Genetically Manipulated Food News

6 December 98

Table of Contents

BGH Scandal Heats Up
Deregulation and the Death of Health Safety
Political And Industry Pressure On Government Officials
Do we Want our Spuds Spiced with Toad Genes ?
Eco Soundings - India
Horizontal Gene Transfer - New Evidence
Monsanto Under Attack
Prince Charles Launches Public Debate on GM Crops
GE - more Indian actions
GE Safety: A Quote From The Top
US Trade Representative Helping Biotech Companies?
US Farmers Need Support To Decide Organic Or Not
IFOAM Declaration Against GE

Back to Index


Date: Fri, 4 Dec 1998 00:12:24 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson GENews: Dec issue of Alive

BGH Scandal Heats Up

by Richard Wolfson, PhD, Biotech writer

On September 15 and 16, 1998 in Ottawa, six Health Canada scientists voiced grievances before the Public Service Staff Relations Board. The scientists described in detail how they were pressured by senior Health Canada management to approve genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (BGH) and other products of questionable safety. (BGH is injected into dairy cows to increase milk production.)

The scientists said when they hesitated to approve drugs they considered unsafe, they were threatened by their superiors with personal law suits by drug companies. The scientists were charged with insubordination. They felt harassed and isolated in their research.

The scientists reported that files related to BGH were stolen from a locked filing cabinet belonging to one of the scientists. Also stolen were notes from a meeting in which an industry official allegedly attempted to bribe the scientist to approve BGH.

The scientists also said that another hormone for use in livestock (Revlor-H) was approved for use in Canada by upper level management, even though the scientists recommended that the hormone not be approved due to very serious human health concerns.

The pressure to quickly approve drugs was attributed to the powerful lobbying by industy on Health Canada management. The Health Canada "GAPS" Analysis report on BGH, which was written by several of the Health Canada scientists, describes the risks and unknown factors in our understanding of BGH. However, the scientists who wrote the report were under orders from Health Canada management to keep their findings confidential and out of the public domain.

The GAPS report was recently obtained through access to information channels. These documents show that rats injected with BGH exhibited cysts of the thyroid, elevated antibody levels, and inflammation of the prostate- all strong warning signals that more investigation is needed.

Health Canada management seems to have kept these findings confidential clearly due to pressure from industry. In the USA, where these research results have been hidden from public view, BGH is being widely used and bringing in huge profits for industry. Other countries, including the EU, have not approved BGH due to health concerns. Previous research has linked the use of BGH with cancer in humans and sickness in animals.

Due to the increasing controversy over BGH, on Sept 21, the Prime Minister's Office sent "Talking Points" on BGH and HPB to all Liberal MPs and Senators. The talking points attributed the controversy over BGH to "management problems" and "lack of consensus" among HPB scientists. Two different reports on the safety of BGH were referred to, which were attributed to differing views among the scientists.

Due to the major safety questions regarding bovine growth hormone, the Agriculture Committee of the Canadian Senate is now conducting its own investigation of BGH. It is due to this Committee's efforts that the GAPS report was obtained through access to information channels.

Several of the Senators, notably Senator Eugene Whelan and Senator Mira Spivak, are moving to have the scientists address the Senate Agriculture Committee directly.


Date: Fri, 4 Dec 1998 00:12:24 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson GENews: Dec issue of Alive

The following article was also in the Dec 1998 issue of Alive

Deregulation and the Death of Health Safety

by Michele Brill-Edwards, MD, FRCPC

The Food and Drugs Act states quite clearly that its purpose is to protect the public from health hazard and fraud in the sale and use of food, drugs, cosmetics, and devices.

Regulators are paid by the Canadian people to enforce the Act and ensure public safety. However, today the role of regulators is being severely compromised. The public is being put at risk for several reasons.

First of all, technology is changing so dramatically that we are almost always using a set of rules that is about a decade out of date. This is true for issues of food safety, biotechnology, drug development, pesticides and other environmental additives, etc.

Also, the ever-increasing power of new technologies, such as biotechnology, allows for a magnitude of effects never known in the past. Because long-term effects are largely unknown, the possible harm could dwarf the potential promise. Regulators are needed to oversee products coming on the market, in order to protect the public.

Deregulation and Privatization.

After 20 years of deregulation, regulators have effectively lost the capacity to protect the public. We only have to look to Britain to see the complete decimation of the UK beef industry due to deregulation. This systematic deterioration of safety regulations allowed the feeding of sheep's brains to cattle, and the transfer of an infectious agent between species, and ultimately to humans.

The blood scandal in Canada shows that deregulation has been equally devastating here. Justice Krever, in his inquiry, recognized the contamination of our blood supply as a deregulation mega-disaster. He strongly recommended beefing up the regulation of blood and other drugs in Canada.

What is next? Are we learning from past mistakes? No, we are moving into a final phase of deregulation.

Phase one was basically de-moralization. Safety was considered as nothing more than red tape, getting in the way of the market place. Those concerned with safety were devalued and demoralized.

Phase two was de-professionalization. The regulatory agencies were stripped of anyone with the expertise necessary to make and defend independent judgment. Consequently, our regulatory agencies now rely on outside committees of stake holders.

The final phase of deregulation is the complete dismantling of the regulatory agencies. Look at what is happening with the Health Protection Branch (HPB) of Health Canada:

HPB can be considered a 4 leaf clover. One leaf is the Drugs Directorate; another leaf the Foods Directorate; a third leaf the Disease Surveillance Unit; and the fourth leaf the Environmental Health Directorate, for air and water safety.

The first leaf, the Drugs Directorate, is being spun off as a special operating agency. Accountable to whom? We don't know. Drug approval decisions will be made by committees of experts who have ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

The food leaf has already had a portion of it torn off and sent over to Agriculture as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. This is a clear conflict of interest. The mandate of the Agriculture Department is to promote industry, not to protect public interest. A food inspector, if he finds human health hazards is supposed to take measures that could shut down a plant. However, that same inspector reports to a boss in the Ministry of Agriculture whose main concern is keeping that plant economically healthy.

Also consider the food and drug research labs. Last year, with no public announcement, the Minister of Health and senior officers of the department decided to quietly shut down that entire set of research labs. These labs are legally mandated for the proper enforcement of the Food and Drugs Act and ensure the safety of our foods and drugs. Yet, the labs were going to be dismantled, without consulting Parliament or the public.

When citizens protested, the Minister announced a moratorium on the changes and a two-year consultation with the public. However, the drug labs and many of the food labs were already gone.

The disease surveillance units, which form the third leaf, are being sent off to Winnipeg where they will be totally dissociated from the other regulatory units.

No one is too sure of what will happen to the environmental health group, the fourth unit. They may go back over to the department of the environment, where human safety is not the primary concern.

Once deregulation is complete, the next step is harmonizing Canadian standards with world standards. Harmonization is sometimes touted as a means of upgrading to higher international standards. In fact, harmonization is a method of downgrading regulatory standards around the world to the lowest common denominator. This lowering of standards opens up the door for other deregulation mega-disasters.

The rhetoric that permitted the blood scandal and the BSE disaster was primarily focused on a term called "voluntary compliance," which is a hallmark of this new era of deregulation. It means "trust industry." Dismantle the regulatory system. Get rid of the regulators who would otherwise be checking on what corporations are doing.

Why should we trust industry if they have a vested interest in profit, rather than public interest and safety?


Date: Fri, 4 Dec 1998 00:12:24 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson GENews: Dec issue of Alive

The following text is part of the same lecture by Dr. Michele Brill-Edwards. Due to space limitations this text was not included in the article in Alive.

Dr. Brill-Edwards was formerly senior physician at Health Canada (Health Protection Branch) responsible for the regulation of prescription drugs. She resigned from HPB in 1996 in response to her concerns that, due to political and industry pressure, unsafe drugs were coming on the market, which were jeopardizing the lives of Canadians.

Political And Industry Pressure On Government Officials

The text was edited by Dr. Richard Wolfson from a talk by Dr. Brill-Edwards on July 29, 1998 in Ottawa.

Another characteristic hallmark of this new deregulation era is the rhetoric of "proof of harm." The Food and Drugs Act, and most of the regulatory legislation, requires that the onus is on the seller or manufacturer of a product to produce evidence of safety. The product should be proven safe before it is allowed on the market.

However, "proof of harm" mean that untested products are allowed on the market until there is unequivocal proof that they are harmful. Only then are they removed from the market. This degradation of standards has quietly slipped in the last five to ten years.

Another hallmark of the current system is corporate sovereignty. Corporations have almost more rights under new trade legislation than nations, and certainly more rights than people.

MMT is a good example of this. Suddenly we can't decide as a nation if we can keep this product out of Canada. A multilateral trade agreement requires us to pay homage to the corporate right of the manufacturer, over the rights of nations.

Perhaps the most worrisome hallmark of this new post regulation climate is the "culture of deception." This pervading government climate not only permits deliberate lying. It actually encourages and rewards deception, for the purpose of achieving a government will that is just the corporate will in disguise.

The closure of the food lab is one example. When the closure announcement came, 77 scientists from the food research lab collectively signed a petition and presented it personally to the Minister of Health. In the petition, the scientists described very carefully and clearly the risks that would jeopardize Canadian lives if this decision persisted.

The Minister ignored the petition. The scientists were told to get back to work, and that any kind of resistance would not be listened to.

Documentation obtained through access to information showed that that senior officials of the department knew that the decisions they were taking would jeopardize the health of Canadians. You can't just cancel the Scotland Yard for food hazards in Canada and expect that it won't cost some lives.

However, the Canadian public were purposely being kept in the dark. Directives were sent around within the department, with the instruction that if anyone asked about the closure of the labs, the branch was to deny the closure and to deny that public safety could be jeopardized.

With the rapid decline of regulatory duty in Canada, the safety systems are in effect being turned off, without the public knowing. It's like having the alarm system to your house disconnected, while every night you still think it is on and that you are still being protected.

What should we do? First, wake up to what is going on. Also, be aware that there are four standard responses to any questioning of the pervading system, and the risks to the public. Our group (the Alliance for Public Accountability) has termed these four responses "the four D's."

The first "D" is deny. The first response by the government to any opposition is deny. They say the problem doesn't exist, that it's not a problem.

When that wears thin, the next "D" is delay. Once they are forced to acknowledge the problem, they form a committee, call in the stake holders for consultation, etc. Do anything to delay the process of decision making, and most folks will go back to sleep.

The third "D" is divide. For the activists who don't go back to sleep, use the divide tactics. Divide out the softies who can be sweet-talked into accepting harm without realizing it.

The hard-liners who are left get the fourth "D," which is discredit. For instance, farmers who question biotechnology are described as Neanderthal in their thinking. Doctors that question drugs are discredited as not know what they're talking about.

It's time for citizens to realize that the public service is not working in the interests of citizens. The Food and Drugs Act is a bill of safety rights for citizens. However, these laws are not being enforced.

Politicians in Canada are not working in the interests of citizens. They're working in the interests of industry, who are funding them. That needs to be changed, and we need to speak up.

Also, we mustn't be solely reactive. We have to have our own agenda. It is not a question of do we stop or do we go. We cannot blindly discard technology or regulations.

The questions is, how do we proceed? We need to enforce proper safety regulation to protect the public and to minimize risk in the face of the rapid technological development.

Also, we have to establish our right as citizens. We need to have a say and not simply to be the downstream recipients of corporate and government decisions that will benefit some but certainly not all. We have to stop that. We need to work together, raise public awareness, and raise our voices in unison.


Date: Fri, 4 Dec 1998 23:10:09 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson GENews

Do we Want our Spuds Spiced with Toad Genes ?

New Zealand Herald 3-12-98

Genetic engineers are about to learn whether they will be allowed to slip synthetic toad genes into potatoes. PETER WILLS says we should be concerned about these experimental programmes.

Last month the new Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) held hearings in Wellington about a proposal from the Institute for Crop and Food Research to grow plots of potatoes containing a synthetic gene that encodes an antibiotic toxin from the African clawed toad. The experimental program is designed to discover whether production of the toad antibiotic in potatoes protects them against the troublesome soft rot that plagues growers and distributors.


Date: Fri, 4 Dec 1998 23:10:09 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson GENews

Eco Soundings - India

By John Vidal, The Guardian (London) December 2, 1998

IT'S one thing taking on middle class anti-GM activists in Europe, but Monsanto, Novartis, Pioneer and gang are about to feel the wrath of the very organised Indian peasant farmers who say that corporate biotech will further destroy their livelihoods. The companies face the redoubtable Gandhian Professor Nanjundaswamy, who leads the Karnataka State Farmers' Association and claims the support of 10 million people.

KSFA has declared war on biotech crops and are nothing if not direct. Their new campaign is called 'Operation Cremation Monsanto', and last weekend the professor and his activists visited the village of Maladagudda, north of Bangalore, where a farmer was unknowingly growing GM cotton for Monsanto. Having been compensated by KSFA, the farmer watched hundreds of peasants cut down the crops and torch them.


Horizontal Gene Transfer - New Evidence

From: Dr. Mae-wan Ho M.W.Ho@open.ac.uk

A group of researchers in Indiana University of the United States, headed by Dr. Jeffrey Palmer, have just reported in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that a genetic parasite belonging to yeast has suddenly jumped into many unrelated species of higher plants recently.

This parasite is a piece of DNA called a group I intron that can splice itself in and out of a particular gene in the genome of mitochondria. Mitochondria are little power houses of the cell that oxdize food in order to turn it into a form of energy that can be used for all living processes. Until 1995, this parasite was thought to be confined to yeast and only one genus of higher plants out of the 25 surveyed had the parasite. But in a new survey of species >from 335 genera, 48 were found to have the parasite.

Moreover, all the higher plants that have gained the group I intron has the same one, as the DNA base sequence is more than 92% identical.

When this intron jumps into a genome, it also adds to its tail end an extra stretch of DNA that does not belong to the host. By comparing this extra tail, the researchers are able to conclude that almost all of the horizontal gene transfer events were independent and must have occurred very recently. "This massive wave of lateral transfers is of entirely recent occurrence, perhaps triggered by some key shift in the intron's invasiveness within angiosperms [i.e., higher plants]"

So, what triggered this recent explosive invasion of the higher plants by the particular genetic parasite? It could have got into the plant cells by being carried in viruses, insects or bacteria. In order to get into the genome, however, it has to overcome species barriers. For example, the genome has to have a specific site of about 20 base pairs that is recognized by the parasite. Furthermore, in order for the splicing gene carried by the parasite to become expressed, it has to have a signal that is recognized by the host.

The researchers themselves raise concerns about releasing transgenic crops into the environment, if horizontal gene transfer is so widespread.

Only two months ago, it was reported in the Journal Nature that genes transferred into transgenic plants can be up to 30 times more likely to escape than the plant's own genes.


Date: Tue, 8 Dec 1998 23:27:56 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson GENews

Here is some forwarded news from the Pure Food Campaign

Thanks to: Patricia Dines PDines@compuserve.com for forwarding it.

FOOD BYTES #13 October 31, 1998
News and Analysis on Genetic Engineering & Factory Farming by: Ronnie Cummins, Campaign for Food Safety/Organic Consumers Action alliance@mr.net http://www.purefood.org http://www.icta.org

___________________________________________________________
Contents:

Upcoming! Next Issue of Food Bytes--Save Organic Standards--Round Two
______________________________________________________________

Monsanto Under Attack

Quote of the month:

"It's a gradual process of allaying public fears and obtaining more public acceptance," says Monsanto U.K public and government affairs director Anne Foster. "Gradually people will gain confidence in a new science."

After a disastrous month of internecine power struggles, a collapsed merger with American Home Products, PR snafus, and continuing "glitches" in its genetically engineered products, Monsanto's stock has plummeted 30%. Despite millions of acres of its GE crops under cultivation across the world, the Behemoth of Biotech no longer seems quite so invincible. Since the last issue of Food Bytes the St. Louis-based multinational has suffered a number of reverses, including the following:

"Monsanto has engaged in ruthless intimidation of critics; embarked upon an aggressive global takeover of seed, chemical, and pharmaceutical companies, with an aim to control world food distribution; and is conducting an intensive PR "Greenwash" campaign in order to promote itself as an eco-friendly corporation. We will not be fooled, and we will wage our gastronomical struggle with epicurean passion" said Agent Apple. "Monsanto and its subsidiaries have spread chemical death across every continent through products such as PCBs, Agent Orange, Bovine Growth Hormone, Nutrasweet, Equal, and Roundup (the world's biggest selling herbicide). The corporation's toxic Superfund sites poison workers and community members, and its dioxins will continue to cause birth defects and major health problems for generations to come." The EPA has designated Monsanto as a "potentially responsible party" at 93 Superfund sites.

For additional in-depth information on these news items and further info on how Monsanto is "Under Attack," readers should regularly access our web site and its links: www.purefood.org www.icta.org

More and more activists, farmers, and consumer advocates around the world are calling for a global campaign against Monsanto. Look for further details in upcoming issues of Food Bytes.


Date: Tue, 8 Dec 1998 23:27:56 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson GENews

Prince Charles Launches Public Debate on GM Crops

Prince Charles on-line gen forum, Press Association
Royal News Headlines on http://www.princeofwales.gov.uk

The Prince of Wales is urging people to have their say on the controversial issue of genetically-modified food.

In the first online forum on his official website, the Prince has invited responses as to whether GM crops are needed.

Mixing genetic material from species that cannot breed naturally "takes us into areas that should be left to God", he says, adding: "We should not be meddling with the building blocks of life in this way."

While acknowledging that genetic manipulation could lead to major advances in medicine, agriculture and the good health of the environment, he warns that advanced technology brings its own dangers.

"I am not convinced we know enough about the long-term consequences for human health and the environment of releasing plants (or, heaven forbid, animals) bred in this way."

He adds: "I suspect that planting herbicide resistant crops will lead to more chemicals being used on our fields, not fewer. But this isn't the whole story. Such sterile fields will offer little or no food or shelter to wildlife, and there is already evidence that the genes for herbicide resistance can spread to wild relatives of crop plants, leaving us with weeds resistant to weedkiller."

Warning that genetic material does not stay where it is put, that pollen is spread by the wind and by insects, and that GM crops can contaminate conventional and organic crops growing nearby, he says: "Major problems may, as we are assured, be very unlikely, but if something does go badly wrong with GM crops we will be faced with a form of pollution that is self-perpetuating.

"I don't think anyone knows how to clean up after that sort of incident, or who would have to pay for it."

He also questions the claims that some GM crops are essential to feed the world's growing populations.

"Is it really true? Is the problem sometimes lack of money, rather than lack of food? And how will the companies who own this technology make a sufficient profit from selling their products to the world's poorest people? Wouldn't it be better to concentrate instead on the sustainable techniques which can double or treble the yields from traditional farming systems?" The Prince's website, which had seven million hits in its first week, is on http://www.princeofwales.gov.uk


Date: Tue, 8 Dec 1998 23:27:56 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson GENews

Here is some news from activists in India forwarded by post4@tele.dk

Date: Fri, 4 Dec 1998
From: "PROF. NANJUNDA SWAMY" swamy.krrs@aworld.net

GE - more Indian actions

Dear friends,

"Cremation Monsanto", the campaign launched by the KRRS in Karnataka (India) against Monsanto's field trials on BT cotton is spreading all over the country as many other farmers organisations are taking up the struggle. Following the first action in Karnataka, where a Bt cotton field was reduced to ashes, cremations have gone on also in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Activists of Rytu Sangham (AP Farmers Association) also stormed Monsanto's office in that state's capital, Hyderabad, on Wedenesday the 1st of December.

As a result of all these actions and the rising concern among farmers about genetically modified crops, the Andhra Pradesh state government has asked the Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) pvt Ltd to stop all its field trials being conducted in seven districts of the state. Farmers and scientists from Andhra Pradesh have convened a meeting in Anantapur on 13th December to intensify the movement.


Date: 3 Dec 1998 09:27:52 -0600
From: "Robert D. Klauber" klauber@kdsi.net GMO SUMMARY 11-30 TO 12-03-98

GE Safety: A Quote From The Top

'The perception that everything is totally safe is utterly naive. I don't think we fully understand the dimensions of what we're getting into.'

Professor Philip James, Director of the Rowett Research, UK Institute


Date: 3 Dec 1998 09:27:52 -0600
From: "Robert D. Klauber" klauber@kdsi.net GMO SUMMARY 11-30 TO 12-03-98

US Trade Representative Helping Biotech Companies?

US trade representative, Charlene Barshefsky, recently told EU leaders to expect punitive action through the World Trade Organisation if they allow domestic concerns over biotechnology to interfere with US trade. Source: Luke Anderson, UK, 01803 867951.


Date: 3 Dec 1998 09:33:01 -0600
From: Steve Sprinkel Sprinkraft@aol.com

US Farmers Need Support To Decide Organic Or Not

A Special Alert. At the end of this article you will find a description of the US organic soybean harvest for 1998. It shouldn't imply that all the beans have cosmetic deficiencies, but it should imply that brokers and buyers will use whatever negatives they can to beat the price down. I am asking correspondents outside the US in particular to help me, and the farmers, find out who wants non-GMO bans and where.

Within 4 months 50% of the farmers I visited this year will decide whether or not to continue in organic farming. They were first-year applicants, and this was a terrible year to have swtiched out of conventional practices because it was so wet and the weeds were a real mess. They will only be able to continue if the income is there for them to continue mechanical cultivation, plain and simple. I would say that there is an excess of 250,000 bushels of organic beans ( 300 semi-trailer loads) that may be caught in this predicament, so please do some investigating from your end. Who is processing soybeans intended for the non-GMO market?

I will also be sending proposed comments that deal with the USDA ( covered here) that you may send to USDA either via the internet or by mail. I will send them as attached files in Word 7.0...if you need them in text let me know, I haven't transfered them to text yet, and believe that one will not keep the format, but the other one may.

You will note that I talk about the 14th of December as if it has passed...you still have 10 days to respond.

Steve Sprinkel
Box 867
McDade, Texas, 78650


Date: 3 Dec 1998 09:33:01 -0600
From: Steve Sprinkel Sprinkraft@aol.com

TRANSITIONS, December 1998

IFOAM Declaration Against GE

International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)

Organizations from sixty countries attending the yearly conference of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) at Mar del Plata, Argentina ratified a declaration against the use of genetic engineering on the 21st of November.:

"IFOAM is calling for governments and regulatory agencies throughout the world to immediately ban the use of genetic engineering in agriculture and food production since it involves:

While the GEO/GMO controversy continues unabated in Europe at high levels of political and regulatory government, kindred spirits in the United States are finally making some headway with the press and government officials. It was reported frequently last month that USDA Secretary Dan Glickman was concerned about the issues raised by Michael Pollanis cover article " Fried, Mashed or Zapped With DNA?" in the October 24 issue of the New York Times Magazine.

Getting the mainstream media to cover this issue has been an uphill struggle. Civil disobedience is one avenue that results in some coverage, whether its a pie in the face for Robert Shapiro, the CEO of Monsanto, or an illegal potato harvest in Scotland with the video cameras running. The destruction of GEO/GMO test planting sites in the United Kingdom and Europe have been going on for over a year. In California, protesters partially destroyed a University of California GMO crop, and in India the Karnataka State Farmers Association has begun "cremating" fields planted to genetically engineered cotton. Farm leaders in Maharastra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh states had similar actions underway in the last week of November.

Genetic engineering technology is going to be the biggest threat to sustainable organic agriculture for years to come. Because it is molecular and non-degradable it pervades, and invades forever, microbial soil technologies, livestock feeds and supplements, raw and processed human foods and vitamins, and should cause us to ask questions about sources of manures, seeds, and organic fertility inputs like cotton seed meal and alfalfa meal. Corn gluten is being hailed as a good potential herbicide in organic systems. Should we use it if it comes from genetically modified corn?

On the 14th of December the Public Comment Period ended on the three Issue Papers released by the USDA National Organic Program at the end of October. Until the last few days, most organic farmers and consumers were not familiar with the scope of these papers, nor how to respond appropriately, although more than a few thought the best response was none at all. Having to construct responses according to the awkward format proposed by the USDA and the Office of Management and Budget provoked some of the dismay and repulsion. However, after the dust had settled, officials from state certification agencies, private certifiers and organic advocates responded with suggestions and rationales that began to trickle out to the hinterlands and encourage individuals respond on their own.

There were three papers that USDA requested comments on. They covered

  1. industrial agricultural feeding systems, known to us as " confinement",
  2. the use of antibiotics and paraciticides in organic livestock production, and
  3. the traditional role of certifiers in the enforcement of organic standards.

"Confinement" would seem to have been a "no-brainer", but creating language that would meet consumer expectations for organic livestock proved to be a pretty thorny subject. There are a lot of gray areas. There are organic livestock products on the market today that are produced in systems that common sense-minded observers would call "confinement." Confinement is required at certain times of the year to protect animals, which is obvious, but some also argue that confinement is necessary because it is the most economical method to produce target quantities.

Confinement is at the same time a difficult characteristic to measure: is it necessary to determine how many square feet should be allocated for every turkey in order to assure that they are not "confined"? Is an organic poultry system necessarily a pastured poultry farm? Most organic small family farmers would answer affirmatively. They respond: " Why ask this sort of question, when access to pasture for poultry, cattle and hogs is the keystone of disease prevention strategies on our farms?" Who wants to finesse this nearly sacred concept in organic agriculture, and why?

Why? The USDA logically wants to know when the use of synthetic medications is OK.( Paper No. 2).

"Never", say most farmers. "And donit give us that business about how I am going to let my sheep suffer instead of treating them. In the first place 400 healthy sheep have been raised here since the last time I used paraciticides in 1993." "Why would an organic farmer who has made an effort to provide an optimum living environment for livestock have to resort to the use of antibiotics and synthetic paraciticides when the reason that these substances are used so much is because the animals are confined?"

Paraciticides. It may come as a surprise to some, but anthelmics, internal pesticides like Abendiazole and Avermectin are yet allowed with restrictions by some organic certification agencies. Those restrictions call for withdrawal periods. Enter the consumer, whose expectation is that all organic meat, eggs, and dairy have been produced without ever resorting to these poisons. When consumers pick a product off the shelf that is labeled "organic", they canit be expected to make choices based on the labyrinthine variances of anonymous, acronymic certifiers ( which is why uniform national standards were and still are needed.). I love the people at the OCIAs, the CCOFs, the QAIs. OTCOs, FOGs and FVOs. But what about Donna and Michele at the supermarket in Atlanta?

"Excuse me, Michelle, honey. Would you get my organic certification compendium out and see if JJOC and the State of Georgia prohibit the use of Abendiazole in organic dairy cattle? The last thing I want is another miscarriage." ( Anthelmics are contraindicated during pregnancy, and approved by the FDA.)

In large measure, we continue to beat on this conundrum of acceptable medications in organic farming because the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 seems to give permission to farmers to use them, when and only when they have been specifically petitioned to be included on the National List. Unfortunately, these named substances have never been petitioned for by specific use, as mandated by Section 2118 of the OFPA:

(b) CONTENT OF LIST. The list established under subsection (a) shall contain an itemization, by specific use or application, of each synthetic substance permitted under subsection (c) (1 ) or each natural substance prohibited under subsection (c)(2).

In Santa Fe, New Mexico (1994) and in Austin, Texas ( 1995), the NOSB wrote and then added to the organic livestock production standards eventually recommended to the Secretary of Agriculture. The Board wrote standards covering many production practices, even going so far as to describe an organic definition of humane treatment of animals being transported. But they did not entertain a petition for a single named synthetic paraciticide. Instead, the NOSB adopted a blanket approval, using new criteria.

In their response to Issue Paper No. 2, research analysts at The Organic Materials Review Institute ( OMRI) wrote, " The NOSB wrestled with the difficult issue of the use of antibiotics and parasiticides in organic production, as well as vaccines and other medications, basing their decision on a review of standards currently in place domestically and internationally and input from the public, organic growers, and the broader organic community." In a word, the medications were "grandfathered."

Herein lies not just the clue to why we are once again embroiled ( with honest gratitude to the USDA) in the debate over whether or not animals treated with synthetic medicines and internal pesticides are part of organic agriculture, but why the original Proposed Rule was so flawed in the first place, why there is such confusion still and why this process is taking so much time to complete when the task should have been much more efficient. The wrong road was taken, and instead of taking two or three years it has consumed seven, and the end of our journey seems still far distant.

Many folks have wondered: " I thought we were already done with paraciticides a long time ago?" There is a precedent setting distinction which few certifiers have adopted: the NOSB recommended that " The use or application of synthetic parasiticides in organically produced slaughter stock that is labeled or sold as organically produced is prohibited. (Adopted on June 4, 1994 in Santa Fe, New Mexico)

Please compare the following two distinct statements on animal medication and observe the paradox: NOSB ( 1995): Antibiotics (Terramycin) - (Oxytetracycline calcium complex) To be reviewed again in two years.

A consumer responding to the Issue papers on the NOP website, November, 1998: " I demand that the USDA abide by the NOSB recommendations regarding the use of animal medications. I demand that there be a ban on the use of antibiotics on all animals which are considered organic. As a consumer, I want to know what is in the food I eat, and I expect the USDA to act in accordance to the wishes of the public and not the desires and incentives of big food business."

Do you all see something a little bothersome in these two examples? First of all, we could assume that the consumer correspondent is aware that the NOSB reversed itis recommendation on antibiotics in Ontario of this year. But I donit believe that is the case. That consumer, just like many of the other 280,000 who responded earlier this year, were under the impression that the NOSB had always acted in accordance with the law and had never compromised consumer trust. Now, if you were Keith Jones, the Director of the National Organic Program, what would you make of it?

It seems to me that consumer expectation and the ability of the organic livestock production sector to meet that expectation are miles apart on this. Remember, antibiotics, even a hormone ( oxytocin) and the paraciticides Abendiazole and Avermectin are still on the restricted list for more than one organic certifier in 1998. Though the NOSB, and those certifiers, ask for much more time in the withdrawal period than was mandated by the Food And Drug Administration, if you are reading ACRES you probably havenit too high a regard for what the FDA decides is safe.

NOSB: " Should a synthetic paraciticide be administered for whatever reason to otherwise organically produced dairy stock, milk or milk products derived from that dairy stock may not be sold or labeled as organically produced for 90 days following the date of application or use." They then go on to say immediately thereafter: "Any deviations from the above standards shall be species specific and be set forth in a separate document. Such review shall include, but not be limited to, sheep, goats and swine." I know that this may not have been intended, but milking pigs is just not going to turn out to be a real money maker. This whole deal sometimes seems to have been written backwards while looking into a fun house mirror.

Much to their credit, OMRI is so far the only resource I have found that has identified by name the internal pesticides which we have continually glossed over by using a word that is so hard to pronounce that it gives us a motive to say it even less:paraciticides.

If, when the next Proposed Rule on the National Organic Program is released, you find that there is not a strict prohibition against the use of antibiotics and paraciticides in organic livestock production ( with the exception of breeding stock), please focus your energy on prohibition. That is what consumers expect. As the authors of the OMRI response wrote: "......organic farming is based on more than not using prohibited materials. However, the standards themselves should not be flexible or allow for variances. Flexibility does not benefit consumers who seek a clear standard that distinguishes organic food from conventional. Conscientious producers are undermined by flexible standards that permit unscrupulous competitors to exploit the lack of clarity. Certifying agents and their inspectors find verification of such standards difficult if not impossible. While we recognize the need to not penalize producers and handlers who act in good faith, and to give the standards time to evolve, we ask that the USDA strive for clarity and consistency in setting the standards."

The confusion on the livestock medication issue is based on new criteria invented in 1994 and 1995. We are on the cusp of another discussion which will be played out soon on the use of synthetics in processing which also will revolve around a new set of criteria being created by the NOSBis new Interdisciplinary Committee on Processing. At some point during the national dialogue on organic standards this year the USDAis Office of General Counsel ( OGC) came to the NOSB and said " You folks have placed some processing aids here on your National List that donit meet the criteria in the legislation." A farmer who attended the most recent NOSB meeting in Washington, D.C., asked the members of the committee: " When OGC asked you to fix this, why didnit you just vote to rescind your recommendations, like you did on animal medications back in April?"

Some committee members just shrugged, some raised their hands and said " Thatis what I wanted to do!" and the representative from the "Organic Manufacturers and Packagers Association" looked up with eyes as big as pie plates at the mention of such heresy.

In the federal law, "need" and "want" are pretty well tempered by criteria. If a farmer or a manufacturer needs a substance because they want to produce something, and the criteria doesnit allow for it, the answer has to be: Then donit call it "Organically Produced". Call it " Made With Organic Ingredients". Let consumers make the decision at point of purchase.

Its difficult to organize this column based on what is most important to lead off with. For everyone, genetic engineering always has to lead off. But for farmers, particularly the ninety organic soybean farmers I visited this fall working for OCIA as an organic farm inspector, I would say " Hold on to your beans!"

This season was a real challenge, from field preparation to planting to harvest. And now, with so much wet weather behind them, organic soybean producers in the Midwest have a lot of dirty soybeans in their bins. Farmers "mudded in" their beans, farmers had to cultivate wet ground, throwing clods of dirt into the rows, and even then the weeds came in, chiefly amaranthus and foxtail grass, which will discolor the soybeans just like those dirt clods will if they go into the combine. That is, if the weather dried up enough to even get back in with a combine: some folks are waiting for a hard freeze so they can harvest.

So hang on to those beans. Donit sell short when brokers want to discount your product because of discoloration. I have heard that some think they have to sell at seven dollars a bushel when contract prices ranged between $16.00-23.00 this year. If cosmetic appearance is an issue, you might try to buff the beans up by running them through a seed cleaner with some organic grain like wheat or oats mixed in. In any case, this yearis crop has a home for it that will pay well, because the market for non GMO soybeans overseas adds to demand. Trying to locate the appropriate distribution channel is the challenge we hope to cover in the next issue.


Reprinted with permission fron the December 1998 issue of Alive: Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition, 7436 Fraser Park Drive, Burnaby, BC V5J 5B9 Canada

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: rwolfson@concentric.net

Our website, http://www.natural-law.ca/genetic/geindex.html contains more information on genetic engineering as well as previous genetic engineering news items Subscription fee to genetic engineering news is $35 for 12 months See website for details.

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