USDA Opens $3 Million Biotech Conference in Sacramento; Agriculture Ministers From Over 100 countries Are Attending; 1000 march in protest

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A debate between the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Counsel David Hegwood, Food First’s Anuradha Mittal, who co-edited a new report called: “Voices from the South: The Third World Debunks Corporate Myths on Genetically Engineered Crops,” and Luke Anderson, author of Genetic Engineering: Food and Our Environment

A three-day conference on biotechnology backed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture opens today in Sacramento, California.

The USDA is spending some $3 million on the conference, which in large part is designed to showcase U.S. agricultural biotechnology to the agriculture ministers from more than 100 countries.

The Bush administration says the latest scientific breakthroughs can help to fight hunger by developing pest-resistant crops, and has been exerting intense pressure on African nations to accept GM crops.

But many governmental figures in African countries, and activists, say the war on hunger will not be won until the real cause is addressed: poverty. They also say international food policy should not be decided by a select few.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Venemen is leading the conference. She served on the board of directors for Calgene Inc., which became the first company to bring genetically-engineered food, the Flavr Savr tomato, to supermarket shelves. Calgene was bought out by the nation’s leading biotech company, Monsanto, in 1997. Veneman also served on the International Policy Council on Agriculture, Food and Trade, a group funded by Cargill, Nestle, Kraft and Archer Daniels Midland.

Around a thousand people marched through downtown Sacramento yesterday in protest of the conference. They blocked traffic in an effort to disrupt the meeting. Around a dozen people were arrested.

All of this comes just days after the Bush administration announced that talks between the US and the European Union on GM foods broke down in Geneva.

The Bush administration is trying to force the EU to end its ban on GM foods. The U.S. filed suit at the World Trade Organization over the issue last month. Last weeks talks were convened to try to resolve the issue. But now, US officials say they will ask the to convene the WTO to hear the case.

Tonight in Sacramento, Counsel to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture David Hegwood will be squaring off against Amadou Kanoute of the Consumers International Office Africa and Anuradha Mittal of Food First India/U.S. in the only public debate at the conference.

Well right now, we’ll hold a debate of our own…

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