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Ruiz-Marrero 

Redesigning
Life?
is one
of the most complete and up-to-date overviews of the diverse objections
against biotechnology. This compilation of essays was conceived
and edited by biologist Brian Tokar, who teaches at the Institute
for Social Ecology. 

One
opinion poll after another has shown that most North American and
European consumers believe that labeling foods as GM has the same
effect as labeling them with a skull and crossbones. In response
to this massive consumer rejection, whole supermarket chains in
Europe have already decided to go GM-free. Farmers are not happy
either. In November 1999, a coalition of 30 U.S. farm organizations
warned that farmers that plant GM crops are risking their economic
future and the future of agriculture. 

Activism
has gone far beyond boycotts and straight into civil disobedience.
Greenpeace activists have destroyed GM crop shipments and have used
their ships to prevent the passage of American freighters loaded
with GM corn and wheat into European ports. In England and Germany,
clandestine commandos have uprooted GM plants. Some do it in broad
daylight, and turn their actions into festivals of resistance, with
processions, music, and costumes. Sometimes they occupy uprooted
GM fields for weeks at a time. 

In
1998, members of France’s Confidiration Paysanne (Peasants’
Confederation) entered a warehouse containing five tons of GM corn
and destroyed it by spraying it with water. When the U.S. threatened
the European Union (EU) with trade sanctions for refusing to import
American GM products, French farmers responded by flooding local
McDonald’s restaurants with manure and rotten fruit. One of
the little-known reasons for the World Trade Organization 1999 Seattle
conference’s failure was the EU’s refusal to give in to
U.S. demands regarding GM foods. 

The
eight essays in the book’s first section, “Our Health,
Our Food and The Environment,” show that the objections to
genetic engineering have more than enough scientific footing. Biologist
Martha Crouch explains why biotech will not feed the world or save
the environment, while Vandana Shiva takes on the much-celebrated
GM “golden rice,” touted in the mainstream media as the
solution for vitamin A deficiency. Collaborators Ricarda Steinbrecher,
Jennifer Ferrara, and Mike Dorsey expose the technology’s inherent
dangers, and Beth Burrows and Jack Kloppenburg Jr. talk about biotech’s
incompatibility with sustainable farming. 

The
second section, “Medical Genetics, Science and Human Rights,”
deals with the uncomfortable subjects of cloning and human gene
manipulation, and links the endeavor to alter the human genome to
the pseudoscientific agenda of eugenics. Zoe C. Meleo-Erwin takes
us to the macabre world of the new reproductive technologies; and
Alix Fano, of the Campaign for Responsible Transplantation, makes
a most convincing case that xenotrans- plantation (the use of animals
for spare organs for humans) will result in a public health disaster
of untold proportions. Marcy Darnovsky speaks out against the genetic
“enhancement” of human genes, and Sarah Sexton questions
the wisdom of turning to human cloning to solve the world’s
health woes. 

The
third section, “Patents, Corporate Power and the Theft and
Knowledge of Resources, deals with the political and economic implications
of genetic engineering. Special emphasis is given to indigenous
peoples, who play a central role in this global controversy. Hope
Shand, of the ETC Group, provides an overview of the corporations
that form the “Life Industry,” and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz
and Mike Dorsey explain what the biotechnology revolution has in
store for the world’s indigenous peoples. In her essay “Biopiracy:
The Theft of Knowledge and Resources,” Vandana Shiva denounces
corporate bioprospecting as just another form of plunder. 

If
it weren’t for its fourth section, titled, “The Worldwide
Resistance to Genetic Engineering,” “Redesigning Life?”
would be no more than an obituary for our planet. This final section
presents a broad overview of actions being undertaken all over the
world to stop biotech and to create sustainable, healthy alternatives.
Jim Thomas tells about the wacky adventures of activists in the
British Isles, while Vandana Shiva tells about efforts to protect
India’s farmers and biodiversity from corporate takeover. In
his essay, “Resisting the Engineering of Life,” Tokar
shows that Americans haven’t exactly been the quiet ones in
the global challenge to genetic engineering. 


Carmelo
Ruiz-Marrero is a journalist and a Research Associate at the Institute
for Social Ecology in Vermont.