Last week, US Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman said that our country plans
to press for recognition of biotechnology's potential to help feed the world at
the upcoming World Food Summit. Feeding the hungry has been the justification
for many unnatural and frightening developments in our food system.
However, the current controversy over one of the first genetically-engineered
foods to come into widespread commercial use reveals that feeding the hungry is
not really a priority for global agribusiness. The seeds and grains at the base
of our food system are being engineered to provide greater profits to giant
agrochemical companies. They also provide cheaper raw materials for foods that
most of the world's people would be better off without: French fries, soda,
candy bars and salty snack chips.
"Roundup Ready" soybeans are causing a big ruckus on both sides of the Atlantic
now. These beans were created by Monsanto, a large US chemical and
food-ingredient corporation, in order to sell more of its "Roundup" herbicide.
Since the engineered-soybean is not destroyed by this substance that kills all
other green plants, selling the soybean seeds assures customers for the toxic,
chemical product. The plan is for Monsanto to make big bucks on its research
investments because farmers will spend more money on seeds and "Roundup".
If this system produces any savings for the farmer, they will probably be passed
along to the giant food processors. It is unlikely to make any difference at
the retail level.
Of course, there are many concerns about genetically-engineered food crops.
Common sense warns us to slow down this Frankensteinian rush to create "novel
organisms." How arrogant of western scientists to think that for corporate
financial gain, they can tinker so dramatically with the success of billions of
years of evolution.
The current producer of these unusual soybeans, Monsanto, has not been kind to
us or to the environment in the past. For example, it produced or licensed the
manufacture of all the toxic PCBs ever made. A large portion of its current
business encourages farmers and homeowners to use more pesticides and artificial
Dr. Margaret Mellon from the Union of Concerned Scientists, recently pointed out
that in addition to the gene that is added for herbicide-resistance, a marker is
used for the convenience of the gene-splicers. This marker is frequently a gene
for antibiotic-resistance. What feeding the human population plant foods which
contain the gene for antibiotic resistance will do to the effectiveness of
medical antibiotic use is unknown, but worrisome. ( see footnote)
For thousands of years, humans have selected and bred crops so that they
produced larger yields, grew better in a specific location, or were more
flavorful, nutritious or beautiful. Now Monsanto breeds our food crops in order
to sell more of its herbicide, "Roundup."
Currently, there is a growing movement (particularly strong in Europe) which
demands that these soybeans be labeled as genetically-engineered. Then those
who don't want to buy them can vote with their dollars, marks, or francs in the
More than 300 consumer, health, trade and agricultural organizations from 48
countries have called for a boycott of products containing
genetically-engineered seeds, A variety of corn which produces its own
insecticide is also now grown commercially in this country. The boycott targets
specific brands of candy bars, infant formula, French fries, bottled salad
dressings. margarine, soda and snack chips- all made by the largest players in
the global food industry. The protest is aimed at getting engineered-foods
labeled as such, so that consumers have a choice.
Of course, those who would recreate life (and the processors who benefit from
more plentiful food ingredients) would have us ignore the whole thing. Food
companies strongly resist any labeling.
It is clear that, with agribusiness's vast financial resources and its allies in
the government, if we do ignore what's going on, before long, most everything we
eat, that's not grown nearby, will contain genetically-engineered ingredients.
And, while the corporations get richer, the world's poor will still go hungry.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
C1996, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Footnote: I have spoken directly to Dr. Mellon since this was written. The
"Roundup Ready" soybean does NOT have a gene for antibiotic-resistance, but the
Ciba BT corn DOES have a gene for resistance to Ampicillin. She said that some
of the resistance in incorporated bacterial genes results from the overuse of
antibiotics in medicine and agriculture. Genetic engineers use mutated organisms
to alter other organisms.
It is good to remind ourselves of the anti-democratic arrogance of the genetic
engineers and their sycophants. Consider the following from "Emerging
Biotechnologies in Agriculture: Issues and Policies, Progress Report XI,
November 1992," by the Division of Agriculture, Committee on Biotechnology,
National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges:
"While substantial gains have been made scientifically, it appears that we have
done a far less than adequete job with public education.
"As an example, the Food and Drug Administration is reported to have received
more that 2,700 comments on its 'Policy on Foods Derived from New Plant
Varieties.' The report is that 95% are from consumers who say they oppose the
policy. On the other hand, the FDA reports that comments from
'academia/industry have been quite supportive.' This is but one example of
perhaps the most serious 'public affairs' issue to be dealt with."
It says right there in the Constitution that scientists are always right,
doesn't it? So academia/industry is entitled to ignore the 95% of comments
which reject biotechnology. That 95% of the population must just be too stupid