News: Policy and People
Genetically engineered foods debate sows seeds of discontent, by Angela Pirisi
The issue of genetically engineered foods has given way to heated debates
globally over scientific ethics, health and environmental dangers, and
labelling laws. And now added to an already morally loaded discussion is
the issue of freedom of speech. At a recent public information session on
genetic food engineering presented in Ottawa, Canada, attendants were
incensed to find that the federal government agency Health Canada had
forbidden one of its outspoken scientists, Shiv Chopra, to speak at the
Genetically engineered or not?
Richard Wolfson, event organisor and leader of the Consumer Right To Know
Campaign in Ottawa, called the action a "gag order". Not only is the public
being denied consumer choice regarding unlabelled "mutant foods", he said,
but also denied is "access to critical information from scientists with an
insider's perspective on genetic engineering and its implications". The
general suspicion is that the order comes in the wake of Chopra's last
public appearance on a television news show, after which he was reprimanded
for commenting that money belied government approval of substances such as
bovine growth hormone and that biotech companies held both the purse and
the puppet strings.
But the gag order is only a drop in the deluge of accusations about
corporate tyranny. In the USA, two investigative reporters accused Fox
Television of succumbing to pressures from the biotech company Monsanto
after it lobbied to pull or heavily edit a story about bovine growth
hormone. After refusing hush money and being fired last December, one of
the reporters, Steve Wilson, wrote in The Nation, "We believe that what
happened to us should raise concern not only about the rapidly decreasing
number of companies that control our media but also about the true
character and motivation of those who seek to use the public airwaves to
enhance their corporate bottom lines".
Among scientists, many question how rigorous governments are in their
testing requirements for biotech products. Margaret Mellon, director of
agriculture and biotechnology for the Union of Concerned Scientists warned
in a recent issue of Pesticide & Toxic Chemical News that agricultural
biotechnology is "not a miracle technology. It's had lots of mistakes. It's
an expensive technology that's problematic".
Besides, who can possibly predict long-term effects? Byron P Rigby,
president of the Australian Association of Ayurvedic Medicine, recently
wrote in the Australian newspaper, Living Now, that biotechnology makes
Chernobyl, "mad-cow" disease, and cane toads pale in comparison, given its
"completely imponderable effects". Now the question remains, how much are
countries willing to gamble for a softer bread crust or a firmer tomato?
posted by <email@example.com> to <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Monsanto Doses EU with Biotech Ad Blitz, By Zadie Neufville
LONDON, UK, August 3, 1998 (ENS) -
All-out war over acceptance of genetically engineered foods has broken out
across Europe. Some are calling it the new colonisation. For others it is a
battle for the control, or the protection, of the world's food supply. The
threat is not bombs or guns - it is hunger.
At the heart of the war over the genetic engineering of plants are the
rights of peoples worldwide to grow the foods they want to eat.
This week, United States based multinational company Monsanto begins a
major media blitz in
Europe aimed at winning the hearts of Europeans and overcoming the European
public's opposition to genetic engineering of foods. The company comes
armed with the declarations of leading African personalities wooing
Monsanto is the second largest agrochemical company in the world. One of
the leading manufacturers of genetically-engineered seeds, the company has
asked prominent Africans to endorse genetic engineering as an essential
contributor to the world's food supply in the next century.
Endorsements for the genetically-modified plants are expected to come from
former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere and Gracia Machel - wife of the
late Samora Machel who just married President Nelson Mandela of South
Africa. The Monsanto statements supported by the African signatures will
be prominently placed in the European press in the coming week.
The Monsanto ads, entitled "Let the Harvest Begin," include these
statements. "We all share the same planet - and the same needs. In
agriculture, many of our needs have an ally in biotechnology and the
promising advances it offers for our future. Healthier, more abundant food.
Less expensive crops. Reduced reliance on pesticides and fossil fuels. A
cleaner environment. With these advances, we prosper; without them. we
cannot thrive...Biotechnology is one of tomorrow's tools in our hands
today. Slowing its acceptance is a luxury our hungry world cannot afford."
A counter-attack has been mounted. ... Senior African politicians,
scientists and agriculturists have released counter-statements to the
European press. African delegates to the United Nations Food and
Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in a counter-attack on the planned Monsanto
ads said in a joint statement. "We strongly object that the image of the
poor and hungry from our countries is being used by giant multinational
corporations to push a technology that is neither safe, environmentally
friendly, nor economically beneficial to us."
The delegates who included representatives from all African nations in the
UN except South Africa, accused Monsanto of "threatening and jailing" U.S.
farmers who save seeds for planting the next year's crop. The delegates
denounced Monsanto's interest in the environment. "Its major focus is not
to protect the environment, but to develop crops that can resist higher
doses of its best-selling chemical weed killer "Roundup."
Maize, called corn in some parts of the world, is one focus of the battle
over biotech crops.</H5> Monsanto's European advertising campaign
reportedly cost $1.6 billion, Panos said, and is aimed at winning consumer
support for genetically modified food. Millions more could be spent in a
climate where consumer groups and environmentalists, speaking out against
the use of genetically engineered seeds for human consumption, appear to be
Several European countries - Austria, Luxembourge and Italy - have
attempted bans on the planting of genetically modified seeds. Consumers
have picketed grocery stores protesting biotech foods. One major UK
supermarket chain, Iceland, has refused to sell genetically modified food
In March, Britain's sugar barons refused to accept any
genetically-engineered sugar beet through their factory gates. They did not
want a repeat of what happened in Holland in 1997 when a tiny amount of
sugar from genetic-engineering trials was accidentally introduced into bags
of Dutch sugar. Once discovered, there was a public outcry, and all 12,000
tonnes of the mixed sugar had to be disposed of at great expense.
The argument gained momentum a few weeks ago when Britain's Prince Charles,
spoke out in a newspaper article against genetic engineering, accusing the
multinationals of "playing God."
Monsanto and their supporters claim genetically engineered seeds will solve
world food supply and many medical problems. But, large numbers of farmers,
scientists and environmentalists see genetic engineering as "tampering with
God's creation "with little regard for possible side-effects," a sentiment
echoed by Prince Charles in his article.
The prince called for additional testing to ensure that bio-engineered food
products are safe for human consumption, and refused to eat these foods.
Monsanto's Technical Manager, Dr. Colin Merritt, responded to the prince's
comments by saying no one should be denied the choice of food modified by
Dangers to the environment, some scientists warn, include the loss of
biodiversity, potential dangers to human health, loss of income and
opportunities for small farmers, and the control of the world food supplies
by a small number of people.
According to recent reports from the biotechnology sector, over the next
year chemical companies will release 75 million hectares of genetically
altered grains onto the world market - more than three times the amounts
from 1996 trials.
Tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers are some of the products now being produced
on a vast scale. According to recent newspaper reports, 1.25 million
hectares of carrots and the first potato crops will be reaped in 1998.
Estimates are that more than 150 million hectares of genetically engineered
foods will be available on the world market by the year 2,000.
The dilemma of the world's poor farmers was highlighted recently when an
Australian company attempted to patent rice seeds developed through
research of wild plant material. Indian farmers recently lost the right to
grow one variety of "basmati" rice, a traditional crop on the sub-continent
for over 2,000 years. In June a variety of the chick pea was patented.
In response to Monsanto's Africa-endorsed European campaign, African
delegates to the United Nations have expressed fear the company is working
towards controlling the world's crop production. The company which produces
one of the world's largest selling agro-chemicals, the herbicide Round-up,
also produces seeds which can only be used with this brand of chemical.
Genetically modified seeds reportedly produce higher yields. They also
enable plants to repel attacks from pests and weeds. But the seeds must be
bought anew for each year's crop. Poor farmers can no longer save seed from
last year's harvest to plant the following spring.
While they are expected to reduce the amount farmers must spend on
pesticides, the seeds need intensive farming and will be too expensive for
small and subsistence farmers. Many genetically engineered crops need more
water than most small farmers can afford
<b>DOMINATING THE WORLD'S FOOD SUPPLY</b>
Six chemical companies: Monsanto, Enimont, Du Pont, Sandoz, Zeneca and Ciba
Geigy , dominate research and development in plant genetics. The big six,
together with Shell, WR Grace and Cargill, the world's largest grain and
oilseed trader, dominate the international seed market.
Important crops for which genetically engineered seeds already exist
include maize (corn), soya, sugar beet, and cotton. Biotechnology to modify
other crucial food crops such as rice, wheat, potato and cassava is now
These crops are among the most important of the 20 crops that provide the
world's population with 90 percent of its food. Just four crops: rice,
wheat, maize and potatoes, account for 50 percent of all food worldwide.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) was a chief
supporter of the 1960s Green Revolution which increased food production
worldwide with improved seeds, pesticides and fertilisers, but also left
degraded land and disrupted communities behind. Now the FAO emphasises that
"intensified food production can be achieved by the sustainable use of a
broader range of
The genetic modification of food is already a multi-million dollar global
business. This year alone, 3.5 million hectares of genetically modified
soya have been planted in the U.S. Monsanto expects another 1.4 million
hectares to be reaped in Argentina.
In 1996, Monsanto earned $9.26 billion in revenue. The company is growing
rapidly through a number of mergers. It is now involved in farming, food
processing and distribution in addition to its seed and agro chemical
Monsanto sent ripples of fear through the agricultural sector in March when
it merged with the Delta and Pine Lands Company, developer and patentee of
the "terminator technology" which robs plants of their reproductive
Monsanto further shocked the international community when it attempted a
merger last month with the Grameen Bank, Bangladesh's world-famous
microcredit agency. The merger was aimed at "bringing technology to the
poor" reports said. Grameen Bank President Muhammad Yunus has since
announced that his organisation is abandoning the idea of a
On June 29, Monsanto Company and Cargill, Incorporated, announced that they
have signed a definitive agreement for Monsanto to purchase Cargill's
international seed operations in Central and Latin America, Europe, Asia
and Africa for US$1.4 billion.
From: Tanya Green <email@example.com> (by way of allsorts
<firstname.lastname@example.org>) Subject: GE - African Scientists Condemn Monsanto
Latest Tactics and
Call for European Support:
** IMMEDIATE RELEASE - 3rd August 1998
African Scientists Condemn Monsanto Latest Tactics and Call for European
Monsanto at the weekend published an advertisement as part of its
controversial £1 million advertising campaign. The ad is to persuade the
European public that biotech will feed the world's growing population.
More than 24 leading African agriculturalists and environmental scientists
representing their countries at the UN _ have issued a statement to counter
Monsanto's arguments. They say Monsanto is using the poor to emotionally
blackmail sceptical Europeans by making claims that which are blatantly
untrue and unproven.
"We do not believe that such companies or gene technologies will help our
farmers to produce the food that is needed in the 21st century. On the
contrary, we think it will destroy the diversity, the local knowledge and
the sustainable agricultural systems that our farmers have developed for
millennia and that it will thus undermine our capacity to feed ourselves."
The African statement calls on Europeans and others to stand in solidarity
to resist the gene technology, especially the Terminator Technology_ which
destroys the capacity of seed to reproduce itself.
"This is a crime against nature and humanity and should be resisted and
Dr. Tewolde Gebre Egziabher of Ethiopia. Prof. Wangari Mathai of the Green
Belt Movement Kenya said: "History has many records of crimes against
humanity, which were also justified by dominant commercial interests and
governments of the day. Despite protests from citizens, social justice for
the common good was eroded in favour of private profits. Today, patenting
of life forms and the genetic engineering which it stimulates, is being
justified on the grounds that it will benefit society, especially the poor,
by providing better and more food and medicine. But in fact, by
monopolising the 'raw' biological materials, the development of other
options is deliberately blocked. Farmers therefore, become totally
dependent on the corporations for seeds".
Others from developing countries are watching developments with extreme
concern. Dr. Vandana Shiva of the Research Foundation for Science and
Technology says: "Monsanto's technologies are not environment friendly, or
sustainable. They pose a threat to ecosystems and agriculture. Monsanto's
technologies will push Bangladeshi peasants into debt as they have to spend
more money on herbicides, seeds, royalties and technology fees. This
rising indebtedness of farmers is intrinsic to industrial agriculture and
is the reason why only 2 per cent farmers survive in the U.S. and thousands
of farmers have committed suicide in India".
The African statement comes amid growing controversy in the UK over
genetically engineered crops. Many groups are now supporting calls for a 5
year moratorium on the commercial growing and sale of genetically
engineered crops. A recent survey of the guardians of middle England, the
members of the National Federation of Women's Institutes showed that 92.9%
of those surveyed felt that more control should be exercised over the
multinational companies involved! France ordered a moratorium on GE crops
this week and Grameen Bank in Bangladesh withdrew support for it's planned
partnership with Monsanto because of environmental concerns.
Enclosures for Editors:
1. Monsanto's Ad published 1st August in The Independent/ 2ndAugust in
2. African Statement "Let natures harvest CONTINUE!"
3. Communiqué from the Rural Advancement Foundation International
(RAFI) on Terminator Technology developed by Delta and Pine Land Co now
owned by Monsanto.
4. Copy of the Survey by the National Federation of Women's Institutes
5. Article by Prof. Wangari Mathai The Linkage between Patenting of
Life Forms, Genetic Engineering and Food Insecurity.
FOR MORE INFORMATION - please contact:
1. Tanya Green, The Gaia Foundation: Tel: 0171 435 5000
2. Dr. Vandana Shiva, India, Tel: 00 91 11 6855010
3. Dr. Tewolde Gebre Egziabher, Ethiopia. Tel: 00251 1 186 197
(office) 00 251 1 204 210
4. Prof. Wangari Maathai, Kenya Tel: 00 254 2 603867
5. Dr. Jose Lutzenburger, Brazil Tel: 55 513 303 567
_ As government delegates to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
Commission specialising in plant genetic resources, farmers rights, access
and benefit sharing.
_ Paper from RAFI enclosed about the Terminator Technology _
Spokesperson for the African Group at the FAO, negotiator at the Biosafety
Protocol of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and General Manager
of the Environmental Protection Authority in Ethiopia.
_ The Soil Association, RSPB, English Nature (the Government's advisors),
Friends of the Earth, The Gaia Foundation, Women's Environmental Network,
Richard Wolfson, PhD
Consumer Right to Know Campaign,
for Mandatory Labelling and Long-term
Testing of all Genetically Engineered Foods,
500 Wilbrod Street
Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2
tel. 613-565-8517 fax. 613-565-1596
Our website, http://www.natural-law.ca/genetic/geindex.html
contains more information on genetic engineering as well as
previous genetic engineering news items
Subscription fee to genetic engineering news is $35 for 12 months
See website for details.
--Dan in Sunny Puerto Rico--
To Unsubscribe: Email email@example.com with "unsubscribe sanet-mg".
To Subscribe to Digest: Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the command