Thousands march in anti-GM food protest in Genoa
GENOA, Italy, May 25 (Reuters) - Italy saw its biggest protest yet against
genetically modified foods as thousands marched to the site of a
biotechnology conference in the northern city of Genoa on Thursday.
Marchers, estimated by police at around 4,000, included supporters of
environmentalist pressure groups and political parties, farmers, leftists
and representatives of local councils that have banned GM foods.
``The message of this march to life sciences companies that develop GM
technology is: Don't patent life,'' Fiorello Cortiana, a member of the
Greens and vice-president of the Senate's agricultural committee, told
Reuters . ``We should be properly informed about GM technology so that we
can make our own choices about what we eat.''
Police armed with truncheons and carbines escorted the march. At least 40
officers ringed a restaurant of U.S. company McDonalds Corp., located on the
square where the march began in central Genoa.
A sales assistant said the restaurant had closed because of the protest.
McDonalds, which has been the target of anti-GM protests in Europe in the
past, has halted purchases of GM foodstuffs.
Environmentalists have raised concerns over possible health and
environmental risks from GM foods, but life science groups say GM crops can
raise yields, potentially reducing world hunger, and increase resistance to
Riots threaten pro-GM conference
Rory Carroll in Genoa
Thursday May 25, 2000
Ringed by Italian riot police, disowned by city authorities, dumped by the
government and besieged by protesters, the biotechnology industry's campaign
for European hearts and minds crashed before it began yesterday.
Hundreds of companies and institutions gathered in Genoa to organise a
counter-attack against environmental critics, but were left stranded after
the Italian authorities sided with thousands of protesters. The minister of
agriculture, Alfonso Scanio, withdrew sponsorship of the three-day
conference and sent a symbolic £30 to the estimated 400 pressure groups
mobilising last night.
Genoa's council voted to join a group of municipalities which have banned
genetically modified food, and will send its mayors to today's
demonstrations. About 5,000 armed riot police, backed by helicopters,
patrolled the seafront congress and exhibition centre as delegates arrived
for the Tebio conference.
Biotechnology representatives from 21 countries had hoped to use Genoa as a
showcase to reclaim the propaganda initiative, but the event appeared to
have backfired amid claims that the programme had ben rigged.
The police are afraid that the scuffles and vandalism outside the centre
will grow into street battles today when mainstream environmentalists are
joined by anarchists and militants.
Claiming that the technology is dangerous and untested, the protesters have
united under the slogan Rebellion is Natural. Britain's Reclaim the Streets
group vowed to attend what some protesters billed a "mini-Seattle",
threatening a sequel to the riots at the World Trade Organisation's summit
last December. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have pulled out of the
rallies for that reason.
The Italian prime minister, Giuliano Amato, sent a telegram of support to
the conference, but several cabinet ministers backed the decision of Mr
Scanio, a Green, to withdraw sponsorship.
Many newspapers and the nobel laureate Dario Fo also backed the protests.
The atmosphere of hostility was fed by a consumer watchdog's discovery of
food products not carrying GM warning labels.
"The industry was trying to send a signal that genetically modified food was
part of the wider biotechnology research into medicine and other good things
but it failed," said Fabrizio Fabbri of Greenpeace
The conference organisers accused the protesters of hijacking a genuine
attempt to engage in dialogue. Renalto Dulbecco, a Nobel-winning scientist
and president of Tebio, admitted that controls were needed for potentially
dangerous technologies, but pleaded for the benefits to be recognised.
Plants resistant to dehydration and rice with added vitamin A were just two
of many breakthroughs that could be of huge benefit to developing countries,
Speakers assured the audience that the future of GM technology was bright.
Japan and the US were forging ahead in research, and laggards like Portugal,
Spain and Italy were catching up, they said.
Doug Yarrow, of the British Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research
Council praised the Government for spending an extra £1bn on the industry
over three years. The UK was benefiting from improved "knowledge
transference" between universities and firms, he said. Repeating a
conference mantra about the need for public relations, he urged scientists
to spend at least 2% of their time explaining their work to the public.
Academics and executives clustered around a stand offering tips on handling
the media. The advice included: "Be as open as possible and never lie",
"Show concern if there is a genuine problem", "Be as positive as possible
without sounding callous and uncaring", and "Beware of admitting liability".
Secondary-school children were agog as John Schollar, of the national centre
for bioethic education at the University of Reading, demonstrated how to
create electricity from yeast. He said: "Children come with fresh minds,
they are more open.
"If you can engage them in the science then they are in a better position to
make ethical and moral choices about the science. Unlike some people