by: Ronnie Cummins
BioDemocracy Campaign <www.purefood.org>
A Project of the Organic Consumers Association
Quotes of the Month:
"Gene Grabowski [US Grocery Manufacturers Association] described December
 as a month of conflict with genetic engineering's opponents. 'They
hit us with everything they had, and they couldn't put us down,' said
Grabowski... 'Now, we strike back.' " Quoted by Bill Lambrecht in the St.
Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 9, 2000.
"With the controversy over genetically modified foods spreading across the
globe and taking a toll on the stocks of companies with
agricultural-biotechnology businesses, it's hard to see those companies as
a good investment, even in the long term." The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 7,
Corporate Target of the Month:
Frito-Lay (corn chips). In the US call their toll free line 1-800-352-4477.
Tell them you'll boycott their products unless they can guarantee you in
writing that their corn chips do not contain genetically engineered
Blows Against the Empire: From Oakland to Montreal
Less than two weeks after "The Battle of Seattle," on December 13, 1999
the Organic Consumers Association managed to organize, with the support of
a new national coalition called GEAN (Genetic Engineering Action Network),
a noon street protest of over a thousand people outside Food and Drug
Administration hearings on genetically engineered foods in Oakland,
California. The New York Times (Dec. 14) correctly identified the protest
as "the largest rally ever in the United States against the use of genetic
engineering in food." In the week leading up to the protest the OCA
telephone bank called 10,000 contacts in the San Francisco Bay area, while
GEAN volunteers handed out 20,000 leaflets to consumers in front of
supermarkets and natural food grocery stores. Both over the telephone and
in the streets, the reaction of Californians to our "Say No to
Frankenfoods" message was overwhelmingly positive. There is no longer any
doubt that the global controversy over genetically engineered foods and
crops has spread to the USA.
Five weeks later on Jan. 22 in sub-zero temperatures, a thousand spirited
demonstrators marched through the streets of Montreal, denouncing the
governments of the so-called "Miami Group" (the US, Canada, Australia,
Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay) for trying to subvert a Biosafety Treaty
that would regulate the multi-billion dollar international trade in
genetically engineered foods and organisms. Chanting "Life before
profits!" and "We will not be guinea pigs," an internationalist contingent,
mobilized by Greenpeace and the Council of Canadians, called for a global
moratorium on gene-foods and crops. At a news conference the day before, a
protester threw a pie in the face of Joyce Groote, the genetic engineering
industry's top lobbyist in Canada.
But street protests in Oakland and Montreal are just the most visible signs
of increasing resistance in North America. Since the last issue of
BioDemocracy News, the Gene Giants and the Miami Group have suffered a
number of setbacks, including the following:
* On Dec. 14 headline news stories reported that Jeremy Rifkin's Foundation
on Economic Trends, joined by the National Family Farm Coalition, had filed
a federal lawsuit against the Monsanto corporation, alleging that Monsanto
had engaged in monopolistic business practices and had commercialized
genetically altered crops without first ensuring they were safe for
consumers and the environment.
* In late-December Credit Suisse First Boston, one of the world's largest
and most influential financial advisors, categorized the agbiotech industry
as suffering from "negative momentum," pointing out that major food
corporations are running scared and that "if anyone is in control it
appears to be environment and consumer groups."
* In a long-anticipated move, Monsanto's major stockholders forced the
company in December into a planned merger with pharmaceutical giant
Pharmacia & Upjohn and to spin off its controversial, debt-ridden agbiotech
division into a separate company. As the Wall Street Journal stated Dec.
21 the planned merger "is likely not only to push biotech to the back
burner, but also to cost Monsanto its independence..." The
Monsanto-Pharmacia merger comes on the heels of a similar move by European
life science giants Novartis and AstraZeneca last year, who combined their
agbiotech divisions together in order to sell them off, "effectively
washing their hands of crop biotechnology," according to the Journal. For
more information see: <http://www.purefood.org/Monsanto/pharmagedon.cfm>
* Reuters news service reported on Jan. 13 in a straw poll that US farmers
plan to "cut back sharply" on planting genetically engineered soybeans,
corn, and cotton this year, in response to the growing global backlash
against GE foods. Farmers told Reuters to expect reductions of 15% in
RoundUp Ready soybeans, 22 % for RoundUp Ready corn, 24 % for Bt corn, and
26 % for Bt cotton.
* Media coverage of the gene-foods controversy continued to increase
substantially in both the United States and Canada (as well as other
nations) in the last quarter of 1999. Estimates last fall, based on
computer-based searches of news articles, indicated up to a six-fold
increase in news stories on genetically engineered foods in North America
in 1999 as compared to 1998.
* On Dec. 30 Bloomberg News reported that Whole Foods and Wild Oats,
the two largest natural food supermarket chains in the US, plan to ban
genetically engineered ingredients from their hundreds of private-label
products. The two companies have combined sales of almost two billion
dollars annually. Whole Foods owns 103 stores in 22 states and Washington,
D.C., and has more than 600 products carrying its own brand name. Wild Oats
operates 110 stores in 22 states and British Columbia, with 700 products
under its own brand. The move puts pressure on other major US food chains
and manufacturers to offer GE-free or certified organic products. Organic
food--the only US food currently guaranteed to be GE-free--is the
fastest-growing and most profitable segment of American agriculture, with
projected sales this year of $6.6 billion, representing 1.5% of all grocery
retail sales in the US. In a 1997 poll by Novartis, 54% of American
consumers said they would like to see organic become the predominant form
of agricultural production in the US.
* In late-January leading US corn chip manufacturer Frito-Lay, a subsidiary
of PepsiCo Inc., announced that they were sending out new contracts to
their corn suppliers, asking them not to use genetically engineered corn.
The news unnerved the pro-biotech Farm Bureau, who accused Frito-Lay--like
Gerber and Heinz baby foods last July-- of "caving in" to US anti-biotech
activists. Frito-Lay's move also disturbed their competitors, one of whom
was quoted in the Washington Post on February 6: "If you're one of Frito's
competitors you're saying, 'what are they up to?... Are they getting ready
to jump out from behind a bush and bash us with a label,' boasting that
they are free of genetically engineered ingredients?" Frito-Lay is one of
the primary targets of a new "Frankenfoods 15" boycott campaign being
organized by the Organic Consumers Association and Friends of the Earth.
For a copy of our Frankenfoods 15 leaflet in printable format see:
According to Simon Harris, California field organizer for the OCA,
Frito-Lay's recent moves are "a sign that they're getting nervous." But
Harris also warns that "Frito-Lay has gone only half way. They've admitted
that their corn contracts are only applicable to 95% of their suppliers,
that they can't guarantee that their cooking oils are GE-free, and have
stated that they have no plans for labeling their products. Until Frito-Lay
goes all the way and announces that they will start enforcing 'no-GE
contracts' with all their suppliers and labeling their products as free of
genetically engineered ingredients, they will remain at the top of our
Frankenfoods 15 boycott list."
* Farmers Weekly (a UK newspaper) reported on Feb. 4 that a US expert on
potatoes, Oscar Gutbrod from Oregon State University, speaking at the Agra
Europe Potato 2000 conference in Rome, stated that USA fast-food giants
McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's were refusing to accept genetically
engineered potatoes for their french fries. Informed sources have told
BioDemocracy News that McDonald's has binding contracts with at least some,
and perhaps all, of their US potato suppliers prohibiting the use of
Monsanto's Bt-spliced potatoes. However, McDonald's, another of our
Frankenfoods 15 boycott targets, has refused to send the OCA their policy
on GE potatoes in writing. And as Gutbrod noted in his speech in Rome,
even if America's fast-food giants have quietly banned Frankenfries from
their kitchens, the grease that they're fried in is routinely derived from
GE corn, cottonseed, and soya.
* A federal judge ruled on January 19 that the US Environmental Protection
Agency must "respond" within 60 days to the charges in a lawsuit on
Bt-spliced crops filed by attorneys for the Center for Food Safety (CFS).
In February 1999, CFS, Greenpeace, and a coalition of over 70 plaintiffs,
including the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements,
sued the EPA, charging the agency with the wanton destruction of the
world's most important biological pesticide--Bt. Non-GE Bt sprays have been
used sparingly by organic farmers for years, but are now under threat from
"superpests" engendered by genetically engineered crops. The lawsuit calls
for all Bt crops to be pulled off the market. Bt corn, cotton, and potatoes
make up approximately 25% of the global acreage of GE crops. See:
* The US, Canada, and Argentina--who produce almost 99% of the world's GE
crops-- failed in their efforts to prevent any regulation whatsoever of
international trade in genetically engineered foods, crops, medicines, and
organisms at the Biosafety Treaty meeting in Montreal in January. However
the Biosafety Protocol that emerged from Montreal is at best a partial
victory. Bulk commodities shipments, seeds, and animal feeds will have to
be labeled as containing GMOs (genetically modified organisms), but not for
at least two years, and even then vague labels will say "this product may
contain" rather than giving specific information. GE and non-GE crops will
not be required to be segregated in growing areas and in shipping and
packaging, and individual food products (cooking oils, meat)--as opposed to
bulk grain or seed shipments--will not have to be labeled at all. In
addition the Protocol will have to be balanced and made congruent--in legal
terms--with WTO trade regulations. Countries will be allowed to impose
import restrictions on GMOs, but only on the basis of so-called "sound
* North American liquor giant Seagram announced on January 21 that they
will not be accepting any genetically engineered corn or other grains next
* US Under Secretary of Commerce David Aron stated at an international
trade conference in the Netherlands on Jan. 21 that US exporters are
willing to meet the EU's one percent threshold on labeling food products
containing genetically engineered ingredients, although he told Reuters
"labeling will actually undermine confidence in products, in government,
and in the regulatory process."
* Direct action. The clandestine Earth Liberation Front sabotaged an
agbiotech lab at Michigan State University on Dec. 31, causing $400,000 in
damages. On Jan. 21 "Anti Genetix" activists uprooted genetically
engineered strawberries in a test plot near Watsonville, California. The
Watsonville "decontamination" incident is the 21st known action taken
against genetically engineered crops and multinational biotechnology
corporations in the last year in North America. It occurred just a week
after a raid on a Federal Biotech facility in Albany, California in which
transgenic wheat was destroyed.
Counterpunch: The Biotech Industry Strikes Back
As we mentioned in the last issue of BioDemocracy News, the agbiotech
industry has launched an unprecedented multi-million dollar PR campaign to
counteract the growing power of the anti-GE movement across the globe. As
Edward Shonsey, CEO of Novartis told the New York Times last year,
anti-genetic engineering campaigners have "crossed the boundaries of
reasonableness, and now it's up to us to protect and defend biotechnology."
To protect and defend Frankenfoods, Novartis has launched a new website
<http://www.webackbiotech.com> where, among other things, you can send off
for a bumper sticker and auto license plate holder inscribed with the
slogan "We Back Biotech."
As Canadian activist Brewster Kneen points out in his excellent newsletter,
The Ram's Horn <http://www.ramshorn.bc.ca> the biotech industry has "turned
hysterical over the loss of control over the media" and has launched an
all-out effort to discredit its critics and brainwash the public. As the
Ram's Horn (Jan. 2000) puts it: "The flood of well-programmed
letters-to-the-editor, op-ed pieces, and planted articles spewing the party
line on the wonders of biotech and decrying what they describe as the
malicious intentions of those who resist it, is obviously not spontaneous."
In addition to its PR and media campaign, the agbiotech lobby has recently
gone on the offensive:
* Reuters reported Jan. 28 that agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland
Co. had reversed its four-month-old company position on requiring farmers
to segregate genetically engineered corn and soybeans. ADM Chairman G.
Allen Andreas told the Chicago Tribune that "the pendulum is beginning to
turn back" on the controversy surrounding GE crops.
* The US Chamber of Commerce, which represents 3 million businesses,
announced in early January that they were becoming a member of the
pro-biotech trade association, the Alliance for Better Foods. Bill Kovacs,
the Chamber's vice-president for environmental and regulatory affairs, told
the Omaha [Nebraska] World-Herald Jan. 5 "We are trying to raise the
awareness of the business community that if you permit an assault on this
technology, you are really opening the door for an assault on all
* Thirty-five powerful industry groups, including the National Association
of Manufacturers, the Farm Bureau, the National Food Processors
Association, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the Grocery Manufacturers
Association, told a US Congressional subcommittee Jan. 28 not to require
labeling or safety-testing of genetically engineered foods. Mandatory
labels would "send the misleading message that the government is not
confident of the safety of the U.S. food supply," the groups stated.
Specifically the 35 groups told Congress not to support a mandatory
labeling bill introduced last year by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio
Democrat. Kucinich's bill currently has several dozen Congressional
* Cargill, the nation's largest grain buyer, reaffirmed in December that
it would accept genetically engineered crops at all of it grain elevators
across North America.
Cargill's announcement "settled down the market," according to Sano Shimoda of
BioScience Securities, a brokerage and investment banking firm in the San
Francisco Bay area. "Farmers are [now] feeling a lot more comfortable
planting genetically enhanced seed varieties," Shimodo told the Minneapolis
Star-Tribune Jan.17. According to the Tribune "some analysts who advise
farm-commodity traders in Chicago are softening predictions they made last
fall that farmers would back away from the new varieties. This GMO acreage
may not be down as much as we had thought when the hype and concern was
intensifying last fall," said Rich Feltes, an analyst for Refco Inc. of
* Monsanto announced Jan. 17 major plans for expanding GE cotton
cultivation in China. According to a Monsanto press release there are
already two million farmers in China growing Bt cotton, while 2000
scientists in 137 labs across the country are working on new biotech crops.
* The Farm Bureau published poll results on Jan. 11--reprinted in
newspapers all across the United States--which supposedly found that
"Nearly three-fourths of American consumers would support genetically
modified crops if the technology means farmers can reduce pesticide use."
Of course as BioDemocracy News has previously pointed out, even official
USDA statistics for 1997-98 show that farmers planting GE crops have not
reduced their use of pesticides, and in fact in many cases are using more.
See <http://www.biotech-info.net>The Farm Bureau poll follows in the wake
of a number of other rather dubious polls purporting to prove that American
consumers support agbiotech. For an expose of the American biotech
industry's favorite pollster Thomas Hoban, see
* On Jan. 12, at a public meeting in Spokane, Washington, Dr. Michael
Phillips, a spokesperson for the Biotechnology Industry Organization,
announced that legislation will be introduced in Congress to make it a
federal crime to trespass on or damage experimental agricultural test plots
of genetically engineered crops.
* U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman reaffirmed on Jan. 10 that the
federal government is not likely to require U.S. food companies and grocery
stores to put labels on genetically engineered foods. At a press conference
in Washington, Glickman stated "I, at this stage, do not see any of what I
call mandatory or
regulatory activities taking place from the government which will order
anybody to do anything with respect to these issues, whether it's labeling
or anything else."
* On Feb. 4, ABC national TV aired a program attacking the safety of
organic food, alleging that animal manure-based compost fertilizers used on
organic farms are contributing factors to America's ongoing E-coli food
poisoning epidemic, and that claims that organic foods are safer and more
nutritious than conventional foods are fraudulent. The "20-20" news program
was directed by the infamous anti-environmental TV journalist, John
Stossel, aided and abetted by agbiotech's favorite "scientific expert,"
Dennis Avery. For an expose of Dennis Avery see the back issue of this
newsletter on our website (CFS News #16) or else the current issue of PR
After reviewing recent industry documents as well as talking with our
sources in Washington, BioDemocracy News expects the Clinton
Administration--possibly within the next 60 days--to unveil a new
three-pronged program of proposed federal regulations on gene-foods. These
regulations will be carefully packaged so as to confuse the public, blunt
growing anti-biotech activism, and create the false impression that
Washington and the biotech industry are willing to respect consumer choice
and safety concerns over genetically engineered foods. Our predictions are
that Clinton and Gore, backed by the giants of the food industry, will soon:
* Call for "voluntary" industry labeling of genetically engineered foods.
In other words food manufacturers and supermarkets will be allowed to tell
you--if they want to--that "this product may have been improved through
modern biotechnology" or something like that. In addition some companies,
following the pattern of Frito-Lay, will issue vague statements that their
products, or most of their products, are GE-free, even if they aren't.
* Current voluntary "consultations" between US regulatory agencies and
genetic engineering companies preparing to commercialize GE foods and crops
will be made "mandatory." Of course mandatory consultations are no better
than voluntary consultations unless they require strict, precautionary
safety-testing, including stringent compositional analysis, toxicological
testing, and environmental impact analyses.
* Some or all of the company data in these soon-to-be-mandatory
consultations will be placed into the "public domain" for public scrutiny.
Again unless strict pre-market safety-testing is required, including
long-term feeding studies for animals and humans, public disclosure of
company data will be meaningless.
In any case, the Frankenfoods controversy will continue, both in North
America and across the world. Stay tuned to our website <www.purefood.org>
and BioDemocracy News for the latest developments.