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Bio protests

2004-06-08 20:57:48.611045+00 by Dan Lyke 5 comments

The BIO Conference is happening this week, and the usual contingent of protesters are out in force. I'm going to a schmooze over in Berkeley this evening and had considered driving into San Francisco today, then just in time remembered that streets everywhere are blocked and rerouted. This morning a large contingent marched chanting and drumming down New Montgomery outside of our office window, so at lunch today I wandered over towards Moscone Center[Wiki] to see what was going down.

I took a few pictures, but I'm not actually going to bother to upload any of 'em. A lot of cops, with some good organization for mobility. I ended up walking through a large block of protesters, and there were smaller clusters talking on many of the street corners. What gets me most is the level of ignorance displayed; these are the same "capitalism is evil" people who crawl out of the woodwork when there's any chance that humanity will drag itself forward. Not to say there aren't some issues in bio-tech that need to be resolved, but the conversations and chants I heard sure didn't exhibit any understanding of what they are.

But having wandered through the thick of it, if I were Monsanto I'd set up a free food line with big bowls of that beta-carotene enriched rice and see how long that "smash the state" resolve held out.

[ related topics: Invention and Design Food Bay Area Law Enforcement Conferences ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment The BIO Conference is happening this week made: 2004-06-09 13:03:18.975656+00 by: froggie1b


Before you castigate the protesters' ignorance you might try reading up on the issues to remove some of your own. Monsanto are not nice guys. They are responsible for famine and food disasters in China and elsewhere due to greedy business practices and inappropriate use of technology. Their use of gene knockout techniques to make seed incapable of reproducing has been universally denounced for making farmers who use it utterly dependent on expensive replacement seed every year from Monsanto. I work in the biotech industry and know whereof I speak. Some of them are working for good, but these guys and many others of their ilk don't have anyone's best interests at heart except their own. The issues are very complex, and certainly worthy of more thought and consideration than your blanket ignorant assumptions of ignorance.


#Comment Re: made: 2004-06-09 13:49:11.913195+00 by: meuon

Monsanto is Evil. That's a given.

But I have seen what Dan speaks of here in Chattanooga as well. The crowd has only a lip-service understanding of the issues and is generally clueless about what is going on. The organizers of the protest are often intelligent, informed and conversant. The issues are complex and require such people to be aware of them and to act towards the common good. The crowd is into more as a lifestyle, as a circle of friends.. as a community.. and are generally parrots of the leaders.

The issues and practices of companies like Monsanto can only be changed by changing laws and public opinions. Using the mass media is nearly impossible as they are afraid of ticking off a LARGE direct and indirect advertiser. Unlike clubbing baby seals, the social crimes of companies like Monsanto, Nestle, Coke.. are not easily summed into a single picture or event.

Often in these cases, the messenger's image negates the message. When more mainstream looking/acting/speaking people start protesting these practices they will be taken more seriously.

The thing we all forget is that we have the ultimate power and can "vote with our wallet".. we just have to get more of us doing it.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-06-09 14:06:30.684232+00 by: Shawn

Some co-workers recently shared with me hilarious proof of this ignorance. People around the country (including city officials) have been tricked into protesting the evil use of water.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-06-09 14:36:39.806722+00 by: Dan Lyke

As Cecil Adams points out, there are generally two arguments generally being made here:

  1. "frankenfoods" are bad.
  2. Monsanto is evil.

Okay, maybe one more:

  1. There aren't enough controls on crossovers between genetically engineered crops and other crops.

The first may or may not be true, there are definite issues with crop drift and post-harvest management, but biotech isn't all about genetically engineered crops, and if you flat out reject all biological engineering you've gotta start by skipping most salads served today, 'cause if you read anything about the history of cooking and food, those tender lettuces and greens didn't exist two centuries ago.

This also ignores the work being done in manufacturing and in medicines.

The second is undoubtedly true. Large corporations, and indeed many of us individuals, look to optimize economic functions in the markets which we exist. The answer is to change the markets, not to complain that some people are better at finding the optimizations than others. If those famines are indeed happening in China, then it's a pretty damned good bet that the attitudes of Maoism are responsible (certainly such attitudes cause other social ills that I've observed in China), so preaching it as a solution on the streets seems pretty damned shortsighted.

But it's also the case that not everyone at the conference is from Monsanto. It's as though a group upset about violence in movies went and picketed SIGGRAPH.

The third is actually where I start to have some sympathies with the protesters, the StarLink debacle taught us a lot about where the regulatory failures are. But to claim, as many of them do, that there are no restrictions on such things is at best ignorant, and more likely deliberately misleading.

I buy a lot of organic produce, I'm no stranger to the arguments against technology in farming, and in fact I agree with some of 'em. But as your comment about the "gene knockout" crops shows, until someone starts working on the source of these problems, that without such technologies there's no way to grow enough food to fulfill an out of control birth-rate by a population which doesn't have the skills to sustain itself, I've little sympathies for those who'd attack the solutions.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-06-10 13:13:18.689027+00 by: meuon

Microsoft, Monsanto and Open Source: Monsanto and a few other entities need an 'open source' competititor: If a collaborative entity or maybe even a university, developed and released seed with similiar qualities as the Monsanto seeds, but allowed them to reproduce naturally, would it be similiar to 'Open Source' software? I seen the analogies in my mind, but I do not understand enough of patents and IP of bio-engineered plants to know if it would work.

I would contend that for a bio-engineered plant or life-form to be life, it sould have to be self-reproducable. And while saying so, am cognizant of all of the problems that could cause.

All of a sudden, I get the mental image of neo-Jurassic Park, where the corn that was sterile, mutates into a prolific reproducing corn and I awake to corn stalks growing everywhere.