>From The Sacramento Bee,
Protesters rip up UCD test crops: Beets, corn hit by foes of genetic engineering
By Ted Bell
Bee Staff Writer
(Published Sept. 17, 1999)
A group of guerrilla gardeners has laid claim to the destruction this week
of experimental sugar beet and corn crops at the University of California,
Davis, marking the latest in a string of attacks aimed at genetic
engineering of food.
In the most recent assault, a group calling itself "Reclaim the Seeds" said its "plant defenders" wore masks and used "guerrilla gardening gear" to attack a UCD field early Tuesday and uproot a quarter-acre of genetically altered sugar beets.
The group, in a two-page communique, called the raid an act of
"self-defense" against chemical giant Monsanto, which contracted with UCD
for the test plantings.
Reclaim the Seeds also claimed responsibility for destroying two acres of corn at UC Davis last month.
A UC Davis spokeswoman confirmed the two attacks, and said a third raid was mounted earlier this week on another experimental corn crop at the Davis campus.
The two corn crops were not genetically engineered, said Pat Bailey, UCD spokeswoman. Like the targeted sugar beets, the corn plants were destroyed by having their roots pulled or their tops cut off.
An estimate of dollar loss was not immediately available.
Judith Kjelstrom, associate director of the UCD Biotechnology Program, said participants are getting concerned about security.
"With shootings in high schools and churches, you don't know how far this
emotional, radical behavior could go," Kjelstrom said. "It's a scary thing."
On Thursday, Martina McGloughlin, director of the UCD program, met with Associate Vice Chancellor Andre Lauchli to discuss security for agricultural fields, laboratories and a new campus mice research facility.
Bitter disagreement exists worldwide over the value of genetically engineered strains of common crops such as corn, soybeans and cotton.
Supporters say such technology can make crops more resistant to traditional enemies of agriculture, such as pests and fungus, and resistant to the overuse of pesticides and herbicides.
Critics say genetic engineering can lead to unpredictable changes in food crops, higher levels of toxins, damage to the ecosystem and hazardous effects for generations to come.
About half of this year's U.S. soybean crop and one-third of the nation's corn harvest are genetically engineered, a spokeswoman for Monsanto said Thursday.
Vandalism against the genetic engineering food business has been more publicized in Europe and Japan, but such attacks appear to be growing in this country, university officials say.
In the past month, vandals have struck UC Berkeley twice, destroying 500 experimental corn plants on the East Bay campus and raiding a test field in the neighboring community of Albany.
In both cases, the university denied that the targeted crops were involved in genetic engineering experiments.
"After this week, we are getting quite concerned," Kjelstrom said.
In its UCD attacks, the Reclaim the Seeds group targeted "Round-Up Ready" corn, a strain designed to resist the Round-up herbicide so it can be applied in reduced doses to kill surrounding weeds.
The group contends that biotechnology is untested, dangerous and is a tool of companies interested only in profits. Its communique was released through Genetix Alert, a news distribution center for anti-genetic engineering groups.
In its two-page missive, Reclaim The Seeds said the Davis raids were a protest against Monsanto, UCD and the global genetic engineering takeover.
"This was also done in response to UC Davis' recent collaboration with
Jackson Laboratory, the world's largest distributor of genetically altered mice."
The Maine-based Jackson Laboratory announced in July that it will establish a West Coast operation titled JAX Research Systems at UCD. Jackson rears and sells the world's greatest variety of mutant mice for scientific research.
Jeffrey Tufenkian, a spokesman for Genetix Alert, said Thursday that his organization does not commit illegal acts and does not know Reclaim the Seeds' membership.
But the protest movement is based on real problems involving the commercialization of biotechnology, Tufenkian said.
"The technologies are untested," he said. "There are potential problems with
the cross-breeding of GE crops with the wild varieties, thus causing genetic pollution. There are also problems with the effects on wild animals."
In response to demands by environmentalists, Gerber, the nation's largest maker of baby food, announced in July that it is dropping suppliers who use genetic engineering in their corn and soybean products.
Lori Fisher, spokeswoman for the St. Louis-based Monsanto, said agricultural experiments can benefit the environment -- by reducing or eliminating herbicidal spraying, for example.
Vandals may be defeating the very cause they claim to represent, Fisher said.
"We don't have a problem with people who want to demonstrate if they have
legitimate concerns with this technology," Fisher said.
"But, obviously, to destroy trials designed to answer some of the very
questions they have is to destroy the evidence that can provide those answers."