Killer Tomatoes head for California crop summit
"The largely US-based bio-technology industry is in crisis. This conference is a desperate attempt, at the taxpayers' expense, to prop up a failing industry. The whole conference is pitched at developing countries."
The Killer Tomatoes head for California crop summit
Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles
Friday June 20, 2003
Anti-globalisation and environmental protesters are planning to converge on the Californian state capital, Sacramento, at the weekend to demonstrate against a conference run and funded by the US government on genetically modified food.
Protesters claim that the conference is a desperate attempt to save the embattled GM food industry.
The conference theme is the broadening of "knowledge and understanding of agricultural science and technology ... to raise agricultural productivity, alleviate hunger and famine and improve nutrition".
More than 120 ministers, some senior, from 75 countries including Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Uganda and Venezuela are to attend. It is backed by the US state department, the department of agriculture and the agency for international development (USAid).
Some 130 groups are mobilising, mainly to protest against what they see as the conference's hidden agenda.
"The largely US-based bio-technology industry is in crisis," said Peter Rosset, co-director of Food First, the Institute for Food and Development Policy, a thinktank based in Oakland, California. "This conference is a desperate attempt, at the taxpayers' expense, to prop up a failing industry. The whole conference is pitched at developing countries."
Mr Rosset said that, with suspicion growing about GM food around the world, the US government had decided to bail out the industry. He said every country, with the exception of those deemed to be in the "axis of evil", had been invited. Fares for two senior ministers from each country were being paid by the US, he said. Significantly, western European countries were not attending.
Accusing the US of "trying to hijack a UN-sponsored multilateral process", Mr Rosset suggested that American taxpayers were effectively sponsoring "some of the richest companies on earth in a trade fair".
Apart from the £1.8m cost of the conference, £600,000 is being allocated for security to combat wide-ranging plans for non-violent protest.
One group planning to demonstrate is The Killer Tomatoes. Member Mary Bull said yesterday: "The United States is trying to coerce poor African nations into taking [GM foods]. It is a really significant conference from that point of view and we have to show that food can be distributed in a just and equitable way and not in the form of corporate-controlled and pesticide-driven agriculture."
She added: "Knowing the Sacramento police, I'm sure there's going to be lots and lots of arrests."
The US department of agriculture did not respond to questions about the claims by Food First and other groups, but it has argued in the past that GM foods can help alleviate hunger at a time when some 600 million people worldwide are malnourished.
David Hegwood, counsel to the agriculture secretary, has criticised western European countries for their current moratorium on GM foods: "The fear of Europe is keeping food out of the mouths of hungry people in Africa."
Proposed GM innovations likely to be discussed at the conference include fruit and vegetables aimed at stimulating the immune system and rice that would contain extra iron and vitamins. Such foods are an estimated five years away from being available commercially.
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