize and secure a location for conventions such as BIO, as well as the ability to fly their representatives to these meetings. There is little doubt to me that the power and dominance of corporations is a strong influence for the actions of the police and mainstream media. For instance, police had meetings with landowners in the downtown San Diego area telling them not to rent space to Beyond Biodevastation activists for a convergence center claiming the activists would be stockpiling weapons. I must note that there were no reports of weapons at all that weekend. Residents of San Diego were even warned by the local paper and local news that they should not go near the demonstrators.

Organizers from San Diego and all over the world worked for months for little or no money and demonstrators themselves had to adjust their lives in order to take part in the events. It is very impressive that a thousand or so people were able to represent the millions of people all around the world that oppose biotechnology and the corporate control and ownership of life. Quantitative measures are often used to describe the impact of events such as the demonstrations in Seattle, Quebec, and San Diego. While giving details about the number of demonstrators at a particular event is important, it is the qualitative message, that I feel is of the most importance. The proponents of biotechnology often claim that they are motivated to alleviate hunger in developing countries, however hunger results from poverty, inequality and poor methods of distribution. An international treaty called Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) enforced by the World Trade Organization (WTO) allows corporations to patent living organisms. People from all over the world feel that patents on life are a moral outrage and should be resisted.

We do not want multinational corporations to be pulling the strings that affect the lives of people all over the world and now, with the use of biotechnology, the DNA of the world starting with plants, but quickly moving to trees and animals such as humans. Monsanto Corporation is the biggest proponent of agricultural biotechnology in the United States and probably the world. It is based in St. Louis, MO and is historically known as a chemical manufacturer. Monsanto is responsible for environmental disasters such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the most toxic concentrations of Agent Orange containing the deadly ingredient dioxin used in the Vietnam War, and Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH).

PCBs were commonly used in the microelectronics industry as a non-flammable lubricant, but PCBs were banned in the U.S. in1976 because scientific research in the 1960s and 1970s disclosed that PCBs were potent carcinogens, and also traced them to a wide array of reproductive, developmental, and immune system disorders. Monsanto was part of a handful of corporations that produced Agent Orange for the U.S. military. Agent Orange was used by the U.S. military to defoliate the rainforest ecosystems of Vietnam during the 1960s. Agent Orange had deplorable effects on U.S. military personnel and people living in Vietnam. It is important to realize that Americans usually served a year or less in Vietnam as compared to the Vietnamese whose entire environment was continually dowsed. Unfortunately, effects are still being felt. Some estimates now put the figure of children born in Vietnam with dioxin related deformities since the 1960s up to 500,000. The purpose of rBGH is to enable cows to produce more milk than they naturally would. Monsanto marketed rBGH, despite the numerous ill effects suffered by cows as well as humans, under the brand name Posilac. The problems and so-called “side-effects” associated with rBGH have caused Canada, the European Union, and many other countries to ban its use. On the other hand, rBGH has been and is currently being used in other countries, especially the U.S. Today, the large majority of Monsanto’s profits are from the sale of the herbicide known by the trade name Roundup.

After about nine years of research, design, and testing, scientists working for Monsanto created plant products with Roundup Ready technology that allows soybeans to grow even when sprayed with Roundup. For the last five years, genetically modified soybean has been on the international market and its use on farmland in the U.S. is growing steadily. There is evidence that shows that the new Roundup Ready soybeans are significantly less nutritious than conventionally grown soybeans. Experiments sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Toxics, a non-profit from Gualala, CA found that Roundup Ready soybeans had a 12 to 14 percent decline in phytoestrogens beneficial in the protection against heart disease, osteoporosis (bone loss), and breast cancer. One message that rings true for many people is that we do not want the remaining biodiversity to be controlled through seed monopolization and patent rights by any handful of people or corporations, especially ones like Monsanto who have a HISTORY OF KILLING LIFE ON EARTH.

The importance of biodiversity, distrust of the motivations of corporations like Monsanto, and corporate control of the mainstream media are all important reasons to participate in teach-ins and demonstrations such as Beyond Biodevastation. These are just some of the reasons why political and social activists of all ages, well-respected authors, dedicated farmers, investigative reporters, university educators, students, parents and workers joined together in San Diego for the fourth annual Beyond Biodevastation. It is very crucial that we all become more informed about the corporations and institutions that are taking control of our lives.

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This article was published in the Green Press of the Santa Cruz Comic News.