Food Bytes #1 Sept. 22, 1997
News & Analysis on Genetic Engineering & Factory Farming
Issue #1 Sept. 22, 1997
by: Ronnie Cummins, Pure Food Campaign USA
Recent Developments of Note:
* Global Coalition Demands US Authorities Take Bt Crops off the Market
* Biotech Fails Again: Monsanto's Roundup Resistant Cotton Bombs in the Fields
* Activists Prepare for Second Global Days of Action Oct. 2-17
Litigation on Bt Controversy
Washington D.C., Sept. 16-- In a well-attended Washington, D.C. press
conference on Sept. 16, a broad coalition of non-governmental organizations
(NGOs) and farm groups charged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
with "gross negligence" over allowing the commercialization of over three
million acres of genetically engineered Bt-spliced crops (potatoes, cotton,
corn) in the United States. The coalition of 31 groups called for the
removal of all Bt crops from the market and fundamental changes in the US's
presently lax regulatory laws governing Bt crops and other agricultural
biotech products. The coalition includes, among others, Greenpeace
International, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture
Movements (IFOAM), the Sierra Club, the International Center for Technology
Assessment, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. The
petitioners plan to sue the EPA in US Federal District Court if the agency
does not respond to their legal petition by mid-December.
"EPA's approvals of genetically engineered Bt crops are in clear violation
of Federal environmental, agricultural, and procedural laws," said
International Center of
Technology Assessment (ICTA) Director Andrew Kimbrell, "and no court in this
country will let them get away with that."
Jim Gerritsen, a Maine organic farmer and one of the legal petitioners,
stated "We consider the transgenic application of Bt to be unwise because
of the high likelihood that they will rapidly accelerate resistance to Bt.
Should we ever lose Bt, our ability as natural farmers to grow quality
produce will be in serious question." Gerritsen and others pointed out that
non-genetically engineered, natural strains of Bt. have been used as a
biological pesticide for decades to protect crops and forests without
harmful effects on the environment or human health. Natural Bt sprays are
the single most important bio-pesticide in the world--with annual sales of
over $60 million in the US alone.
Joe Mendelson, attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based ICTA, stated that
"The EPA has put the interests of a few major companies such as Monsanto
and Novartis ahead of its mandate to protect the environment and the
Benedikt Haerlin, Greeenpeace International's coordinator of genetic
engineering campaigning, summarized the coalition's concerns by stating
"The approval of Bt plants is a classic example of how destructive
agricultural practices are now being extended from chemical to biological
warfare against nature."
Approximately 30 news organizations attended the D.C. press conference. ABC
TV ran a short segment on the 9/16 network evening news, the Wall Street
Journal printed an article on Sept. 19, while Reuters and Dow-Jones ran
stories on their international wire services. Science and Science News,
among others, are preparing stories for future publication. According to
Mendelson and Kimbrell, lead attorneys for the NGO coalition, the Bt legal
petition is just the "opening shot" in a long-term campaign which will
include "grassroots action, public education, and further litigation."
The full text of the Bt petition is available on the Greenpeace web site at:
Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" Cotton Bombs in the USA
The Mississippi Department of Agriculture announced Aug. 18 it is
investigating complaints that Monsanto Co.'s herbicide resistant "Roundup
Ready" cotton isn't "growing properly" in some fields in Mississippi.
Lester Spell, Commissioner of Agriculture, stated that Mississippi
authorities are "reviewing complaints" from farmers in the Mississippi
Delta who claim that the genetically engineered cotton is producing bolls
that are malformed or else are falling off the plant. ``This is a big
concern to us,'' Spell said.
Problems with the transgenic cotton, which was developed by Monsanto to
resist high dosages of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, first surfaced in
early August when Monsanto admitted it had received reports of boll loss in
a "small area" of the Mississippi Delta.
``In the first year of any new product introduction it is not uncommon for
questions and issues to arise,'' Gary Barton, a Monsanto spokesman, told
the press. ``We are aggressively investigating all agronomic and
environmental conditions in the affected area that could impact product
In September cotton farmer complaints increased significantly, with reports
of bolls prematurely falling off thousands of acres of cotton plants in
Mississippi, Tenessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
According to press sources, Charles Merkel, an attorney with Merkel & Cocke
in Clarksdale, Mississippi, has begun preparations for a possible class
action lawsuit against Monsanto on behalf of a group of cotton growers who
have suffered significant financial losses after planting Monsanto's
"Roundup Ready" cotton. Similar class action suits were initiated last year
in Texas and Louisiana by farmers who planted Monsanto's Bt cotton.
Outraged farmers alleged that Monsanto committed acts of "misrepresentation
and fraud," after bollworms (which supposedly would be killed by the Bt
cotton) attacked and damaged significant portions of their 1996 crop.
Monsanto later admitted that their Bt "Bollgard" cotton failed to repel
bollworms on almost half of the 1.5 million acres planted with their seeds
Farmers across the United States have planted "Roundup Ready" cotton on
over 800,000 acres this year, according to Monsanto. Another 1.5 to 2
million acres are planted with Monsanto's Bt cotton. The US has a total of
14-15 million acres of cotton under cultivation in 1997.
In the US, as well as globally, a pattern of agricultural biotech failures
seems to be emerging. Although the gene engineers like to claim that
genetic engineering is an "exact science," field results tell a different
story. Monsanto last April was forced to recall its entire crop (60,000
bags of seed, enough to plant up to 750,000 acres) of genetically
engineered "Roundup Ready" rapeseed in Canada because of unexplained errors
in its genetic engineering process. Similarly in 1994-96 Monsanto/Calgene's
"Flavr Savr" Tomato suffered from "technological glitches" that--combined
with consumer opposition--finally caused Calgene to pull the "Flavr Savr"
tomato off the market in 1996. And of course continuing controversy over
Monsanto's recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH or rBST) has prevented
the company from getting approval for rBGH in any other industrialized
country other than the US. Even in the US, according to informed sources,
fewer than 4% of all US dairy cows are currently being injected with the
drug every two weeks. Compounding Monsanto's problems, the Codex
Alimentarius, the global food standards setting body for the WTO, has
recently refused to certify that rBGH is safe for cows and humans.
Activists Prepare for Second Global Days of Action Oct. 2-17