From OCA's BioDemocracy News
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
countries should strive for self-sufficiency in food."
former US Secretary of Agriculture, 1986
"For people who want to buy corn, there really isn't much
to come to us." Bob Kohlmeyer, Cargill Corporation, Des
"We have a saying in our company. Our competitors are
our friends. Our
customers are the enemy." James Randall, Archer Daniels
Corporation, quoted in Fortune magazine 4/26/99
"Farmers don't like to hear that we're essentially a ward
government, that we're on a workfare program," Alan Libbra,
farmer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch 12/5/01
"Regardless of what the biotechnology industry wants us
agricultural genetic engineering is an imprecise science. it
methods that include the haphazard insertion of genetic elements
a plant's genome. This in turn may result in the disruption
gene interactions and may lead to potentially catastrophic results."
Dr. Michael Hansen & Ellen Hickey, Global Pesticide Campaigner,
On September 4, 2001 Mexican officials admitted that an alarming
number of genetically engineered (GE) corn plants have been
growing alongside traditional corn varieties over a widespread
the state of Oaxaca. For millennia corn has been sacred to the
and other native people of Mexico. Over centuries small farmers
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
important crop for a quarter of the nation's 10 million indigenous
small farmers. Corn tortillas play a major role in the diet
s 100 million people. Critics have warned that GE corn should
be imported into Mexico, the most important world center of
biodiversity for corn, since the gene pool of the nation's 20,000
varieties and plant relatives, including the progenitor species
corn, called teosinte, could be irreversibly damaged by "genetic
pollution" from the genetically engineered (herbicide-resistant
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
corn. Meanwhile, they have ignored the massive dumping of millions
tons of cheap (US taxpayer-subsidized) GE corn by corporations
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
which was supposed to be sold for human food consumption only.
impoverished Mexican farmers are looking for the cheapest corn
possible to plant, they are increasingly choosing to buy the
GE-tainted corn from the US, since it is considerably cheaper
non-subsidized Mexican varieties.
CORN DUMPING: COLLATERAL DAMAGE
Compounding Mexico's genetic pollution problem is the fact
overseas buyers of corn (Europe, Japan, Korea) are stubbornly
to buy gene-altered corn. Consequently North American exporters
finding it necessary to dump increasing amounts of GE-tainted
captive markets such as Mexico, China, Egypt, Colombia, Malaysia,
Brazil. Nineteen percent of the US corn, 14 million acres, is
genetically engineered, although GE acreage is down 30% from
ago, mainly due to global resistance against Frankenfoods.
Corn dumping in Mexico has accelerated since the advent of
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Under the relentless
pressure of globalization, Mexico has been transformed from
major producer of corn (producing 98% of its needs for example
1994) to a major importer, ranking third in the world (after
Korea) in terms of imports from the US and Canada. The reason
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
farmer in Mexico. Yet Cargill and ADM, due to their monopoly
of the market, pay US farmers less than $2.00 a bushel, with
taxpayer picking up the remainder of the tab. This enormous
turn gets reimbursed to farmers, although large corporate farms
the lion's share of the US's annual $20-30 billion in farm price
support payments. Even with enormous taxpayer subsidies, most
farmers have trouble even recuperating their costs of corn
production-leading to demands by family farmers for a breakup
Cargill and ADM's grain monopoly. Only organic corn farmers,
outside ADM and Cargill's cartel, are receiving a fair price
harvest. And of course North American organic corn growers are
increasingly alarmed over the fact that "genetic pollution"
flow from GE corn fields are starting to contaminate their valuable
Longstanding Mexican government regulation of corn supply and
support for small corn growers, and price subsidies for corn
for Mexican consumers have been eliminated, all at the behest
Cargill, ADM, and ADM's powerful Mexican partner, Gruma/Maseca.
end result of this globalization process is that small and
medium-sized farmers, both North and South of the border, can't
living, while ADM and Cargill (and their preferred customers
McDonald's, Wal-Mart, Tyson, Smithfield) make a killing. Meanwhile,
consumers, who have been promised that Free Trade would result
lower prices, are paying more for food every year. Corn tortillas,
main staple of the Mexican diet, have risen in price 300% since
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
millions of acres of the US corn crop were devastated by a Southern
corn leaf blight which destroyed 15% of the total US harvest
all corn in some areas), leading to over $1 billion in losses,
mention marketplace shortages. By going to the "germplasm"
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
in losses and maintaining global food security.
Underlining the central importance of corn biodiversity and
traditional varieties or landraces, researchers have also found
recent years that a perennial variety of corn's original parent,
teosinte, found in Mexico, contains genes that can protect plants
seven of the nine principle viruses that infect corn crops in
Of course if herbicide-resistant and Bt corn had already been
polluting Mexico's centers of corn biodiversity before 1970,
knows if the traditional variety resistant to Southern corn
would still have been around to save the day. Likewise no one
predict the impact of Frankencorn pollution on virus-resistant
teosinte varieties and other corn plant relatives. But one thing
certain, if globalization continues to drive several million
farmers from the land, and forces traditional growers to shift
growing non-corn export crops, most of the nation's heirloom
varieties or landraces will be lost forever, since centralized
banks (which typically store rather than cultivate their thousands
different varieties) cannot properly preserve landraces which
longer being cultivated in their native areas. Analysts estimate
almost a million small farmers-primary breeders and stewards
thousands of corn and other crop landraces--already have been
from their cornfields and communal lands (ejidos) since Mexico
essentially turned over control of its agricultural sector to
ADM, and other North American food giants.
Even US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists have
previously warned that genetically engineered crops should not
grown where wild relatives exist (prohibiting for example GE
from being grown in parts of southern Florida, where wild relatives
cotton exist), much less in biological centers of diversity
the maize-growing areas of Mexico. Of course this concern over
pollution didn't prevent the EPA in October 2001 from giving
light to allow Bt corn to continue to be grown for seven more
the US, ignoring environmental and public health concerns voiced
scientists and consumer groups--knowing full well that millions
tons of GE-tainted corn continue to be exported by US corporations
centers of corn biodiversity such as Mexico, Central America,
America, and the Caribbean.
Genetic engineering of agricultural crops and corn dumping
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
undermined and destroyed. Farmers are finding it increasingly
difficult to sell their corn, beans, coffee, or other crops.
poverty and hunger have increased, forcing millions of campesinos
migrate to the US. Mounting desperation has also spawned widespread,
at times violent, agrarian conflicts in Mexican states such
Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Guerrero and threatens to reignite armed
across Central America.
FRANKENCORN: ADDITIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL
The threat to thousands of traditional varieties of corn in
just one of the environmental hazards of genetically engineered
Other environmental dangers include:
. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis)-spliced corn and crops pose a
threat to organic and sustainable (low-chemical input) agriculture,
since they may soon destroy the effectiveness of organic farmers'
important biopesticide. In its non-GE, natural Bt spray form,
thuringiensis is the most important pest control agent in organic
agriculture, with yearly sales in the US alone of $60 million.
non-GE spray form of Bt is applied externally and evaporates
2-7 days. Scientists predict that the super-potent, long lasting
found in Bt gene-spliced corn and other plants are likely to
to Superpests such as corn ear-worms which will be immune to
natural organic Bt sprays.
. Bt-spliced crops such as corn damage the soil food web, killing
beneficial soil microorganisms and reducing soil fertility.
leaches its powerful genetically engineered poison into the
toxin which differs considerably from the naturally occurring
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
among insects, leading to pest infestations.
. Bt-spliced crops kill beneficial insects such as lacewings
. Bt-spliced crops, due to increased insect mortality, reduce
supply for birds and other insect predators such as bats.
. Bt-corn pollen (ingested along with other Bt-contaminated
tissue) kills monarch butterflies and related species, such
endangered Karner Blue butterfly.
. Herbicide-resistant GE corn, sprayed with Monsanto's Roundup
weed killer, kills all the foliage in and around cornfields,
butterflies and related insects of important food sources such
milkweed. Roundup or glyphosate residues also remain in the
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
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
despite growing concerns expressed by a broad cross-section
scientists and public interest consumer groups. Everyone by
heard about the StarLink corn fiasco 18 months ago, when an
and likely allergenic variety of Bt corn contaminated 10% of
corn crop and forced a billion dollar recall of 300 brand name
products, including Kraft Taco Bell shells. But what about the
varieties of Bt corn, the stuff you're likely eating every time
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,
have exactly the same physiological impact as consuming regular
Well-respected experts such as Dr. Michael Hansen from the Consumers
Union point out that this is not true. The Bt endotoxin and
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,
antibiotic resistance marker genes) into the corn host genome
essentially random since scientists don't know if or when the
gene will be spliced into the plant's DNA, which of hundreds
thousands of proteins will be expressed or generated, or even
copies of the gene will be produced. Bt, the naturally occurring
bacteria, is not the same as Syngenta or Monsanto's patented
gene-altered Bt forcefully injected into GE corn. Although there's
lot we don't know yet about the potential hazards of eating
in terms of toxins, allergies, and impacts on the human gut
digestive system, there are enough danger signs already to give
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
. Cattle and other animals have been observed on a number of
the Midwestern US refusing to eat genetically engineered corn,
simultaneously munching conventional corn, along with the entire
cornstalk, right down to the ground.
. In a well-funded and carefully-designed experiment carried
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.
later warned--after he was abruptly fired and his lab was shut
down--that all gene-spliced lectins, including Bt crops, should
carefully investigated for possible adverse human health impacts.
. Gene-altered antibiotic resistant marker (ARM) genes, similar
those contained in Bt corn, have been found in the guts of bees
had consumed the pollen from GE plants. Sophisticated studies
Netherlands and Britain have indicated that ARM genes can likely
combine with bacteria already present in the human throat, mouth,
gut. These "armed genes" can then give rise to new
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.
British Medical Association and the World Health Organization
recommended that the use of antibiotic resistance genes in GE
other food crops be eliminated.
FRANKENCORN AND MICE: ANOTHER CAUTIONARY
Concerned that industry and government have failed to carry
scientific studies on the safety of GE corn and other Frankenfoods,
young Dutch science student, Hinze Hogendoorn, recently decided
take matters into his own hands. Dr. Mae Wan-Ho, a British geneticist
and world renowned critic of biotechnology, reported the results
this simple, yet remarkable animal-feeding experiment on her
www.i-sis.org in December 2001. Here are excerpts from Dr. Ho's
"A Dutch farmer left two piles of maize in a barn infested
one pile GM (genetically modified), the other non-GM. The GM
untouched, while the non-GM pile was completely eaten up. Incredible!
Young undergraduate Hinze Hogendoorn, from University College,
devised his own laboratory tests and confirmed the finding,
An activist group (Jongeren Milieu Aktief) presented the report
has written to the Dutch parliament on December 11, 2001 and
featuring it on their new website (www.talk2000.nl).
Hinze couldn't find a single scientific report on animals being
for preference of GM versus non GM food on the web when he began.
extending his search to effects of GM foods on animals, he came
reports from companies developing GM foods, all declaring there
no adverse impacts. But he also came across independent researchers
who have reported harmful effects, including Dr. Arpad Pusztai,
found GM potatoes damaged the kidney, thymus, spleen and gut
[Hinze] was stumped at first, because he would have needed
through a lot of bureaucracy to experiment on animals. However,
managed to rescue 30 female six-week old mice bred to feed snakes
a herpetology centre. [Hinze gave] them a staple food along
two foods [GM and non-GE corn and soya] that were to be compared,
they could really show their preference without being starved.
Large cages were used so the mice had plenty of room to move
At the beginning, all the mice were weighed before they were
the cage[s].The mice had not eaten for some time, but amazingly,
[immediately] showed very definite food preferences [preferring
non GM corn and soya]. For the next [nine] week[s], Hinze continued
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
food. Over the next 10 days, he kept track of the amount of
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
on average to begin with, but they gained less weight. By the
they actually lost weight. In contrast, the group fed non GM
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
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"
the other mice. "Many were running round and round the
scrabbling desperately in the sawdust, and even frantically
the sides, something I'd never seen before." They were
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,
end of everything, I must admit that the experiment has done
to soothe my qualms concerning genetically enhanced food."
FRANKENCORN OR PESTICIDES: CHOOSE YOUR
The hazards of genetically engineered corn, and other GE foods,
frightening. But even if global resistance were able to drive
off the market tomorrow, we would still be left with a highly
chemical-intensive, industrial-style system of corn production
is depleting soil fertility, poisoning municipal water supplies,
quickly turning indigenous people and family farmers into an
endangered species. Even without Frankencrops, we would still
facing an out-of-control globalization process, which is driving
millions of farmers off the land and forcing desperate peasants
chop down remaining forests--in the process driving hundreds
thousands of landraces and traditional varieties of plants,
microorganisms, (and animals) into extinction.
Syngenta's conventional (non-GE) corn and pesticides are just
as their Frankencorn. Syngenta profits by selling corn farmers
gene-altered Bt corn or its conventional (fertilizer and
pesticide-intensive) hybrids, along with its super toxic weed
Atrazine, a known carcinogen. Unfortunately Atrazine not only
weeds, but also ends up as a dangerous residue in the meat and
products of animals that have eaten Atrazine-sprayed corn. Atrazine,
along with its companion pesticides, have also polluted wells
drinking water in 97% of the communities in the US Corn Belt.
more dangerous, eating Bt corn, consuming pesticide residues
Big Mac or non-organic dairy products, or drinking the tap water
comes out of your faucet?
Similarly, Monsanto is in the business of selling toxic pesticides
herbicides, whether it is to farmers growing GE crops, farmers
non-GE hybrid crops, Roundup-spraying drug warriors in Colombia
California, or suburbanites trying to get that perfectly green
After 100 years of poisoning the public with substances like
Agent Orange, Monsanto tells us that their latest toxic chemicals
as Roundup, or their latest seed varieties, such as Roundup
are perfectly safe. Should we believe them? Or what about Cargill?
They're happy to sell their chemical nitrate fertilizers (which
end up in most Americans' drinking water) to farmers, whether
planting GE Frankencrops or just conventional industrial hybrids.
ADM, who are happy to sell you either GE corn or non-GE corn,
as they can drive the prices down which they pay to farmers,
the prices up to their "enemy," the consumer.
The solution of course to all this is to buy and eat organic
to buy from local and regional farmers and companies, rather
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
cultivating traditional varieties. US consumers similarly can
their health, their drinking water, and their children by buying
organic and local. Fortunately this is what more and more people
doing everyday, not only in the USA but across the world. Farmers
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
buying organic food and the numbers are rising every month.
September 11, sales of organic and natural food have increased
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
organize ourselves into a potent political force. As the labor
populist Mother Jones told rural Americans 100 years ago: "It's
to raise less corn and raise more hell." Instead of letting
politicians raise our taxes in order to subsidize the profits
Gene Giants and corporate agribusiness, we should be raising
Washington and in our state capitals to raise corporate taxes
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
not Free Trade, among nations.
The OCA, is organizing, along with our allies in the Genetically
Engineered Food Alert <www.gefoodalert.org> a national
day of protest
against genetically engineered corn on February 6. We will be
targeting the largest food corporation in the US, Kraft/Phillip
Morris, as well as other companies and supermarket chains to
corn from US consumer products. On this day we will also be
the government to take Bt corn off the market, unless it can
safe for human consumption and the environment (which of course
cannot). At the same time we are calling on grain exporters
and the US
government to protect corn biodiversity and to honor the global
on Biodiversity (the Biosasfety Protocol signed in Cartagena,
Colombia, Feb. 2000) by ending the dumping of taxpayer subsidized
corn in Mexico and other nations.
We need your help to pressure Kraft and to leaflet major supermarket
chains on Feb. 6. We need to tell America's food giants to stop
selling Bt corn and other unlabeled and untested Frankenfoods.
are willing to help leaflet in your community, please send an
To send a email to Kraft click here
Stay tuned to BioDemocracy News and our website
www.organicconsumers.org for the latest news and developments.
thousands of articles posted on our website (and a convenient
Engine to find them) which deal with GE food, Mad Cow, food
irradiation, industrial agriculture, food safety, organic food,
globalization. On our website you'll also find the latest information
and Action Alerts on current OCA campaigns, such as the Starbucks
campaign. Check us out.
*** End of BioDemocracy News #37***