BioDemocracy News #43 (August 2003) Genetically Modified Democracy
Quarterly News By Ronnie Cummins
Organic Consumers Association www.organicconsumers.org
Quotes of the Month:
"In summary, the risk to Monsanto's shareholders from the company's genetic engineering business are substantial. the company faces business constraints in the form of market rejection by consumers, producers, and farmers; significant legislative hurdles to commercialization; uncertainty in the face of human health and environmental impacts stemming from the company's products; and finally, significant risk exposure from potential contamination of the human food chain by unapproved genetically engineered traits." Monsanto & Genetic Engineering: Risks for Investors A report prepared by Strategic Value Advisors (April 2003)
"Let's go eat some genetically modified food for lunch,"
George Bush, at a meeting with EU officials in Washington, June 25, 2003
Genetically Modified Democracy: Corralling the Critics
Running full speed to catch up with several thousand non-violent protestors on "L" Street in Sacramento, I'm just a few yards ahead of a advancing phalanx of Darth Vader look-alike cops, who are brandishing stun guns and riot batons. As a booming voice announces via bullhorn "Leave the area immediately or you will all be arrested," it's pretty clear that the White House's biotech bullying has reached a new level of desperation. Here at the June 23-25 USDA summit conference on biotechnology in Sacramento, (sort of a warm-up event for the September WTO Ministerial Meeting in Cancun), even the police horses are decked out with ankle guards and head visors, backed up by heavily-armed motorcycle cops, armored personnel carriers, and an army of 2,000 riot police-dispatched to "protect" 500 international agricultural delegates from America's Frankenfood critics.
As a government official from Africa remarks, "I've never seen such a display of police force, other than in Communist states." Rounding a street corner, out of breath, I watch a beefy policeman charge into a young woman and knock her to the ground, apparently for the crime of standing too close to a Starbucks café with a protest sign. Welcome to the post 9/11 Republic of Genetically Modified Democracy. For more on the Sacramento protests see
Global Bee Swarm: Driving Monsanto & Bush to Desperation
A thousand bee stings from global Civil Society have put Monsanto and the other Gene Giants on virtual life-support. Overseas markets for genetically engineered (GE) seeds and crops are closing down, protests are continuing, scientific evidence of risk is mounting, and regulations and labeling requirements are tightening. As Mexico-based biotech analyst Silvia Ribeiro from ETC Group stated at a teach-in in Sacramento, "Five Gene Giants (Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont, Bayer, and Dow) selling four GE seed crops (soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton), to farmers in three countries (U.S., Canada, and Argentina) with two agricultural traits (herbicide-resistant and Bt pesticide-spliced) have one goal: control of the global food system." The good news, reported daily on the Organic Consumers Association website, www.organicconsumers.org, and in previous issues of BioDemocracy News and Organic Bytes, is that the biotech industry's Master Plan for global domination seems to be failing. Even with George Bush leading the charge, even with intimidation and bullying reaching new levels of desperation, the Biotech Express has derailed.
Once mighty Monsanto-whose GE seeds account for a full 91% of all global Frankencrops-is in critical condition. The company's stock values have fallen by 50%, reflecting a loss of $1.7 billion on $4.7 billion in sales last year. As revealed in recent news stories, and a crucial investment report published in April 2003, by Strategic Value Advisors, Monsanto and the agbiotech industry's mounting vulnerabilities include:
*Global markets for GE seeds and grains are shrinking, due to consumer resistance and mounting export and labeling restrictions. Global sales of GE seeds have leveled off at $4.5 billion, while organic ($23 billion) and non-GE food sales are booming. U.S. and Canadian farmers have literally lost billions of dollars in export sales of GE-tainted corn, soybeans, and canola. Even in the U.S., consumer concerns are mounting. An ABC News poll released July 15, found that the majority of U.S. consumers (55%) are now opposed to GE foods, while 92% support mandatory labeling.
*New labeling and traceability laws are slowly but surely closing down the market for the last billion dollars of US GE-derived soybeans (down from $3.2 billion several years ago) exported every year as animal feed to Europe. Brazil, with a ban on GMOs (genetically modified organisms), has now replaced the U.S. as the largest exporter of soybeans in the world. According to the May 2003 trade publication, The Non-GMO Source, Brazil will export $7.9 billion of soybeans this year, while the U.S. will export "less than $7 billion."
*The international Biosafety Protocol, which requires the labeling of seeds and "prior consent" from countries importing GMOs, will come into force in September, despite objections from Monsanto and the Bush administration. Meanwhile the WTO's food standards body, the Codex Alimentarius, has ruled that countries may legally require their own additional safety testing and mandatory labeling for GMOs, including animal feeds, which currently account for more than 80% of the world's GE crops.
*Monsanto's only real commercial markets for GE seeds (the U.S., Canada, Argentina, and China) are quickly becoming saturated. A full 80% of U.S. and 90% of Argentina's soybeans are already GE. One-third of U.S. corn is GE, but this is mainly because Monsanto has been selling Bt and Roundup-Ready corn seeds at bargain basement prices, a practice which it can no longer afford. Two-thirds of US cotton is already GE. Canada's Roundup Ready canola acreage has shrunk from 14 million acres to 9 million acres. No other countries in the world are likely to plant GE crops on a major commercial scale in the near future. A mounting number of developing nations are not even willing to take GE-tainted corn and soya in food aid shipments.
*Monsanto and the industry's main future crops and projected profits are in serious jeopardy. GE wheat, rice, trees, and biopharm drugs are facing unprecedented opposition, not only from overseas buyers, but also from U.S. and Canadian farmers. Even major trade associations such as the National Food Processors Association and the Grocery Manufacturers of America, and food giants such as General Mills and Frito-Lay, have told Monsanto to back off on GE wheat and biopharm crops. "To the extent that consumers want choice, they want to choose non-biotech,'' said Karil Kochenderfer, the biotechnology coordinator for the Grocery Manufacturers of America, which represents food companies such as Kraft and General Mills.
*While Monsanto and the biotech industry continue to lie and paint a rosy future for GMOs in the media, it is a crime, under U.S. law, for them to deliberately lie to investors. Thus in their most recent 10K report to investors, Monsanto admits that genetic drift from biotech and biopharm crops is unavoidable, that potential financial liabilities are unpredictable, and that no new countries will be planting their GE seeds in the near future.
*Monsanto's monopoly patent on glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, the top-selling herbicide in the world, traditional source of almost half of the company's profits, has expired. Now Monsanto's competitors, such as Syngenta (formerly Novartis), are selling glyphosate as well, at reduced prices, slicing away at Monsanto's life support. In Australia, Monsanto has stopped selling glyphosate altogether, with lower-priced Chinese imports taking over the market. Monsanto has also admitted to investors that its sales of Roundup will continue to decline, from its current global market share of 77% to the low 60's by 2005. Meanwhile the price per gallon Monsanto receives for Roundup is expected to drop from $23 to $14-15 per gallon by 2005.
*As discussed in previous issues of BioDemocracy News, weeds such as marestail (horsetail), rye grass, and hemp grass are starting to develop resistance to glyphosate, a literal death sentence for Roundup-Ready crops, which comprise 71% of the world's GMOs. In Arkansas, a full 20% of the state 's 2.9 million acres of Roundup Ready soybeans and cotton are sprouting herbicide-resistant marestail weeds.
Biotech Bullying: Bound to Backfire
Unable to protect itself from the mounting bee swarm of its critics or bring new patented crops to market in the overwhelming majority of the countries of the world, Monsanto and the biotech industry have turned to the White House, the courts, the police, and the WTO in desperation. Among the most recent desperate tactics of the industry-all of which are likely to backfire-are the following:
*Bush's WTO Challenge. After years of threats, the Bush administration filed a formal complaint May 13 with the World Trade Organization to force the European Union, under the threat of a billion dollars in fines, to accept GE crops and imports. Unfortunately for Bush and the Gene Giants, this move has done nothing but create more anger in the EU, with supermarkets, food manufacturers, farmers, and consumer groups vowing that they will never accept Frankenfoods, no matter what the WTO says. Responding to the Bush move, the European Union passed in July new strict labeling and traceability requirements for GE food, cooking oil, and animal feed. This will result in a major decrease in GMO animal feed exports from North America to the EU.
*As Jeremy Rifkin put it, "US strong-arming cannot make Europeans
eat genetically modified food. A European GM food boycott will only expose the underlying weakness of globalization and the existing trade protocols that accompany it. In the unfolding struggle between global commercial power and local cultural resistance, the GM food fight might turn out to be the test case that forces us to rethink the very basis of the globalization process." (The Guardian U.K. June 2, 2003)
Buying off Tony Blair. As if UK Prime Minister Tony Blair didn't already have enough problems, due to his politically disastrous support for Bush's Iraq invasion, Blair's continued support for GE crops has angered British consumers and farmers even more. The Daily Mail, a major British newspaper, reported on July 7, that a call from the White House to Tony Blair in August 1998 likely precipitated the firing of the world's preeminent GE food safety researcher, Dr. Arpad Pusztai. Pusztai had discovered, in a government-financed study at the Rowett Institute in Scotland, that genetically engineered potatoes damaged the immune system and vital organs of laboratory animals.
*Since then Pusztai has continued his research:
*Desperate to stifle dissent, even inside his own Cabinet, Blair fired his popular Environmental Minister, Michael Meacher, in June. Meacher, in response, urged the UK government to maintain a moratorium on GE foods, stating, "There could be risk to the immune system. There could be risk to sexual development in young children or babies from GM-based soya infant feed. There have been no tests. That is an enormous gap and I think a scandalous omission in making the decision about whether or not these are safe to eat." http://www.organicconsumers.org/ge/062403_uk_ge.cfm
*Pushing for Commercialization of GE Wheat, Rice, and Fish. Desperate to keep their stock values from collapsing, Monsanto and the other biotech companies still maintain they will get permission from the U.S. and other governments to commercialize new food crops and fish. They may indeed prevail in getting the Bush administration to approve commercialization of these crops, but if they do they will alienate-not only consumers and environmental activists-but major food companies, supermarket chains, farmers, fishing communities, and overseas buyers.
*Even the Canadian Wheat Board, the largest purchaser of wheat in
the world, threatened in May to sue Monsanto, if they move forward on GE
wheat. Similarly, major international buyers of North American wheat and
rice have threatened to boycott billions of dollars of U.S. and Canadian
exports. In the words of the largest wheat importer in Italy, Antonio
Costato of Grandi Molini Italiani SpA, "The European milling industry will
simply not buy one more kilo of any U.S. wheat if the U.S. approves GMO
wheat crops." http://www.organicconsumers.org/ge/071403_ge_wheat.cfm
*GE Pharm Crops. Even more foolhardy than trying to force-feed unwilling consumers GE wheat and rice are the "pharm" crops-whereby pharmaceutical drugs or industrial chemicals are being gene-spliced into corn and other farm crops, in effect turning plants or animals into "bioreactors." There have already been 300 secret field trials of these pharm crops in the U.S. by Monsanto and other companies, 2/3 of them utilizing corn, a crop noted for spreading its pollen (and genetic characteristics) far and wide. In March the OCA joined the Center for Food Safety and other groups to file a legal petition to stop the planting of biopharm crops. http://www.organicconsumers.org/ge/030503_biotech_usda.cfm
*As Monsanto admitted to investors in its most recent 10k report, biopharm crops will likely spread their pollen and seeds into the environment, resulting in more Starlink-type food recalls. As Frank Dixon, Managing Director at Innovest Strategic Value Advisors put it "The risk of heavy financial losses due to genetic pollution or technology failure coupled with sustained market rejection of GE foods makes Monsanto a poor investment." As reported previously, the USDA has already admitted that there have been two cases of pharm crops (pig vaccine, and also possibly an experimental AIDS drug) getting into animal feed. Even major food manufacturers and supermarket chains, formerly supporters of agbiotech, are up in arms about pharm crops.
*Propaganda Barrage. Desperate for acceptance, Monsanto and the biotech lobby have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising and public relations, with repeated (and now thoroughly discredited) claims that Frankencrops will reduce pesticide use, feed the world's hungry, and produce healthier food. But even in the heartland of biotech, a recent ABC News poll found that 62% of American women would not feed GE food to their children.
*After threatening and harassing thousands of seed savers, and taking legal action against 400 North American farmers, most of whom have been forced to pay damages for the "crime" of seed saving, Monsanto will soon "face the consequences" in Canada's Supreme Court, where its highly publicized case against Saskatchewan canola farmer, Percy Schmeiser, comes up for a hearing in early 2004. Either Schmeiser will win the case (with the court ruling that Monsanto does not own the Roundup Ready seeds found on Schmeiser's farm), which means that Monsanto will lose their patent on Roundup Ready canola, and millions of dollars in annual royalties; or else Monsanto will win (with the Court ruling that Monsanto owns the mutant seed, wherever it turns up), which will expose the company to millions of dollars in lawsuits from farmers who have suffered GMO pollution of their crops. Either way Monsanto is damned.
*Apparently convinced that bullying is still a viable tactic, Monsanto in July sued a Portland, Maine dairy, Oakhurst, for the "crime" of telling its customers that its cows weren't injected with Monsanto's controversial Bovine Growth Hormone. BGH is banned in every industrialized country in the world, except for the U.S., Mexico, and Brazil. The FDA, always Monsanto's handmaiden in regulatory matters, told Cheese Market News July 11 that the FDA is considering sending "warning letters" to dairies making rBGH-free or hormone-free claims. In recent months a Monsanto-funded front group, the Center for Consumer Freedom, has launched a smear campaign against organic dairies, including Organic Valley Co-op, claiming they are defrauding consumers by making rBGH-free claims.
*Unable to sell GE corn and soybeans to many of its domestic or overseas customers, the biotech industry has enlisted the Bush administration to force GE-tainted grain on countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America receiving food aid. This has now backfired into a major public relations disaster for the Bush administration, with recipient nations rejecting the Frankencrops, and scientists pointing out that the GE-tainted corn shipments do pose potentially serious health and environmental risks.
*U.S. bullying reached a new ethical low point in May, when a "sense of the Congress" resolution attached to an AIDS Prevention bill called for a cutoff of AIDS prevention funds for countries which refuse to accept America 's GMO crops. The move has disgusted public health officials and enraged AIDS activists worldwide. http://www.organicconsumers.org/ge/aids.cfm
Triumph of the Bees: Lessons for Civil Society
The biotech monster is mortally wounded, and now cornered. This is the fundamental reason why we are seeing such desperate moves by Monsanto, the idiot savants of biopharming, and the Bush/Blair Axis. We the "bees" of global Civil Society-everyone from the ordinary organic consumer, to international heroes like Percy Schmeiser, Vandana Shiva, Jose Bove, Michael Hansen, Ignacio Chapella, Tewolde Egziabher, Jane Akre, and Arpad Pusztai-should all be congratulated on a monumental victory. This is the first time in modern history that a new and unsustainable technology, supported by many, if not most, major corporations and governments, is being stopped dead in its tracks. This is the first, but certainly not the last, swarm of the bees.
The reason we're winning this bee swarm is because we've finally started to educate, communicate, and mobilize on a global basis, across class and ethnic divides, in thousands of communities, reaching out to hundreds of millions, in fact billions, of ordinary consumers and farmers. We've stuck to the truth and our basic moral principles. We've placed our trust in the basic common sense and decency of everyday people, while our adversaries have resorted to lies, half-truths, and slick propaganda. We've realized, as an enormous and diverse global Civil Society, that we don't have to agree on every detail, tactic, and nuance-as long as we share an over-arching vision-in this case, healthy food, healthy farming communities, and biodiversity. Another reason we're winning this battle is because we've stubbornly persisted, for 10 long years (Monsanto's recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone was approved for commercialization in the U.S. in 1993), even in the face of overwhelming odds, ridicule, and intimidation. In many cases we've risked arrest, our jobs, and reputations. And finally, we've learned, North and South, East and West, to use our incredibly potent market power, the power of our consumer dollars, to vote against Frankenfoods and crops, and instead to cast our votes for healthy food, Fair Trade, family-sized farms, humane treatment of farm animals, and a sustainable future.
Of course, as a BioDemocracy News subscriber, a scientist recently warned me, "Techies like Monsanto never die. They come back again and again." Constant vigilance will be required, even as this first generation of 135 million acres of herbicide-resistant and pesticide-spliced crops shrivels up on the vine. We must focus our next collective bee swarm on the key threats that loom ahead-the WTO and the next generation of Frankencrops, genetically engineered wheat, rice, trees, and biopharm crops-and make certain these mutants are destroyed. But first and foremost, we must grasp the fact that we are global, vast, and strong, and that is why we are winning. This is the good news. Spread this buzz near and far.
And by the way if you want to join in on the next bee swarm, you are invited to join yours truly, Ronnie Cummins, Michael Hansen, and the OCA on an escorted delegation to the WTO teach-ins and protests in Cancun Mexico September 4-11. http://www.organicconsumers.org/wto_cancun.htm
Beyond the Frankenfoods Threat
The bad news is that the unsustainable, energy-intensive, petroleum-based practices of chemical-intensive industrial agriculture and long-distance food transportation are major contributing factors to global warming and climate disruption. Even without genetic engineering-now supercharged by NAFTA and the WTO-industrial agriculture poses a mortal threat to public health, biodiversity, and the environment. Almost a quarter of all greenhouse gases in the global North are generated by industrial agriculture: pesticide and nitrate fertilizer production, food processing, food packaging, food waste in landfills, and long-distance food transportation.
Beating back Monsanto and genetic engineering must embolden us to phase-out, as soon as possible, industrial agriculture in general, and convert the U.S. and global economy to a sustainable economy based upon natural biological systems, solar power, wind, and hydrogen, instead of fossil fuels and nuclear energy. If current trends of global warming persist, sustainable agriculture, in fact all agriculture, will become problematic by the end of this century, and perhaps as soon as the year 2050. A number of scientists now believe that rapidly accumulating changes in the composition of the atmosphere could trigger a catastrophic "die off" of most living organisms by the year 2100, similar to what happened in the last catastrophic extinction of species 250 million years ago.
And of course the second bit of bad news is that non-genetically engineered, organic food is not going to taste that good in a fascist state. If corporations and military contractors are allowed to pollute at will in waterways such as the Colorado River basin, it won't just be California organic produce such as lettuce that tests positive for deadly chemical compounds such as perchlorate, a residue from rocket fuel.
If the chemical and petroleum industries, the Pentagon, and dioxin-spewing incinerators are allowed to continue venting their poisons, eventually organic food, and even mothers' breast milk, will become toxic. If schools and cities are starved for funds they'll never make the transition to organic foods and fibers. If citizens and especially the poor remain economically stressed and impoverished, they'll have little choice but to continue buying cheap, junk food. If the corporate assault on organic standards and organic companies continues, and if mainstream food corporations are allowed to take over the organic industry, then it won't be long before the "organic" label becomes meaningless.
In other words, we, the worker bees, have got our work cut out for us. Stay tuned to OCA's website and Organic Bytes for news and alerts on the next moves of the Predators and swarm of the bees. In the meantime enjoy yourself and count the blessings of an emerging and powerful global Civil Society that may indeed save the world. Peace and Justice. Bon Appetit.