FOOD BYTES #9 June 2, 1998
(Special Issue on Genetically Engineered Foods)
News and Analysis on Genetic Engineering & Factory Farming
by: Ronnie Cummins, Pure Food Campaign & Organic Consumers Association
* Public Interest Coalition Sues U.S. Government to Force Mandatory
Labeling and Safety Testing of Genetically Engineered Foods
* U.S. Manipulates GATT Codex Alimentarius Commission to Avoid Mandatory
Labeling of Gene-Altered Foods
* U.S. and International Anti-Biotech Activists Will Meet in St. Louis July

Public Interest Group Files Lawsuit Against the FDA to Force Mandatory
Labeling and Safety Testing of Genetically Engineered Foods

The battle over the labeling and safety testing of genetically engineered
foods in the United States has reached a new level of intensity. In a
resounding shot over the bow of the biotech establishment and the Clinton
administration, on May 27 attorneys from the International Center for
Technology Assessment (ICTA) filed a comprehensive lawsuit on behalf of
consumers, scientists, environmentalists, chefs, and religious groups to
force the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require mandatory labeling
and adequate safety testing of all genetically engineered foods and crops.

"The FDA has placed the interests of a handful of biotechnology companies
ahead of their responsibility to protect public health," stated Andrew
Kimbrell, Executive Director of the ICTA, and co-counsel on the case. "By
failing to require testing and labeling of genetically engineered foods,
the agency has made consumers unknowing guinea pigs for potentially
harmful, unregulated food substances."

The lawsuit was announced at a well-attended press conference in
Washington, D.C. on May 27. The ICTA previously took on the gene engineers
last fall (See Food Bytes #1 September 1997) when they filed a legal
petition with Greenpeace International and 31 other non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) demanding the removal of all Bt gene-altered crops
from the market as well as fundamental changes in the U.S.'s presently lax
regulatory laws governing biotech crops.

According to attorney Joseph Mendelson of the ICTA, current FDA and USDA
labeling policies not only ignore public surveys that show 90% of American
consumers want mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods, but also
blatantly contradict federal laws, such as the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic
Act, which mandate the labeling of "materially altered" foods such as those
which have been subjected to nuclear irradiation. In addition, the ICTA
lawsuit calls attention to the fact that current "no labeling" policies
constitute a violation of many Americans' spiritual and religious beliefs.

In its press release on the lawsuit, the ICTA points out that--in addition
to serious human health concerns and environmental damage--unlabeled gene
foods pose a significant threat to religious freedom and ethical choice.
"Millions of Americans feel obligated to refrain from some or all
genetically engineered foods based on their ethical and religious
principles. Many Jews and Muslims need to avoid foods with substances from
specific animals, while devout vegetarians want to avoid substances from
any animal. Additionally a considerable portion of the population is
religiously motivated to avoid all genetically engineered foods because
they view the production of these foods to be incompatible with proper
stewardship of the integrity of God's creation."

As Mendelson stated in the April 1998 issue of GeneWatch (published by the
Council for Responsible Genetics), among those consumers demanding
mandatory biotech labeling "are practitioners of a wide variety of
religious denominations that may have a constitutional right to avoid
consuming genetically engineered organisms based on theological belief or
adherence to specific dietary covenants." Since 1993, the U.S. government
has allowed 33 biotech foods and crops onto the market, with absolutely no
labeling or special pre-market safety testing required. For further
information on the lawsuit, you can access the ICTA homepage at:

As Monsanto and the Clinton administration understand full well, mandatory
labeling is the "Achilles Heel" of agricultural biotechnology. Just as
mandatory labeling has spoiled the commercialization of irradiated food in
the United States, biotech labeling would almost certainly radically reduce
the profitability of gene foods or even drive controversial products such
as rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone), Roundup Ready Soybeans, and
Bt-spliced corn and potatoes from the marketplace. As the head of Asgrow
seed company (a Monsanto subsidiary) candidly admitted to the press several
years ago: "Labeling is the key issue. If you put a label on genetically
engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it."

The transnational food and biotech giants realize that governments and
regulatory bodies must continue to suppress consumer right to know labeling
laws if they are to further industrialize and globalize world food and
fiber production. Nuclear irradiation of U.S. foods provides the clearest
example of this in recent history. The FDA ruled that nuclear irradiation
of certain foods was safe and legal in 1986, but since U.S. federal law--at
least for the moment--requires nuked foods to be labeled, food
manufacturers and supermarkets have been justifiably afraid of angering
consumers by trying to sell irradiated products. As we pointed out in Food
Bytes #8, America's food giants are now laying the groundwork for the
complete elimination of labeling requirements on irradiated foods.

Despite an endless stream of corporate propaganda, consumers in the
U.S.--as well as the rest of the world--remain troubled or anxious about
genetically-altered food. Every major national poll in the industrialized
world over the past 10 years has found 80-95% of consumers demanding
labeling of biotech foods--primarily so that they can exercise their right
to avoid buying them if they so choose. The latest U.S. surveys made public
were a USDA-funded poll released in January of 1996 on rBGH (recombinant
Bovine Growth Hormone, often known outside the U.S. as rBST), in which 94%
of consumers said rBGH-derived dairy products should be labeled, while 74%
felt the biotech drug was unsafe. In an even more comprehensive poll by the
biotech giant Novartis in February of 1997, a full 93% of Americans said
that all genetically engineered foods should be labeled. In the same
Novartis poll 73% said they felt "strongly" about mandatory labeling of
gene-altered organisms, while 54% wanted to see agriculture move toward
organic production methods. For a global summary of consumer polls on
labeling genetically engineered food see:

Despite overwhelming public sentiment, Monsanto, the Clinton
Administration, and biotech/factory farm interests remain unalterably
opposed to mandatory labeling and safety testing of gene foods. Over the
past two years U.S. authorities repeatedly have threatened to sue the E.U.
under the new GATT rules for "restraint of trade" if they require mandatory
segregation and labeling of U.S. agricultural exports containing
gene-altered substances. Most recently the State Department has been livid
over the E.U.'s delay in approving several new varieties of genetically
engineered corn, a move which effectively bans $220 million worth of U.S.
corn exports to Europe this year.

On May 19 U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky threatened France
and the EU with trade sanctions on the ge corn issue. In a statement to
Reuters, Barshefsky stated: "This is very serious and threatens a very
substantial trade row if these corn varieties are not allowed to be
marketed fully."

U.S. free traders received further bad news on May 26 as EU farm ministers
passed a long-awaited bill requiring mandatory labeling of ge corn and
soybean products. The law basically states that all foods with detectible
levels of genetically modified corn or soya (gene-altered DNA or proteins)
will have to be labeled. Although the law was condemned by U.S.
authorities, European groups such as Greenpeace, the Green Party, and
consumer associations complained that the law contains exemptions on
non-detectible additives such as soy oil and lecithin--which means that
most processed foods, such as margarine and chocolate, will still not have
to be labeled. Informed sources in Europe have told Food Bytes that,
although the Clinton administration doesn't like the soy and corn labeling
law, they will not at this time try to challenge the rule at the GATT/WTO.
In the wake of the USDA organic standards fiasco and mounting global
pressure for biotech labeling, U.S. authorities fear yet another public
relations disaster if they attempt to overturn the May 26 law.

Even Monsanto has felt the need to try to placate their opponents recently,
claiming, somewhat unconvincingly, that they no longer oppose labeling of
gene-altered products in Europe. In the words of Monsanto's Europe-Africa
President Bernard Auxenfans, quoted in the UK Farmers Guardian of May 22:

"Perhaps too often we expect Science working with regulatory reviews to be
sufficient for consumers... The soya bean experience in Europe again
reminds us that along with these elements we must make a special effort to
provide information to the public in understandable language and we must be
able to direct people to independent information services."

At the same time Monsanto's PR spin doctors stress that the U.S. is
"different," and therefore requires no "understandable language," i.e.
labeling. After losing over $500 million trying to shove controversial
rBGH-derived dairy products down consumers throats (in Monsanto's thinking
these strongarm tactics are necessary given that U.S. consumers are
ill-informed and scientifically illiterate) over the past decade, Monsanto
understands full well the dangers of letting American consumers know
exactly what it is they're buying when they shop at their local food store
or supermarket. Given a choice the majority of consumers will reject
U.S. Again Manipulates the GATT Codex Process to Avoid Gene Foods Labeling

On May 27, after several days of heated discussion in Ottawa, Canada, the
U.N. Codex Alimentarius Commission, delegated by the GATT World Trade
Organization to formulate international labeling requirements for food
products, once again bowed to the pressure of the United States and its
closest allies and delayed making a decision on whether all genetically
engineered foods must be labeled.

India, Norway, the EU, and most Asian countries--joined by public interest
NGOs and consumer groups from around the world--basically argued that, for
reasons of public health, environmental protection, religious freedom, and
consumers rights to free choice in the marketplace, all biotech foods
should be labeled. But the U.S., backed by Canada, Australia, New Zealand,
Brazil, and a number of other Latin American countries, argued that
gene-altered foods need only be labeled if there is an obvious and proven
health hazard discovered before commercialization, or a basic change in
nutritional composition. Of course independent scientists around the work
disagree vehemently with the "indentured scientists" of Monsanto and the
other biotech corporations over what constitutes "health or environmental
hazards" in biotech foods and crops.

Julian Edwards, Director General of Consumers International (CI), a network
of 235 consumer organizations in 109 nations, presented evidence to the
Codex assembly that consumers all over the world have a fundamental right
to mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods, "to know what's in
their food and how it has been produced." As Edwards stated, "One of the
ironies of this issue is the contrast between the enthusiasm of food
producers to claim that their biologically engineered products are
different and unique when they seek to patent them and their similar
enthusiasm for claiming that they are just the same as other foods when
asked to label them." Edwards then stunned Monsanto and the U.S. government
delegation by announcing that, even as he spoke, a "major lawsuit" was
being filed "against the U.S. government by a broad coalition of public
interest groups, including scientists, food professionals, and consumer
groups. The purpose of this lawsuit is to force the U.S. government to
introduce mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. The argument
that ordinary people are not--or should not be--concerned about this issue
is completely wrong." The full text of Edwards' speech is available on the
internet at:

Food Bytes is pleased to report that we were sitting in the hall in Ottawa
as Julian Edwards delivered his historic speech. We are even happier to
report that when Edwards announced the May 27 lawsuit against the FDA,
Monsanto and the U.S. government delegation were shocked and dumbfounded.
The Monsanto delegate turned pale, shot a glance toward several FDA and
State Department bureaucrats, and then slumped in his chair. Shortly after
Edwards finished his speech, Marilyn Bruno, a State Department bulldog,
turned around in her seat and snarled at Edwards that he was "being
used"--that trade protectionists were using the labeling issue as an excuse
to keep American agricultural exports out of their countries. Bruno had
earlier expressed, in a rather loud and indiscreet voice, her displeasure
that U.S. lobbying efforts were not working, that Japan, India, the EU, and
other countries were listening more to consumer and environmental activists
than they were to the "science-based" arguments of the Clinton
administration. In the U.S. Codex delegation meeting on May 25 Bruno warned
that trade competitors from around the world were "coming at us with knives
in their teeth" and using "technical barriers" to block American exports.

In front of a bank of TV cameras and news reporters outside the Codex
meeting hall, Consumers International was joined by representatives of
Greenpeace International, the Council of Canadians, and the Pure Food
Campaign. Speakers from each of these organizations stressed that
unlabeled, untested biotech foods pose significant health and environmental
threats to the public and constitute the major global roadblock to the
development of sustainable and organic agricultural production practices.
U.S. and International "Anti-Biodevastation" Activists Will Meet in St.
Louis July 17-19

For the past year Food Bytes has joined the growing chorus of dissident
voices around the world warning about the dangers of genetic engineering
and industrialized agriculture. We put out the call for the successful
second Global Days of Action which took place last October 2-16 in over two
dozen nations, and have enthusiastically reported on the development of
mass-based, anti-biotech grassroots movements in Europe, Japan, and other
nations. Now it's time to begin building a serious mass movement against
genetically engineered foods and crops in the United States as well. With
the nationwide consumer backlash against the USDA's proposal to allow
gene-foods under the organic label (the USDA announced on May 8 that they
were backing off--at least for several years--on this aspect of their
proposed national organic standards), with the launching of an
unprecedented labeling lawsuit against the FDA on May 27, with public
concern over food safety and out-of-control corporate technology at an
all-time high, conditions are ripe for a great leap forward. For this
reason Food Bytes urges every activist and would-be activist concerned
about agriculture and food issues to attend "The First Grassroots Gathering
on Biodevastation" in St. Louis, Missouri July 17-19, 1998.

Conference co-hosts include the Gateway Green Alliance, the Pure Food
Campaign, and the Edmonds Institute. Co-sponsors include, among several
dozen groups, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the Missouri
Rural Crisis Center, Mother Jones magazine, RAFI, and The Greens/Green
Party USA. In the words of the Biodevastation Conference organizers:

"This international conference on biotechnology will address the
intertwined issues of genetic engineering, patenting of seeds and other
life forms, worldwide trade in genetic material, and the monopolization of
food production. Bringing together major critics of biotechnology such as
noted India scientist and author Vandana Shiva, Brian Tokar, Howard Lyman,
and Ronnie Cummins, the conference will offer workshops on basic issues,
field organizing, coalition-building, and media work." There will also be
plenary sessions on anti-genetic engineering campaigns around the world and
a discussion on how to effectively organize the next Global Days of Action
Against Genetic Engineering--scheduled for October 2-16, 1998. Conference
speakers and workshop presenters will include leading analysts and
activists from North and South America, Australia, Japan, and Europe. There
will also be a protest against Monsanto at their World Headquarters in St.

Those who wish to attend the July 17-19 St. Louis Biodevastation Gathering
are urged to register as soon as possible. The cost for attending the three
day conference is $45 (if you register before June 15) or $55 (after June
15). Shared rooms are available for $12 a night at Fontbonne College, where
the gathering is to be held. Three vegetarian meals are available each day
for a daily fee of $12. For information about registration, lodging, and
meals call Tammy Shea at 314-458-5026 or Mark Quercus at 314-772-6463. For
enquiries by email: or
End of Food Bytes #9

Organic Consumers Association (OCA)
6101 Cliff Estate Rd., Little Marais, Minnesota 55614
Activist or Media Inquiries: (218) 226-4164,  Fax: (218) 226-4157
Ronnie Cummins E-mail:

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