UK House of Lords Draw Flak for Supporting Frankenfoods
the giant of genetics

(Daily Mail; 01/22/99)


ENDANGERED though it may be, the House of Lords has just made a powerful
friend by offering a lifeline to the controversial businesses behind
genetically modified food. This has given the American company, **Monsanto**,
its best day in Britain for months.

Until now the leading producer of what opponents call 'Frankenstein
Foods' has abjectly failed to persuade the public to accept them despite an
expensive advertising and lobbying campaign.

Even a leaked internal document admits that there has been 'a collapse in
public support' for the foods. The multinational company - based in St
Louis, Missouri - has a reputation for heavyweight tactics on both sides of the
Atlantic and enjoys the support of Bill Clinton. The beleaguered President
personally intervened with Tony Blair last year to press him to support the
growing of GM crops in Britain.

In this country **Monsanto** has even antagonised natural allies in the
supermarkets, who resent the way it has put them in the front line of a
public controversy. And next month it faces prosecution, in the first case of its
kind in the country, for allegedly breaking rules for growing the crops.

But today the company (slogan: 'Food. Health.

Hope.') is feeling much happier after the Lords Select Committee on the
European Communities concluded that the benefits of the foods far outweighed
their risks. A spokesman said: 'It looks as if now there is a proper
scientific discussion under way.' Three out of every five processed foods on
supermarket shelves are now thought to have genetically modified ingredients.

It has been an astonishingly rapid, largely unnoticed development. Three
years ago there was none on sale; now most of us probably eat them every day.

And unwittingly, for few of them carry labels saying that they contain GM

Genetic modification allows genes to be swapped between species: a gene
for a fish, for example, may be put into tomatoes to help them withstand cold.

**Monsanto** and its supporters claim that the technology could bring
untold benefits and help feed the world. Its opponents claim they could endanger
health and imperil the environment because genes could 'escape' from the
crops to create 'superweeds'.

MALCOLM Walker, chairman of the Iceland chain of supermarkets - who has
banned GM ingredients from his own-brand products - has said they are
'potentially more devastating in impact to health and the environment than

Sixty-one per cent of Britons told a Mori poll that they would not be
happy to eat them - and Prince Charles takes the same view.

**Monsanto** has long been controversial. It started almost a century
ago by making saccharine for Coca Cola. But it became one of the main producers
both of Agent Orange - the defoliant accused of birth defects through its use in
the Vietnam War - and of PCBs, long- lasting and widespread pollutants that
have ended up in anything from breastmilk to polar bears in the Arctic.

Recently it has been turning itself into a 'life sciences company',
getting rid of chemical businesses,and concentrating on food, agriculture and

Dubbed by its opponents 'the Microsoft of Microbiology', it has spent
over GBP 5billion during the last two years on buying seed and biotechnology

Its first foray into genetic engineering was BST, a hormone that boosts
cows' milk production by 10 to 15 per cent, which was approved for use in
the U.S. after a bitter battle in which the company acquired a reputation for
tough tactics. The hormone is banned in Europe and last week, in a devastating
blow for **Monsanto**, Canada refused to approve it because of concerns that it
damaged the health of cows.

It has now engineered soya beans to tolerate its own best-selling
herbicide, Roundup, so that whole fields can be sprayed with it; the soya survives,
the weeds die. U.S. and Canadian farmers have had to sign contracts binding
themselves only to use its branded Roundup on the crops, and not to save
seed from them for replanting (so that they have to buy more next year.) The
leaked document, while reporting on the collapse of public support, adds that
'among the political elite, there is clear evidence of progress'. The Lords' report
adds weight to the view that the company has friends in the corridors of
power, if not in the supermarket aisles.

SCIENCE Minister Lord Sainsbury was accused of a 'blatant conflict of
interest' yesterday amid moves to increase the sale of genetically modified

On the day that a House of Lords committee dominated by farmers
widespread commercial planting of mutant crops, plans emerged to bombard
shoppers with propaganda that such food is 'not unnatural'.

MPs and green campaigners were furious about the scheme under which
consumers would see 'educational' videos at checkouts and have official
leaflets thrust into their hands at food counters.

Their anger turned to astonishment when it emerged that Lord Sainsbury is
not only involved in taking decisions about the Government's gene foods
on a key Cabinet committee, but retains control of his own private
charitable foundation which is pumping millions into developing genetic foods for sale
on his family store chain's shelves.

Senior Tories accused the peer of breaking Whitehall rules which ban
ministers from mixing their private financial affairs with their public

As Science Minister he decides the level of Government funding for
biotechnology. This spent GBP 185million last year and the amount will rise
by GBP 23million over three years.

While still a businessman he set up a body called the Gatsby Charitable
Foundation in 1987. Since 1990 it has donated about GBP 2million a year to
the study of plant science.

Most of it has gone to the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, which leads
the field in research into the genetics of plant disease resistance. On top of
that he set up a 'blind' trust when he joined the Government in May 1997.

This holds his GBP 1bil-lion shares in the family supermarket giant and
has shares in two firms involved in plant genetics - Diatech and Innotech

Sainsbury supermarkets exploit this research through the sale of
genetically modified (GM) tomato paste costing 29p for 170g, compared with 29p for
120g of ordinary tomato paste.

In the Commons, Trade Secretary Stephen Byers rebuffed a demand from his
Tory counterpart John Redwood to take responsibility for policy on
genetically modified food away from Lord Sainsbury because of the apparent conflict of
interest. Mr Byers insisted the subject deserved a 'more serious approach'.

MPs and environmentalists did not hide their anger at the developments.

Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth, said it was the
clearest example he had seen of a Minister breaking the rules designed to prevent his
private financial interests conflicting with his public duties.

'It is outrageous that shoppers are to be bombarded with Government
propaganda "persuading" them to eat these foods,' he said.

'Going to supermarkets is stressful enough without being lectured by New
Labour to accept this dodgy technology.' Mr Redwood said after the debate:
'The Government is in a ridiculous position. To convince people that these foods
are safe the decisions must be put in the hands of someone who is seen to
be independent.' The plan to subject supermarket shoppers to brainwashing
comes in a report commissioned by Nick Brown's Agriculture department from the
department of Journalism Studies at Sheffield University.

Authors Barrie Gunter, Derek Beyleveld and Julian Kindereler were asked
to develop 'a strategy to promote the public's understanding' of genetic and
other biotechnologies.

They call for a campaign at checkouts 'as an important part of the
persuasion process in getting ordinary consumers to accept such products'.

Hundreds of products containing genetically modified ingredients are, in
fact, already on the shelves.

The main items so far on the growing list of GM foods are soya, maize and
tomatoes. Soya or soya derivatives, such as lecithin, can be found in 60 per
cent of food products from margarine to ice cream and chocolate. Starch from
genetically modified maize is also widely used in everything from crisps to
snacks, ready-meals and sandwiches.


Does your store give you the full facts?

STORE groups are divided over GM foods and how they should be labelled.
This is how they stand at the moment.


CURRENTLY labels 150 own-brand products containing GM ingredients.

Now working on labelling another 800 containing derivatives of GM crops,
such as lecithin and soya oil. Dropped some products including GM
ingredients and changed the recipes on others.

Says this is based not on health concerns but because it makes labelling
simpler. Own-brand items containing GM soya ingredients on sale yesterday
included: Prawn balti; chicken pie; sticky toffee puddings; egg custard
lamb rogan josh; pasta pot.


STOCKS 40 own-label products which include GM ingredients.

Unlike Tesco, Sainsbury's does not label products which contain the
derivatives of GM crops, such as lecithin and soya oil.

Items including GM soya bought yesterday included: Chicken breast fillets
with lemon and pepper; dried couscous with onion and bacon flavour;
vegetarian bolognese sauce; sardine and tomato pate; vegetarian moussaka.


LABELS most products containing GM foods. However, while those containing
the soya derivative lecithin are identified, those containing soya oil are

Labels around 100 products as containing GM ingredients, mostly bakery
and ready-meals. It argues: 'Good science, well applied, is an essential
principle.' Items including GM soya yesterday: Chinese takeaway box;
Singapore noodles; low-fat cauliflower cheese; parsnip gruyere bake; cele-riac gratin;
rice, spinach & mushroom filled pancakes.


BANNED GM ingredients from its 2,000 own-label products in May last year.

Backed by Prince Charles but was ridiculed by the food industry and
rivals as 'Canute-like'.


HAS 'open mind' but asked suppliers not to use GM ingredients reflecting
customer concerns.


NO policy to remove GM ingredients from products. Labels all own- brand
products containing GM soya, maize and derivatives. Insists it has 'nothing


REMOVED GM ingredients from many own-brand products leaving just seven
ranging from dog food to Pink Crunch Cake.


THE Lords' committee report said that the benefits of mutant foods far
outweigh the risks.

Backbenchers and green campaigners said it was a 'whitewash' designed to
get the Government off a nasty public relations hook.

Critics noted that eight of the 12 members of the Lords Select Committee
on the European Communities are food-producing farmers and only one member
Baroness Wilcox - represented ordinary people as President of the National
Federation of Consumer Groups. The report noted almost enviously that no
genetically modified crops were being grown on a commercially-viable scale
in Europe while massive quantities of mutant maize and soya are in cultivation
in the U.S.

The peers concluded that genetic modification could help cut farmers'
losses through pests.

More food could be produced by 'widening the climatic range in which a
crop could be grown or by increasing drought tolerance'.

The chemical firm Zeneca's mutant tomato is modified to rot more slowly
so it can remain on the vine far longer - thus, it is claimed, addressing the
shoppers' complaint that modern crops lack flavour and producing a 'better'
tomato paste.

High starch potatoes invented at Oxford University are producing not food
but cheap industrial starch. Crops to produce biodegradable plastics, drugs
and chemical raw materials are all possible. **Monsanto** has even produced a
blue strain of cotton that means jeans do not have to be dyed. Up to now the
growing of such crops in Britain has been limited to small-scale trials.

Four types of crop are involved - modified oilseed rape, potatoes, sugar
beet and maize. The peers' job was to look at the EU's plans to speed up the
approval of applications by companies to launch larger scale trials of
genetically modified foods.

The final decision will be taken by the Council of Ministers in Brussels
in the next few months.

It is doubtful how long Britain could resist if the rest of the EU

(Copyright 1999)

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{U:DailyMail-0122.04672} 01/22/99

Mark Ritchie, President
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
2105 First Ave. South
Minneapolis, MN 55404
612-870-3400 phone
612-870-4846 fax