PO Box 408316
Chicago, IL 60640
Donate Join Structure Organize Publications

May 7, 2005



  1. Come to Philly and Reclaim the Commons
  2. St. Louis Student/Worker Alliance
  3. Mommy, Is Aunt Sally in the Rice Puffs?


Plan to be in Philadelphia June 18-21 to participate in Grassroots Democracy by giving voice to a different vision of local food sovereignty, fair trade, community power, biodiversity and honest science.

BioDemocracy convergence will kick off on Saturday, June 18 with an open-air festival to celebrate the diversity of nature and our local communities. The festival will bring together organic farmers, community gardeners, alternative health practitioners, artists, musicians, and families.

Saturday and Sunday, June 18 and 19 will feature panel discussions on Genetic Engineering, Biowarfare and Bio weapons, Sustainable Alternatives and a special screening of the film "The Future of Food" introduced by its producer and many experts interviewed in the film.

Monday, June 20 will feature workshops, trainings and skill shares oriented for activists and anyone who desires a deeper look at the problems with bio tech. Topics will include: local victories against GE agriculture in Vermont and California; campaigns against GE trees; nanotechnology, Lawsuits vs. Monsanto; the patenting of life; bio fuels; the politics of alternative medicine; and the corporate theft of the fisheries commons.

There will also be non-violence and anti-oppression trainings; and radical urban sustainability skill shares with the Black and Green Urban Gathering.

Tuesday, June 21 will shine a light on the bio tech industry which will be meeting in Philadelphia during this time. We can't stop the earth-eating insanity perpetuated by greedy bio technology by ourselves. We need your help. The best way, for you to get involved is by logging on to the websites below and plan to be in PHILLY for Biodemocracy 2005. http://www.biodev.org/ or http://www.reclaimthecommons.net/

2. St. Louis Student/Worker Alliance

On Monday, April 4th, approximately fifteen students began occupying the admissions office of Washington University in Saint Louis in support of worker justice on their campus, most especially a living wage. The admissions office was chosen partly for logistical reasons, but also because during the month of April, the school has an open house for all potential students, most significantly those who have been admitted but who have not yet chosen whether or not to attend. We hoped to show those students the flip side of what goes on at our school, namely the mistreatment of our campus workers. During the course of the nineteen day sit-in, we were forced to escalate to a five day hunger strike due to the chancellor's continued refusal to engage in productive dialogue, but fortunately that course of action resulted in the scheduling of several meetings with the chancellor. On Friday, April 22nd, we signed a deal with the chancellor, the most prominent points being (in the language of the agreement itself):

  • Beginning in the 2005-06 fiscal year, we have committed $500,000 annually toward improving the wages and benefits of lower-paid service workers. Also, beginning in the 2006-07 fiscal year, we have committed an additional $500,000 annually toward the same purpose. We have already begun an effort to determine how these funds should be allocated.
  • The University will join the Workers Rights Consortium, in addition to its present membership in the Fair Labor Association, to maintain its policy of supporting international and national efforts promoting respect for labor rights around the world.
  • In addition to the existing University requirement that service contractors have fair and consistent internal grievance procedures, the University will ensure that service contractors provide their employees with the opportunity to present grievances to a neutral and independent person, such as an ombudsperson.

The University will establish an advisory committee composed of students, faculty and administrators that will meet periodically to review how service contractor selections and renewals were made.

The WRC membership is a huge step, and while the money is not a living wage, it will go a long ways towards addressing the plight of the lowest paid workers. In addition, the ombudsperson and advisory committee (which will include SWA members) will help give workers a voice on campus, if only indirectly. All in all, it was a highly successful action, and we hope to build on that success

3. Mommy, Is Aunt Sally in the Rice Puffs?

Would you rather find a finger in your chili or guzzle human DNA in beer? In the recent furor over "pharmed" rice in Missouri, something is being downplayed: corporations are proposing to put human DNA into plants whose neighboring cousins could end up being eaten (or drunk) by people.

"Pharming" involves inserting human or animal genes into plants. Ventria Bioscience wants to plant 204.5 acres of rice, which would be the largest pharmed crop in the world and would dwarf the typical pharmaceutical field of less than an acre.

The plan provoked storms of controversy. Environmentalists charged that pharmaceutical rice could be spread by cross-pollination, floods, birds, rice grains in farm equipment, or human error in distribution. Risks include allergic reactions, aggravation of bacterial infections and auto-immune disorders.

Ventria sought to reassure rice farmers that contamination of neighboring fields is unlikely. But farmers remember that contamination caused loses with StarLink corn in 2000, Nebraska soybeans in 2002 and pharmaceutical corn in Iowa.

The deeper side to the story has received little attention. The public is not being asked "Do you want human genes in what you eat and drink?"

Perhaps beer drinkers are not the only ones who don't want to taste a little bit of Uncle Fred. Maybe mommies don't want to give their darlings wee morsels of Aunt Sally in their rice puffs before waving them off to school.

This brings to mind a problem which plagued the meat packing industry a century ago. Upton Sinclair wrote in The Jungle that sometimes packinghouse workers "…fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting, sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham's Pure Leaf Lard!"

Most people would see eating a finger in a bowl of chili as cannibalism. But what about the tip of a finger? If you eat food cooked with lard which includes fragments of a packinghouse worker, is that cannibalism?

Is it cannibalism to eat food with one human gene? What about 50 human genes or an entire human chromosome? How much human material must be spliced into a living organism to render its products "essentially human?"

To use the language of the genetic engineering industry, we could say that human DNA in rice is "substantively equivalent" to human flesh in hamburger meat. Of course, there are differences. Genes are incredibly small in comparison to boiled human flesh. But those human genes would be present in every cell of every contaminated plant you put into your mouth.

This is not something that suddenly arose with Ventria rice in Missouri. Researchers have been putting human genes into animals for years for medical purposes, such as trying to make pig hearts human-compatible.

Scientists with the US Department of Agriculture put human growth hormone genes into pig embryos to produce faster growing hogs. The project did not stop because its originators stayed awake at night pondering the morality of what they were doing. Rather, it was abandoned because the resulting pigs were so deformed that some could not support their own weight.

But other laboratories could well overcome these failures and successfully implant even more human material into plants and animals. If one gene worked pretty well, could 20, 100 or 1000 genes work even better? In 1997, Japanese researchers reported inserting a complete human chromosome into mice to produce human antibodies.

Eating food with human genes conflicts with moral or religious beliefs of many people. Even those who do not share their views defend their right to practice their beliefs. All genetically modified food should be labeled so that those who choose not to consume it can do so. But the last thing you are likely to see on beer, rice puffs, or pharmaceuticals is a statement that "This product contains human genetic material."

If the biotech industry gets its way, there may soon be human DNA in every rice product on the shelf. Once human genes get into a plant, they become a permanent part of that species. When Grandpa is spliced into a pollinating plant, he just keeps blowin' in the wind forever. His DNA becomes part of the diet of all who eat the plant. Unlike exploding gas tanks, Grandpa's genes can't be recalled.

Don Fitz is on the National Committee of the Green Party USA and is Outreach Coordinator for the Missouri Green Party. He can be reached at fitzdon@aol.com.