Biotech Protesters Mobilize
across North America


By Danielle Knight, InterPress Service


Consumer and environmental groups in North America today launched a
week of protests against what they call contamination of Mexico's traditional
corn by genetically engineered varieties.

From the U.S. embassy in Mexico City to grain commodities exchanges
in Chicago and Winnipeg, demonstrations have been planned with the hope
of calling attention to a controversial scientific study that reported
Mexican native corn had been contaminated by genetically engineered DNA.

The scientific study, published five months ago in the journal Nature, had
alarmed environmentalists because the native corn varieties had been
collected from a region in Mexico considered to be the world's center of corn

The study found traces of the cauliflower mosaic virus -- widely
used to drive the activity of newly inserted genes -- as well as other samples
of genetically modified DNA in ears of corn from two locations around

Although the source of contamination of native Mexico corn varieties
was unknown, activists believed it resulted from corn imports from the
United States. About 40 percent of corn planted in the United States is
genetically modified.

"The genetic contamination of Mexican native corn varieties threatens not
only the genetic integrity of corn, one of the world's most important
basic crops, but the food security for millions in the Americas," a
coalition of organizations, including the Organic Consumers Association
(OCA), Global Exchange, and Genetically Engineered Food Alert, said in
a statement.

On Apr. 4, however, Nature made the unusual move of announcing
that it should not have published the study. While the conclusion that
corn had been contaminated remained unchallenged, the magazine criticised
the quality of the study and its suggestion that genetically engineered DNA
might behave in unpredictable ways.

The lead author of one critique, Matthew Metz, a scientist at the University
of Washington, called the study a "testament to technical incompetence" and
"mysticism masquerading as science."

The authors of the study, Ignacio Chapela, a microbial ecologist at
the University of California, and one of his graduate assistants, David
Quist, remained confident in their findings, although they acknowledged a
few technical faults.

In an effort to further prove their conclusion, Chapela and Quist provided
new data and pointed out that the Mexican government conducted similar
studies in two states that corroborated their data.

"We did the monitoring, we found the transgenes that were not supposed to be
there, and then we got viciously attacked by people who didn't like
our answers," said Chapela.

Genetically modified corn has not been approved for planting in Mexico but
corn that has been altered to produce the insecticide Bt is imported
for use in food.

Activists hoped the latest demonstrations would eventually lead to greater
protection of traditional corn varieties from contamination by modified genes.
Organizers said they expected individual events to draw between dozens
and thousands of protesters.

"These unprecedented continent-wide protests mark the beginning of
the end of the biotech industry dumping genetically engineered corn on
consumers and the environment," said Ronnie Cummins, director of the
OCA, an advocacy group based in Minnesota.

Opponents of biotechnology pointed to other examples of how genetically
altered food have contaminated traditional crops and food supplies.

Two years ago, a variety of altered corn known as StarLink, which
bad only been approved for animal consumption for fear of allergic reactions in
humans, contaminated the U.S. corn supply and forced a massive recall of 300
popular brand name corn products.

Contamination of traditional crops has also been found in other countries.
Hundreds of hectares of genetically modified cotton had been detected
in India, although it had not been approved for use there at the time. And
in Canada, organic farmers who said their canola crop had been tainted with
genetically modified canola blowing in from neighboring fields filed a class
action suit.

Arguing that genetically modified crops and food have not been proven to be
safe, activists demanded that governments and leading food corporations remove
all gene-altered corn products from the market. Genetically Engineered
Food Alert, a coalition of environmental and consumer groups, has planned
another round of protests for Apr. 17-22 against Kraft Foods Inc., a prominent
food company.

The coalition said it commissioned an independent lab to examine a
range of Kraft products, and that several -- including Boca Burgers, Post
Blueberry Morning cereal, and Stove Top Stuffing -- were found to contain
genetically engineered corn and soy.

"There is a strong consensus globally among medical, scientific, and
government experts that biotech crops are safe. If we believed these
ingredients posed any risk, you can be sure they wouldn't be in our
products," Kraft spokesperson Michael Mudd said in February, when
the company first confronted the coalition's charges.

Matt Rand, speaking for coalition member the National Environmental
Trust, said: "This is a grassroots effort to inform the public that they
are consuming genetically engineered foods and to also demand that
Kraft remove these ingredients."

"This information is posted for nonprofit educational purposes, in
accordance with U.S. Code Title 17, Chapter 1,Sec. 107 copyright laws."

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