Activists protest at biotechnology seminar -- PICTURES

V. Paul Virtucio - Staff Reporter

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 vvirtucio@daily.umn.edu.

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