Press Release: Genetic Engineering Opponents Gather in Philadelphia to Reject Corporate Abuse of Food, Medicine, and Defense




June 16, 2005

PHILADELPHIA, PA – From June 17-21 people from across the country and overseas will converge on Philadelphia to show their opposition to health care profiteering, bio-weapons proliferation, and poorly tested, unlabeled genetically engineered food. This gathering, Biodemocracy 2005, will coincide with the annual meeting of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

BIO is the largest biotechnology lobbying group, representing an industry that lost $6.4 billion last year ($45 billion over its lifetime), and is expected to sustain losses for a number of years, according to a recently published Ernst & Young report. Brian Tokar, the director of the Biotechnology Project at the Institute for Social Ecology, points out, “The BIO convention is not a scientific meeting. It’s a convention of business executives, investors, lawyers, and public relations officials. In past years, less than 10% of registrants have been scientists.”

Many of the researchers who develop the innovations embraced by BIO are highly critical of the industry’s avarice. Dr. Randy Zauhar, a presenter at the BIO convention who will also be a panelist during the Biodemocracy Teach-in this coming weekend points out, “Biotech companies carry out research not to protect human health and welfare, but to maximize profits. Scientists have a moral responsibility, as much as physicians, to apply their training to benefit society, and to be cognizant of the political and economic consequences of their actions.”

Biodemocracy 2005, which is primarily locally organized, will bring in experts from the US, Canada, the UK, Argentina and elsewhere to articulate a critique of biotechnology and celebrate healthy alternatives. Scheduled events include a festival of alternatives and children’s fair, a comprehensive 3 day counter-conference, and a variety of colorful and inspired actions aimed to highlight critical issues, as well as the organizers’ vision for a healthier and more secure future. Nelson Carrasquillo, of the New Jersey-based Comité de Apoyo de Trabajadores Agriculturas (Farmworker Support Committee), remarks, “If we truly want to feed the people of our country and our world with wholesome food, we have to abandon the false promises of genetic engineering and corporate-run agriculture.”

Organizers of Biodemocracy 2005 are also seeking to highlight the harmful impact of biological weapons research and biowarfare. “Under the pretext of protecting the public, big business and government are developing a new generation of biological weapons of mass destruction,” says Austin Kelley of Philadelphia Resistance Against Genetic Engineering. The U.S. government is currently pouring more money into “biodefense” than was spent on the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atom bomb. Dr. Richard Ebright, Laboratory Director at Rutgers University’s Waksman Institute counters, “There is no threat of … development of next generation Biosafety Level 4 agents [e.g., anthrax, ebola, plague] by a sub-state adversary – a terrorist organization. We are conducting an arms race against ourselves.”

With eighty percent of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies located within a 50-mile radius of Philadelphia, the issue of health care and medical safety will be very prominent at BioDemocracy 2005. The resistance by BIO convention sponsor Merck to withdrawing its harmful drug Vioxx shows how corporations put profits ahead of public health. Michael Susko, Director of Citizens for Responsible Care and Research (CIRCARE) explains, “Human research protection is at a crossroads. We are on the verge of realizing that there is a great problem in terms of public safety – especially the lack of adverse event reporting and follow up studies in the long term use of many medicines.” CIRCARE was founded by the father of Jesse Gelsinger, a youth who was killed in a notorious “gene therapy” experiment at the University it Pennsylvania. The researcher conducting the experiment turned out to be an officer of a biotech company established to profit from such research.

The pharmaceutical industry is also often criticized for charging more than its customers can afford. In 2003, Philadelphia-based GlaxoSmithKline stopped shipping its prescription drugs to Canadian pharmacies that sell to U.S. customers, primarily seniors. Members of the Action Alliance of Senior Citizens will assemble Tuesday morning, June 21st at the headquarters of GlaxoSmithKline to protest this and other unfair practices of Glaxo. “The corporate sponsors of the BIO convention include many of the large pharmaceutical companies who are responsible for the high cost of prescription drugs at a time that many Americans cannot afford basic healthcare or medications. The pharmaceutical industry has vigorously opposed any rational health system reform because it would cut into their profit margins,” says Dr. Adam Tsai, of the Philadelphia chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, who points out, “precisely because we all eat food and take medicine, we need to raise questions about biotechnology.”

The Biodemocracy events commence on Saturday morning at 10 AM with a Reclaim the Commons Festival at Clark Park in West Philadelphia, followed by 2 afternoons and evenings of panels, workshops and films at the Friends Center (1501 Cherry St.). The educational program resumes at the Ethical Society Building (So. Rittenhouse Square, off 19th St.) on Monday, June 20th. Tuesday will be a day of rallies, parades and direct action highlighting the issues of genetically engineered agriculture, healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry, and the dangers of bioweapons development.