Organic View #18 - An e-mail publication of the
Organic Consumers Association

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v.1 n.18 December 8, 1999 Contents

1. Victory At WTO Meeting
2. OCA At The Battle In Seattle
3. California Labeling Initiative
4. OCA Organizes Successful FDA Hearing Protest In DC - Oakland Next
5. Recent Studies Point To Concerns With Genetically Engineered Foods
6. Rodale Study Finds Organic Superior In Withstanding Drought
7. Link to Other Stories

1. Victory At WTO Meeting

In a major setback for the biotech industry, negotiators at
last week's World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle were
not able to move forward in establishing rules for exporting
US genetically engineered crops to other countries.

At the WTO meeting, the announced number one priority for
the US Trade team was agriculture. US Trade negotiators
wanted to knock out subsidies to European farmers, and open
foreign markets for US grown genetically engineered crops.
US Trade negotiators failed on both accounts.

The WTO sets the rules for trade for its 135 nation
participants. Most major countries including the European
Union (EU) are requiring more answers to unknown health and
environmental risks of genetically engineered foods before
accepting them into their country. Additionally, countries
like the EU, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea
have put forth labeling requirements for genetically
engineered foods.

The US Department of Agriculture and the US Trade Office
have dismissed objections to genetically engineered foods in
other countries as not being based on "sound science" and
potential "barriers to trade." The US was hoping to
negotiate with other countries and set up a framework for
opening up markets for US genetically engineered foods.

Early in the meetings, there appeared to be a major victory
for the US Trade team, when the EU proposed putting together
a working group on genetically engineered crops. Such a
working group increased the chances that many of the
controversial issues surrounding genetically engineered
crops would be decided based largely on economic
considerations. OCA and other environmental and consumer
groups would like to see the issue of genetically engineered
foods settled within the United Nations Biosafety talks -
which are more likely to take into account potential
environmental and human health risks in formulating an
international protocol. Governments will gather next month
in Montreal to resume the U.N. Biosafety talks.

But by the end of the WTO meeting, the EU proposal on the
working group was withdrawn and declared dead by a delegate
from France. An alternative EU proposal for a broadly
focused biotechnology working group that would consider
consumer and environmental concerns was rejected by U.S.
negotiators as unacceptable. This was a major victory for
those fighting against genetically engineered foods and
crops worldwide - and a major defeat for the biotech
industry and US Trade officials.

For more on what happened in Seattle, check out a website
set up by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy -

2. OCA At The Battle In Seattle

The WTO meeting in Seattle earlier this month was an
historic occasion, and three OCA staff members, and many OCA
supporters, were on hand to voice their opinion and network
with allies.

On the Sunday before the WTO began, OCA participated in an
important biotech activist meeting that included activists
from around the world - to discuss strategy and tactics for
how to work on issues of genetically engineered foods in the

Later that evening, OCA hosted an all-organic meal that
attracted about 50 OCA supporters and other interested
groups. OCA Field Director Debbie Ortman, California Field
organizer Simon Harris, and Campaign Director Ronnie Cummins
had the opportunity to meet and talk with friends,
colleagues, and volunteers.

Later in the week, Ronnie Cummins had a great meeting with
Puget Sound Co-op, one of the nation's largest co-op
systems. And finally, Ronnie Cummins gave a talk to an
overflow crowd of 200 people on the state of the
anti-biotech movement in the US, and the work that OCA is

And of course, OCA staff (including Debbie Ortman
fashionably dressed as a sea turtle) and supporters marched
in the streets with tens of thousands of others protesting
against genetically engineered foods. Overall, OCA collected
several thousand signatures in support of its Food Agenda

3. California Labeling Initiative

A volunteer driven petition gathering effort has begun in
California to put an initiative on the ballot that would
require the labeling of genetically engineered foods in that

The initiative would require labeling of foods and meats at
the retail level. It defines those foods requiring labeling
as: "Crops and livestock containing genetic material
transferred from one species to another or other DNA
modifications not commonly possible under natural
conditions, such as cell fusion, gene deletion or doubling,
and induced sequence or encapsulation variations."

The leaders of the effort are not taking any donations or
PAC money to fund the effort - and instead are relying on
the strength of an army of volunteers. To qualify for the
November 2000 ballot in the state of California, the effort
needs to gather 413,000 valid signatures of California
voters by February 20.

If such a ballot initiative passed in California, it would
have important implications for the rest of the country.
Food companies would have to consider whether to go
genetically engineered-free, or add labels if they wanted to
do business in our most populated state.

Legislation on genetically engineered foods is also being
considered in New York, Vermont and Minnesota in the next

To get involved and help in California, go to:
Or, call: 707-939-8316.

4. OCA Organizes Successful FDA Hearing Protest In DC -
Oakland Next

Carrying a 25-foot ear of corn with the sign "Safety First"
written on its side, OCA along with USPIRG, Friends of the
Earth, Center for Food Safety, and Community Harvest helped
organize a rally of over 150 people outside of an FDA
hearing on genetically engineered foods in Washington, DC.

The hearing was the second of three being held by the FDA,
designed to explain their regulatory system for genetically
engineered foods - and hear from citizens. The protests and
hearing received extensive news coverage including CNN, USA
Today, and New York Times - while sharing the spotlight with
massive protests in Seattle over the WTO.

The rally was highly successful despite an effort funded by
the Monsanto corporation in which around 100 people were
hired at $25 apiece to travel from a local Baptist church
and protest in favor of genetically engineered foods. In an
embarrassing story for Monsanto, the New York Times reported
on the paid protestors in a December 8 article - detailing
the work of giant public relations firm Burson Marsteller,
which has been working for Monsanto at the FDA hearings.

The last FDA hearing on genetically engineered food will be
held in Oakland, CA on December 13. The FDA is following a
similar pattern to the previous hearing. It has already
moved the site location, less than a week before the
hearing. The agency is still putting together the panels for
the hearing at the last minute. Additionally, the biotech
industry is expected to bus in hundreds of pro-biotech
supporters from Davis, California - home of Monsanto
subsidiary, Calgene, and Berkeley - where biotech giant
Novartis has a partnership with the University of

OCA and others will be holding a major rally at the hearing
site at 12 noon. If you are interested in attending, please
contact OCA California Organizer Simon Harris at:
415-643-9592, or by e-mail at:

The FDA will be accepting written comments from the public
through January 13. Those comments should demand that: 1)
the agency require rigorous pre-market safety testing that
proves genetically engineered foods are safe; and 2) that all
genetically engineered crops on the market have
thorough and prominent labeling. You can submit comments
through the FDA's website at:

5. Recent Studies Point To Concerns With Genetically Engineered Foods

Two recent studies point to new concerns about genetically
engineered foods and crops. In the December 2 issue of the
journal Nature, New York University researchers found that
roots from common genetically engineered Bt corn exude the
pesticide into the soil, bind with soil particles, and
remain active (ie toxic) in the soil for 243 days.

Dr. Charles Benbrook, former member of the National Academy
of Sciences and head of Benbrook Consulting Services,
believes that the NYU study is as important as an earlier
study by Cornell researchers which found that pollen from
genetically engineered Bt corn was toxic to the Monarch
butterfly study. "What goes on underground in a field
planted with today's Bt-corn varieties is largely a
mystery. Enhance the toxin levels 100- to 1,000-fold and it
becomes a mystery of some consequence and immediacy,"
Benbrook says.

The registrations for the current wave of engineered Bt
crops expire in 2001. The biotech industry will be looking
for EPA approval for a new wave of Bt crops designed to
address the corn rootworm complex, a particularly stubborn
pest which has developed a resistance to every single pest
tool including crop rotation, according to Benbrook. "It's
going to take a pretty high level of Bt to control them."

Another study published in December issue of the
international scientific journal Microbial
Ecology in Health and Disease (no 4, 1999) found that the
use of the Cauliflower Mosaic Viral promoter (CaMV) in the
process of genetically engineering food has the potential to
reactivate dormant viruses or create new viruses in all
species to which it is transferred.

CaMV is found in practically all current genetically
engineered crops released commercially or undergoing field
trials. Its instability increases the possibility of
promotion of an inappropriate over-expression of genes to
the transferred species. The development of cancer may be
one consequence of such inappropriate over-expression of

The scientists behind the research, Mae-Wan Ho, Angela Ryan,
and Joe Cummins "strongly recommend that all transgenic
crops containing CaMV 35S or similar promoters should be
immediately withdrawn from commercial production or open
field trials. All products derived from such crops
containing transgenic DNA should also be immediately
withdrawn from sale and from use for human consumption or
animal feed".

For pre-publication full text, see:

6. Rodale Study Finds Organic Superior In Withstanding Drought

The Rodale Institute's Farming Systems Trial in Kutztown,
Pa., reported that organic test plots did better than
conventional plots during 1999's East Coast drought. Rodale
compared soybean systems under organic and conventional
management, and figures show yields of 30 bushels per acre
from legume-based organic soybeans compared to only 16
bushels per acre from conventionally grown crops.

Pennsylvania was one of 14 states declared a drought
disaster area by the U.S. Department of Agriculture this
summer. Because Kutztown received only 4.4 inches of rain
from June through
August compared to an average of 13.4 inches in normal
years, The Rodale Institute's organic soybean yield is even
more impressive. Scientists at the Institute say improved
soil conditions because of organic management
is the reason for the strong performance.

The trial's manure-based organic soybean plots also
performed well above the level of conventional plots,
achieving 24 bushels per acre. "Over time, organic practices
encourage the soil to hold on to moisture more efficiently
than conventionally managed soil," Jeff Moyer, Farm Manager
at The Rodale Institute's Farming Systems Trial. "The higher
content of organic matter also makes organic soil less
compact so that root systems can penetrate more deeply to
find moisture." In addition, organic practices reduce
nitrate leaching and erosion.

For more on the Institute's study, go to:

7. Important Recent Articles

Below are the titles and links to interesting articles
published recently on issues related to organic food and
food safety. These articles can be found on the website of
our affiliated organization, the BioDemocracy Campaign

12,08 - Genetically Engineered Pigs Coming to Market,

12,07 - Organic Food Is Booming in Europe,

12,06 - Burger King & McDonald's Worried About Serving GE

12,05 - Genetically Engineered "Frankenfish" Can Wreak Havok
in the Oceans,