-- a poll from The Edmonds Institute

An article from the Toronto Star (see below) was circulated recently
by several listservers. In the article, the vice-president of an
international consulting firm whose client list features all the
world's major food businesses -- including Kellogg Co., ConAgra Foods
Inc., Unilever NV and Aventis SA -- was quoted as saying that GM
crops may soon be so prevalent that there may no turning back,
despite the cost:

"The hope of the industry is that over time the market is so flooded
that there's nothing you can do about it," he said.

"You just sort of surrender."
The Edmonds Institute, a small, non-profit, public interest group, is
conducting a poll to see if people believe that they will "just sort
of surrender" to GM (genetically modified) crops.
If you think you are likely to surrender to GM crops, send an email to:
saying in the subject line "I surrender".
If you think you are unlikely to surrender to GM crops, send an email
saying in the subject line "I will not surrender".
Only one vote will be counted from any one e-mail address. Incomplete
messages in the subject line will NOT count.

Feel free to make comments in the body of the message. Feel free to
forward this message to your friends and colleagues. BUT REMEMBER

Voting in the poll ends January 16, 2001. TO BE COUNTED, VOTES MUST
BE RECEIVED BY midnight Pacific Standard Time, January 15, 2001.

Poll results will be announced in Chicago in mid-February and sent to
all voters shortly after that.
The Toronto Star
January 9, 2001, Tuesday, Edition 1


By Stuart Laidlaw

The StarLink controversy in the United States could cost the food
industry billions of dollars and has thrown the future of genetically
modified foods into doubt, a report by a food industry consultant

The mix-up will lead to dozens of lawsuits over the costs of cleaning
up the mess, while giving consumers more reasons to worry about
the safety of genetically modified foods, the co-author of the 74-page
report said.

"This is going to come back to haunt the regulators and the food
industry," said Don Westfall, vice-president of Promar International,
a consulting company based in a Washington, D.C., suburb.

Corn mix-up could haunt regulators Hundreds of brands of taco shells
and tortillas were recalled last fall after StarLink corn, which is
approved in the United States as animal feed only, got into the food

Westfall would not release a copy of his report, which is being sold
to food companies at $5,000 (U.S.) a copy. Sample pages and a table of
contents are available at the firm's Web site, www.promarinternational.com.

The company's client list includes all the world's major food
businesses such as Kellogg Co., ConAgra Foods Inc., Unilever NV and
Aventis SA, the company that made StarLink.

Westfall, who supports the development of genetically modified, or GM,
foods, warns that the future of such crops may well depend on how the
StarLink situation is handled.

If it is handled badly, he said, consumer resistance to GM foods is
likely to grow.

"In the future, we will have this problem of newer products with more
novel proteins where you can't really say whether there are
allergies," he said in a telephone interview.

Such products will fulfill a long-standing industry promise to grow
drugs in plants. Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief has often cited
the potential of growing cancer drugs in tomatoes and other crops as
the future of farming.

But such advances will also introduce potential toxins to farmers'
fields that the industry will have to keep out of the food chain,
Westfall said.

"Basically, the companies and the government will be placing a bet
that it is not an allergen," he said.

But consumers will not accept drugs in plants if they are not
convinced the government or the industry are able to keep them out of
the food supply, he warned.

Already, 70 per cent of Americans told a Reuters poll last year that
GM foods should be treated with caution.

"These polls were taken prior to the StarLink controversy, which,
almost certainly, has increased over-all concern and confusion about
the safety of foods containing transgenic crops," the study reads in
sample pages released on the Internet.

A wheat researcher at Washington State University also warned this
week that StarLink may slow development of GM grains expected by 2003.

"StarLink was a wake-up call for us," James Cook said during a panel
discussion at the American Farm Bureau Federation convention Sunday.
"Because of StarLink, science has really had to clean up its act."

Ellen Terpstra, president of the USA Rice Institute, told the same
meeting that Aventis may hold off on the release planned for 2003 of
its genetically modified rice.

"In the wake of StarLink, Aventis has assured the industry it would
not release (the rice) if the market was not ready for it," she said.

StarLink, made by drug and agriculture giant Aventis and engineered to
repel pests, was not approved for human consumption because regulators
feared the corn could cause allergic reactions.

But traces of StarLink corn were discovered in grocery-store products
last fall, setting off a massive recall of more than 300 brands of
taco shells, chips, cornmeal and other foods. Shells containing
StarLink, which has not been approved in Canada for any use, were also
sold here, though they were quickly recalled.

The controversy forced Kellogg and ConAgra to shut down production
lines for almost two weeks to make sure there was no StarLink in their
systems. Tyson Foods Inc., the world's largest poultry producer, even
refused to buy StarLink as feed as the controversy grew.

France-based Aventis said it would spend $100 million (U.S.) buying
back the corn from farmers and food companies.

So far, that is the only dollar figure put on the cost of the
controversy, though Aventis has extended its buyback to include
non-StarLink corn grown within 200 metres of a StarLink field, saying
pollen blowing from the StarLink may have contaminated neighbouring

As well, lawsuits have begun to spring up from farmers who say the
value of their crops has been hurt by the controversy. More lawsuits
are expected from companies that have incurred huge costs to test for
StarLink, shut down production lines, recall products and pay higher
prices for corn proven to be StarLink free.

There have also been sales to Japan lost after shipments to the top
U.S. market there tested positive for StarLink.

The companies involved in such fallout from the StarLink controversy
will be looking to recoup their costs, Westfall said.

"The litigation has only just begun."

While reluctant to put a precise figure on the total cost of the
StarLink controversy, Westfall said it could be "potentially" more
than $1 billion (U. S) once all the lawsuits are settled.

He said food companies have not wanted to put a dollar figure on their
own costs, since that could restrict how much they sue for later.

"If you file a suit for $100 million, you don't want a published
report out there quoting an executive saying your costs are $10

Ann Clark, a plant researcher at the University of Guelph and a fierce
opponent of genetically modified foods, said StarLink could prove to
be the beginning of the end for GM crops if food companies decide the
costs outweigh the benefits.

"The food companies are not going to bite the bullet on this one for
the industry," she said.

Calling the StarLink controversy "a blessing" for exposing weaknesses
in the food industry, Clark said the problem will grow once more GM
products hit the market, bringing with them even more chances of
contaminating the food supply.

"Imagine that instead of just one food product, you've got dozens."

Aventis, which until the StarLink controversy had refused to follow
the industry trend of separating drug and agricultural operations, cut
its farm unit loose soon after the StarLink controversy, leaving it as
a separate company to face the mounting lawsuits alone.

But for Westfall, the real impact of StarLink is not likely to be the
cost of the mistake itself, but the public relations damage caused by
the controversy and the cost of making sure it doesn't happen again.

Aventis has asked the U.S. government to approve StarLink for human
consumption, relieving it of the need to buy back the trace amounts of
the corn still in the food supply.

The company has sent new scientific evidence to Washington arguing
that StarLink presents no health threat.

But approving the corn now, after such strident efforts to get it out
of the food supply, would be a public relations disaster, no matter
how sound the scientific reasoning, Westfall said.

"What the public will hear is, 'We thought this was a problem, but now
we don't think it is because the companies told us it wasn't.' "

People would stop trusting government assurances of safety, just as
European shoppers stopped trusting regulators after the mad cow crisis
there, he said.

"You end up with this European attitude that if the government can't
figure out what's right, we should just ban it all."

He said the food supply should be tightened to keep out unapproved
crops. As well, food should be tested every step of the way from the
farm to the grocery store to ensure its safety.

After StarLink, such measures will be needed, he said, before the
public is likely to accept potentially toxic drugs being grown in
farmers' fields. " It's going to be complicated and expensive, and
it'll affect food prices."

Clark at the University of Guelph said consumers will not accept GM
crops if the make food both potentially unsafe and more expensive.

"The writing is on the wall. It's just not going to work."

Westfall, however, said GM crops may soon be so prevalent that there
may no turning back, despite the cost.

"The hope of the industry is that over time the market is so flooded
that there's nothing you can do about it," he said.

"You just sort of surrender."
The above article and the announcement of the poll are circulated for
educational purposes only.

Voting closes midnight Pacific Standard Time, January 15, 2001. All
votes MUST BE RECEIVED by then.

Send votes to: <beb@igc.org>

In the subject line of the email,vote either: "I surrender" or "I
will not surrender".
Freida Morris
Research Associate
The Edmonds Institute

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