Biodevastation to Biojustice: A brief history




bioJUSTICE/bioDIVERSITY 2002 was the sixth in a series of international grassroots gatherings on issues of genetic engineering, the patenting of life, and corporate dominance over our food and health. It was the fourth such gathering to coincide with the annual convention of BIO, the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

This historic series of events began in Monsanto’s home city of St. Louis in July of 1998. The “First International Grassroots Gathering on Biodevastation” was called by members of the Gateway Green Alliance in St. Louis to bring together grassroots opponents of genetic engineering to learn and strategize. Participants included concerned scientists and representatives of popular movements from Ireland, England, Mexico, Canada the European Parliament, India and the United States, as well as a large contingent of farmer and consumer activists from Japan. There was a demonstration of over 200 people at Monsanto world headquarters in the St. Louis suburb of Creve Coeur.

Following her keynote appearance at the St. Louis gathering, Dr. Vandana Shiva invited representatives of grassroots environmental, consumer and farm organizations to New Delhi, India in March of 1999 for “Biodevastation 2,” which was organized and hosted by Dr. Shiva’s Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology. A small contingent of activists from the U.S., Canada and Europe, met with people from all over India, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Japan to discuss genetic engineering, life patenting, and the alternatives. Participants traveled to visit farmers in many parts of India who are opposing Monsanto and other biotech companies, while working to preserve native seed varieties and traditional growing methods.

In India, activists learned that BIO would be having their annual convention in Seattle during May of 1999. Beth Burrows of the Edmonds Institute (Edmonds, WA.) (who had been an advisor to the first two Biodevastation gatherings, along with Brian Tokar of the Vermont-based Institute for Social Ecology [ISE]) called for Biodevastation 3 to be held in Seattle during the BIO convention. Biodevastation 3 began with a march through the streets of Seattle, followed by a rally and a spontaneous walk through the Seattle Convention Center. This was followed by a two day conference featuring many of the speakers who had appeared at the first two gatherings, plus additional sessions focused on the dangers of human genetic manipulation. Biodevastation 3 concluded on the day the worldwide media announced that pollen from genetically engineered corn can kill large numbers of young monarch butterfly larvae.

The fourth gathering, Biodevastation 2000, was timed to coincide with that year’s BIO convention in Boston. Biodevastation 2000 was organized under the auspices of Northeast Resistance Against Genetic Engineering (NERAGE), a regional network that was initiated by the New England caucus at the St. Louis Biodevastation gathering, and is sustained by the ISE’s Biotechnology Project. This event was co-sponsored and supported by nearly 30 regional and national organizations and featured a rally and parade to the Hynes Convention Center in downtown Boston that drew nearly 4000 participants. This was the largest ever gathering in opposition to genetic engineering anywhere in North America thus far. Panelists and workshop speakers at the preceding three-day conference included scientists, farmers and activists from India, the Philippines, England, South Africa, Canada, Uruguay and all over the United States. Vandana Shiva, Ralph Nader and Barry Commoner were the keynote speakers, and the world renowned Bread and Puppet Theater led the colorful and lively parade.

In 2001, BIO’s convention took place in San Diego, California, a city with a highly military-dominated history and culture. Despite a severe overreaction on the part of local police and a rather hostile media climate, some 1200 people marched peacefully on the city’s Convention Center on the opening day of the BIO convention. This was the first event to be named “Biojustice,” at the suggestion of organizers from California’s renowned Ruckus Society. The teach-in was dubbed “Beyond Biodevastation” and featured speakers on biopiracy from Mexico and the Philippines, as well as a diverse group of scientists, farmers and activists from North America, Europe and India. There was a heightened focus on sustainable agriculture, disability and genetic discrimination issues. These events were featured prominently on CNN and NBC News, as well as all the major wire services and regional California media outlets.

bioJUSTICE/bioDIVERSITY 2002 brought the series to Canada for the first time, with support from the Ottawa-based Polaris Institute, the Council of Canadians, and a broad coalition of environmental and safe food advocates in Toronto, where the annual BIO convention was to be held. Issues around drug safety and corporate abuses in medical research are much more prominent in Canada than in the U.S., and we were pleased to host some of the leading experts on these topics, as well as on GE food issues, indigenous responses to biopiracy, and the growing threat of biological warfare. Once again, Vandana Shiva was a keynote speaker, along with David Suzuki, who appeared at a colorful GE-free picnic at Toronto’s Grange Park on the opening Sunday of the BIO convention.

We hope everyone will join us for Biodevastation/Biojustice 2003 in St. Louis, Washington, DC and Sacramento, California!