Organic Consumers Association

Police & Monsanto Fail to Intimidate Activist Gathering in St. Louis

Biodevastation 7 farmers take aim at Monsanto
Arrests and weapons allegations spark activists' anger

Biodevastation 7 farmers take aim at Monsanto
By ALLYCE BESS Post-Dispatch
updated: 05/16/2003 11:43 PM

Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser holds up a document from Monsanto while
speaking Friday at the Biodevastation 7 conference held at St. Louis
Community College at Forest Park.

(Karen Elshout/P-D)Farmers from the United States, Canada and Ghana gathered
Friday - the first day of Biodevastation 7, a conference held in St. Louis
to protest the upcoming World Agricultural Forum's congress - to discuss the
future of small family farms amid the growth of corporate agriculture.

Two of the farmers, George Naylor of Greene County, Iowa, and president of
the National Family Farm Association, and Percy Schmeiser, a canola grower
in Canada, are involved in legal disputes with Monsanto Co. of Creve Coeur.
Schmeiser, 72, has come to symbolize farmer opposition to genetic

Monsanto claims that Schmeiser knowingly replanted the company's patented,
genetically modified canola seeds that were found in his crops. Schmeiser,
however, says he didn't knowingly plant any of the seeds and claims Monsanto
should be barred from patenting life forms or requiring farmers to sign
agreements that prohibit them from planting the seeds they harvest.

While the lower courts have ruled in Monsanto's favor, Canada's highest
court this month said it would hear Schmeiser's appeal.

This time, Schmeiser thinks the outcome will be different. That's because
the Canadian Supreme Court, in a case involving a genetically engineered
mouse that Harvard College patented in several countries, recently ruled
that higher life forms cannot be patented in Canada. He said he hopes that
decision will tip the scales in his favor - and cost Monsanto its Canadian

A spokeswoman for Monsanto said she could not speculate on the outcome of
the case, but defended the company's position. "The bottom line is that so
far he's lost every court decision to this date," said Shannon Troughton.

Of Schmeiser's contention that Monsanto treats farmers unfairly, Troughton
said: "There are thousands of growers who choose to use Monsanto's
technology in the United States and Canada. They've asked us to make sure
that a minority of growers who attempt to use our technology illegally don't
have an unfair competitive advantage."

Biodevastation 7, meeting at the St. Louis Community College at Forest Park,
is sponsored locally by the Gateway Green Alliance, a group affiliated with
the Green party. Organizers believe their views won't be accurately
represented at the World Agricultural Forum's 2003 World Congress. That
meeting will begin Sunday.

In an interview, Schmeiser, who said he has spent more than $270,000 in
legal costs to battle Monsanto, said he'll use "whatever good years he has
left" to fight Monsanto. He contends that Monsanto's nondisclosure and
technology agreements violate farmers' free speech and what he believes is a
farmer's right to reuse seeds.

Arrests and weapons allegations spark activists' anger
updated: 05/16/2003 11:42 PM

St. Louis police search a home Friday in the 3000 block of Cherokee Street.
Police say the raid was to enforce housing laws, but activists who were
staying there said it was to clamp down on protests at the World
Agricultural Forum here this weekend.

(Dawn Majors/P-D)It was good fortune, St. Louis police said, when raids
Friday to enforce housing laws yielded "weapons" like rocks and nails from
homes of some people planning to protest the World Agricultural Forum here
this weekend.

But the activists said it was just an excuse to get in and snoop.

More than a dozen people were arrested - none on weapons violations - and
most remained in jail into Friday night.

"This is political repression. We're being targeted," said Molly Dupre,
glassy-eyed as she emerged on bail from police headquarters after about
seven hours in custody on a charge of occupying a condemned building.

DuPre, 23, of St. Charles, described herself as an anarchist and six weeks

Joe Mokwa, chief of a police department clearly edgy about what the coming
days will bring, told reporters, "We are very concerned. We can certainly
draw conclusions and expectations after we found these items."

Some of those things - a bag of rocks and a bucket of nails - seem fairly
common to a home under rehabilitation, as some of those raided were. But
they appeared more sinister when paired on a display table with a sling
shot, whips and torches.

Similar devices were used as weapons in large-scale demonstrations at
international conferences in Seattle and Washington, D.C., officials said.

These were seized from a condemned building at 3309 Illinois Avenue and a
building at 3022 Cherokee Street. Mokwa said no weapons charges were filed
because nothing could be linked to specific people.

Police said neighbors' complaints spurred the raids; names of those
complaining were not revealed. The building on Illinois had been condemned.

"The timing is coincidental because these people just got here," Mokwa said.
"We have an obligation to investigate complaints. We are not going to allow
people to reside in abandoned buildings."

Activists said police circled the buildings for days, questioning anyone on
foot or bicycle.

"It's definitely systematic harassment of protesters," said Art Friedrich,
who lives at 3022 Cherokee.

Fifteen people arrested at the home on Illinois were cited for a city
ordinance violation of occupying a condemned building, Mokwa said. It had no
occupancy permit, according to building inspectors.

Some of those staying there insisted it was not condemned. Three people, who
bought it from the city for $800, have been staying there for a year, they

They opened the house, which they called "Bolozone," to out-of-towners
attending the Biodevastation 7 conference at St. Louis Community College at
Forest Park.

Biodevastation 7 was scheduled as a counterstatement to the World
Agricultural Forum, which begins Sunday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel at Union

Dupre said she was in her upstairs bedroom at Bolozone when police arrived.
She said one officer told her they had a warrant and another said they
didn't need one.

She said police told her there were orders to sweep the city for anyone who
looks like an anarchist.

Dupre scoffed at any suggestion of violent people staying there. Most are
puppeteers, she said.

"It's a rehab site," she said. "These are things that are going to be found
in every garage across America."

Mike Liebhart, who said his girlfriend was arrested, told a reporter. "I'm
shaken. I feel like my constitutional rights are being taken away. Why are
they raiding these houses? Why are they arresting people?"

Mokwa said police will accommodate peaceful anti-World Agricultural Forum
protests in Aloe Plaza, across from Union Station.

"We are here to protect the rights of everybody," Mokwa said. "We want
people to be able to voice their opinions. People who go into a vacant
condemned building have no rights to be there."

The chief noted, "These people are not here attending seminars. They are
sitting in vacant buildings in the middle of the day."

The building on Cherokee houses the nonprofit Community Arts and Media
Project, a collection of seven grassroots organizations including Gateway
Green Alliance, which is sponsoring Biodevastation 7.

A housing inspector noticed suspicious items during his search, and police
obtained a search warrant, Mokwa said. It was not clear what was seized from
which address.

Friedrich, 23, pulled a copy of the warrant from his pocket. It said police
were looking for barrel traps, Molotov cocktails, gas masks, PVC pipe,
whips, chains, flammable liquids and nails with washers attached.

At one point, police emerged with two 8-foot wood dolls with papier-mache
heads. One was a caricature of a police officer, the other of an alderman.
Such dolls are common to protests, sometimes being used as a signal or

Police also removed mirrors, camping equipment, several bags of molding
clay, a disassembled kiln, a length of metal pipe and two construction

Friedrich said police told him he could reclaim the items Wednesday, which
is the day after the end of the World Agricultural Forum.

He said he expected to see police, but added, "We didn't really expect them
to flip out about this like they did."

Brian Tokar, one of the organizers of Biodevastation 7, said police
overreacted. "We've been doing these events for years," he said. "Every year
in the U.S. we've gotten these insane, inflammatory issues from the police.
It's to inflame public passion and to prevent public discussion of the
dangers of agribusiness."

Matt LeMieux, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of
Eastern Missouri, said, "I think if the police are going to conduct searches
and arrest people, it ought to be based on the conduct of what a person is
doing now. But what they're doing is pre-emptively trying to arrest people.
It's a bad and unconstitutional policy."

He called the housing inspections "a trick" to get in without a warrant and
suggested police should have worked with protesters instead of antagonizing

J. Justin Meehan, a lawyer called by some of the jailed activists,
complained that police would not release detainees' names, charges or
amounts of their bails.

He showed up at police headquarters at 6 p.m. with $500 to bail out as many
as he could.

"Whatever violations there are have existed for some time," he said. "This
is a ruse to prevent people from their legitimate right of assembly. This is
almost an ideal civil rights case where the police, acting under the color
of law, violate rights guaranteed under the Constitution."

Also Friday, officers stopped a van of activists and arrested the driver
just after the group visited the Regional Chamber and Growth Association
headquarters downtown.

Occupants of the van said police told them they violated the seat belt law.
They said officers photographed each passenger then took in the driver, Sara
Bantz. Her friends said she was charged with a drug violation for carrying a
bottle of vitamins.

Mokwa said the woman was arrested on a warrant in Columbia, Mo.


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