Genetically Manipulated Food News

30 May 1997

Table of Contents

Action, You can Take
Sample Letter
Codex meeting
Herbicide-Tolerant Crops

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Subject: BanGEF Action Campaign

Action, You can Take

Dear friend,

Many people are asking what we can do to stop genetically engineered foods. There is something we can do, which has been very effective in Europe.

In Europe, consumers have been very successful in convincing many large food chains to not carry genetically engineered foods, or at least to label them. They accomplished this by having many people write letters to the head offices of major food chains. Because food chains are responsive to concerns from customers about their products, these letters can have a very large impact.

In Canada, as there are really only a dozen or so major chains in each area, it should be relatively easy for us to do a similar campaign here. Each of us only needs to draft one letter, and then send this letter out to a dozen chains. If we can talk to our friends and get hundreds of letters out quickly to each chain, it will be even better.

(If you are in USA and want to get involved, you can contact Laura Ticciati at who is organizing a similar campaign in USA. For other countries, please check with your Natural Law Party.)

In Canada right now we are gathering the addresses, fax numbers, and email addresses of major food chains. So far we have Loblaws (head office in Toronto), Loeb (Ontario and Quebec), Cosco (Alberta and BC), Farm Boy (Ottawa and Cornwall)

We want to start with the biggest chains. **** start with Loblaws***

By the end of next week (April 22 -May 3), we would like to do two things:

1. Canadians, please send as many letters, faxes, and emails as possible to:
Ms. Neva Pandos, Customer Service, Loblaws National Office, 622A Yonge St., North York, ON M4T 2S5 fax: 416-218-7861 email:
2. Gather the names, addresses, fax numbers, and emails if available of other major chains in your area, and then email the information to me here so that we can send this information out to everyone.

Once we have this information, for the following weesk we will choose other targets to send letters faxes, or emails to. Below is a sample letter that you can use if you like to write your own. If you use this one, please rewrite it somewhat in your own words so that all the letters do not look the same:


* To grocery stores, food producers, restaurants:

Dear _____,

I would like to congratulate you on the quality, convenience and pleasant service I find in your store/company/restaurant. I very much enjoy your products.

I would also like to let you know about some new experimental foods on the market, which I feel very concerned about, namely genetically engineered foods.

I object to them for several reasons. (Mention some of the dangers you have read about) I will not allow my family to be used as guinea pigs for foods that have not been rigorously tested. Nor will I blindly accept that the environment my children live in be endangered by a technology whose side effects are admitedly unknown. The last decades have seen enough technologies bring disastrous results.

I would very much appreciate if you could send me written assurance that your foods do not contain genetically engineered ingredients or at the very least, that such ingredients are clearly labelled. A group of citizens in Ottawa plans to publish a list of all food retailers and producers, and of restaurants, who keep their products free from these modified ingredients and who support honest labelling. I will pass your written confirmation to them.

As much as I enjoy your store/products/restaurant, I will not be able to remain your customer unless I receive from you a clear support on this most vital issue for our well-being.

Thank you for seriously considering this information. I look forward to your reply.



Note that we are telling them in the letter that we will publish our list of companies that are committed to not carrying or labelling genetically engineered foods, and the list of those that do not commit.

Once you get a response, let me know the contents, so that we can keep track of the information and share it with everyone else.

Best wishes,


Codex meeting

Dear Friend,

Several people have been asking what happened at the Codex meeting in Ottawa April 15-18, and also how did our tour go with John Fagan, an award-winning molecular biologist, who went to three Canadian cities last week to speak on the hazards of genetically engineered foods, etc.

During his trip to Canada, Dr. John Fagan spoke to audiences of 200 people in Toronto, 100 people in Ottawa, and two groups of 50 and 60 in St. John's, Newfoundland on the East Coast of Canada. Dr. Joseph Cummins, Professor Emeritus of Genetics spoke with Dr. Fagan in Toronto and Ottawa. There were about a dozen media interviews and articles, including an article that will soon appear in a major international environmental publication, interviews on national TV and radio interviews, a major interview on Newfoundland provincial TV, a front page article on the Newfoundland provincial paper, and other articles that are in process.

As far as the Codex meeting, here is my summary of what happened, particularly with repect to genetic engineering issues. In general, things move slow at Codex meetings. They spend hours going over proposed guidelines, sometimes phrase by phrase or word by word (such as words like 'natural' or 'fat-free') if there are differing points of view. Anyhow, here is the summary:

A Report on the Codex Committee on Food Labelling

by R Wolfson, PhD

The Codex Alimentarius Commission, Committee on Food Labelling (CCFL) met in Ottawa from April 15-19, 1997 to discuss issues that affect the entire world food supply.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission, often referred to simply as Codex, is a joint UN/WHO entity designated by the World Trade Organization as the officially recognized rule-making body for international trade issues related to food. Under GATT (the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs), Codex decisions have the clout of international law.

Officially, the mandate of Codex is to "create a set of international standards to guide the world's growing food industry and to protect the health of consumers." However, in practice, Codex is strongly influenced by industry and biotech representatives, which often results in decisions that benefit profit and production, at the expense of health and nutrition.

Codex has a number of different committees, including the Codex Committee on Food Labelling, which meets in Ottawa to discuss labelling issues. For instance, CCFL sets criteria for foods to be certified and labelled "organic." CCFL decides whether genetically engineered ingredients need to be labelled. Other topics include labelling of potential allergens, and the range of health and nutritional claims allowed on labels.

At the "organic" sessions in April, there was concern expressed that the Codex organic guidelines should be stronger, more precise and more well-defined. Consequently, the guidelines did not proceed further up the approval process and will be reconsidered at the 1998 CCFL meeting.

Regarding genetically engineered foods, CCFL was considering a US proposal (supported by Canada) that would have forced thousands of these GE foods to be allowed on the world market, unlabelled and mixed in with other foods. When one considers that Canada is represented by Agriculture Canada, which received $36 million in grants from industry, it may not be surprising that Canada supported the biotech industry position of not requiring labelling.

However, due to many European countries not supporting the US proposal and demanding mandatory labelling of genetically engineered foods, the US proposal was not accepted. The topic will be considered again next year.

This outcome benefits the biotech industry, because the continued lack of international regulations allows genetically engineered foods to keep coming on the market, unlabelled and untested for their long-term effects on human health. From the experience in Europe, the most effective strategy to stop these foods is for many people to write major food chains asking whether they carry genetic engineering foods, stating their concerns, and demanding these foods be labelled.

To get involved in this campaign, contact: Campaign to Ban Genetically Engineered Foods, Natural Law Party, Tel: 613-565-8517, Email:

Biotechnology's Bitter Harvest

Herbicide-Tolerant Crops and the Threat to Sustainable Agriculture

By Rebecca Goldburg, Ph.D., Environmental Defense Fund; Jane Rissler, Ph.D., National Wildlife Federation; Hope Shand, Rural Advancement Fund International; Chuck Hassebrook, Center for Rural Affairs

A Report of the Biotechnology Working Group
Originally published March 1990

Executive Summary


Biotechnology, as it first emerged from university and industry laboratories in the 1970's, was full of promises for agriculture and the environment. Among the most alluring was the possibility of a chemical-free agriculture, which many in the scientific community and biotechnology industry touted as soon to come. With new genetically engineered crops and biopesticides to control pests, they said, chemical pesticides would no longer be needed.

But now, a decade later, the direction of agricultural biotechnology is clear: the first major products will not be used to end dependence on toxic chemicals in agriculture. Rather, they will further entrench and extend the pesticide era.

Biotechnology's Bitter Harvest finds that at least 30 crop and forest tree species are now being purposefully modified to withstand otherwise lethal or damaging doses of herbicides. The study asks the fundamental question of whether it is wise to use biotechnology to further chemical pest management strategies.

What is needed--and what many people thought biotechnology would deliver-is an economically viable and sustainable agriculture that uses safe and ecologically sound pest management strategies. Biotechnology's Bitter Harvest shows that herbicide tolerant crops and trees will not provide that alternative, but instead, will take agriculture farther away from sustainable practices at precisely the time they are most needed.


Among the findings supporting our conclusion that herbicide- tolerant crops represent a major misstep on the road toward an environmentally sound system of agriculture are the following:

At least 27 corporations have initiated herbicide-tolerant plant research. The world's eight largest pesticide companies--Bayer, Ciba-Geigy, ICI, RhonePoulenc, Dow/Elanco, Monsanto, Hoechst, and Dupont--all--have initiated herbicide-tolerant plant research. So have virtually all major seed companies, many of which have been acquired by chemical companies. Agricultural crops currently targeted for genetically engineered tolerance to one or more herbicides include: alfalfa, canola, carrot, cotton, corn, oats, petunia, potato, rice, sorghum, soybean, sugarbeet, sugar cane, sunflower, tobacco, tomato, wheat, and others.

Sustainable agriculture systems provide a range of alternatives to chemical herbicides for weed control. The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences has issued a report concluding that farmers adopting alternative systems of agriculture requiring no or lowered inputs of chemicals generally derive significant sustained economic and environmental benefits.

State and federal agricultural institutions have devoted approximately $10.5 million of taxpayer money to fund genetics research on herbicide-tolerant crops and trees over the past few years.

Additional substantial research also supports herbicide use in agriculture. Between 1985 and 1990, the U.S. Forest Service allocated $2.8 million to adapt moderngenetics techniques to develop herbicide- tolerant forest trees.

The development of atrazine-resistant soybeans could allow for three times as much atrazine to be applied to corn without damage to the subsequent soybean crop, according to industry reports. According to industry projections, use of crops tolerant to Hoechst's herbicide, Basta, would increase that herbicide's global sales by $200 million a year.

"Environmentally benign" or "environmentally friendly"--terms often used by industry to describe new herbicides--is a misnomer for herbicides, especially given how little we know about their long term effects on environment and human health. Bromoxynil, for example, has recently been shown to be such a human health threat that the Environmental Protection Agency now requires risk reduction measures for pesticide users.

Once in widespread use, the exchange of herbicide- tolerance genes between the domesticated crops and weedy relatives could ultimately result in the need for more herbicides to control herbicide-resistant weeds. Widespread use of plants tolerant to certain herbicides would likely increase the severity and incidence of ground and surface water contamination.


Based on the findings of this report, the Biotechnology Working Group makes the following recommendations:

The Bitter Harvest

Herbicides are chemicals used by the millions of pounds each year to control weeds in fields, forests and gardens. They pose a variety of risks to human health and the environment, especially at current high use levels.

Alachlor, one of the country's most popular herbicides, for example, is a suspected human carcinogen, while another, 2,4-D, has been linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in farmers in the Midwest. Many herbicides persist in the environment and are increasingly found in groundwater all over the country. Herbicides are also toxic to animals and other forms of life not usually considered in environmental toxicity testing. For example, the accidental and purposeful clearing of plant life can deprive many organisms of habitat.

At a time when pesticide residues are being found increasingly in the food supply, in drinking water, and implicated as a source of farmer and farmworker poisonings, it is both inexcusable and unacceptable that biotechnology be used to further pesticide use in agriculture, and it is most inappropriate that federal and state research dollars be used for such purposes. If the money now being spent on herbicide tolerance in the public sector alone were instead directed to be spent on new approaches to weed management, the benefits to society, farm profitability, and environmental protection would surely far outdistance the strategy of continuing the chemical treadmill with herbicide tolerance.

Perhaps the greatest problem with herbicide tolerance, however, is that it diverts us from the paths that really could lead to reduced chemical dependency in agriculture. As farmers have known for years, and in some cases are learning anew, responsible tillage practices, crop rotations, and intercropping are viable methods of managing weeds. Unlike the ephemeral benefits of herbicide tolerance, the use of these "common sense" practices will minimize chemical inputs, and maximize long-term farm income and environmental protection. These and similar efforts to make agriculture sustainable over the long term--for farmers, rural economies and the environment--should command our full attention.

As farmers around the country are concluding, herbicide tolerance is not compatible with sustainable agriculture. It ought to be rejected and exposed for what it is: a way for the agrichemical establishment to control the direction of agricultural biotechnology.

To those with high hopes for the environmental benefits from biotechnology, herbicide-tolerant crops are at best a distressing misstep, at worst a cynical marketing strategy. Both industry and the publicly supported agricultural research establishment must direct their considerable talent and resources toward sustainable alternatives for weed management and other pest controls. The risks of prolonging the chemical era of agriculture are far too clear--for farmers, consumers, and the environment. Sustainable practices provide an alternative that will never be realized if public research funds are wasted on such misguided products as herbicide-tolerant crops.

"Biotechnology's Bitter Harvest: Herbicide Tolerant Crops and the Threat to Sustainable Agriculture" Price: $7 Publication Code: PBH

To order the complete report EDF Membership 1-800-684-3322 (c) 1996 Environmental Defense Fund ( 257 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10010

Richard Wolfson, PhD, Campaign to Ban Genetically Engineered Food

Natural Law Party 500 Wilbrod Street Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2 Tel. 613-565-8517 Fax. 613-565-6546 email: NLP Website:

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