News & Analysis on Genetic Engineering & Factory Farming
Issue #4 (December 11, 1997)
by: Ronnie Cummins, Pure Food Campaign USA
Recent Developments of Note:
* USDA Will Finally Publish Proposed National Organic Standards Dec. 15
* Oprah Winfrey and Howard Lyman's Mad Cow "Food Slander" Trial Scheduled
to Begin in Texas on Jan. 5, 1998
* FDA Reform & Food Irradiation Bill Signed by Clinton on Nov. 21
* Monsanto's Biotech Blunders and Disasters Continue
USDA Propaganda Event Will Accompany Release of the Controversial National
Organic Food Standards Dec. 15
After months of delay the U.S. Department of Agriculture will unveil its
long-awaited and controversial proposed federal regulations on organic
foods Dec. 15. In a blatant attempt to manipulate news coverage and blunt
anticipated criticism, the USDA has scheduled a tightly-scripted "by
invitation only" 9 a.m. Washington, D.C. press conference on Dec. 15, a
full hour, if not a full day, before the 600-page standards are made public
over the internet and published in the Federal Register. At the 45-minute
Dec. 15 press conference, which will be closed to the general public, USDA
bureaucrats--joined by a token member of the natural food industry, Organic
Trade Association President Mark Retzloff--plan to spin their propaganda
message to what they anticipate will be a docile audience of government
bureaucrats and industry insiders. The USDA will deliberately not make
copies of the organic rules available to their invited guests at the 9 a.m.
gathering, nor to the Washington, D.C. press corps who will be herded
together for their own Dog and Pony show at 10 a.m.
Both of these USDA public relations events are designed to be vague and
non-specific, avoiding, if at all possible, a discussion of the
controversial issues. Following these press conferences the USDA and the
Clinton administration will apparently refuse to discuss the proposed
organic standards for the next 90-120 days.
Supporters of strict organic standards and a ban on genetic engineering
warn that yet another "press briefing" complementing the USDA show,
sponsored by the Organic Trade Association, whose spokesperson Catherine
DiMatteo supports the inclusion of biotech inputs under the organic label,
may deliberately or inadvertently become part of the USDA whitewash by
creating the illusion that supporters of "strict" organic standards are
being allowed to "have their say" as well. At its fall meeting at the
Baltimore Natural Products Expo, dissident members of the OTA expressed
strong opposition to several current OTA leaders' attempts to weaken their
organization's strict ban on genetically engineered foods.
In spite of Monday's propaganda show, beginning at least by Tuesday, Dec.
16, it will become more difficult for the Clinton administration to hide
their dirty deeds. On Dec. 16 (and perhaps as early as 10 a.m. on Dec. 15)
the proposed national organic standards, as required by law, will be
published in the Federal Register, as well as on the internet at
<http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop> or <http://www.ams.usda.gov/tmd/tmdnop.htm>.
Unfortunately by the time anyone has a chance to digest the voluminous
document, the U.S. mainstream press will very likely have already filed
their fluff stories from the day before, and consequently may no longer be
that interested in "old news." In any case as soon as the rules are posted
on the internet and thousands of natural food consumers and producers
across the country learn that the USDA plans to significantly weaken and
degrade organic standards, there is likely to be a grassroots rebellion. A
sizeable national coalition, rallying under the slogan SOS (Save Organic
Standards) is already starting to develop. The coalition plans to organize
a letter writing campaign to the USDA during the official 90-120 day
comment period, organize educational forums, leaflet supermarkets, stage
demonstrations at USDA offices, and, if necessary, sue the government in
Under the new proposed federal regulations, the USDA alone will decide what
can and what cannot be legally certified and labeled as "organic." This
means that it will likely soon be illegal for producers and retailers to
uphold and promote standards stricter than the USDA allows. Conversely, if
the USDA does not explicitly prohibit a questionable agricultural
production method, then it will be allowed. Currently when consumers shop
for foods labeled organic, they can be reasonably certain of what they're
getting. But under the proposed December 15 USDA laws, although there may
be vague promises and ambiguous language, there will most likely be no
explicit prohibitions against:
Genetic Engineering--Using genetic engineering to produce foods
Factory Farming--Using inhumane, intensive confinement factory farm style
production methods on farm animals
Toxic Sludge--Spreading toxic sewage sludge and industrial wastes,
so-called "biosolids," often disguised as fertilizer, on farm lands and
Animal Cannibalism--Feeding back diseased and waste animal body parts,
organs, manure, and blood to farm animals and pets
Food Irradiation--Using radioactive nuclear wastes to "kill bacteria" and
prolong the shelf life of food products
Stay tuned to the next issue of Food Bytes #5 for an SOS Action Alert.
Oprah Winfrey and Howard Lyman's Mad Cow "Food Slander" Trial Scheduled to
Begin in Amarillo, Texas on Jan. 5, 1998
Criticizing agribusiness has now been made a crime in the United States, at
least in 13 states. On Jan. 5 African-American talk show host Oprah
Winfrey and cattle rancher turned vegetarian food activist Howard Lyman of
the Humane Society of the U.S. will become the first Americans to face
charges under the infamous "food slander" statutes. Two wealthy Texas
cattlemen have sued Winfrey and Lyman because of a nationally broadcast TV
program on April 16, 1996 in which shocked viewers learned that U.S.
agricultural practices, namely animal cannibalism--the feeding of diseased
and waste animal parts back to farm animals and pets on an industrial
scale--are likely to lead to a domestic Mad Cow crisis in the USA. (See
Food Bytes #2 for a review of the new book by Sheldon Rampton and John
Stauber Mad Cow USA: Could the Nightmare Happen Here?)
A spokesman for Oprah Winfrey, David Margulies, says Oprah plans to attend
the trial, which attorneys say could last three to six weeks. Unconfirmed
reports are that Winfrey will move her hugely popular TV show to Amarillo
for the duration of the trial. In a recent statement, Winfrey maintains
that America's food slander laws pose a threat to First Amendment rights of
free speech and freedom of the press. Winfrey says, "I maintain my right to
ask questions and to hold a public debate on issues that impact the general
public and my audience." A recent poll found that Oprah Winfrey was the
most admired and popular celebrity in the United States.
In a recent article in Nov.-Dec. 1997 issue of The Ecologist (U.K), Ben
Lilliston and I attempted to put the Oprah Winfrey-Howard Lyman food
slander trial in historical perspective:
"In recent years, with the globalization and industrialization of food
production and the emergence of the Mad Cow and e-coli crises, the public
has become even more concerned about food safety and other health related
agricultural issues. Recent polls in the U.S. have found 80% of all
consumers expressing concern about issues such as pesticide and antibiotic
residues, genetic engineering, animal feeding practices, and bacterial
contamination. Hardly a month goes by without the media publicizing the
latest food scare."
"Concern over food safety has now begun to affect the purchasing habits of
American consumers, creating a demand for healthier food and a multi
billion dollar market for organic products. Consumer backlash to tainted
meat and produce have cost American agribusiness billions of dollars in
lost sales and have hampered the introduction of new industrial food
production technologies such as genetic engineering and food irradiation.
Dissent and political activism have steadily increased over the last five
years. Eating and purchasing food has now become a political act for
millions of Americans--and American agribusiness is alarmed."
Food Bytes looks forward to covering the Oprah Winfrey-Howard Lyman food
slander trial over the next couple of months. Stay tuned. Our prediction is
that this unprecedented trial will turn out to be a public relations
disaster for factory farming and America's beef cartels.
FDA Reform & Food Irradiation Bill Signed by Clinton on Nov. 21
On November 21, President Clinton signed into law Senate Bill 830, the
so-called Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act of 1997. The Bill
was designed primarily to speed up approval of drugs and medical devices,
especially cancer and AIDS drugs. Despite the original intent of S. 830,
factory farm and biotech lobbyists managed to insert provisions into the
bill which would have preempted and basically outlawed labeling by states
on genetically engineered foods such as recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone
(rBGH or rBST)) and "cruelty-free" cosmetics. A number of U.S. states now
have laws on the books permitting dairies to label their products as
"rBGH-free," as well as laws on cruelty-free cosmetics. After considerable
pressure from public interest and animal protection organizations, these
provisions in S. 830 were eventually dropped. The final version of the bill
also eliminated an earlier amendment which would have classified dietary
supplements as drugs, rather than food products.
Factory farm and multinational food interests did manage to insert a
"Trojan Horse" labeling provision into S. 830, however. The bill calls on
the FDA to approve the irradiation of beef with nuclear wastes to kill
bacteria and prolong the shelf life of foods. However, given the fact that
77% of the American public recently declared their opposition to irradiated
foods in a September poll by CBS News, Congressional supporters of food
irradiation cleverly decided to weaken current U.S. laws which require
relatively clear labeling of foods (but not spices or the ingredients in
processed foods) which have been irradiated. Under the new law, after food
manufacturers have nuked a food product, they will be required only to
divulge this fact in tiny letters on the back of the food package. And of
course restaurants and institutional food providers (schools, hospitals,
company employee cafeterias) are not required to notify consumers at all.
Even this was not enough for some industry lobbyists, who stressed that the
word "nuclear irradiation" should not appear at all on irradiated
foods--but rather should be replaced by more reassuring terms such as "cold
pasteurization" or "pico waved."
Following the formal FDA approval of nuking beef products on December 2,
(it's already legal, though uncommon for U.S. food manufacturers to
irradiate other meats and poultry, as well as spices, grains and
vegetables), the industry PR machinery went into high gear. The basic pre
packaged message was the same in nearly every newspaper, TV news report,
and talk show across the country: irradiation is absolutely safe,
irradiation is the only way to solve America's food safety crisis,
irradiation does not damage the nutritional value of foods, nor create
carcinogenic by-products. Opponents of food irradiation such as Food and
Water, the Cancer Prevention Coalition, and the Pure Food Campaign thereby
become by definition scare-mongers, Luddites, and technophobes. A few
mainstream media outlets did allow us to say a few words from our
perspective, however. Here's an op-ed piece from us which was printed in
the Chicago Sun-Times Dec. 5:
"It's a shame to see the Sun-Times and other U.S. media swallow the
propaganda from the nuclear industry about food irradiation. The Sun Times
would have us believe that our only chance against E. coli is irradiation.
Unfortunately, irradiation creates as many problems as it solves.
Irradiating meat exposes it to the equivalent of millions of medical X
rays--a level lethal to humans. While the irradiated food itself is not
radioactive, it does cause chemical changes in food. Studies have shown
that irradiation destroys many essential vitamins and nutrients and that it
produces carcinogenic by-products.
It also should be noted that the long-term effects of eating irradiated
foods are not known. Results from some previous animal and human tests are
worrisome. Animals fed irradiated foods have developed testicular tumors,
kidney disease, shorter life-spans and reproductive difficulties.
Irradiation is not the proper option for protecting our meat. Healthy
animals and humane, sanitary packing houses--with zero tolerance for fecal
contamination and dangerous pathogens--are the real solution. In addition,
new steam-cleaning technologies have proven effective against E-coli.
The millions of deaths and illnesses associated with bacterial
contamination of meat must be addressed. But we shouldn't jump to embrace a
technology promoted by the nuclear industry, which is looking to unload its
nuclear weapons by-products."
Monsanto and Friends' Biotech Blunders and Disasters Continue
Monsanto and the other gene engineers have suffered a number of
technological and public relations "glitches" over the past few years, as
Food Bytes readers are not doubt aware. These biotech blunders and
* The massive marketplace failure of Monsanto's billion dollar flagship
product, rBGH. After three years on the marketplace, only 4% of America's
dairy cows are being shot up with the drug. Wall Street analysts told
Business Week magazine in 1996 that due to farmer and consumer opposition
(and the fact that rBGH damages the health of cows) the drug was a total
failure, and that in economic terms it should be taken off the market. In
scientific and public health terms data continues to pile up that
significantly increased levels of the human growth hormone factor, IGF-1,
in genetically engineered milk and dairy products constitute a serious
human health risk for increased breast and colon cancer. In addition
scientific studies have recently been brought to the attention of the World
Health Organization that injecting mammals with genetically engineered
growth hormones very likely increases their susceptibility to deadly,
incurable brain-wasting diseases such as BSE, commonly known as Mad Cow
Disease, or its human variant, CJD. Consequently the WHO, the European
Union, and the Codex Alimentarius are unlikely to ever approve rBGH as a
safe drug, leaving the U.S. as the only industrialized nation in the world
to have approved rBGH.
* In mid-1996 Monsanto/Calgene's highly-touted "Flavr Savr" tomato was
taken off the market, ostensibly because of production failures and genetic
glitches. Earlier the DNAP corporation's gene-altered "Endless Summer"
tomato didn't even make it through its test marketing phase.
* Initial seed crops of Monsanto's Bt-spliced "NatureGuard" potatoes in
1996 suffered from severe plant virus damage.
* Monsanto's entire Canadian genetically engineered rapeseed or canola crop
had to be recalled earlier this year because of unexplained "technical
* Up to a million acres or 50% of Monsanto's Bt Cotton crop in the U.S.
were attacked by bollworms in 1996, prompting lawsuits by outraged cotton
growers who claim they were defrauded by Monsanto.
* Mississippi cotton farmers are preparing to sue Monsanto for damages
arising from cotton boll damage or deformities in the 1997 "Roundup Ready"
* Field tests in Europe have shown that genetically engineered rapeseed
plants are causing "biological pollution" and spreading their mutant DNA
characteristics to neighboring plants. Other tests have shown that gene
spliced crops are harming or killing beneficial insects and pollinators
such as Ladybugs (Ladybirds) and honey bees, and that pests are rapidly
developing resistance to gene-altered Bt crops.
* In October Greenpeace and other NGOs revealed that soybean plants sprayed
with Roundup are more estrogenic and are therefore possibly hormone or
endocrine system disruptors. Dairy cows eating "Roundup Ready" soybeans are
producing milk with different chemical characteristics (higher fat levels)
than cows who are eating regular soybeans.
* Most recently Irish authorities made public documents that revealed that
Monsanto's supposedly Roundup-resistant sugar beets were dying in alarming
numbers after having been sprayed with Roundup.
In the future we can expect more of these biotech blunders and gene glitches.
Food Bytes will look closer at this recipe for disaster in upcoming issues.
End of Food Bytes #4 (December 11, 1997)