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GE Foods for You?
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration allows genetically engineered (GE, also known as GM--genetically modified) foods and food ingredients on the market without labeling and mandatory safety testing. 

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Background of the Issue

If current trends continue, within a few years most of the foods we eat could be genetically engineered. Transnational corporations are spending vast sums of money to convince us this food technology is safe, nutritious, and completely tested. Many independent scientists, however, warn us that current understanding of genetics is extremely limited. They believe that this technology is flawed and carries inherent risks. 

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BioDemocracy News #38  Feb/March 2002
Market Pressure: Busting BGH and 
Biotech

By Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association

"In this 'Biotech Century' of out-of-control technology, public relations spin, and indentured science and government, global marketplace pressure campaigns have become a powerful tool for consumers to demand safe and sustainably-produced food, to call for Fair Trade and economic justice, and to drive genetically engineered foods and crops off the market."  
--Interview with John Stauber, author of Trust Us We're Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future and publisher of PR Watch www.prwatch.org 1/26/02

"Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible.  Assuring its safety is the FDA's job.''  
--Phil Angell, Monsanto's Director of Corporate Communications, New York Times 10/25/98
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BIOTECH BOASTING: ARE FRANKENFOODS 
CONQUERING THE WORLD?


In January, a biotech industry front group, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), announced, with great fanfare, that global acreage of genetically engineered (GE) crops had increased 19% in 2001.  According to ISAAA, 5.5 million farmers last year planted 130 million acres (52.6 million hectares) of GE crops, a 30-fold increase since 1996.  For the year 2000, ISAAA had reported a somewhat smaller 11% growth in GE acreage.  Cheerleaders for Frankenfoods, including Monsanto and the American Farm Bureau, hailed ISAAA's most recent projections as "proof" that the Biotech Century was going forward, despite widespread opposition in Europe and Asia, and increased rumblings of discontent among North American consumers and farmers.

Although most of the corporate media dutifully regurgitated ISAAA's press release on the "progress" of agbiotech, a closer more critical look at the evidence reveals a somewhat different story.  First of all, ISAAA estimates on crop acreage are based on interviews with "true believers," farmers who are growing GE crops.  Secondly, ISAAA gets its funds from corporations such as Monsanto, Aventis, and Pioneer (Dupont).  In addition, previous assertions made by the group' s spokesman, Clive James have subsequently been proven false.  For example, James claimed that 1998 plantings of GE soybeans resulted in
a 12% yield increase, when in fact yields fell 6-12%.

Finally, even assuming ISAAA's estimates are correct, BioDemocracy News believes they are inflated); biotech industry trends themselves tell a different story.  For example: global GE crop acreage grew over thirty-fold in 1996; 675% in 1997; 255% in 1998; and 143% in 1999.  In comparison, puny 11%-18% growth rates in 2000 and 2001 indicate a sharp leveling off in demand for GE seeds worldwide, rather than an increase--obviously a reaction to the growing global opposition against Frankenfoods.  ISAAA boasts that 5.5 million farmers around the world are now growing GE crops (another questionable figure) but forgets to mention that there are 2.4 billion farmers and rural villagers who are not growing GE crops.

Despite industry rhetoric, very few countries are willing to ignore public opposition and allow the commercial cultivation of GE soybeans, corn, cotton, or canola, the only four crops currently being grown on any significant scale.  While farmers in 130 nations are currently
producing certified organic crops, a grand total of three nations, (the US-with 68% of the world's GE crops, Canada-6%, and Argentina-22%) are still producing 96% of the world's Frankencrops. Several highly touted GE crops, the Flavr Savr tomato and Monsanto's Bt potato, have already been taken off the market.  Moreover the US,
Canada, and Argentina are finding that that their major overseas customers such as Europe, Japan, and South Korea no longer want to buy GE crops, even for animal feed.  In Europe, the largest agricultural market in the world, grassroots market pressure has forced all of the
major supermarket chains and food companies to remove GE ingredients from their consumer products.  Meanwhile, on the regulatory front, no new GE crops have been approved for commercialization in the EU since 1998.

Syngenta (formerly Novartis), the largest biotech company in the world, has removed all GE ingredients from its consumer food products. Because of increasing marketplace pressure, 25% of all animal feed in the EU is already GE-free.  In a recent poll 80% of British consumers said they would avoid purchasing meat or dairy products from animals fed GE feed.  Even China, which was supposed to be the Promised Land for agbiotech, has been reluctant to embrace Frankencrops (other than Bt cotton), sensing that the real future for their agricultural exports to Asia and the EU will be non-GE and organic crops.

Agbiotech industry propaganda about feeding the world through increased productivity is no longer credible.  As Amory and Hunter Lovins, founders of the Rocky Mountain Institute, point out: "Genetically engineered crops were created not because they are productive but because they're patentable.  Their economic value is oriented not toward helping subsistence farmers to feed themselves but toward feeding more livestock for the already overfed rich." Currently 63% of the world's GE crops are soybeans, used primarily for animal feed.  Corn, again mainly for animal feed, makes up 19% of all GE crops, while rapeseed, used for animal feed and cooking oil, makes up 5%.  Even cotton, which constitutes 13% of all GE crops, provides feed for cattle, in the form of cottonseed and cotton gin trash.

A look at ISAAA's figures for 2001 and 2000 reveal that most of the growth in global GE acreage in 2001 resulted from increased cultivation of Monsanto's flagship GE product, herbicide-resistant Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans, by farmers in Argentina (where Monsanto
is selling RR seeds at bargain basement prices, trying to boost sales) and the US (where farmers have to grow more and more soybeans in order to obtain government subsidies and to make up for record low prices of
soybeans on the world market).  One might ask why US farmers are buying so many RR soybeans, since they cost more (US soy farmers have complained about Monsanto selling RR beans at a much lower price in
Argentina) and since RR varieties actually produce a 6-12% lower yield as documented by Dr. Charles Benbrook and others.

The answer to the riddle of why US farmers and their counterparts in Argentina are planting so many RR soybeans does not bode well for the future of GE crops.  In Argentina, Monsanto's seeds are the cheapest
seeds available.  If Monsanto sold RR seeds worldwide at such low prices they would lose much of their profitability as a company.  In Latin America, Monsanto and their allies (Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland) are desperate to develop a major market for RR soybeans, since Argentina's next door neighbor, Brazil, now the largest producer of soybeans in the world, has a ban on GE soybeans and has taken over the major US overseas soybean markets in the EU, Japan, and Korea,
where anti-GE sentiments are strong.

Government Subsidies--Why US Farmers Plant GE Crops

American farmers are planting millions of acres of RR soybeans and other GE crops, not because there is a market demand for them, but because they are receiving taxpayer subsidies from the US government. Although gene-altered RR seeds and Roundup herbicide are expensive, herbicide-resistant soybeans are more convenient and less time-consuming to grow than traditional varieties-enabling farmers to plant, weed, and harvest more and more acres in a limited amount of
time.  Instead of having to till weeds with their tractors and spray several different toxic pesticides, farmers need only spray Monsanto's potent broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup, which kills everything green-except for the GE soybean plants.  Especially for cash and time-strapped farmers earning most of their money from off-farm
employment (US family farmers get about 90% of their net income from jobs off the farm), this "efficiency" makes RR soybeans seem attractive.

Far more important is the fact that in the US, the more acres a farmer plants in soybeans (or other subsidized crops like corn or cotton), the more money the farmer gets from the government farm subsidy program, which last year paid out $28 billion.  Of this $28 billion in farm subsidies, at least $7-10 billion went to farmers growing GE crops.  Thus even though Cargill or ADM routinely rob farmers by paying them less for a bushel of RR soybeans or Bt corn than it took to grow them, farmers can count on recouping their losses with a subsidy payment from the USDA.

The fundamental flaw, from an economic standpoint, of US farmers ignoring global opposition to Frankenfoods and planting more and more GE soybeans so as to collect more and more subsidy payments from the government, is that there is already a huge global surplus of soybeans, not to mention corn and cotton.  This massive surplus is
quite profitable for the crop commodities giants like Cargill and ADM, cotton buyers, and the big factory farm cattle feedlots and hog farms, who can count on getting cheap grain and fiber from farmers desperate to sell at any price, but it's nothing less than a recipe for disaster for rural America.  Billion dollar subsidies are the driving force for
GE soybeans and corn, but they are also the major destructive force flooding the market and lowering the price for soybeans paid to the farmers.  This ever-declining price results in farmers planting even more soybeans or corn.  The end result of this process will likely be the elimination of most small and medium sized farms in the US who depend upon subsidies (with the notable exception of organic farms, which are selling products which consumers want).  Organic farmers currently receive no US government subsidies whatsoever.

A major nightmare for the US grain and cotton farmers (including those growing GE crops) who are surviving on taxpayer subsidies is that government support may soon be declining.  Bush administration officials, hell-bent on subsidizing the military-industrial complex to the tune of $380 billion a year and cutting taxes for large corporations and the wealthy, have recently warned agribusiness
lobbyists that crop subsidies may decline over the next few years. This could be bad news indeed for non-organic farmers, but also bad news for Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont, Bayer, and the other Gene Giants. Without $7-10 billion a year in government crop subsidies paid out to
US farmers growing GE crops, we're likely to see a significant decline, rather than an increase, in GE acreage next year.

BGH: MONSANTO AND THE DAIRY INDUSTRY'S DIRTY LITTLE SECRET

Seven years ago, Feb. 4, 1994, despite nationwide protests by consumer groups, Monsanto and the FDA forced onto the US market the world's first GE animal drug, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH,
sometimes known as rBST).  BGH is a powerful GE drug produced by Monsanto which, injected into dairy cows, forces them to produce 15%-25% more milk, in the process seriously damaging their health and reproductive capacity.  Despite warnings from scientists, such as Dr.
Michael Hansen from the Consumers Union and Dr. Samuel Epstein from the Cancer Prevention Coalition, that milk from rBGH injected cows contains substantially higher amounts of a potent cancer tumor promoter called IGF-1, and despite evidence that rBGH milk contains
higher levels of pus, bacteria, and antibiotics, the FDA gave the hormone its seal of approval, with no real pre-market safety testing required.  Moreover, the FDA ruled, in a decision marred by rampant conflict of interest (several key FDA decision makers, including Michael Taylor, previously worked for Monsanto), that rBGH-derived products did not have to be labeled, despite polls showing that 90% of American consumers wanted labeling--mainly so they could avoid buying rBGH-tainted products.  Family farm advocates joined consumers in
demanding a ban on rBGH, predicting that the controversial drug would drive milk prices down, aggravate an already serious problem of milk overproduction, give factory-style dairies added production capacity (since these were the dairies expected to use the drug), and tarnish the image of milk and dairy products.

All of the major criticisms leveled against rBGH have turned out to be true.  Since 1994, every industrialized country in the world, except for the US, has banned the drug.  Even the Codex Alimentarius, the food standards arm of the World Trade Organization, has refused to back up Monsanto's claim that the drug is safe.  In 1998, Canadian government scientists revealed that Monsanto's own data on feeding rBGH to rats, carefully concealed by the company and the FDA, indicated possible cancer
dangers to humans.  Since rBGH was approved, approximately 40,000 small and medium-sized US dairy farmers, 1/3 of the total in the country, have gone out of business, concentrating milk production in the hands of industrial-sized dairies, most of whom are injecting
their cows with this cruel and dangerous drug.

In a 1998 survey by Family Farm Defenders, it was found that mortality rates for cows on factory dairy farms in Wisconsin, those injecting their herds with rBGH, were running at 40% per year.  In other words, after two and a half years of rBGH injections most of these drugged
and supercharged cows were dead. Typically, dairy cows live for 15-20 years.  Alarmed and revolted by rBGH, consumers have turned in droves to organic milk and dairy products or to brands labeled as rBGH-free.  Nonetheless, use of the drug has continued to increase in the US (and in nations like Brazil and Mexico) especially in large dairy herds, so that currently 15% of America's 10 million lactating dairy cows are being injected with rBGH.  Compounding the problem of rBGH contamination, most of the nation's 1500 dairy companies are allowing the co-mingling of rBGH and non-rBGH milk, thereby
contaminating 80-90% of the nation's milk and dairy supply (including all of the major infant formula brands).  For a list of organic and rBGH-free dairies in the US consult the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) website.

The major reason that rBGH is still on the market is that it is not labeled.  Supermarket dairy managers, following guidelines circulated by the rBGH and biotech lobby, routinely lie to consumers, telling them either that rBGH is not in their products, or that there's no way to tell, and reassuring them that the FDA has certified that rBGH is
safe.  Of course, every survey conducted since 1994 shows that if consumers were given a choice, they would boycott rBGH-tainted products.  When Vermont passed a mandatory labeling law for rBGH-derived dairy products in 1994, the rBGH lobby (led by Kraft/Phillip Morris and the International Dairy Foods Association) sued Vermont in federal court, forcing the state to rescind the law. When many US natural food stores, consumer coops, and dairies began advertising their products as rBGH-free, Monsanto's attorneys sent out thousands of letters to these businesses, threatening to sue them. Eventually Monsanto did sue two dairies, one in Iowa and another in
Texas, but was forced to settle out of court.

Responding to the global controversy surrounding the drug, Monsanto put BGH for sale in 1998, but there were no takers.  Transnational PR firms working with the biotech industry have categorized Monsanto's handling of the rBGH controversy as a "public relations disaster." Now this public relations disaster has come back to haunt the fastest-growing brand name in the global food and beverage industry, Starbucks.

STARBUCKS: FEELING THE HEAT ON BGH, FRANKENFOODS, & FAIR TRADE

Since March 2000, volunteers from the Organic Consumers Association have handed out over 250,000 "Consumer Warning" leaflets to Starbucks customers across the US and in at least five other nations where
Starbucks operates (Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel). These leaflets call for Starbucks to remove rBGH and other GE ingredients from their coffee beverages, bottled Frappuccino drinks, ice cream, baked goods, and chocolates.  The leaflets also call for Starbucks to start brewing Fair Trade and organic coffee as their "coffee of the day" at least one day a week, and to fulfill their longstanding pledge to certify (via Fair Trade monitor or organic certifiers) that they are paying a living wage to coffee farmers and plantation workers who supply them with over 100 million pounds of coffee every year.  Starbucks recently gave in to another demand of the OCA and allied groups, stating publicly that they will never use
GE coffee beans, now being field-tested in Hawaii and other places.

Starbucks is clearly rattled by the OCA market pressure campaign, especially the criticism that 3/4 of the 32 million gallons of milk it buys every year in the US are coming from dairies that allow cows to be injected with rBGH.  Once Starbucks' 15 million customers learn
that most of the latte or cappuccino drinks they're paying top dollar for (3/4 of the volume of these drinks are milk) contain an extra dose of pus, antibiotics, and growth hormones and that Fair Trade and organic coffee constitute less than one percent of company sales, they
may decide to take their business elsewhere.  Starbucks, the largest gourmet coffee company in the world, now owns 4,000 cafes across the globe, including 20% of all the coffee shops in the US.  In addition, its rBGH-tainted Frappuccino drinks are distributed to convenience stores all over the US (and in Canada) by Pepsi, while Kraft/Phillip Morris distributes Starbucks' ice cream and coffee beans to mainstream supermarkets.  Total annual sales for the company are approximately $2.5 billion.

Besides swearing off GE coffee beans, Starbucks has responded to the OCA's large and growing Frankenbucks pressure campaign by:

  • Emphasizing that 1/4 of their milk is now rBGH-free, and even using terms like "rBGH-tainted" in referring to their rBGH-derived milk.
  • Offering organic milk and soymilk as an "option" in all of their US
    cafes (but charging an outrageous 40 cents a cup for this option).
  • Offering organic yogurt in 1000 of their US locations.
  • Test-marketing organic baked goods in Seattle and Portland.
  • Promising to explore the possibility of removing all "GMOs" (genetically modified organisms) from their product line.
  • Agreeing to sell Fair Trade and organic coffee beans (in bulk form) in all their cafes worldwide.
  • Agreeing to brew Fair Trade coffee as their "coffee of the day" at least one day a month in all US cafes.
  • Agreeing to buy at least one million pounds of certified Fair Trade coffee in 2001.

The OCA is happy to report that grassroots pressure by our volunteer network, as well as pressure applied by our allies such as Global Exchange and several organizational members of the Genetically Engineered Food Alert (Friends of the Earth, Pesticide Action Network, Center for Food Safety), have already forced Starbucks to move at
least halfway in terms of meeting our demands.  Now all we've got to do is to keep up the pressure on Starbucks until they meet all of our demands.  After Starbucks surrenders (just as the upscale supermarket chain, Trader Joe's, surrendered on November 14 of last year, removing
all GMOs from their brand name products), then we can turn our market pressure campaigns on the other, even larger, food and beverage companies: the national and regional supermarket chains, industry giants like Kraft, the coffee giants, and even the fast food chains-just as our counterparts in Europe, Japan, South Korea, India, Brazil and other nations have already done.

A victory in the OCA's Frankenbucks campaign will send an important message, not only to all of the 20,000 coffee shops across North America (many of whom are already starting to do the right thing by banishing rBGH and other GMOs from their menus and serving up organic and Fair Trade products), but to the entire food, restaurant, and
beverage industry: consumers are sick and tired of having rBGH and other untested and unlabeled Frankenfoods shoved down their throats. There's only one future for American agriculture: meeting the ever-growing market demand for healthy organic food, produced in a humane and sustainable manner by small and medium-sized farmers.

On February 23-March 2, the OCA is organizing protests and leafleting events in front of Starbucks cafes in over 600 locations worldwide. These Global Days of Protest against Starbucks will coincide with the annual stockholders meeting of the company, to be held in Seattle on Tuesday February 26.  While hundreds of protestors gather outside the Starbucks stockholders meeting in Seattle, inside a group of concerned
investors will likely be calling for a vote on a resolution asking for the company to label or remove rBGH and other GE ingredients from all of Starbucks products.


MARKET PRESSURE: BUSTING BIOTECH

The worst nightmare of Monsanto and the biotech industry is starting to materialize: a mass-based consumer and environmental marketplace pressure campaign in the heartland of Frankenfoods-North America.  A number of major US food companies are already responding to public pressure and starting to sweep Frankenfoods off their products lists and their grocery shelves: Gerber (baby food), Heinz (baby food), Frito-Lay (at least for their corn), Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Trader Joe's, and even McDonald's (at least for their French fries).  Organic
consumers must make sure that Starbucks is the next company to fall in line.

Greenpeace, the Organic Consumers Association, the Genetically Engineered Food Alert www.gefoodalert.org and local activists all over the US are now joining forces to drive GE foods and crops off the market.  Our central strategy, following the example of successful European campaigns, will be to raise the level of public debate and
apply sustained pressure on strategic supermarkets and leading food corporations to remove GE ingredients from their product lines and to replace these products with GMO-free and organic items.  At the same time we're doing this in the US, our counterparts in Canada
(Greenpeace, Council of Canadians, Sierra Club, and National Farmers Union) will continue targeting Loblaws (a nationwide supermarket chain) and other companies.  Meanwhile, our allies south of the US border are building up a farmer/consumer/environmental coalition to stop the US and Canada from dumping GE corn and other products on Mexico and Latin America.
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BioDemocracy News #37
Jan/Feb 2002
Frankencorn Fight: Cautionary Tales
By Ronnie Cummins, 
Organic Consumers Association

"Corn diversity is essential to the future of our agricultural systems. Jack Harlan, the famous botanist, has noted that genetic diversity 'stands between us and catastrophic starvation on a scale we cannot imagine."  
--Press Release by Greenpeace Mexico 9/1/01

"We have to get away from the romantic anachronism that developing countries should strive for self-sufficiency in food."  
-- John Block, former US Secretary of Agriculture, 1986

"For people who want to buy corn, there really isn't much choice but to come to us." 
-- Bob Kohlmeyer, Cargill Corporation, Des Moines
Register 11/15/00

"We have a saying in our company. Our competitors are our friends. Our customers are the enemy." 
-- James Randall, Archer Daniels Midland Corporation, quoted in Fortune magazine 4/26/99

"Farmers don't like to hear that we're essentially a ward of the government, that we're on a workfare program." 
-- Alan Libbra, Illinois farmer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch 12/5/01

"Regardless of what the biotechnology industry wants us to believe, agricultural genetic engineering is an imprecise science. it relies on methods that include the haphazard insertion of genetic elements into a plant's genome. This in turn may result in the disruption of complex gene interactions and may lead to potentially catastrophic results." 
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Dr. Michael Hansen & Ellen Hickey, Global Pesticide Campaigner, April 2000
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BIODIVERSITY BOMBSHELL

On September 4, 2001 Mexican officials admitted that an alarming number of genetically engineered (GE) corn plants have been detected growing alongside traditional corn varieties over a widespread area in the state of Oaxaca. For millennia corn has been sacred to the Maya
and other native people of Mexico. Over centuries small farmers have carefully bred and preserved thousands of different traditional varieties of corn, called landraces, which are specific to each geographical region, soil type, and micro-climate of the country. Corn, or maize as it is called traditionally, remains today the most important crop for a quarter of the nation's 10 million indigenous and
small farmers. Corn tortillas play a major role in the diet of Mexico' s 100 million people.  Critics have warned that GE corn should never be imported into Mexico, the most important world center of biodiversity for corn, since the gene pool of the nation's 20,000 corn varieties and plant relatives, including the progenitor species of corn, called teosinte, could be irreversibly damaged by "genetic
pollution" from the genetically engineered (herbicide-resistant or Bt-spliced) maize being aggressively marketed by Monsanto, Syngenta (formerly called Novartis), and other agbiotech transnationals.

Under pressure to protect the nation's corn biodiversity, Mexican authorities have proclaimed a moratorium on domestic cultivation of GE corn. Meanwhile, they have ignored the massive dumping of millions of tons of cheap (US taxpayer-subsidized) GE corn by corporations such
Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Cargill. Agronomists and environmentalists fear that Mexican farmers have now, perhaps unknowingly, spread this imported Frankencorn into most of the corn-growing regions of the country, by planting GE corn from the US which was supposed to be sold for human food consumption only. Since impoverished Mexican farmers are looking for the cheapest corn seed possible to plant, they are increasingly choosing to buy the imported GE-tainted corn from the US, since it is considerably cheaper than
non-subsidized Mexican varieties.

CORN DUMPING: COLLATERAL DAMAGE

Compounding Mexico's genetic pollution problem is the fact that major overseas buyers of corn (Europe, Japan, Korea) are stubbornly refusing to buy gene-altered corn. Consequently North American exporters are finding it necessary to dump increasing amounts of GE-tainted maize on captive markets such as Mexico, China, Egypt, Colombia, Malaysia, and Brazil. Nineteen percent of the US corn, 14 million acres, is now genetically engineered, although GE acreage is down 30% from two years ago, mainly due to global resistance against Frankenfoods.

Corn dumping in Mexico has accelerated since the advent of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Under the relentless pressure of globalization, Mexico has been transformed from being a major producer of corn (producing 98% of its needs for example in 1994) to a major importer, ranking third in the world (after Japan and Korea) in terms of imports from the US and Canada. The reason for this is simple. Corn costs essentially $3.40 a bushel for family-sized farmers in the US and Canada to produce, and even more for a small farmer in Mexico. Yet Cargill and ADM, due to their monopoly control of the market, pay US farmers less than $2.00 a bushel, with the US taxpayer picking up the remainder of the tab. This enormous subsidy in turn gets reimbursed to farmers, although large corporate farms get the lion's share of the US's annual $20-30 billion in farm price support payments. Even with enormous taxpayer subsidies, most years US farmers have trouble even recuperating their costs of corn
production-leading to demands by family farmers for a breakup of Cargill and ADM's grain monopoly. Only organic corn farmers, operating outside ADM and Cargill's cartel, are receiving a fair price for their harvest. And of course North American organic corn growers are
increasingly alarmed over the fact that "genetic pollution" or gene flow from GE corn fields are starting to contaminate their valuable crops.

Longstanding Mexican government regulation of corn supply and prices, support for small corn growers, and price subsidies for corn tortillas for Mexican consumers have been eliminated, all at the behest of Cargill, ADM, and ADM's powerful Mexican partner, Gruma/Maseca. The end result of this globalization process is that small and medium-sized farmers, both North and South of the border, can't make a living, while ADM and Cargill (and their preferred customers such as McDonald's, Wal-Mart, Tyson, Smithfield) make a killing. Meanwhile, consumers, who have been promised that Free Trade would result in
lower prices, are paying more for food every year. Corn tortillas, the main staple of the Mexican diet, have risen in price 300% since NAFTA came into effect.

SOUTHERN CORN BLIGHT: A CAUTIONARY TALE

As botanists and plant breeders warn, contaminating Mexico's irreplaceable corn landraces and germplasm pool could be "catastrophic" for farmers and consumers. For example in 1970, millions of acres of the US corn crop were devastated by a Southern corn leaf blight which destroyed 15% of the total US harvest (50% of all corn in some areas), leading to over $1 billion in losses, not to mention marketplace shortages. By going to the "germplasm" bank of thousands of traditional varieties cultivated in Mexico, and withdrawing several varieties which were resistant to the Southern corn blight, plant breeders were able to use conventional cross-breeding and come up with a single blight-resistant hybrid variety which was planted in 1971-thereby saving billions of dollars in losses and maintaining global food security.

Underlining the central importance of corn biodiversity and preserving traditional varieties or landraces, researchers have also found in recent years that a perennial variety of corn's original parent, teosinte, found in Mexico, contains genes that can protect plants from seven of the nine principle viruses that infect corn crops in the US.

Of course if herbicide-resistant and Bt corn had already been polluting Mexico's centers of corn biodiversity before 1970, no one knows if the traditional variety resistant to Southern corn blight would still have been around to save the day. Likewise no one can predict the impact of Frankencorn pollution on virus-resistant teosinte varieties and other corn plant relatives. But one thing is certain, if globalization continues to drive several million Mexican
farmers from the land, and forces traditional growers to shift to growing non-corn export crops, most of the nation's heirloom corn varieties or landraces will be lost forever, since centralized seed banks (which typically store rather than cultivate their thousands of different varieties) cannot properly preserve landraces which are no
longer being cultivated in their native areas. Analysts estimate that almost a million small farmers-primary breeders and stewards of thousands of corn and other crop landraces--already have been driven from their cornfields and communal lands (ejidos) since Mexico
essentially turned over control of its agricultural sector to Cargill, ADM, and other North American food giants.

Even US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists have previously warned that genetically engineered crops should not be grown where wild relatives exist (prohibiting for example GE cotton from being grown in parts of southern Florida, where wild relatives of
cotton exist), much less in biological centers of diversity such as the maize-growing areas of Mexico. Of course this concern over genetic pollution didn't prevent the EPA in October 2001 from giving the green light to allow Bt corn to continue to be grown for seven more years in
the US, ignoring environmental and public health concerns voiced by scientists and consumer groups--knowing full well that millions of tons of GE-tainted corn continue to be exported by US corporations to centers of corn biodiversity such as Mexico, Central America, South
America, and the Caribbean.

Genetic engineering of agricultural crops and corn dumping not only pose a serious threat to Mexico (and Central America's) corn biodiversity, but also pose a threat to continental peace and stability as well. Since NAFTA went into effect, local and regional markets for indigenous and small farmers in the region have been undermined and destroyed. Farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to sell their corn, beans, coffee, or other crops. Rural poverty and hunger have increased, forcing millions of campesinos to migrate to the US. Mounting desperation has also spawned widespread, at times violent, agrarian conflicts in Mexican states such as Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Guerrero and threatens to reignite armed struggle across Central America.

FRANKENCORN: ADDITIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS

The threat to thousands of traditional varieties of corn in Mexico is just one of the environmental hazards of genetically engineered corn. Other environmental dangers include:

  • Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis)-spliced corn and crops pose a mortal threat to organic and sustainable (low-chemical input) agriculture, since they may soon destroy the effectiveness of organic farmers' most important biopesticide. In its non-GE, natural Bt spray form, Bacillus thuringiensis is the most important pest control agent in organic agriculture, with yearly sales in the US alone of $60 million.  This non-GE spray form of Bt is applied externally and evaporates within 2-7 days. Scientists predict that the super-potent, long lasting toxin found in Bt gene-spliced corn and other plants are likely to give rise to Superpests such as corn ear-worms which will be immune to the natural organic Bt sprays.

  • Bt-spliced crops such as corn damage the soil food web, killing beneficial soil microorganisms and reducing soil fertility. Bt corn leaches its powerful genetically engineered poison into the soil (a
    toxin which differs considerably from the naturally occurring Bt soil bacteria) and remains toxic up to eight months, even after being plowed under the soil.

  • Bt-spliced crops kill off natural predators and disrupt the balance among insects, leading to pest infestations.

  • Bt-spliced crops kill beneficial insects such as lacewings and ladybugs.

  • Bt-spliced crops, due to increased insect mortality, reduce the food supply for birds and other insect predators such as bats.

  • Bt-corn pollen (ingested along with other Bt-contaminated corn tissue) kills monarch butterflies and related species, such as the
    endangered Karner Blue butterfly.

  • Herbicide-resistant GE corn, sprayed with Monsanto's Roundup Ready weed killer, kills all the foliage in and around cornfields, depriving butterflies and related insects of important food sources such as milkweed. Roundup or glyphosate residues also remain in the soil and water, killing soil microorganisms and marine life.

FRANKENCORN: HUMAN HEALTH HAZARDS

Bt corn is designed to punch holes in the intestines of certain insects and kill them. But what does it do to the gut, immune system, and other vital organs of humans and animals? A good question, especially since the biotech industry, EPA, and other government officials have never bothered to look at this public health issue, despite growing concerns expressed by a broad cross-section of scientists and public interest consumer groups. Everyone by now has heard about the StarLink corn fiasco 18 months ago, when an illegal and likely allergenic variety of Bt corn contaminated 10% of the US corn crop and forced a billion dollar recall of 300 brand name products, including Kraft Taco Bell shells. But what about the other varieties of Bt corn, the stuff you're likely eating every time you bite into a corn product which is not labeled "organic?"

The Gene Giants claim that Bt corn is chemically "substantially equivalent" to conventional corn, and that eating it, therefore, will have exactly the same physiological impact as consuming regular corn. Well-respected experts such as Dr. Michael Hansen from the Consumers Union point out that this is not true. The Bt endotoxin and proteins expressed in every cell of genetically engineered corn are different from what humans and animals have ever eaten before. The haphazard insertion of a "genetic cassette" (including promoters, vectors, and antibiotic resistance marker genes) into the corn host genome is essentially random since scientists don't know if or when the foreign gene will be spliced into the plant's DNA, which of hundreds or even thousands of proteins will be expressed or generated, or even how many copies of the gene will be produced.  Bt, the naturally occurring soil bacteria, is not the same as Syngenta or Monsanto's patented and gene-altered Bt forcefully injected into GE corn. Although there's a lot we don't know yet about the potential hazards of eating GE corn, in terms of toxins, allergies, and impacts on the human gut and digestive system, there are enough danger signs already to give us pause for thought.  Mounting evidence includes the following:

  • Hundreds of Americans over the past year have reported allergic reactions to the FDA after eating corn products likely containing StarLink corn or other Bt varieties.

  • Scientists have pointed out that all Bt corn varieties produce proteins closely related to the suspected allergen in StarLink corn.

  • Cattle and other animals have been observed on a number of farms in the Midwestern US refusing to eat genetically engineered corn, while simultaneously munching conventional corn, along with the entire cornstalk, right down to the ground.

  • In a well-funded and carefully-designed experiment carried out by Dr. Arpad Pusztai in the UK in 1995-99, rats fed lectin-spliced potatoes (Bt is a member of the lectin family) suffered significant
    damage to their gut, immune system, and other vital organs. Pusztai later warned--after he was abruptly fired and his lab was shut down--that all gene-spliced lectins, including Bt crops, should be carefully investigated for possible adverse human health impacts.

  • Gene-altered antibiotic resistant marker (ARM) genes, similar to those contained in Bt corn, have been found in the guts of bees which had consumed the pollen from GE plants. Sophisticated studies in the Netherlands and Britain have indicated that ARM genes can likely combine with bacteria already present in the human throat, mouth, and gut. These "armed genes" can then give rise to new virulent, antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, exacerbating the already serious problem of antibiotic resistant pathogens such as salmonella, now routinely found in non-organic meat and other animal products. The British Medical Association and the World Health Organization have recommended that the use of antibiotic-resistant genes in GE corn and other food crops be eliminated.

FRANKENCORN AND MICE: ANOTHER CAUTIONARY TALE

Concerned that industry and government have failed to carry out proper scientific studies on the safety of GE corn and other Frankenfoods, a young Dutch science student, Hinze Hogendoorn, recently decided to take matters into his own hands. Dr. Mae Wan-Ho, a British geneticist and world renowned critic of biotechnology, reported the results of this simple, yet remarkable animal-feeding experiment on her website www.i-sis.org in December 2001. Here are excerpts from Dr. Ho's report:

"A Dutch farmer left two piles of maize in a barn infested with mice, one pile GM (genetically modified), the other non-GM. The GM pile was untouched, while the non-GM pile was completely eaten up. Incredible! Young undergraduate Hinze Hogendoorn, from University College, Utrecht devised his own laboratory tests and confirmed the finding, and more. An activist group (Jongeren Milieu Aktief) presented the report Hinze has written to the Dutch parliament on December 11, 2001 and is featuring it on their new website (www.talk2000.nl).

Hinze couldn't find a single scientific report on animals being tested for preference of GM versus non GM food on the web when he began. On extending his search to effects of GM foods on animals, he came across reports from companies developing GM foods, all declaring there were no adverse impacts. But he also came across independent researchers who have reported harmful effects, including Dr. Arpad Pusztai, who found GM potatoes damaged the kidney, thymus, spleen and gut of young rats.

[Hinze] was stumped at first, because he would have needed to go through a lot of bureaucracy to experiment on animals. However, he managed to rescue 30 female six-week old mice bred to feed snakes from a herpetology centre. [Hinze gave] them a staple food along with the two foods [GM and non-GE corn and soya] that were to be compared, so they could really show their preference without being starved.

Large cages were used so the mice had plenty of room to move around. At the beginning, all the mice were weighed before they were put into the cage[s].The mice had not eaten for some time, but amazingly, they [immediately] showed very definite food preferences [preferring the non GM corn and soya]. For the next [nine] week[s], Hinze continued to give the mice GM and non GM maize or soya chunks. the mice consumed 61% non GM and 39% GM food when given free choice.

For the next experiment, Hinze tested for the [health] effects of GM food. Over the next 10 days, he kept track of the amount of food that the two groups consumed each day, and weighed the mice, halfway through and at the end of the experiments.

The group fed GM ate more, probably because they were slightly heavier on average to begin with, but they gained less weight. By the end, they actually lost weight. In contrast, the group fed non GM ate less and gained more weight, continuing to gain weight until the end of the experiment. The results were statistically significant.

That was not the only difference observed. There were marked behavioral differences. The mice fed GM food "seemed less active while in their cages."

The most striking difference was when the mice were weighed at the end of the experiment. The mice fed GM food were "more distressed" than the other mice. "Many were running round and round the basket, scrabbling desperately in the sawdust, and even frantically jumping up the sides, something I'd never seen before." They were clearly more nervous than the mice from the other cage. "For me this was the most disconcerting evidence that GM food is not quite normal."

Another "interesting result" is that one of the mice in the GM cage was found dead at the end of the experiment. Hinze concluded, "At the end of everything, I must admit that the experiment has done nothing to soothe my qualms concerning genetically enhanced food."

FRANKENCORN OR PESTICIDES: CHOOSE YOUR POISON

The hazards of genetically engineered corn, and other GE foods, are frightening. But even if global resistance were able to drive GE corn off the market tomorrow, we would still be left with a highly toxic, chemical-intensive, industrial-style system of corn production which is depleting soil fertility, poisoning municipal water supplies, and quickly turning indigenous people and family farmers into an endangered species. Even without Frankencrops, we would still be facing an out-of-control globalization process, which is driving
millions of farmers off the land and forcing desperate peasants to chop down remaining forests--in the process driving hundreds of thousands of landraces and traditional varieties of plants, microorganisms, (and animals) into extinction.

Syngenta's conventional (non-GE) corn and pesticides are just as scary as their Frankencorn. Syngenta profits by selling corn farmers either gene-altered Bt corn or its conventional (fertilizer and pesticide-intensive) hybrids, along with its super toxic weed killer, Atrazine, a known carcinogen. Unfortunately Atrazine not only kills weeds, but also ends up as a dangerous residue in the meat and dairy products of animals that have eaten Atrazine-sprayed corn. Atrazine, along with its companion pesticides, have also polluted wells and drinking water in 97% of the communities in the US Corn Belt. What's more dangerous, eating Bt corn, consuming pesticide residues in your Big Mac or non-organic dairy products, or drinking the tap water that comes out of your faucet?

Similarly, Monsanto is in the business of selling toxic pesticides and herbicides, whether it is to farmers growing GE crops, farmers growing non-GE hybrid crops, Roundup-spraying drug warriors in Colombia or California, or suburbanites trying to get that perfectly green lawn. After 100 years of poisoning the public with substances like PCBs and Agent Orange, Monsanto tells us that their latest toxic chemicals such as Roundup, or their latest seed varieties, such as Roundup Ready corn are perfectly safe. Should we believe them? Or what about Cargill? They're happy to sell their chemical nitrate fertilizers (which also end up in most Americans' drinking water) to farmers, whether they are planting GE Frankencrops or just conventional industrial hybrids. Or ADM, who are happy to sell you either GE corn or non-GE corn, as long as they can drive the prices down which they pay to farmers, and drive the prices up to their "enemy," the consumer.

The solution of course to all this is to buy and eat organic food, and to buy from local and regional farmers and companies, rather than the transnational corporations whenever possible. Mexicans can protect their health and preserve their biodiversity by boycotting gringo GE-tainted corn and buying organic corn produced by Mexican farmers cultivating traditional varieties. US consumers similarly can protect their health, their drinking water, and their children by buying organic and local. Fortunately this is what more and more people are doing everyday, not only in the USA but across the world. Farmers in 130 nations are now producing certified organic food for a booming market of organic consumers, making organic the fasting growing component of world agriculture. Thirty million Americans are now buying organic food and the numbers are rising every month. Since September 11, sales of organic and natural food have increased 8%.

RAISE HELL NOT FRANKENCORN

Beyond voting with our consumer dollars and our knives and forks for a sustainable and organic future, organic consumers also need to organize ourselves into a potent political force. As the labor populist Mother Jones told rural Americans 100 years ago: "It's time to raise less corn and raise more hell."  Instead of letting the politicians raise our taxes in order to subsidize the profits of the Gene Giants and corporate agribusiness, we should be raising hell in Washington and in our state capitals to raise corporate taxes to subsidize healthy food and a healthy environment. Instead of subsidizing GE corn, pesticide-intensive corn, and industrial-sized farms, our billions of dollars in farm subsidies should be promoting organic agriculture, saving family farms, and promoting Fair Trade, not Free Trade, among nations.

... we are calling on grain exporters and the US government to protect corn biodiversity and to honor the global treaty on Biodiversity (the Biosasfety Protocol signed in Cartagena, Colombia, Feb. 2000) by ending the dumping of taxpayer subsidized GE corn in Mexico and other nations.

 

Channel References

General Reference Sites

Notes

Organic Consumers Association

This site has thousands of articles posted (and a convenient Search
Engine to find them) which deal with GE food, Mad Cow, food irradiation, industrial agriculture, food safety, organic food, and globalization. You'll also find the latest information and Action Alerts on current OCA campaigns. An excellent site.

The World News Network

GM Food – Genetic Modified Food

Genetic Engineering

Background, references, and news

Environmental News Network

Norfolk Genetic Information Network (NGIN)

 

Biotechnology Industry Organization

News, issues & policies, reports and other organizational information

The Alliance for Better Foods

An alliance of food industry players who support the use of bio-engineered foods and oppose the labeling of GM products.

Rural Advancement Foundation International

Based in Canada, this NGO is concerned with the loss of diversity and the impact of intellectual property tenets on agriculture. This site features news, annual reports, and publications

Agricultural Biotechnology and the Poor

From the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), this site features full-text versions of papers delivered at a conference devoted to the deployment of GM technology as a solution for food security problems in the developing world.

Genetically Modified Crops: The Ethical & Social Issues

The Council on Bio-ethics is a division of the Nuffield Foundation, a British charity organization. Features news, reports, and conclusions & recommendations.

Altered States

From Feed Magazine, this introduction to GM foods is part of an April 2000 "DNA Issue" covering the biotechnology industry.

Food for Our Future

Produced by the Food & Drink Federation, this U.K.-based site explains GM crops and foods, underscoring both benefits and concerns. Also features a glossary of GM food terms.

U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Biotechnology

Features a FAQ section, research reports, laws & regulations, and links to relevant organizations

Biotechnology in Agriculture

From the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, this site contains a brief overview of GM crops as well as news, analysis, and links.

International Center for Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology

This group is devoted to promoting the safe deployment of biotechnology, particularly in the developing world. Site contains organizational information, session transcripts, research reports and links to relevant organizations.

Organization for Economic Development: Biotechnology & Food Safety

The OECD recently organized a major international conference on the food safety aspects of biotechnology and genetically modified organisms.

Genetically Engineered Food: Are You Part of the Experiment?

From the Friends of the Earth Real Food Campaign, this U.K. site contains news, campaign & organizational information, and GM food briefings.

Keep Nature Natural

Created by Center for Food Safety, Citizens for Health, and Sustain, this site contains information about federally mandated labeling and safety standards for genetically modified foods.

Genetically Modified Foods

Northern Light – Special Edition

Biotechnology in Food Safety: Protecting Consumers

Agbiotech Infosource

GM Food Quiz

From Environmental News Network, test your knowledge of genetically modified foods.

Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?

From Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, this research report was released April 2000.

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