Podcast: Activism’s dark side—Earth Liberation Front bombs ‘GMO’ tree lab, destroys endangered plants instead

ca times brightspotcdn com
Credit: Douglas Dickerson/San Diego Tribune

Law enforcement agencies keep a watchful eye on environmental groups that have engaged in eco-terrorism, notably Greenpeace and PETA, and anti-biotech activists continue to destroy farmers’ fields in pursuit of their ideological goal to eliminate GMOs. But arguably none of this activity has been as terrifying as one university attack 19 years ago.

In May 2001, radical activists with the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) firebombed the office of Toby Bradshaw, a biologist at the University of Washington. Bradshaw was investigating the genetics of poplar trees in an effort to increase their growth rate for the timber industry in America’s pacific northwest.

Related article:  Viewpoint: FDA should eliminate non-GMO labels that 'vilify' food innovation

The activist outfit, just a collective of autonomous individuals engaged in “guerrilla warfare to stop the exploitation and destruction of the environment,” happily took credit for the terrorist attack. In a message sent to the university after the fire, ELF said they targeted Bradshaw’s lab to stop him from releasing GMO “mutant genes” into Washington’s forests. They also complained that one of his colleagues had taken research funding from Monsanto—in reality just a $2,000 grant to send five students to a scientific conference.

Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.

The attack caused roughly $7 million worth of damage, but ELF missed its primary target, instead destroying ecology labs and a horticulture center that grew fruits and vegetables for Seattle’s low-income neighborhoods. Bradshaw’s poplar research was minimally impacted by the fire. Among the actual casualties were endangered plants and a massive library of ecology books (some more than 400 years old), whose loss set back an environmental restoration project a decade.

The kicker: Bradshaw’s work did not involve genetically engineered trees, nor was it funded by the biotech industry.

 

Toby Bradshaw is a professor of evolutionary genetics and ecology at the University of Washington. Visit his website

Kevin M. Folta is a professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida. Follow Professor Folta on Twitter @kevinfolta

Outbreak
Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
Talking Biotech
Genetics Unzipped
Video: Test everyone – Slovakia goes its own way to control COVID

Video: Test everyone – Slovakia goes its own way to control COVID

As Europe sees record coronavirus cases and deaths, Slovakia is testing its entire adult population. WSJ's Drew Hinshaw explains how ...
mag insects image superjumbo v

Disaster interrupted: Which farming system better preserves insect populations: Organic or conventional?

A three-year run of fragmentary Armageddon-like studies had primed the journalism pumps and settled the media framing about the future ...
dead bee desolate city

Are we facing an ‘Insect Apocalypse’ caused by ‘intensive, industrial’ farming and agricultural chemicals? The media say yes; Science says ‘no’

The media call it the “Insect Apocalypse”. In the past three years, the phrase has become an accepted truth of ...
globalmethanebudget globalcarbonproject cropped x

Infographic: Cows cause climate change? Agriculture scientist says ‘belching bovines’ get too much blame

A recent interview by Caroline Stocks, a UK journalist who writes about food, agriculture and the environment, of air quality ...
organic hillside sweet corn x

Organic v conventional using GMOs: Which is the more sustainable farming?

Many consumers spend more for organic food to avoid genetically modified products in part because they believe that “industrial agriculture” ...
benjamin franklin x

Are most GMO safety studies funded by industry?

The assertion that biotech companies do the research and the government just signs off on it is false ...
favicon

Environmental Working Group: EWG challenges safety of GMOs, food pesticide residues

Known by some as the "Environmental Worrying Group," EWG lobbies for tighter GMO legislation and famously puts out annual "dirty dozen" list of fruits and ...
m hansen

Michael Hansen: Architect of Consumers Union ongoing anti-GMO campaign

Michael K. Hansen (born 1956) is thought by critics to be the prime mover behind the ongoing campaign against agricultural biotechnology at Consumer Reports. He is an ...
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
Optional. Mail on special occasions.
Send this to a friend