The Mix

Two takes on biotech

This weekend, Chicago becomes a hotspot for the debate on biotechnology.
In the last year or so, it seems like the biotechnology debate has fizzled out. There hasen't been much to capture the public attention lately: no controversial GMO bans on local ballots lately, no major contamination of food crops or uncontrollable spreading of biotech crops.

But don't be fooled: the biotech industry is alive and well, and are pushing their agenda to businesses, scientists and policymakers starting tomorrow at the BIO conference.

Here are a few of the topics that BIO will focus on this weekend, and which corporations are sponsoring them:

  • Biodefense (Sponsored by Hollis-Eden Pharmaceuticals, Inc.)
  • Bioethics (Sponsored by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Incorporated)
  • Drug Discovery and Development (Sponsored by Wyeth)
  • Food and Agriculture (Sponsored by BASF Plant Science and Bayer CropScience and Ceres, Inc and Dow AgroSciences and DuPont and Monsanto Company and Syngenta)
  • Manufacturing (Sponsored by City of Chicago and Dowpharma)
  • Nanotechnology (Sponsored by Johnson & Johnson Corporate Office of Science & Technology (COSAT) and Woodcock Washburn LLP)
  • Policy (Sponsored by Pfizer Inc.)
  • Regenerative Medicine (Sponsored by Government of Victoria -- Melbourne, Australia and Invitrogen Corporation

Of particular note is the angle that biotech companies are using to scoot the technology in under the public's radar: by suggesting that biotech can end our addiction to oil with plant-based fuels. I'll refrain from ranting here, but simply put: planting massive fields of chemical-intensive GMO corn is not a sustainable way to end our oil addiction.

For last year's BIO conference, AlterNet's writer was denied access because, in the organization's words, we "don't cover cover biotech." Which I of course took to mean that we just don't cover it the way they'd like us to.

Fortunately, there is an antidote to corporate-controlled biotechnology. Timed to coincide with the BIO industry conference is the BioETHICS 2006 conference, aimed at providing a voice of reason in the ongoing debate about how we're manipulating our food supply.

Included in the many speakers and events -- all of which are free and open to the public -- are Percy Schmeiser, Jeffrey Smith, Anna Lappe, Michael Hansen, Jane Akre, Rick North and Dr. Sam Epstein.

If you're in Chicago this weekend, be sure not to miss one or both of these events.
Matthew Wheeland is AlterNet's managing editor.
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