Extremist Environmental Group Claims


Chronicle of Higher Education: Extremist Environmental Group Claims Credit for Arson at Michigan State U.




A radical environmental group has claimed responsibility for setting a fire that destroyed the offices housing a project at Michigan State University that brings biotechnology research to agricultural scientists in the third world.


The group that claimed credit on Thursday calls itself the Earth Liberation Front, or E.L.F. In a fax it sent to Michigan newspapers, the group said it objected to research designed "to lobby developing countries to abandon their current agricultural

practices and to rely on genetically engineered plants." In setting the blaze, which was discovered about 8:15 p.m. on New Year's Eve, the E.L.F. said it had "struck back at one of the many threats to the natural world as we know it."


The fire caused nearly $500,000 in damage to Agricultural Hall at Michigan State and destroyed all records and equipment used by the university's Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project, including lecture notes, slides, and books kept by the

project's director, Catherine L. Ives.


The project Ms. Ives directs is supported primarily by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has provided $15-million since 1991. She said the project also recently received $2,000 from the Monsanto Company, which is listed as a

"partner" on the project's Web site. That seems to be what attracted the attention of the Earth Liberation Front. Monsanto, the group said in its faxed message, "continues to fall under much public scrutiny due to their biotechnology involvement and general

business practices."


Ms. Ives said the Michigan State project focuses on biotechnology, but also trains scientists in some "traditional breeding programs" in food production. "It is true we train people in genetic engineering, but it is incorrect that we're out there disseminating this technology with no concern for the impact on the environment," she said.


She said the project makes no apologies for its methods: Some parts of the world face a severe food shortage and people need the kind of information the project provides in order to survive, Ms. Ives said. "We know food production will have to increase

by more than 50 percent to feed an additional two billion people by 2025," she said. "We believe that one way is to use science and scientific tools, of which biotechnology is one."


The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are looking into the cause of the blaze, said a spokesman for Michigan State. In its fax last week, the liberation front also claimed credit for burning down the

Northwest headquarters of the forest-products company Boise Cascade Corporation in Oregon on December 25 and for torching buildings at Vail Ski Resort in Colorado in 1998