Biotech Forum in San Francisco Discusses Pros and Cons
June 2004: To discuss biotechnology and its impacts on the community, a large group of about 150 people representing a wide cross section of the San Francisco community came together at the California College of the Arts. The session was composed of about 4 subsessions with 4 people at each table for 20 minutes followed by summary presentations, and then a subsession with 12 at a table, and then final summary presentations and a chance for everyone in the room to say a brief statement or two. There were also large sheets of paper on the walls for everyone to put down their thoughts about the impact of two things on society, the automobile and the cell phone. The 'World Cafe' process was used to facilitate this highly stimulating and productive community forum.
A myriad of value systems were presented with which to consider the impacts, sustainability, biodiversity, ethics, profit, economics, health/safety, importance relative to other community issues, and many others.
How will citizens be heard? Voting? Meetings? Correspondance? Letters to the Editor? Independent media? Mass media?
Not enough fresh water. Farmer suicides are an issue. Who controls the land? Who controls the economy? Is bigger better? Corporations vs. small farmers. Corruptions worst effects are in large organizations, whether they are governments, corporations, religious groups, economic groups, philisophical groups, or whatever. Fish swim in schools, sometimes, but in actuality, there are myriad behaviors in the ocean as well as on land. Humans seem to use metaphors to suit the moment's purpose, whether or not it is fair to all involved. FAO in Rome rubberstamped biotech. www.grain.org is a site for information about world grain crop issues. What are the true costs of food production, government subsidies, environmental pollution, genetic pollution, chaotic undetermined side effects?
One attendee recommended Biotech to IPO, a survey book, Newsweek magazine, Amazon web store, and Genentech and AmGen biotech corporation web sites for more information. From another perspective, it seems like all of those sites have a profit motivated relationship to readers, whether from product profits, or news sales profits. What are the public service sites with information dedicated to issues like health, safety, true and open scientific studies?
What is the full scope of issues regarding biotechnology? This relates back to the discussion of value systems. If a corporation's prime motivation is profit, this greatly distorts the value system required for true sustainability. The effects of an unsustainable system can be felt after it is far too late to correct the strategy. The abstractness and denial of the distortion work together to help its hapless devotees follow the path mindlessly to self-destruction. Nature's ecosystems do not create sequences of mass behavior that end in extinction as a typical design. Is the corporation a mass behavior or a mass hypnosis by a few skilled criminals? What are they hiding?
How much time is devoted to the simplistic presentation of PR vs. the real complex ethical and ecological issues.
It was recommended that people get involved in the San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting. Expand, dialog, change the quality of conversation, with communities, geographically, at work, online, in clubs, with family, and other cultural groups.
Carol Bly's book, How to Change the Bully.
Discussion group issues: How do we bridge the divide of cultural subgroups? Libraries welcome speakers.
Robert Bud: The Uses of Life.
University research is sometimes funded and controlled by corporations. Is it secretive and therefore not accountable for public safety issues?
How does biotech fit into the future of San Francisco in 20 years?
Home ownership, public transit, pollution, unemployment, health coverage, and other issues would be effected, but how? Sheperd along biotech research. Activists could sheperd biotech ethics, small business would benefit from economy. How would biotech impact local food production, schools, people moving away, affordable housing, economic disparity? How would the economic effects of the biotech industry diffuse into the community? Who would benefit?
Should we change the world to fit capitalism or change the economic system to fit the world?
What are the international repercussions of biowarfare industrialisation? Concerns: loss of controls, safety, economic fairness, accountability. Genentech and Amtech are very large corporations. There are MBA degrees specific to biotech. Is this an indication of the profit motive being overly emphasized over other more important issues? Different neighborhoods have different concerns. Will any neighborhoods suffer from the bad effects such as toxic waste or economic degradation? One attendee said San Francisco has a hipper (more educated?) population and that would help control the industry. Neighborhood safety is more of a concern for many people, as one attendee expressed her distress that in her neighborhood one has to worry about getting shot. Biotech will not address that issue. Why didn't the city support other existing businesses and development before the biotech hype? Ongoing community assessment is important for long term control of city priorities. Government is for the people, by the people, of the people; and is a formalized structure for grassroots empowerment. Legislation and direct action campaigns are part of the process. Complimentary initiatives give people a win/lose event to focus on. The city should support green economic development for sustainability. Tax breaks for biotech come from Mayor Newsom and Fiona Ma. Tax breaks should be decided by the people through voting. People need more access to land for community gardens. Create a law to open private land that is unused so that it can be used by the neighborhood for community gardens, enhancing food security, affordability and community involvement.
Denmark utilizes a community process in addition to experts. Buy transparency with the biotech payroll tax. How many people would buy GMO food if it was labeled as such? Where are the statistics on this? How about universal health care as a focus instead of corporate welfare that only supports a small group of people. Why do the corporations have so much control? Executives assume the desires of the shareholders. Ethanol production takes corn from animal feed, so how does that effect the rest of the ecology, economy, nutrition and other issues?
What will be the effects of DNA-based baby making in the population? How does this effect the ecology, economy and other aspects of society? What would be the negative effects?
City College of San Francisco as well as other schools are providing education in the service of Biotech. How does this fit into the appropriateness and ethics of biotech? Are schools merely hopping on the bandwagon of biotech hype profiteering? The 'multimedia' and 'web' industries inspired a lot of hopeful students to study technology and even leave school for high paying jobs, and then it crashed. How do we learn from this recent boom-crash pattern? Were these booms conceived of as sustainable enterprises or investment broker fly-by-night cash generators. Dot Con, a one-hour television special with additional materials on the web, documents the crash of the booming Internet web industry, produced by Frontline and Public Broadcasting System (PBS). Where is the accountability of the perpetrators of this massive disruption in people's lives. The real estate boom and disruption of people's lives in tenant evictions and raised rents resulted in a massive loss of potential productive energy and community cohesion. With private investment in schools, much of the research and experimentation is protected as corporate trade secrets, limiting the accountability in case of accidents and unethical practices. Accountability must always be ensured.
One attendee suggested that more low paying jobs are needed in San Francisco. What would be the intent of this kind of statement?
Issues: medical industry, spinoff industries, privatization, ethics, bio-defense weapons labs, anthrax attacks, escalation of bio-weapons trade for profit. Everyone needs to apply the "Precautionary Principle" to their work. Who has access to the benefits of biotech? Is it only the wealthy? The educated? The masses of television commercial watchers? What kinds of biotech will target different demographic populations?
Why invest more in biotech when other major social problems have not been solved, such as violence and poverty? When will the people hold the perpetrators of disparities in basic food and shelter distribution accountable for these social crimes?
What about the secretiveness of biotech corporate trade secrets and research? How will they be held accountable in case of accidents and unethical practices? Corporations and the US military are responsible for the creation of many toxic waste sites with lethal results to the surrounding communities and ecology. We must prevent these behaviors in future corporations and government activity.
Biotech, like other corporate ventures, relies on commoditization of it's research, and has the structure of a pyramid, so the patterns of exploitation and unethical practices are sure to arise again.
Genetic pollution, experiments gone ary, secret experiments, industrial uses, weapons uses, agricultural uses and medical uses, economics, ecological impacts, all need to be cataloged so the scope of the issues is fully understood by community leaders. With a moratorium on payroll taxes for companies moving to San Francisco, how will this effect communities that are already suffering from lack of investment and human services? How will the exemption from payroll taxes effect other competing industries? Will they be forced to leave the region?
Without labeling of food and other consumer products for the use of GMOs, the people lose control of their food supply's integrity. The government and corporations already have a bad record of corruption and bad science leading to all sorts of bad health effects in humans and nature. Every opportunity to retain and enhance freedom to choose one's food sources should be taken. Full disclosure labeling of food should be required, and the rules that determine such labels as "Organic" should be controlled by community process.
Significant biotech industry is slated for the Mission Bay neighborhood as one attendee suggested. Industries such as biotech and the web are fostered by real estate powers that stand to get significant gains at the expense of city taxpayers for biotech exemption from payroll taxes and real estate development subsidies. It was suggested that communities build on chainstore legislation to control corporate developments. The communities involved should develop lists of demands for the biotech industry and government. Why doesn't the city fix existing problems of neighborhood violence, economic development, educational access, basic services, affordability?
We enjoy the process of community dialog. What is the role of media in covering the full scope of issues? We have a history of corporate and government corruption, with the effects always magnified by the size of these organizations and their power over human activities through the massive commoditization of products, media and economies. Technology creeps into our lives through the food we eat, our air, water and land, and often we don't notice the effects on our lives until it is too late.
Is is possible to move to a positive, inclusive sense of 'we', instead of the negative, experienced-based distrust of 'them' by 'us'? Even if the negative consequences of unethical corporate or government practices don't effect you doesn't mean that they should be held fully accountable for those consequences on others.
One attendee suggested that the public take tours of biotech companies and talk to the bench scientists. Also, there should be open clinical trials with feedback into the corporations from the public. Different types of presentations are appropriate for different audiences, but no one's information access should be limited by this targeting or secrecy. Information distribution can come through practices such as "Each one, teach one." Develop oral presentations for communities that don't read. Library presentations, video productions, public school lunches, afterschool programs. People should set the agenda. Teachers and students are interchangable roles. Collaborative research can take us many steps into future understanding and appropriate applications of our technologies. How does the 'unorganized' mass of people interact and control the 'organized' in government and corporations?
Greg Jalbert, San Francisco, California, June 2004
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