Activists protest at biotechnology seminar

V. Paul

Armed with banners and 12-foot puppets, about 20 activists gathered outside the Radisson Hotel Metrodome on Tuesday morning to protest a seminar about the application of biotechnology in the agricultural industry.
The seminar, hosted by MNBIO, an umbrella organization for individuals involved in biotechnology, brought more than 50 MNBIO members to discuss the creation and protection of biotech innovations and the role of genetically modified organisms in sustainable agriculture.
Among the speakers was David Somers, a University professor whose research on disease-resistant oats was vandalized on the St. Paul campus in February by the Earth Liberation Front, an eco-terrorist group.
“Our mission is to bring awareness and help in the growth of the life sciences and biotechnology community and industries in Minnesota,” said Bonnie Baskin, the group’s president. “As a trade association, our plan is to create a series of seminars over a period of time that will focus on issues of interest to our members.”
Biotech critics, however, say the industry is not open to input from consumers and farmers. It is simply driven by the potential profit from biotechnological advances and from a consolidation of the food industry into fewer hands.
The answer is not more food, but a better distribution of what is produced, said Jeannie Zanetti, a senior in agriculture and women’s studies. Society has been deceived into thinking biotechnology is the answer to world hunger — especially through the media, she said.
“The corporate strategy is to continue to genetically engineer our dinner plates whether we like it or not,” said Tom Taylor, another protester and organizer for the Organic Consumers Association. “We’re here just to make sure they know we’re aware of what they are doing.”
Taylor compared Tuesday’s action to the protests in Boston last month where nearly 3,000 activists peacefully marched against a biotech convention attended by more than 7,000 scientists and researchers.
The five-day convention was hosted by BIO, the national group linked to MNBIO. Jess Meyers, a MNBIO spokesman, said the seminar was intended to be inclusive of all viewpoints and even included several farmers among the corporate and academic representatives.
“We don’t want to be preaching to the choir,” Baskin said. “We hoped for more debate. That’s the point.”

V. Paul Virtucio welcomes comments at [email protected]