Update on Anti-GE Activism
in the US & Worldwide

neRAGE regional update spring 2002

In this issue:

Vermont Towns Vote Against Biotech Foods
Corn Contamination in Mexico
End of GE Field Trials for Europe?
Protest Marks the One Year Anniversary of Labeling Brigade
National Supermarket Campaign Kick-Off
Walmart Targeted By Labeling Brigade
Galloping Gene Giants - New Publication Out
UK Crop Pulls Continue for GE Field Trials


Welcome to the fourth installment of the neRAGE regional update. Since our
last issue, we've seen significant developments in the worldwide resistance
to biotechnology. Here in Vermont, where this newsletter is put together,
we've seen the number of communities organizing against biotechnology expand
tremendously. Already, we've heard from people in a few other states who are
interested in starting to create grassroots political approaches to
biotechnology, based on our successful town meeting effort. Leverett
Massachusetts recently became the 44th municipality in the US to use
grass-roots organizing against GE. These efforts received an additional
boost when, in Pennsylvania, five cities banned large corporations from
owning farmland or operating farms, making commercial hog farming much more
difficult. This has some interesting implications for people working on
agricultural issues.

Nationally, the GE-Free Markets Coalition which came out of the successful
campaign against Trader Joe's, staged an impressive kickoff to a new
campaign targeting major supermarket chains across the country. You can read
all about it in this issue.

As this is being written, activists all over the country are holding
demonstrations and protests focusing on the genetic contamination of Mexican
corn. In the past weeks, the controversy over contamination has revolved
around a partial retraction of the original research study by the
prestigious British journal, Nature. In this issue, S'ra DeSantis focuses in
on the implications of this contamination for traditional Mexican farmers.

In an interesting turn of events, the Bush administration has recently
heightened its opposition to human cloning research. This followed a rather
questionable report of a successful pregnancy in one of the known research
efforts aimed at creating a human clone. While clearly the most sensational
potential application of medical biotechnology, the cloning debate is also a
distraction from the industry's wider agenda. A narrow focus on cloning can
lead to our ignoring many of the wider the ethical, political, and social
questions that the technology as a whole poses.

In industry news, Monsanto and DuPont have agreed to start "sharing" their
technology. Instead of using the traditional route of merging, which would
bring increased scrutiny from government regulatory agencies, DuPont and
Monsanto have agreed to swap some of their most important patents on
biotechnology. Once again, this will create greater concentration in the
industry, increasing corporate control over agriculture.
If you would like to get information about the work you're doing included in
this newsletter, please contact us at: 802-454-7138, or email us at

Vermont Towns Vote Against Biotech Foods
By Brian Tokar

Here in the Green Mountains of Vermont, our local town meetings have a
history of taking an ethical stand on issues of compelling national and
international significance. Vermont's annual town meetings, held every year
on the first Tuesday in March, are among the oldest surviving institutions
of direct democracy in the United States. Dating to well before the
American Revolution, these annual face-to-face gatherings are the setting
where residents of over 200 Vermont towns debate their annual budgets,
planning and zoning issues, grants to social service agencies, and all major

Since the Nuclear Freeze campaigns of the 1980s they have also become a
forum for raising issues that have been largely excluded from mainstream
political debate, from living wages to nuclear power. While state laws have
significantly eroded the power of town meeting in recent decades, town votes
still carry substantial moral weight, are widely covered in local media, and
often have significant impacts on statewide
In 31 towns this year, residents obtained the necessary signatures to add
the issues of genetically engineered food and crops to their town meeting
agendas. The resolutions generally included language stating that
genetically engineered (GE) foods have been shown to cause long-term damage
to the environment, the integrity of rural, family farm economies and can
have serious impacts on human health. Most resolutions called upon state
legislators and the Vermont congressional delegation to support labeling of
GE foods and seeds, as well as a moratorium on the growing of GE crops.
Twenty eight towns passed some version of this resolution, including the
state capital of Montpelier, where a city election is held on Town Meeting
Day. In Montpelier, the measure passed by a 2-1 margin. Two towns tabled the
resolution, only the town of Rochester, in the southern Green Mountains,
defeated it.

"Ordinary people were pretty angry about the fact that engineered foods are
not labeled," said Joey Klein, an organic farmer who presented the
resolution in the town of Plainfield, Vermont. "The idea of a moratorium on
planting genetically engineered crops also made sense to people because they
felt they were being treated like guinea pigs." Klein explained that a
moratorium was needed to protect the vast majority of farmers who choose not
to plant GE crops, but are subject to genetic contamination from engineered

In addition, eight towns took further steps toward ending the use of
engineered crops within their towns, whether by declaring a town moratorium
or urging that the planting of GE seeds be actively discouraged within the
town. The ability of towns to take such measures was a matter of
considerable statewide controversy, with our Secretary of State arguing that
such discussions were beyond the legal purview of town meeting and therefore
should not be allowed. Commentators across the political spectrum criticized
this further erosion of the scope of town meetings

Opponents of genetic engineering have been largely stifled in our efforts to
pass legislation at the national and state levels. Four states Maine, Maryland
and North Dakota the use of engineered crops, among more than fifteen that
have tried. In every instance, corporate lobbyists have devoted substantial
resources to blocking even the mildest bills, even those barring engineered
crops that have not yet come on the market, such as GE wheat, which is
vehemently opposed by farmers across the Western plains.

Even the Vermont town resolutions were met with organized opposition. The
Vermont Farm Bureau and the Vermont Grocers' Association the aggressively
pro-GE Grocery Marketers of America town council, or "selectboard,"
discouraging debate on the issue. Several town discussions raged on for an
hour or more, with impassioned voices heard on both sides, but nearly all of
the anti-GE resolutions eventually passed by overwhelming margins.

Following Town Meeting Day, there are now 43 municipalities in the U.S. that
have passed resolutions against the genetic engineering of food and crops.
They include major cities such as Boston, San Francisco, Denver and Austin,
Texas, as well as 33 cities and towns in Vermont. An even larger effort is
being planned for next year's Vermont Town Meeting Day.

Vermont activists are very much aware of the increasing threat to
community-based decision making in light of the increasing power of trade
bodies like the WTO and the pending Free Trade Area of the Americas. "It's
about the freedom to govern ourselves," explained Ben Grosscup, a student at
the Institute for Social Ecology (ISE), who spoke in favor of the resolution
on genetic engineering in the town of Marshfield. "The biotechnology
industry, the federal government and international bodies like the World
Trade Organization are trying to make us forget that we can have that kind
of freedom."

Meanwhile, activists with the Vermont Genetic Engineering Action Network
and the farmer advocacy group Rural Vermont, have pledged to bring
resolutions on engineered food and crops to even more Vermont towns next
year, as well as to other states where issues can be debated in municipal
settings. This year's town meeting debates confirm what GE opponents have
been saying for a long time, that the more people know about genetically
engineered food, the more they oppose it. Activists are hopeful that
Vermont's town meetings are still one place where people's real concerns can
take clear precedence over outside corporate interests.

If your are interested in getting a more comprehensive overview of the
process used in Vermont, complete with sample resolutions, and organizing
suggestions, the Biotechnology Project will be offering a hand book for 5
dollars. Contact biotech@social-ecology.org, or call 802-454-7138

Brian Tokar is on the faculty at the Institute for Social Ecology, and is
the coordinator of the ISE's Biotechnology Project

Corn Contamination in Mexico
By S'ra Desantis

In November 2001, two researchers from the University of California at
Berkeley, Ignacio Chapela and David Quist, announced in the journal Nature
that they discovered indigenous corn varieties contaminated with genetically
modified organisms in the Sierra Juárez of Oaxaca, Mexico. Two Mexican
governmental organizations, the National Ecological Institute (INE) and the
National Commission of Biological Diversity (CONABIO) conducted similar
research and reported that 15 out of 22 communities in the states of Oaxaca
and Puebla, Mexico had genetic contamination averaging 3-10 percent, with
some samples up to 35 percent contaminated. Central and southern Mexico are
the birthplace of corn, and the home of over 5,000 indigenous varieties.
Each has evolved for a specific climate, amount of rainfall, soil acidity
and altitude.

I traveled to five communities in the Sierra Juárez, in the southern state
of Oaxaca, Mexico, to investigate the causes of the contamination, its
effects on the campesino way of life, the biodiversity of corn, and the
environment, and also possible solutions to stop and reverse the
contamination. Looking at free trade policies, it becomes obvious what
caused the contamination.

Since 1998 there has been a moratorium on the cultivation of GE corn in
Mexico; however increasing amounts of GE corn are coming into the country
via grain imports from the US. Before NAFTA was implemented, the US only
exported approximately 2 million tons of corn annually to Mexico. In 2001,
Mexico received 6.2 million tons of corn from the US, more than tripling
pre-NAFTA rates. It is estimated that 20-25 percent of the corn grown in the
US last year was genetically modified. NAFTA and Mexican agricultural policy
are the underlying causes of the pollution, while the US imports are the
direct cause.

Mexico has a state-run grain distributor, Diconsa, which delivers grain
throughout rural areas of Mexico. According to Manuel Mérida of Diconsa, 40
percent of the corn distributed by Diconsa last year in Oaxaca originated
from the US. In 2001, the Diconsa warehouse in Ixtlán (of the Sierra Juárez)
was found to have a 17 percent GE contamination rate.

Diconsa stores sell maize and other basic supplies to rural communities
throughout Mexico. However, there are no signs in the stores warning
campesinos not to cultivate the Diconsa corn even though it is tainted with
GMOs. When I spoke with a worker at the Ixtlán store she reported that
someone from Diconsa told her there were no GMOs in the corn that Diconsa
sells. Another worker at the Guelatoa Diconsa store was told "GM corn is
colored and that Diconsa only sells white corn, so there is nothing to worry

For centuries, farmers have conducted agricultural experiments. Campesinos
in the Sierra tried planting Diconsa corn, since there was never any
indication not to plant it. Also, Diconsa corn falls off trucks and is seen
growing on the side of the road. It is fed to the animals and, when they do
not eat all of the corn, it plants itself. There is fear among Mexican
activists that if the corn can reach such rural areas as the Sierra, then
pollution rates in other areas of Mexico will likely be even higher.

It is clear that Diconsa corn is now cross-pollinating with criollo
(indigenous) varieties. The effects on indigenous corn varieties are
horrific. As the GE hybrid corn cross-pollinates with the criollo varieties
the traits of the criollo varieties could be suppressed and the qualities of
the GE corn expressed, thus undermining the survival of criollo corn. The
natural evolution of new corn varieties is also threatened by this
pollution. The corn that was detected by Chapela and Quist was Bt corn,
which is known to kill beneficial insects and most likely soil
microorganisms. Industry has countered the negative publicity and replied,
with no intended irony, that the GE corn will only increase biodiversity
because it will introduce new genes into the environment.

Many solutions have been discussed in Oaxaca to stop and reverse this
pollution. First, the direct source must be eliminated by banning US imports
of genetically altered maize. This will be difficult since Mexico is
subordinate in the hierarchy of "free trade" and is in no position to
dictate to the US what imports it will or will not accept. However, with
enough pressure on both the Mexican and US governments, the imports could be

In the near term, Diconsa needs to immediately hang signs warning campesinos
to not plant the corn. I interviewed 29 campesino families in the Sierra
Juárez, and 59 percent of them had heard of GMOs but only 14 percent
actually understood a small amount about them. There need to be education
campaigns throughout Oaxaca to inform farmers about genetic engineering and
its impacts.

Education and ending US imports are two solutions that address only the
direct sources of contamination. However, they do not solve the problem of
cross-pollination, which will be difficult to eradicate. Testing corn is
expensive and few labs exist in Oaxaca to analyze the maize. Several NGOs
and grassroots organizations are trying to fund labs and criollo seed saving

This genetic pollution in a world center of biodiversity provides one more
reason why genetic engineering needs to stop immediately before it pollutes
more crops and environments. Organizations in Oaxaca are confident that this
pollution will be eliminated.

S'ra Desantis works with Action for Ecology and Community in the Regions of
Central America (ACERCA), based in Burlington, Vt.

End of GE Field Trials for Europe?

In late March, newspapers across the US prominently featured the USDA's
latest inflated estimates of this year's anticipated GE crop acreage. In
many cities this was front page news, as corporate media outlets
unquestioningly parroted claims that GE crops offer important benefits to
farmers. No longer able to hide the widespread use of GE varieties of soy,
corn, canola and cottonseed in processed foods, the biotech industry has
opted for a different strategy: making the acceptance of GE crops in the US
appear inevitable and beyond recall.

In most of the world, the story is still quite different. A recent
Greenpeace report, using industry data, affirmed that the US and Argentina
are still responsible for 90 percent of the world's GE crop acreage. Canada
and China account for another 9 percent, and South Africa and Australia grow
most of the rest. The vast majority of the world's agriculture is still GE
free. Further, continued resistance to GE crop trials in Europe has created
a climate where even experimental growing of GE crops on that continent has
virtually come to an end.

Writing in the Dutch journal, Land en Stad, Jan Paul Smits reports, "There
is strong public opposition, trial plots are being razed to the ground by
activists and governments are holding back on new licensing permits. Seed
giant executives have been voicing their disappointment, irritation or
downright anger." According to data compiled by Europabio, the industry's
European trade association, there has been an 80 percent drop in the number
of field trials, from 240 in 1997 to only 40 as of last year. The winding
down of field trials represents a virtual end to companies' ability to
develop any new GE crop varieties for the European market.

In the Netherlands, widespread opposition has virtually ended approvals
of new field trial permits. Advanta GE-contaminated rapeseed (canola)
to European farmers in 2000 waiting fourteen months for government action
on its permit applications, and seen even its approved permits challenged in
court and sometimes simply withdrawn. With only one active field trial
remaining, Avanta has threatened to abandon its entire European GE
operations; the company's spokesperson told Smits that in "the next five
to ten years there's not a cent to be earned with GM crops."

While direct actions against European field trials are rarely reported in
the US media, they have been continuing. Virtually all of Advanta's trials
in England and France have been destroyed by neighbors; British farmer
activists have taken to bringing their combines to test plots and simply
mowing them down. Demonstrations against field trials still attract hundreds
of supporters.

Elsewhere, new limitations on imports of GE crops have been legislated in
Bolivia and Croatia, heightened labeling requirements have recently come
into effect in Australia, New Zealand, and the Czech Republic, and labeling
is pending in Thailand, Hong Kong, Israel, Mexico, and Brazil. Clearly, the
attempt to cast an air of inevitability over the acceptance of GE crops in
the US is a last-ditch effort by an industry that has been resoundingly
rejected by most of the rest of the world.

Protest Marks the One Year Anniversary of Labeling Brigade

On Saturday, March 30, more than 20 people protested outside of Shaw's
supermarket in Montpelier Vermont, as a celebration of the one year
anniversary of the People's Voluntary Labeling Brigade.

At 2 pm, as members of the brigade were just beginning to gather outside of
the downtown supermarket, a banner dropped from the roof of the store,
demanding that Shaw's stop using genetically modified ingredients in their

Inside the store, members of the brigade were traveling from aisle to aisle,
filling shopping carts with products that contain genetically modified
ingredients. Carts were left all over the store with warning signs
indicating that they contained genetically modified ingredients.

Outside the store, activist held up giant biohazard tape, while handing out
flyers to cars and people passing by, sung songs, and chanted. The Easter
Bunny, along with Nature, handed out Easter eggs with organic seeds in them.
Other banners read: "Squash Genetic Engineering!" and "Stop GMOs"

The protest follows actions that have happened all around the country
against supermarket chains' use of genetically modified ingredients.

Contact the Brigade at pvlb@ifairtrade.net

National Supermarket Campaign Kick-Off

From March 12-14, the GE-Free Markets Coalition staged protests across the
US to begin the largest ever effort to remove GE products from supermarket
shelves. Following the momentum of a victory over Trader Joe's last fall,
the Coalition broadened its focus to go after several large regional

From Vermont to San Francisco, activists organized leafleting, banner
hangs, and in-store education. Perhaps the most widespread days of action
against genetically modified food in the United States, the kick-off to this
campaign shows the strength of all the organizations and individuals across
the country involved who are fighting for ecological food.

In San Francisco, activists hung a banner that read: "The Un-Safeway: "Stop
Genetically Engineered Food" from the Safeway sign, while handing out
pamphlets outlining the health and environmental risks of GE foods.

In Boston, more than 30 people gathered to demand that Star Market remove
genetically engineered products from its house brand, like its UK parent
company, J. Sainsbury. Two people hung a massive banner across the front of
the store, while a group on ladders plastered the front windows with signs
calling for an end of GE product sales.

In Colchester, Vermont, 12 people wearing t-shirts that read: "GO GMO
FREE" entered a Shaw's supermarket. Positioning themselves between the store
windows and the registers, the activists spoke with some customers while the
management quickly got riled up. Activists left the store before the police
came, standing outside the store and on the road. Police handed out trespass
warnings to everybody involved.

In central Massachusetts, activists gathered in front of a supermarket,
handing out flyers, and gathering postcards to send to Shaw's CEO. Shaw's is
also a J.Sainsbury subsidiary.

In Portland, Oregon, 25 people gathered in front of Safeway wearing grim
reaper outfits and biohazard suits. The response from people driving past
the spectacle was incredible. From folks driving garbage trucks, to semis,
to police to the typical Subaru driving supporter, almost everybody honked
and gave the thumbs up. The manager of the store, having been alerted to
previous actions around the country, decided to check his roof, where he
found Slinky, a nimble activist, who was just about to drop two banners.
Unfortunately, the banners were not dropped, but no one was arrested.
Activists entered the store numerous times in costumes and were firmly
asked to leave. After an hour in rain and hail, activists decided to move on
to the day's second supermarket.

In Southeast Portland, around a dozen people entered Safeway and started
removing Safeway brand products into shopping carts. They placed signs on
the empty shelves outlining why these products were being pulled. About 15
shopping carts were filled before the manager figured out what was going on
and forced everyone to leave. Five people have now been excluded from this
store with a warning from the police that they will be arrested for
trespassing if seen on the property again.

In New York City, about a dozen activists dressed in Tyvek jumpsuits with
biohazard symbols on them. Activists held a large banner in front of the
store for almost an hour. Activists attracted significant attention from

In Sarasota, Florida, 13 activists conducted a shopping tour through the
Publix supermarket. Activists told the manager on duty that they intended to
conduct an educational shopping tour about GMOs inside the store. Activists
invited store representatives to come on the tour so that they could learn
more about GMOs and report back to the company.

The manager initially refused to give activists permission to conduct a
shopping tour, saying that he would have to get permission from Corporate
HQ. Eventually, the manager allowed the tour to take place. Four or five
activists had on "ban GMOs" t-shirts with "Global moratorium on GMOs" and
contact information on the back. Customers couldn't miss the tour­
especially since the activists had to speak loudly to project over the
grocery store din.

Activists spent about an hour in the store, examing products that might
contain genetically modified ingredients. The assistant manager shadowed
the group the whole time, observing from about 25 feet away. He declined
to join the tour.

The GE-Free Markets Coalition is a working group of the Genetic Engineering
Action Network.Coalition members include: Carolina Partners for Pure Food.
Clean Water Action, Free the Planet, GE Free L.A., GeneWise, Greenpeace,
Institute for Social Ecology Biotechnology Project, MassPIRG, New York
State Greens, Northwest R.A.G.E (Resistance Against Genetic Engineering),
Organic Consumers Association, People's Voluntary Labeling Brigade of
Vermont, Sarasota Alliance for Safe Foods, and SOS Food of New York.

Walmart Targeted By Labeling Brigade
Two Madison citizens cited for labeling products inside box store chain

Attempting to confront the tyranny of genetically modified organisms (GMOs),
two citizens were cited for defacing private property in a Madison,
Wisconson, Wal-Mart on Monday, March 18. Recently, community activists have
used direct action to educate consumers about the dangers of GMOs. Jeff
Ryan, a local activist, stated, "I don't feel that Wal-Mart or other large
corporate food stores are being good neighbors. They are selling products
that have not been adequately tested for human consumption."

Two local Madison residents were found placing informative labels on the
packages of processed foods that contain genetically modified ingredients at
a local west side Wal-Mart. The independent group of citizens is utilizing a
public education campaign to promote awareness that genetically modified
ingredients are commonly used in most non-certified organic processed foods
that contain derivatives of canola, corn or soybeans. Corporations selling
GMO products include Kraft, Kellogg, and Campbell's. In fact, Kraft Foods'
taco shells were recalled in 2000 because they contained corn meal from
StarLink, a genetically engineered corn variety that the FDA has not
approved for human consumption.

The labelers have joined a growing movement of activists in the national
Label This Campaign (www.labelthis.org), which stresses that consumers have
the right to know what they are purchasing and eating. Angela Braun, a
local activist, explained, "Until companies begin to inform consumers of
what they are truly buying and eating, we will push for the right to know.
We will continue to inform consumers." The local Label This organization
will continue their educational campaign to garner public support until the
FDA and USDA properly address these issues, or companies voluntarily label
their products.

To contact the group, please email Angela at madison_labelthis@yahoo.com

Galloping Gene Giants - New Publication Out

Would you like to learn more about the ways the biotech industry is gearing
up for a biotech future? Are you interested in developing campaigns that
track the tactics that the Gene Giants* ­ the true engines of biotech ­ are
using to get the public onside of GE technologies? Galloping Gene Giants;
How big corporations are re-organizing their push for a biotech future is a
new publication that addresses these questions. The report describes the
biotech industry and its key players in each of the main industry sectors,
popular resistance strategies and the industry's recent counter-offensives,
the ways global institutions like the WTO are promoting biotech, and the
emergence of a renewed Bio-Justice movement.
Prepared by Tony Clarke with Brenda Inouye of the Polaris Institute,
Galloping Gene Giants can be ordered by contacting us at
polarisinstitute@on.aibn.com or (613) 237-1717. Copies are $8.00 US (which
includes shipping and handling). Also, visit our website:

* The term Gene Giants was coined by the ETC group, formerly known as RAFI
[Rural Advancement Foundation International], www.etcgroup.org

UK Crop Pulls Continue for GE Field Trials

Activists in the UK participated in a crop pull of genetically modified
oilseed rape at Forest Farm, Long Marston, after a rally in
Stratford-upon-Avon attended by about 300 people.

2002 is the final year of the farm scale GM trials in Britain. Last year a
survey carried out in the village showed that the majority of residents do
not want GM crops. Letters have been written to MPs, local authorities, and
the farmer himself asking for the trial to be stopped. Local people attended
a public meeting at the time of sowing in October to demand action from the
Government and Aventis - the biotech company who manufacture the GM crops.
The trial has even been reported to the police for the criminal damage that
could be caused through contamination of neighbouring crops rendering them

By noon people from all over the country assembled at the rally in
Startford-Upon-Avon to hear speakers, to share information and admire each
other's banners (and giant bee!). After several empowering speakers a samba
band led the crowd on a walkabout through the town.

After the march, people loaded onto coaches, taking around 200 people to
the oil seed crop site. Participants walked from the coaches to the field
test site, masked people dressed in decontamination suits flooded the
field, all pulling up the GM side of the site.

The police stood by for about half an hour before entering the field, as
they approached the line of kneeling de-contaminators some made a quick
getaway while some were not so lucky. Some folk re-grouped and continued
with the work in hand. The samba band arrived, which appeared to give
encouragement to those still in the field. More police arrived and entered
the field, at which point the "gardeners" linked arms and took a bow towards
the police, followed by a variation of the Mexican wave. As the police
approached, folk dispersed once more, another 4 people were removed from the
field, three taken away to police vehicles, whilst one young female was
placed at the edge of the field and asked to stay there. She was very
naughty, and re-entered the field to begin removing more of the offending
plants, a policeman approached her again, at which point she decided that
she would leave the field. Five arrests were made. There was a mad scramble
to get over the barbed wire fence to avoid arrest. Some didn't get there in
time. Some protestors went to the station to support the arrested.

Afterwards, tea and cakes were sold by the local Women's Institute in the
nearby village hall, and some of the coppers dropped in for a cuppa.

The organisers called this the 'Last Chance' Rally, but it's NOT our last
chance to kick against the corporations who are trying to force on us
smething we do not want. Communities-get together, get your voice heard,
make a difference, pull up crops growing nearby-it's up to you

Report compiled from uk.indymedia.org

For more on these stories, plus a whole lot more, check out www.neRAGE.org
Post your own stories, comment, and search the latest news on biotechnology.

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