Brazilian Farmers Seize Monsanto Facilities in Anti-GE Protest

Brazil farmers storm biotech plant
January 26, 2001
Web posted at: 1:03 PM EST (1803 GMT)

NAO ME TOQUE, Brazil (Reuters) -- More than 1,000 poor Brazilian
farmers, bolstered by foreign activists from the international "Anti-Davos"
summit, stormed a U.S.-based Monsanto biotech plant and threatened on
Friday to camp out indefinitely to protest genetically modified (GM) food.

Some 1,200 workers from the radical Landless Workers Movement
(MST) invaded the unit owned by the life sciences giant just before midnight
on Thursday in Brazil's southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, the center
of Brazil's battle over transgenics. The protest was timed to coincide with
a summit in Brazil countering a global business gathering underway in Davos,

With the help of a busload of anti-globalization protesters from the
10,000-strong World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, the poor farmers
yanked out GM corn and soybean crops at the experimental farm on
Friday morning. Hundreds of families and their barefoot children took
over the research center and warehouses, hanging hammocks and setting
up mattresses and boxes of food. They scrawled on the walls, "The seed
of death!" and "Monsanto is the end of farmers!"

"We're staying here indefinitely," said Solet Campolete, a local MST leader.
"We want to make a statement ... these seeds trick farmers and create
dependency on seeds produced by a big multinational."

In the past, MST families have led protests outside the Monsanto plant
but the current protest is the first time they have invaded the unit.
Monsanto said in a statement on Friday it had requested that local
authorities "restore order" at the unit. "Monsanto regrets this incident in
which it was a victim of an aggressive movement," the company said in a

Monsanto says its lab-enhanced seeds increase productivity and reduce the
use of agrochemicals among other benefits, but watchdog groups like
Greenpeace have opposed the wide-scale use of biotechnology that they say
has not been developed with sufficient environmental and health impact

Anti-Davos attracts thousands

Back in Porto Alegre, the thousands of union workers, left-wing
intellectuals and environmentalists who opted not to jump on a bus for a
predawn, five-hour trip to participate in the protest, attended panels at
the rival meeting to the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The activists attending the "Anti-Davos" forum are expected to condemn GM
food along with a wide range of what they say are neoliberal policies that
have deepened the divide between the rich and poor.

In packed conference rooms, African delegates in purple robes and Indians in
orange turbans debated everything from a new-found socialism to transgenic
foods with Brazilian carworkers and French intellectuals.

The experimental forum boasts an eclectic guest list including Nobel prize
winning Portuguese writer Jose Saramago, former French first lady Daniele
Mitterrand, East Timor freedom fighter Taur Matan Ruak and MST leader Joao
Pedro Stedile.

Stedile and Jose Bove, the French farmer and leader of the Confederation
Paysanne, who catapulted to fame when he trashed his local McDonald's, were
among the honored guests who joined MST protesters at Monsanto in Nao Me

"Monsanto says transgenics require less pesticides and chemicals, but that's
a lie. Transgenics increase dependence on those products," Bove said.
Brazil is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that attempts to ban
the commercial planting, importing or sale of GM food, but the country does
allow research.

Still, the issue has been at the heart of an ongoing battle between the
government and some farmers who have smuggled in GM seeds from neighboring
Argentina. Industry insiders suspect up to a third of Rio Grande do Sul's
soybean crop is GM.

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