BioDemocracy News #33v

BioDemocracy News #33 (May 2001) Biotech Bullies:
The Debate Intensifies

by Ronnie Cummins.
A publication of the Organic Consumers Association <>





"The hope of the industry is that over time the market is so flooded
[with genetically engineered organisms] that there's nothing you can
do about it, you just sort of surrender." Don Westfall,
vice-president, Promar International, Washington-based food and
biotech industry consultants. Cited by
<> (4/5/01).
"Our investigations thus far from the 2000 harvest lead us to believe
that virtually all of the seed corn in the United states is
contaminated with at least a trace of genetically engineered material,
and often more. Even the organic lots are showing traces of biotech
varieties." David Gould, Farm Verified Organic, a leading US organic
certifier. <> (5/1/01).

"Why let Ronnie Cummins and his gang trample on your business? Why not
turn to valid scientists and food technologists." "The activists'
attack on Starbucks is an example of organized crime," says a food
industry insider. "It's called a shakedown. They attack a business;
threaten to shut it down in exchange for a payment-attention. And that
raises funds. This is illegal.". "Starbucks surrendered to thugs and
now suffers from battered socially responsible syndrome." Excerpts
from letters to Starbucks from the biotech industry. Quoted in the PR
trade industry newsletter, Ragan's Interactive Public Relations,
<> 5/01.


The global battle over genetically engineered (GE) foods has reached a
new level of intensity. While in Europe and Asia strong resistance
continues, and in Africa and Latin America a debate has begun, in
North America the gene-foods issue has moved from being a back-burner
item for most people to a major topic in the media. Under attack on
all sides, frustrated by growing global marketplace and activist
opposition, agbiotech corporations and the White House have been
forced to go on the offensive.

*Regulatory Arrogance On January 17, the FDA announced a set of highly
controversial proposed regulations on genetically engineered foods and
crops. The regulations, disregarding the overwhelming sentiment of
consumers, require neither pre-market safety testing nor labeling--nor
do they require biotech corporations to assume financial liability for
damage to public health and the environment. Nearing the close of the
public comment period on May 3, the FDA had already received over
100,000 negative comments from irate consumers (including nearly
30,000 comments from the Organic Consumers Association), but
Washington insiders predict that the Bush administration will ignore
this avalanche of public criticism and proceed with the industry's
favored "no labeling, no safety-testing" policy. Underlining public
rejection of the FDA's "Shut Up and Eat Your Frankenfoods" policy, 75%
of Americans stated in a poll released by the Pew Charitable Trust on
March 26 that they wanted mandatory labeling of all gene-altered
foods, with 58% saying they would not buy them.

*Propaganda Barrage The North American mass media recently have spewed
out an unprecedented number of stories and fluff pieces on the wonders
of "bioengineering" and the willful arrogance of anti-biotech
Luddites. Even PBS, the Public Broadcasting System, supposedly the
most liberal TV network in the US, aired a biased two-hour special
program on April 24 called "Harvest of Fear," which praised the
supposed virtues of genetically engineered crops (fewer pesticides,
better nutrition) and attacked activist and so-called "eco-terrorist"
groups for falsely maintaining that GE foods are unsafe. "Food
companies have learned that the [anti-genetic engineering] groups are
not intent on having a reasoned debate about biotech or helping
consumers find out about biotech," stated Gene Grabowski of the
Grocery Manufacturers of America. "It seems that their motive is to
scare people."

*Suing Farmers Monsanto has now sued or threatened thousands of
farmers across the US and Canada for the "crime" of saving seeds or
for having the company's patented Frankencrops growing on their land
without paying royalty fees. On March 29, in a troubling and likely
precedent-setting case, a Federal Court judge in Canada ruled that a
70 year-old, fifth generation Saskatchewan farmer, Percy Schmeiser,
was guilty of growing herbicide-resistant canola in 1998 on his farm
near Bruno, Saskatchewan without paying Monsanto. Schmeiser, now
liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines to Monsanto,
claimed the seed for his crop came from his own fields, which were
contaminated by genetic drift from neighboring farms. According to a
Washington Post story filed on April 30, the Court ruled that
Schmeiser was liable for damages, even if he didn't deliberately plant
the GE canola. Monsanto's legal victory comes at a high cost however,
in terms of enraging the majority of the world's farmers who are not
using genetically engineered seeds. A spokeswoman with the National
Farmers Union, which represents 300,000 small farmers and ranchers in
the United States, told the Post "the organization has been following
the Schmeiser case with apprehension. We're extremely concerned by
what liabilities may unfold for the farmer, particularly with
cross-pollination of genetically modified plants." The National
Farmers Union of Canada, where two-thirds of all canola acreage is
genetically engineered, has called for a moratorium on all GE crops.
Canada previously exported $400 million dollars of canola each year to
Europe. Now that market has been lost, due to EU rejection of GE
crops. Analysts warn that Canada may soon lose most of its canola
markets in Japan and Asia as well.

*Manipulating Statistics Last spring BioDemocracy News reported on a
USDA survey that acreage of the two largest GE crops in the United
States was in decline (GE soybeans were down from 57% of all soy
planted in 1999 to 54% in 2000; corn was down from 25% to 19.5%).
Monsanto and the USDA had previously even claimed that the 1999
acreage of US corn was 33% GE-suggesting a massive decline in Bt and
herbicide-resistant corn varieties in 2000. But apparently after
hearing from Monsanto, Aventis, and Novartis (now Syngenta) that
projections like these were bad for their bottom line, the USDA
recently recalculated the figure for last year's GE corn crop--now
claiming that GE corn constituted 25% of all corn acreage last year
and will amount to 24% this year. The USDA also maintains that GE soya
plantings will increase in 2001, even as global export markets shut
down. Before swallowing media stories that biotech is booming, it's
important to keep in mind that current government or industry figures
on biotech crop acreage are all estimates, thereby subject to
manipulation. But in the wake of the StarLink debacle, which has
contaminated 10% of all the corn in storage in the US, you don't need
a PhD to understand that a projected figure of 24% of all US corn
acreage in 2001 planted with Frankencorn is ridiculous. The real
figure will undoubtedly fall below 15%. Harder to conceal for the USDA
and the biotech industry is the fact that Monsanto has ceased
production of genetically engineered tomatoes (taken off the
commercial market in 1996) and potatoes (earlier this year), and that
global acreage of all genetically crops has leveled off. According to
the public interest group RAFI, <>, global "demand for GM
seeds almost flattened in 2000 with an increase of only 8% after years
of doubling and redoubling. Analysts predicted that, at least until
2003, demand would remain flat or decline." Perhaps even more
significant, the two most important GE crops in the
pipeline--herbicide-resistant wheat and rice-may never even reach the
marketplace, due to global opposition.

Another big lie repeated ad nauseam by Monsanto since 1995--faithfully
regurgitated by the media--is that their genetically engineered
recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (now banned in every industrialized
country except for the US) is being injected into 30% of all US dairy
cows. Dairy farmers and analysts tell BioDemocracy News that the real
figure is closer to 10%. In 1998 Dow Jones reported that Monsanto was
anxious to sell rBGH to any company willing to take this product off
their hands. There were no takers, however-- not surprising since
rBGH has been linked to increased cancer hazards as well as to an
increase in pus, bacteria, and antibiotic residues in rBGH-derived
milk and dairy products.

*Fostering Fatalism The Gene Giants have been forced to change their
marketing and regulatory strategy over the past several years. Having
utterly failed to convince a significant number of consumers or
farmers around the world that genetically engineered foods and crops
are safe, "substantially equivalent," or that they have any beneficial
characteristics whatsoever, the industry has adopted a new hard-line
attitude. Basically the chilling new message is that agricultural
biotechnology is inevitable, that genetically engineered crops, food
ingredients, and drift are everywhere, and that anyone who labels
their products as GE-free is lying. As former USDA Secretary Dan
Glickman stated on the PBS special, "Harvest of Fear" (4/24/01) "We
will not be able to stop this technology. Science will march forward."
Or as John Wichtrich, a top Aventis executive, admitted to a Knight
Ridder news service reporter on March 19, "the food supply will never
be rid of the new strain of corn (StarLink) that the company
genetically engineered." And since the genetic pollution caused by
hundreds of thousands of acres of this likely allergenic Bt corn will
be permanent, Wichtrich and Aventis have called "for a change in
federal regulations to allow some level of the engineered corn, known
as StarLink, in human food." With former biotech lobbyists such as
Monsanto's Linda Fisher occupying prominent roles in the Bush
administration. Aventis will very likely soon get their wish for an
"allowable limit" of genetic contamination.

In a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal on April 5, Scott
Kilman and Patricia Callahan report that many leading US natural food
brands with "GMO-Free" labels are contaminated with significant
quantities of genetically engineered ingredients. The WSJ tested
top-selling brands such as Yves, Health Valley, Hain's, Clif Bar,
Whole Foods, White Wave, and Gerber-and found that they were all
contaminated with GE ingredients. As Frank Palantoni, chief executive
of the North American consumer-health businesses for Gerber parent
Novartis put it, "I don't think anybody in the U.S. can guarantee
zero." Gerber, the nation's largest baby food manufacturer, announced
in 1999, under pressure from Greenpeace, that they were going GE-free.


The bluster and bullying of the agbiotech industry are, at least in
part, an attempt to cover up the fact that they are losing ground all
over the globe-not just in the marketplace and in the court of public
opinion, but also in terms of mounting scientific evidence that GE
foods and crops are unsafe for public health and the environment.

On the political and marketplace fronts agbiotech interests are taking
a beating

* Asia and Pacific On April 6, the government of Thailand issued a ban
on all GE crops. On May 1, a similar ban came into effect in Sri
Lanka. On March 19, a million farmers marched in New Delhi, calling
for, among other things, an end to the World Trade Organization and a
ban on genetic engineering and life form patents. In Japan and South
Korea government inspectors have continued to test for StarLink and
other unapproved varieties of GE foods, while importers are steadily
turning away from the US and Canada to other suppliers such as Brazil,
China, and Australia for GE-free corn, soybeans, and canola. On April
20 consumer groups in Japan called for a halt in all corn imports from
the US. In the Philippines, a bitter debate has erupted over
field-testing GE rice and corn varieties. Protests against GE cotton
have erupted in Indonesia. Mandatory GE labeling laws begin coming
into effect in New Zealand and Australia in July, while labeling laws
are already being enforced in Japan and Korea. Labeling laws are under
discussion in the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, as well as in the
Philippines and Taiwan. Perhaps most significant of all was the
announcement on April 18 that the government of China was banning the
cultivation of GE rice, corn, soy, and wheat-out of fear of losing its
major export markets. Monsanto and the biotechnology industry had
previously held out hope that China would be the "promised land" for
biotech expansion. Despite all the hoopla about how great biotech is
doing, the same three countries most heavily promoting the technology,
the US, Canada, and Argentina, are still producing almost 99% of all
GE crops.

* Latin America A mounting controversy is developing over Cargill and
other US exporters dumping genetically engineered corn in
Mexico-despite a supposed ban by the Mexican government on the import
of GE corn varieties. On March 2, indigenous groups from all over
Mexico, spearheaded by the Zapatistas, signed a document calling on
the Mexican government to recognize the autonomy and legal control of
the nation's 10 million indigenous people over their land and
resources, including a ban on bioprospecting and biopiracy by
transnational genetic engineering companies. Hoping to head off a
mandatory labeling bill making its way through the Mexico federal
legislature, on February 4, the American Farm Bureau and 20 other
agribusiness groups sent a letter to US officials urging them to
intervene "at the most senior levels" to "prevent this legislation
from becoming Mexican law." The letter urged Washington officials to
use President Bush's "upcoming visit to Mexico" to pressure the
Mexicans. The Farm Bureau and biotech industry warned that "The
ramifications (of mandatory labeling) to US farmers, grain handlers,
food companies and biotechnology providers would be enormous and
threaten our favorable relations with Mexico as an ally and NAFTA
trading partner." The letter also warned that labeling "would not
only confuse and mislead Mexican consumers about the safety inherent
in biotech foods but also create a negative precedent for NAFTA."

In Brazil, the ban on planting GE soya remains in effect, considerably
boosting exports to the EU, Japan, and other nations. Meanwhile the
press in Argentina has reported that the country is losing corn export
markets, as well as soy markets, to Brazil. Corn acreage this year is
up 27% in Brazil, partly due to the demand for GE-free corn. A ban on
planting GE crops remains in effect in Paraguay. Meanwhile a
preliminary but growing debate over GE crops has emerged in other
Latin American nations as well, including Ecuador, Chile, Colombia,
and Peru. A similar debate is emerging in Africa and Eastern Europe.

Europe Confronted with growing public alarm about food safety, the
European Parliament is preparing to implement a resolution that will
impose tough labeling and tracing requirements on genetically
engineered foods. Labels will be required for any food item that
contains genetically engineered ingredients, even when these GMOs
(genetically modified organisms) cannot be detected because of
processing. According to William Drozdiak of the Washington Post
(4/11/01) these new regulations "could trigger a major trade dispute
with the United States and deal a serious setback to the booming
biotech industry." American grain and food exporters are increasingly
concerned about their apparent inability to segregate out GE and
non-GE food ingredients-reflected by the continued contamination of
seed stocks and food exports with unapproved varieties of corn,
soybeans, or canola. Once strict labeling laws go into effect in the
EU, it will become nearly impossible for US food exporters to sell
GE-tainted products in Europe, the world's largest agricultural

North America On May 4, the powerful Grocery Manufacturers of America
trade association, heretofore staunch supporters of biotech food, told
the Bush administration that new varieties of genetically engineered
food should not be approved "unless there is a way to test for them."
In a similar vein, the American Millers Association, a trade group
representing the nation's grain millers, told farmers in the US in
April to stop planting GE seed varieties unless these varieties are
approved in the US's overseas markets. According to a story by Anthony
Shadid, of the Boston Globe (5/2/01), "Of 16 bioengineered varieties
of canola, for instance, 14 are approved in Canada, but only 10 are
sanctioned in Japan and three in the European Union. Corn, whose
exports earn the United States nearly $4.5 billion a year, is similar:
While 16 varieties are allowed in the United States, only 10 have
received approval in Japan and just four in the EU."

Recent corn and soy export statistics reported by the Agribusiness
Examiner #109 (3/19/01) by Al Krebs:

*USDA recently lowered its forecast of corn exports for the marketing
year by 90 million bushels, a cut private analysts say is largely due
to the impact of the contamination of the corn crop by the genetically
modified corn StarLink (Des Moines Register: 2/25/01)

* Europe is buying non-GMO soybeans. From 1995-2000, the US has lost
14.3% of its export market share in soybeans, while Brazil's market
share has climbed 10.7% (USDA PS&D Database)

* As of the third week in February, the combined total of accumulated
U.S. corn exports and outstanding U.S. corn export sales to Japan is
65 million bushels less then at this time last year. (USDA- FAS
online, U.S. Export Sales as of 2/22/01)

* In related news, according to the Wall Street Journal U.S. sugar
refiners and food companies such as Hershey are telling farmers not to
grow genetically engineered sugar beets sold by Monsanto and Aventis
SA, even though the seed has been cleared by regulators for commercial

* The Canadian Wheat Board, the world's largest distributor of wheat,
reiterated on April 3 that they want the Canadian government to ban
the growing of GE wheat for fear of losing overseas grain markets. In
a dispute with Monsanto, who are frantically trying to get approval to
grow GE wheat in North America, the Wheat Board said that since
industry currently lacks the ability to properly segregate GE and
non-GE grains, the government should not allow the planting of GE
wheat varieties. In a related story, Monsanto lobbyists in April
successfully killed a bill in the North Dakota state legislature that
would have imposed a moratorium on GE wheat. Monsanto's aggressive
lobbying angered many US wheat farmers, who fear losing their one
billion annual export sales to Europe and Japan. "We could create a
train wreck in our own markets," said North Dakota Wheat Commission
administrator Neal Fisher. "The concerns are mounting, rather than
diminishing. There are producers out there, certainly, who are
clamoring for the technology. But we can't afford to lose 40 percent
of our markets." (Reuters 4/29/01)

* Maryland passed a bill on April 12 that bans the raising of
genetically engineered fish in ponds that connect with state
waterways. The law requires that fish farms be able to guarantee that
GE fish cannot escape from their facilities. The law is the first of
its kind in the US.

* Monsanto suffered another major blow in Canada April 26 when it was
forced to recall a massive amount of Quest brand genetically
engineered canola seed, which was contaminated with an unapproved
variety. Last year Canadian farmers planted Quest on 1.2 million acres
of farmland. Total canola exports were worth $1.8 billion. A federal
official speaking on condition of anonymity described the Monsanto
recall as "a fairly significant development," saying, "this has the
ability to compromise exports of the Canadian canola crop." The
Canadian Health Coalition compared the recall to "a canary in a mine
falling down dead" and said it highlights the lack of control over
genetically modified foods. (The Edmonton Journal 5/25/01)


Noted biotech expert Dr. Charles Benbrook, of the Northwest Science
and Environmental Policy Center, released an explosive report on
herbicide-resistant Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans May 2. The report,
based upon recent USDA and university research,
<> not only reaffirms previous
studies that RR soybeans produce less of a yield (5-10% less) than
conventional soybeans, and that weeds are growing resistant to
Roundup, but also that farmers growing the GE soybeans are using
considerably more herbicide than farmers who are cultivating non-GE
varieties. As Benbrook points out, RR soybean growers are on the
average using one-half pound more of herbicide (in this case Monsanto'
s broad-spectrum Roundup) per acre-which amounts to 20 million more
pounds of toxic herbicides being sprayed this year on American soybean
fields. "You just can't say with a straight face that the Roundup
Ready system reduces herbicide use if the measurement you're talking
about is pounds per acre," Benbrook said. (St. Louis Post Dispatch

Even more alarming for Monsanto are Benbrook's observations that RR
soybean plants, due to damage to an important chemical plant pathway,
are more susceptible to plant diseases such as sudden stress syndrome.
The American Soybean Association (ASA) immediately attacked Benbrook's
report, calling it "sowing seeds of distrust" in a national press

Interestingly enough, the ASA had nothing credible to say in terms of
disputing Benbrook's central thesis (less yield, growing weed
resistance, and more use of pesticides), but rather relied on the
well-worn argument that RR soybeans must be great since so many
farmers are planting them. Of course the main reason hapless US
soybean farmers (who generally receive less money per bushel for their
beans from ADM and Cargill and other wholesale buyers than it costs to
produce them) are planting RR beans, besides the massive "price
support" subsidy the USDA provides to soybean growers, is to save them
time. It takes less time to spray several applications of Roundup than
it does to spray several of the 15 or so different herbicides which
non-GE soybean grower's use. With 88% of the average farm family's
income now derived from off-farm employment, soybean farmers are
desperately searching for anything that will save them time-which in
this case turns our to be genetically engineered soybeans. But as
Benbrook's report indicates even this "benefit" will likely be
short-lived as weeds develop increasing resistance to Roundup and as
the herbicide-resistant plants themselves degenerate in terms of
hardiness and resistance to disease over time. "There's a clock
ticking now for Roundup," Benbrook stated. A press release from the
University of Missouri in Columbia 2/5/01 reported that soybean seed
germination rates were "down sharply" this year, a likely reflection
of the lack of hardiness and susceptibility to disease of genetically
engineered plants. Roundup and other glyphosate products made up $2.6
billion of Monsanto's $5.5 billion in sales last year.

More bad news for Monsanto The Australian Broadcasting Corporation
April 19 reported that insects are becoming resistant to Monsanto's
genetically modified Ingard cotton. The New South Wales Department of
Agriculture has been monitoring crops and has discovered a noticeable
increase in the survival of cotton bollworms this season, indicating
the worms are less susceptible to the Bt spliced cotton. Monsanto
denies that there is a problem.

Bio-Pharm hazards-the next StarLink disaster
A group of Canadian scientists warned in the Toronto Globe and Mail
newspaper 5/2/01, that genetic drift or pollution from plants
gene-spliced to produce medical drugs or industrial chemicals is a
disaster waiting to happen. The letter--signed by retired Agriculture
Canada scientist Bert Christie, former McMaster University science
dean Dennis McCalla, McGill University animal-science professor Dick
Beames, and Dr. Hugh Lehman, an expert in agricultural ethics at the
University of Guelph--warns that there is a "high probability" that a
StarLink-type contamination incident could occur because of open-air
testing and cultivation of crop varieties spliced to produce
pharmaceutical drugs or industrial chemicals. In other words, a person
could be eating corn or soybeans or some other common food and instead
get a dose of a powerful medical vaccine or drug, or a toxic dose of
an industrial chemical.

Aflatoxin levels in Bt corn in Texas In 1999, researchers in Corpus
Christi, Texas were surprised and alarmed to find that aflatoxin
levels in Monsanto's Bt corn were significantly higher than in non-GE
varieties. Aflatoxins, created by bacteria, appear in warm, humid
environments on fungus spores on corn or other grains and vegetables.
It is illegal to sell corn or other grains containing toxic levels of
aflatoxins, since they are powerful agents for causing liver cancer.
One can only imagine, if aflatoxin levels in Texas Bt corn were
reaching alarming levels, what's happening with Bt corn in the more
tropical and humid environments overseas (the Philippines, Thailand,
Latin America) where the biotech industry is working overtime to
convince farmers to grow Bt corn.


After several years of preliminary consciousness-raising on the GE
foods issue, two of the leading grassroots groups in the US,
Greenpeace and the Organic Consumers Association, have gone on the
offensive. As outlined in the last issue of BioDemocracy News, (and
detailed on our website) the OCA has launched a national leafleting
and pressure campaign in over 130 cities across the world against
Starbucks, which began on March 20. Starbucks has 2400 cafes located
across the entire US (and another 1100 cafes globally). The OCA,
supported by five other groups, is demanding that Starbucks remove
rBGH and all genetically engineered ingredients from its foods and
coffee drinks, start brewing and seriously promoting Fair Trade and
organic coffee, pledge never to use GE coffee beans, and fulfill its
longstanding promise to raise the wages and improve the working
conditions of coffee plantation workers in Guatemala and other

Greenpeace, meanwhile, with the support of the OCA and other groups in
local areas, launched a national campaign on 4/17/01 against the
upscale Trader Joe's supermarket chain, which has outlets in 13
states. In response to pressure from Greenpeace, Trader Joe's has
announced that they are contacting all of their food suppliers for
their brand name products, to inquire about the availability of
GE-free ingredients. According to Heather Whitehead of Greenpeace, the
Trader Joe's campaign will continue until the company agrees to follow
the lead of its EU parent company, Aldi, and removes GE ingredients
from all of its brand name products.

Starbucks meanwhile apparently has begun moving part way in terms of
meeting the demands of the OCA's Frankenbuck$ campaign. The company
has begun telling reporters that it will, as soon as possible, be
eliminating all rBGH-derived milk from its cafes and offering
rBGH-free milk instead. Starbucks purchases 32 million gallons of milk
a year in the US. This announcement by Starbucks on rBGH has provoked
the ire of the biotech industry and angered Monsanto, who have accused
the company of being "cowards" and "caving in" to the pressure
campaign of the OCA. In terms of brewing and seriously promoting Fair
Trade coffee, the company has begun a limited (as of yet, one day)
trial program of brewing Fair Trade coffee as its flavor of the day in
its 2400 US cafes and offering Fair Trade coffee beans to its hundreds
of restaurant and university retail accounts. In terms of GE coffee
beans, the company has stressed that it does not use them. But in
regard to raising the wages and improving the working conditions of
coffee plantation workers, Starbucks has made no public statements,
other than finally admitting to the Chicago Tribune 4/22/01, that they
can't apply their company's Code of Conduct standard in Guatemala,
since their coffee wholesaler in that country will not divulge the
names and locations of the sweatshop plantations which supply them. In
addition, Starbucks has remained silent on whether or not it intends
to remove GE ingredients from its chocolates and baked goods. In
response to Starbucks going "half-way" in terms of meeting consumer
demands, the OCA and its allies will continue to pressure Starbucks
until all Frankenbuck$ demands are met. Stay tuned to BioDemocracy
News and the Daily News and Starbucks sections on our website
<> for the latest developments. If you are
willing to help distribute Starbucks leaflets in your community send
an email to the OCA <>

And please check out the "Participate Locally" section of our website.
If you are willing to join 25,000 other volunteers who have signed up
online to work with the OCA in your local community on food safety
issues, please go to and sign
up now.

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