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Food Bytes #17: Global Resistance Against Monsanto & GE

FOOD BYTES #17 March 2, 1999
News and Analysis on Genetic Engineering, Factory Farming, & Organics
by: Ronnie Cummins & Ben Lilliston
Campaign for Food Safety & Organic Consumers Association
alliance@mr.net http://www.purefood.org
http//:www.organicconsumers.org

Affiliated with the Center for Food Safety (Washington, D.C.)
http://www.icta.org
___________________________________________________________
Special Issue:

Global Resistance Mounts Against Monsanto & Genetic Engineering

Quotes of the month:

"Everybody over here hates us."
Dan Verakis, Monsanto PR spokesman in the U.K., quoted in the London
Observer 2/21/99.

"Tony, Don't Swallow Bill's Seed."

Greenpeace banner on their delivery truck Feb. 18 in London as they dumped
four tons of US GE-tainted soybeans on the front steps of #10 Downing
Street, Prime Minister Tony Blair's official residence.
______________________________________________________________

In what the Financial Times of London characterized on Feb. 23 as a "public
relations disaster for transgenic foods," global resistance to Monsanto and
genetic engineering (GE) has sharply intensified over the past 60 days. As
reported previously in Food Bytes (#13 & #15 ), the international anti-GE
movement is rapidly developing into a serious threat to Monsanto and other
biotechnology titans.

The growing crisis over gene-foods has reached the point where financial
analysts are warning the Clinton administration that the European Union
will not back off on efforts to label untested GE foods. Many believe this
controversy could spawn a major trade war within the World Trade
Organization (WTO). In Britain commentators have similarly warned Prime
Minister Tony Blair that his cozy relationship with Bill Clinton and Bill's
favorite corporation, Monsanto, could do severe damage to Blair.

It has been a rough last several months for Monsanto and the ag biotech
special interests. Here is a chronological blow by blow account:

* The Fall/Winter 1998 issue of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Gene
Exchange <www.ucsusa.org> warns of recent US research showing that
genetically engineered Bt crops are building up Bt toxins in the soil,
thereby damaging the soil food web and harming beneficial insects.

* On December 15, 1998 attorneys from the Center for Food Safety, on behalf
of a broad coalition, filed a legal petition in Washington, D.C. against
the FDA to have rBGH taken off the market. The legal action received major
attention from the mass media, including a widely-viewed segment on ABC TV
national news. The CFS petition cites mounting evidence that the original
testing of rBGH was flawed. In 1990 the FDA said BGH was "safe for human
consumption." Part of its findings were based on 90-day rat feeding studies
in which they reported "no toxicologically significant changes..." Based
largely on this conclusion, FDA did not require human toxicological tests
usually required for a veterinary drug. However in April of 1998,
researchers from Health Canada, the Canadian equivalent to FDA, issued a
report which contradicted FDA's findings. Canadian researchers found
studies showing that rats were absorbing rBGH after all. In fact, between
20 and 30 percent of the rats were developing distinct immunological
reactions. Additionally, cysts formed in the thyroid of some male rats and
infiltrated the prostate--both warning signs for potential cancer hazards.

"These are toxicologically significant changes in the rats and they should
have triggered a full human health review, including assessment of
potential carcinogenic and immunological effects," said Dr. Michael Hansen,
an expert on rBGH and a scientist with the Consumer Policy Institute, a
division of Consumers Union. According to CFS attorneys it is "unclear" how
or why these results were overlooked in the original FDA review of rBGH.
Monsanto says it submitted the studies to the FDA, while the agency says it
only saw summaries of the rat tests.

"We're going to go to the courts and say--you were lied to," said Andrew
Kimbrell, lead counsel for the CFS. "Essentially it was fraud by the agency
and fraud by Monsanto in telling the court that there were no human health
effects possible from consuming these products made with rBGH treated
milk." The EU has already banned rBGH, but this policy comes up for review
later this year. The US government has warned that they will file for
damages under the WTO if the EU continues to ban Monsanto's rBGH.

* Australian trade authorities announced on Jan. 8, the largest shipment of
canola (rapeseed) ever exported from Australia. The $16.5 million dollar
shipment is bound for oilseed crushing plants in Europe. According to
Graham Lawrence, managing director of the New South Wales Grains Board,
"Europe has moved to become a major buyer this year because Australia is
the only country to guarantee non-genetic modified canola." Canada has lost
$300-400 million in canola sales to Europe over the last year because
government authorities have followed the US model of co-mingling GE and
non-GE grains. This year over 50% of Canada's 13.4 million acres of canola
are genetically engineered.

* The mid-January 1999 issue of the California Farmer magazine reports that
Bt resistance has emerged among pink bollworms, a major cotton pest, in
Arizona cotton fields Biotech critics have warned for years that
genetically engineered Bt crops will cause major crop pests to develop
resistance to Bt, thereby destroying the usefulness of the world's most
important natural biopesticide.

* On Jan. 14 Canadian government officials announced that they were not
going to allow Monsanto's controversial recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone
(rBGH or rBST) to be injected into Canada's dairy cows. The ruling came
after nine years of heavy lobbying by Monsanto and a major nationwide
debate. Although the Canadian government and the media stressed that the
permanent ban on rBGH was based primarily on animal health concerns, the
data posted on their web site by the Canadian scientists who reviewed the
drug made it clear that human health hazards were also a consideration,
namely increased antibiotic residues and elevated levels of a potent human
growth hormone factor and cancer promoter called IGF-1 found in
rBGH-derived milk and dairy products. (For further information on the
hazards of rBGH, see our web sites <www.purefood.org> and <www.icta.org>)

* On Jan. 22, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that financial
difficulties were forcing Monsanto to slash 1700 employees from its global
workforce of 28,000. As indicated in previous Food Bytes, Monsanto now
finds itself strapped for cash in the wake of last fall's failed merger
with the American Home Products Corp. Monsanto's recent aggressive
multi-billion dollar acquisitions of seed companies, research labs, and
grain trading operations have increased their power and control over world
markets, but have drastically reduced their available capital and lowered
their stock values, leaving them potentially vulnerable to an unfriendly
takeover by Dupont or Dow or another mega-corporation. Wall Street
investment analyst William Fiala told the St. Louis Post Dispatch, "It
seems like they (Monsanto) bit off more than they could chew after the
merger collapsed. They are taking a risk that they could cut too deep in
terms of personnel or could sell things out of necessity that are still
good investments. Their debt is beyond Monsanto's comfort level and beyond
most analysts' comfort level."

* Almost 200 cotton farmers in Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina are
suing Monsanto for damages after crop failures of Monsanto's Bt and Roundup
Ready cotton seeds, according to a news story in the Augusta (Georgia)
Chronicle on Jan. 25. In a separate lawsuit 25 cotton farmers in Texas,
Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Louisiana are suing Monsanto for fraud and
misrepresentation--also in regard to Bt cotton crop failures.

* On Feb. 5, Carrefour, France's largest supermarket chain, announced that
they were taking all genetically engineered foods off their shelves. A
representative from Greenpeace France, Arnaud Apoteker, told anti-biotech
activists at an conference in Cuernavaca, Mexico on Feb. 7 that Greenpeace
and their allies were planning on driving all GE foods and crops out of
France by the end of next year.

* On Feb. 12 front-page headline stories in the British press revealed
that Dr. Arpad Pusztai's explosive research findings on the potential human
health dangers of genetically engineered potatoes--first aired in the UK
media last August--had been verified by a panel of 20 international
scientists. Dr. Pusztai, a world renowned researcher on plant lectins, was
fired last August from the government-funded Rowett Institute in Scotland,
under very suspicious circumstances, shortly after he went public with
research indicating that laboratory rats fed genetically engineered
potatoes had suffered significant damage to their immune systems, thymuses,
kidneys, spleens, and guts. According to press reports, Pusztai's firing
and the ensuing scientific coverup by the UK government were a direct
consequence of ongoing White House pressure on Tony Blair to keep the door
open to Monsanto and other biotech companies to market and grow GE
products in Britain and across the EU.

When Dr. Pusztai fed conventional potatoes and snowdrop lectin (GNA) to
rats, no damage occurred. But when Pusztai fed the rats an equivalent
amount of potatoes which were gene-spliced with the snowdrop lectin,
significant and startling damage became quickly evident. Despite
deliberately false U.K. government allegations that Dr. Pusztai's
experiments were purely theoretical, a number of biotech companies are
currently carrying out similar lab and field tests on gene-spliced
potatoes, rapeseed, rice, and cabbage, calculating that snowdrop-spliced
food crops will repel crop pests.

Perhaps even more alarming than Pusztai's mutant potatoes, scientists have
subsequently pointed out that Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a gene routinely
spliced into millions of acres of US corn, cotton, and potatoes is now
considered to be a form of lectin. And more alarming yet, another
scientist, Dr. Stanley Ewen, said that a commonly used vector or production
aid in gene-splicing, the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus, may have caused serious
damage to the stomach and internal organs of the rats in Pusztai's study.
If the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus (CaMV) is confirmed as being hazardous to
mammals, this could literally become the "Chernobyl of Biotech"--since
Roundup Ready soybeans, Bt corn, and most other GE crops are produced using
the CaMV as a genetic splicing vector.

* On Feb. 13, eight days after Carrefour's announcement in Paris, a major
British supermarket chain, Asda, announced that they were going to remove
all genetically engineered ingredients from their own-brand goods. Asda's
move comes in the wake of similar moves by other UK retail chains,
including Iceland and Marks and Spencer. As Sheila McKechnie of the UK
Consumers Association pointed out in the Daily Mail newspaper on Feb. 11,
grocery chains banning GE foods like Carrefour will now "have an enormous
competitive advantage" in the marketplace.

* Bloomberg News reported on February 13 that EU authorities had rejected
Monsanto's request to grow GE Roundup Ready and Bollgard Bt cotton plants
in Europe. Two days earlier the European Parliament voted to tighten GE
regulations, demanding that GE corporations be compelled to purchase
liability insurance to cover any and all damages resulting from
gene-altered crops or foods. The Parliament also demanded stricter measures
for the prevention of gene transfers from GMOs to other crops or wild
species, as well as a ban on antibiotic-resistance marker genes in genetic
crops.

* On February 18, an international coalition of public interest
organizations, led by attorneys from the Center for Food Safety (Food Bytes
and the Campaign for Food Safety are affiliated with the CFS) filed a
lawsuit in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. to have all Bt crops
taken off of the market because of the hazards they pose to the
environment and public health. The February 18 Bt lawsuit was announced at
a well-attended press conference in Washington, and generated significant
coverage in the US press. Last May (see Food Bytes #13) the Center for
Food Safety sued the FDA to have all genetically engineered foods taken off
the market on the grounds that they are neither properly labeled nor
safety-tested, and that lack of mandatory labeling illegally restricts the
freedom of choice of those who would choose--on religious or ethical
grounds--to avoid GE foods.

"Genetically engineered crops are a threat to farmers, consumers, and the
environment," said Charles Margulis, a spokesperson for Greenpeace, one of
the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the
Center for Food Safety stated, "EPA has shown a blatant disregard for
federal law and its own regulations by approving Bt crops without fully
assessing their environmental safety. Their continuing failure to regulate
this untested technology forces us to turn to the courts for protection."
For further information on these lawsuits see <www.icta.org>

* On Feb. 23, the Daily Mail newspaper in the UK reported that three of
Britain's fast-food giants--McDonald's, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried
Chicken--are responding to customer pressure by eliminating genetically
engineered soya and corn ingredients from their menus. According to
McDonald's spokesperson Jackie Graveny: "Our aim is to have McDonald's GM
(genetically modified) free as soon as possible." Similarly Burger King
stated: "The company is set to ban GM food as soon as possible." In a
related development the Agriculture Minister in the UK, Nick Brown,
announced on Jan. 31 that UK restaurants will soon be required to start
labeling "meals which contain certain types of genetically modified food."

* With more and more major food retailers, restaurants, and processors in
Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Scandinavia, the UK, and other
nations going "GE-free" a tremendous market now exists for certified
"non-GE" and organic products. This makes it increasingly difficult for
governments such as the US, Canada, and Brazil to keep telling farmers
that their "no labeling and no segregation" policies on co-mingling GE and
non-GE grains and crops make good economic sense.

* On Feb. 23 India's Supreme Court ruled that all field trials of
Monsanto's genetically engineered Bt Cotton must be halted. The court
ruling and temporary legal injunction came in response to a legal petition
filed by veteran Indian activist Dr. Vandana Shiva, director of the
Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology. According to Dr.
Shiva, "This case does not merely have national significance, it has
international significance. Around the world scientists, environmentalists,
consumer groups and farmers are calling for a moratorium on commercial
releases of genetically engineered crops because of growing evidence of
ecological hazards and threats to food safety." The court ruling comes in
the wake of months of protests by Indian farmers and consumers, many of
whom have organized themselves into a Monsanto "Quit India" movement. Dr.
Shiva and other activists brought together over 100 grassroots
organizations in Hyderabad on Jan. 7 to launch a nationwide campaign
against Monsanto. On March 9-10 Food Bytes will be attending an
international meeting of biotech activists in India organized by Dr. Shiva.

* A major backlash has developed against the United States and major
transnational biotech corporations after an international Biosafety
Protocol treaty was sabotaged in Cartagena, Colombia. The Biosafety
Protocol, supported by over 135 nations and public interest groups
worldwide, would have tightened regulations on the international transfer
and trade of genetically engineered seeds, grains, and foods. In a vote on
Feb. 24 the US and five of its allies, the so-called "Miami Group" (Canada,
Australia, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile) managed to prevent the passage of
the internationally binding treaty. As US biosafety expert Beth Burrows of
the Edmonds Institute told the New York Times, "There was no moral high
ground here (on the part of the US). There was no scientific higher ground.
It was just cheap power politics." According to the Financial Times of
London and other EU sources, the US' bully boy tactics at the Biosafety
Protocol meetings will only serve to exacerbate anti-biotech feelings in
Europe. A recent statement by George Monbiot in the London Guardian (Feb.
19) aptly sums up the mood of EU consumers:
"Food scares happen... because people feel they have no control over what
they eat. Our decisions are made for us by invisible and unaccountable
corporations."

* On Feb. 25 a group of US activists in San Francisco calling themselves
fabRAGE (Fabulous Resistance Against Genetic Engineering) stripped off
their clothes and disrupted a conference panel on genetically engineered
cotton featuring a speaker from the Monsanto Corporation. "We'd rather go
naked than wear genetically modified cotton!" shouted Biogrrl, a fashion
diva at the event, as half a dozen activists charged through the room and
stripped off their biohazglam gowns, chanting: "We don't want it, won't buy
it, and won't wear it. Super Gene Girl, in a biohazard suit shouted,
"Gene-spliced cotton is not sustainable!" Monsanto representatives appeared
apoplectic in the face of the action.

* On Feb. 27 Greenpeace activists in Mexico City hung banners protesting
"Genetic Imperialism" and the US sabotage of the Biosafety Protocol on a
historic monument, the Angel of Independence, in the center of the city.
Police arrested the demonstrators, but the banner-hanging generated
significant coverage in the Mexican media, where until recently there has
been very little discussion of the GE foods controversy.

* On March 2 the Reuters news agency reported that the UK's Advertising
Standards Authority wil soon "censure" Monsanto for a misleading series of
ads on the safety of genetically engineered foods which appeared last year
in the British press.

_________________________________________________________________
Global Days of Action Against Monsanto and Genetic Engineering April 15-30,
1999

On February 7, 1999, over 40 representatives of activist groups from
around the world met in Cuernavaca, Mexico to share experiences and to plan
a global grassroots campaign against the Monsanto Corporation and
genetically engineered foods. While mass-based grassroots campaigns have
partially blocked genetically engineered foods and crops thus far in
Western Europe and India, activists in North America, South America,
Africa, and much of Asia and the Pacific still have a long way to go in
terms of grassroots education, Movement-building, and mobilization.
Especially in the United States activists have been stymied by a powerful
Monsanto lobbying and PR campaign that has coopted or bought off the
Congress and the White House, intimidated the media, and forced several
dozen unlabeled, untested genetically engineered foods onto the
marketplace. At the present time 51.3 million acres (out of a global total
of 69.5 million) of US farmland are planted in genetically engineered
crops, including 45% of all cotton crops; 32% of soybeans; 25% of corn; and
3.5% of potatoes. In addition 700,000 dairy cows are being injected with
Monsanto's rBGH every two weeks. Most non-organic processed food in the US
now contains at least trace levels of genetically engineered ingredients.

To help build the kind of U.S. and global Movement required to bring
Monsanto and the other GE Giants under control, and to move global
agriculture and global economic development in a sustainable and organic
direction, food and agriculture activists at the February 7 Cuernavaca
meeting endorsed the call for Global Days of Action against Monsanto and
genetic engineering on April 15-30. The interim Monsanto Campaign steering
committee of Vandana Shiva (India), Mika Iba (Japan), Tony Clarke (Canada),
and Ronnie Cummins (USA) are calling on activists all over the world to
step up their activism against Monsanto and genetic engineering, using the
fourth annual April 15-30 Global Days of Action as a vehicle for amplifying
our message, building our local and national activist networks, and further
strengthening our international solidarity. Food Bytes was endorsed at the
Cuernavaca meeting as an international clearinghouse for anti-Monsanto and
Global Days of Action activities. If you are planning anti-Monsanto/GDA
activities during April 15-30, please send us the details at Food Bytes so
we can inform the media as well as activists all over the world. And of
course in Western Europe and India, where nearly every day has now become a
Global Day of Action against Monsanto and genetic engineering, keep up the
good work! Further details on the April GDA will be posted on the web at
<www.purefood.org>

### End of Food Bytes #17###

Ronnie Cummins, Director
Campaign for Food Safety/Organic Consumers Association
860 Hwy 61
Little Marais, Minnesota 55614
Telephone: 218-226-4164 Fax: 218-226-4157
email: alliance@mr.net URL: http://www.purefood.org

Affiliated with the Center for Food Safety (Washington, D.C.)
http://www.icta.org
and the Organic Consumers Association
http://www.organicconsumers.org

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