Biodiversity Versus Biotech

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 floridatreesit@gmail.com



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Alexander Reid Ross is a contributing moderator of the Earth First! Newswire. He is the editor of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press 2014) and a contributor to Life During Wartime (AK Press 2013). His most recent book Against the Fascist Creep is forthcoming through AK Press.

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