Genetically
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24 February 99

Table of Contents

Monsanto Machine (In These Times)
'Frankenstein' drives demand for organics
Monsanto Targets Contract Production of Drugs in Plants
It is What We Don't See That Will Hurt Us
GE scandal In a nutshell - Globe&Mail article - Tony Blair info
Frankenstein Foods
Nature: Organic vs. Chemical Agriculture

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Date: 22 Feb 1999 14:24:28 -0600
From: Judy_Kew@greenbuilder.com (Judy Kew)

Monsanto Machine (In These Times)

Snippets from article:

The company also promotes its Round-Up Ready seeds as "insect resistant." But, in fact, the patented seeds are genetically designed to survive heavy doses of toxic pesticides.

"Monsanto is the most perfect example of what is so evil about the corporate mentality," says Patty Clary, head of Californians for Alternatives to Toxins, an Arcata-based group that monitors the use of pesticides. "They developed these genetically engineered crops with the sole objective of forcing farmers to use Round-Up."

Monsanto has realized the efficacy of a well-financed lobbying strategy.

Perhaps no American company has so zealously exploited Washington's revolving door as Monsanto, which has seized on ex-Clinton aides and federal bureaucrats to advance its interests.

During his days at King and Spaulding, Taylor also authored more than a dozen articles critical of the Delaney Clause, a 1958 federal law prohibiting the introduction of known carcinogens into processed foods, which had long been opposed by Monsanto and other chemical and pesticide companies. When Taylor rejoined the federal government, he continued advocating that Delaney should be overturned.

Monsanto's lobbying apparatus even has penetrated the ranks of a nonprofit consumer group, the Safe Food Campaign, which advocates tougher food inspection standards.

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

The Monsanto Machine

by Jeffrey St. Clair, In These Times, March 7, 1999

For years, Monsanto, the agrichemical giant, has regularly popped up on the Forbes and Fortune lists of the most respected American companies. Their imageis carefully cultivated with a sophisticated public relations campaign, portraying the St. Louis-based firm as the small farmer's friend and a dedicated leader in the fight to end global hunger. "Doing well by doing good" is the company motto, spread across glossy magazine ads and discreetly placed television spots.

But Monsanto's reputation in the international community is distinctly less favorable. Last year, the European Union (EU) moved to block imports of the company's genetically engineered products, such as soybeans and bovine growth hormone (rBGH). And in the developing world, Monsanto has been fiercely attacked for decimating native ecologies by introducing so-called test-tube crops and dousing them with heavy doses of pesticides and fertilizers, all with the backing of the U.S. government.

In recent months, Monsanto has come under fire for pushing so-called "Terminator" seeds in India and Africa. The Terminator is a genetic technology that sterilizes natural seeds in plants, forcing farmers to depend on Monsanto's patented, genetically engineered crops. The company also promotes its Round-Up Ready seeds as "insect resistant." But, in fact, the patented seeds are genetically designed to survive heavy doses of toxic pesticides.

The financial stakes are high. The Consumers Union estimates that rBGH could earn the company $500 million a year in the United States and another $1 billion a year internationally. The haul from Monsanto's Round-Up Ready soybeans, potatoes and corn, and its Terminator seeds could mean tens of billions of dollars more. "Monsanto is the most perfect example of what is so evil about the corporate mentality," says Patty Clary, head of Californians for Alternatives to Toxins, an Arcata-based group that monitors the use of pesticides. "They developed these genetically engineered crops with the sole objective of forcing farmers to use Round-Up."

Monsanto always has been able to count on the aid of the U.S. government to sedulously promote its products. With the ceaseless encouragement of the Department of Agriculture, American farmers have planted more than 50 million acres of Monsanto's genetically engineered crops over the past four years. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also played along, acceding to the company's demand that genetically engineered crops not be labeled as such.

When faced with the almost certain prospect that the EU would ban the import of Monsanto's genetically engineered corn in 1998, the company unleashed an unprecedented lobbying effort, flying a group of critics to the United States, where they visited corporate headquarters. Then the writers were taken to Washington, where they were given a tour of the White House, including a rare visit to the Oval Office.

Top Clinton aides--including U.S. Trade Rep. Charlene Barshevsky, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman and Secretary of Commerce William Daley--also have lobbied their European counterparts on Monsanto's behalf. Even Bill Clinton and Al Gore got in on the act, engaging in some last minute arm-twisting of Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahren and French President Lionel Jospin. Both the French and the Irish caved in to the pressure.

This spring, Monsanto's genetically engineered corn will be planted in Europe for the first time. Toby Moffett, the former liberal congressman from Connecticut and now a Monsanto political strategist, smugly bragged about the victory to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "I'm 54 years old and I've been in a lot of coalitions in my life, but this is one of the most breathtaking I've seen."

How can Monsanto's extraordinary leverage be explained? Political influence often comes down to the judicious application of campaign cash. Monsanto--a $7.5 billion company--has poured nearly $200,000 a year into the coffers of candidates for federal office and the two major parties. This is a relatively paltry amount compared to the millions pumped into the system by big oil or even by its chemical rivals, DuPont, ICI and Dow. Instead, Monsanto has realized the efficacy of a well-financed lobbying strategy.

In 1997, the chemical giant invested $4 million for lobbying Congress and the White House on issues ranging from the federal tax code and agricultural subsidies to hazardous waste laws and food safety regulations. To protect its tax loopholes, Monsanto retains the services of David Bockorny, a former legislative affairs specialist in the Reagan White House, and Catherine Porter, former chief trade and tax counsel to Sen. John Chaffee, the powerful Rhode Island Republican.

On the troublesome matter of patents--a huge issue in the genetic engineering field--Monsanto has recruited the help of Dennis DeConcini, the former Arizona Democratic senator. DeConcini's firm, Parry & Romani, has carved out a specialty in the field of agricultural and pharmaceutical trademarks, and the libelous practice of staking property rights to native seed stocks. Similar work is done for Monsanto by Timmons and Company, a Democratic lobby shop that includes Ellen Boyle, former press secretary to Tip O'Neill; William Cable former deputy assistant for legislative affairs to Jimmy Carter; and John S. Orlando, who served as chief of staff to John Dingell, the senior Democrat in the House.

Perhaps no American company has so zealously exploited Washington's revolving door as Monsanto, which has seized on ex-Clinton aides and federal bureaucrats to advance its interests. Consider the case of Michael Taylor: After graduating from law school in 1976, Taylor went to work for the FDA, rising through the ranks. He left the Federal government for a post in the high-powered Washington law firm of King and Spaulding to become their FDA specialist. During his tenure there, Taylor represented Monsanto's efforts to gain FDA approval for rBGH. Taylor left the firm in 1991 to rejoin the FDA, this time as deputy commissioner for policy. In that position, he wrote the guidelines on the use and marketing of rBGH, which turned out to be very favorable for Monsanto. The FDA guidelines exempted milk producers from labeling dairy products from cows that had been treated with rBGH. Now Taylor has resumed to Monsanto, working on what the company calls "long range planning."

During his days at King and Spaulding, Taylor also authored more than a dozen articles critical of the Delaney Clause, a 1958 federal law prohibiting the introduction of known carcinogens into processed foods, which had long been opposed by Monsanto and other chemical and pesticide companies. When Taylor rejoined the federal government, he continued advocating that Delaney should be overturned.

In the fight to bring down Delaney, Monsanto also secured the services of the Duberstein Group, the lobbying firm of Ken Duberstein, former chief of staff under George Bush and a close friend of Gen. Colin Powell. Duberstein's outfit is a sterling example of the bipartisan nature of lobbying, since its roster of lobbyists includes former Reagan and Bush administration officials, an adviser to former Vice President Walter Mondale, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and House Democratic Whip David Bonior's former chief legislative aide.

Monsanto's lobbying apparatus even has penetrated the ranks of a nonprofit consumer group, the Safe Food Campaign, which advocates tougher food inspection standards. The group was founded by Carol Tucker Foreman, who served as an assistant secretary of agriculture in the Carter administration.

Ironically, Foreman also represents the Beef Council, Procter and Gamble and Monsanto. Foreman used her close ties with the Clinton administration to get Virginia Weldon, Monsanto's former public relations chief, appointed to Clinton's Committee of Scientific Advisors and Gore's Sustainable Development Roundtable--entities that recommended the Delaney Clause be replaced with more flexible legislation.

But the company may have secured its biggest coup in 1997, when it brought onto its board Mickey Kantor, the former secretary of commerce and one of Bill Clinton's closest advisers. Kantor joined two other Washington insiders on the Monsanto board--William Ruckleshaus, former director of the EPA, and Gwendolyn King, former head of the Social Security Administration.

Monsanto compensates its directors handsomely: Kantor receives nearly $100,000 a year. But that relatively small investment brings Monsanto lucrative returns. It was Kantor who opened the doors to the White House and pushed the administration to pressure the EU over Monsanto's genetically engineered grain.

Kantor's new law firm, Mayer, Brown & Platt, watches out for the company's interests in matters of international trade, food safety and product labeling. Prior to Kantor's arrival at the firm in 1997, one of Mayer, Brown & Platt's top lobbyists was Daley, whom Clinton tapped to fill Kantor's spot in the cabinet. In that capacity, he has led the charge for Monsanto on several continents.

When you've got friends like this," says Michael Colby of the Vermont-based Food & Water, which has battled Monsanto on rBGH and pesticides for a decade, "you don't have to concern yourself with your enemies."

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Date: 22 Feb 1999 17:33:55 -0600
From: devatalk@mcmail.com

'Frankenstein' drives demand for organics

By Sarah Ryle, Sunday February 21, 1999

Record numbers of farmers are taking the first steps towards organic production, writes Sarah Ryle

As consumer demand for organic food soars, the Soil Association is fielding more and more enquiries from farmers on how to convert to organic methods. The association's organic conversion service has taken more than 1,000 calls this year - 100 of them last Monday alone in response to press coverage of concern about the new biotechnologies.

Consumer interest in organic food is also rising to unprecedented levels. In 1997 it accounted for £260 million of the total #163#53 billion spent on food in the UK, but is expected to reach £1 billion within two years.

Much of that, however, is expected to be spent on imported produce because UK organic food production falls far behind that in other European countries.

A spokeswoman for the Soil Association, which accounts for 70 per cent of all certified organic products in this country, said that farmers in 'straitened circumstances' were looking for 'niche markets' and their confidence in consumer demand was growing. Farmers have been persuaded by successive food scares that the demand for organic food will continue.

Devonshire hill farmers Victoria and Christopher Eveleigh said they have recently become more confident in the potential for organic farming.

'It is a big decision,' said Mrs Eveleigh. 'It will be at least five years before we can get organic calves to the kitchen table. We hope that we are ahead of the game.'

The Eveleighs say they will be able to charge a premium for their organic food and will also qualify for enhanced government aid, worth approximately £18,000 over five years.

Retailers and wholesalers are also responding to demand. Baby Organix, which represents more than half of the UK market in organic baby food (one in four children eats organic products regularly), said it took three times the normal level of inquiries last week.

Supermarkets also report increased sales.Asda said organic sales were up in the wake of the GM food scare.

Tesco is trying out organic aisles in 50 of its stores and Sainsbury has brought in more dry groceries during the past few weeks.

Waitrose now runs a selective scheme to help farmers who supply it with produce. It intends to introduce designated aisles.


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Date: 23 Feb 1999 04:04:12 -0600
From: jim@niall7.demon.co.uk (jim mcnulty)

Monsanto Targets Contract Production of Drugs in Plants

by PRNewswire, © Copyright 1999, _____via IntellX_____, Date: February 22, 1999

LARCHMONT, N.Y., Feb. 22 /PRNewswire/ -- [ Monsanto Company ] has decided to leverage its skills in pharmaceuticals and agricultural biotechnology by offering the contract production of new drugs in plants. Although the St. Louis-based firm set up its Integrated Protein Technologies contract production unit very quietly last year, Monsanto has begun to tout the benefits of its novel venture only recently, notes the lead article in the February 15 issue of "Genetic Engineering News."

According to William S. White, business leader of IPT, NeoRx (Seattle, WA) has already tested a monoclonal antibody expressed in corn in Phase I/II clinical trials. The product, which was developed through a collaboration between NeoRx and Monsanto's Agracetus R&D unit, was parenterally administered to oncology patients. Monsanto plans to emphasize the production of transgenic pharmaceutical proteins, vaccines and industrial enzymes in corn, soybean and tobacco.

Recombinant proteins expressed in plants appear to function as well as those produced in other systems, explains White, who adds that plant-based pharmaceutical production has huge advantages in terms of cost savings and the absence of human viruses and prions.

"Monsanto's move into contract production is a strategic decision by a biotech powerhouse that wants to capitalize on its core competencies," says John Sterling, managing editor of "Genetic Engineering News." "The company has drawn on its pharmaceutical expertise and agbiotech-based technology platform to target contract production, which is one of the fastest growing markets in biotechnology.

-------------------------------------------
For a copy of the February 15 issue of "Genetic Engineering News," call Esther Bicovny at Mary Ann Liebert, publishers, at 914- 834-3100. SOURCE Genetic Engineering News

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Date: 23 Feb 1999 10:17:14 -0600 From: Judy_Kew@greenbuilder.com (Judy Kew)

ENVIRONMENT NEWS SERVICE (ENS)
HEALING OUR WORLD: WEEKLY COMMENT
By Jackie Giuliano, Ph.D.

Itis What We Don't See That Will Hurt Us

In a little known action, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shocked the environmental world by approving the use of genetically engineered crops by the Monsanto Company and Novartis, among others, in 1995. Today, after a few years of the use of these plants in commercial agriculture, an environmental calamity may be in progress. The genie is out of the bottle, and there may be no way to stop it. Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 1999 For Full Text and Graphics Visit: http://ens.lycos.com/ens/feb99/1999L-02-21g.html - ---


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Date: 23 Feb 1999 10:17:14 -0600
From: Judy_Kew@greenbuilder.com (Judy Kew)

It is What We Don't See That Will Hurt Us

ENVIRONMENT NEWS SERVICE (ENS)
From: Editor editor@ENS-NEWS.COM
Subject: (ENS) NEWS FEBRUARY 22, 1999

HEALING OUR WORLD: WEEKLY COMMENT

By Jackie Giuliano, Ph.D.

Itis What We Don't See That Will Hurt Us

In a little known action, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shocked the environmental world by approving the use of genetically engineered crops by the Monsanto Company and Novartis, among others, in 1995. Today, after a few years of the use of these plants in commercial agriculture, an environmental calamity may be in progress. The genie is out of the bottle, and there may be no way to stop it. Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 1999 For Full Text and Graphics Visit: http://ens.lycos.com/ens/feb99/1999L-02-21g.html


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Date: 23 Feb 1999 13:49:02 -0600
From: Judy_Kew@greenbuilder.com (Judy Kew)

GE scandal In a nutshell - Globe&Mail article - Tony Blair info

Wonderful update of GE foods from the Globe and Mail. It answers by question as to why Blair can hold out against his people and his own government.

Here are some Snippets since the article is long:

The full article follows here:


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Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 11:41:26 -0400
From: Bradford Duplisea brad@pei.sympatico.ca
Subject: Biotechnology Article From Saturday Globe & Mail

For a short summary press ^ Previous ^

Frankenstein Foods

By Gwynne Dyer, Globe and Mail , Sat., Feb.20,1999

Eight days ago, 20 scientists from 13 countries demanded the reinstatement of a British researcher fired for warning that genetically modified foods could pose a danger to human health. That's when all hell broke loose.

"We simply do not know the long-term consequences for human health and the wider environment [of genetically modified crops]. . . . If something does go badly wrong, we will be faced with the problem of clearing up a kind of pollution which is self-perpetuating. I am not convinced that anyone has the first idea of how this could be done."

-- Charles, Prince of Wales, June, 1998

Less than a year ago, that was about as tough as the opposition to genetically modified (GM) foods got, in Britain or anywhere else: genteel expressions of concern by people essentially without power, many of whom were seen as cranks. ("If Big Ears is against it, it can't be all bad.") The GM juggernaut, meanwhile, rolled on unimpeded, bearing Monsanto, Zeneca, Novartis and the other major biotechnology companies toward a very lucrative Promised Land. How distant that all seems now. On Feb. 12, the first evidence of health problems connected with GM foods that was even remotely plausible surfaced in Britain. It is fairly flimsy evidence, one must say, but it has unleashed a frenzy of media criticism that had been just waiting to happen, and it's now virtually certain that no commercial GM crops will be grown in Britain for years.

It is quite likely that this will trigger similar revolts in the rest of Europe, and reinforce the growing Third World resistance to the spread of GM technologies there. It is even possible that the protests, boycotts and demands for segregation and clear labelling of GM products will spread back to North America, where criticism hitherto has been extremely muted.

To Bob Shapiro, chief executive of the St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. and erstwhile Master of the Universe, it must all feel very unfair. After all, nothing specific has been proved about the dangers of GM foods, either to consumers or to the environment. He even claims to be an environmentally sensitive "green" himself, and looks hurt when anybody questions his motives. But there is certainly a strong whiff of nemesis about the proceedings.

When Mr. Shapiro took over as CEO four years ago, Monsanto was a middling-to-large agrochemical combine with a huge problem: The patent for the highly successful weed killer (Round-up) that provided the bulk of its income was due to expire soon. He came up with a brilliant solution.

It's already out there in the marketplace: Monsanto now sells seeds that are genetically engineered to be resistant to Round-up, allowing farmers to get a better yield for the same dose of herbicide. And just to make sure they don't buy some cheap knockoff version of Round-up from a competitor, the seeds come with a contract obliging the farmer to buy Round-up from Monsanto. That's two profit centres where there used to be one.

True, it meant that American consumers now had to eat these genetically modified foods, like it or not -- and since the United States exports huge amounts of food, all sorts of foreigners had to eat them, too. Moreover, Monsanto needed a lot of farmers to commit to Round-up Ready seeds before its patent on Round-up herbicide expired, so there wasn't too much time for lengthy trials to see whether its GM products were safe for the consumer and the environment.

Mr. Shapiro became one of the biggest contributors of "soft money" to Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign. Next thing you know, he's special trade adviser to the President. Getting GM products onto the shelves of American supermarkets was a no-brainer -- the U.S. media are half asleep, and the public doesn't seem to care what it eats so long as the portions are huge -- and Canadian consumers didn't pose much of a problem, either.

Europeans, on the other hand, were deeply suspicious of these "Frankenstein foods," mainly because they had just been through a major health scare over bovine spongiform encephalitis (mad cow disease), which is transmitted from cattle to humans through the consumption of infected beef. Ten years ago, all the experts, apart from a few maverick scientists, were sure that BSE could not cross the species barrier and infect people -- but the alarmist mavericks were right. And that explains, according to John Durant, professor of public understanding at Imperial College, London, why "people in Europe [are now] very sensitive to new technologies in the food supply industry, and very wary of scientists and government attempts to reassure them."

Monsanto dealt with European fears (or rather tried to override them) by systematically mixing GM and non-GM products together before exporting them. When the Europeans objected, demanding clear segregation and labelling of GM foods, Mr. Shapiro got his good buddy Bill Clinton to threaten a trade war, and they quickly caved in. (Leaked New Zealand government documents from early 1998 show a similar pattern, with Washington threatening to pull out of a potential free-trade agreement if New Zealand went ahead with its plans for labelling and testing genetically modified foods.)

Late 1998, in retrospect, was probably the high noon of Monsanto's incipient world empire. Thirty per cent of the U.S. soybean crop and 15 per cent of its corn was grown from Round-up Ready seeds last year, with both figures set to double in the next two years. An orgy of acquisitions, including corn-seed producer DeKalb Genetics Corp., grain-trading and processed-foods giant Cargill Inc., and Unilever's crop-breeding unit, which specializes in hybrid wheats, turned Monsanto into the world's dominant biotech company, with an estimated worth of $35 billion (U.S.), up sixfold in five years.

Monsanto also bought cottonseed company Delta & Pine Land last year for $4-billion, thus acquiring its "terminator seed technology": a genetic modification that prevents seeds harvested from GM plants from germinating if replanted. This is a technology without much relevance in North America, where most farmers buy all their seed anyway, but it was vital to Monsanto's plans in the Third World. It also turned out to be a flashpoint for resistance.

"By peddling suicide seeds, the biotechnology multinationals will lock the world's poorest farmers into a new form of genetic serfdom," says Emma Must of the World Development Movement. "Currently, 80 per cent of crops in developing countries are grown using farm-saved seed. Being unable to save seeds from sterile crops could mean the difference between surviving and going under." More precisely, it would speed the consolidation of small farms into the hands of those with the money to engage in industrialized agribusiness -- which generally means higher profits but less employment and lower yields per hectare.

"The terminator gene will pose a serious threat to Indian agriculture," warned Babagouda Patil, India's Minister of Rural Development; in Karnataka state, the farmers' association launched Operation Cremate Monsanto and burned out two experimental fields of GM cotton. In Britain, meanwhile, Arpad Pusztai, a professor at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, reported in April that an experiment in which laboratory rats were fed genetically modified potatoes had caused weakened immune systems and damage to vital organs.

The protests from the Third World, however, were drowned out by a major advertising campaign claiming that GM crops were the answer to the threat of global famine. (This is tripe, as the world has plenty of food -- the problem is getting it into the hands of the poor -- but it sounds better than saying GM foods will raise the profits of biotech firms and farmers in the rich countries.) And the inconvenient British researcher was forced into retirement, with various experts saying his research was "muddled."

On the surface, the plan for global domination seemed to be unfolding serenely. And then, on Feb. 12, a group of 20 scientists from 13 countries published a memorandum demanding the immediate rehabilitation of Dr. Pusztai, and expressing support for his tentative conclusion, financed by a $2.4-million grant from the British government's Scottish Office, that GM potatoes had damaged the kidneys, thymus, spleen and gut of laboratory rats after only 10 days of feeding trials, and weakened their immune systems.

That memorandum ignited a firestorm of protest in Britain that forced the government to postpone authorizing the first commercial GM crops for at least a year, until the autumn of 2000, and may soon lead to a three-year moratorium. Last week, the European Commission blocked the sale or growth anywhere in Europe of two GM cottons that Monsanto markets in the United States, its third and fourth decisions in a row blocking the release into the environment of a genetically modified organism.

On Wednesday, Monsanto was fined $25,000 by a British court for "genetic pollution": inadequate barriers between an experimental field of GM oilseed rape and adjacent fields of natural crops. The free ride in public opinion is over -- but what are the real risks?

The direct fears can be summed up under three headings: "Frankenstein foods," "genetic pollution," and "green concrete." In each case, the anxieties arise not so much from what is known, but rather from what is not yet known about the possible consequences of this massive and ultra-rapid move into GM crops.

The latter two concerns have been relatively easy for the biotechnology industry to dismiss, since they tend to divide people along familiar lines, with the pragmatists usually outnumbering the greens. If the end result of adding alien genes to create crops resistant to herbicides and insect infestations is fields where there are no other plants, few insects, and thus hardly any birds, just the GM monoculture (the "green concrete" phenomenon) . . . well, modern intensive agriculture has travelled a long way down that road already. And most people never see the fields anyway.

Same goes, pretty much, for "genetic pollution." Scientists and environmentalists may worry about the risk that the altered genes that confer resistance to herbicides might get into other plants as well, creating a generation of "superweeds" that require bigger and bigger doses of weed killer to control. It was Monsanto's failure to ensure adequate safeguards against that danger (a six-metre gap between GM and normal crops) that resulted in Wednesday's fine. But, once again, the danger is too obscure and distant to mobilize popular opinion -- whereas any suggestion that GM foods are a threat to human health is (in public-relations terms) an absolute killer.

The tests that have caused such alarm on this front were started in 1996 by Dr. Pusztai, an international authority on lectins (natural poisons that plants produce as a defence against predators). Competing against 28 other tenders, he won an official contract to conduct research into the human nutritional consequences of GM foods -- which, as a former senior Scottish Office official involved in commissioning the project recently explained to The Guardian, were receiving "little regard" at the time.

Dr. Pusztai, a respected scientist with 35 years at the Rowett Research Institute and 270 scientific papers to his credit, probably won the competition because of his expertise with lectins, which are natural candidates for genetic manipulation since they confer protection against insects. He had the biology department of Durham University prepare a GM potato strain that incorporated genetic instructions for the manufacture of lectins, and began feeding it to rats. At the same time, he fed another group of rats with normal potatoes that were simply spiked with lectins.

All the rats suffered some damage, since lectins are poisonous -- but the stunted growth and damage to the immune system were worse in those given the GM potatoes. Moreover, the researchers began to suspect that the culprit was not the lectin gene itself, but rather the virus promoter, the "light switch" that GM companies use to activate the inserted genes. And the particular promoter used in the potatoes was the cauliflower mosaic virus -- which has already been used in most GM products on the market.

These were highly provisional and preliminary results, but Dr. Pusztai (by no means a dogmatic opponent of genetic engineering) was alarmed enough to seek further research financing -- which was refused. He was given permission by the institute's director, Philip James, to speak on British television in January of last year, and again in April. On the latter occasion, Dr. Pusztai said he would not eat GM foods himself and that it was "very, very unfair to use our fellow citizens as guinea pigs."

In the ensuing outcry, Mr. James defended Dr. Pusztai on the first day - -- and, on the second, suspended him, condemned his research techniques, made him sign a gag order, and forced him to retire. An audit report conducted by the Rowett Institute in August, while exonerating Dr. Pusztai of the charge that his research methodology was bad, did not link GM potatoes to any health risks. But Dr. Pusztai, who was then given access again to his own research data, strongly reconfirmed his findings.

There the matter rested until Feb. 12, when the 20 scientists (including two who had worked at the Rowett Institute) published their letter of support for Dr. Pusztai. And then all hell broke loose in the British media.

One signatory, Ronald Finn, a former president of the British Society of Allergy and Environmental Medicine, told a London press conference: "We in the U.K. have just had a very narrow escape following the epidemic of mad cow disease. I think we have probably got away with it. We have been warned once . . . and we should be extremely careful to monitor any further major change in food technology."

Another signatory, Jonathan Rhodes, professor of medicine at Liverpool University, went further. "One key problem that keeps coming back time and again is that regulation of food is nothing like as strict as regulation of drugs. And when you start tinkering around with the genetic structure of food, you have to move toward thinking of food products as pharmaceuticals."

So what happens now that the cat is out of the bag? For there is not just a lot of money at stake. There is also the conviction on the part of various Western governments, most notably those of the United States, Canada and Britain, that GM technologies will bring them enormous trade benefits in the next century, and thus must suffer no major restriction or delay.

In Britain, it's probably a lost cause. Prime Minister Tony Blair is an enthusiastic supporter of GM foods because biotechnology firms contribute generously to his Labour Party, because his friend Bill Clinton phones him from Washington to lean on him, and because he genuinely believes that GM technologies will assist in a British postindustrial renaissance. Government officials and ministers have met companies involved in GM foods 81 times (23 with Monsanto alone) since Labour was elected in 1997, and more than $22-million has been earmarked in aid for British biotech firms.

As part of the damage-control exercise, Mr. Blair let it be known that he himself ate GM foods and believed them to be safe (though his spokesman refused to be drawn on whether the Blair children also ate them). But it won't help. The British government is now in full retreat before an aroused public, and neither threats nor blandishments from Washington will keep it in line.

Recent decisions in Strasbourg suggest that the tide in the rest of Europe is running in the same direction. Last week, the European Parliament voted to impose strict corporate liability and mandatory insurance on companies that release GM organisms into the environment, and for much stronger rules on the segregation and labelling of GM foods.

In the United States, however, turning the tide is much more difficult. Monsanto, which makes large donations to both the Democratic and Republican parties and to congressional legislators on food-safety committees, has become a virtual retirement home for members of the Clinton administration. Trade and environmental protection administrators and other Clinton appointees have left to take up lucrative positons on Monsanto's board, while Monsanto and other biotech executives pass through the same revolving door to take up positions in the administration and its regulatory bodies. (Mr. Clinton has even praised Monsanto by name in a State of the Union address.)

"The Food and Drug Administration," says Betty Martini of the consumer group Mission Possible, "is so closely linked to the biotech industry now that it could be described as their Washington branch office." And the industry has got its way: U.S. law does not require that GM foods be labelled as such, and 14 states have been persuaded to pass virtually identical "veggie libel" laws preventing the "spreading of false and damaging information about food."

So whether GM foods are safe or not, most Americans will be eating them for a long time to come. They will have difficulty even in finding out which foods contain GM products (though most processed foods already do), and they may discover that questioning the safety of any specific GM food publicly leads to a close encounter with a large firm of lawyers. In the rest of the world, however, the backlash is growing fast.

This week in Cartagena, Colombia, diplomats from 175 countries open the final stage of negotiations for a Biosafety Protocol that is meant to regulate the movement of GM products between countries. The biotech industries, with strong backing from the U.S. and Canadian governments, are aiming for a weak treaty that gives no country the right to keep GM products out in order to shelter its population from the socio-economic impact of industrialized, capital-intensive forms of agriculture, or even on health and environmental grounds.

But the Europeans are starting to waver, and large numbers of NGOs are in Colombia to push for a protocol that gives countries the right to say no to the import and release of GM organisms, requires a full assessment of the possible effects on farmers' livelihoods, as well as health and environmental impacts, and makes biotech multinationals responsible for the legal consequences (including compensation) if something goes wrong. And most of the Third World has already figured out what side it is on.

Whatever the real problems with GM foods, the strategy for their high-speed introduction throughout the world is shaping up as one of the great public-relations disasters of all time. Public suspicion outside North America is reaching crippling levels, and the reason is not at all mysterious. It is because the biotech firms literally tried to shove the stuff down people's throats without giving them either choice or information.

In the words of Malcolm Walker, chairman of the British food-store chain Iceland Foods (which now has banned all GM foods from its shelves), the U.S. food giants' tactic of mixing GM and ordinary soya to make sure it was all contaminated was "secretive, devious, and a terrible thing to do. People want food they can trust."

Gwynne Dyer, a Canadian-born writer based in London, is a regular contributor to Focus.

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Reply-To: Margaret_Weston@capmac.org (Margaret Weston)
Date: Tue, 23 Feb 1999 03:56:59 -0600

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Date: 23 Feb 1999 13:54:22 -0600
From: Judy_Kew@greenbuilder.com (Judy Kew)

Nature: Organic vs. Chemical Agriculture

David Tilman is in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, University of Minnesota, St Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA. e-mail: tilman@lter.umn.edu

The greening of the green revolution

By David Tilman, Nature 396, 211 - 212 (1998) © Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

In comparison with conventional, high-intensity agricultural methods, 'organic' alternatives can improve soil fertility and have fewer detrimental effects on the environment. These alternatives can also produce equivalent crop yields to conventional methods.

It is not clear which are greater -- the successes of modern high-intensity agriculture, or its shortcomings. The successes are immense. Because of the green revolution, agriculture has met the food needs of most of the world's population even as the population doubled during the past four decades. But there has been a price to pay, and it includes contamination of groundwaters, release of greenhouse gases, loss of crop genetic diversity and eutrophication of rivers, streams, lakes and coastal marine ecosystems (contamination by organic and inorganic nutrients that cause oxygen depletion, spread of toxic species and changes in the structure of aquatic food webs)1,2. It is unclear whether high-intensity agriculture can be sustained, because of the loss of soil fertility, the erosion of soil, the increased incidence of crop and livestock diseases, and the high energy and chemical inputs associated with it1,3. The search is on for practices that can provide sustainable yields, preferably comparable to those of high-intensity agriculture but with fewer environmental costs1.

For millennia, farmers countered the loss of soil fertility caused by agriculture (Fig. 1) by manuring fields, by alternating crops that increase soil fertility (such as legumes, which 'fix' atmospheric nitrogen into organic compounds and so add nitrogen-containing compounds to the soil) with other crops, and by abandoning fields and allowing them to be taken over gradually by natural vegetation (succession). This changed with the advent of the green revolution.

Figure 1 Typical effects of different agricultural practices on the total organic carbon or nitrogen content of soil. Full legend

High resolution image and legend (10k)

A hallmark of high-intensity agriculture is its dependence on pesticides and chemical fertilizers, especially those containing nitrogen. Since 1960 the worldwide rate of application of nitrogen fertilizers has increased by seven times2, and now exceeds 7x107 tonnes of nitrogen per year. Inputs from humans now equal all natural inputs to the nitrogen cycle and are seriously affecting terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems2, because half to two-thirds of nitrogen fertilizers enter these non-agricultural ecosystems.

On page 262 of this issue4, Drinkwater, Wagoner and Sarrantonio report two alternative practices for growing maize that maintain yields while increasing soil fertility and decreasing losses of nitrogen by leaching. This advance is not based on a miracle of technology but is a lesson from agriculture's past that may presage its future.

In Drinkwater and colleagues' conventional, high-intensity system, pesticides and mineral nitrogen fertilizer were applied to a maize/soybean crop rotation just as on typical farms. Two 'organic' alternatives represented partial returns to traditional agriculture, and neither synthetic fertilizers nor pesticides were used. One of these alternatives was a manure-based system in which grasses and legumes, grown as part of a high-diversity crop rotation, were fed to cattle. The resulting manure provided nitrogen for periodic maize production. The other system did not include livestock; instead, nitrogen fixed by a variety of legumes was incorporated into soil as the source of nitrogen for maize.

Amazingly, ten-year-average maize yields differed by less than 1% among the three cropping systems, which Drinkwater et al. say were nearly equally profitable. The manure system, though, had significant advantages. Soil organic matter and nitrogen content -- measures of soil fertility -- increased markedly in the manure system (and, to a lesser degree, in the legume system), but were unchanged or declined in the conventional system. Moreover, the conventional system had greater environmental impacts -- 60% more nitrate was leached into groundwater over a five-year period than in the manure or legume systems.

Why were the organic methods superior to conventional, high-intensity agriculture? The answer is not yet known, but two possibilities stand out. First, when fertilizing, timing is crucial5. The nitrogen pulse from a single application of mineral fertilizer can cause soil nitrate concentrations to greatly exceed plant needs. The unconsumed nutrients are susceptible to loss by leaching and denitrification. In contrast, the organic methods supply nitrogen in organic forms that gradually release mineral nitrogen, perhaps better synchronizing nutrient availability with plant needs.

Second, although equivalent amounts of nitrogen and organic carbon were added to the soil in all three systems, the manure system included a higher proportion and greater diversity of recalcitrant (that is, slowly biodegradable) organic compounds than the conventional system. This may have caused carbon and nitrogen to accumulate in the manure system, minimizing leaching losses. Indeed, models of soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics predict such accumulation when fields are manured6,7 (Fig. 1).

Drinkwater and colleagues' results may seem astounding, or even suspect, given the widespread use of chemical fertilizers. They are not. In the Broadbalk experiment (Fig. 2, overleaf), at the Rothamsted Experimental Station in the United Kingdom, which has been running for more than 150 years, wheat yields have averaged 3.45 tonnes per hectare on manured plots compared with 3.40 tonnes per hectare on plots receiving complete nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) fertilizer8. Moreover, soil organic matter and soil total nitrogen levels increased by about 120% over 150 years in the manured plots (Fig. 1), but by only about 20% in the NPK plots7,9. Such carbon stores might represent an underappreciated sink for global carbon.

Figure 2 Field work: experiments on fertilizer regimes have run at Rothamsted since 1843. Full legend

High resolution image and legend (211k)

The intensification of agriculture has broken what was once the tight, local recycling of nutrients on individual farms. Indeed, the green revolution and the large-scale livestock operations that have come with it are reminiscent of the early stages of the industrial revolution, when inefficient factories polluted without restriction. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that, in the United States alone, livestock operations generate about 109 tonnes of manure per year, much of it in large-scale operations in which up to a million or more animals are housed in close quarters. These concentrated sources of manure are often too far from farms to be economically transported to them, or are applied at inappropriately high rates or at incorrect times, or are released into waterways without removing nitrogen and phosphorus. This has created an open nitrogen cycle that is rapidly degrading many other ecosystems2. Sustainable and productive ecosystems have tight internal cycling of nutrients, a lesson that agriculture must relearn.

The results of Drinkwater and colleagues4 are a step in the right direction. What may lead to further progress? The green revolution turned developments in crop genetics, inexpensive pesticides and fertilizers, and mechanization into greater yields. Further advances, such as precision agriculture, in which fertilizer application rates and timing are adjusted differentially across a field to meet crop needs, will increase agricultural efficiency and decrease adverse effects on the environment. However, a greener revolution is also needed -- a revolution that incorporates accumulated knowledge of ecological processes and feedbacks, disease dynamics, soil processes and microbial ecology. Experiments such as those of Drinkwater et al. need to be combined with studies of both the mechanisms controlling soil organic matter and nitrogen dynamics6,7,9, and the dynamics of crop nutritional needs.

The principles of ecology, epidemiology, evolution, microbiology and soil science operate in agroecosystems as well as in natural ecosystems. Although the owners of the businesses were probably shocked, I doubt if epidemiologists were surprised that Hong Kong chicken operations, housing up to a million genetically similar chickens, were susceptible to a rapid and devastating outbreak of disease last year. When those running massive livestock operations realize that chronic disease and catastrophic epidemics are the expected result of high densities and low diversity, and when society restricts the release of pollutants from such operations, it may again be profitable for individual farms, or neighbourhood consortia, to have mixed cropping and livestock operations tied together in a system that gives an efficient, sustainable, locally closed nitrogen cycle.

No other activity has transformed humanity, and the Earth, as much as agriculture10, but the environmental effects of high-intensity farming increasingly haunt us. In a small world awash with the waste products of humanity, there is a great need to find new approaches to agriculture.

References

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