Biodiversity Versus Biotech
By ALEXANDER REID ROSS
ARTICLE FROM COUNTERPUNCH.ORG
There are many different campaigns to preserve biodiversity here on Earth, and they all seemed to come together when two spunky Florida Atlantic University alumnus decided to climb a tree and fight for 700 acres of endangered Florida forest. While the activists remain perched in their tree, protecting a hand-made, 12”x8” banner reading “Protect This Forest!”, the Scripps Research Institute undergoes the final stages in the process to gain permission to slash and burn some of the purest Florida pinelands in South Florida.
Called the Briger Forest, this rare pine flatwoods ecosystem straddles the I-95 amidst the gaping sprawl of Miami. In spite of its precarious situation, it is one of the last habitats of endangered hand fern and gopher tortoise left in the USA, and the FAU graduates, who are also members of the radical environmental group, Everglades Earth First!, intend to keep it that way. Since their campaign got off its feet (and into the trees), the Briger Forest has come to represent open space, a side of Florida relatively unscathed by development, versus the selling off of nature, piece by piece, to companies that wish to control our way of life, our land and our species.
The fight against Scripps has a history down in the muggy, mosquito infested land of Southern Florida. Three years ago, Scripps tried to clear out orange grove land to open up a lab in 19,191-acre Mecca Farms, West Palm Beach. With their sights set on a “biotech city” consisting of 11,000 homes, research labs and spin-off shopping franchises, Scripps failed to navigate the political terrain of farmers, locals, and activists, in particular, the scrappy direct action-oriented Everglades Earth First!, and their biotech city idea was shot down in court.
In efforts to ameliorate the debt that the State of Florida incurred to Scripps during the loss, Scripps was allowed to purchase a piece of property alongside the campus of FAU, where they have since erected the contemporary Bauhaus-style, concrete-glass-and-brick monstrosity that is now the largest biotech facility in Florida. Their dream of a Scripps City has now led them onto new grounds — the neighboring Briger Forest, where FAU and the State of Florida promises to fund their wild exploits out of taxpayer dollars. There they will be allowed to pursue animal testing on primates as well as rodents, cats and dogs using government funds and University assistance.
Recently, the National Institute of Health gave Scripps $3.45 million to collaborate with Novartis Pharma AG on a project called, “National Cooperative Drug Discovery Group for the Treatment of Mood Disorders or Nicotine Addiction”. In an ironic twist worthy of A Brave New World, Scripps boasts on its website that “this new research may generate new models of depression.” With its reputation for funding the notorious animal testing lab, Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), the name Novartis indicates that the network of international animal cruelty is, indeed, sadly spreading.
Extensive research done by rigorous activists has uncovered scientists working in the area, who have sourced their primates through the infamous company, Primate Products, whose brutal methods were uncovered in leaked photos last Summer. Scipps, itself, has been sited by the Food and Drug Administration for cruel practices used on chimpanzees undergoing testing for Hepatitis C and the street drug, Ecstasy. Furthermore, their ongoing collaborative relationship with the notoriously corrupt and paranoid multinational seed company Monsanto, raises questions about a third party — the possible use of private security firms like Blackwater to investigate environmental activists. But the reach of Scripps goes far deeper than biotech alone.
The Scripps family is well connected. H.W. Scripps Company was started by its namesake with $10,000 way back, about a century ago, and has become the ninth largest mass-media conglomerate in the US with ties to a myriad of newspapers as well as television networks and other forms of media. In 2006, news broke that a journalist working for the Scripps Howard Media Service received $60,000 from Monsanto in exchange for pro-biotech articles, revealing the depth of informal relationships between the newspaper conglomerate and animal testing as well as GM products in general.
More revealingly, H.W. Scripps owns the Home and Garden cable TV station, with 85 million subscribers, along with a shop at home network and the Food Network, while being ensconced in the interests of the largest seed and pharmaceutical corporations in the world. From the animal testing labs to Monsanto and Novaris to your television set in one great whirlwind. This is, of course, not to mention the Scripps family’s ties to hospitals and “permanent cosmetics” companies. (According to one website, “A ‘Wellness Day’ will be coming to a Scripps Hospital near you.”)
To round out the portrait of monopolization and graft, H.W. Scripps owns a small conglomerate of at least six newspapers in South East Florida — one of which, the Jupiter Courier, is the weekly rag that serves the same city where all this is taking place: Jupiter, Florida. Suffice it to say, until the treesit came up, coverage of Scripps had been one dimensional to say the least, but the reigns of human nature are starting to slip from the grasp of industry.
Risking SLAPP suits and charges under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, activists maintained a 56-hour vigil outside of the Scripps Research Institute with rotating protests in solidarity with the treesit. The combination of on-the-ground direct action, media work, letter writing, and months of grassroots organizing has paid off with surprisingly good coverage from local television stations and newspapers that are not in line with the Scripps family. Scripps has even dug themselves into a little hole in the eyes of the public by reneging on their promise to employ locals to staff their lab, so the campaign is likely to generate support from more diverse sectors of society than it otherwise would.
Although Scripps employees are up to their necks in Greenwashing, joining international symposiums on biodiversity while animals from all around the world are dieing in their labs, the public is becoming increasingly savvy in avoiding the quagmire of public relations and lies upholding their logic. Recognizing the urgent need to reclaim urbanizing spaces from miserablist biopolitics, Everglades Earth First! and other activists are taking a stand against development by occupying the last bits of wild heritage left through peaceful methods and holding onto it, quite literally, for dear life.
Alexander Reid Ross writes for the Earth First! Journal
For more information on this subject, visit evergladesearthfirst.org, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Tree Sitters Defend Forest off I-95 in South Florida-Briger Tract Forest to be destroyed for Bio-Tech City
February 14, 2011: Two FAU Alumni go to great heights to defend Endangered Species in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida suspend themselves 30 feet from the ground in the pine trees of the Briger Tract Forest in protest of the FAU/Scripps Bio-tech City plan.
Tree-sitters display banner reading “Defend These Forests”, visible to all Northbound I-95 traffic.
- Tree-sitters on Briger Tract site (561) 324-1033
- Ana Rodriguez, on site at FAU Campus Protest: (561) 374-3268
- Maya, on site at FAU Campus Protest: (413) 695-2249
Two “Tree-sitters” on the Briger Tract Forest in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida suspend 30 feet in the air holding a banner reading to all of northbound traffic on Florida Interstate I-95 to highlight their concerns regarding the FAU Scripps Bio-technology.
Law Enforcement with the Florida Department of Transportation and City of Palm Beach Gardens arrived at approximately 9 am to the site located on the northbound side of I-95 just south of the Donald Ross exit.
FDOT and PBG Gardens police have told the FAU Alumni “tree-sitters” to leave the site or risk imminent arrest. The two FAU Alumni remain suspended 30 foot high from pine trees, holding a banner that reads “Defend These Forests”.
The tree-sitters sited on-going concerns about the proposed development which their group, Everglades Earth First, has been voicing at City and County public meetings over the past year.
One tree-sitter commented “As an FAU Graduate and Palm Beach County resident I am dismayed at the lack of protection for the Endangered Species on the FAU Scripps development site. The Scripps “bio-tech city” plan promotes sprawl and will destroy endangered species located on the Briger Tract Forest. We have tried legal means to protect the site, but the developers and politicians have ignored our concerns. If the state and county refuse to protect endangered species then we must take action to preserve the remaining natural beauty of Florida.”
Further comment from the tree-sitters is available through the media contact. The tree-sitters and their banner are visible from Northbound I-95, at the Donald Ross exit adjacent to proposed “biotech city” of the Scripps Research Institute.
In conjunction with the tree-sit, forty protesters are currently converged at the existing FAU/Scripps Florida building located at 120 Scripps Way on the FAU Honors Campus. City of Jupiter police and FAU campus police are on site at the protest and have briefly detained at least one person.
“The Scripps Bio-tech City development violates the Palm Beach Gardens Comprehensive Plan. said Ana Rodriguez on-site at the FAU/Scripps protest. The government’s approval of Scripps’ Bio-tech city demonstrates that they are unwilling to protect critical habitat for Endangered Species. We are concerned about the environmental impacts of the development and the hazards of bio-technology. With bio-technology comes genetic engineering, infectious diseases and animal testing in our backyard.”
Bio-technology has been a controversial science receiving critique from farmers, the scientific community and residents globally.
The group says that the action marks the beginning of a collaborative campaign to stop the clearing of the Briger Forest, on the ground and in the treetops. Earth First! activists plan to maintain a presence on the site to ensure no endangered species habitat is destroyed, and no animals are abused in the proposed vivisection labs.