Genetically Manipulated Food News

25 November 98

Table of Contents

France's Ag Minister Favours Caution Over Gene Crops
Hijacking Food!
You Can't Feed the World on Greed
India Farmers Oppose Monsanto Seed Experiment
Revealed: how US bullies nations over genetic food
Biopiracy Of Epipedobates Tricolor
Saskatoon Farmer says Charge Bees and Wind, not Him
Monsanto: A chequered history
Land Management Implications Of Growing GE Crops
Monsanto Denies Testing Seed With High-yield Gene In India
Succumbing to Green Scare Tactics
Public Acceptance of GE Food falling, but MP support increasing!

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Date: Sat, 21 Nov 1998 13:54:40 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson

France's Ag Minister Favours Caution Over Gene Crops

© Reuters Limited 1998.

France's Glavany Favours Caution Over Gene Crops

PARIS - French Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany on Tuesday defended France's stance over genetic crop engineering, saying he would opt for over-prudence rather than throwing caution to the wind.

"If there is a risk to be taken, I would take that of over-precaution over that of being blind or unworried," he told French newspaper Le Monde in an interview to be published on Wednesday.

Glavany said a proposed bio-vigilance committee, made up of plant scientists as well as consumers and environmental groups, would decide the parameters necessary to gauge the safety of different types of gene-modified seeds and pass its conclusions on to the relevant government ministers.

Where necessary the ministers would then question the authorisation of the crops in question, he said.

France, torn between angry environmental lobbyists and foreign firms eager to import gene modified seeds, is facing legal proceedings from the European Commission over delaying authorisation for a number of genetically altered crops.

A decision by France's highest administrative court to freeze authorisation of three strains of genetically modified maize seeds in France came in response to a plea by Greenpeace.

While based on procedural irregularities rather than safety grounds, the move added to public unease over gene-crops.

Glavany, who took office a month ago, said concern among French citizens, who earlier this year gave lukewarm support to the introduction of two U.S. corn varieties to France, was understandable.

"I find it quite healthy that public opinion shows a will to control the progress of science," he said.

He said the bio-vigilance committee would send an annual report to parliament to ensure transparence.

Date: Sat, 21 Nov 1998 13:54:40 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson

Thanks to: (jim mcnulty) for forwarding these article: this is from the APPA conference a bit like PGA but focussed on Asia.

Hijacking Food!

By Suria Prakash and Jennifer Mourin

Genetic Engineering - corporate tool for food security erosion and enslavement of farmers.

Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Asia and the Pacific's Safe Food Campaign 1998 was launched at the Asia Pacific People's Assembly in Kuala Lumpur by a panel of scientists, health, environmental and consumer activists. The theme of the Campaign, "Say NO! to Genetic Engineering in agriculture and food production", aimed to debunk corporate propaganda that genetic engineering was the panacea for all our food needs into the next century. There is ever increasing evidence that this technology has more problems than solutions for us all.

Launching the campaign, Sarojeni Rengam said "genetically engineered foods involved too many problems and unresolved issues, and these issues were of concern to the whole of Asia. This was because more and more genetically engineered foods were being imported into Asian countries, ostensibly to meet the food needs of the region. "We can feed ourselves without genetically engineered foods", she said. "It is an unnecessary technology. Our farmers do not want it, our consumers do not need it". Only agrochemical and seed corporations will benefit from it.

PAN Asia and the Pacific is collaborating with its network partners in the region to carry out this campaign. "Growing concern over these 'miracle' foods and the lack of information has prompted coordinated action over this issue", said Jennifer Mourin, the Campaign coordinator. "Corporate dominance of our food production is being propelled by trade liberalization via trade blocks like APEC, and free trade agreements like the GATT. This calls for concerted action against genetically engineered foods in the region," she said.

The panel of experts, which included Dr. Vandana Shiva, Dr. Micheal Hansen, Dr. Romeo Quijano, Barbara Dinham and Mika Iba, talked about how genetically engineered food was being forced upon countries by corporations and the various issues involved. Dr. Vandana Shiva said Monsanto, which was the biggest player in the game, was the "worst global terrorist". It was forcing the "hazardous food" on all countries, using tremendous pressure and misleading promotional campaigns. Monsanto has, in fact, "held the U.S. Food and Drug Administration captive", she stated. "It is a terrorist in not allowing people to have the food they want, by refusing to segregate genetically engineered food crops and to label genetically engineered foods.

And through force, coercion and terror, Monsanto is trying to control the world's food production but we must try to make the food system more democratic by relating closely with farmers". She also said that, significantly, insurance companies were refusing to cover liability on genetically engineered foods, which reflected on its safety. The trade agreements do not talk about liabilities. "We must force the exporting countries to accept liabilities. If there is no liability, there is no trade or biosafety protocol, either".

Dr. Michael Hansen, of the New York based Consumer Policy Institute warned that genetically engineered foods can cause severe, potentially fatal, allergies. Genetically modified peanuts, dairy products and shellfish were particularly dangerous, and there have been tested cases of allergy from soyabeans. "Without labelling, it is even impossible to trace what food you are reacting to. Europe and India are demanding labelling, and other countries should put pressure".

"One of the greatest dangers of genetically engineered foods is the development of antibiotic resistance in consumers because of the antibiotic maker genes used in the process of modifying genes", he said. This is particularly worrisome in the context of the already increasing antibiotic resistance in the case of several infections diseases. Genetically engineered crops could also cause ecological disruptions as the modified genes can cross-over to other, non-engineered crops, creating 'superweeds'. As resistance to genetically engineered foods mounts in the US and Europe, "there is a danger that it will be dumped on the South", he warned. There were already 'significant imports' of soyabean in countries such as Singapore and South Korea.

In Europe, anger caused among the people by the 'mad cow' disease has been stoked further by genetically engineered foods, said Barbara Dinham, of the Pesticides Trust based in London. "There is resistance in Europe because consumers feel genetically engineered foods are unsafe and their effects irreversible". One food chain in England has refused to buy genetically engineered foods. And there are movements opposing the import of genetically engineered foods and the planting of genetically engineered crops, which may force the European Commission to rethink its stand on these issues.

Health and environmental activist, Dr. Romeo Quijano pointed out that small and poor farmers in the Asian region will be affected by the monopoly corporate control of genetically engineered seeds through patents. "This will worsen their dependence", he said. "Governments in the region are collaborators in pushing genetically engineered crops. National committees to regulate genetically engineered crops and foods are actually facilitating their entry instead of regulating. And there are no safety or toxicological tests".

In Asia, most countries look up to Japan in matters of food issues, but Mika Ika said Japan did not have statutory regulation of genetically engineering foods, and there was also a lack of information. "There are only voluntary safety guidelines, and much of the information comes from Monsanto itself". In fact, the US Department of Agriculture, which has a high stake in promoting genetically engineered foods, had been leading 'intensive education' programmes on the safety of genetically engineered foods in Japan. Japanese consumers are now demanding labelling of genetically engineered foods, she said.

As part of the Campaign, PAN AP had also organized a lecture tour of Dr Hansen to several countries in Asia, including Thailand. One major outcome of his trip there came on November 6 when the Thai Biotec Centre admitted that "genetically engineered foods and agricultural products may pose a health hazard." Dr. Suthat Sriwathanapong (National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Technology, said to protect consumers against this possible health risk, the Thai Food and Drug Administration should issue a more comprehensive rule to regulate genetically engineered drugs and products. The issues of genetic engineering as a tool of corporate control over our resources, increasing farmers dependency on foreign technological inputs, and threats to human health and environment will be discussed at the Forum on Land, Food Security and Agriculture.

Date: Sat, 21 Nov 1998 13:54:40 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson

From: (PAN Asia Pacific)

You Can't Feed the World on Greed

By Suria Prakash and Jennifer Mourin

Kuala Lumpur, Thursday 12th Nov. Transnational companies are increasing their control over agriculture production and trade all over the world, and this is creating new dependencies in the Third World, said participants in a workshop on TNCs at the Forum on Land, Food Security and Agriculture at the Grand Olympic Hotel. The workshop said it was necessary to monitor the actions and strategies of TNCs, inform the people about them, and counter these actions and strategies with alternative community based strategies. TNCs have pushed, and will benefit most from, globalisation.

They are now in a frenzied process of 'consolidating and restructuring' themselves to be able to gain monopoly control over agricultural production, pesticide marketing, seeds, etc. For example, the top 10 pesticide companies now control 80% of the world's pesticide sales, and the top 10 seed companies control 23% of the world's seeds market, and the trend in seeds is towards greater concentration. Agrochemical, seed and food processing companies are merging and integrating, and soon five or six companies will be dominating food supplies. They will be telling us what to grow and where, and deciding what food we should eat. This is an alarming trend, the participants said.

Monsanto, Cargill and Novartis came in for special mention. To make themselves more acceptable, the TNCs are now projecting a 'green' and 'environment friendly' image. The constant message, by both pesticides and genetically engineered food companies, that they were trying to 'feed the world' and 'protecting the environment', are part of this promotional exercise. But "more bio-diversity has been lost to industrial and chemical agriculture than to any other cause", said Barbara Dinham, of Pesticide Trust, London. "And more and more old pesticides are being pushed to developing countries".

TNCs are also using government structures, and international and national development agencies to promote their products. Monsanto's recent effort in Bangladesh to provide 'micro credit' to farmers in collaboration with the Bangladesh Grameen Bank (rural bank) is a case in point. "The micro credit system is a part of globalisation and Monsanto's effort to expand its markets", said Farhad Mazhar, of UBINIG, Bangladesh.

"In this process, the farmers lost both ways. They had to pay high interest to the bank for the loan, and also had to buy Monsanto's propriety technology with the money", he said. On the other hand, Monsanto projected deal worldwide as an example of how an 'advanced genetic engineering technology' could help farmers in a poor country. However, because of world-wide protest, the Grameen Bank later withdrew from the project. But several other such dubious 'rural development' programmers" go through in the developing countries with active support from politicians and bureaucrats, who are co-opted into TNC game plans. NGOs are also often co-opted into these programmes.

Dr Romeo Quijano, of the Philippines, narrated how he was bullied by TNC (Hoechst) for talking publicly about the harmful effects of the pesticide endosulphan. Such 'bullying tactics' by TNCs against critics, farmers and even against governments are quite common, pointed out other participants. Dr Quijano characterised TNCs as "insensitive, amoral, unethical, unable to appreciate the truth, and inherently unscientific and greedy. With the strength of their capital, they use brute power to satisfy their greed". TNCs were also heavily influencing the Codex, the forum that sets world food safety standards, in their favour. "It is therefore important for the South to lobby hard at the Codex", urged Dr Michael Hansen, of the Consumer Policy Research Unit, USA. "If there is enough lobbying from the South, it help quite a lot", he said.

The workshop recommended the support and development of campaigns against TNCs and also to create alternatives to TNC strategies at the community level to counter their growing power. These actions included:

- end -

Date: Sat, 21 Nov 1998 13:54:40 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson

India Farmers Oppose Monsanto Seed Experiment

Saturday November 21 12:17 AM ET

BANGALORE, India (Reuters) - Activist Indian farmers Thursday threatened to protest against U.S. biotechnology giant Monsanto Co (NYSE:MTC - news) if it did not make public the details of "terminator gene" experiments it is conducting in the country.

The terminator gene refers to a new technology patented by a Monsanto subsidiary. The gene switches off the reproductive cycle of a plant after a generation leaving farmers to buy new seeds to sow a fresh crop.

"Monsanto should immediately announce the list of locations where they are conducting experiments involving the terminator gene seed," M.D.Nanjundaswamy, President of Karnataka State Farmers' Association (KSFA), told a news conference in the southern Indian city.

"Otherwise we will resort to direct democratic action," he said.

Nanjundaswamy said according to local media reports, Monsanto has been allowed to conduct experiments involving the terminator gene seeds at 40 centers in five Indian states.

"They should make these centers known so we can go and inspect the sites and assess the impact of the experiments," he said.

Monsanto officials were not available for comment.

KSFA said it opposed the introduction of these seeds in the country as it could damage farmers' interests and threaten the country's food security.

Monsanto has an office in Bangalore and is involved in research at the Indian Institute of Sciences in the city.

Thanks to : "Wainwright Churchill" for posting this

Revealed: how US bullies nations over genetic food

The Independent 22-11-98

Documents show how trade muscle was used to make New Zealand water down new labelling rules, writes Marie Woolf

THE UNITED States, the world's biggest producer of genetically modified food, has been accused of "bullying" foreign governments to protect the global ambitions of the agri-chemical firm Monsanto.

Cabinet documents from New Zealand, seen by The Independent on Sunday, show that the US government threatened to pull out of a potential free-trade agreement with New Zealand over its plans for labelling and testing genetically modified food.

The documents also reveal that the US was concerned that curbs on selling genetically modified food in New Zealand could set a precedent for European countries, including Britain.

New Zealand's labelling rules, which were due to become law this week, are set to be reviewed next month.

Opposition MPs have accused the New Zealand government of backing down on GM food under pressure from the US. British MPs say the documents give the first clear evidence of the lengths to which the US will go to defend the American bio-technology industry.

They believe that Tony Blair has privately come under similar pressure from President Bill Clinton and the US government.

They want him to publicly reveal what discussions the British Government has held with the White House, which has close links with Monsanto, about the growth and sale of GM crops in Britain.

Date: Sat, 21 Nov 1998 13:54:40 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson

Biopiracy Of Epipedobates Tricolor

Acción Ecológica, Quito, Ecuador, November 1998

A new active principle called epibatidine has been patented by Abbott Laboratories in the United States. Epibatidine is a chemical mixture secreted from the skin of a poisonous neotropical frog called Epipedobates tricolor, which lives in the rainforest spanning from the west of the Ecuadorian Andes to the north of Peru.

This species, of great interest to science, has been used since ancient times by indigenous Ecuadorians in their hunting activities: spears dressed with the poison cause immediate death once they enter into contact with the blood system of the catch.

US National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientist John Daley has identified the chemical structure of the frog's secretion, thanks to the information given to him by indigenous and local communities about the physiological effects of this substance. To isolate the active principle, he illegally obtained a sample of 750 frogs which we believe left Ecuador by diplomatic pouch since there is no proof that the Ecuadorian Institute of Natural Forests and Wildlife (INEFAN) granted a license for the frog to be commercially expoited.

This kind of license is a basic requirement of Ecuadorian law, since the frog appears in the annex to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), to which Ecuador is party since 1975. Furthermore, INEFAN banned any bioprospecting activities involving this species in 1996. Yet it was through such bioprospecting that Abbot Laboratories in the United States was able to market its drug ABT-594, derived from epibatidine. ABT-594 is an analgesic two hundred times more potent than morphine. Abbott Laboratories obtained the patent on epibatidine after Daley isolated it.

This recent act of biopiracy involves illegal access to genetic resources, negating the rights of the country of origin and the rights of the indigenous communities which generated the knowledge being claimed in the patent.

For more information:
Elizabeth Bravo, Lucia Gallardo
Biodiversity Campaign
Acción Ecológica, Casilla 17-15-246C, Quito, Ecuador
Tel: (593-2) 52 75 83, Fax: (593-2) 54 75 16, Email:

Date: Tue, 24 Nov 1998 12:27:57 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson

Saskatoon Farmer says Charge Bees and Wind, not Him

By Ed White and Rodney Desnomie, WESTERN PRODUCER: Saskatoon newsroom

Percy Schmeiser says he's innocent and wants his name cleared.

And if he ends up facing Monsanto in court, he's going to be putting the company's genetically altered crops on trial.

"It's in the ditches and the roadsides; it's in the shelterbelts; it's in the gardens; it's all over," said Schmeiser.

Monsanto is suing the Bruno, Sask., farmer for allegedly growing Roundup Ready canola without a licence.

The company claims Schmeiser bought the seed from one or more local growers and planted it in 1997. He then grew a crop, keeping some of it for seed for the 1998 crop year, Monsanto claims.

No court date has been set.

Monsanto has patented the genetic modification that makes canola plants resistant to glyphosate. Seed companies under contract to Monsanto produce the seed, which is sold through farm supply businesses. To grow the seed, farmers must sign a contract with Monsanto agreeing to sell all their crop, with none retained to seed future crops.

Schmeiser said he did not plant any of Monsanto's seed, and if glyphosate-tolerant canola plants grew in his fields this summer, it occurred through pollination from other fields or from seed scattered by machinery and from trucks traveling the roads that run beside his land.

Possible explanation

Schmeiser said his land is surrounded by other canola growers, and pollen could have drifted into his fields on the wind. His land also lies beside busy truck routes that lead to grain elevators.

Schmeiser spoke to reporters at his lawyer's office in downtown Saskatoon, saying he wants to clear his name of Monsanto's charges.

"It's very upsetting to me to all of a sudden see your name in the paper -- that you maybe stole the seed," said Schmeiser.

He said he first noticed glyphosate-tolerant canola plants in his fields 18 months ago, when he sprayed chemical to control weeds around the power poles in his fields. Some canola plants were unharmed by the spray.

Pea crop planned

This past spring Schmeiser said he used a glyphosate pre-seeding burnoff on a field that had grown canola the year before and on which he planned to grow peas.

But so many volunteer canola plants survived that he decided he couldn't afford to grow the peas there, and planted canola instead.

"We're just touching the tip of the iceberg in polluted fields, contamination of fields by this Roundup genetic canola," said Schmeiser.

"It just opens up a vast area of uncertainty."

His first inkling of trouble came in a phone call from a Humboldt Monsanto representative. The man told him the company had received a tip that Schmeiser was growing seed covered by Monsanto's patent on the altered genes, and that the company wanted to take samples of his crop.

Schmeiser refused to allow the company to take samples, but with a court order Monsanto collected some of Schmeiser's crop.

Monsanto's statement of claim asks for an injunction preventing Schmeiser from using or selling any seed that breaks its patent protection. It wants his canola crop seized, and asks for general, punitive and exemplary damages, as well as legal costs.

Schmeiser's statement of defence said he never received any patent-protected canola seed and never deliberately planted any.

It also challenges the validity of the Monsanto patent, arguing it is improper to patent a life form and is an attempt to entrap farmers with "nuisance patent infringement claims."

Schmeiser said he is upset by the lawsuit, but will not change his farming practices because of it.

"I plan to do exactly what I was doing this year, next year."

Date: Tue, 24 Nov 1998 12:27:57 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson

This feature from SPLICE is an abbreviated version of Brian Tokar's article in the Ecologist - details about SPLICE and The Genetics Forum at the end of the article

Monsanto: A chequered history

abbreviated version of Brian Tokar's article in the Ecologist

Monsanto's high-profile advertisements in Britain and the US depict the corporation as a visionary, world-historical force, working to bring an environmentally responsible outlook to the solution of humanity's pressing problems. But is Monsanto the "clean and green" company its advertisements promote? In an edited version of his Ecologist article, Brian Tokar puts Monsanto into perspective.

Historically Monsanto was one of the world's largest producers of PCBs (eventually banned in the US in 1976) and Agent Orange. More recently the company has concentrated on promoting Roundup, a glyphosate herbicide which accounts for at least one sixth of Monsanto's total annual sales and half the company's operating income. A look at its current heavy investment in the biotechnology offers some revealing clues, and may help us better understand the company's practices. Biotechnology's Brave New World

Monsanto's aggressive promotion of its biotechnology products, from recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), to Roundup Ready soybeans and other crops, to its insect-resistant varieties of cotton, is seen by many observers as a continuation of its many decades of ethically questionable practices.

For example, Monsanto's 14-year effort to gain approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to bring recombinant BGH to market was fraught with controversy, including allegations of a concerted effort to suppress information about the hormone's ill effects. In 1990, when FDA approval of rBGH appeared imminent, a veterinary pathologist at the University of Vermont's agricultural research facility released previously suppressed data to two state legislators documenting significantly increased rates of udder infection in cows that had been injected with the then-experimental Monsanto hormone, as well as an unusual incidence of severely deforming birth defects in offspring of rBGH-treated cows.

  1. An independent review of the University data by a regional farm advocacy group documented additional cow health problems associated with rBGH, including high incidences of foot and leg injuries, metabolic and reproductive difficulties and uterine infections. The US Congress's General Accounting Office (GAO) attempted an inquiry into the case, but was unable to obtain the necessary records from Monsanto and the University to carry out its investigation, particularly with respect to suspected teratogenic and embryotoxic effects. The GAO auditors concluded that cows injected with rBGH had mastitis (udder infection) rates one third higher than untreated cows, and recommended further research on the risk of elevated antibiotic levels in milk produced using rBGH.

  2. Monsanto's rBGH was approved by the FDA for commercial sale beginning in 1994.

    The following year, Mark Kastel of the Wisconsin Farmers Union released a study of Wisconsin farmers' bad experiences with the drug. But instead of addressing the causes of farmers' complaints about rBGH, Monsanto went on the offensive, threatening to sue small dairy companies that advertised their products as free of the artificial hormone. Roundup-Ready Soybeans While Monsanto argues that its "Roundup Ready" soybeans (RRS) will ultimately reduce herbicide use, the widespread acceptance of herbicide-tolerant crop varieties appears far more likely to increase farmers' dependence on herbicides. Weeds that emerge after the original herbicide has dispersed or broken down are often treated with further applications of herbicides.

  3. Monsanto has stepped up its production of Roundup in recent years. With Monsanto's US patent for Roundup scheduled to expire in the year 2000, and competition from generic glyphosate products already emerging worldwide, the packaging of Roundup herbicide with "Roundup Ready" seeds has become the centrepiece of Monsanto's strategy for continued growth in herbicide sales.

  4. The possible health and environmental consequences of Roundup-tolerant crops have not been fully investigated, including potential allergenic effects, potential invasiveness or weediness, and the possibility of herbicide resistance being transferred via pollen to other soybeans or related plants.

  5. While any problems with herbicide-resistant soybeans may still be dismissed as long-range and somewhat speculative, the experience of US cotton growers with Monsanto's genetically engineered seeds appears to tell a very different story. Monsanto has released two varieties of genetically engineered cotton, beginning in 1996. One is a Roundup-resistant variety and the other, named "Bollgard", secretes a bacterial toxin intended to control damage from three leading cotton pests. The toxin, derived from Bacillus thuringiensis, has been used by organic growers in the form of a natural bacterial spray since the early 1970s. But while B.t. bacteria are relatively short-lived, and secrete their toxin in a form that only becomes activated in the alkaline digestive systems of particular worms and caterpillars, genetically engineered B.t. crops secrete an active form of the toxin throughout the plant's life cycle.

  6. The first widely anticipated problem with these pesticide-secreting crops is that the presence of the toxin throughout the plant's life cycle is likely to encourage the development of resistant strains of common crop pests. The US EPA has determined that widespread resistance to B.t. may render natural applications of B.t. bacteria ineffective in just three to five years and requires growers to plant refuges of up to 40 per cent non-B.t. cotton in an attempt to forestall this effect. Second, the active toxin secreted by these plants may harm beneficial insects, moths and butterflies, in addition to those species that growers wish to eliminate.

  7. But the damaging effects of B.t.-secreting "Bollgard" cotton proved to be much more immediate, enough so that Monsanto and its partners have pulled five million pounds of genetically engineered cotton seed off the market and agreed to a multimillion dollar settlement with farmers in the southern United States. Not only were plants attacked by the cotton bollworm, which Monsanto claimed they would be resistant to, but germination was spotty, yields were low, and plants were misshapen, according to several published accounts.

  8. Despite these problems, Monsanto is advancing the use of genetic engineering in agriculture by taking control of many of the largest, most established seed companies in the United States. Monsanto now owns Holdens Foundation Seeds, supplier of germplasm used on 25-35 per cent of US maize acreage, and Asgrow Agronomics, which it describes as "the leading soybean breeder, developer and distributor in the United States".

  9. This past spring, Monsanto completed its acquisition of De Kalb Genetics, the second largest seed company in the United States, as well as Delta and Pine Land, the largest US cotton seed company. If this purchase is approved by regulators,46 Monsanto will controls 85% of the US cotton seed market.

  10. Shapiro, The Image-Maker Under CEO Robert Shapiro, Monsanto has pulled out all the stops to transform its image from a purveyor of dangerous chemicals to an enlightened, forward-looking institution crusading to feed the world. Shapiro sits on the President's Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations and served a term as a member of the White House Domestic Policy Review.

  11. He describes himself as a visionary and a Renaissance Man, with a mission to use the company's resources to change the world. We are to believe that Monsanto's aggressive promotion of biotechnology is not a matter of mere corporate arrogance, but rather the realisation of a simple fact of nature. And readers of the latest Annual Report can see how even language can be co-opted. Roundup is not a herbicide, it is a tool to minimise tillage and decrease soil erosion. Genetically engineered crops are not just about profits for Monsanto, they are about solving the inexorable problem of population growth. Biotechnology is not reducing everything alive to the realm of commodities - items to be bought and sold, marketed and patented - but it is in fact a harbinger of 'decommoditization': the replacement of single, mass produced, products, with a vast array of specialised, made-to-order products. This is Newspeak of the highest order.

    The Annual report also presents the analogy between today's rapid growth in the number of identified DNA base pairs and the exponential trend of miniaturisation in the electronics industry, a trend first identified in the 1960s. Monsanto has dubbed the apparent exponential growth of what it terms "biological knowledge" to be nothing less than "Monsanto's Law". Like any other putative law of nature, one has little choice but to see its predictions realised and, here, the prediction is nothing less than the continued exponential growth of Monsanto's global reach.

    But the growth of any technology is not merely a "law of nature". Technologies are not social forces unto themselves, nor merely neutral "tools" that can be used to satisfy any social end we desire. Rather they are products of particular social institutions and economic interests. Once a particular course of technological development is set in motion, it can have much wider consequences than its creators could have predicted: the more powerful the technology, the more profound the consequences. For example, the so-called Green Revolution in agriculture in the 1960s and seventies temporarily increased crop yields, and also made farmers throughout the world increasingly dependent on costly chemical inputs. This spurred widespread displacements of people from the land, and in many countries has undermined the soil, groundwater and social land base that sustained people for millennia.

  12. The "second Green Revolution" promised by Monsanto and other biotechnology companies threatens even greater disruptions in traditional land tenure and social relations. If we believe in democracy, it is imperative that we have the right to choose which technologies are best for our communities, rather than having unaccountable institutions like Monsanto decide for us. Rather than technologies designed for the continued enrichment of a few, we can ground our technology in the hope of a greater harmony between our human communities and the natural world. Our health, our food and the future of life on Earth truly lie in the balance.
Brian Tokar is the author of Earth for Sale (South End Press, 1997) and The Green Alternative (Revised Edition: New Society Publishers, 1992). He teaches at the Institute for Social Ecology and Goddard College, both in Plainfield, Vermont, USA.

Notes and references

  1. Andrew Christiansen, "Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone: Alarming Tests, Unfounded Approval," Rural Vermont, July 1995; also B. Tokar, op. cit. 11, pp. 28-29.

  2. A. Christiansen, ibid., pp. 10, 17; U.S. General Accounting Office, "FDA's Review of Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone", August 6, 1992 (GAO/PEMD-92-96).

  3. Sonja Schmitz, "Cloning Profits: The Revolution in Agricultural Biotechnology", University of Vermont, 1998, to be published.

  4. Monsanto Company 1997 Annual Report, pp. 16, 37.

  5. "Roundup Ready Soybean: A Critique of Monsanto's Risk Evaluation", Greenpeace (Chicago, USA. 1997.

  6. Hope Shand, "Bacillus Thuringiensis: Industry Frenzy and a Host of Issues," Journal of Pesticide Reform, Vol. 9, No. 1, Spring 1989, pp. 18-21; Ricarda A. Steinbrecher, "From Green to Gene Revolution: The Environmental Risks of Genetically Engineered Crops", The Ecologist, Vol. 26, No. 6, November/December 1996, pp. 273-281; Brian Tokar, "Biotechnology vs. Biodiversity", Wild Earth, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 1996, pp. 50-55.

  7. Union of Concerned Scientists, "EPA Requires Large Refuges," The Gene Exchange, Summer 1998, p.1; Union of Concerned Scientists, "Transgenic insect-resistant crops harm beneficial insects," The Gene Exchange, Summer 1998, p. 4; Union of Concerned Scientists, "Managing Resistance to Bt, "The Gene Exchange, Vol. 6, No. 2/3, December 1995, pp. 4-7.

  8. Union of Concerned Scientists, "Bt Cotton Fails to Control Bollworm," The Gene Exchange, Vol. 7, No. 1, December 1996, p. 1; Susan Benson, Mark Arax and Rachel Burstein, "A Growing Concern", Mother Jones, January/February 1997; Anne Reifenberg and Rhonda L. Rundle, "Buggy Cotton May Cast Doubt On New Seeds," Wall Street Journal, July 23, 1996.

  9. RAFI Communiqué, The Life Industry 1997: The Global Enterprises that Dominate Commercial Agriculture, Food and Health, Rural Advancement Foundation International, November/December 1997. The comment about Asgrow was quoted by Brewster Kneen in The Ram's Horn, No. 160, June 1998, p. 2.

  10. Edward Hammond, Pat Mooney and Hope Shand, "Monsanto Takes Terminator," Rural Advancement Foundation International, May 14, 1998.

  11. Monsanto World Wide Web page:

  12. See, for example, Vandana Shiva, The Violence of the Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology, and Politics, London: Zed Books, 1991.

Date: Tue, 24 Nov 1998 12:27:57 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson

The Genetics Forum
2nd floor, 94 White Lion Street, London N1 9PF, UK
tel + 44 (0)171-837 9229 fax + 44 (0)171-837 1141
email or

The Genetics Forum is the UK's only public interest group exclusively devoted to policy development, campaigns and publications on genetic engineering from a social, environmental and ethical perspective. The Genetics Forum publishes its magazine, SPLICE (ISSN 1362-1955), six times a year . For details of this and other publications, please send an A5 sae to the above address.


The article below on the land management implications of growing genetically engineered crops appeared in the November 1998 Edition of 'European Alert', published by the European Society of Chartered Surveyors (ESCS). European Alert is distributed widely across Europe and within the European Commission)

Land Management Implications Of Growing GE Crops

by Mark Griffiths FRICS, European Rural Policy Advisor to the RICS [Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors]

Food is fast turning into a nightmare for the European Union, and rightly so. The last thing that Europe's farmers need is a new generation of genetically engineered 'super crops' claimed to produce higher yields with minimal husbandry, but which post-BSE European consumers will not buy

From the farmer's perspective the case for growing genetically modified (GM) crops rests largely on their ability to produce higher yields and margins. However, after two or three years of practical cropping experience in North America there is now evidence that some GM crops may actually be producing lower yields and margins than their conventional equivalents - certainly there is data to this effect in the case of soya, oilseed rape and cotton.

Even if GM varieties in the EU perform better than those in the US (we have yet to see), careful consideration needs to be given to the wider implications of their use. Because of consumer food safety concerns supermarkets may only wish to deal with GM-free farms. The consequential possibility of lost markets for GM growers and litigation with neighbours, landlords, banks, merchants and consumers is not something to be dismissed lightly.

This is because there are a number of special practical problems associated with GM crops. First, in field and in store they look no different to traditional crops. Secondly, some GM crops are capable of cross pollinating over 2.5 kilometres, so GM cropping on one farm may end up affecting the GM-free status of another. Thirdly, once GM crops have been grown on a farm, inherited modified genetic sequences in crop volunteers and related weed species are likely to persist on the farm even after the crop has been harvested and sold. In effect, once GM crops are grown, GM-free status could be lost on a permanent basis.

So what is the extent of the practical and financial consequences of potential GM land contamination ? First, the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will mean that farm gate prices will be much more dependent on market demand for agricultural products. It will no longer be easy to off-load products that the market does not want into intervention storage.

Secondly, in the post Agenda 2000 scenario what the consumer wants and does not want suddenly becomes of critical importance to the farming industry. A MORI opinion poll in the UK, published in June 1998, revealed that 61% of UK consumers do not want to eat GM foods.

EU farmers should not feel they are missing out. The performance of some GM crops is collapsing so fast that US agronomists now advise farmers not to grow more than 60% of their crops with GM built-in insecticide traits, for example. The previous year the recommendation was 80%. Is this technology sustainable, and who benefits from it?

The debate is far from over. However, until it can be proved that GM food ingredients pose no threat to the health and safety of EU citizens can any government afford to gamble with our futures?

Date: Wed, 25 Nov 1998 23:29:55 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson

Monsanto Denies Testing Seed With High-yield Gene In India

November 23, 1998

NEW DELHI - AP World News via NewsEdge Corporation : Responding to threats from a militant farmers' group, Monsanto Co. denied Friday it was locally testing seeds altered with a gene that promotes greater yields but renders the plants sterile. Since the so-called terminator gene does not exist today in any plant in any country in the world, the question of its involvement in the field the agricultural and pharmaceutical products giant said in a statement.

Delta and Pine Land Co. of Scott, Missouri _ the largest cotton seed company in the world recently acquired by Monsanto _ developed and patented the gene, which produces higher yields but its crops have sterile seeds.

Critics say seeds altered with the gene would force farmers to repeatedly buy new seeds rather than saving seeds for successive crops, eventually giving companies unprecedented control of the world's food supply.

Date: Wed, 25 Nov 1998 23:29:55 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson

Succumbing to Green Scare Tactics

By Frank Furedi 11/23/98 The Wall Street Journal Europe (WSJE)
© Copyright (c) 1998, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Monsanto, one of the world's leading food companies, has become the major casualty of a bitter environmentalist campaign against genetically modified food in Europe. Last week, in a coup for anti-technology lobby groups everywhere, Greenpeace circulated two Monsanto internal memos revealing a collapse of public support for the U.S.-based company's genetic technology in Britain and Germany. The memos, written by Stan Greenberg, chairman of Greenberg Research for Monsanto, paint a sad picture of a beleaguered industry. "Over the past year, the situation has deteriorated steadily and perhaps at an accelerating pace," writes Mr. Greenberg. He goes on to warn that the situation is likely to get worse.

Monsanto is particularly worried about flagging enthusiasm for its products among major retailers and opinion makers. Its strategy for introducing genetically modified food into Europe was strongly criticized at a series of meetings held in September with corporate leaders, scientific advisors and senior buyers and managers at large retailers such as Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Tesco, CWS, Asda and Safeway. Many retailers supported a moratorium on the introduction of genetically modified food because they feared attracting negative publicity.

Date: Wed, 25 Nov 1998 23:29:55 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson

Public Acceptance of GE Food falling, but MP support increasing!

By Stanley Greenberg Guardian (london) Wednesday November 25, 1998

Genetic engineering: When Monsanto asked Stanley Greenberg to analyse its situation in Britain, he found public acceptance of its genetically modified foods falling dramatically, but support amongst MPs increasing. We print edited extracts of the leaked document ,

Biotechnology and Monsanto face their toughest European test in Britain where the broad climate is extremely inhospitable to biotechnology acceptance. Over the past year, the situation has deteriorated steadily and is perhaps even accelerating, with the latest survey showing an ongoing collapse of public support for biotechnology and genetically modified (GM) foods.

At each point in this project, we keep thinking that we have reached the low point and that public thinking will stabilise, but, apparently, that has not happened yet.

The public feels increasingly negative about nearly all the terms associated with genetic modification, and a similar pattern is evident for genetic engineering and biotechnology.

Overall feeling towards foods with genetically modified ingredients have grown dramatically more negative, which is probably the best measure of our declining fortunes in Britain. Only about 12 per cent have reacted positively over the last year, but negative feelings have risen from 38 per cent a year ago, to 51 per cent today. A third of the public is now extremely negative, up from 20 per cent.

The number of people who think such ingredients are 'acceptable' has declined somewhat (from 33 to 25 per cent over the year); and more than ever are saying such products are 'unacceptable': 35 per cent last year, rising to 44 per cent before the summer and to 51 per cent now.

A growing number now say GM has no place in plants: the percentage saying it is 'unacceptable' has risen from 22 to 26 to 38 per cent - up 12 points over the summer when the press has paid increasing attention to issues related to field trials.

From the survey it is evident that there has been a collapse of public support in Britain, which has worsened over the summer. There are clearly large forces at work that are making public acceptance in Britain problematic.

The public collapse is paralleled and probably exaggerated by the hostility of the press to biotechnology and GM foods and seeds. We conducted interviews with members of the media (though not the correspondents directly writing on the issue) to ascertain their position.

What emerged was that the media elites are strongly hostile to biotechnology and Monsanto. They think the Government is being too lax and believe they must expose the dangers - which they increasingly see as environmental. While individual reporters may have improved their knowledge, there is no evidence of that among the media elites - who do not seem informed on the issue.

The press in Britain thinks these products are being introduced without serious regulation and labelling for the consumer. They see no commission being set up, no code of standards, no initiatives for further testing - even as the public has become more and more alarmed. Neither do they see the food manufacturers doing very much. Zeneca has been low key; Monsanto has communicated in a limited manner; and retailers are watching to see the public reaction.

In that context the media elites think they have an obligation to highlight the dangers. They think these products are being introduced in the midst of an information vacuum. We face a media elite that is very supportive of strong regulatory measures.

Retailers are critical arbiters since they have very high credibility in Britain and because they believe Monsanto has handed off to them the task of winning public acceptance. They carry with them their resentment of Monsanto for badly mismanaging the introduction of biotechnology in Europe and for allowing the issue to be decided in the supermarkets. As a result they are anxious for someone else to move on to the front line, preferably the Government.

Monsanto has made some progress among the retailers. Those we spoke with are quite well briefed, in some cases citing Monsanto briefing statistics word for word. They are largely comfortable with the use of biotechnology in foods. In contrast to a year ago, when we conducted similar interviews, they no longer seem focused on safety concerns, but are beginning to talk about the environmental impact from crop introductions. At the end of the day however, they believe in the technology and think the long-term benefits outweigh the risks.

The networks that most directly influence the decision makers in Britain - the super socio-economic AB segment - are hardly leading the way for biotechnology acceptance. They are at least as negative on the subject as the general public. This is the opposite of the pattern in the United States where college and post-graduates and elites have helped forge the way for biotechnology.

Feelings about food with GM ingredients among the AB classes began negatively (15 per cent positive and 47 per cent negative) and grew astonishingly negative by June of this year (14 per cent positive and an astonishing 57 per cent negative.

Fortunately there is some evidence of stabilisation among the group. Negative sentiments about GM food have risen only marginally since June. At the same time these elite segments have pulled back somewhat from environmental groups and, perhaps most interesting, seem less uniformly hostile to Monsanto.

Over the course of the summer we have seen only slight increases in negativity within the ABs, and nothing comparable to the general public's lack of acceptance.

The one issue where there is genuine progress among the ABs (and maybe with the public as a whole) is in attitudes toward Monsanto. The intense 5-1 negativity about Monsanto a year ago has dissipated considerably. Reactions to Monsanto among the ABs is now 2-1 negative.

Amidst the overall collapse with the general public, Monsanto's position has stabilised over the year and in the most recent period. The 2-1 negative image at the outset of the year remains unchanged. Monsanto began as an issue, but despite all the news coverage and general collapse, it has been able to stabilise its position.

During September we conducted face-to-face interviews with 14 MPs (mostly Labour) and upper-level civil servants, including chief scientists. A year ago the same research found a political establishment open to biotechnology, but critical of Monsanto and uncertain of the benefits. At the same time just a third of the elite respondents saw the benefits as predominant.

But among the political elite today, there is clear evidence of progress. Fully half of the MPs see benefits outweighing risks, 70 per cent of the MPs reacted positively to GM foods. These members of the elite saw the advertising and clearly understood the messages.

When asked whether the introduction of GM foods should be allowed or stopped in Britain, they became quite articulate about the future of biotechnology. Frankly, a moratorium gets little support among the MPs and civil servants.

On the other hand, political leaders remember the introduction of soya and GM foods and have not forgotten many of their feelings about Monsanto. The company's main work in Britain is in still trying to overcome the strong negative reaction to the way it introduced this issue.

When asked about the introduction, the MPs and civil servants had little trouble recalling the detail and have little doubt that over the long term things will work out, with a typical comment being: 'I'm sure in five years time, everybody will be happily eating genetically modified apples, plums, peaches and peas.' Stanley B Greenberg is chairman and chief executive of Greenberg Research; he has also served as an advisor to Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Tony Blair. These are edited extracts of a Monsanto document leaked without his knowledge to Greenpeace last week.

Richard Wolfson, PhD
Consumer Right to Know Campaign, for Mandatory Labelling and Long-term Testing of all Genetically Engineered Foods,
500 Wilbrod Street Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2
tel. 613-565-8517 fax. 613-565-1596 email:

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