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Ministerial: Article on Davis Protests

A reasonably good article, especially the quotes from the UCD alumna from Zambia, Drinah Nyirenda

People in Davis, predictably, given alumni a special importance, kind of like prodigal children, although it's pretty illogical
[Protests remain peaceful -- on and off campus

By Sharon Stello/Enterprise staff writer

Protesters, some dressed as giant ears of corn, marched across the UC Davis campus Wednesday, singing, chanting and leaving a trail of chalk messages condemning genetically engineered foods and corporate control of their development.

The group of about 50 protesters also demonstrated in the 1900 block of Fifth St., in front of the Monsanto Co., which produces Roundup herbicide and works with plant biotechnology.

These rallies stemmed from protests against an international agriculture conference in Sacramento, where at least 70 protesters were arrested during the three-day gathering.

A large force of police in riot gear patrolled Sacramento's streets on bikes, horseback and foot. Protest organizers had estimated that there would be 8,000 demonstrators at a march and rally on the opening day, but only about a quarter of those materialized.

Some ag ministers toured sites around Davis on Wednesday, drawing protesters to the area. Police officers were on guard, but no arrests or injuries were reported at the peaceful demonstrations.

In front of the university's food science and technology department, protester Luke Anderson of Mendocino County used a bullhorn to speak against genetic engineering, and led the crowd in chants such as "Food for life, food for all, corporate power is bound to fall."

"We're trying to make people aware that the ag conference in Sacramento is an illegitimate, undemocratic process whereby corporations get to lobby for market access of their products to a group of hand-selected officials from around the world," Anderson said later, his voice hoarse from shouting.

Two UCD students stood near the group of protesters and held small, white paper signs reading "Plant breeding is genetic modification" and "Maize has been genetically modified for thousands of years."

"We shouldn't end all genetic engineering because it's literally been done for thousands of years," said Neil Mattson, a second-year doctoral student in plant biology. "I just wanted to make sure people were aware there are other viewpoints out there."

Amy Zents, a UCD graduate and Davis resident, handed out information supporting the protests. She participated because she wanted the ministers to see the issue "wasn't as one-sided as it was being presented in the conference hall" in Sacramento.

"I think it's very important for environmental safety as well as for our health that we know what we're eating," Zents said. "Genetically modified foods should be labeled so consumers can make choices about what they purchase and what they eat."

UCD alumna Drinah Nyirenda, a nutritionist in Zambia who works with 200,000 farmers in a food distribution program, expressed her views in Sacramento.

"For us in developing countries, we feel with biotechnology, we should take our time and build the capacity to be able to understand what we're dealing with," Nyirenda said.

"In the meantime, we would like to continue with the conventional methods of producing foods, using methods that won't harm the environment."

Elsewhere in Yolo County, police were out in force at Seminis Vegetable Seeds Inc. on Highway 16 west of Woodland, where two busloads of ag conference delegates toured during the day.

A California Highway Patrol helicopter escorted the buses to and from Sacramento, said Sgt. Rich Williams of the Yolo County Sheriff's Department. The visitors arrived to find the ag research facility guarded by about 80 law enforcement officers from the Sheriff's Department, Woodland Police Department, California Highway Patrol, Yolo County probation department and district attorney's office, as well as Federal Protective Service officers and U.S. Marshals.

"What we were doing was basically securing Seminis Seeds, preparing for anything that might or might not happen," Williams said. "It was quiet, and we had no demonstrators at all."

The Sheriff's Department also set up a temporary booking facility at the Yolo County Fairgrounds for any mass arrests that might have taken place on Wednesday, but the facility went unused.

-- Reach Sharon Stello at  sstello@davisenterprise.net. Enterprise staff writers Cory Golden and Lauren Keene, and The Associated Press contributed to this article.]