Genetically
 Manipulated 


 

 
 
 Food


 News

6 June 2000

Table of Contents

International Food Policy Research Institute: New Listserver
Royal Society of NZ (RSNZ) turns around
EU, US launch biotechnology forum on GM foods
GM Seed Firm Agrees to Compensate Farmers
Dissertation: Genetic Engineering and it's effect on sustainable food security
High vitamin A sweet potato for Africa developed
French roundup on GM-contaminated rapeseed story and EU's GM policy
Response to Journalist George Monbiot
Manbiot/spiritual transformation
Monsanto: Not an embarrassment?
Modified Foods Put US Companies in a Quandary
Modified Organisms May Spell Danger For Africans
PCBs: The people of Anniston v Monsanto

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Date: 1 Jun 2000 02:06:10 +0100
From: wytze geno@zap.a2000.nl
From: WTO Agriculture Impact ag-impact@iatp.org
From: Sophia Murphy smurphy@iatp.org

International Food Policy Research Institute: New Listserver

Sophia Murphy wrote:

============================================================

NB IF you cannot access the internet and wish to subscribe, please contact the address below for Mary Mastroianni. I will not be able to help. Thanks.

Sophia

----------------------
As you have many colleagues who are interested in food security, agricultural and food policy issues, I would like to inform you that the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) now has a new listserver.

To SUBSCRIBE to this list, go to: http://www.cgiar.org/ifpri/new/NEWatIFPRI.htm

You may wish to forward this announcement to colleagues in your organization interested in food policy issues. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Regards

Mary L. Mastroianni, Website Developer
International Food Policy Research Institute, 2033 K Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006 USA
202-862-6462     m.mastroianni@cgiar.org

To SUBSCRIBE to this list, go to: http://www.cgiar.org/ifpri/new/NEWatIFPRI.htm

To UNSUBSCRIBE from from this list, please send an e-mail to: LISTSERV@CGNET.COM containing the subject: UNSUBSCRIBE NEWatIFPRI <type your e-mail address here>


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Date: 1 Jun 2000 02:36:27 +0100
From: Robert Mann robt_m@talk.co.nz

Royal Society of NZ (RSNZ) turns around

Either a new journalist has infiltrated the RSNZ and slipped in the following item (which goes further than a cautious scientist would on the pubd evidence), or there's a new policy in this official agency.

Hitherto, the RSNZ has been vigorously pushing GE. They took part in a dishonest PR "private trust" Genepool(r), partly funded by Monsanto, presenting "seminars" and a biased website promoting GE in a disgracefully extremist manner.

But now this summary of a recent leak is as if written by an antiGE enthusiast.

What has happened?

Will any MP have the presence of mind to ask a question in Parliament about the apparent new policy?

R

-------------------------------

ROYAL SOCIETY OF NEW ZEALAND

Royal Society Alert 128

1 June 2000

see GM Genes jump Species Barrier


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Date: 1 Jun 2000 12:42:18 +0100
From: jim@niall7.demon.co.uk

EU, US launch biotechnology forum on GM foods

By Patrick Blum, BridgeNews June 1, 2000

Lisbon – May 31 – EU and U.S. leaders on Wednesday agreed to launch a joint Biotechnology Consultative Forum to promote understanding about the use of new technologies and genetically modified food and agricultural products, according to an official statement released at the end of a one day EU-U.S. summit in Queluz, Portugal, on Wednesday.

* * *

"We are hopeful that this independent forum will provide a venue for thoughtful discussion among experts and will contribute toward fostering better understanding of the many important issues involved," the statement said.

The forum, which will comprise eminent independent experts, is expected to report at the next EU-U.S. summit in Washington next December.

The has been a series of disputes between the US and Europe over the use of genetically modified foods and crops, with several European government recently ordering the destruction of GM-contaminated crops. End

Patrick Blum, BridgeNews, Tel: +351 21 317 1113

Send comments to gennews@bridge.com

© Copyright 2000 Bridge Information Systems Inc. All rights reserved.


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Date: 3 Jun 2000 01:02:42 +0100
From: jim@niall7.demon.co.uk

GM Seed Firm Agrees to Compensate Farmers

By PA news reporters
http://194.200.85.10/sources/154/621/4009425/000606n.htm

Farmers who planted crops contaminated with genetically modified material were today advised by supplier Advanta to destroy them.

The Lincolnshire-based company, which imported oilseed rape seeds from Canada unaware that they contained around 1% GM material, has agreed to compensate farmers for their loss.

The company today refused to give any guidance on the level of compensation expected to be paid out, but it stressed that the payments did not indicate that it had accepted liability for the incident.

Advanta Seeds UK has been holding talks over the last few days with the National Farmers' Unions of England and Scotland on how to overcome the problem.

The Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) revealed last month that around 500 farms had been affected, with GM-contaminated seeds sown on about 9,000 acres in 1999 and 4,500 this year.

While Agriculture Minister Nick Brown told the House of Commons that the incident , environmental campaigners expressed concerns and some farmers ploughed up their fields, fearful that they would never find buyers for the contaminated crops. After detailed discussions of other alternatives, Advanta has now determined that at this late stage in the growing season, the only practical course of action is for farmers to remove these crops. Farmers need to assure themselves that the crops can qualify for EU area aid payments. The Government, in its statement of May 27, has already indicated

Advanta today promised that the compensation package for affected farmers .

Precise details of how much each farmer will receive will be hammered out by advisory panels of union representatives, loss adjusters and independent agricultural experts over the next few weeks. Advanta is making this gesture, not because of any liability, but because it has always put, and continues to put, the interests of its merchants and their farmer customers first. The event emphasises the need for urgent Government action on seed purity thresholds for GM impurities, coordinated at an international level. Advanta

A MAFF spokesman welcomed the Advanta decision, saying that the issue was primarily one between the supplier and its customers. We welcome anything which brings a speedy solution to this issue, both

The Government was already pursuing the international thresholds on GM purity which Advanta called for, he said.

Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth, welcomed the move, saying: Advanta have finally faced facts and agreed to pay up. Why did it take the Government and the company so long to own up in public to this fiasco? Contamination of this kind will happen again. There is no system in place to determine who is liable for damage caused by GM crops. That is why the Government must accept a share of the blame for what has

With compensation in the UK alone expected to run into millions of pounds, insurers and investors in agribusiness are expected to demand clarity on the issue of liability for any future contamination incidents.


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Date: 3 Jun 2000 04:02:25 +0100
From: jim@niall7.demon.co.uk

Hello everyone.

I thought that it was time, that I did something with all this information.

This is my dissertation, for my studies into organic agriculture. It is the fruition of a lot of hard work, and I would like to say thank you, to the many on this list who have contributed to it.

The work that is being accomplished here is vital, in my opinion and is one of the finest examples known of people coming together, to end injustice. We have come down a long dark road together, and though I haven't set eyes on many of you, I feel a kinship and common purpose.

We are helping the fight to end this totalitarianism of the world's food chain and replace it with locally produced foods that will re-empower communities and not multi national corporations. I thank you all.
Regards.
Jim Mc Nulty

Dissertation: Genetic Engineering and it's effect on sustainable food security

Dissertation for HND Organic Agriculture

By Jim Mc Nulty. June 2000.

Genetic Engineering and It's Effect on Sustainable Food Security

Abstract.

The introduction of genetically engineered technologies around the world, over the last five years, are now having profound effects in, both the developing world and the developed one.

This dissertation hopes to reveal just how profound some of the consequences of those introductions might be, particularly in the area of sustainable food security.

Consolidation of the worldis seed and chemical industries is also making huge inroads into what has always been the traditional domain of the indigenous farmer.

Do we need this interference into was is possibly the most diversely evolved and sustainable methods of food production, the world has ever known, with a technology that is totally untested and unwanted?

The injustice of a system that allows northern corporations to patent southern staple plants and foods making those then, their property, is a system that has to be changed.

It is not the intention of this essay to make decisions for the reader, however, it has been our job to lay down the evidence, for the reader to decide for themselves.

------------------------
See the full text in the Ban-GEF archive and page-down to the same title: Dissertation: Genetic Engineering and it's effect on sustainable food security


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Date: 3 Jun 2000 02:21:58 +0100
From: wytze geno@zap.a2000.nl

High vitamin A sweet potato for Africa developed

GENET
European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
Kleine Wiese 6, D - 38116 Braunschweig, Germany

phone: +49-531-5168746    fax: +49-531-5168747
email: genetnl@xs4all.be

----------------------------- GENET-news -----------------------------
TITLE:Preventing childhood blindness in Africa with sweet potatoes Root crop on a mission to remote areas
SOURCE: http://www.futureharvest.org/news/sweetpotato.bckgrnd.shtml
DATE:May 2000
-------------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch --------------------

Preventing childhood blindness in Africa with sweet potatoes Root crop on a mission to remote areas

"We have been hearing a lot about high-tech agriculture lately. This project demonstrates that research geared to promote grass-roots changes on the farm and in the family kitchen can provide a straightforward solution to a serious problem," said Collins. "Sometimes it's the simple solutions that work the best."

After more than a decade of research, scientists are deploying sweet potatoes in remote areas of Africa in the war against blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency. The new sweet potatoes, which are suitable to African tastes and climates, offer hope to women and children who are currently beyond the reach of vitamin supplement programs.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, some 3 million children under age five suffer blindness caused by lack of vitamin A. Two-thirds of the children who do not meet their requirements for vitamin A die from increased vulnerability to infection.

The problem also affects their mothers. The World Health Organization reports that women who suffer from vitamin A deficiency face a significantly higher risk of death during pregnancy than those who have access to the small amount of vitamin A required for good health.

Developing countries are working hard to reach the United Nation's goal of eliminating disease related to insufficient vitamin A. Programs to distribute vitamin A capsules and fortify food have reduced the number of children suffering blindness related to vitamin A deficiency by two thirds over the past 20 years. In 1997, an estimated 12 million children received vitamin A supplements.

Reducing the incidence of blindness not only increases the quality of people's lives; it also benefits their countries' economies. The World Bank estimates that for every dollar invested in capsule supplements, more than $100 is returned in the form of increased productivity associated with healthier workers and lower public health costs.

Millions of women and children, however, still require help in meeting their daily vitamin A requirements. Many rural areas lack the all-weather roads and stable transportation systems that are necessary for successful supplement programs. Researchers believe they can assist those beyond the reach of supplement programs by helping them produce their own vitamin A. One ofthe best ways to do this is by incorporating orange-fleshed sweet potatoes into their diet.

Sweet potatoes, a crop native to South America, are easy to grow and have become a staple food in many African countries. Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, a nutrient that the body uses to produce vitamin A. In much of Sub-Saharan Africa, however, the most common type of sweet potato is the white-fleshed type, which contains little or no beta-carotene.

For many years, development experts believed that African consumers would not accept thebeta-carotene-rich sweet potatoes, which they considered too moist and sweet for African tastes. Results from recent research are challenging this view.

Scientists have spent more than ten years selecting orange-fleshed sweet potatoes that could pass African consumer taste tests and not lose their beta-carotene content when subjected to process Agricultural Research Institute, the Uganda National Agricultural Research Organization, and theInternational Center for Research on Women, shows that the addition of small amounts of the new sweet potatoes to a family's diet can eliminate vitamin A deficiencies in both children and adults.

"One of our principal findings was that African mothers are motivated to accept the new varietiesonce they understand their nutritional value," said Dr. Wanda Collins, deputy director general for research at the International Potato Center. " This dispels the notion that African taste preferences rule out the use of varieties that contain beta carotene, the presence of which is linked genetically to the sweeter, moister orange flesh."

Based on the findings, researchers now know that the tools are available to expand the fightagainst vitamin A blindness and other vitamin A-related diseases. But Collins is hesitant to declarevictory. "The heart of our project," she says "is to make the new varieties available in rural areas. But we also have to help develop better plant production and distribution systems, educate national health and agriculture workers, and stimulate microenterprises that will generate cash. A few good sweet potatoes –no matter how good they are-won't do it."

Now support is being organized for a research and development campaign –ppropriately called the VITA project –hat will expand the use of the new varieties. "The goal is to extend the high beta- carotene sweet potatoes to those currently outside the reach of conventional nutrition programs and to East and Southern Africa where the problem is most severe," said Collins. In West Africa, red palm oil, used widely for cooking, provides sufficient vitamin A-producing beta-carotene to meet nutritional needs.

"Our most important task will be to work with local women's groups, many of which are located in places that are difficult to reach," says Collins. "We'll be putting a lot of emphasis on working with local communities and nongovernmental organizations."

"We have been hearing a lot about high-tech agriculture lately. This project demonstrates that research geared to promote grass-roots changes on the farm and in the family kitchen can provide a straightforward solution to a serious problem," said Collins. "Sometimes it's the simple solutions that work the best."

For additional information, contact Christine Graves at the International Potato Center atc.graves@cgiar.org or see http://www.cipotato.org/projects/sweetpotato.htm


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Date: 4 Jun 2000 13:50:13 +0100
From: jim@niall7.demon.co.uk

French roundup on GM-contaminated rapeseed story and EU's GM policy

Source: BBC Monitoring European - Political, 2000-06-04
http://cnniw.yellowbrix.com/pages/cnniw/Story.nsp?story_id=109876....

Sections:
"A storm in a tea cup"?
"The principle of the polluter pays"
Towards a "joint (EU) approach"?

The accidental crossing of genetically-modified rapeseed with conventional rapeseed in several EU countries, notably in France, has given rise to controversy over the consequences in terms of health and pollution, as well as the measures to be taken, and re-launched the European debate on the control of such products. The following is a roundup of French media reports by Monitoring research on 4th June:

The company Advanta Seeds, a subsidiary of the Advanta group, announced in London on 18th May that conventional rapeseed produced in Canada and containing 1 per cent of genetically-modified (GM) seed had been sown by mistake in France, Britain, Sweden and Germany.

The news re-launched the debate on the control of genetically- modified organisms (GMOs) in Europe, particularly in the four countries concerned, among them France, where 600 hectares were affected.

"A storm in a tea cup"?

In an article published in `Le Monde' on 20th May, the French daily paper noted that only Sweden and the UK had decided to inform the public about the issue, while European ecologist organizations were calling for the destruction of the crops affected.

However, the controversy rapidly made its way into the French political arena. To begin with, the government seemed to share its German counterpart's stance of not making a fuss about it. Public France-2 TV in its main evening news on 18th May reported that the authorities had said that there were no pollution or health risks, before saying the day after that they were actually still not sure about it. "I am awaiting the results of the investigation which alone will determine the significance and the risks posed by this phenomenon," Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Dominique Voynet was speaking out strongly in favour of destroying the crops; she was backed by ecological organizations, such as Greenpeace, consumer groups and the Farming Federation (trade union). She finally made her point since the government announced in a statement on 25th May that it had ordered the destruction of the GM-contaminated rapeseed. "I have not changed my mind," explained the agriculture minister, quoted by public France Info radio that day. The minister had said, when the story broke, that it was all "a storm in a tea cup". But after

the government's decision, he acknowledged: "The phrase, which was quantitative, was - qualitatively speaking - clumsy, perhaps. But quantitatively speaking, I think we really do need to keep things in proportion."

"The principle of the polluter pays"

The minister also said that day that "an investigation was under way to find out who was responsible and prevent the recurrence of such incidents" and that "measures were being taken in conjunction with the companies concerned", the French news agency AFP reported. The Advanta company, thus put in the spotlight, answered that the government's decision was "a solution out of all proportion with the objective reality of the case", AFP reported the same day, adding that the company had nevertheless announced that it was "ready to cooperate fully with the French authorities and with its agricultural distribution clients in order to safeguard their interests and those of the farmers concerned as well as possible".

Glavany reiterated in an interview on private RTL radio on 29th May: "We have to apply the principle of the polluter pays. This means that, a little like the case of the Erika in which we asked TotalFina to advance some money and finance as soon as possible (the clean-up operation), we are asking the Advanta company, which is behind this incident... to shoulder its responsibilities." Four days later Advanta France announced, in a statement quoted by AFP, that it would bear part of the cost of the compensation to be paid to French farmers, stressing however that this move was not "a legal obligation", but "a special one-off commercial gesture to its customers..." The company nevertheless reiterated that the government's decision was out of proportion.

While Advanta, the French Confederation of Seed-producers, the National Inter-professional Seed Group and the Union of Industries for the Protection of Plants have deplored the government's decision, as AFP reported on 25th May, Greenpeace was very pleased with it. The head of Greenpeace-France said in a statement cited by AFP the same day: "This accident sheds light on the agri-food industry's incapability to produce seeds which are 100 per cent conventional, in other words completely free of genetic modification...

Around 10 per cent of imported corn seeds in fact come from the United States. Knowing that half of the US harvest is genetically modified, one would not be wrong to believe that these seeds could be contaminated." In his RTL interview, Glavany answered that Greenpeace was indeed correct, adding however that "if on finding small traces of genetically-modified elements here and there we were to destroy millions of hectares of corn in France, the whole of the French agricultural sector would be in difficulty".

Towards a "joint (EU) approach"?

Glavany also said on this occasion that he did not believe there was any immediate risk to health from the accidental crossing of GM rapeseed with French rapeseed. But he acknowledged there was a need to "be very cautious in this kind of matter" because the long-term effects on humans and the environment were unclear.

In this respect, he noted that he was rather amazed that, among the countries affected only Sweden and France had given instructions for the crops to be destroyed. "This means that we need to talk to each other more", he said, "and above all to regulate these problems better so that we have a joint approach", in particular to combat US pressure to buy GM seed and hormone-treated beef. "The battle is being fought on the European front", he added "and we are also going to discuss it here at the European agriculture meeting in Portugal".

However, AFP reported on 29th May, although the ministers meeting in Evora in Portugal agree on adopting a joint approach on GMOs they are divided over the measures to be taken. For British Agriculture Minister Nick brown, AFP explained, the problem is not a matter of public health or agriculture: "It is a commercial question and a matter of consumer choice". But his French counterpart believes that "we cannot remain in this position of disharmony. We need method and coherence at the European level". For German Agriculture Minister Karl-Heinz Funcke, considering the fact that the issue was not initially on the agenda of this informal meeting, "there is no need to think of it now". It is apparently the position of the latter which prevailed since AFP reported the following day that the agriculture ministers had decided to postpone their discussions on GMOs to their next meeting in June.

What about the customers' needs and wishes? Neither the French media nor the government seem to have really raised the issue. However, for information, the latter has created a website on GMOs which can be visited on the following address .

Publication date: 2000-06-04 © 2000, YellowBrix, Inc.


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Date: 4 Jun 2000 17:58:17 +0100
From: Robert Mann robt_m@talk.co.nz

I take it the Grauniad has not printed - tho' it was acknowledged - my response to Monbiot's illogical attack on Prince Charles. Therefore we are reduced to spreading it by our email trees. Please do.

R

Response to Journalist George Monbiot

The leading environmental journalist George Monbiot has made some of the most penetrating comments on genetic modification (GM). It is therefore a shame that he now presumes to set up several false antinomies for the purpose of attacking Prince Charles' view of the issue.

Monbiot begins with the assumption "Prince Charles's solution to the environmental crisis is spiritual transformation, rather than political awakening". Monbiot seems to assume that political awakening can be achieved without spiritual transformation, or anyhow these are mutually exclusive, alternative pathways.

This is a fake counterposition. The big efforts to achieve political awakening aside from, or in direct opposition to, spiritual advancement have been disastrous - the French and Russian revolutions, for instance. And today's dominant money-worship (your Thatcherism, our Rogernomics, etc) is all the more insidious because it uses PR instead of guns. Either way, not only spiritual health but also ecology suffer drastically under ideological materialism.

Monbiot takes from his Bible that " God granted man dominion over nature" and suggests this idea is contrary to any environmental ethic. Again, a false antinomy. When man takes care of nature on his best understanding of God's plan, he does relatively well; but in Genesis 3, and in the big GM corporations today, man presumes to know better than God, and tends to cause ecological & social mayhem.

And again: "the need to protect the environment springs not from 'a sense of the sacred', but from social justice." Why can this "need" not spring from both sources? Why imply they are in conflict? (Where does Monbiot get his sense of justice, by the way?)

Monbiot asserts "human life, resulting from a series of evolutionary accidents, is arguably meaningless". If it were so, why should anybody care for the biosphere in which the human species will live or die? Ethics has no logical or workable basis except in religion; and the religion which our monarchy defends, and which Monbiot evidently dislikes, is the only known basis for a decent society and for properly taking care of nature.

The media have, over the past decade at least, presented every issue as a one-dimensional bipolar gladiatorial conflict. I had thought Monbiot above this type of journalism. But apparently his antagonism to religion has misled him to join the common game. In so doing he has misused the hard-won right to voice criticism of the heir to the throne.

yrs etc

Robert Mann
Auckland, New Zealand


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Date: 4 Jun 2000 19:56:30 +0100
From: "Gerard Owmby" rickved@bellsouth.net

Manbiot/spiritual transformation

Re: Monbiot's illogical attack on Prince Charles' declaration for the need for a spiritual transformation

A Crisis of Consciousness (Excerpts)

By Byron Rigby, MD

...To anyone with the slightest biological knowledge, [their defense of biotechnology] is completely fraudulent. The very fact that it is made rings the strongest possible alarm bells warning that if such crass misconceptions are being deliberately spread, the perpetrators must have something very substantial and profoundly negative to hide. It is an obvious symptom of a profound and radical disconnection from the truth by a whole generation of scientists, technologists, and commercial interests. It is a disorder of consciousness.

...Again, the disorder here is not specific to genetic engineering. It is a blindness at the level of consciousness to the safety of human beings and to the serious consequences of playing the sorcerer's apprentice in a field that is totally imponderable from our current level of understanding.

...In all these examples, the problem is not only the danger of the technology. It is the consciousness that allows such a mass form of human experimentation to be perpetrated without any consent and warning.


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Date: 4 Jun 2000 23:50:06 +0100
From: "Maynard S. Clark" vrc@tiac.net

An email to subscribers of the Animal Liberation NSW mailing list

Monsanto: Not an embarrassment?

Source: Vegan Street, http://www.veganstreet.com

Monsanto says the following is not an embarrassment!

While executives and PR flacks from Monsanto are working furiously to convince people that the genetically engineered (GE) ingredients they've been sneaking into our food supply are both healthy and desirable, staffers in one of their British offices are now dining GE-free.

British newspapers have reported that the catering firm Granada Food Services, which runs the restaurant at Monsanto's office in High Wycombe in southeast England, had decided to ban genetically modified ingredients from all its outlets.

In response to concern raised by our customers over the use of GM foods and to comply with government legislation, we have taken the decision to remove, as far as practicable, GM soya and maize from all food products served in our restaurant," Granada's quality systems director Mike Batchelor was quoted as saying by the Daily Telegraph.

Monsanto's director of corporate affairs Tony Combes denied the move was an embarrassment for the company.


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Date: 5 Jun 2000 13:15:48 +0100
From: jim@niall7.demon.co.uk

Modified Foods Put US Companies in a Quandary

By DAVID BARBOZA, June 3, 2000

CHICAGO, June 3 – Frito-Lay announced in January that it would stop using biotechnology-based corn in its chips. Gerber Products has banned genetically modified ingredients from its baby food. And McDonald's has asked its suppliers not to ship it genetically altered potatoes.

But despite these recent announcements, all made in response to public concerns over genetically altered foods, none of these companies is actually abandoning biotechnology.

PepsiCo, Frito-Lay's parent company, continues to use corn syrup made from genetically altered crops in its soft drinks. Novartis, the parent of Gerber, remains one of the leading producers of genetically altered seeds. And McDonald's cooks French fries in vegetable oil made from genetically altered corn and soybeans.

These seeming contradictions reflect the marketing quandary facing the nation's biggest food companies in the debate over genetically altered crops, which environmentalists contend are potentially dangerous but which the Food and Drug Administration has deemed entirely safe.

Though nearly all the big food producers publicly support biotechnology, a growing number of companies are quietly limiting its use. But many say that biotechnology crops are so pervasive that it would be prohibitively expensive, and in some cases, nearly impossible, to eliminate them entirely.

"I guarantee you, the food companies wish this issue would go away," said Robert Goldin at Technomics Inc. in Chicago, a food industry consulting and research firm. "They're being very cautious. They're trying to find out how much of this is just noise, and frankly, they don't want to get caught with their pants down."

Over the last few years, biotechnology crops have come to dominate the food industry. Genetically altered corn and soybeans – the nation's two biggest crops –were planted on more than 60 million acres of farmland last year. These grains are used in the processing of snacks, breakfast cereal, vegetable oil and countless other products.

As a result, the Grocery Manufacturers of America estimates that about 70 percent of grocery-store food may have been made with biotechnology crops.

The industry says that ridding the nation of biotechnology-based ingredients would require a huge and costly reform of the agriculture system.

"There is no system in the U.S. to segregate G.M from non-G.M.," said Mark Dollins, a spokesman at Quaker Oats in Chicago, referring to genetically modified foods. "Any company that says it can segregate, we'd like to know how they do it. Do they have separate silos? Separate train tracks? There's literally not a system in place to do that."

At the same time, some food giants are investing in organic or natural food units. Last year, Kellogg bought Worthington Foods, which makes vegetarian dishes. Earlier this year, Kraft Foods bought companies that make nutrition bars and soy burgers, while General Mills, the cereal maker, and Mars, the candy maker, now offer organic foods.

Many big food companies, meanwhile, are avoiding public comment on genetically modified foods, while others are engaging in a seemingly contradictory marketing gambit. They announce that one line of products is not genetically altered while continuing to produce many other items from genetically altered crops.

"We don't have a position; we're not for it, we're not against it," said Walt Riker, a spokesman at McDonald's, which last month said it went along with other fast-food chains in asking farmers not to plant genetically altered potatoes. "This issue is way beyond McDonald's."

Asked whether McDonald's continues to make food from genetically altered crops, Mr. Riker said: "Yes, because it's in the food stream. So we're like consumers who use all these things. We're not saying we're G.M.-free."

Most of the major food companies are reading from the same script. They insist that the science behind biotechnology is valid and safe, and that they have faith in the Federal regulatory authorities.

"We feel the regulatory agencies have done a good job in this area and we support their work," said Christine Ervin, a Kellogg spokeswoman.

Although many European consumers appear to be troubled by genetically modified foods, American companies say consumers here are not alarmed.

"Consumer sentiment is pretty supportive," said Betsy D. Holden, the new chief executive at Kraft Foods in Northfield, Ill. "Consumer calls here are very low. We get more calls about Aspartame."

But Michael Mudd, a Kraft spokesman, added: "Don't think of this as Kraft leading the charge for biotechnology. We're more neutral."

Many big food producers are betting heavily on the success and future profitability of genetically modified corn and soybeans. Today such crops are typically altered to resist pests and chemicals. Someday the industry expects that crops will be manipulated to create new, more nutritious foods, even foods that deliver drugs, proteins and vitamins.

Still, some companies are dropping genetically modified foods from their products, trying to avoid what could be a public relations disaster.

"We wanted to eliminate ourselves from the debate," said Sheldon Jones, a Gerber spokesman in Summit, N.J. Gerber dropped genetically modified ingredients from its products last summer. "We don't think it's fair to our customers -- the parents – to have this issue fought out over baby food."

Gerber officials say Novartis, its Switzerland-based parent and the maker of genetically altered seeds, understood the subsidiary's position.

H. J. Heinz has also dropped genetically altered crops from its baby food, but not from its other products.

"This is still fairly limited in scope," said Mr. Goldin at Technomics, referring to companies that have dropped genetically altered foods. "With Heinz, baby food is small. Ask them if they're going to go G.M.-free in ketchup. Tomatoes are highly genetically engineered."

McCain Foods, the world's largest maker of french fries, said it had decided to drop genetically engineered potatoes.

"Our position is simple: we believe it's very good science," said Frank Van Schaayk, a spokesman at McCain Foods USA, in Oak Brook, Ill. "The difficulty is that consumer acceptance of this science was not complete. We're in the business of giving consumers what they want, not what we want them to eat."

There are scientific disputes about what constitutes genetically altered foods. The industry says that even when hogs have been fed grain grown from modified seeds, the meat has not been genetically altered because the genetic material has been dissolved. Pepsi insists its soft drinks do not contain genetically altered foods because the corn syrup that is made from genetically altered corn has been similarly broken down.

Others disagree. Dr. Michael Hansen at Consumers Union says that whether or not genetic material can be detected in soft drinks, they are genetically altered foods.

Some companies say they have detected the beginnings of a backlash against such food among American consumers.

"This is a very difficult question that food companies are facing," said Lynn Markley, a spokeswoman at Frito-Lay. "In late '99, we did see increasing questions from our consumers, and we're a consumer products company, so we said, 'This year, let's not do it.' "

Those that have dropped genetically altered foods, however, are those that were able to do so. Gerber said that its baby food contained only tiny amounts of corn and soybeans, and that the company could therefore control its supply channels. McDonald's and some of its suppliers said that fewer than 6 percent of potatoes grown in the United States were genetically altered – so it was not difficult to drop them. And Frito-Lay, which contracts with corn growers who plant to the company's specifications, simply told them to use traditional corn.

But for the biggest companies, steering clear of genetically altered corn and soybeans is very difficult. The companies buy largely on the open market and most commodity suppliers do not separate out biotechnology grains.

In fact, many food companies say they do not even know whether or not their products contain genetically altered crops. They suspect, simply based on the odds, that their products do, but they are not sure.

"It's possible some of the ingredients in our food are from genetically modified sources," said Theresa Herlevsen, a spokeswoman at Sara Lee. "But we don't know which products those are."

Critics are pressing regulators and lawmakers to push for mandatory labeling of genetically altered foods, so that consumers will know what they are buying and eating.

"There should be mandatory labeling because the consumer ought to know if G.M. is in their food," said Jeremy Rifkin, a longtime opponent of biotechnology. "It's the most radical food experiment we've ever engaged in. Is it safe? We don't know."

Most of the food industry opposes labeling, however, saying it might alarm consumers.

Indeed, Gene Grabowski, a spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents most major food companies, says the decision by several companies not to use genetically altered foods is evidence that the food industry is finding a way to sort out the issue for itself.

"This is proof there is choice in the market," he said. "You don't need government interference. The worst thing you can do is mandatory labeling or government action."

J. Winston Porter, a consultant to McDonald's, says the debate is not going to go away.

"This is going to be a real internal struggle between the public relations people and the scientific people," Mr. Porter said. "Many of the companies are in a conundrum. They think there's bad public relations in the short term, but great promise in the long run."


Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: 5 Jun 2000 14:31:16 +0100
From: jim@niall7.demon.co.uk

Modified Organisms May Spell Danger For Africans

By Frederick Nzwili, COMTEX Newswire

Nairobi (All Africa News Agency, May 31, 2000) - The greatest achievement of the Fifth meeting of Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity CBD held in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, during May 15-26 was the signing of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. While cheers welcomed every signature that went down on the book, there are wide fears that the authorisation of trade on Living Modified Organisms LMOs may spell danger for African people. More particularly in the speed by which it is being applied.

A genetically engineered brand of a dietary supplement in 1989 killed 37 Americans and permanently disabled more than 5,000 others with fatal and painful blood disorder. The manufacturer, Showa Denko, the Japanese largest company had for the first time used Genetically Engineered GE bacteria to produce the food supplement. The company has since then paid out over US $2 billion in damages to victims.

However, their lives continue to be miserable despite the settlement. Twenty one years later, that technology has developed so much that experts fear it may overtake other endeavours such as in the electronic industry. Even worse is that there are fears that humanity may become involuntary guinea pigs in the vast genetic experiment in food and agriculture industry.

Already experts in the continent have expressed fears that some of the foods selling in the supermarkets may contain traces of Living Modified Organisms LMOs. This has been so as genetic engineering is a relatively new phenomena that is growing extremely fast, particularly in Africa. African people are caught up in a dilemma whether to adopt the new technology, despite having very little capacities, or say no to Living Modified Organisms.

While some may have government research institutions that have capacities to run GMO projects, the majority of the governments do not have the finance to purchase some of the raw material needed for the research. At the Conference a warning was given: Allowing trade on LMOs could spell the worst danger in human history. "We are everyday engaging in trade with our neighbouring countries. I know for certain countries that import fruits and other food stuffs from their neighbours. It is hard for us to know whether these fruits are genetically modified," says Dr Z .M Nyiira of the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology

Already there are more than four dozens of genetically engineered foods and crops being sold or grown in the United States. These foods and crops are being dispersed into the food chain and environment. Up to about 500,000 dairy cows are being regularly injected with recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). In addition, several dozens of GE crops are in the final stages of development and will soon be released into the environment and sold in the market place. Projections by the Bio technology industry in the US indicate that almost 100 percent of the US food will be genetically engineered within 5-10 years.

Engineered foods include soy bean, soy oil, maize, papaya, potatoes, cotton seed oil, tomatoes and dairy products. As the research and application picks up, all countries are now mandated to formulate bio-safety regulations and guidelines. Experts in the continent are fully convinced the Genetic Engineering GE is the way out Africa's medical and food problem.

"It not too early for African countries to apply biotechnology. It stands the potential that could be harnessed to make Africa better. The experts and facilities are enough,forming a capacity that can make Africa countries move confidently into biotechnology," says Dr Norah Olembo, the Director of Kenya Intellectual Property Office KIPO.

While there are fears that the application of biotechnology to African context may have far reaching negative consequences, historical findings indicate that the process has been in use as early as 6000 BC. Scientists say biotechnology is the application of scientific and engineering principles to the processing of material by biological agents to provide goods and services. The manipulation of living material to create new types of medicine and agricultural products is currently worth US $2 billion a year in the United States.

Dr James Kahindi, who teaches biotechnology in the Universtity of Nairobi, says the uses of biotechnology will increase production of food stuffs and the availability of an energy source which is economic for household use. It will also support the improvement of public health and environmental hygiene, pollution control and the recycling of wastes in both rural and urban areas. While fears are wide that the application of biotechnology to African context may have far reaching negative consequences, historical findings indicate that the process has been in use as early as 6000 BC. The ability of yeast to make alcohol in form of beer was known to the Summerians and the Babylonians in the 17th century.

The simplest form of biotechnology is fermentation which indigenous man has used for years. The growth in the technology has moved into manufactures of bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides, which have been used to better crop yields. The technology has also been used in the manufacture of vaccines, helping manage some of the most stubborn diseases. However, the advancement of the technology into genetic engineering has caused uproar among societies.

By combining the genes of dissimilar and unrelated species, permanently altering their genetic codes, novel organisms are created that passes the genetic changes onto their off springs through hereditary. The technology makes a wide promise to Africa,. but many agricultural experts are far from convinced. "There has to be a formula in handling of Biotechnology. LMO transfers have to be understood by local people," says Rose Mwangi, an agricultural officer with the Kenya Government.

There are fears that there may be serious genetic pollution. For example, pine pollen can travel up to 600 kilometres. So far there has been five GM trees trial that have failed to consider the environmental impacts on soil, water and wildlife. "Once a gene is out of the bottle, there is no going back. This technology must be used if we are confident that it will not have a negative impact on forests and the wildlife and the people they support, " says Francis Sullivan, the WorldWide Fund WWF director.

As Genetic Engineers continue to insert, snip and recombine, and rearranging genetic material, the technology as it stands poses serious potential threats to African people. Moreover, most of the African populations and people in the developing world are ill educated on the current technological development.

© Copyright 2000 All Africa News Agency. Distributed via Africa News


Top PreviousFront Page

Date: 5 Jun 2000 17:22:21 +0100
From: jim@niall7.demon.co.uk

PCBs: The people of Anniston v Monsanto

The Guardian, Monday June 5, 2000 http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,328155,00.html

For decades the GM food giant brought much-needed jobs to the people of Anniston, Alabama. Now more than 3,000 residents believe they have been poisoned by the company – and are determined to prove it in court. Nancy Beiles reports from a town where the river ran red

Problem: Damage to the ecological system by contamination from polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB).

Legal liability: Direct lawsuits are possible. The materials are already present in nature having done their "alleged damage". All customers using the products have not been officially notified about known effects nor [do] our labels carry this information.

Memo from Monsanto committee studying PCBs, 1969

In a small brick house strung year-round with Christmas lights, behind curtains made of flowered sheets, Jeremiah Smith is listening to his favourite preacher on the radio. As tonight's instalment of the gospels winds down, he takes a seat at a table draped with a zebra-print cloth and drifts back 30 years, to the brief period when he was a pig farmer. Like others in Anniston, Alabama, Smith used to raise vegetables and livestock in his yard to provide additional food for his family.

"We were poor people," he says, in a thick drawl. "We had to raise food ourselves . . . We were trying to survive and live." Smith also had a cow and rabbits, but most of his time and attention went to his pigs. In 1970 he had about 50 – too many for his small plot of land, so he led them past the labyrinth of pipes and smokestacks that surrounded the Monsanto chemical plant his father helped build, to a grassy hill where they could graze. Each evening, Smith would give them some feed and, when the need arose, he would bring home some bacon.

One night, as he was feeding the pigs, a man from the Monsanto plant drove up the hill and made him an offer: $10 apiece for the pigs and a bottle of whisky. Smith had begun to notice that something was wrong with some of his pigs anyway; their mouths had turned green. And, ever in need of cash, he could hardly afford to pass up $500. He sold. But for more than 20 years, he wondered what on earth a chemical company would want with his pigs.

Many people Jeremiah Smith's age are old enough to remember Monsanto's glory days in Anniston. The company provided well-paid jobs and helped nurture this friendly southern town's sense of community. Most never thought to connect the chemical industry to some of the odder features of life there. Like the creek, known locally as "the ditch", which passed through town carrying water that ran red some days, purple on others and occasionally emitted a foggy white steam.

But over time, the residents of Anniston came to believe that they had been poisoned for decades by Monsanto. The change in attitude was spurred by what at first seemed a straightforward real estate transaction. In December 1995, Donald Stewart, a former state legislator who served briefly in the US Senate, received a phone call from Andrew Bowie. A deacon at the Mars Hill Missionary Baptist church, Bowie explained that a Monsanto manager had approached him about buying the church. "It doesn't seem like we're going to achieve a satisfactory deal," Bowie told Stewart. "I think we need a lawyer."

"I thought it was a simple case," Stewart says. "It just mushroomed."

Stewart soon learned that Monsanto wanted to buy the church because it had discovered high concentrations of PCBs in the area and was planning a clean-up.

Before production was restricted in the US, PCBs were used as insulating material in various types of electrical appliances, including television sets. They are non-flammable and take the form of either oily liquids or solids.

After an open meeting at the church, Stewart began fielding a flood of calls from concerned residents, who had a dizzying array of health problems which they now attribute to the contamination. The neighbourhood around the plant is populated by people with cancer, young women with damaged ovaries, children who are learning-impaired and people whose ailments have been diagnosed as acute toxic syndrome. The question is, are these illnesses caused by exposure to PCBs? Medical studies have shown that PCBs may cause liver problems, skin rashes and developmental and reproductive disorders in humans, and the US department of health and human services has determined that PCBs "may reasonably be anticipated to be carcinogens".

In addition to the church, which filed its own suit against Monsanto, more than 3,000 Anniston residents who have high levels of PCBs in their blood and on their property have filed suits against the company since 1996, alleging that the company knew it was introducing PCBs into the environment, knew the hazards of doing so, failed to inform the community and tried to conceal what it had done. Monsanto denies the allegations.

Karen McFarlane lives in plain view of the plant. It's a mild morning in February and she didn't sleep much last night. Clothed only in a T-shirt and underwear, with a sweater draped over her lap, she lights her first cigarette of the morning and promptly drops it on the shaggy blue rug. Dakota, McFarlane's 16-month-old, is playing with the severed head of a Barbie knock-off and there's not much to eat in the house. But Karen has other worries: she has PCBs in her body fat.

According to tests done by a local doctor, her husband Ryan's blood has nearly triple the level considered "typical" in the US; for Tiffany, their six-year-old, it's double. Nathan, eight, has severe developmental problems, and everyone in the family suffers from respiratory problems and the skin rashes associated with PCB exposure. Chris, McFarlane's 11-year-old son, lifts his T-shirt to reveal brownish-red blotches climbing up the sides of his chest. "It smells like decaying flesh," Ryan warns. "Like it's rotten."

Most of their friends and family have already left, but the McFarlanes can't afford to. Karen was recently hospitalised for respiratory-stress disorder and had two strokes at the age of 30. Ryan, who has small pink growths dotting his neck, wistfully talks of going to an oncologist for a full cancer screening, something he's unlikely to get soon because he does not have health insurance. The McFarlanes are stuck in a place where, according to the Alabama department of public health, cancer rates are 25% higher than in the rest of the state. Whether these health problems are linked to Monsanto's PCBs is at the heart of the case.

While it concedes that much of Anniston is contaminated by PCBs, Monsanto says its chemical discharges were negligible – and maintains that it did not fully understand how PCBs affected the environment at the time they were released, in the 60s and 70s. The US government didn't restrict the manufacture of PCBs until 1979.

"As soon as we discovered there were PCB discharges from the plant, we began our operations to limit and hopefully eliminate those discharges," says Bob Kaley, director of environmental affairs for Monsanto's chemical division. "At the time, there were no federal regulations with regard to PCBs . . . Everything was done voluntarily, and there was really almost no understanding of the effect of PCBs on the environment and human health. I think as we've moved forward in the past 30 years, there are potentially some effects at high levels in the environment. But we do not believe even today that there are concerns for human health at those environmental levels."

The Anniston case stands out in the annals of PCB litigation in the extent of damage to property and people it alleges. It is also among the first brought by ordinary citizens rather than corporations. The black binders the plaintiffs' lawyers have filled with internal memorandums and reports are branded "Hot Documents" and "Hottest Documents" with yellow Post-it notes. Many have never been seen by the public but they will become public record when the trial begins and could make or break Monsanto's defence.

The chemical producers arrived in Anniston during the first world war, and in 1929, the Theodore Swann Company became the nation's first maker of PCBs. By 1935 Monsanto recognised PCBs as big business and bought Swann's Anniston facility.

In the 60s, a team of Swedish researchers discovered that PCBs were present in the environment. Each time the chemical prevented an electrical wire from overheating, some of it had been escaping.

At the time, the government had not yet declared PCBs to be hazardous to human health, but suspicions had been growing for quite a while. In 1956 Monsanto considered the chemicals toxic enough to give workers protective gear and clothing. Along with other chemical manufacturers, the company publicly expressed scepticism about PCBs' association with disease, but over the next decade the evidence became harder to ignore. Studies published in leading medical journals showed that PCBs may damage the immune system, the reproductive system and the nervous and endocrine systems.

Monsanto had hundreds of millions of dollars in PCB sales to lose if regulators placed restrictions on use. By 1969 the company established a committee to keep abreast of the state of knowledge on PCBs. The issue was beginning to look like "a monster", in the words of one former executive.

"The Dept of Interior and/or state authorities could monitor plant outfall and find [discharges] of chlorinated biphenyls at . . . Anniston anytime they choose. This would shut us down depending on what plants or animals they choose to find harmed." Monsanto researcher, 1969

At issue in the Anniston lawsuit is whether the company was aware of the extent and harmful effects of the PCB contamination and whether it could have protected or warned the community. Many of the answers may be found in the documents. According to a 1970 report, Monsanto was dumping about 7.2kg (16lb) a day of PCB waste into the town's waterways. The year before, the company had been dumping about 113kg (250lbs) a day.

Monsanto began commissioning animal toxicity studies in the early 70s; the results did not look good. "Our interpretation is that the PCBs are exhibiting a greater degree of toxicity in this study than we had anticipated," an executive wrote.

In 1975 the lab submitted its findings from a study using rats. An early draft said that in some cases, PCBs had caused tumours. George Levinskas, a Monsanto manager, wrote to the lab's director: "May we request that the report be amended to say 'does not appear to be carcinogenic'." The final report dropped all references to tumours.

Anniston residents got their first glimpse of Monsanto's troubles with PCBs in late 1993. A contractor dredging on the nearby Choccolocco creek noticed largemouth bass with blistered scales. Tests showed the fish contained extremely high levels of PCBs. Around the same time, the Alabama Power company broke ground on land it had acquired from Monsanto in the 60s, opening up a PCB landfill that bled black tar. Alabama Power insisted that Monsanto take back the land and reported its discovery to the Alabama department of environmental management. Soon after, the company made its quiet buyout offer to the church.

But Adam Peck, one of Monsanto's lawyers, isn't sweating. The company, which spun off its chemical division as a stand-alone firm, Solutia, in 1997, assigned an environmental manager to lead a $30m clean-up operation. They bulldozed buildings, laid thick plastic tarpaulins over the contaminated land and covered them with clean soil. The company plans to convert some of the contaminated land into a wildlife refuge. It has built perching posts near the landfill to attract purple martins. In Peck's mind, these activities demonstrate convincingly that the corporation has behaved responsibly. "We have offered to acquire property. We've offered to clean property. What does that mean? Does that mean we acted responsibly or that we should have done more?" After a pause, he adds: "I'm not sure what more we could have done."

Residents are anxiously awaiting the EPA's decision on whether to order a federal clean-up. The lawsuit is also taking longer than residents anticipated. Two weeks before the case was to go to trial, in March 1999, Monsanto appealed to the state supreme court to establish procedural rules for the circuit court. The court still hasn't returned its rulings.

In the meantime, Stewart prepares for trial and works on other cases. He's hoping the jury will award compensatory damages for the property contamination and punitive damages for the fear the exposure has engendered. He also wants Monsanto to pay for regular health screenings.

Early settlement talks went nowhere, both sides say. Monsanto did settle the original suit on behalf of the Mars Hill congregation. It made no admission of guilt but paid $2.5m (£1.5m) to rebuild the church at another location. "In the Mars Hill case they protested all the time that they didn't do a thing," Stewart says. "Then they paid $2.5m for a church they said was worth $400,000. I wonder how they arrived at that decision."

After he sold them, Jeremiah Smith's pigs were shot and buried. Why? Because, Monsanto says, it was concerned about them trespassing on company property.

© The Nation