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Boston Globe & AP stories on the Biodevastation March in Boston

Protesters Rally Against Biotechs

Biotech protest draws 2,500
Demonstrators march peacefully, seek ethics debate

By Raphael Lewis and Jamal E. Watson, (Boston) Globe Staff, (Boston) Globe
Correspondent, 3/27/2000

Despite fears of violence in the streets, an estimated
2,500 chanting, costumed demonstrators kept
their promise to march peacefully through the Back
Bay yesterday as they voiced their opposition
to the spread of biotechnology.

Police reported no arrests. Protesters dressed
as mutant creatures and macabre vegetables
marched along five blocks of Boylston Street.
The demonstration capped three days of a
counter-conference staged in the shadow of
Bio2000, a biotechnology convention at the Hynes
Veterans Memorial Convention Center.

Organizers of ''Biodevastation 2000'' yesterday
said the march, and the three-hour rally in Copley
Square that preceded it, offered proof that the
fledgling movement is catching up with those in
Europe, where protesters have forced governments
to rethink the sale of genetically modified foods.

''This went about as well as we could have possibly
hoped,'' said Jessica Hayes, one of the rally's
organizers, who noted that about 400 protesters
greeted members of the biotechnology industry
when they met last May in Seattle.

But if the ranks of the opponents of biotechnology
are swelling, they are well behind the sustained
growth the industry itself is enjoying. Bio2000,
which runs through Thursday, has drawn nearly
8,000 scientists, researchers, and executives
from around the world to discuss the latest
innovations in gene-splicing and cross-species
transplants. The industry last year had $18.6
billion in revenues.

While the protesters chanted, danced, and
drummed, convention delegates peered down from
windows in the Hynes, many wondering what the
fuss was about.

''I thought it was a festive, colorful gathering,
and I'm glad that it's been peaceful so far. However,
their message was muddled, and they had so
much misinformation,'' said Carl B. Feldbaum,
president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization,
which is sponsoring the conference.

One industry leader was not so charitable in his
assessment.

''It's just garbage, unreal garbage,'' said David
Dennis, president of Performance Plants of
Kingston, Ontario, moments after he engaged
one of Biodevastation 2000's leaders in a
spontaneous debate. ''These are the most
tested products in history. These people have
no idea what they are talking about.''

Hayes and other leaders of Biodevastation
2000 yesterday challenged those at Bio2000 to a
public debate on the scientific, moral, and
economic basis for their work.

Such a discussion is not likely to occur, however,
since industry representatives said they had
requested a private forum to set the ground rules
of a public debate, something the protesters
rejected, according to Janice Bourque, executive
director of the Massachusetts Biotechnology
Council.

''As we move forward, we could hopefully have
a chance to talk about our viewpoints; that's still
our goal,'' Bourque said. ''Unfortunately, the timing
is such that it's not practical to organize
something like this.''

The rally began as people dressed as freakish
half-tomato, half-fish mutants, among other
creatures, arrived at Copley Square. They were
met by squads of police on foot, on horseback, on
motorcycles, and in cruisers. Officers also kept an
eye on the day's events from a helicopter and
from the rooftops of several buildings.

Under brilliant blue skies and warm temperatures,
those who planned on taking part in the protest
- which had a permit for 1,000 people - were soon
joined by numerous bystanders taken up by the
cause.

''I took some of their literature to find out what all
this is about,'' said Johnny Durant, 50, of
Dorchester. ''It's real interesting, so I'm going to
walk with them.''

Biodevastation 2000 organizers were upset when
a group calling itself the Church of Euthanasia
from Somerville arrived with placards and signs
advocating positions far from their own. A few
shoving matches broke out, as well as several
arguments. In the end, the group relocated to the
periphery of Copley Square.

Police officials said they were grateful to the rally's
organizers for keeping their promise to stage a
peaceful protest. But they said they would remain
vigilant, monitoring other planned protests,
including one scheduled for last night at the
Museum of Fine Arts, where a Bio2000 reception
was planned.

Ellen Barry of the Globe Staff and Globe correspondent
Scott W. Helman contributed to this report.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 3/27/2000.

***********************************************************

MARCH 27, 11:44 EST

Protesters Rally Against Biotechs

By STEVE LEBLANC
Associated Press Writer

BOSTON (AP) - Four protesters
were arrested today outside the
nation's largest biotechnology
conference, marring otherwise
orderly demonstrations against
genetically engineered crops.

Police had prepared for the
demonstrations weeks in advance
of the BIO 2000 conference, where
8,000 scientists, researchers and
CEOs were expected to gather for
five days of meetings that began
Sunday.

In today's demonstration, four men overturned six five-gallon containers
of
what they claimed were genetically altered soybeans in the entranceway of
the Hynes Convention Center, creating a ``hazardous condition,'' according
to police. They were charged with disorderly conduct.

Inside the convention hall, speakers today included Sen. Edward M.
Kennedy, D-Mass., and Lt. Gov. Jane Swift.

Today's arrests followed a day of noisy but
peaceful protests in a carnival atmosphere
Sunday, as an estimated 2,500 demonstrators
chanted ``Our genes are not for sale.''

``We're trying to send a message to the
biotechnology industry ... that their agenda in
the U.S. is not good for the people. It's driven by
profits,'' said Shawn Kay, 28, who dressed as an
8-foot, genetically engineered ``killer tomato.''

Protesters argued Sunday that genetically
engineered foods and medicines have not been
proven safe and should not be sold.

Industry officials disagree. They say genetically
engineered foods, from tomatoes to soybeans, have been studied and given a
thumbs-up by federal regulators.

``There are studies on biotech foods that date back to 1973,'' said
Gene Grabowski, a spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of
America. ``Biotech foods are the only foods that have been studied
to any extent for safety.''

Protesters ignore the industry's successes, according to Carl B.
Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization,
sponsor of the conference.

In 1999 alone, Feldbaum said, the Food and Drug Administration approved
22 new biotech drugs to battle ovarian cancer, influenza, arthritis and
other ailments. The protesters' attention has even had an upside for the
industry, according to Feldbaum.

``All this publicity and excitement about biotechnology has seemed to
raise
attendance,'' he said. ``Seven thousand would have been a record and it
looks like we're going to break 8,000.''

Tensions flared briefly when rally organizers
attempted to drown out prankster protesters,
some of whom carried giant black-and-white
signs reading ``Thank You For Not Breeding.''

Helen Johnson, 23, attended the rally dressed
as a butterfly to protest what she said was the
harmful effects of genetically engineered food
on insects.

Johnson blamed the media for raising the
specter of the World Trade Organization riots in
Seattle last December.

"In the news there's been a lot of emphasis on
the negative aspects of people gathering here,''
Johnson said. ``I think it's really a positive
thing.''
---

On the Net:

Biotechnology Industry Organization: http://www.bio.org/welcome.html

For protesters, the Alliance for Biointegrity:
http://www.bio-integrity.org