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Campaign for Food Safety News #20 July 14, 1999
News and Analysis on Genetic Engineering, Factory Farming, & Organics

by: Ronnie Cummins & Ben Lilliston
Campaign for Food Safety <www.purefood.org>

Affiliated with the Organic Consumers Association <www.organicconsumers.org>
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Derailing the Biotech Express: US & Global Activists at the Crossroads

Quote of the Month:

"Almost 100 % of our agricultural exports in the next five years will be
genetically-modified or combined with bulk commodities that are genetically
modified...The Europeans have an absolute fear, unfounded by any scientific
basis, of accepting these products... The EU's fear of bioengineered foods
... is the single greatest trade threat that we face."

Stuart Eizenstat, nominee for the second-highest job at the US Treasury
Department, testifying before the US Senate on June 29, 1999.
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A specter haunts the boardrooms of Monsanto and the Gene Giants. Mass
public resistance against genetically engineered (GE) foods and crops in
Western Europe and India, spearheaded by an incredible grassroots campaign
in Britain, appears on the verge of spreading into North America and across
the globe. Rumors are circulating in Europe that two of the largest GE
transnationals,Novartis and AstraZeneca, may bow out of ag biotech
altogether. If mass anti-biotech campaigns catch fire in North America and
Japan--and solidarity and cooperation continues to increase between
activists in the North and South--the Brave New World of ag biotech may be
short-lived. Even more unnerving to certain sectors of the economic elite,
as Monsanto and other biotech hard liners, including the US government and
trade officials, turn to evermore extreme measures to force the citizenry
to "shut up and eat their Frankenfoods," and compel farmers to plant their
"Terminator" and "Traitor" seeds, trade wars and collateral damage could
seriously undermine GATT and the World Trade Organization.

In this issue of CFS News we will review some of the major developments on
the GE front over the past few months and focus specifically on US
government and industry plans to co-opt and divide the growing
international anti-biotech movement and stifle debate in the US. First a
few of the major developments over the past 90 days:

* On June 24, EU environmental ministers moved to implement the legal
equivalent of a three-year moratorium on any new approvals of GE foods or
crops. The moratorium will remain in effect until more stringent EU safety
regulations are put in place in 2002. Not since April of 1998 has a GE food
been approved in Europe. "We've had a de facto moratorium, and now it's
been cast in stone," EU Commission spokesman Peter Jorgenson told a
reporter from Dow Jones. While the powerful European biotech trade
association, EuropaBio, criticized the moratorium as "deplorable,"
Greenpeace spokeswoman Louise Gale categorized the ministerial decision as
"a clear step in the right direction," a recognition of EU citizens'
"massive rejection of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in food and
agriculture." US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky complained that
the GE approval process in the EU had "completely" broken down and warned
that the White House was considering the possibility of economic
retaliation by filing a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization.
The EU decision comes in the wake of a massive grassroots movement across
the continent which has provoked a literal stampede by major supermarket
chains, fast-food restaurants, food producers, and animal feed companies in
Europe to proclaim a ban on GE foods and food ingredients.

* On May 17, the prestigious 115,000-member British Medical Association
(the equivalent of the AMA in the US) issued a report which called for a
moratorium on GE foods and crops, declaring that more"independent" research
is needed to determine the possible toxicity of bioengineered food. The BMA
warned that the commercialization of untested and unlabeled gene-foods
could lead to the development of new allergies and antibiotic resistance in
humans. British doctors emphasized that the notion of the "substantial
equivalence" of GE and non-GE foods--which provides the legal basis for the
US government position of "no labeling" and "no pre-market
safety-testing"--is scientifically incorrect, ignoring "gene interaction of
unexpected kinds which may take place in GM foods." The BMA report rocked
the already shaky biotech industry, generating significant media coverage
in many parts of the world. Influential members of the US Senate
immediately attacked the BMA report. Republican Senator John Ashcroft of
Missouri, sometimes known as the "Senator from Monsanto," lashed out
against the EU in the Washington Post: "It is characteristic of the
European Union to hide behind studies such as this in order to maintain its
protectionist trade policies." A representative of the BMA, Sir William
Asscher, spoke at a well-publicized press conference in Washington, D.C. on
June 16 sponsored by the public interest organization, Environmental Media
Services.

* In the most dramatic story of the year highlighting the environmental
hazards of GE crops, Nature magazine published a letter from Cornell
University scientists in its 5/20/99 issue indicating that pollen from Bt
corn crops is poisonous to Monarch butterflies. Headline stories of the
threat to what the press dubbed "the Bambi of the insect world" brought
home the fact--especially to Americans--that millions of acres of GE crops
are already under cultivation in the US, with untold damage already being
done to the environment and living creatures. Although Monsanto and the
biotech industry immediately tried to undercut the Monarch story,
complaining that the studies were carried out in a laboratory rather than
in the fields, another recent study by scientists from Iowa State
University <www.pme.iastate.edu/info/monarch.htm> conducted in and around
fields planted with Bt corn, showed similar results. Under pressure from
the media fallout, USDA head Dan Glickman emphasized in interviews that "We
can't force-feed consumers... There are certainly more and more questions
being asked about biotechnology, and those questions must be answered." EU
authorities reacted to the Monarch story by announcing that previous
approvals for Bt crops in Europe will now have to be reviewed and possibly
reversed. Greenpeace threatened a lawsuit unless the prior EU approvals for
several Bt crops were canceled. The Bt-Monarch controversy comes on the
heels of other recent studies showing that Bt-spliced crops kill beneficial
insects such as lacewings and ladybugs, kill beneficial soil
microorganisms, damage soil fertility, and may be harming insect-eating
birds.

* The Times of London reported April 15 on a scientific study that proved
that bees could spread GE-tainted pollen for a distance up to four
kilometers, much further than researchers had previously thought. Adrian
Beeb of Friends of the Earth pointed out that this study underlined that
nearly every farmer's field in the UK was potentially at risk from genetic
pollution and urged the government to back growing demands for a five-year
moratorium. Another recent article in Science magazine (284: 965-67)
pointed out that European corn borers resistant to the Bt toxin may carry
this resistance as a dominant, rather than a recessive trait, with the
consequence that these Bt superpests will likely breed and multiply at a
much faster rate (especially in so-called "refuges" planted adjacent to Bt
crop plots) than previously expected. This in turn could quickly render
non-GE Bt pesticidal sprays ineffective. Non-GE Bt sprays are the most
important emergency pest control agent for organic and low-chemical use
farmers in the world.

* On the Roundup Ready soybean front, well-respected scientist Dr. Charles
Benbrook has just posted information on the internet <www.biotech-info.net>
indicating that "overwhelming" and "indisputable" evidence shows that
farmers planting Monsanto's genetically engineered RRS soybeans are
experiencing a significantly lower yields than farmers who are growing
conventional, non-GE soybeans. Benbrook also warns that supposed reductions
in pesticide use from RRS or Bt seeds are exaggerated at best (farmers use
less volume of Roundup than other pesticides, but only because it's more
chemically potent) and fraudulent at worst. As Benbrook and others point
out in their book Pest Management at the Crossroads <www.pmac.net> the only
real way to reduce pesticide use is through organic or sustainable
agriculture practices (integrated pest management, including crop rotation,
cover crops, beneficial insects, planting a variety of crops,
manual/mechanical weeding, natural bio-pesticides, etc.). The July 10
magazine New Scientist (UK) contains an article on recently released USDA
data on GE crops that essentially reaffirms Benbrook and others' analysis
that herbicide-resistant and Bt crops are neither producing higher yields
nor reducing pesticide use. According to Kurt Kleiner of the New Scientist:
"Most American farmers who have turned to genetically engineered crops seem
to be getting yields no better than farmers who grow traditional varieties.
They also appear to be using similar quantities of pesticides."

* The president of the pro-biotechnology Rockefeller Foundation, Gordon
Conway, warned Monsanto in late-June that its strong-arm tactics and
promotion of the Terminator Technology are created a dangerous public
backlash against GE. Press reports stated that Conway flatly told Monsanto
to drop the controversial Terminator Technology and to stop opposing the
labeling of GE foods. Analysts point out that the Rockefeller/Monsanto
controversy is indicative of a increasing split in the ruling elite over
how and how quickly to force GE on an increasingly concerned and skeptical
public.

* Dr. Marc Lappe from the Center for Ethics and Toxics <www.cetos.org>
published with two other scientists July 1 a peer-reviewed study in the
Journal of Medicinal Food pointing out that Monsanto's RRS soybeans contain
12-14% lower levels of beneficial, naturally occurring phytoestrogens
(thought to provide natural protection against breast cancer, heart
disease, and osteoporosis) than conventional soybeans. Monsanto, as
expected, has vehemently denied Lappe's claims. Monsanto previously
intervened with a publisher to try to prevent Lappe and Britt Bailey's
anti-biotech book, Against the Grain, from being published.

* As record amounts of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide continue to be sprayed
on Roundup Ready soybeans, canola, corn, and cotton, a recent article in
the journal Cancer (March 15, 1999) has revealed links between glyphosate,
the active ingredient in Roundup, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of
cancer. In 1998 over 112,000 tons of glyphosate, the world's largest
selling herbicide were sprayed across the globe. A full 71% of all
genetically-altered crops last year were engineered to be resistant to
herbicides such as Roundup.

* According to an article in the July 2 Farmers Weekly (UK), after major US
corn buyers Archer Daniels Midland and A.E. Staley announced they would no
longer purchase GE corn which was unapproved for sale in the EU, up to 20%
of US corn farmers in some areas returned their unapproved GE corn seeds
back to their seed distributors.

* In the May 6 issue of Post, an insurance magazine, a manager for
insurance giant Cigna International, Maunce Pullen, recommended that
insurance companies think twice before issuing insurance policies to
genetic engineering companies: "Our experience with asbestos, PCBs, and
other 'miracle' products in the past should have warned us of the potential
dangers of diving into issues before we have an adequate awareness of the
exposures."

* In a sharp blow to Monsanto and the US government, the GATT Codex
Alimentarius in Rome once again on June 30 refused to certify that the
controversial recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH or rBST) is safe for
humans. "By refusing to set a standard today, Codex has recognized that
there is no consensus on rBGH safety in the international scientific
community, and that national governments should be able to decide whether
rBGH should be permitted in their milk supply," said Jean Halloran,
Director of the Consumer Policy Institute at the US Consumers Union. In
related developments government authorities in India, under public
pressure, banned imports of rBGH, while in New Zealand strong grassroots
opposition caused Monsanto's distributor, Eli-Lilly, to withdraw its
application to distribute the drug. Mounting scientific evidence indicates
that Monsanto's genetically engineered rBGH--now injected into 5% of all
dairy cows in the USA--likely poses significant health risks for both
humans (increased cancer risks as well as antibiotic resistance risks) and
animals.

* On June 21, a Federal Court in Brazil ruled that Monsanto's GE Roundup
Ready soybeans cannot be planted in that country before August 2000.
According to the judicial decision, Monsanto is prohibited from
commercializing the GE seeds until the government has issued regulations
and rules defining the biosafety and labeling of GMOs. In a July press
conference in London, Brazilian agricultural officials promised a
consistent and reliable supply of non-GE (as well as organic) soybeans for
the UK and EU market.

* According to the British and Brazilian press, more and more major
supermarket chains, food producers, and animal feed companies in Europe are
starting to turn to Brazil, rather than the US (where GE and non-GE
soybeans continue to be co-mingled), for their soybean imports. This is
alarming to US farmers and the White House, since US ag exports are already
in crisis, with a 14% decline overall in exports since last year. Meanwhile
prices paid to farmers for US soybeans have dropped to a 27-year low, with
overall US soybean exports declining by 38%. In addition the US has lost
$400 million in corn exports to Europe over the past two years because of
the EU public's rejection of GE corn, while Canada has lost over $500
million in canola (rapeseed) exports. Compounding US/Canadian problems,
there are signs that Japan, a major buyer of North American grains and oil
seeds, may be forced by public pressure to turn to Australia,France, Brazil
and other nations for guaranteed supplies of GE-free canola and soya.
Monsanto Canada CEO Ray Mowling warned the Canadian Grain Council on April
14 that the growing global controversy over GE "Frankenstein foods" and the
growing "effectiveness of GMO opponents" poses a major threat to
agricultural biotechnology.

* In the face of mounting consumer pressure and heavy media coverage of the
Bt-Monarch butterfly controversy, Japanese government officials announced
in mid-June that they were suspending approval of Bt crops for agricultural
production, pending the establishment of criteria for safety evaluation.
Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) will also
apparently decide by the end of the year whether mandatory labeling will be
required for most GE foods. As pointed out in previous issues of CFS News,
public concerns over food safety and gene-foods have increased considerably
in Japan over the past three years. In recent international meetings of the
Codex Alimentarius, Japanese officials have refused to support the US
position of "no labeling" for GE foods. Japan imports 77% of its soybeans
from the USA, as well as 87% of its corn. One of the biggest nightmares of
the biotech industry is that Japanese and Asian anti-GE activists will
build a mass movement similar to what we are now seeing in Europe and
India. Japan is the largest feed grain importer in the world, purchasing
30-40% of US grain exports, while Korea and Taiwan combined often import
almost as much as Japan.

* Activists, NGOs (non-government organizations), and government officials
from Cuba, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela met in Ecuador
in mid-June and affirmed that nations of Latin America must agree on
biosafety mechanisms to lower the risks posed by genetically engineered
foods and crops. Biologist Elizabeth Bravo from the Ecuador environmental
group Accion Ecologica warned that unlabeled and untested GE foods from
Argentina and the US are already coming into Ecuador and other Latin
American countries. Bravo told InterPress News Service that "The possible
alterations to human and environmental health from GE foods are
unpredictable." Bravo also stressed that "Farmers are forced to purchase
genetically modified seeds from a single firm, on pain of losing the
commercial competition race. Who guarantees that these foods are safe?"
Cuban biosafety expert Orfelia Rodriquez summed up the consensus on
labeling which is steadily developing in Latin America "Governments must
inform the population on the risks of using transgenics, and must make
labeling of such products mandatory, in order for consumers to know what
they are consuming."

* On July 2 activists from Greenpeace delivered several hundred pounds of
GE corn seed, purchased in Mexico, to Mexican health authorities to prove
that corn imports coming into the country do contain gene-altered
DNA--despite a supposed ban by the government on imports of GE corn. Mexico
is the world center for diversity for corn, and scientists have warned that
"genetic pollution" of Mexico's many corn varieties could lead to the loss
of the world's most important and irreplaceable source of corn germ plasm.
The Greenpeace action generated major press coverage, and, along with
recent coverage of the Bt-Monarch story (Monarch butterflies migrate to
Mexico for the winter months), has begun to alert the Mexican public of the
dangers and uncertainties of GE foods and crops.

* Over three dozen NGOs and consumer groups in the US--including for the
first time several national environmental groups--have begun holding
anti-biotech meetings, participating in conference calls, and organizing
press events and protests. At the end of July an important meeting and
strategy session will take place in California, with participation by all
major anti-biotech groups in the USA, as well as a group of foundation
funders. According to a report by Bill Lambrecht in the St. Louis
Post-Dispatch on May 30, a number of major non-profit foundations in the US
are on the verge of pouring significant financial resources into public
interest organizations in order to facilitate a major American GE public
awareness campaign.

* Heretofore unpublished federal Food and Drug Administration documents
obtained by the International Center for Technology Assessment
<www.icta.org> and the Alliance for Bio-Integrity <www.bio-integrity.org>
as part of an ongoing May 1998 lawsuit demanding mandatory labeling and
safety-testing of GE foods and crops, show that even the FDA's own
scientists had serious differences over the FDA's "no labeling" and "no
safety-testing" policy on gene-altered foods issued in 1992. According to
Steve Druker of the Alliance for Bio-Integrity "In internal documents FDA
officials repeatedly cautioned that foods produced through recombinant DNA
technology entail different risks than do their conventionally produced
counterparts and that this input was consistently disregarded by the
bureaucrats who crafted the agency's current policy, which treats
bioengineered foods the same as natural ones. Besides contradicting the
FDA's claim that its policy is science-based, this evidence shows the
agency violated the U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in allowing
genetically engineered foods to be marketed without testing on the premise
that they are generally recognized as safe by qualified experts."

* According to Andrew Kimbrell and Joe Mendelson, attorneys for the
International Center for Technology Assessment, a federal court will decide
(probably by the end of 1999) whether the FDA is required by law to mandate
pre-market testing and labeling for GE foods. Additionally the court will
decide whether the entire US regulatory regime regarding GE foods regulated
by the FDA has to undergo an environmental impact statement. All of the
legal briefs written by the ICTA will be posted on the internet shortly
after July 12 <www.icta.org>.

CFS's well-informed sources in Washington tell us that the Clinton
administration and the Biotechnology Industry Organization are increasingly
worried. Chemical & Engineering News reported in its May 31 issue that
Thomas Nickson, a Monsanto regulatory official, "now considers the labeling
of genetically modified crops for export inevitable." According to C&E
News, giant commodities traders Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland also
believe currently co-mingled export crops will soon have to be segregated
and labeled. Although the USDA hasn't yet endorsed the idea of labeling GE
foods for export, according to a June 27 story by Bill Lambrecht, the USDA
hopes that new proposed federal organic standards, due to be released as
early as October, will "ease the worries of biotech-wary consumers" by
prohibiting the use of genetically engineered ingredients in foods labeled
"USDA Organic." In other words, if you don't want GE, buy organic.

Proponents of GE realize they're going to have to make at least some minor
concessions on the biotech labeling front in order to head off a trade war
with the EU, prevent the GE controversy from heating up too much in Japan
and other major US export markets--and prevent the emergence of a serious
debate and organized opposition movement in the USA. The biotech industry
understands quite well consumer polls over the past ten years that show
that 80-90% of Americans support mandatory labeling, and that 60% or so, if
foods were clearly labeled, would attempt to avoid buying GE products. They
also understand that there isn't more of a controversy yet in the USA
because almost half of all consumers erroneously believe that there aren't
any GE foods (except for rBGH-derived dairy products) on the market. A
1999 study by the International Food Information Council, a government and
industry-funded group, found that 47% of Americans believe that there
aren't any genetically engineered foods on the market yet.

As danger signs mount of an impending increase in grassroots activism and
public debate over gene-foods, the Clinton administration is taking steps
to create the impression they're willing to address public concerns:

* A White House task force will report later this year on the prospect of
labeling genetically engineered foods... One option is voluntary industry
labeling.

* The National Academy of Sciences met recently to plan a new biotechnology
review process that focuses on GE seeds and ownership of genetic materials.
An Academy panel also held a public hearing on potential risks of Bt crops.

* The USDA has resurrected a 25-person biotechnology advisory committee
that will include a variety of experts, members of the public, and critics.
The committee will hold its first meeting this fall.

* USDA chief Dan Glickman delivered a conciliatory, if somewhat vague,
speech at the National Press Club in Washington on July 13 on the GE
controversy, warning the biotech giants and food companies to listen to
consumer concerns and consider adopting voluntary labeling for gene-foods.
"What we cannot do is take consumers for granted... a sort of 'if you grow
it, they will come' mentality," Glickman said. Glickman also promised
reforms in the US regulatory process and closer monitoring of potential
environmental and health problems. The July 13 speech attracted significant
media attention, including major stories in the New York Times, USA Today,
and the Wall Street Journal.

The biotech lobby apparently believe that a more moderate set of proposed
national organic standards--one that specifically excludes GE, irradiation,
and toxic sludge--will placate US organic consumers. Beyond this, if the
overall biotech debate in the US starts to get out of hand, they are
willing to entertain the notion of partial, voluntary industry labeling.
The White House and the Gene Giants believe that segregation and labeling
of GE exports will placate Europeans and Asians, and that over time
everyone will calm down or else become fatalistic as they realize that GE
crops and ingredients are everywhere. In the meantime they intend to use
the GATT, the World Bank, the IMF, the OECD, and other corporate and
biotech-friendly institutions to rewrite global trade agreements and
investment policies so that nation states no longer have the ability to
respond to citizen demands for rigid controls over genetic engineering and
other out-of-control technologies. As an ultimate fall-back plan, our
sources tell us, the White House would conceivably consider a general and
deliberately vague label on food products that says something like "This
product may contain bioengineered or irradiated ingredients..." Of course
this is not enough. Campaigners in the US and around the world must prepare
ourselves for a protracted struggle. The battle has just begun.

End of Campaign for Food Safety News #20
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