Biotech Crop-busting Comes to Canada

January 01, 1999  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  National Post  ·  Biotech

"We Canucks wanted to put Canada on the map as inhospitable to the mad science of genetic engineering," said a spokesman for a group calling itself Reclaim the Genes. It "will not be tolerated," he said.

The method: A ballot box? No. A civil demonstration? No. An ad campaign? No. Instead, during the nights of Oct. 27 and 31, this group and another chopped down, stomped on and uprooted more than 3,500 trees they believed were being grown for genetic engineering research in plots in Vancouver and Saanich, B.C. Within three weeks, biotech-bashers struck again, this time at a grove in Summerland, B.C. They called them "Frankenfruit" trees.

What crime did these trees commit? They’re being used to grow wood that will be cheaper for consumers, use fewer pesticides, be more environmentally friendly when converted to paper, and grow more rapidly.

For that, they had to die.

So far this year, vandals have struck 17 crop sites in North America, spanning the continent from Maine to British Columbia and California. And however one feels about biotech crops or biotech in general, the attacks and the media’s general willingness to ignore them tell us much about biotech opponents and those who succour them.

The North American vandals directly acknowledge the inspiration from overseas, especially Britain, where wrecking crop plots that offend one’s sensibilities is commonplace. "Many thanks to our comrades in other countries for the inspiration to join them," declared a communique from Reclaim the Seeds, one of the more active U.S. crop-busting groups.

The British attacks are not random and are not exclusive to tiny fringe groups. Indeed, some have been the work of the world’s most prominent environmentalist group, Greenpeace, while other environmentalist groups that don’t join in nonetheless refuse to criticize them.

In Europe, anywhere between 150-200 experimental biotech fields and forests have been damaged or destroyed. On this side of the Atlantic, the crop-busters are just getting started but are making up for lost time in a spectacular fashion.

"There was only one [attack] that I know of in the U.S. in 1998," according to Jeffrey Tufenkian, spokesman for an anti-biotech American group that tracks crop wrecking, Genetix Alert of San Diego.

And it isn’t just fields and forests coming under attack.

On the last day of September, two groups wrecked sites growing melons, corn and sunflowers in Woodland, Calif. In addition to destroying the crops, they disabled an irrigation system and vandalized three greenhouses. Earlier in the month, the Bolt Weevils whacked a biotech corn crop at Pioneer Hi-Bred’s Minnesota facility. In addition to trampling 50 rows of research corn, they damaged company vehicles, and spray-painted graffiti on sheds.

Nor do the plans stop even there. "Crops, research facilities and corporate offices are all sources of this technological threat and should be targeted," say the Weevils. "Our view is that if corporations, governments and universities have any relationship to biotechnology, they are targets."

Crime against property is serious. But the rationalizations and euphemisms given are beyond ludicrous. Consider a Greenpeace U.K. press release:

"At 5:15 a.m. today in a peaceful direct action, a Greenpeace decontamination unit removed genetically modified pollution from the third farm-scale experiment to be disrupted in the U.K. over the last eight weeks."

So trespassing on private land and ripping up crops is "peaceful," while destroying something you don’t like is "direct action" or "decontamination." And it wasn’t the science of gene transfer under attack, but rather "pollution."

Greenpeace’s British executive director, Lord Peter Melchett, who was arrested for personally "decontaminating" crops, even claims it "is not lawlessness." Really? Trespass and vandalism are legal in Britain?

In this instance yes, says Lord Melchett, because "we act within strong moral boundaries." Thus the criminality of an act can be negated by the actor’s opinion. If you feel morally justified in "peacefully decontaminating" your spouse via "direct action" with a shotgun, your actions are "not lawlessness."

North American groups have adapted the euphemisms. Reclaim the Seeds speaks of its ripping, cutting, tearing and shredding as "nonviolent direct action." They also make claims of heroic acts of sacrifice. "We are risking jail and injury, as well as sacrificing time, energy and sleep," declaim the Reclaimers. Time, energy and sleep?

These aren’t just a bunch of silly self-serving euphemisms and statements. Rather, they reveal the mindset of bullies who strike by night and slip away, then convince themselves and others that they are bold warriors who aren’t just above the law; they make it.

Brock Ohlee of the U.S. crop vandalization group Future Farmers declared, "Direct action against corporate greed is both a political necessity and a moral imperative," thus "the people have the right and the responsibility to fight back."

"The people," of course, is as defined by these Future Fascisti.

After Reclaim the Seeds ripped up a sugar beet field at the University of California at Davis, it proclaimed "these acts as self-defensive measures on behalf of all beings against Monsanto, UC-D and the university system’s corporate boot-licking, and the global GE takeover!" (emphasis added). So it’s not just "The people" any more; they now speak for everything in existence right down to the lowliest amoeba.

But what’s the real motive here?

After crunching a corn crop, the Reclaimers cried: "Modern agri-business and genetic mutilation is a capitalist machine that must be dismantled," and its vandalism "is a direct action that destroys corporate power and authority."

Thus bio-engineering has become representative of every evil any corporation has perpetrated (or, shall we say, everything corporations have done that members of these groups don’t like); therefore, attacking biotech is just another way of attacking capitalism and technology. The Luddite analogy is one that anti-environmentalists have practically worn out. But here it fits almost too well.

Politics are arguable, but whenever the crop-busters venture into scientific territory, they trip over their shears. This is no more clear when they proclaim themselves as protectors of Mother Nature.

After Reclaim the Seeds "decontaminated" seven acres of California corn, they declared, "We believe that protecting the result of more than three billion years of evolution is a duty to ourselves, all living beings, and the generations to come."

They might be shocked to hear that corn itself was invented more than 5,000 years ago by native Americans crossing two types of wild grass. Indeed, virtually nothing we eat other than non-farm fish and things that contain the word "wild" in them (like Ewell Gibbons’ "wild hickory nuts") evolved that way.

How many environmentalist groups have decried this vandalism? Only three I’ve been able to find, and then just mildly. The vast majority has kept mum.

The mainstream British media have "uncritically embraced this phenomenon," says Frank Furedi, a sociology professor at the University of Kent at Canterbury. "The activists, it is said, are the good guys," who, "unlike sleazy politicians," are "untainted by corruption or self-interest."

In North America, at least, the media have shown no support for biotech crop bashing. It’s routinely referred to as "vandalism," and the opinion pieces on the topic have been critical.

The problem is that aside from Canadian papers printing a few articles on the Canadian incidents, the major North American outlets have acted as if the problem doesn’t exist.

Still, there’s a silver lining to this dark cloud hanging over North American science and consumers. To use the groups’ own analogy, history shows that terrorism is a desperation tactic of guerrillas who’ve abandoned hope of winning the "hearts and minds" of the people.

As a Portland Press Herald editorial stated, "Seeds of Resistance has unilaterally decided that there is ’absolutely no benefit to humanity’ from the corn its members destroyed. How do they know? By turning to vandalism, they destroyed the chance to learn."

That’s the whole point. The eco-terrorists know that just around the corner is the second wave of biotech foods, in which not just farmers and the environment will benefit, but consumers as well. They know that pressure could build in the Third World for crops to relieve terrible malnutrition problems that lead to crippling, blindness and early death.

When that happens (or in biotech-bashers’ thinking, if it’s allowed to), they know that in the ensuing war of ideas and choice they cannot win.