Biotech Conference Sees Few Protesters

ByABC News
June 25, 2001, 12:19 PM

June 25 -- Genetically altered food, a highly contentious issue, kicked off the biggest annual biotech conference today, but so far protests have been lighter than expected.

Just a handful of demonstrators protested outside the convention in downtown San Diego today, outnumbered by police and reporters perhaps 10 to one. Concrete barricades and chain-link fences blocked access to the convention center.

On Sunday, 500 to 1,000 people marched through downtown, playing music, holding protest signs and dressing up as gene-altered plants and animals to protest what they derided as "frankenfood." Organizers of the conference said protests have been peaceful.

Authorities had expected as many as 8,000 demonstrators to show up.

Eight people were arrested over the weekend, accused of carrying daggers, vandalism and carrying signs outside designated areas, The Associated Press reported.

Frankenfood or Science Marvel?

Besides being alarmed by what they believe are health uncertainties about the food, protesters say they want better labeling of food products that contain genetically modified products.

Shannon Service, 26, of Boulder, Colo. dressed up as a Monarch butterfly accused the biotech industry of conducting "a real-time experiment with our biosphere."

"This is about having clean and healthy food for our families," she told ABC affiliate KGTV in San Diego.

"This is about having clean and healthy food for our children," she added. "This is aboutnot letting corporations put fish genes in our tomatoes for profit. This isabout not letting corporations kill monarch butterflies to create corn that isunhealthy for humans and untested. They have done no long range testing on thefood that they give to the American public."

But proponents say the genetically modified food is safe, and in fact reduces other hazards that have been the target of protests.

"The same people who are marching against biotechnology are thesame people who marched against pesticides several years ago,"Gene Grabowski, spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers ofAmerica, told The Associated Press.