BioDemocracy News #29 Bursting the Biotech Bubble Sept. 2000

News & Analysis on Genetic Engineering, Factory Farming, & Organics
by: Ronnie Cummins
BioDemocracy News is a publication of the Organic Consumers Association

In this issue:

Novartis abandoning ship
European authorities insisting GE foods be labelled
Other news from the EU
Meanwhile in Eastern Europe
In the Asia-Pacific region
In Tokyo
Latin America
In South Africa
The grassroots anti-GE movement in the US
ConAgra buys up GE-free Internet Addresses
GE crops are starting to decline
GE cotton acreage
Jane Akre and Steve Wilson
Anti-GE City Council Resolutions
Sabotage of biotech crops
Quotes of the Month:

"In spite of an ill-considered, anti-progress publicity campaign from left
wing self-appointed consumer and environmental groups, the New Green
Revolution based on genetic engineering is alive and well." Jack Kemp,
1996 Republican nominee for vice-president, Chicago Tribune, August 25, 2000

"All policy makers must be vigilant to the possibility of research data
being manipulated by corporate bodies and of scientific colleagues being
seduced by the material charms of industry. Trust is no defense against an
aggressively deceptive corporate sector."
The Lancet (the UK's leading medical journal) April 2000
Frankenfoods Targets of the Month: Kellogg's, Campbells, and the FDA

Go to the OCA website <> and follow the link to the
Genetically Engineered Food Alert <> Give the Kellogg's
Corporation, Campbell's Soup, and the US Food & Drug Administration a piece
of your mind.
The agbiotech bubble is bursting. Or is it? Across the globe the
controversy over genetically engineered foods and crops has intensified.
While strong resistance has continued in Europe, opposition is evermore
evident in the Asia-Pacific region, in Latin America and Africa, and even
in the North American heartland. Yet industry, backed up by the US
government, claims that the worst is over. Consumers, they say, are getting
used to eating gene-foods, farmers are enthusiastic, scientists are proving
that GE crops are safe, and international regulations are being harmonized.
Is the Biotech Century back on track? A look at recent developments across
the world should give us an answer.

* Novartis abandoning ship. Biotech powerhouse Novartis admitted on Aug. 3
that they were eliminating genetically engineered ingredients from their
entire worldwide line of consumer food products, including Gerber baby
foods, Ovaltine, Wasa crackers, and their extensive line of diet and health
foods. The announcement, reported widely in the world press, drew sharp
criticism from pro-biotech farm groups and trade associations, who accused
Novartis of being hypocritical. As Charles Margulis of US Greenpeace told
the New York Times "It will be interesting to see what they are going to be
telling farmers now when they're selling biotech seeds." Novartis' GE-free
turnaround comes in the wake of news that the one hundred billion dollar
company plans to merge its agbiotech business with AstraZeneca of Britain
and then spin this entity off into a new company called Syngenta. On the
scientific front Novartis is also backtracking. In the London Times (Nov.
16, 1999) Novartis stated that new company research would enable them to
eliminate the use of controversial antibiotic-resistant marker (ARM) genes
in their future line of GE seeds. Company scientists admit, however, that a
commercial replacement for marker (ARM) genes--criticized by the British
Medical Association, among others, for potentially creating dangerous
antibiotic-resistant pathogens in common gene-altered food products--is
still 3-5 years away. As critics point out Novartis' statement that they
are anxious to get rid of ARM genes (found now in every cell of every
genetically engineered food or crop) is a tacit admission that the current
biotech cornucopia may not be as healthy or as safe as its proponents claim.

* Despite continuing threats by the White House, European authorities,
reflecting massive public opinion, continue to insist that all GE foods,
including animal feeds, must be labeled, and adequately safety-tested. The
US says it will ask the WTO in Geneva to impose economic sanctions against
EU exports if GM (genetically modified) labels are not removed from food
items on supermarket shelves. A spokeswoman for the US FDA told the
Guardian (UK) newspaper on July 31, "This is getting extremely serious. We
regard requiring GM labeling as economic fraud. Our view is that we would
not have allowed these products on the market if they were not safe, they
are the same as non-GM food, so they do not require a label. In fact, to
label them is trade discrimination and therefore wrong." The bullying tone
of threats from Washington underscore the panic of the agbiotech industry.
Experts agree that the only reason the US is still able to export a billion
dollars a year worth of soybeans to the EU (down from a high of $2.6
billion a few years ago) is that most soybeans are being funneled into
animal feeds. As soon as EU meat and animal products derived from GE animal
feeds are required to labeled (which will undoubtedly prompt Japan, Korea,
and other major grain importers to require animal feed labeling as well)
biotech soya and corn will be doomed. Already a number of major food
companies and supermarket chains in the UK, France, Austria, Germany, and
Scandinavia have banned GE animal feeds in their brand-name products.
Compounding industry concern the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of
the United Nations told an international conference in Portugal on July 24
that GE animal feeds would have to be labeled, not only to preserve the
right of consumers to free choice, but also because of increasing public
health concerns over the use of antibiotic-resistant marker genes. Adding
insult to injury the FAO also issued a report at the end of July stating
that GE crops were not a solution to world hunger.

* Other news from the EU. The International Sugar Association in London has
reported that US farmers have "cold feet" over growing GE sugar beets,
fearing consumer opposition. UK newspapers in July reported that a majority
of schools in Scotland have banned the use of GE ingredients in their
school meals. In July and August government authorities in France and
Greece ordered the destruction of thousands of acres of GE soya, canola,
and cotton after discovering that imported seed shipments were
contaminated. In a similar move Aug. 4 the Danish government pulled eight
consumer products off supermarket shelves after they were found to be
contaminated with more than one percent of GE soya and corn. Italy
announced in early August they were blocking the sale of four different
varieties of GE corn. Meanwhile in Britain and across the continent
protests and direct action destruction of test fields of GE crops have
continued. Media coverage of the gene-foods controversy remains prominent,
while major food corporations and supermarket chains continue to race one
another to get GE ingredients out of their product lines.

* Equally worrisome to the biotech industry is the mounting public
opposition against the EU adopting an American-style patent directive that
would allow biotechnology corporations to patent living organisms,
including animals and human genetic material. Despite the formal adoption
of new industry-friendly life patent regulations in 1998 (after 10 years of
controversy) by EU authorities, every country in Europe (with the exception
of Denmark) has failed to convert this EU directive into national law,
mainly because of domestic opposition. Netherlands, Italy, and Norway have
challenged the new life patent regime in the European Court of Justice.
Farm, public interest, academic, environmental, animal welfare, and
religious organizations have stepped up their opposition to life form
patents (citing ethical, public health, and environmental hazards) despite
threats by the agbiotech and medical biotech industries to drastically cut
back on EU investments. See <> As critics emphasize,
without legally-enforceable monopoly patents on seeds, gene-altered
animals, and human cell lines, the biotechnology industry will be unable to
raise the enormous amounts of capital required to research and market new

* Meanwhile in Eastern Europe, a sizable coalition of consumer and
environmental groups have denounced US government plans to spend $30
million dollars next year promoting GE crops in the region. "In the
Ukraine, we already have to live with the legacy of Chernobyl. In the last
decade, we have become the dumping ground for nuclear technologies. Now, we
see the transfer of another hazardous technology, unwanted in the
West--agbiotech," said Tamara Malkova, from the group Green Dossier, based
in Kiev, Ukraine. Groups in Eastern Europe have drafted a statement addressed
to the US Senate. The statement expresses their concerns and states that US aid
money would be better spent on assessing the environmental, health and
socio-economic risks of genetically engineered crops, or else promoting
organic agriculture.

* In the Asia-Pacific region the GE controversy has intensified. Even
China, supposedly the promised land for agbiotech development, announced
July 8 that all GE seeds will have to be labeled. Analysts believe China is making
this move, despite opposition from the US Embassy, because of increasing market
pressure in the Asia-Pacific region--China's largest food export market.
China already supplies Japan and other nations with grains that are
GE-free. The only gene-altered crop currently grown commercially in China
is cotton.

* In Tokyo July 14-15 leading anti-GE consumer activists from five
different nations (Japan, Korea, Philippines, Malaysia, and Australia) met
with leaders of the massive consumer co-op movement in Japan, as well as
campaigners from Genetic Snowball (UK) and the Organic Consumers
Association (USA) in a Citizens Summit on GE Crops and Food. The activists
reaffirmed their commitment to work internationally to drive GE foods off
the market by raising the level of public debate in their countries and
pressuring large food corporations to remove GE food ingredients from their
product lines. A number of leading Japanese companies (Kirin, Sapporo,
Asahi, Ajinomoto) have already begun doing this, while Australia and New
Zealand have stepped up their exports of non-GE foods and grains. Shortly
after the Summit ended, Pulmuone, Korea's largest tofu and soybean company,
announced that it would stop using genetically engineered soya and buy
certified non-GE soybeans from China, Russia, and the US. Pulmuone
suffered a significant drop in sales over the past year after the Korea
Consumer Protection Board disclosed that the majority of the company's
tofu products were testing positive for GE. Meanwhile mandatory labeling
regulations are moving forward throughout the region. The head of the
American Soybean Association in Tokyo recently admitted that mandatory GE
labels will be like a "skull and crossbones" on North American exports. US
ag exports to Japan and Korea total $11.3 billion per year--the largest
overseas US market. Following the Tokyo Citizens Summit, an anti-GE
People's Caravan began winding its its way through India and Bangladesh,
with plans to move on to the Philippines on Nov. 30 with activities to
commemorate last year's "Battle of Seattle."

* Latin America. Monsanto suffered a severe blow on Aug. 8, when a regional
Federal Court in Brazil barred once again the growing of GE soybeans in
that country, the second largest soybean producing nation (after the US) in
the world. Monsanto had confidently predicted that the Brazilian courts
would reverse an earlier ban. Brazil now exports significant amounts of
GE-free soybeans to Europe and Asia.

* In South Africa, anti-GE activism is increasing. A coalition called
SAFeAGE (the South African Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering) is
calling on the government to implement a five year freeze on the import and
export of GE crops, on growing GE crops, and on patenting genetic resources
for food and farm crops. In late-July SAFeAGE organized successful events
in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban. At the UN Biosafety Protocol
Meeting in February representatives from Ethiopia and other African nations
were insistent that GE foods and crops be properly safety-tested and
labeled. African opposition to biopiracy and the Terminator gene are also
increasingly evident.

* The grassroots anti-GE movement in the US has finally begun to gain
significant momentum. On July 17 high visibility protests were organized in
20 cities across the US, coordinated by a new national coalition called the
Genetically Engineered Food Alert <> The GEFA coalition
includes the Organic Consumers Association, the Center for Food Safety,
Friends of the Earth, Public Interest Research Group, Pesticide Action
Network, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and the National
Environmental Trust. The July 17 protests, which generated significant
media coverage all across the US, were carried out in front of supermarkets
and corporate headquarters. The day's events were highlighted by a press
conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The national day
of action underlined that US campaigners will now be pressuring leading
food corporations to follow the lead of EU and Japanese food giants and
begin removing GE food ingredients from their brand-name products. GEFA
announced a special focus on two corporate targets, Campbell's Soup Company
and Kellogg's. Kellogg's has already been targeted by Greenpeace as their
number one target. A similar campaign in Canada has focused on Loblaw's,
the nation's largest supermarket chain. The July 17 protests also called on
the FDA to pull GE foods and crops off the market and subject them to
rigorous safety-testing.

* While claiming that they're not that worried about US consumer rejection
of GE foods, America's food giants are hedging their bets. The Calgary
Herald, a Canadian newspaper reported on Aug. 8 that a Canadian canola oil
company, Highwood Crossing Farm, had received inquiries from snack food
giant Frito-Lay (a division of Pepsico) seeking a large quantity of GE-free
cooking oil. Frito-Lay shook up the agbiotech industry and other major US
food corporations last year when it announced that it was requiring binding
contracts from its corn growers not to supply them with GE corn. Informed
sources tell BioDemocracy News that Frito-Lay is worried because that they
are still getting lots of calls and letters from consumers telling them to
"go all the way" and ban GE ingredients from their cooking oil as well as
their corn. In addition Frito-Lay and other food giants worry that their
competitors may stab them in the back by preemptively announcing (as
Novartis did on Aug. 3) that all their brand-name products are GE free. In
1999, Frito-Lay used 1.2 billion pounds of corn as ingredients in their
nine billion packages of its snack foods. Most are fried or contain
vegetable oil as an important ingredient.

* While insisting that segregating GE crops from non-genetically engineered
varieties is impossible or impractical, Cargill and the grain giants are
doing just that. An industry publication, ISB News Report (August 2000)
reports that Cargill is giving its customers whatever they want--whether
it's GE soybeans and corn or non-GE. Although Cargill, Archer Daniels
Midland, and others continue to downplay the increasing global market
demand for non-GE food products, company spokespeople admit that EU and
Japan demands for GE-free grains are substantial. As BioDemocracy News
reported several months ago, a May 4 report on the New York Times website
indicated that, in a survey by Dupont of 1,200 U.S. grain processors, "24
percent were planning to segregate corn crops this year, up from 11 percent
in 1999, and 20 percent were planning to segregate soybean crops, up from 8
percent last year."

* Earlier this year food giant ConAgra (owner of the so-called Healthy
Choice line of processed foods and a major poultry and meat producer) was
reported to be buying up internet addresses or URLs such as "",
"", and "". Karen Savinski, ConAgra's Director of
Corporate Relations, told a reporter from Cropchoice, an internet news
service that "Owning a site such as [] could play into our
future plans." In addition to recent backpedaling by Novartis, Frito-Lay,
and ConAgra, a growing number of US companies have made announcements of
planned GE-free product lines over the past year including: McDonald's,
Burger King, and Procter & Gamble (a ban on GE potatoes); Mead-Johnson
(soybeans in their Infamil infant formula); Iam's (pet food); Heinz and
Gerber's (baby food); and Wild Oats, Whole Foods, and Genuardi's
(supermarket chains). Even Kellogg's, who have adamantly resisted pressure
from Greenpeace and other groups to go GE-free in their breakfast cereals,
have recently been instructing their subsidiary, Morningstar Farms, the
largest producer of vegetarian burgers in the US, to tell consumers over
the phone that they are "moving toward" having GE-free soybeans in their
soy burgers.

* GE crops are starting to decline--even in the USA. The Associated Press
reported on June 30 that USDA estimates of this year's farm crops showed a
sharp decline in GE corn acreage as well as a slight decrease in
gene-altered soybeans. And as reported earlier in BioD News, GE potatoes
and tomatoes have all but disappeared from the market, while rBGH is being
injected into only a small percentage of the total US dairy herd. Despite
attempts by the biotech industry (and now the USDA) to put a favorable spin
on this year's decline in GE crops, the facts speak for themselves. Whereas
Monsanto confidently predicted several year ago that Roundup Ready soybeans
would constitute 80% of the US soybean crop by the year 2000, soybean
acreage actually fell this year from last year's peak of 57% to 54%. While
Novartis and Monsanto similarly predicted a rosy future for genetically
engineered corn, US GE corn acreage this year totals 20% of the entire US
crop, compared to last year's 33%--a whopping 39% decline. And as analysts
point out global opposition to Frankenfoods is growing stronger--not
weaker--every day. As the head of the American Corn Grower's Association,
Gary Goldberg, stated at a late-August meeting in Copenhagen, "the lack of
foreign marketability and the regulations of segregation and labeling
required by European and Asian grain buyers, is the major reason for a
20.4% reduction in GMO planted acres in 2000 [in the US] compared to 1999."

* GE cotton acreage, on the other hand, is still going up in the US, with
an estimated 61% of this year's crop, or about 9.5 million acres,
genetically engineered, compared to 8.2 million acres last year, or 55% of
the 1999 crop. Although a vigorous campaign has begun in the EU to force
major clothing manufacturers to ban GE cotton in their brand-name products,
no such movement has yet emerged in the US. (Stayed tuned however, because
the OCA and other North American groups will be announcing such a campaign
soon). Most US consumers remain unaware that the majority of the harvested
cotton, its seeds, constituting 60% of its weight, are routinely used in
animal feed and consumer foods. Cottonseeds are an important part of the
diet of dairy cows--especially in the Northern part of the US--while
cottonseed oil is found in a wide range of salad dressings, baked goods,
and snack foods.

* Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, two award-winning journalists fired by the
Fox TV network in 1998 after producing a hard-hitting TV series on
Monsanto's controversial recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, won a
resounding victory in Tampa, Florida Aug. 18 when a jury awarded Akre
$425,000 in damages from her former employer. After listening to the
evidence for five full weeks and deliberating more than six hours, a state
court jury found that Fox Television pressured the husband and wife
investigative team to broadcast a false, distorted, and slanted news
report. In the process of the trial evidence indicated that Fox bowed to
pressure from Monsanto to kill the original four-part series produced by
Akre and Wilson. Although rBGH is regularly injected into 5-10% of US dairy
cows it is banned in Canada, Europe, Japan, and other industrialized
nations. Scientists have warned that milk and dairy products from
rBGH-injected cows will likely contain more pus, bacteria, and antibiotic
residues than regular milk, and even more alarming, will contain
significantly higher levels of a potent cancer tumor promoter, called
IGF-1. For further information on the Akre and Wilson case see

* A series of anti-genetic engineering resolutions are being passed by City
Councils all across the US, unnerving the agbiotech industry and sending a
message to American politicians that GE foods and crops are becoming a "hot
button" issue. Most recently City Councils in Minneapolis and Cleveland
passed resolutions calling on the FDA to require mandatory labeling and
safety-testing for GE foods and crops, while the Boulder, Colorado City
Council passed a law prohibiting the growing of GE crops on land owned by
the city. These resolutions come in the wake of similar moves by city
authorities in San Francisco, Austin,Texas, and Boston.

The Minneapolis resolution, signed by the Mayor, Sharon Sayles-Belton, on
Aug. 30, not only calls for a moratorium on GE foods, but recommends that
city authorities begin purchasing organic foods for city contracts, a move
also under consideration by San Francisco officials. The Minnesota
Biotechnology Industry Organization fought hard against the resolution
telling the Minneapolis Star-Tribune newspaper that the resolution
constituted a "hard-line stance against genetically enhanced foods." The
Minneapolis resolution, which the Council passed 11-1, stated that GE foods
"have not been adequately tested by any federal agency for long-term
impacts on human health or the environment" and that the foods "could have
serious impacts on levels of toxins in food, antibiotic resistance, cancer,
immuno-suppression and allergic reactions, and may be particularly
threatening to children and the elderly." The Mayor's office, at one point
apparently considering not signing the bill, admitted that were were
deluged by phone calls from organic consumers. GE moratorium, labeling, or
liability bills have meanwhile been introduced over the past year in dozens
of state legislatures across the US and in both houses of the US Congress,
but so far have either been killed or kept bottled up in committee. Of the
three major Presidential candidates only Ralph Nader has come out in
support of a moratorium on GE foods. Bush and Gore, strong supporters of
agbiotech, favor a no-labeling, no-safety-testing approach.

* Direct action sabotage of biotech crops has continued in the US. In the
state of Maine on July 22, anti-biotech activists chopped down several
thousand genetically engineered trees at Mead Corporation facilities. A
week earlier the Earth Liberation Front destroyed two acres of corn at
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories in Maine and then struck again at the US
Forest Service's North Central Research Station Forest Biotechnology
Laboratory in Wisconsin where over 500 research pine and broadleaf trees
were destroyed. In Dusty, Washington on July 31, anti-biotech direct
actionists calling themselves the "Dusty Desperadoes" destroyed five acres
of genetically engineered canola at a Monsanto test site. Despite
stepped-up security precautions at biotech labs and test plots, the "Dusty
Desperados" action marked the 37th sabotage of GE crops in North America in
the past two years. No arrests have been made.

* Meanwhile, street protests in Minneapolis against an International
Society for Animal Genetics conference in late-July, organized by the
youth-based GrainRage network, were confronted by 700 heavily-armed
police and state troopers who surrounded, tear-gassed, and attacked protesters,
raided protest organizers' homes, and turned downtown Minneapolis into an
occupied zone--prompting the City Council and the Minnesota Civil Liberties
Union to criticize police brutality and denial of protesters' free speech rights.
Two weeks later the Organic Consumers Association, the Minnesota Green
Party, and GrainRage took to the streets again, this time to protest a
conference on GE crops and foods being held in downtown Minneapolis. A
number of downtown businesses and city officials have begun expressing the
view that perhaps the city should think twice before sponsoring any more
conferences on genetic engineering.

* Demonstrators rallied in a national day of action against Monsanto on
August 18, organized in St. Louis by MORage (Missouri Resistance Against
Genetic Engineering), and in Seattle by the OCA and Friends of the Earth. A
MORage protester was arrested August 17 as he unfurled a a 10 by 25 foot
banner from a 100 foot tall electric pole on Lindbergh Avenue at Monsanto's
World Headquarters in St. Louis. The banner stated: "Congrats Monsanto:
World's #1 Genetic Polluter."

* A national survey conducted in August by the Canadian Health Food
Association (CHFA) showed that 95% of Canadians want mandatory labeling for
genetically engineered foods. The CHFA poll also found that more than 25%
of Canadians are more likely to shop at a health food store as compared to two
years ago, partly because they know that organic foods are GE-free.

*Canadian grain farmers want a university-developed gene-altered flax
variety taken completely off the market. Growers say that if biotech flax
is not eliminated, it could cost farmers income by interfering with exports
to Europe.The President of the Flax Council of Canada, Barry Hall, told the
Saskatchewan press in July, "Just do away with it--get it out of peoples'
vision." The Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission agrees with the
stance, and has joined the Council in calling for the GMO variety to be
de-registered in Canada, meaning that seed would not be available for
planting. The announcement comes after a statement made previously by the
Canadian Wheat Board, the largest wheat broker in the world, who said they
don't want GE wheat to put on the market as long as global consumer
opposition to GE foods continues.

* The August 2000 issue of Alive: Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition
reports that the British Columbia government has abandoned plans to
gene-alter apples. Organic growers worry that the GE trees would
cross-pollinate with organic trees, ruining their organic status. The
Journal also reports that papayas genetically engineered to resist plant
viruses are not as resistant as expected and have a shorter life span.
Because of these problems, GE papayas are being dumped on the market at
one-third the price of conventional papayas.

Looking at these developments it's clear that the Gene Giants are going to
face some serious obstacles in the next 24 months. If resistance continues
to increase in North America as it has now for the last six months, the
entire bubble of agbiotech may burst. Stay tuned to BioDemocracy News and
our website <> for the latest news.

### End of BioDemocracy News #29 ###

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