It was “a message to those who seek to benefit from the risky endeavor of genetically engineering the food supply,” according to the group calling itself Seeds of Resistance. The “message?” They hacked down a half-acre plot of corn one dark August night with machetes.
The crop’s offense? The University of Maine-owned Rogers Farm was determining whether a new strain of corn would be protected from herbicides that would kill surrounding weeds. This would reduce the need for herbicide use, saving farmers money and reducing chemical runoff into water supplies. To have these advantages, it had a specially chosen gene from another plant inserted into it.
For that, the corn had to die.
So far this year, vandals have struck 14 crop sites in the United States, spanning the country from Maine to Minnesota to California. And however one feels about biotech crops or biotech in general, the attacks tell us much about biotech opponents.
The American vandals directly acknowledge the inspiration from overseas, especially the U.K., 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 U.S. active crop-busting groups.
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 under attack.
On the last day of September, two groups wrecked various crops but also disabled an irrigation system and vandalized three greenhouses. Earlier in the month, the Bolt Weevils whacked a Minnesota biotech corn crop and further damaged company vehicles and 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. “If corporations, governments and universities have any relationship to biotechnology, they are targets.”
Crime against property is serious. But the euphemisms and rationalizations these self-styled “garden guerrillas” employ are beyond ludicrous. Trespassing on public property to rip up crops is “peaceful direct action.” The field isn’t destroyed, it’s “decontaminated.” The science of gene transfer is called “pollution.”
Greenpeace’s U.K. 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.”
Crop-busters 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?
Such statements reveal the mindset of bullies who strike by night and slip away, then convince themselves and others they are bold warriors who aren’t just above the law; they make it.
The U.S. crop vandalization group Future Farmers has declared, “The people have the right and the responsibility to fight back.” “The people,” of course, is as defined by these Future Fascists.
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.” (Emphasis added). So now they even speak for birds, bees and bacteria.
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 bioengineering of food and trees 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.
How many environmentalist groups have decried this vandalism? Only three I’ve been able to find, and then just mildly. The vast majority have kept mum.
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 have abandoned hope of winning the “hearts and minds” of the people.
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 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.
Michael Fumento is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who specializes in science and health issues.