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Monday, Jan. 24, 2000

Environmental group claims responsibility for arson

 EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- A radical environmental group is claiming responsibility for a New Year's eve arson fire that did $400,000 worth of damage to a Michigan State University agriculture building.

 The Earth Liberation Front claimed by fax sent to The Associated Press in Detroit and local papers Friday that it was responsible for the fire in the school's landmark 91-year-old Agriculture Hall.

 The fax mentioned Catherine Ives, the director of MSU's Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project, whose office was among those damaged.

 The group claimed that Ms. Ives directed a program funded by Monsanto Co. and the U.S. Agency for International Development that sought to get developing nations to drop their current agricultural practices and rely on genetically engineered plants.

 Local law enforcement officials, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI continue to investigate, referring all questions to Michigan State.

 "Right now we're considering (the fax) as part of the investigation," university spokesman Terry Denbow said Friday.

 Ms. Ives said she lost many books, papers and lectures in the fire.

 "This was an attack on me," she said Sunday. "It was personal. I was named. It was a violation. I'm afraid. My family is afraid."

 The Earth Liberation Front also claimed to have set a $12 million fire at a Vail, Colo., ski facility in 1998, released minks from a Michigan mink farm in 1998 and torched the corporate headquarters of a timber company last year in Oregon.

 Environmentalists have charged Monsanto with developing genetically modified plants that could monopolize the U.S. seed market and threaten traditional crops with super weeds.

 "I don't know why they aren't pushing organic crop production or crop rotation," said Craig Rosebraugh, a Portland, Ore., environmentalist who has acted as a spokesman for the underground ELF. "That has more realistic sustainability."

 Monsanto is listed as a partner on the project's Web site and company officials said they gave the university $2,000 recently to send five African students to a conference on biotechnology, but Ms. Ives says that's as far as the relationship goes.

 Ms. Ives says her project studies ways to keep biotechnology public and accessible to developing nations. Biotechnology, she argued, could help stop a coming food shortage that could turn the world's last remaining forests into farm fields.

 "I can't think of a worse target for them than this project," Ms. Ives said. "We're trying to help the environment."


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