BioDemocracy News #34 Agbiotech Aggression

BioDemocracy News #34 Agbiotech Aggression

By: Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association, July 2001 ( (

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Quote of the Month:

"Genetically modified food is viewed as unsafe by most [Americans], and the
public wants warning labels on food, a new poll findsŠ 52%
believe such foods are unsafe, and an additional 13% are unsure about
themŠ93% say the federal government should require labels on food saying
whether it's been genetically modified Š 57% also say they'd be less likely
to buy foods labeled as genetically modifiedŠ The image problem of
genetically modified food is underscored by contrast to organic foods. While
only five percent of Americans say they'd be more likely to buy a food
labeled as genetically modified, 52 percent say they'd be more likely to buy
food that's labeled as having been raised organically." <>

Attack of the Gene Giants      Top

The global controversy over genetically engineered foods and crops has
intensified. Sensing that they are losing the battle for the hearts and
minds of the public, even in the US and Canada, Agbiotech interests, large
food corporations, and their allies in government have stepped up their
propaganda and intimidation campaign. Since the beginning of 2001 an
unprecedented number of editorial, opinion, and news stories have appeared
in the world press, extolling the virtues of agricultural biotechnology
while denouncing opponents as know-nothing Luddites. Accompanying this
industry media barrage, choreographed by leading public relations firms, are
a number of other recent noteworthy aggressions:

* In Canada, Loblaws, Sobey 's, Safeway, A&P, and other large grocery chains   Top
have banned the use of GMO-freefood labels. Natural food companies
marketing organic and other foods certified as free of genetically modified
organisms (GMOs) have been ordered by Loblaws and other chains to block out
or remove GMO-freelabels or else their products will be taken off
supermarket shelves. Despite polls that show 90% of Canadians support
labeling GMOs, government regulators, pressured by the US and the biotech
lobby, have thus far ruled out mandatory labeling. But a new GMO food
labeling law has been introduced into Parliament, supported by 80 public
interest groups.

* In 1994 Monsanto and state agriculture officials in the United States   Top
launched a similar intimidation campaign against several thousand dairies
and health food stores in the US attempting to label or advertise their
dairy products as free of recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). To this
date, Monsanto 's no labelingintimidation campaign has been quite
successful. Less than 10% of US dairy products today are labeled as
rBGH-freeeven though the overwhelming majority (90%) US dairy cows are
not being injected with the drug. Most of America 's 1500 dairies, backed by
food giants such as Kraft/Phillip Morris, have collaborated in denying
consumers free choice by co-mingling rBGH-tainted milk with regular milk and
then deliberately lying to consumers about the presence of the hormone (we
don 't know) in their company 's products. rBGH is banned in every
industrialized country except for the USA, primarily because of scientific
concerns that it is a cancer hazard and likely to cause increased antibiotic
residues in milk. Voting with their pocketbooks against rBGH, millions of US
consumers have turned to organic milk and dairy products as well as
rBGH-free labeled brands.

* Reports of genetic pollution and genetic drift continue to proliferate.   Top
According to a CBC (Canada) radio broadcast (6/2/01); genetically engineered
canola plants are showing up in farmers ' fields all across the Canadian
prairie, even though many of them have never planted GE seeds. Martin
Phillipson, a University of Saskatchewan law professor, said that Monsanto
may be liable for damages if their gene-altered, herbicide resistant canola
continues to spread. "The GM canola has, in fact, spread much more rapidly
than we thought it would," said Martin Entz, a plant scientist at the
University of Manitoba. "It's absolutely impossible to control."

* Similar genetic pollution has been reported in the US by farmers growing
organic corn and certified GMO-freesoybeans. US trade representatives,
working hard to engender a growing sense of fatalism regarding the
impossibilityof growing GE-freesoybeans, corn, and canola, have told
EU bureaucrats that it is unreasonable and unworkableto expect anything
less that 5% genetic contamination in non-GMO grain exports. (Financial
Times 6/20/01)

But well-known critics such as Jeremy Rifkin point out that the biotech
industry 's genetic pollution is creating a backlash. "They're hoping there's
enough contamination so that it's a fait accompliŠ But the liability will
kill them. We 're going to see lawsuits across the Farm Belt as conventional
farmers and organic farmers find that their product is contaminated.(New
York Times June 13, 2001).

* The US government has warned EU officials that their proposed mandatory   Top
labeling and traceability requirements for genetically engineered grains and
foods violate World Trade Organization rules mandating free trade and could
subject EU countries to major WTO sanctions and fines. (Reuters 6/1/01) In a
5/18/01 letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, the American Farm
Bureau Federation, the Grocery Manufacturers of American, and 17 other farm
and commodity giants warned the EU's proposed regulations threaten "a $4
billion US agricultural export market."

* The White House and the biotech industry continue to pressure Brazil to   Top
approve Monsanto 's Roundup Ready soybeans for commercialization. Because of
their ban on GE soybeans the Brazilians have captured an increasing share of
the EU and Asian export market while US market share has declined. "We are
very hopeful that last domino will fall," said Bob Callanan of the American
Soybean Association. "That's why the environmentalists are putting up a
stink down there in Brazil. They know if that goes, it's all gone." (New
York Times 6/11/01) According to USDA figures (PS&D database) US soy exports
to the EU during the 1995-2000 period declined 14.3%, while Brazilian
exports increased 10.7%.

* The Bush administration announced 6/13 that studies carried out by the   Top
Centers for Disease Control found no evidence that Aventis ' genetically
engineered StarLink corn has caused allergic reactions in humans. Last fall,
revelations that StarLink corn, banned by the EPA for human consumption, had
contaminated over 300 brand name food products, caused a massive
billion-dollar recall and disrupted overseas grain markets. Further recalls
were announced July 5 as StarLink corn was detected in white corn tortilla
chips. US critics from the Genetically Engineered Food Alert
<> coalition immediately denounced the CDC findings as
inadequate and unscientific. Among serious problems with the CDC tests: a
tiny and insignificant sample of human blood serum was tested, too small to
be representative of the potentially affected population; the Cry9c protein
studied for allergenicity was a synthetic lab construct rather than the
actual gene-altered protein as expressed in the corn plant; and special
risks to infants, children, mill workers, and farm workers were not taken
into consideration. For a scientific critique of the StarLink whitewash see

* Reuters reported 6/25 that Sri Lanka was being pushed by the US to reverse   Top
its ban on genetically engineered foods. Responding to intense pressure, Sri
Lanka officials announced a temporary suspension of their ban, but
emphasized that the ban would likely be reimposed Sept. 1. "We know of no
credible scientific evidence justifying Sri Lanka's ban. We believe it is
totally unwarranted," Weyland Beeghly, agricultural counselor of the U.S.
Embassy in neighboring India, told a news conference in Sri Lanka May 10.
Informed sources report similar strong-arm tactics being employed by
American diplomats and trade bureaucrats throughout the Asia and Pacific
region (and across the world) where mandatory labeling and production or
import bans on GMOs are steadily gaining momentum.

* reported 5/21 that Monsanto has continued suing hundreds   Top
of US farmers for patent infringement,for the crimeof having
genetically engineered plants growing on their property without paying
royalty payments to Monsanto. Several farmers being sued by Monsanto are
fighting back however, filing counter-lawsuits in North Dakota and Illinois,
claiming that Monsanto is deliberately causing genetic pollution, and then
turning around and suing innocent farmers who are victims of this genetic

* Congressman George Nethercutt, a Republican from Washington state,   Top
detailed plans 6/20 for a full-out legal assault on so-called
"eco-terrorism," including a federal bill that would convey mandatory
prison sentences for violence against environmental and life-sciences
research.The bill comes in the wake of over 45 acts of crop destruction or
sabotage carried out over the past two years by American activists against
genetically engineered food crops, trees, and animals. Although no one has
been injured in these decontaminationactions, the biotech industry
worries that direct action and crop sabotage will become more widespread.
Over the past 60 days anti-GE direct actions and sabotage have been reported
in Idaho, California, Washington, Oregon, Belgium, France, UK, and the

* More Agbiotech Aggression. Monsanto and Aventis recently blocked citizens'
rights to find out the locations where genetically engineered field crops
are being tested in Australia (Sydney Morning Herald, 6/22/01). In a similar
move Monsanto threatened July 3 to sue authorities in France for releasing
the location of secret GE test sites.

* Meanwhile on the right-to-knowlabeling front, Trader Joe 's, Price   Top
Chopper, Hy-Vee and other regional supermarket chains are informing US
consumers that it is not possible to tell them which of their products
contain GMOs even as these grocers see an increasing demand for organic and
GMO-free foods and beverages. (

* Starbucks, the world 's largest coffee chain, under increasing pressure   Top
from the Organic Consumers Association, as well as activist groups in
Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, still is refusing to state
publicly that they will never purchase GE coffee beans. Starbucks also
refuses to state that they will remove rBGH and other GE ingredients from
their beverages and foods. The transnational coffee giant maintains they are
conducting market researchregarding the availability and prices of
GMO-free milk, baked goods, and chocolate, and claim they will start brewing
Fair Trade shade-grown coffee on an ongoingbasis. On June 25-26, the
Organic Consumers Association mobilized protesters to leaflet Starbucks
cafes in over 200 cities and five nations (US, Canada, New Zealand, UK, and
Australia). For a Starbucks campaign update see

* Switzerland government bureaucrats in mid-June rejected a national GMO
moratorium, despite receiving 300,000 post cards from Swiss consumers, and
despite polls indicating that the overwhelming majority of the population is
against GE foods.

* A small Quebec brewery has won a court battle with a federal agency over
its right to label its beer as containing no GMOs. Unibroue, based in
Chambly, Que., obtained a certificate a year ago from the Canadian Food
Inspection Agency, classifying its beers as GMO-free. The classification was
intended to help the firm's European exports, but was challenged by
pro-biotech government officials in the CFIA. (Canadian Press service

Global Grassroots & Regulatory Response    Top

Despite the ongoing global offensive by the Gene Giants, anti-GE and
pro-organic forces continue to gain strength on all fronts, including public
opinion, marketplace dynamics, and legislation.

* In North America, biotech proponents were dismayed by a 6/20/01 ABC News   Top
poll which, among other trends, found that 62% of American women now believe
that genetically engineered foods are unsafe.The ABC News poll, as well
as recent polls in Canada, shows that North Americans are slowly but surely
catching up to their counterparts in Europe and Asia where 70-80% of
consumers remain firmly opposed to Frankenfoods.As ABC News put it,
Barely more than a third of the public believes that genetically modified
foods are safe to eat.Another poll (6/26/01) conducted by the Pew
Charitable Trust, underlines the fundamental problem that the gene engineers
face: the more that Americans hear about genetically engineered foods, the
more concerned they become. More than half of Pew respondents (55%) reported
they had heard a 'great deal' or 'some' about genetically modified foods
sold in grocery stores, up from 44% just six months earlier, and many lack
confidence in the government's ability to manage gene-altered foods,
following last fall's recall of products contaminated with Starlink corn.
The poll also found that consumers are paying more attention to media
coverage of the potential hazards of GE foods as opposed to their supposed
benefits. In other words the more Americans hear about genetically
engineered foods, the less they like them, despite a $50 million dollar a
year propaganda campaign launched by the biotech industry two years ago.

* U.S. exports of co-mingled or genetically engineered crops are facing   Top
major restrictions in foreign markets, according to a new report by the
General Accounting Office, the research arm of the US Congress. In the wake
of losing several billion dollars in GE-tainted corn, soy, and canola
exports, US and Canada agro-exporters can expect even more losses as
European, Asian, and other governments adopt the precautionary principle
requiring pre-market safety testing, labeling, and segregation of
genetically engineered crops.

Since biotech crops came on the market in 1996, US farm exports have fallen
from $60 billion a year to $51 billion a decline of 15%. The US has lost
$400 million a year in corn exports to the EU, while Canada has lost a
similar amount in canola exports. Bernard Marantelli, a spokesperson for
Monsanto UK, admitted April 18 that GE canola acreage in Canada this year
went downŠ a significant amount.

A similar pattern is emerging in soybeans, with US GE soya essentially being
boycotted by major companies in Europe, Japan, Korea, and other nations.
Over the past year major EU food corporations and fast food chains have also
begun to remove all GE corn and soya from their animal feed. Already 25% of
all EU animal feed is now GE-free. Meanwhile exports of GE-free grains from
Brazil, Australia, India, and China are expanding. Sources in the EU feed
industry say the present demand for certified non-GMO soybean meal has grown
from nearly zero to 25% in only 12 months, with the expectation of further
increases in the coming year. (AgJournal UK 5/30/01)

* Japanese food manufacturers carried out three major recalls of snack foods  Top
in May and June after finding traces of Monsanto 's genetically engineered
NewLeaf potatoes in the products. Facing global opposition to their GE
spuds, Monsanto announced earlier this year that they were pulling NewLeaf
potatoes off the market.

* In a related development, Monsanto announced that its Roundup Ready  Top
soybeans would not be available for planting in Canada in 2001. Canada has
begun to supply increasing amounts of non-GE soybeans to Japan. (5/18/01
GAIN Report #CA1075 Canada Oilseeds and Products) Four other GE crops have
also been removed from the Canadian market this year, GM flax - "Triffid";
GM canola - "Quest"; GM potato - "NatureMark"/"NewLeaf"; and GM

* BridgeNews reported (6/3/01) that South Korea's sole food-grade corn  Top
buying group, Korea Corn Processing Industrial Association (KOCOPIA), is
requesting international trading houses to stop supplying the nation with US
corn. The move follows last week's discovery by local authorities of
StarLink corn contamination in corn starch production, a KOCOPIA official
told BridgeNews.

* As the General Accounting Office report indicates, the US is becoming  Top
increasingly isolated in international negotiations such as the Biosafety
Protocol and the Codex Alimentarius of the World Trade Organization--facing
increasing pressure from both the global North and South for precautionary
measures regarding GMOs. Thirty-five nations, representing a billion people,
are now involved in the process of setting mandatory labeling requirements
for genetically engineered foods. In mid-July the Codex is expected to tell
the US that its no pre-market safety testingand substantial equivalence
doctrines on GMOs are not acceptable. (7/2/01-Financial Times) For a report
on present and pending GMO legislation across the world see

*A thousand protesters took to the streets in San Diego, CA June 25-26,  Top
challenging industry leaders gathered for the annual Biotechnology Industry
Organization (BIO) convention. The street protests, preceded by three days
of BioDevastationteach-ins and workshops, generated extensive media
coverage across North America, along with a near hysterical response from
the Biotech Establishment. <>

In a press release dated June 22, the agribusiness and biotech front group,
American Council on Science and Health, stated:

Caveat Emptor. Consumers and journalists beware. Biodevastation activists
aim to target you over the next few days with false and misleading
information about food safety, nutrition and the environment. The same
people who brought you a long list of other
false health and environmental scares-including the infamous Alar in apples
scare, the Dow-Corning breast implant campaign-and dozens of other debunked
fears are at it again. This time the scaremongers are targeting such safe
foods as milk and other dairy products in your local supermarket and at food
retail outlets such as Starbucks.

*In one San Diego protest 6/24, activists from the Ruckus Society unfurled a
giant 1500 square-foot banner in front of the Convention Hall, which read
"Biotech Perverts--Get Out of Our Genes". "There are thousands of biotech
industry representatives coming to town, who are perverting agriculture,
science, nature and democracy as we know it. These perversions impact human
health and the well-being of all life." stated Shannon Service, a
Biodevastation protest leader.

* On June 26 several hundred protestors in San Diego and Ocean Beach rallied
against Starbucks, calling on the company to ban GE food and beverage
ingredients and to brew Fair Trade, shade-grown coffee on a weekly basis.
Ocean Beach residents are trying to stop a Starbucks café from locating in
their neighborhood, pointing out that Starbucks has now become the Wal-Mart
of American coffee shops,routinely moving into neighborhoods and putting
local independent coffee shops out of business.

* A North American seafood importer, Martin International Corporation, is  Top
calling on the major seafood companies to take up arms against attempts to
develop genetically modified salmon. If not, seafood consumption may
decline, he says. "It is my opinion that the US consumer would embrace
genetically engineered salmon about as enthusiastically as they would allow
a nuclear power plant to be erected in their back yard. If anything, the
American public is looking to find out more about the products that they
assume to be wholesome, safe and environmentally sound and more and more are
leaning to 'natural' or certified organic to be sure of what they are
receiving." Richard C. Martin Jr. (Quoted in IntraFish, a fish industry
publication, 5/22/01). In the US the Center for Food Safety and the
Genetically Engineered Food Alert have launched a legal petition to keep GE
Frankenfish off the market. See (

* Reuters (6/22/01) reports that the Gene Giants were openly criticized in  Top
front of international farm leaders at the World Agricultural Forum in St.
Louis. "A steadily shrinking number of companies are gaining unprecedented
control over all aspects of commercial food, farming and health," said Rural
Advancement Foundation International research director Hope Shand. Shand
pointed out that Monsanto seeds account for 94% of the total area planted in
commercial genetically engineered crops, worldwide. Rounding out Shand's
list of gene giantsare DuPont Co., Syngenta Crop Protection Inc., Aventis
CropScience and Dow AgroSciences LLC. Shand said aggressive moves by the big
Agbiotech firms for greater control of their GM seed creations must be
combated if world hunger and poverty problems are to be addressed.

* Over the past 60 days public interest activists in a number of countries,  Top
including India, Sri Lanka, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Mexico, and Peru
have denounced the US for dumping GE soya and corn in food aid shipments
and grain exports. Biotech industry spokespersons have responded that
denunciations of GMOs in food aid shipments are proof that anti-GE
campaigners such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are willing to let
the hungry masses in the Third World starve.

But as noted author and hunger expert Frances Moore Lappe pointed out in the
Los Angeles Times (7/1/01): Government institutions are becoming ever more
beholden to corporations [rather] than to their citizens. Nowhere is this
more obvious than in decisions regarding biotechnology--whether it's the
approval or patenting of biotech seeds and foods without public input or the
rejection of mandatory labeling of biotech foods despite broad public demand
for it. Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but by a scarcity of
democracy. Thus it can never be solved by new technologies, even if they
were to be proved Śsafe. ' It can only be solved as citizens build
democracies in which government is accountable to them, not private
corporate entities.

* Activists barricaded the offices of the Novartis biotech corporation in a
suburb of Minneapolis on 6/25, in solidarity with the Biodevastation
protests in San Diego. Police were forced to break down the doors and arrest
the protesters. On 5/14 a group of 50 Southeast RAGE (Resistance Against
Genetic Engineering) activists in Greensboro, NC were harassed (and three
arrested) by police as they staged a symbolic crop decontamination
exercise outside the Agbiotech company Syngenta 's offices in North Carolina.
Fifty biohazard "technicians" quarantined a cardboard "garden" of
genetically altered mutant corn, which was then removed by a giant puppet,
Father Earth.

* The biotech industry is alarmed by a proposed ballot initiative in Denver,   Top
Colorado, next November which will give voters a chance to vote on whether
genetically engineered foods should be served in area schools, given that
these foods have not been proven to be safe. After a heated debate in the
media over several weeks the Denver Post published an editorial June 1
calling for mandatory labeling of all genetically engineered foods.
( The success of the Denver effort in raising the
level of debate over Frankenfoods in Colorado has inspired the Organic
Consumers Association and a number of Green Party activists to discuss
joining efforts with local activists (and national networks such as the
Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods) to get city council
resolutions and initiatives on the ballot all across the US. State ballot
initiatives on GE foods are also underway in Washington, Oregon, and other
states. ( (
( and <>

What 's Next in the Frankenfoods Fight?    Top

Despite industry efforts to create a false sense of fatalism, to convince
people that Frankencrops are spreading everywhere and cross-pollinating
everything, even organic crops, so therefore there 's no possibility of
resisting them, the global consumer and farmers movement against genetically
engineered foods continues to grow and expand.

Although US and Canadian corporations such as Loblaws, Starbucks, and Trader
Joe 's are under tremendous pressure by their partners in the food and
biotech industry to hold the line,and not cave in to consumer and
activist demands, the pressure coming from the grassroots against these and
other food and beverage corporations will undoubtedly increase over the
coming months.

Similarly, although the Bush administration, Monsanto, and the Gene Giants
are trying harder than ever to pressure governments around to world to
import and allow cultivation of GE crops inside their borders, very few are
taking up their offer. Three nations continue to produce almost 99% of all
GE crops the US (74%), Argentina (15%), and Canada (10%) and the export
markets for these countries ' crops are growing smaller, not larger,

On the regulatory front, the US and the Gene Giants appear increasingly
isolated in their no safety testingand no labelingposition. A growing
number of scientists around the world now believe that the gene-splicing
process itself is inherently unpredictable and haphazard, and that therefore
proving that gene-altered foods are safe for human health and the
environment will be extremely difficult, if not impossible. For a detailed
scientific and legal critique of the US government 's no labeling and safety
testing policy see (

Similarly on the labeling front, it is becoming increasingly difficult for
the Bush administration and the Agbiotech lobby to override the will of 90%
of world 's consumers who are demanding mandatory labeling of genetically
engineered foods--mainly so that they can avoid buying them. As Norman
Braksick, the president of Asgrow Seed Co. (now owned by Monsanto) predicted
in the Kansas City Star (3/7/94) seven years ago, If you put a label on a
genetically engineered food, you might as well put a skull and crossbones on

Stay tuned to BioDemocacy News and the website of the Organic Consumers
Association for further developments.

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