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Date: Tue, 24 Nov 1998 12:27:57 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson <email@example.com>
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Saturday November 21 12:17 AM ET
India Farmers Oppose Monsanto Seed Experiment
BANGALORE, India (Reuters) - Activist Indian farmers Thursday threatened to
protest against U.S. biotechnology giant Monsanto Co (NYSE:MTC - news) if
it did not make public the details of ''terminator gene'' experiments it is
conducting in the country.
The terminator gene refers to a new technology patented by a Monsanto
subsidiary. The gene switches off the reproductive cycle of a plant after a
generation leaving farmers to buy new seeds to sow a fresh crop.
``Monsanto should immediately announce the list of locations where they are
conducting experiments involving the terminator gene seed,''
M.D.Nanjundaswamy, President of Karnataka State Farmers' Association
(KSFA), told a news conference in the southern Indian city.
``Otherwise we will resort to direct democratic action,'' he said.
Nanjundaswamy said according to local media reports, Monsanto has been
allowed to conduct experiments involving the terminator gene seeds at 40
centers in five Indian states.
``They should make these centers known so we can go and inspect the sites
and assess the impact of the experiments,'' he said.
Monsanto officials were not available for comment.
KSFA said it opposed the introduction of these seeds in the country as it
could damage farmers' interests and threaten the country's food security.
Monsanto has an office in Bangalore and is involved in research at the
Indian Institute of Sciences in the city.
WESTERN PRODUCER: Saskatoon newsroom
Sask. farmer says charge bees and wind, not him
By Ed White and Rodney Desnomie
Percy Schmeiser says he's innocent and wants his name cleared.
And if he ends up facing Monsanto in court, he's going to be putting the
company's genetically altered crops on trial.
"It's in the ditches and the roadsides; it's in the shelterbelts; it's in
the gardens; it's all over," said Schmeiser.
Monsanto is suing the Bruno, Sask., farmer for allegedly growing Roundup
Ready canola without a licence.
The company claims Schmeiser bought the seed from one or more local growers
and planted it in 1997. He then grew a crop, keeping some of it for seed
for the 1998 crop year, Monsanto claims.
No court date has been set.
Monsanto has patented the genetic modification that makes canola plants
resistant to glyphosate. Seed companies under contract to Monsanto produce
the seed, which is sold through farm supply businesses. To grow the seed,
farmers must sign a contract with Monsanto agreeing to sell all their crop,
with none retained to seed future crops.
Schmeiser said he did not plant any of Monsanto's seed, and if
glyphosate-tolerant canola plants grew in his fields this summer, it
occurred through pollination from other fields or from seed scattered by
machinery and from trucks traveling the roads that run beside his land.
Schmeiser said his land is surrounded by other canola growers, and pollen
could have drifted into his fields on the wind. His land also lies beside
busy truck routes that lead to grain elevators.
Schmeiser spoke to reporters at his lawyer's office in downtown Saskatoon,
saying he wants to clear his name of Monsanto's charges.
"It's very upsetting to me to all of a sudden see your name in the paper --
that you maybe stole the seed," said Schmeiser.
He said he first noticed glyphosate-tolerant canola plants in his fields 18
months ago, when he sprayed chemical to control weeds around the power
poles in his fields. Some canola plants were unharmed by the spray.
Pea crop planned
This past spring Schmeiser said he used a glyphosate pre-seeding burnoff on
a field that had grown canola the year before and on which he planned to
But so many volunteer canola plants survived that he decided he couldn't
afford to grow the peas there, and planted canola instead.
"We're just touching the tip of the iceberg in polluted fields,
contamination of fields by this Roundup genetic canola," said Schmeiser.
"It just opens up a vast area of uncertainty."
His first inkling of trouble came in a phone call from a Humboldt Monsanto
representative. The man told him the company had received a tip that
Schmeiser was growing seed covered by Monsanto's patent on the altered
genes, and that the company wanted to take samples of his crop.
Schmeiser refused to allow the company to take samples, but with a court
order Monsanto collected some of Schmeiser's crop.
Monsanto's statement of claim asks for an injunction preventing Schmeiser
from using or selling any seed that breaks its patent protection. It wants
his canola crop seized, and asks for general, punitive and exemplary
damages, as well as legal costs.
Schmeiser's statement of defence said he never received any
patent-protected canola seed and never deliberately planted any.
It also challenges the validity of the Monsanto patent, arguing it is
improper to patent a life form and is an attempt to entrap farmers with
"nuisance patent infringement claims."
Schmeiser said he is upset by the lawsuit, but will not change his farming
practices because of it.
"I plan to do exactly what I was doing this year, next year."
This feature from SPLICE is an abbreviated version of Brian Tokar's article
in the Ecologist - details about SPLICE and The Genetics Forum at the end
of the article
Monsanto: A chequered history
Monsanto's high-profile advertisements in Britain and the US depict the
corporation as a visionary, world-historical force, working to bring an
environmentally responsible outlook to the solution of humanity's pressing
problems. But is Monsanto the "clean and green" company its advertisements
promote? In an edited version of his Ecologist article, Brian Tokar puts
Monsanto into perspective.
Historically Monsanto was one of the world's largest producers of PCBs
(eventually banned in the US in 1976) and Agent Orange. More recently the
company has concentrated on promoting Roundup, a glyphosate herbicide which
accounts for at least one sixth of Monsanto's total annual sales and half
the company's operating income. A look at its current heavy investment in
the biotechnology offers some revealing clues, and may help us better
understand the company's practices.
Biotechnology's Brave New World
Monsanto's aggressive promotion of its biotechnology products, from
recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), to Roundup Ready soybeans and
other crops, to its insect-resistant varieties of cotton, is seen by many
observers as a continuation of its many decades of ethically questionable
For example, Monsanto's 14-year effort to gain approval from the US Food
and Drug Administration (FDA) to bring recombinant BGH to market was
fraught with controversy, including allegations of a concerted effort to
suppress information about the hormone's ill effects. In 1990, when FDA
approval of rBGH appeared imminent, a veterinary pathologist at the
University of Vermont's agricultural research facility released previously
suppressed data to two state legislators documenting significantly
increased rates of udder infection in cows that had been injected with the
then-experimental Monsanto hormone, as well as an unusual incidence of
severely deforming birth defects in offspring of rBGH-treated cows.1 An
independent review of the University data by a regional farm advocacy
group documented additional cow health problems associated with rBGH,
including high incidences of foot and leg injuries, metabolic and
reproductive difficulties and uterine infections. The US Congress's
General Accounting Office (GAO) attempted an inquiry into the case, but
was unable to obtain the necessary records from Monsanto and the
University to carry out its investigation, particularly with respect to
suspected teratogenic and embryotoxic effects. The GAO auditors concluded
that cows injected with rBGH had mastitis (udder infection) rates one third
higher than untreated cows, and recommended further research on the risk of
elevated antibiotic levels in milk produced using rBGH.2 Monsanto's rBGH
was approved by the FDA for commercial sale beginning in 1994. The
following year, Mark Kastel of the Wisconsin Farmers Union released a
study of Wisconsin farmers' bad experiences with the drug. But instead of
addressing the causes of farmers' complaints about rBGH, Monsanto went on
the offensive, threatening to sue small dairy companies that advertised
their products as free of the artificial hormone. Roundup-Ready Soybeans
While Monsanto argues that its "Roundup Ready" soybeans (RRS) will
ultimately reduce herbicide use, the widespread acceptance of
herbicide-tolerant crop varieties appears far more likely to increase
farmers' dependence on herbicides. Weeds that emerge after the original
herbicide has dispersed or broken down are often treated with further
applications of herbicides.3
Monsanto has stepped up its production of Roundup in recent years. With
Monsanto's US patent for Roundup scheduled to expire in the year 2000, and
competition from generic glyphosate products already emerging worldwide,
the packaging of Roundup herbicide with "Roundup Ready" seeds has become
the centrepiece of Monsanto's strategy for continued growth in herbicide
sales.4 The possible health and environmental consequences of
Roundup-tolerant crops have not been fully investigated, including
potential allergenic effects, potential invasiveness or weediness, and the
possibility of herbicide resistance being transferred via pollen to other
soybeans or related plants.5 While any problems with herbicide-resistant
soybeans may still be dismissed as long-range and somewhat speculative,
the experience of US cotton growers with Monsanto's genetically engineered
seeds appears to tell a very different story. Monsanto has released two
varieties of genetically engineered cotton, beginning in 1996. One is a
Roundup-resistant variety and the other, named "Bollgard", secretes a
bacterial toxin intended to control damage from three leading cotton
pests. The toxin, derived from Bacillus thuringiensis, has been used by
organic growers in the form of a natural bacterial spray since the early
1970s. But while B.t. bacteria are relatively short-lived, and secrete
their toxin in a form that only becomes activated in the alkaline
digestive systems of particular worms and caterpillars, genetically
engineered B.t. crops secrete an active form of the toxin throughout the
plant's life cycle.6 The first widely anticipated problem with these
pesticide-secreting crops is that the presence of the toxin throughout the
plant's life cycle is likely to encourage the development of resistant
strains of common crop pests. The US EPA has determined that widespread
resistance to B.t. may render natural applications of B.t. bacteria
ineffective in just three to five years and requires growers to plant
refuges of up to 40 per cent non-B.t. cotton in an attempt to forestall
this effect. Second, the active toxin secreted by these plants may harm
beneficial insects, moths and butterflies, in addition to those species
that growers wish to eliminate.7 But the damaging effects of B.t.-secreting
"Bollgard" cotton proved to be much more immediate, enough so that
Monsanto and its partners have pulled five million pounds of genetically
engineered cotton seed off the market and agreed to a multimillion dollar
settlement with farmers in the southern United States. Not only were
plants attacked by the cotton bollworm, which Monsanto claimed they would
be resistant to, but germination was spotty, yields were low, and plants
were misshapen, according to several published accounts.8
Despite these problems, Monsanto is advancing the use of genetic
engineering in agriculture by taking control of many of the largest, most
established seed companies in the United States. Monsanto now owns Holdens
Foundation Seeds, supplier of germplasm used on 25-35 per cent of US maize
acreage, and Asgrow Agronomics, which it describes as "the leading soybean
breeder, developer and distributor in the United States".9 This past
spring, Monsanto completed its acquisition of De Kalb Genetics, the second
largest seed company in the United States, as well as Delta and Pine Land,
the largest US cotton seed company. If this purchase is approved by
regulators,46 Monsanto will controls 85% of the US cotton seed market.10
Shapiro, The Image-Maker
Under CEO Robert Shapiro, Monsanto has pulled out all the stops to
transform its image from a purveyor of dangerous chemicals to an
enlightened, forward-looking institution crusading to feed the world.
Shapiro sits on the President's Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and
Negotiations and served a term as a member of the White House Domestic
Policy Review.11 He describes himself as a visionary and a Renaissance
Man, with a mission to use the company's resources to change the world.
We are to believe that Monsanto's aggressive promotion of biotechnology is
not a matter of mere corporate arrogance, but rather the realisation of a
simple fact of nature. And readers of the latest Annual Report can see how
even language can be co-opted. Roundup is not a herbicide, it is a tool to
minimise tillage and decrease soil erosion. Genetically engineered crops
are not just about profits for Monsanto, they are about solving the
inexorable problem of population growth. Biotechnology is not reducing
everything alive to the realm of commodities - items to be bought and
sold, marketed and patented - but it is in fact a harbinger of
'decommoditization': the replacement of single, mass produced, products,
with a vast array of specialised, made-to-order products. This is Newspeak
of the highest order. The Annual report also presents the analogy between
today's rapid growth in the number of identified DNA base pairs and the
exponential trend of miniaturisation in the electronics industry, a trend
first identified in the 1960s. Monsanto has dubbed the apparent
exponential growth of what it terms "biological knowledge" to be nothing
less than "Monsanto's Law". Like any other putative law of nature, one has
little choice but to see its predictions realised and, here, the
prediction is nothing less than the continued exponential growth of
Monsanto's global reach. But the growth of any technology is not merely a
"law of nature". Technologies are not social forces unto themselves, nor
merely neutral "tools" that can be used to satisfy any social end we
desire. Rather they are products of particular social institutions and
economic interests. Once a particular course of technological development
is set in motion, it can have much wider consequences than its creators
could have predicted: the more powerful the technology, the more profound
the consequences. For example, the so-called Green Revolution in
agriculture in the 1960s and seventies temporarily increased crop yields,
and also made farmers throughout the world increasingly dependent on
costly chemical inputs. This spurred widespread displacements of people
from the land, and in many countries has undermined the soil, groundwater
and social land base that sustained people for millennia.12
The "second Green Revolution" promised by Monsanto and other biotechnology
companies threatens even greater disruptions in traditional land tenure and
social relations. If we believe in democracy, it is imperative that we have
the right to choose which technologies are best for our communities, rather
than having unaccountable institutions like Monsanto decide for us. Rather
than technologies designed for the continued enrichment of a few, we can
ground our technology in the hope of a greater harmony between our human
communities and the natural world. Our health, our food and the future of
life on Earth truly lie in the balance.
Brian Tokar is the author of Earth for Sale (South End Press, 1997) and The
Green Alternative (Revised Edition: New Society Publishers, 1992). He
teaches at the Institute for Social Ecology and Goddard College, both in
Plainfield, Vermont, USA.
Notes and references
1. Andrew Christiansen, "Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone: Alarming Tests,
Unfounded Approval," Rural Vermont, July 1995; also B. Tokar, op. cit. 11,
2. A. Christiansen, ibid., pp. 10, 17; U.S. General Accounting Office,
"FDA's Review of Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone", August 6, 1992
3. Sonja Schmitz, "Cloning Profits: The Revolution in Agricultural
Biotechnology", University of Vermont, 1998, to be published.
4. Monsanto Company 1997 Annual Report, pp. 16, 37.
5. "Roundup Ready Soybean: A Critique of Monsanto's Risk Evaluation",
Greenpeace (Chicago, USA. 1997.
6. Hope Shand, "Bacillus Thuringiensis: Industry Frenzy and a Host of
Issues," Journal of Pesticide Reform, Vol. 9, No. 1, Spring 1989, pp.
18-21; Ricarda A. Steinbrecher, "From Green to Gene Revolution: The
Environmental Risks of Genetically Engineered Crops", The Ecologist, Vol.
26, No. 6, November/December 1996, pp. 273-281; Brian Tokar,
"Biotechnology vs. Biodiversity", Wild Earth, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 1996,
7. Union of Concerned Scientists, "EPA Requires Large Refuges," The Gene
Exchange, Summer 1998, p.1; Union of Concerned Scientists, "Transgenic
insect-resistant crops harm beneficial insects," The Gene Exchange, Summer
1998, p. 4; Union of Concerned Scientists, "Managing Resistance to Bt, "The
Gene Exchange, Vol. 6, No. 2/3, December 1995, pp. 4-7.
8. Union of Concerned Scientists, "Bt Cotton Fails to Control Bollworm,"
The Gene Exchange, Vol. 7, No. 1, December 1996, p. 1; Susan Benson, Mark
Arax and Rachel Burstein, "A Growing Concern", Mother Jones,
January/February 1997; Anne Reifenberg and Rhonda L. Rundle, "Buggy Cotton
May Cast Doubt On New Seeds," Wall Street Journal, July 23, 1996.
9. RAFI Communiqué, The Life Industry 1997: The Global Enterprises that
Dominate Commercial Agriculture, Food and Health, Rural Advancement
Foundation International, November/December 1997. The comment about Asgrow
was quoted by Brewster Kneen in The Ram's Horn, No. 160, June 1998, p. 2.
10. Edward Hammond, Pat Mooney and Hope Shand, "Monsanto Takes Terminator,"
Rural Advancement Foundation International, May 14, 1998.
11. Monsanto World Wide Web page:
12. See, for example, Vandana Shiva, The Violence of the Green Revolution:
Third World Agriculture, Ecology, and Politics, London: Zed Books, 1991.
The Genetics Forum
2nd floor, 94 White Lion Street, London N1 9PF, UK
t + 44 (0)171-837 9229 f + 44 (0)171-837 1141
The Genetics Forum is the UK's only public interest group exclusively
devoted to policy development, campaigns and publications on genetic
engineering from a social, environmental and ethical perspective. The
Genetics Forum publishes its magazine, SPLICE (ISSN 1362-1955),
six times a year . For details of this and other publications, please send
an A5 sae to the above address.
The article below on the land management implications of growing genetically
engineered crops appeared in the November 1998 Edition of 'European Alert',
published by the European Society of Chartered Surveyors (ESCS). European
Alert is distributed widely across Europe and within the European
Your Platform ....
Mark Griffiths FRICS, European Rural Policy Advisor to the RICS [Royal
Institution of Chartered Surveyors], gives food for thought
Food is fast turning into a nightmare for the European Union, and rightly
so. The last thing that Europe's farmers need is a new generation of
genetically engineered 'super crops' claimed to produce higher yields with
minimal husbandry, but which post-BSE European consumers will not buy
>From the farmer's perspective the case for growing genetically modified
(GM) crops rests largely on their ability to produce higher yields and
margins. However, after two or three years of practical cropping
experience in North America there is now evidence that some GM crops may
actually be producing lower yields and margins than their conventional
equivalents - certainly there is data to this effect in the case of soya,
oilseed rape and cotton.
Even if GM varieties in the EU perform better than those in the US (we
have yet to see), careful consideration needs to be given to the wider
implications of their use. Because of consumer food safety concerns
supermarkets may only wish to deal with GM-free farms. The consequential
possibility of lost markets for GM growers and litigation with neighbours,
landlords, banks, merchants and consumers is not something to be dismissed
This is because there are a number of special practical problems associated
with GM crops. First, in field and in store they look no different to
traditional crops. Secondly, some GM crops are capable of cross pollinating
over 2.5 kilometres, so GM cropping on one farm may end up affecting the
GM-free status of another. Thirdly, once GM crops have been grown on a
farm, inherited modified genetic sequences in crop volunteers and related
weed species are likely to persist on the farm even after the crop has been
harvested and sold. In effect, once GM crops are grown, GM-free status
could be lost on a permanent basis.
So what is the extent of the practical and financial consequences of
potential GM land contamination ? First, the reform of the Common
Agricultural Policy (CAP) will mean that farm gate prices will be much more
dependent on market demand for agricultural products. It will no longer be
easy to off-load products that the market does not want into intervention
Secondly, in the post Agenda 2000 scenario what the consumer wants and
does not want suddenly becomes of critical importance to the farming
industry. A MORI opinion poll in the UK, published in June 1998, revealed
that 61% of UK consumers do not want to eat GM foods.
EU farmers should not feel they are missing out. The performance of some GM
crops is collapsing so fast that US agronomists now advise farmers not to
grow more than 60% of their crops with GM built-in insecticide traits, for
example. The previous year the recommendation was 80%. Is this technology
sustainable, and who benefits from it?
The debate is far from over. However, until it can be proved that GM food
ingredients pose no threat to the health and safety of EU citizens can any
government afford to gamble with our futures?
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--
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