FOOD BYTES #11 August 3, 1998
News and Analysis on Genetic Engineering & Factory Farming
by: Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association
firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com http://www.purefood.org
* Activists Launch U.S. Mass Movement Against Gene Foods & Industrial
* British and European Resistance Intensifies
* Global Days of Action Announced for October 1998
Note: The next issue of Food Bytes (#12) will include an analysis of recent
developments in the Organic Standards Controversy, while Food Bytes #13
will focus on meat safety.
"Biodevastation" Sparks New Campaign for Biodemocracy in the USA
Two hundred and fifty U.S. activists, joined by campaigners from Japan,
Europe, India, Canada, and Mexico, attended spirited meetings and workshops
in Milwaukee, Chicago, and St. Louis between July 14-19. These meetings
were organized to begin building a mass movement in North America against
genetically engineered foods and the globalization and industrialization of
agriculture. The week of strategy sessions were highlighted by a keynote
address in St. Louis on July 17 by Dr. Vandana Shiva of India, as well as a
protest by 150 people at Monsanto's St. Louis world headquarters on July
18, both part of what was billed as North America's "First Grassroots
Gathering on Biodevastation." (See Food Bytes #9).
The activist gatherings were sponsored by a broad coalition of public
interest groups that include the Green Party USA, Greenpeace, the Institute
for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Sustain, the Edmonds Institute, RAFI, the
Pure Food Campaign, and the Organic Consumers Association, among others.
Meeting participants in all three cities endorsed the call for coordinated
global citizen action, including Global Days of Action in October, but
stressed the importance of building truly mass-based consumer, farmer, and
environmental campaigns in the U.S. and other nations to slow down or halt
the Biotech Express and to promote sustainable and organic agriculture. As
Brian Tokar, Vermont-based environmental author and one of the organizers
of the St. Louis meeting put it, "We need a powerful political movement in
the U.S. to counter the lies and propaganda of the biotechnology industry."
As Don Fitz of the Gateway Greens told Food Bytes in St. Louis: "Monsanto
and the American government are the ringleaders in forcing this dangerous
and unpopular technology down people's throats, but we've lagged behind the
rest of the world in terms of getting organized." Yet, despite limited
organizing in the U.S. thus far, activists in all three meetings were
heartened by reports of campaign successes in Europe, India, and Japan.
North American campaigners are emboldened as well by the recent backlash of
over 280,000 organic consumers against the USDA and the Clinton
administration's attempts to degrade organic standards, criminalize
dissent, and allow the gene engineers and factory farm interests to take
over the multi-billion dollar organic food system. (See Food Bytes #10).
Organizers also pointed out that polls of U.S. consumers show strong
opposition to unlabeled, untested gene foods such as recombinant Bovine
Growth Hormone (rBGH or rBST) being forced onto the marketplace, and
stressed that there is tremendous potential support for the federal lawsuit
launched in Washington, D.C. on May 27 by attorneys for the Center for
Technology Assessment to require mandatory labeling and safety testing of
all gene-altered foods and crops, as well as removal from the marketplace
of all currently approved biotech foods. (See Food Bytes #9). The major
problem thus far with developing opposition to the rapidly expanding menu
of 37 genetically engineered foods and crops approved for commercialization
in the U.S. is that the mass media haven't yet reported on these new
"Frankencrops." As I stated in addressing the opening plenary at the St.
Louis Biodevastation Gathering:
"To fully inform and arouse the American public, to force the mass media to
cover the genetically engineered foods controversy, it will be necessary to
build a mass grassroots movement comparable to what we've built
before--Civil Rights, the anti-war movement, the anti-nuclear movement."
Marion Burros summed up the challenge which American activists face in an
article in the New York Times on July 20:
"American shoppers would be surprised to know that much of the food that
they buy has genetically engineered ingredients. But they cannot tell just
how much, because the United States, unlike many other countries, does not
require the labeling of gene-modified food. Because most consumers are
unaware of the amount of genetically engineered food that is available,
with the exception of milk that contains a gene-altered hormone, it is hard
to judge their resistance to such products."
For a look at how the mainstream media reported on the St. Louis
Biodevastation gathering see:
If you want to get involved in organizing this new mass Biodemocracy
movement in your local area please send us an email, fax, or letter.
The Battle Against Gene Foods in Europe Intensifies: "Trashing the Crops"
(This article by a leading British journalist and investigative reporter,
John Vidal, appeared in the London Guardian, a national U.K. newspaper,
July 31, 1998)
Trashing the Crops
By: John Vidal
Patrick Whitefield is a lecturer with no history of civil disobedience.
After hearing that five women had earlier this month gone into a test field
and pulled up some genetically modified plants being tested for the US
chemical firm Monsanto, he phoned a Manchester-based group called GenetiX
Snowball and offered to do the same. Should Whitefield do so, he risks
being sued, fined and given a criminal record. Within weeks of his offer, a
worker, a Welsh lawyer and at least 250 others including TV chef Antony
Worrall-Thomson had phoned to support or to join others taking "non-violent
direct action" against the controversial crops. Hardly eco-warriors in the
road-protest style, their concern ranged across health, environment,
consumer choice and the concentration of the food chain into very few hands.
The peace movement used similar "accountable" tactics in the 1980s when
more than 2,000 women were fined for publicly snipping the wire at Greenham
Common in protest at the introduction of cruise missiles. More recently,
activists left their calling cards when they smashed the nose of a warplane
bound for Indonesia. The organisers of GenetiX Snowball, trying to be
"responsible" and "principled" by telling the farmers and the police their
plans in advance, hope to gather hundreds of people prepared to offer
themselves to the courts.
They face competition in the fields. Widespread grassroots action against
GM crops is intensifying. All 325 test fields in Britain have been
identified from (often inaccurate) official lists and at least 25 have been
destroyed by ad hoc and uncoordinated groups. Some firms have not reported
attacks for fear that it will increase the chances of copycat crimes.
Monsanto are seeking to win damages in the High Court against the five
women from GenetiX Snowball and prevent them from "encouraging others".
Monsanto's case was adjourned yesterday. But the corporate lawyers can
expect a lot of new business: every week two
or more fields are being hit by Earth First! and other activists. Some have
a background in the road protest, anti-car or anti-nuclear movements, but
many are new-comers. Some give themselves names, like the "Lincolnshire
Loppers", "Captain Chromosome", and the "Genetic
Superheroes". The "Kenilworth Croppers" recently scythed down a heavily
guarded display of GM wheat at the Royal Agricultural Show.
Several fields growing non GM crops have been attacked by mistake. But the
coming together of peace and environmental activists is just the tip of the
opposition against companies promoting GM food technologies. A stunning
array of middle England is now roughly united
in disapproval or fear of the implications and is not impressed by
corporate claims that GM is totally safe, healthy and will benefit the
The Women's Institute, the Townswomen's Guild, the Consumers Association
and the Country Landowners, all with particular concerns, want a moratorium
of between two and five years on commercial growings of the crops. So do
the 1 million-member RSPB, the Government's own wildlife advisers English
Nature, and more than 200 wholefood companies.
Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Green Party and the Soil Association
want to halt the introduction of the crops altogether. Meanwhile, overseas
development groups like Oxfam and Christian Aid express deep reservations
about corporate claims that the technology
will cure world hunger. The National Trust, Britain's biggest landowner,
which is increasingly involved in organic farming, is studying the issues.
The National Farmer's Union is uneasy. The
gardening press is worried.
Meanwhile a House of Lords select committee on agriculture is conducting a
wide inquiry into GM crops to report later this year. Opposition MPs
claimed last night in a Commons Adjournment debate that the Government's
approach to trials was illegal, that the test crops
were poorly regulated and monitored, and that organic farmers received no
Add the supermarket chains, which are watching the situation closely, and
the general public, which in poll after poll expresses unease, and no one
can remember such a broad consensus of concern about any one issue, let
alone agriculture. There is anger that no one was consulted, parliament
barely debated the issues and it was imposed by international or European
law. The concern is now spilling over into town halls and schools as local
lobbyists call for the safeguarding of food meals. A "citizen's jury" which
spent weeks recently listening to evidence from all sides rejected the
The government has set up a working group drawing on four departments- the
Ministry of Agriculture, the environment department, the Ministry of Health
and the Department of Trade and Industry - to head off what may become a
crisis. Damage to trial crops is said to be
putting back the programme of commercial growings and costing the
companies thousands of pounds. Although the DTI and Maff are enthusiastic
backers of the technology, DeTR and the Ministry of Health are less gung-ho.
Last week, Julie Hill, the only non-scientist member of the committee of
experts that advises the government on genetic releases into the
environment called for much broader concerns to be taken into account
before approval is given. So far they have not refused one application
out of more than 400.
Britain is not alone. The leaders of France's second biggest farm union
have become folk heroes after being given suspended prison sentences for
destroying GM grain. There have been seven arrests in Ireland and a high
profile court case.
Greenpeace claims to have mobilised 250,000 consumers in Germany, and there
is widespread disapproval in Holland and Denmark. Switzerland recently had
a referendum on the future of biotechnology. It was approved but only after
massive lobbying by the Swiss-based drug and
chemical companies who threatened to leave.
Last week European activists flew to the Missouri home town base of
Monsanto, the industry leaders, to join the first meeting of global
activists against the crops. In India, there are expected to be riots if
and when the new technology is introduced. Several years ago more
than 750,000 small farmers rallied against the World Trade Organisation and
American companies patenting seeds. The massive Grameen Bank based in
Pakistan which pioneered the philosophy of credits for the poor, pulled out
of a joint venture with Monsanto this week.
Monsanto, moreover, has upset its own industry by going "too far, too
fast". With more than 100 million acres of GM crops now under cultivation
on four continents after just four years' planting, the company admits it
underestimated the European culture.
It has now opened an office in London, engaged Tim Bell for its PR, and is
running a £1 million press advertising campaign. But the Advertising
Standards Authority has already received more than 50 complaints ranging
from the Green party to the Countryside Restoration
Monsanto corporate communication chiefs have meanwhile visited newspaper
editors, journalists, and critics. The company has set up web-pages, and
runs a telephone information line.
The seed and chemical companies, research institutes and universities
growing the patented crops feel increasingly threatened, and regret that
their message of scientific responsibility is not being heard. They insist
that people's fears are groundless.
They make no distinctions between those who act openly and those who act
secretly, calling the crop-wrecking "vandalism" and destruction of the very
evidence they say is needed to monitor safety. The groups reply that they
are deliberately not touching the crops that are
testing ecological data. The clamour for a moratorium is growing.
Third Global Days of Action Scheduled for October 1998
For the third year in a row, sustainable agriculture and anti-biotech
activists from over two dozen nations will be organizing Global Days of
Action (GDA) against Genetically Engineered Foods and Crops in over 100
cities and towns. These events will include "Frankenfood dumps," picket
lines, and press conferences in front of supermarkets, corporate offices,
embassies, and other appropriate locations--with a recommended date and
time being 12 noon October 15. (When it's 12 noon in North America, it'll
be Oct. 16, World Food Day in Asia). A major sub-theme of these events will
be to focus on the corporate and environmental "dirty tricks" of the
Monsanto corporation, the global leader in forcing unlabeled and untested
genetically engineered foods and crops onto the marketplace.
GDA participants are urged to wear appropriate "clone masks" or other
costumes, and in general to choreograph local events so that they are
visually interesting and newsworthy, as well as informative. The GDA as
usual will begin on Oct. 2 (Gandhi's birthday) and extend through Oct. 16,
World Food Day. At the St. Louis Biodevastation gathering July 16-19,
activists from around the world agreed to organize GDA events, with a
special focus on October 15-16. Activists from Canada, Mexico, and the
major geographical areas of the United States agreed to serve as regional
clearinghouses for GDA actions, while Japanese, Indian, and European
activists agreed to do the same. Food Bytes will publish a list of these
regional and global GDA contacts in an upcoming issue. In the meantime
those willing to coordinate and organize GDA actions in their local areas
or countries should contact us here at Food Bytes:
or fax: 218-226-4157
Stay tuned for future developments. End of Food Bytes #11