Fighting Frankenfoods – Part II

Shiva wages her battles from the Himalayan foothills, where in 1982, she created the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy. Her latest book, Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply, looks critically at the impact of biotechnology corporations on the world’s food supply. “The Global North’s industrialized countries became totally chemical under the chemical industry’s pressure. So you have the chemical industry moving into developing nations, wanting to appropriate the indigenous agricultural products that are in the hands of the women of those nations and claim them as their exclusive inventions.”

Genetix Snowball, United Kingdom
July 4, 1998. Five women dressed in white biohazard suits enter a field in England owned by the biotechnology and pharmaceutical giant Monsanto and begin pulling genetically modified crops from the soil. They joke amongst themselves as they quickly fill plastic biohazard bags with the transgenic plants. The media arrives and begins asking the women, among other things, if they are afraid of being arrested. “I don’t fear anything because I am acting openly and accountably,” says Jo Hamilton, as she continues to pick. Hamilton is approached by a police officer who informs her, “You are now under arrest.” “I believe you should arrest Monsanto as well,” she counters. The five women arrested that day—Zoe Elford, Melanie Jarman, Kathryn Tulip, Rowan Tilly, and Hamilton—are part of a group called genetiX snowball. Inspired by swords-to-plowshares actions in the U.S., they decided to explore ways to openly take action against genetic engineering instead of destroying crops anonymously. “Ours was one of the first totally open, totally accountable crop pulls. It made it a lot more acceptable because people were prepared to stand up and explain why citizens were taking direct action and why it was necessary,” says Hamilton. “We wrote to the farmers, to the companies themselves, and to the police explaining our action.” After their arrests, the women were placed under a court order forbidding them from coming onto Monsanto property under threat of imprisonment. They argued successfully for their right to a full trial, but Monsanto appealed and blocked the trial. The women may pursue the case to the European Court of Human Rights. But their greatest hope lies in the court of public opinion: in Europe, a campaign to stop genetically modified crops has convinced corporations like McDonald’s and NestlŽ not to use them. Seven supermarket chains have also stopped selling genetically modified foods. And the European Union has imposed a moratorium on the approval of any new genetically modified seeds and demanded labeling of genetically engineered food products. Activism made the difference, says Tilly. “We want to get across to people the importance of taking risks. The reason corporations have so much power, to some extent, is because people allow it. The risk has to be defined by the person involved. For you, if it is handing out a leaflet, then take that risk. If, for me, it is breaking an injunction, that is a good risk. Continued