The Institute for Social Ecology’s Biotechnology Project was an internationally recognized grassroots initiative for biotechnology activism, committed to expanding public awareness and increasing debate around genetic engineering and other biotechnologies through grassroots education and action, internationally recognized public events, and the development of democratic, community-based activist networks to challenge corporate agribusiness and advocate for ecological and equitable food systems.
From 1998 until 2006, the ISE Biotechnology Project played a central role in regional and national efforts to challenge the genetic engineering of our food and resist the biotechnology industry’s destructive impacts on the quality of our food and health. We initiated the coordinated use of New England Town Meetings and other local jurisdictions as a vehicle for education and action around this issue, and our work has influenced many groups throughout the country. Some 120 New England towns, including 85 in Vermont, have passed resolutions in opposition to genetically engineered (GE) foods and crops, and this has led to a variety of legislative campaigns, as well as steps toward limiting the use of GE varieties on the local level. Some of this work is described on the archived sites here and here, and our town meeting organizing guide can be downloaded here.
The Biotechnology Project also initiated eight years of public events in response to the annual conventions of the Biotechnology Industry Organization and other corporate-sponsored meetings; these included critical public gatherings in Boston, St. Louis, Toronto, San Francisco, Philadelphia, San Diego, and several other cities. These events drew upon the ISE’s many years of organizing experience, as well as an analysis rooted in global environmental justice, and our commitment to empowering local grassroots activists to set the agenda and priorities for each event.
For example, a St. Louis event in 2003 (coincident with the corporate-sponsored World Agricultural Forum) highlighted links to environmental health and environmental racism, international farmers movements, and the preservation of indigenous agricultures. Events in San Francisco (2004) and Philadelphia (2005) incorporated a “Reclaim the Commons” theme, created by local activists to highlight efforts toward neighborhood renewal and self-reliance. Reaching beyond the traditional focus on food safety and agricultural practices, these events highlighted a wide array of issues, including opposition to genetically engineered crops in the global South, biotech links to the pharmaceutical industry, and the continuing development of US biological warfare capabilities, in violation of international agreements. Read more about these events in detail here.
Additionally, we serve on the Steering Committee of the Stop GE Trees Campaign, manage the website and email lists for the national Genetic Engineering Action Network, helped facilitate the formation of a grassroots food activist network in Maine, now known as Food for Maine’s Future, supported town meeting organizing by NOFA in Massachusetts, and supported the development of two collections of writing on biotechnology issues: Redesigning Life? The Worldwide Challenge to Genetic Engineering, and Gene Traders: Biotechnology, World Trade and the , both edited by the project’s founder and director, Brian Tokar.
The ISE Biotechnology Project’s approach to grassroots organizing is rooted in the principles of decentralism, community control, and direct, face-to-face democracy that are central to the philosophy of social ecology, and which have been embraced by the worldwide movement for global justice. Our work has encouraged genetic engineering activists in the US to expand their political outlook, and helped to see how globalization directly impacts our food and our health.