By Gerard Greenfield
In the neoliberal ice-age of the early 1980s through to the end of the 1990s, global capitalists and their supporters expressed supreme confidence in their victory over us. This confidence is symbolized in the posters and billboards launched by The Financial Times in the mid-1990s, declaring: "Capitalists of the world unite!" By taking our slogan ("Workers of the world unite!") and turning it upside-down, they were in a sense ridiculing our own internationalism. They forcefully claimed that the internationalism of the post-Cold War era was an internationalism built and defended by capitalists, for capitalists.
Lately, however, this confidence has been shaken, if not shattered. The lead editorial in a recent issue of The Economist views anti-capitalist protests as "angry and effective." More importantly, the editorial warns that globalization is not inevitable and irreversible as the neoliberal ideologues have insisted for the past two decades. Rather, the very fact that globalization can be reversed is what makes anti-globalization movements so dangerous:
"The protesters are right that the most pressing moral, political and economic issue of our time is third-world poverty. And they are right that the tide of ‘globalization', powerful as the engines driving it may be, can be turned back. The fact that both these things are true is what makes the protesters and, crucially, the strand of popular opinion that sympathizes with them so terribly dangerous." (The Economist, September 23, 2000)
The Economist makes it very clear that open declarations of capitalist confidence are harmful at the present time. Instead, the legitimacy of globalization and, crucially, of capitalism must be restored. The tactic for achieving this is to focus on Third World poverty. That's why The Economist then goes on to argue that the greatest beneficiaries of globalization are the Third World poor, and it's the anti-globalization protesters who are condemning them to continued poverty.
The post-Seattle WTO has also recast itself as the ally of the poor and marginalised. As Mike Moore, the Director-General of the WTO, declared:
"It is poor people in poor countries who are grasping the opportunities provided by trade and technology to try to better their lives. Mexican farm hands who pick fruit in California, Bangladeshi seamstresses who make clothes for Europeans, and South African phone-shop owners who hawk time on mobile phones to their fellow township dwellers. They and countless other real people everywhere are the human face of globalization."
So it seems that restoring the legitimacy of the WTO, after what they called "the setback in Seattle", involves greater emphasis on world poverty as the main issue. At the same time, some of the world's largest TNCs with the worst records of labour repression, cultural and ecological destruction and genocide (of which Nike and Shell are just two examples) have founded a new partnership with the United Nations to save the world's poor. Helping the world's poor under the UN corporate partnership makes it a commercial activity a commodity like everything else. Without having any effect whatsoever on what these TNCs actually do to the planet and the mass of the people on it, this tactic serves to restore the legitimacy of corporate rule and regain the confidence of previous years.
But Mike Moore has gone a step further in these troubled times. In sharp contrast to the days of ridiculing our internationalism by misusing our slogans, we now find Comrade Mike talking about our internationalism as the shared tradition of the WTO:
"We on the Left have a lot to be proud of. We built the Welfare State that looks after people when they are sick, poor, or old. We fought for the equality of women and minorities. We argued passionately for internationalism, for solidarity between workers in Sweden and those in Africa." (Mike Moore, WTO Director General, July 26, 2000)
At one level this is just a change in rhetoric. It's a tactical maneuver, not a change in strategy. It's certainly not a fundamental shift in the nature of the globalization project. This tactic seeks to restore a degree of legitimacy and limit the damage done by the anti-globalization movements. In other words, it's a way of making us less dangerous.
However, it's important to recognise that the protests in Seattle also produced its share of rhetoric. The slogan "Shutdown the WTO" may have meant "abolish the WTO" for many progressive labour and social activists, but for more conservative unions and social groups it meant "shutdown this particular WTO meeting." In this sense it was merely symbolic. Dozens of WTO-related meetings among technocrats preceded the Seattle meeting, and as many have taken place since.
The rhetoric was even more apparent when the president of the AFL-CIO, John Sweeney, declared at the start of the protests, "Today we are making history!" Even before the protests had ended he announced,"We have made history!" It was less a first step than the last. The WTO was shaken, but not broken, and it was time for the AFL-CIO to get back to the negotiating table to insist on a reformed WTO with a social clause and without China. The tactics behind the slogans were not only lacking a strategy, but lacked a common goal.
It no longer makes sense to simply accuse the WTO and other agencies of global capitalism of neglecting the poor, failing to recognise the importance of ... (insert any social or environmental issue here), or lacking democracy. Since Seattle there have been numerous speeches and publications churned out by the WTO technocracy which assert the importance of democracy, human rights, environmental protection, social needs, the primacy of "the social market" over the "the free market", and the need to eradicate poverty. Meanwhile, since Seattle, five more countries have joined the WTO (Another 25 will join in the next couple of years). Key agreements have been expanded, and the number and intensity of trade talks and backroom deals has increased not decreased. So where does that leaves us?
As an oppositional strategy, pointing out what is missing in the WTO doesn't really tell us very much about what it is we're up against. Those unions, NGOs and social coalitions which want to reform agencies like the WTO employ tactics of lobbying, alternative policy input, and social clauses. The tactic of including those things they believe are missing from the WTO agenda is based on certain key assumptions about what the WTO is and what it does. For a start, they assume the WTO and agencies like it are institutions or organisations. They also assume that the main function of institutions like the WTO is to make and implement policies or trade agreements. Based on this, the problem becomes narrowly defined: in running these institutions and making policies and agreements there is too much corporate control and not enough control by social, labour and environmental groups (collectively called ‘civil society'). This then means that globalization itself is not seen as a problem. It's the kind of globalization that is in question. This then becomes a contest between corporate globalization and a people-centred or more humane kind of globalization.
By accepting globalization and focusing on the rhetoric of poverty, democracy and social inclusion, these civil society groups are in fact helping the WTO out of its crisis of legitimacy. This occurs at a time when the very thing we should be doing is deepening the crisis. More importantly, these civil society and social groups are creating conditions that would render the anti-globalization movements less dangerous both for themselves and for the political and economic elite. They've clearly missed the point. We can only be effective if we continue doing whatever it is that makes us dangerous and do it better. It's in being uncivil society that we find we can challenge the WTO and what really lies behind it.
To launch such a challenge it's important to understand that the WTO is not about institutions and agreements. It's not even about trade. The following is an example of the changes under globalization which suggest that trade is not the primary issue. In 1999 the value of global exports totaled US$7 trillion. In the same year the value of sales by the 690,000 foreign affiliates of the world's 63,000 TNCs was nearly double, at US$13.5 trillion. It's also significant that while worldwide exports tripled in the period from 1982 to 1999, the sales by TNCs' foreign affiliates increased six times at twice the rate (UN World Investment Report 2000). What this suggests is that free trade is not really about increasing the flow of goods and services across borders, but in increasing the dominance and control of local markets by TNCs. More fundamentally, it increases our dependence on these TNCs.
This dependency reflects a critical dimension of what the WTO, NAFTA and other free trade agreements really are. They are not just institutions and agreements, but are regimes. Basically, a regime is an arrangement of political power. In this case free trade and investment regimes refer to an arrangement of political power between countries and between corporations and governments. For example, under the WTO regime the arrangement of power between countries freezes the members of the WTO into a hierarchy of ‘developed', ‘developing' and ‘least-developed.' By banning certain kinds of industrial and development policies in the ‘developing' and ‘least-developed' countries and increasing overall dependency on TNCs, the WTO regime ensures that only those countries which are already ‘developed' stay at the top of this hierarchy.
Free trade and investment regimes also establish an arrangement of political power between corporations and governments. It's already well understood that the free trade agenda is about increasing the power and freedom of corporations, especially TNCs. This kind of freedom is what defines globalization:
"I would define globalization as the freedom for my group of companies to invest where it wants when it wants, to produce what it wants, to buy and sell where it wants, and support the fewest restrictions possible coming from labour laws and social conventions."(Percy Barnevik, President of the ABB Industrial Group)
Getting rid of these restrictions has meant redefining domestic regulation in ways that protect the interests of TNCs while placing new restrictions on the ability of governments to regulate them. For example, between 1991 and 1999 there were 1,035 changes worldwide in laws on foreign investment. Of those changes, 94 per cent increased the freedom of foreign investors and reduced government regulation (UN World Investment Report 2000). The effect of such changes is not only to force policy-making and the judicial process to become more like the US, but to restrict the future possible actions of governments and isolate them from the pressure of labour and social movements.
As we saw in the NAFTA challenge by Ethyl Corp against the Canadian government in 1997, and in the recent NAFTA ruling in favour of Metalclad Corp against the Mexican government, it's not just an assault on environmental regulation that we should be concerned about. It's an assault on the original local struggles that brought this legislation into being in the first place. In this sense, rolling back social and environmental legislation under free trade means rolling back the past victories of labour and social movements.
What the NAFTA challenges also showed was that federal governments are often willing to lose these cases so that they discipline provincial, state or municipal governments which have adopted progressive social and environmental policies. Where federal governments do not have the legal or political power to reverse such legislation, it can allow the external intervention of NAFTA and the WTO to act on its behalf.
The WTO is often accused of secrecy and a lack of democracy. This easily leads to proposals for greater transparency and openness. Yet such an approach ignores the fact that we need to have the ability to do something about what we see, otherwise we'll just be spectators in a transparent process. It's not just the absence of democracy in the WTO and NAFTA that is the problem, but the outright hostility towards democracy. Aggressively cutting back our ability to impose democratic priorities on capital is not an afterthought it lies at the very heart of the globalization project. It also reminds us that the entire WTO process of becoming a member and obeying the rules rests on threats and coercion. It's the threat of trade sanctions that drives it, not human needs or common sense.
The continued spread of international and local protests against globalization in recent months has deepened the WTO's crisis of legitimacy a crisis which was most apparent in Seattle in November 1999. This is not only an external crisis. There are serious disagreements between the governments of developing and developed countries over the WTO rules, deadlines and procedures which have stalled several negotiations. Despite this, key governments (especially the US, EU, Japanese and Canadian governments) are attempting to expand the scope of WTO agreements and to strengthen its powers. To effectively challenge this we must not help the WTO out of its crisis of legitimacy by calling for its reform. Instead we need to deepen the crisis and create the political conditions necessary to abolish the WTO and the free trade and investment regimes which lie behind it.
We should be clear that a world without the WTO and NAFTA would not be a world without rules on international trade. Rules already exist at the local and national level in most countries, providing much needed social and environmental protection and regulating the trade in goods and services in ways that are less harmful (and sometimes even beneficial) to working people. What is needed now is that these rules are strengthened and expanded to manage trade more effectively in the interests of working people on both sides of any trading relationship. But this isn't simply a matter of replacing free trade with fair trade. Having fair trade makes no sense if a country has been forced for the last hundred years to grow and export coffee, or if people are starving and exporting rice at the same time. What this suggests is that we need a fundamental rethinking about why we trade, what we trade and the need for local alternatives.
However, for the countries in the South such alternatives can't even be considered as long as they are burdened by international debt. The pressure of debt repayment is a driving force behind exports, locking these countries into the free trade and investment regime of the WTO and the structural adjustment policies of the World Bank and IMF. The total and immediate cancellation of Third World debt and increased, unconditional international social assistance is necessary before any system of fair trade can be truly effective.
The claim that a world without the WTO would be a world without rules is untrue because at the international level we already have a wide range of rules: treaties and conventions on human rights, labor and trade union rights, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as rules which restrict harmful forms of international trade such as toxic waste and military arms. These international rules were the result of a long history of popular struggles worldwide, and it's necessary now more than ever before to reassert the priority of these conventions and principles. We should do so not by including them in the WTO or NAFTA so that our principles and rights are absorbed, distorted and commercialized under free trade and investment regimes, but by reasserting the importance of fundamental rights and freedoms over and above trade and investment, and regaining ground against the globalization project.
To move forward labour and social movements must first regain their ability to force governments at all levels to regulate trade and investment in ways that subordinate the activities of TNCs to the broader social needs and interests of working people. This makes it necessary to abolish those free trade and investment regimes which lock the state ‘upwards' into the global interests of TNCs and ‘away' from popular pressure from below.
"All policymakers must be vigilant to the possibility of research data being manipulated
by corporate bodies and of scientific colleagues being seduced by the material charms
of industry. Trust is no defence against an aggressively deceptive corporate sector,"
THE LANCET, April 2000
"When a butterfly flaps its wings in Africa, it can cause a hurricane in New York."
THE LANCET, April 2000
"When a butterfly flaps its wings in Africa, it can cause a hurricane in New York."
The original UK Foods Standards Agency document on Monsanto's GM cotton and Gonorrhoea.
THIS EMAIL FROM/OR FORWARDED BY:
Andrew Taynton, SAFE FOOD COALITION in association with THE NATURAL LAW PARTY http://www.natural-law-party.org
P O Box 665, Linkhills, 3652, KwaZulu-Natal, Republic of South Africa; tel: 031-763 2634, Cell 083 662 0411, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The SFC and NLP call for an immediate Global ban on genetically modified foods and the creation of a safe, sustainable strategy for nourishing humanity hppt//:www.MaharishiOrganicAgriculture.com http://www.poverty-removal.org
BBC ONLINE Sunday, 19 November, 2000
Fast food chain McDonald's has promised not to use meat reared on genetically modified (GM) feed. McDonald's UK, which uses 30,000 tons of beef every year, made the decision in response to public concerns about the safety of the so-called "Frankenstein" foods.
The company says around 2.5 million people a day eat at one of its 1,100 restaurants in the UK.
Some farmers use GM feed to increase the muscle bulk of animals or improve their milk yield.
But anti-GM campaigners say the public cannot be sure that meat fed on GM feed is safe and they point to the BSE crisis as an example of complacency in the meat industry.
A spokeswoman for the company said: "McDonald's in the UK has taken the decision to move away from the use of animal feed containing genetically modified ingredients.
"We have therefore requested that our suppliers seek non-GM sources of feed.
"Our chicken supplier already uses feed containing soya meal of Brazilian origin, which is principally non-GM.
"We are continuing to work with our suppliers of beef, pork, eggs and dairy products to identify sources of non-GM animal feed, although sustainability remains a concern."
'Listening to concerns'
She added: "We are listening to concerns expressed by consumers seeking reassurances about the safety of food produced in this way.
"We will continue to monitor public opinion and scientific developments."
The giant US-owned burger chain made a stand during the height of the BSE crisis by taking British beef off the menu.
Greenpeace have a massive campaign against GM food
The McDonald's spokeswoman told BBC News Online: "We don't use any GM products or ingredients in our meals and it is a natural extension of that policy not to use GM feeds."
She said it was almost impossible to guarantee all animal feed was free of GM ingredients but said this was an "industry wide" problem.
The use of GM animal feed is governed by European Union legislation.
Eleven GM varieties of maize are authorised for use in feed in the United States but only four of these may be legally used in the EU.
But there is even a difference in interpretation of the EU legislation.
Britain and Holland say the use of US maize gluten feed is not governed by the GM regulations but its importation and use is banned in France.
'No hint of a problem'
A spokesman for the pro-GM pressure group, CropGen, said: "GM ingredients are considered safe for human, never mind animal consumption and they continue to be used in many parts of the world, as they have been for several years, without a hint of a problem."
He said: "The argument of the pressure groups is that meat from an animal fed on GM products is in some way different from that of an animal fed on non-GM products, or that the meat itself should be considered as GM. This is simply untrue.
"The genes and proteins introduced into a crop by GM meet the same fate when the crop is eaten as the tens of thousands of other genes and proteins present in the crop they are destroyed in the stomach."
Please pass this on to any interested in doing this course which will focus on food security, poverty alleviation, skills transfer and employment opportunities.
Executive Director, Food and Trees for Africa Tel: (082 900 1738) Fax: (+27 11 783 4528)
http://www.trees.co.za http://www.eduplant.org.za http://learning.mweb.co.za
Bill Mollison, an Australian ecologist, and his student David Holmgren coined the word permaculture in 1978. It is a contraction of "permanently sustainable agriculture and culture".
Permaculture is a unique, practical and highly productive design system that conserves resources, promotes development and enhances the quality of life of rural and urban communities. It is an approach to land use, which integrates human dwellings, microclimate, annual, and perennial plants, animals, soils and water management into stable, productive communities. As Bill Mollison says, "We must aim to live on the 'interest' of our natural resources to survive. Permaculture is the practical way of sustaining our future."
South Africa faces severe soil degradation, air pollution, critical energy and water shortages, and a crisis in rural and urban human development.
Permaculture's unique farming approach encompasses trees (ideally, the 6F trees i.e. those that provide food, fodder, fuel, fertilizer, furniture and pharmaceuticals), shrubs, herbs, climbers, vegetables and fruit. The organic methods in Permaculture design ensure the constant return of humus and mulches to the soil thus completing the nutrient cycle and sustainable supply of viable seed of a diversity of food plants.
With Permaculture, the need for shifting cultivation of any kind is avoided. Permaculture protects forests, mountain catchments, coastal dunes, riverbanks and wildlife habitats. It is thus an ideal way to address the critical environmental and human development issues in Southern Africa where we need to develop many small community-led projects, instead of large-scale schemes, which engender dependency.
A "MADE IN SOUTH AFRICA" PERMACULTURE COURSE A unique certified Permaculture design course will be held at Rustlers Valley in the Eastern Free State in December 2000. It brings together South Africa's top facilitators for the first time. Each of these facilitators has expertise that combines to provide those on course with comprehensive and usable indigenous information.
'Work in such a way that you resist the temptations of a productivity and profit that are detrimental to the respect for nature... When you forget this principle, becoming tyrants and not custodians of the Earth, sooner or later the Earth rebels.'
- Pope John Paul II: Nov, 2000
NATURAL LAW PARTY WESSEX
A growing number of mainstream economic commentators are now anticipating the further decline of the ag-biotech industry. These two reports from Agence France Presse and the Economist anticipate parent companies adopting wholesale rejection of the sector.
"Aventis is only the latest in a long list of pharmaceutical companies that have begun to re-think their love affair with life sciences and the agrochemicals sector".
Meanwhile the British Prime Minister is still keen to keep sinking public investment into the sector.
Agence France Presse, LONDON, Monday, November 20 2000
So what went wrong?
In agrochemicals there is little growth
So why have the returns on the agrochemicals business been disappointing?
Backlash Of Public
One by one, the world's pharmaceutical titans have backed away from the life science concept, shedding their agrochemicals interests to focus instead on 'pure' pharmaceuticals.
Firstly, the cost savings promised to shareholders when drugs companies unveiled the life science concept have been slow to materialise.
"The synergies that the life science companies talked about in the past between crop science and pharmaceutical drug development doesn't seem to be there," Merrill Lynch analyst Owen Dwyer said.
And while cost savings have been disappointing, sales growth has proven even more elusive.
Aventis, the Franco-German pharmaceutical group created last year by the merger of the life science activities of Hoechst of Germany and Rhone Poulenc of France, saw its pharmaceutical sales jump 16.2 percent in the first nine months of the year.
But Aventis CropScience, its agrochemical venture in which German drug giant Schering also owns 24 percent, was hit by a 1.8-percent drop in sales.
It was perhaps not surprising, therefore, that Aventis announced on Wednesday it was looking to sell the business. Equally unsurprising was the response of Schering when asked if it was interested in buying out Aventis: thanks, but no thanks.
Only Bayer, the German chemical and pharmaceutical group, has shown any real interest in Aventis CropScience.
Aventis is only the latest in a long list of pharmaceutical companies that have begun to re-think their love affair with life sciences and the agrochemicals sector.
Swiss drug giant Novartis and Anglo-Swedish counterpart AstraZeneca have spun off their combined agrochemicals interests, Syngenta, which made an unimpressive debut on the Zurich stock market Monday.
US groups Pharmacia and Upjohn and Monsanto decided to spin off their agrochemicals interests under the Monsanto name after their tie-up earlier this year.
American Home Products also off-loaded its agrochemical operations, Cyanamid, to German chemicals giant BASF this year. BASF is bucking the trend by selling its Kroll pharmaceuticals business to focus on agrochemicals.
"Companies are making the business decision that they need to concentrate on pharmaceuticals, and as a consequence they're shedding this life science branding and are clearly getting rid of the agrochemical businesses," said one London-based pharmaceuticals analyst.
Firstly, a series of bumper harvests have led to low crop prices and have depressed demand for fungicides, an important product for agrochemical companies.
Consumers, meanwhile, are becoming increasingly suspicious about what they eat, in no small part due to the increasing number of deaths from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of madcow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
In reponse, the British arm of McDonald's, the world's biggest fast food chain, announced Thursday it would no longer use animal feed containing GM ingredients.
Dwyer said companies were caught a little bit by surprise by the degree of public hostility to GM food.
"It's difficult to see any short-term acceptance by consumers, particularly in Europe, on genetically modified foods," he added.
Agrochemical companies moreover face huge compensation claims if GM food is found to be potentially damaging to health, a claim made by environmentalists.
But those companies that do try to weather the storm in the long run could reap an agrochemical windfall, analysts say.
"If they could get those types of products accepted, then there is potentially massive growth opportunities," said Dwyer. "However, that's a very big if."
In the meantime, pure agrochemical companies will be left alone to sink or swim.
As one analyst noted, companies such as Syngenta and Monsanto "have no choice - they've got to concentrate on agrochemicals because that's what they are."
For a Brazil free of transgenics
Newsletter nº 3 Published by the Centro Ecológico Ipê/CAPA/CETAP Consortium November 2000 Brazil
On November 1st., once again the Brazilian Regional Federal Court, after a battle of preliminary injunctions, has released the unloading of transgenic maize at the Rio Grande port, State of Rio Grande do Sul, even though the consumption and commercialization of transgenic products are prohibited in Brazil, until labeling rules are defined.
The Federal Government should have divulged the labeling rules until last October 4th. but this procedure has stopped. The reason is due to controversial opinions about the maximum percent to be accepted in GM products and ingredients.
The Brazilian federal government is making all efforts in order to guarantee GMO to be feely produced and sold in Brazil. Through a Provisional Measure, it wants to enlarge the powers of the Biosecurity National Technical Commission (CTNBio), which would become be the only body responsible for the technical resolve on the subject in Brazil.
Read in this issue:
Labeling of transgenic products not enacted Justice releases transgenic maize unloading in RS Federal Government to enlarge CTNBio powers
Please contact the Centro Ecológico for more detailed information.
Director, Third World Network
22 November 2000
Dear friends and colleagues,
We are pleased to share with you a recent press article which reports on how the joint Australian/New Zealand approval system for genetically engineered food is scientifically flawed. Two GE corn varieties and one GE canola variety (all developed by Monsanto) were recently given a preliminary approval. A review by scientists commissioned by the Australian Public Health Association exposed that tests which should have been conducted were not carried out, adverse effects were not further pursued, and Monsanto had withheld critical information from the regulators under the pretext of "commercial confidentiality". Since many countries import food products from Australia that contain corn and/or canola, we wish to alert you to this these developments.
With best wishes,
Director, Third World Network
228 Macalister Road, 10400 Penang, Malaysia Email: email@example.com Website: http://www.twnside.org.sg
by Geoff Strong, The Age, Australia , 29 October 2000
Australia's food regulator has been accused of approving a range of genetically modified food products without adequate scientific testing. A group of scientists conducting a study for the Public Health Association of Australia examined the procedures surrounding the applications for release of three genetically modified foods: two corns and a canola given preliminary approval by the Australian and New Zealand Food Authority. All three were products from the US-based multinational food-science company Monsanto and were approved subject to endorsement by the Council of Australian and New Zealand Health Ministers. In their report, the scientists claimed that in one case laboratory rats fed the herbicide-tolerant genetically modified canola were found to have livers enlarged by up to 16 per cent, yet further testing to find the cause was not considered necessary.
Other concerns included: An insect-resistant corn containing a new protein designed to rupture the gut of certain grubs had never been fed to large numbers of humans and the protein's potential toxicity was discussed only briefly. The supporting documents given to the food authority relating to this corn claimed any DNA implanted during genetic modification would be destroyed by manufacturing processes, but did not refer to the likelihood that the corn and corn waste would be fed to animals bred for human consumption.
In an application for a corn engineered to be tolerant to Monsanto's herbicide Roundup, the company admitted two amino acids in a modified protein were different from those in conventional corn but declined to provide scientific details on the grounds of commercial confidentiality.
In the case of the herbicide-tolerant canola, the scientists ask why laboratory rats were fed canola mash in tests and not the canola oil humans would consume. When the rats were found to have liver weights up to 16 per cent higher than normal, this was attributed to levels of a chemical found in the raw plant. Further tests to determine whether this increase might be the result of an unknown substance were deemed unnecessary, the scientists said, even though the amount of the raw plant fed to the rats was within established safety limits.
The scientists' report was submitted to the food authority last week and has also been sent to the health ministers. It points out that all of the assessments done by the authority were based on internal publications from Monsanto or from another US food company, Optimum Quality Grains. It claims none of the documents was published in scientific journals subject to peer review, the normal procedure for scrutinising scientific research.
It also found that the results of tests to determine the composition of genetically modified foods were statistically inadequate because of the small sample sizes used when compared to those for non-modified food. In the case of the canola, only two samples were analysed. "With such low numbers it is almost a foregone conclusion that a statistically significant difference will not be found between the GM food and the non-GM food," the scientists said. They argue that a sample size of at least 50 would be needed to get an accurate picture.
One of the authors of the report, Adelaide-based epidemiologist and biochemist Judy Carman, said it appeared the food authority was prepared to allow Australians to eat modified food that had undergone almost no independent scientific safety assessment. "Essentially all of the safety evidence has been obtained by the applicant company," she said. "The precautionary principle that could be described as 'unsafe until proven to be safe', has been around for centuries to guide us in conditions of uncertainty. Yet ANZFA has officially adopted the opposite approach; that is, they permit 18.7 million Australians to eat GM foods based on a 'safe until proven unsafe' philosophy." Dr Carman said the only way an independent scientist or other member of the public could check the science was to personally visit the food authority's offices in Canberra.
The scientists' report refutes claims that modified DNA is destroyed by digestion. It cites a range of research on experimental mice in which foreign DNA survived digestion and lodged itself in other organs, including the foetuses of animals. A spokeswoman for the food authority refuted claims that the approvals were based on inadequate science. Nora Galway said all research submitted to the food authority had to be independently audited.
"We require statutory declarations that there have been appropriate recording mechanisms and good laboratory practice," she said. Dr Galway said none of the foods had been released for public consumption, and had been given only preliminary approval. She said in the case of the laboratory rats fed the herbicide-tolerant canola, it was agreed it was more appropriate to feed them mash than oil because they would have to have been fed very large amounts of oil to get an accurate result. A spokeswoman for Monsanto said the company always cooperated fully with the requirements of the food authority.
SOURCE: Frontline 17(22), published by The Hindu, India,
October 28, 2000
The introduction of genetically modified (GM) foods has generated a debate around the world, particularly in the West. Notwithstanding the fact that GM foods have hit the market shelves in Europe and the United States, there is growing opposition, notabl y in Europe, to their introduction into the food chain. In this mounting campaign, the treatment meted out to Arpad Pusztai, a biologist from Rowett Research Institute (RRI), Aberdeen, Scotland, by the British scientific and political establishmen t has become a cause celebre.
The 69-year-old Hungary-born Pusztai, who had been working at the RRI for 36 years, was removed from service, his research papers were seized, and his data confiscated; and he was prohibited from talking to anyone about his research work. All this for ha ving spoken "all of 150 seconds," he says in a programme called World in Action on Granada TV in August 1998, about his findings on the effects of GM foods that ran counter to the prevalent scientific dogma that they were safe. He had also expressed concern that the testing procedures to establish the safety of GM foods may not be adequate.
Pusztai's controversial experiments, which he carried out in collaboration with his colleague Stanley W.B. Ewen, for over 30 months between 1995 and 1998, comprised the use of GM potatoes expressing the gene for snowdrop lectin called Galanthus nivalis a gglutinin (GNA) as feed to rats. (Snowdrop is a small white flower that hangs from a bulb and blooms in spring; lectin is a protein normally obtained from plants that have antibody characteristics.) This, he found, resulted in impairment in the condition of the rats. This was a surprising finding for Pusztai, because in six years of work with the lectin itself, he had found no toxic effect when it was mixed with feed as a protein supplement. But when genetically expressed it showed health effects.
Even before his work was published, based on incomplete information and data, it was denounced at various levels, including the Royal Society and the Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology. Also, a campaign was unleashed in the media to discre dit Pusztai. But it was a slap in the face of critics when Pusztai's paper got accepted for publication in The Lancet. This, in fact, prompted a senior biologist of the Royal Society to threaten The Lancet's editor with dire consequences. A fter the publication of the paper, there was a spate of letters to The Lancet attacking Pusztai's work. Pusztai responded adequately and forcefully.
The comments by Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, in response to remarks by the President of the Royal Society, are illuminating. He wrote in November 1998: "Aaron Klug defends the Royal Society's wish to damn Ewen and Pusztai's work in the ab sence of both investigators. What he cannot defend is the reckless decision of the Royal Society to abandon the principle of due process in passing judgment on their work. To review and then publish criticism of these researchers' findings without publis hing either their original data or their response was, at best, unfair and ill- judged."
Considering the all-round assertion in scientific circles as well as by biotechnology companies that GM foods and crops are safe, it may be shocking to know that there are just five papers that have been published in peer-reviewed journals until June 200 0 (Jose Domingo, Science, June 9) and the Pusztai-Ewen Lancet paper is one of them.
Irrespective of whether Pusztai's findings stand scientific scrutiny and the test of time, and whether GM foods are safe or not, the case reflects how those in the citadels of science administration have abandoned ethics in order to defend a biased agend a in this case promoted by biotech multinationals. It also shows how, contrary to the cardinal principles of academic freedom and objectivity, any research that went against the dominant view evoked collective intolerance.
Pusztai, who has authored nearly 300 research papers and nine books, says his scientific credibility is still intact. Since the termination of his services at the RRI, he has been offered visiting professorship in three countries: Brazil, Hungary and Norway but, for the present, he has decided to stay in Aberdeen and accept short lecture tours. He was in India recently on one such tour to attend meetings on GM foods. He spoke to R. Ramachandran.
Excerpts from the interview:
Could you recount how the row over your research work began?
What methods are you referring to?
What was the gene product and how was it tested previously?
Does genetic engineering leed to other differences as well?
Problems of malfunction: What is the mechanism of action?
How do you quantitatively determine the effect?
Did Rowet have large funds from Monsanto?
What is the mechanism of getting a project approved?
How could they suspend you?
What reason was given for the suspension?
Were there orders to not to speak to anyone?
Before publishing, the Royal Society made remark?
How did the scientific community in general react?
What was the nature of reaction of the scientific community?
How did the Royal Society react to it?
There were letters in The Lancet questioning the methodology.
Were you disillusioned with the role of the scientific community?
Has anybody taken up your work from where you left it?
What is your stand on GM foods at present?
Before we did the genetic potato work, what we did was to isolate this gene product from the snowdrop bulb to see whether it did have any effect on the absorption of normal diet. We have high quality animal feedstock. If you use some animal protein like egg protein or casein from milk mixed with it, we can measure with great precision how well they are utilised. For example, egg albumen will be utilised with 92-94 per cent efficiency. This is very high efficiency. Now you can do the same thing with pota toes. Does the lectin reduce the efficiency of the diet or does it interfere with the immune system?We tested with as high a concentration - at milligram level per gram level. It still did not do any harm.
In case of genetic modification we need it only at a concentration that is 100-fold less. We expressed it at lower levels of micrograms per gram in the potato and wanted to know what kind of possible effects it can have. We had two kinds of potatoes on e GM and the other non-GM. I had expected that the GM potato, with 20 micrograms of a component against the several grams of other components, should not cause any problems. But we found problems. Our studies clearly show that the effects were not due to that little gene expression, but it depended on the way the gene had been inserted into the potato genome and what it did to the potato genome. That is why industry and politicians reacted so strongly against me.
We had two successful lines, both coming from the same genetic transformation of the parent line at the same time. They were going through the same laboratory tests and were growing in the fields for two years done in the South of England. And when we lo oked at the two lines, we found that against our expectations they were different. They were different compositionally. For example, one of the lines contained exactly the same amount of protein as the parent line but the other line, even though it was a s successful in protecting the plant against aphids nematodes, it contained 20 per cent less protein. Now this was a totally unpredictable effect.
So in the two genetically modified lines which were different, what I think happened was that the lectin gene landed in two different places. The question is how well you can find out what is happening. This is possible if you know the whole sequence. No w if you don't know the sequence and you don't know what exactly is the job of the sequence, then we cannot know. So all the selection after genetic modification is empirical. Does it grow?Does it do the job?Does it have enough proteins?Does it do us any harm? This last bit has never been investigated.
All these three studies found something very similar in the stomach. Some sort of proliferative response, as if you are stimulating production of something usually acid. The FDA never went further down. But we did and so did the Egyptians. And we found , in fact, that the most useful part of the digestive tract the small intestines where 99 per cent of useful absorption occurs - was also affected. And we took it even further down into the colon and that was affected too.
In my case it was very simple. Because I had actually retired, I had an annual renewable contract. The only thing they had to do was not to renew my contract. But I was suspended by August 12. I had the rest of the year to go.
A senior scientist can be suspended only if he is suspected of cheating. But they never actually put it in writing. Then they would have been liable and I could have sued them.
Now when I was gagged for seven months and there were all these media reports about me. When the British Parliament ungagged me in order to find out what was really happening, the Rowett in their desperation put their internal confidential reports on the ir website. They are no longer there they were there for about two and a half months because they realised it was counter- productive. These two reports one was an audit report compiled by an external three-member audit committee which investigated my science and the other one was my response to that report. But none of them was meant for publication. In a sense, without even being published my data were in the public domain. Those people who wanted to know did get this. They simply downloaded. Whe n they could no longer access it on the Web, people were phoning me in desperation and asking me to give it to them. I said I had never published this and I wanted to publish it properly. You have to go to Rowett to get it.
The Royal Society came in after Rowett put those reports on the Web. They simply said that the experiments were badly designed, badly executed and they had no validity. I don't know how they could say this because they had only the copies of the internal reports. They did not ask me. The design of the experiment was not mentioned at all in the reports. The report had quite literally only factual tables and things like that because that was prepared for people who already knew what was the design of the experiment. There was no methodology described in the report. And again I do not know how they could comment on it. They must have had some special communication from God to know what sort of methods were used. The Rowett audit committee was very useful for me. You see the only way they could actually suspend me was if I had cheated. That's the law. It gave me the opportunity to defend myself strongly that I had done the experiments. In that respect at least the Royal Society agreed with them.
There were only two things that I demanded from them. One was that this was done in confidence because I still wanted to publish them and that they should give their evaluation. I also had the evaluations of two very senior international scientists which they combined into a report called the Memorandum. And that was signed by 24 international scientists. Of these about five were from Britain. The rest were from Europe. That really again exploded the whole situation. That was what actually led to the Pa rliamentary Science and Technology Committee asking me because there were so many rumours going around that it had to be clarified.
They still rubbished it.
No, I do not think it is fair to say that because there has always been a strict division between the establishment and the practising scientists. A practising scientist has come in support of me. I still have my scientific reputation intact. I have been contracted by a major scientific publishing house to write a chapter on the health effects reviewing all that we know about GM.
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By John Vidal,
The Guardian (London) November 21, 2000 SECTION: Guardian
Home Pages, Pg. 7 LENGTH: 1029 words
Chickens about to be slaughtered go very silent, hold their wings to their breasts and huddle together with large sad eyes. We know this because, at 7.35am yesterday, a delivery of 60 of Britain's finest naturally-reared arrived at Liverpool docks in the back of several large rented vans, courtesy of well-known global poulterers Greenpeace. Waving tickets for the Ireland ferry, the vans sped through the perimeter wall of the docks with ease. Half a mile further they reached the gates of Cargill's, Britain's largest importer of GM soya beans, which are fed mainly to animals. The first two vans passed four sleepy guards, saying only that they had a delivery'.
The third stopped on the corporate weighbridge and immobilised its air brakes blocking the route into the factory yard. On a co-ordinated squawk the rear doors of the vans were flung open and the chickens rushed out into the vile-smelling, steam-shrouded works. Flapping their little felt wings, tripping over their giant talons and clucking like a coach load of VIPs at the dome, the liberated flock danced their way in as Tannoys blared out from the vans the sound of an industrial poultry shed.
Cargill's, which also happens to be the world's largest grain and food trader, turning over pounds 40bn a year, was metaphorically stuffed. 'Tossers,' yelled one of the guards flapping his own arms in sympathy with 30 chickens who flew past him. Fair and foul It probably helped that at this very moment, a mighty hail storm broke summoned, it is thought, by John Prescott and environmentalists at the Hague global warming talks. What until then had been 60 passable Rhode Island reds and four cocky-looking guards became in one minute sodden, floppy-combed, wilting beaked fowl and even fouler-mouthed security men. Dry chaos, in short, became miserable farce.
'Shit, shit, shit,' yelled a guard, cursing the weather as much as the chickens. 'Stop, stop. This is private land. Leave at once. Now!' 'Chicken tonight,' taunted a funky giant rooster leading a dash for one of the many 80ft high silos where the GM soya is stored before being crushed into oil and distributed to animal seed companies aroundBritain. Within 10 minutes eight well-seasoned climbers had locked themselves to a conveyer belt 60ft above ground, intending to roost at least two nights.
Meanwhile, eight more poultry were getting broody up on the silos, while the rest of the flock was being shooed off lorries and out of buildings by whoever Cargill's could persuade to brave the storm. A giant alsatian barely restrained by a guard nipped the wing of one chicken; but most were led away as first the dock police, then customs and excise, and finally Liverpool's finest arrived on the scene. Outside the perimeter fence 10 chickens who had been prevented from entering performed for the benefit of arriving Cargill's drivers and workers.
Opinions were divided on the quality of the matinee theatre. 'I haven't laughed so much on a Monday morning in years,' said one. 'Chicken shit,' said another. A third declared his undying respect for Greenpeace and hatred for the company where he had worked for years: Good on them.
'It's about time someone took these bastards on. They think they can get away with anything.' He then whispered loudly that Greenpeace should try another Cargill depot. 'They're canny. They keep the GM well clear of this place.' He drew a map suggesting the best way in. Greenpeace was positively clucking at its success following its recent acquittal for partly destroying a GM maize field last year. The 60 chickens were cock-a-hoop too.
They included a vicar, teachers, an athletic coach, an accountant, and a sewing machinist. Having largely persuaded the super markets and food processors to ban GM soya in human foodstuff, the Cargill's attack opened up a whole new front for the anti-GM protesters.
Few people know that almost every chicken and pig sold in Britain in the past three years has been fed on GM food. 'It is still massively in the food chain,' said a Greenpeace spokesman yesterday. A recent poll, he said, suggested that 57% of people did not want animals to be fed GM food, and 90% said they wanted full labelling on all meat rearedusing GM food.
No one knew the exact quantities of GM animal foodstuff imported into Britain. A 1999 agriculture minister report suggested that a substantial proportion of the 2m tons of soya, 1.1m tons of maize and 0.5m tons of distillers' grains used in animal feed (in Britain) could contain material derived from GM varieties". Segregation In April the then farms minister, Jeff Rooker, told a select committee: 'You have to assume that anything imported from America will probably be mixed up with GM organisms.'
A spokeswoman for Cargill's was at a loss yesterday to understand why Greenpeace kept targeting the firm. Earlier this year the group occupied a GM soya boat, and last week it projected 'nasty' videos on one of the firm's sheds. 'But we do segregate GM and non-GM soya. We are very responsible. We only respond to what our customers want. If they specify GM soya, we will provide it. If they want non-GM, we will get it for them, too.'
She said that more companies were specifying non-GM animal feed, even at a higher price. 'But we don't want to sit down to talk about it with Greenpeace. They don't seem to like us for some peculiar reason. We even work with children to educate them about the environment.'
Last week both McDonald's and Burger King said they would no longer sell meat from animals fed GM foods, following Sainsbury's, Iceland, Marks and Spencer, Nestle, Unilever and others. Anti-GM campaigners said there was still uncertainty as to whether commitments applied to all foods and ingredients. Last night police said eight people had been arrested, and Greenpeace said four people remained chained up on the silos. 'We'll continue to harass Cargill's until it ends these GM food imports and stops contaminating our food chain,' clucked their spokesman. Special report on the GM debate at http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/gm