October 14, 1996
Opposition Grows to Genetically Engineered Soybeans
On October 7, 1996, spokespersons representing more than 300
consumer, health, trade and agricultural organizations from
48 countries announced the launch of a world wide boycott of
genetically engineered soy and corn produced in the U.S.
Monsanto's glyphosate-tolerant soybeans and Ciba-Geigy's Bt
corn will be commercially harvested this season for the first
time. Organizations participating in the campaign will urge
consumers to boycott targeted products containing soy and
corn including Green Giant Harvest Burgers, Nestle Crunch,
Similac Infant Formula, McDonald's french fries, Kraft Salad
Dressings, Fleischmann's Margarine, Fritos, Karo Corn Syrup,
Quaker Oats Corn Meal and Coca Cola. Organizers of the
boycott cite increasing scientific concern over environmental
and health risks associated with genetically engineered
soybeans and corn.
The Secretary General of EuroCommerce, a trade association
representing over one third of the European Union's food
wholesalers and retailers, stated last week that they will
refuse to accept Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" soybeans from the
U.S. unless they are labeled. He warned that several major
members of EuroCommerce would not buy U.S. soybeans without
assurances that they are not genetically engineered.
Approximately 40% of the U.S. soy crop is exported to Europe
annually. Only one to two per cent of this year's soy crop is
genetically engineered; officials expect this amount to
increase by a factor of ten by next year.
Earlier this year, the European Union moved to allow limited
importation of genetically engineered soybeans. A majority of
European ministers, however, recently refused to authorize
import of Ciba-Geigy's Bt corn, citing concerns about
possible health and environmental effects. In response, the
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture sent the department's trade
counselor to Brussels last week in an attempt to argue
against restrictions on genetically engineered crops. The
Secretary stated that European objections to Ciba-Geigy's
corn were based on "unsound science," and that maize could
become a trans-Atlantic trade issue.
U.S. agribusiness representatives and grain distributors
maintain that labeling is not necessary since key U.S.
agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and the
U.S. Department of Agriculture have already approved the
crops. They state that labeling would involve high costs
since both soy and corn are normally shipped and stored in
huge, interchangeable lots. Corn and soybeans, two of the
most important U.S. field crops, were planted on 144 million
acres this season.
Some U.S. agricultural distributors have already made
agreements with European buyers to provide unaltered
soybeans. These distributors have stated that they will not
accept any genetically engineered soybeans from U.S. farmers.
In other events, Greenpeace activists blocked harvesting of a
field of genetically engineered soybeans in Iowa on October
10. More than 30 activists used a bright pink non-toxic,
milk-based paint to spray an entire Monsanto soybean field
and mark a 100 foot "X" with the words: "Biohazard!
Monsanto." The message could be read from the air and a
similar banner marked the area from the road.
Monsanto's herbicide tolerant soybeans contain a gene that
makes the soybean plant resistant to glyphosate (brand name
Roundup), Monsanto's top selling herbicide. Critics maintain
that the potential exists for herbicide tolerant genes to be
transmitted to weeds, thereby exacerbating weed control
problems. In addition, they point out that glyphosate is a
toxic chemical, (for example, it is the third most commonly
reported cause of pesticide poisoning in farmworkers in
California) and that herbicide tolerant plants merely
perpetuate use of toxic pesticides.
Ciba-Geigy's genetically engineered corn produces an
insecticidal toxin derived from the naturally occurring soil
bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt. Bt is a valuable tool
for organic farmers, and critics state that Bt crops such as
corn will speed development of insect resistance and reduce
Sources: Foundation on Economic Trends press release, October
7, 1996; Greenpeace press release, October 10, 1996;
International Herald Tribune, October 9, 1996; "EU, U.S.
continue grain subsidy, biotech talks," Reuters, October 9,
Contacts: Ronnie Cummins, Pure Food Campaign, 860 Highway 61,
Little Marais, MN 55614; phone (218) 226-4164; email
Foundation on Economic Trends, 1600 L Street NW, Suite 216,
Washington DC 20036; phone (202) 466-2833; fax (202) 429-
Terri Johnson, Greenpeace, Chicago; phone (312) 563-6060;
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