Biodev. 7 media 2

In town for protest, cyclists are arrested

By GREG JONSSON St. Louis Post-Dispatch

updated: 05/16/2003 11:01 PM

Members of a “bicycle circus” in town to demonstrate at the World Agricultural Forum said they were arrested Friday in Tower Grove Park for operating their bicycles without licenses.

The cyclists, kicking off a tour to educate people about industrial agriculture, are part of a performing group that uses puppets, juggling and costumes to deliver its message. They said they were riding through the park about 10 a.m. when their path was blocked by a police van. They were on their way to Biodevastation 7, a conference protesters are sponsoring as an alternative to the World Economic Forum.

Police told the cyclists that anyone older than 12 needed a license to ride a bicycle in St. Louis, the cyclists said.

The eight men and one woman in the group were handcuffed, taken to a St. Louis police station and processed. Eventually, they were given tickets for impeding the flow of traffic and released after about six hours in police custody.

City Counselor Patricia Hageman said a rarely enforced law requiring bicycle licenses was on the books until about two years ago. She called the incident Friday a “misunderstanding.”

But members of the group said it was part of what they called a pre-emptive strike on World Agriculture Forum protesters.

“They just invented a pretext to pick us up,” said Tom Shaver of Santa Cruz, Calif., a member of the group “It’s a really scary precedent.”

Ben Majchrzak, a member from Vermont, said police in St. Louis were overreacting to the presence of protesters.

“They were looking for weapons of mass destruction and found puppets and clowns and bikes,” Majchrzak said.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch

LETTERS to the Editor: Industry tries to coerce farmers into using biotech

updated: 05/16/2003 06:44 PM

A May 8 article quoted St. Louis Police Chief Joe Mokwa warning of “violent protesters” at the World Agricultural Forum. However, astute readers could clearly see who are the real perpetrators of violence: the biotechnology industry.

Right below Mokwa’s comments, we read that Monsanto convinced a federal court that farmer Kem Ralph should be imprisoned. His crime? Saving seed from his own crops, something farmers have done since the beginning of agriculture.

Farmers in the United States and around the world have rejected Monsanto’s genetically engineered crops, so the corporation must use coercion to get them to accept the frankencrops.

Percy Schmeiser of Saskatchewan, accused by Monsanto of stealing its patented DNA, is taking his case to the Canadian Supreme Court to clear his name. Several African nations rejected U.S. food aid rather than accepting the genetically engineered corn our government wanted to dump on them.

The high cost of using the biotech seeds will drive family farms in this country and subsistence farmers in Third World countries out of business.

Taking away people’s livelihood, imprisoning farmers for practicing agriculture and forcing consumers to be guinea pigs for this dangerous, unproven technology sounds pretty violent to me.

When I spoke to Leonard Guarraia, president of the World Agricultural Forum, two years ago, he insisted that the forum was a neutral body concerned with agricultural issues. He did not tell me at that time that he is a former Monsanto employee.

A look at the list of speakers at the forum’s World Congress this year and its board of directors reveals the agribusiness and biotechnology industry bias of the organizaiton.

For a real alternative viewpoint on the biotechnology issue, join farmers, scientists and concerned people from round the world this weekend at Biodevastation 7 at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. We also plan to protest downtown against the corporate takeover of agriculture.

Daniel Romano

St. Louis

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Focus on the future of agriculture

BY RACHEL MELCER St. Louis Post-Dispatch

updated: 05/16/2003 12:48 AM

The World Agricultural Forum’s 2003 World Congress is not meant to be about street protests, or trade disputes between the European Union and the United States. It isn’t here to push a particular agrochemical company’s products, or a certain country’s goals, organizers said.

The Congress, being held Sunday through Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at Union Station, is about deeper issues behind the controversy and commercialization, said Leonard Guarraia, chairman and president of the World Agricultural Forum.

“These issues don’t spring from the ground. They aren’t new,” he said.

While today’s headlines may focus on a particular point, the congress will address age-old issues:

Sharing scarce resources and new technologies, while protecting property rights. Feeding the world’s people without damaging the earth. Making it possible for everyone to produce what they need and sell what they can. Narrowing gaps between the haves and the have-nots.

The congress is about academic discussion and heated debate of complex problems, participants said. There won’t be many sound bites – but there may be opportunities for more than 350 participants from around the globe and across the spectrum of ideologies to find common ground.

“It could lead to better understanding between the big players in these issues, and a keener appreciation of how government and other public policies might help to build a better and more productive agricultural system,” said Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and a world-renowned scientist and environmental advocate.

It should also raise the international profile of Raven’s garden and other regional plant-science assets. That was the intent of the St. Louis-based World Agricultural Forum’s founders six years ago, said Bruce Adaire, who was among them.

“It is important to the future of this city and this region – to bring as much attention as we can to it, so it is on the global map,” he said.

The region wants to be known as the BioBelt, an epicenter of plant and life-sciences activity. Its leaders are building on research at Washington University and St. Louis University, at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and in the labs of companies including Monsanto Co. And – with 54 percent of U.S. farm acres located within 500 concentric miles – much of that work is tied to agriculture.

“We want the representatives of the countries that are coming – and many of them are from the (developing world) whose economies are expanding – to get a sense of the kind of collaboration that is available through organizations such as ours,” said Roger Beachy, president of the Plant Science Center, which engages in basic research.

“We can help them with some of the questions and challenges that they face. And we really need to listen to their concerns, to know if we’re working toward relevant solutions for them, or not,” he said.

Diverse minds

Organizers of the congress are proud of the diverse backgrounds of their speakers and participants – most of whom are policymakers for governments, nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations, companies and growers’ groups.

There are nearly 90 speakers, and 61 percent of them come from outside the United States. Among the foreigners, nearly 40 percent are from the developing world, where problems are most acute.

“We’ve got some poobahs from all walks of life and from all over the globe,” Guarraia said. “What you’ve got to do is have everyone come from diverse sectors and bring their point of view, but also have an open mind.”

Critics’ claims

Yet some criticize the congress for a lack of openness. They say it is a function of big-business and government that leaves the average farmer and consumer behind.

Some of the most vocal critics will be at the Biodevastation 7 meeting that begins today in St. Louis. They will protest outside the congress – and some local police fear the protest could spark violence, as was seen at meetings of the World Trade Organization in recent years.

Congress participants have said they welcome all views, as long as they are presented in an open and constructive way.

“There’s always a danger that those who don’t come into the room have more fun outside through protests, but that doesn’t necessarily lead to the kinds of discussions we need to have,” said Andrew Bennett, executive director of the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture in Basel, Switzerland. He forms partnerships between farmers’ groups, nongovernmental organizations and the Swiss agrochemical company Syngenta AG.

The protesters say his company, and its St. Louis-based competitor, Monsanto, take advantage of farmers. They believe genetically modified seeds will damage the environment and could threaten human health.

Syngenta and Monsanto representatives said they recognized the rights of protesters. But they say they would rather engage them than spar.

“It’s how do you get people off the streets and into the room, or into the fields to help farmers, and put their considerable energies to helping solve the problems,” Bennett said.

Scientists disagree

Yet controversy is not likely to be left outside the doors. Agricultural issues have become a lightning rod in even the most polite settings.

Scientists do not agree on the long-term environmental safety of genetically modified food. Governments spar over where it should be grown and sold.

Earlier this week, the United States complained to the World Trade Organization that the European Union has unfairly banned commercialization of new genetically modified crops for the past five years. Meanwhile, developing countries hang in the balance, worried that if they raise genetically modified crops – even to feed their starving people – they will be banned from exporting to Europe’s lucrative markets.

Yet leaders of the congress want to ensure that their discussion is not dominated by hot-button issues such as the current trade dispute.

“There need to be sufficient voices to say, ‘Hang on a moment – there are bigger issues (than) those transatlantic games,'” Bennett said. “The rest of the world is pretty poor, pretty without choice and feeling pretty marginalized by the whole process. And we’re talking about the majority of humanity on the planet.”

They are big issues, and unlikely to be solved over a three-day meeting, others said. But the congress has the potential to bring closer global policy-makers, business leaders and advocates for the poor.

“The world isn’t going to be different the day after in a tangible sense that you can measure,” said Robert Horsch, vice president of product and technology cooperation for Monsanto. “But people’s thinking will change, their understanding will change and their behaviors – consciously and unconsciously – will begin to change. And that’s more profound.”

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Forum on food opens with plea to feed world

By Repps Hudson St. Louis Post-Dispatch

updated: 05/18/2003 10:55 PM

Stuart Greenbaum, right, Dean of the Washington University Business School, leans over to chat with William Danforth, former chancellor, during the World Agricultural Forum in the Hyatt Hotel at Union Station on Sunday.

(David Carson/P-D)Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug opened the third World Agricultural Forum with an impassioned plea for finding ways to feed 10 billion people on the planet at the same time sometime during the 21st century.

Some experts say the current population of 6 billion people will hit 10 billion by midcentury, others say by the end of the century, said Borlaug, winner in 1970 of the Nobel Peace Prize as father of the “green revolution” that boosted crop yields in such Third World countries as India and Pakistan.

An outspoken advocate of the biotechnology revolution in food production, Borlaug told more than 300 forum participants that it would take a combination of solutions to reduce hunger and prevent starvation with those population projections.

He was among several speakers from throughout the world who opened the three-day congress at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at Union Station downtown.

The forum, created in the late 1990s by St. Louis business boosters as a way to put St. Louis on the map in agricultural thinking, attracted officials from many countries, agribusinesses, consulting firms and academia, and representatives of nongovernmental organizations such as Oxfam America.

It also drew throngs of police standing guard and about 300 protesters across the street from the hotel. The security buildup was led by local law enforcement officials who feared demonstrations and disruptions that have occurred at meetings elsewhere of more well-known trade groups, such as the World Trade Organization. Despite the heavy police presence, there were no arrests at Sunday’s demonstration.

The forum bills itself as a neutral venue for the exchange of ideas about trends and developments in global agriculture. Critics of biotechnology were represented through organizations such as the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a pro-consumer advocacy group, said forum President Leonard Guarraia.

With a budget of $600,000, the forum is funded by the Danforth and Kellogg foundations and corporate and other private and foundation sources, Guarraia said. Speakers were not paid honorariums, but the forum covered their travel and lodging expenses, he said.

Guarraia said the gathering was a conscious effort by the Regional Chamber & Growth Association and local agriculture-related businesses to raise St. Louis’ stature internationally.

Jaesoo Kim, agriculture counselor for the South Korean Embassy, said he attended so he could tell his government “where the major issues of agriculture will go.”

Joe Rosario, an aide to the agriculture minister of the Canadian province of Alberta, said he was here because “the top people in agriculture are here. I want to hear how they intend to alleviate poverty and hunger. And I want to hear about trade negotiations.”

Next year, the forum will host a conference here on Western Hemispheric agriculture, followed by the fourth congress in 2005.

On Sunday, across the street from the forum site, chanting protesters took aim at genetically altered crops and other agricultural technology that they say are threatening – not improving – the world’s food supply.

Demonstrators poured most of their vitriol on a St. Louis agribusiness giant – Monsanto Co. of Creve Coeur – accusing the company of messing with Mother Nature. Many marchers railed against the company’s production of genetically altered seeds and of chemicals designed to maximize farmers’ yields on everything from corn to cow’s milk.

A Holstein cow with floppy pink ears named John Peck carried a sign saying “That’s it – I quit.”

“I’m a mad cow!” said Peck, a member of Family Farm Defenders and a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin’s agriculture school. “I’m tired of putting chemicals into my body!”

Peck carried a big syringe that he said was supposed to represent Posilac, a synthetic hormone made by Monsanto that stimulates bovine milk production. Posilac can cause bladder infections, which some farmers treat with antibiotics that Peck fears can end up in milk on store shelves.

When asked in an interview what he would tell protesters who object to genetically modified grains, Borlaug, 89, was blunt: “These people have never been hungry. They live in a beautiful utopia. These people are telling the world that they want the poor people of the world who are living in misery, who have no potable water to drink, who have terrible lives, that they should stay that way. Is that the environment we want people to live in? The protesters are poorly informed.”

The forum’s focus was on cooperating for the future and dismantling barriers to agricultural trade, which is regarded by many as a way to boost the income of farmers in the long run.

David Raisbeck, vice chairman of Cargill Inc., a global grain and agricultural products company, said, “The major problem limiting agriculture’s role in the global economy is that agricultural trade barriers on average are 10 times higher than industrial trade barriers, and many agricultural barriers are prohibitively restrictive.”

He said that in poor countries, people may spend up to 70 percent of their income on food just to stay alive. In the United States, the average is less than 10 percent. More trade in agricultural goods can reduce costs while boosting farmers’ incomes, Raisbeck said.

Subsistence farming also hurts the environment, he added.

“The pressures of hunger and poverty often result in agricultural practices in low-income countries that harm the environment in two ways: by exhausting the soil’s productivity rather than replenishing it; and by forcing agriculture to expand to new lands rather than use the most highly productive land better,” he said.

One roundtable focused on winners and losers of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the pact that lowered barriers among the United States, Mexico and Canada.

“In Mexico, in the rural areas, our experience with NAFTA has been negative, especially for producers of grains and oilseeds,” said Eladio Ramirez Lopez, national director of the 3.5 million farmers of the National Farmers Confederation speaking through a translator.

Richard E. Bell, president and chief executive of Riceland Foods Inc., had a contrary view.

“It’s one of the most significant developments in the last 25 years,” he said, adding that Mexico is now the No. 1 market for U.S. rice, cotton and sorghum.

Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, agreed that Mexican farmers were the biggest losers in the trade agreement because they were “in competition with highly subsidized U.S. corn.”

He said the losers tended to be politically weak and disorganized.

Correcting problems with NAFTA is difficult, said William A. Kerr of the Estry Centre for Law and Economics in International Trade in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

“There is no mechanism to move the system forward,” he said.

Jeremy Kohler of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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Returning residents find mess

By Heather Ratcliffe and Jeremy Kohler St. Louis Post-Dispatch

updated: 05/21/2003 08:38 AM

Four days after being kicked out and arrested in a raid by city inspectors, residents and visiting protesters returned Tuesday to the house they call Bolozone.

A city-issued permit gave them four hours to collect their belongings and get out of the condemned building.

Once inside, however, Kelley Meister and her friends found mostly disappointment.

Meister’s clothes were strewn across the floor, some of them soaked and smelling like urine. A gray arm chair lay upside down. Boxes of papers were dumped out.

“Clearly it’s trashed just to be trashed,” said Meister, 24, who lives at Bolozone, at 3309 Illinois Avenue.

Another resident, Molly Dupre, said her video camera had been smashed and a mustache had been drawn on a picture of her partner.

The Bolozone building had been searched and 15 people arrested during a housing inspection two days before protests were to begin at the World Agricultural Forum, an international meeting of business, academic and government officials that ended Tuesday in downtown St. Louis. Those arrested were charged with occupying a condemned building.

Richard Wilkes, a spokesman for the St. Louis Police Department, said he had not heard any allegations of property damage.

“I find that hard to believe,” he said. “All I can suggest they do is file a complaint with internal affairs.”

He said the protesters’ clothing may have already smelled like urine. “The protesters I’ve smelled I couldn’t get near,” Wilkes said.

Visiting members of the Flying Rutabaga Cycling Circus, who had been staying at the house, also had their bikes seized by police last week.

The circus, a group of puppeteers, clowns and musicians, had intended to leave St. Louis for Washington on Monday to kick off their 800-mile “Caravan Across the Cornbelt” bike tour against genetic engineering.

But the troupe could not leave because police had seized their bikes.

The bike seizures and home raids were part of stepped-up security efforts by St. Louis law-enforcement officials who were fearful that protests at the forum could turn violent – something that had occurred at major demonstrations in Seattle and other cities.

On Monday, police sped up the process to allow the out-of-town group to retrieve their cycles, said Justin Meehan, an attorney for the performers.

However, the tires on every bike were slashed when they were returned, he said.

St. Louis police Chief Joe Mokwa said the city searched Bolozone and the Community Arts and Media Project building at 3022 Cherokee Street after receiving complaints from residents. The Cherokee building housed a number of activist groups and a Web site that promoted demonstrations against the agricultural forum.

Police also arrested nine circus members while they were riding their bikes near Tower Grove Park. The members were initially detained for not having a bicycle license, a charge that does not exist. Later, they were issued a ticket for impeding the flow of traffic, police said.

Mokwa said the arresting officer, who had been warned about potentially dangerous protesters visiting St. Louis, was “overenthusiastic.”

Greg Jonsson of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch column:

City officials went into a tizzy over mere anarchists

By Bill McClellan

updated: 05/19/2003 02:06 AM

The television trucks were stationed at the edge of the park across the street from Union Station, and the cops had put up some portable barriers on the sidewalk to keep the anarchists from leaving the park and rushing across the street. In case the anarchists got past the barriers, the cops themselves were lined up in front of Union Station. The only thing missing was anarchists.

This is beginning to look like the pope’s visit, I thought to myself. Where are the crowds?

In fairness, though, it was only a little after 2 on Sunday afternoon, which was the time the much-feared anarchists – mostly out-of-towners – were expected to arrive at the park to rage against the World Agricultural Forum. And how can anybody expect anarchists to be on time? Who ever heard of a punctual anarchist?

So we milled around in the park. Reporters, legal observers and a few interested and curious citizens. What, if anything, was going to happen?

The city fathers have been on edge for weeks. The World Agricultural Forum is a big deal, and St. Louis would love to be the Silicon Valley of the biotech industry. But the industry – and the forum – are not without their detractors. Many people are especially down on genetically modified foods.

When Seattle hosted the World Trade Organization’s meeting in December 1999, the city was invaded by 50,000 demonstrators. Downtown Seattle was shut down in clouds of tear gas. Rioters smashed windows and vandalized cars. Could this happen in St. Louis?

Late last week, some merchants began boarding up their windows, and in the days leading up to Sunday’s protest, the police took some extraordinary measures. On Friday, for instance, they arrested members of an out-of-town “bicycle circus” for riding bikes without a bicycle license. The cyclists claimed to be a performing group that uses puppets, juggling and costumes to deliver its message about industrial agriculture. That seems harmless enough. What’s more, who ever heard of a bicycle license? That same day, the police conducted a raid on a building in which some out-of-towners were staying. Nails were discovered, but then again, the place was being rehabbed.

These police tactics seemed rather Ashcroftian, but when you might be dealing with anarchists, who wants to take chances?

As we awaited the arrival of the protesters, I chatted with other locals. Mark Schusky, for instance, teaches history at Collinsville High School. He spent his college years at the University of California at Berkeley – Protests R Us – so he had dropped by for nostalgic reasons. Randolph Moore and Rod Mason had stopped by out of curiosity, and also because it was a pleasant day. They had a blanket to sit on, and a couple of books to read.

Finally, an hour late, the protesters marched over from Centenary Church, where they had gathered.

There were a few wearing bandannas over their faces, and there was a fellow with a sign saying, “I’m an Anarchist – Arrest Me.” But the majority of the protesters seemed like the kind of well-meaning folks you see at various left-of-center gatherings. In fact, I recognized several from the recent protests against the war in Iraq.

Even as protests go, this one seemed unorganized. Somebody was banging on a drum, and the bandanna crowd was doing some kind of tribal-looking war dance, and a few people hollered, but mostly, the protesters seemed to want to talk about the sanctity of food, and the dangers of Big Agriculture.

It’s easy to understand why the city was so concerned. Seattle happened. Better to expect the worst, and be prepared. But next time, let’s not arrest the bicycle circus. Let’s not put anybody in jail – even for a few hours – for riding a bike without a license. After Sunday’s peaceful protest, that kind of stuff doesn’t just seem wrong. It seems silly.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch EDITORIAL: Against the wall, Rutabegas

updated: 05/21/2003 09:05 AM

POLICE AND PROTEST

IT’S POSSIBLE TO UNDERSTAND, if not agree with, St. Louis Police Chief Joe Mokwa’s defense of police tactics during the weekend’s tepid protests against genetically modified foods.

Anarchists had turned an anti-globalization protest at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999 into a destructive rampage. The World Agricultural Forum, held here this week, might have provided a similar target, which would be embarrassing for a city trying to entice tourists and promote itself as a center for biotechnology. Downtown was full of Cards-Cubs fans and a large convention of travel agents was also in town.

But vigilance turned into overreaction last Friday when city police arrested protesters on flimsy charges and conducted questionable searches of places where some of the protesters were staying.

The most ludicrous and heavy-handed action was the arrest of The Flying Rutabega (sic) Circus Review, eight men and one woman who were part of a bicycle circus. Its members describe themselves as a “rag-tag ensemble of circus acts, puppet shows, jugglers and musical numbers” who bicycle across the country to protest genetically modified food. Last Friday, the Rutabegas were riding down the center of Arsenal Street when police handcuffed them and took them to the police station for riding bikes without a license. The City Counselor’s office acknowledges that the ordinance isn’t enforced, and the city won’t press charges.

Mr. Mokwa isn’t apologizing for a questionable search of two houses – one on Cherokee Street and one on Illinois Avenue – where some of the protesters were staying. He said neighbors had complained and that some protesters had taunted police. The chief used a building code violation to send officers and housing inspectors into the homes. There they seized a box of roofing nails – a type not used in rehabbing old buildings, the chief said – a bucket of rocks, a slingshot and some torches.

Police also hauled off two eight-foot wooden dolls used in protests (one a caricature of a police officer and the other of an alderman). Police arrested more than a dozen people.

Under normal circumstances, housing inspectors and police officers need a warrant before searching a home. Arrests and searches for minor charges can help clean up cities Giuliani-style. But these tactics shouldn’t be used to target protesters.

It made sense for Mr. Mokwa to be vigilant. He was right to help protesters get permits for public demonstrations. But in the future, he should make sure that overreaction doesn’t interfere with the right to protest.

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We are awaiting a translation of Tuesday’s report in the French national daily newspaper, Le Monde.

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