Monsanto saw secret EU documents, US biotech firm under fire in Europe
Hundreds of American farmers face legal action over genetic copyright
By Gregory Palast and Terry Slavin Sunday February 21, 1999
Monsanto, the US biotech group fined in an English court last week for
failing to control genetic modification trials, is under attack on two new
fronts. First for obtaining an advance look at confidential European
Commission documents during its campaign to win regulatory approval for its
controversial bovine growth hormone (BST). Second, because of its legal
actions against hundreds of North American farmers for failing to pay for
its genetically modified seeds.
Company faxes and Canadian government files obtained this week by The
Observer reveal that Monsanto received copies of the position papers of the
EC Director General for Agriculture and Fisheries prior to a February 1998
meeting that approved milk from cows treated with BST.
Notes jotted down by a Canadian government researcher during a November
1997 phone call from Monsanto's regulatory chief indicate that the company
'received the [documents] package from Dr Nick Weber', a researcher with
the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). He was given them as a member of
the Joint Expert Committee on Food and Drug Additives (JECFA), part of the
World Health Organisation, which reviewed the Monsanto drug for Codex, the
agency that approves products as safe for international trade.
Sources noted that Weber's supervisor at the US FDA is Dr Margaret Mitchell
who, before joining the agency, directed a Monsanto laboratory working on
the hormone. Monsanto also obtained an advance look at the submission to
JECFA by British pharmaceuticals researcher John Verrall. Verrall, a member
of the UK Food Ethics Council, told The Observer that slipping papers to
Monsanto was 'totally wrong'.
BST boosts milk output in cows but, say critics, may increase the
likelihood of human cancers for those who drink milk. Advance knowledge of
objections to the hormone seems likely to have helped Monsanto to prepare
arguments in advance of the EU meeting.
In September at a meeting of a Codex panel in Washington, the UK's
opposition to immediate acceptance of the Monsanto hormone resulted in a
tie vote on the drug among 24 nations. The US representative, citing the
JECFA report, claimed a 'chairman's privilege' to treat the vote as
approval. The Observer has also learned that Monsanto received documents
from the files of a Canadian senator involved in investigating
controversies surrounding BST.
Senator Mira Spivak stated that documents used in preparing hearings on BST
were faxed from an office in the Canadian senate. Last month, Canada
permanently banned BST after hearing testimony from researchscientists in
its health ministry, who challenged the hormone's safety. Monsanto, whose
GM seeds will account for between 50 and 60 per cent of the US soya bean
harvest this year, is prosecuting or has already settled 525 cases ofwhat
it calls seed piracy - farmers who fail to pay licence fees to plant
Monsanto's Ready Roundup seeds.
Settlements have amounted to tens of thousands of dollars. Monsanto has set
up freephone tip lines across the US and Canada, encouraging neighbours to
anonymously blow the whistle on neighbours, and has hired private
investigators to follow up more than 1,800 of these leads.
The technology use agreement that farmers must sign when buying Monsanto
seed not only forbids them to save seed for replanting, it also gives
Monsanto the right to come onto their land and take plant samples for three
Hope Shand, research director for Rural Advancement Foundation
International, said: 'Wherever in the world Monsanto is selling this I'd
assume they will adopt the same draconian tactics.' In one case in western
Canada, Monsanto is prosecuting a farmer who maintains he did not plant any
genetically modified canola, but his crop was contaminated by GM seeds or
pollen blown onto his field from nearby farms - the cross-pollination issue
that so worries English Nature.
Thanks to MichaelP <firstname.lastname@example.org> for posting this:
SUNDAY INDEPENDENT February 21, 1999
GM foods - Revealed: false data
By Marie Woolf
Monsanto, the genetic engineering company, included false information about
a genetically engineered crop it wants to sell in a safety assessment
submitted to government advisers.
The gene giant was forced to carry out its research again after it emerged
last month that crucial information about the gene it proposed to put in a
new strain of maize was incorrect.
Monsanto was labelled "incompetent" by scientists from the Government's
influential Advisory Committee on Releases into the Environment (Acre). The
committee accused Monsanto of submitting sloppy research, "poor
interpretation" and work far below required standards.
The agro-chemical company misdefined the gene it planned to insert into the
maize which was genetically engineered to be resistant to Monsanto's
Roundup herbicide. Minutes of Acre's meeting last month show that members
were furious that Monsanto had asked them to approve a marketing
application based on inaccurate information. Sources close to the meeting
say Monsanto was called "incompetent" and that the standard of its work was
Acre told Monsanto to do its research again after Monsanto scientists -
asked for clarification about their research - realised that their
"molecular data . did not support the conclusions".
The minutes of the meeting, on 13 January 1999, deliver a sharp rebuke to
Monsanto, saying that ". the molecular data submitted by the applicant did
not support the conclusions regarding genomic organisation of the
The Monsanto application was last month approved by the UK after the
company spent several months redoing its research and scientists concluded
that the GM maize would not harm human or animal health. It will now be
submitted to other European countries for assessment.
But the decision to grant approval has proved controversial with other
scientists who say that it casts doubt on other work carried out by
"It's very worrying. This means that somebody somewhere in Monsanto is
getting it wrong," said Janey White, a molecular biologist.
The mistake also has international implications because Monsanto's maize is
already grown in America and will soon be sold around the world.
Monsanto has had to tell regulatory authorities in Japan and Europe, now
considering an application to sell the GM maize, that its data is
incorrect. The same GM maize is exported widely from America and is
believed to be used in food sold in Britain. "It is our policy to advise
all the relevant authorities of any new information," said Alistair
Clemence, regulatory affairs manager for maize in Europe. "We haven't
totally messed up, but there was a certain part of the gene sequence we
hadn't defined properly."
Licences to sell and plant GM crops in Britain are based on work done by
the agrochemical companies themselves and not on independent tests carried
out by the Government.
From: genetics <email@example.com>
Four articles from The Observer (UK)
Feb 21, 1999
1) The man with the worst job in Britain
The Government is in turmoil on genetic engineering, but PR Dan from
Monsanto is still sure of his facts
By Sarah Ryle The Observer (UK) Sunday February 21, 1999
The man from Monsanto is the picture of all-American preppiness. He has
charm, a good salary...and probably the worst job in the world. Is Dan
Verakis worried? Ready to take a bottle of pills? Haggard from lack of
sleep? Well, no.
After two weeks of 'Frankenstein Foods', the 'Prime Monster' and dodging
activists outside a Lincolnshire court, Verakis contemplates the furore
about GM food and Monsanto over a glass of wine in a Piccadilly bistro. He
says he is happy to leave the office 'early' at 7.30pm to 'separate myth
>from scientific fact' before returning to complete a speech for a
conference in Amsterdam tomorrow.
'If I see one more picture of a doctored fish-tomaytoe...' The thought
His communications degree from a 'tiny college in West Virginia' (he won't
names) was not taken so long ago, and he has represented the
internationally renowned Carnegie Institute - but nothing can have prepared
him for such relentless attention.
'Where else in the world are there 10 daily national newspapers all
competing for stories?' His pile of press cuttings from last week alone is,
he estimates, about six inches high.
There are the 'mutant food will kill you' shockers, the role of Lord
Sainsbury ('He has never been to a Monsanto facility') and the reports on
Dr Arpad Pusztai that triggered a fortnight (so far) of fevered coverage.
'In America, if a journalist calls you to ask about safety it would be
enough for me to explain that the FDA and other strict regulatory
authorities like Canada's, as well as some of the finest scientific brains
in the world, say our products are safe. It would be like ''OK, no story''.
In the UK, they say: ''OK, but we'd like you to say that on the
television.'' So I've given them a story just by appearing.'
He speaks ruefully of British company Zeneca's relative reticence on its GM
activity: 'We've been left to take all of the heat'. He would hate to
sound like a whinger, he says, but some frustration shows. 'It's so easy to
boast about working for Monsanto in the US because it is one of our oldest,
most respected companies.' In this country people are less impressed.
'Everybody over here hates us.' Did he expect to fly into such a storm
when he arrived in London last June? '
On my first day here we had to deal with a protest. I repeated the science
over the telephone so often that my secretary said I should record the
first 30 minutes.' But still the British fail to follow America's lead. 'I
understand why it is so controversial here. It is complicated science which
is frightening if you don't understand it, but it is applied to an industry
which many people are interested in.
'Add in BSE, which reduced confidence. Add in activists who doctor pictures
andask for £10 to help them fight us. Then dump it all into a competitive
press.' BSE, he thinks, is the main reason why the British have failed to
buy Monsanto's extensive, comprehensive advertising campaign. He 'cringed'
when politicians said they fed their children GM food, because 'it
gave everybody an opportunity to run that picture of Gummer and his
daughter eating a burger'.
Challenge him on Monsanto's approach and he has ready answers. On
Monsanto's alleged pulping of a magazine: 'I did not know the issue was
about Monsanto, we thought it was general biotech. Their own printers were
advised by their lawyers not to distribute'; Monsanto's dominance: 'We use
only three proteins';
Monsanto's ubiquity: 'Our field trials in the UK add up to two football
pitches'; Monsanto's disregard for the environment: 'Farmers in Alabama
have reduced their use of pesticide by 80 per cent'; Monsanto's disregard
for regulation: 'Field trials only go ahead once the regulators say the
crop is safe'. His personal hate is the one about fish genes. So why
bother with this tiny island at all? 'This is a global issue. I wish people
would look beyond these shores and listen to the scientific and regulatory
So Verakis gathers himself up and returns to his office and to his speech:
'Scientific fact versus myth: the need for a proper discussion'.
2) All Monsanto's men?
By Nick Cohen Sunday February 21, 1999 The Observer (UK)
By Thursday Ministers' defence of genetically modified food had become so
mortifyingly inadequate even their many enemies couldn't watch without
muscle spasms crippling their buttocks. Workers at Friends of the Earth
squirmed with delight until all their phones went dead and stayed dead.
Ian Willmore, the press spokesman, was inconsolable. He was supposed to be
experiencing the most thrilling moment in the organisation's history. The
dopey British had finally woken up to the implications of genetically
modified food, the alarming nature of which had already caused riots from
India to France. Dozens of journalists were ringing his number, but none
could hear his denunciations.
A colleague called BT from a pay phone. 'There's a fault at the exchange
and all the businesses in your street have been cut off for the day,' she
was told. That night Willmore watched All the President's Men and heard
Deep Throat warn reporters investigating the Nixon White House to assume
their phones were bugged. He wondered if there was a link between the
Government's embarrassment and the silent lines. He pulled himself together
with a start. Conspiracy theories are silly.
The next day Willmore popped his head round the doors of neighbouring
offices. 'Were your phones out yesterday?'
'No,' they all replied.
As the Earth's friends were disconnected from the planet they are meant to
serve, a Greenpeace direct action team was trundling north. Its mission was
to launch dinghies into the Liverpool docks and occupy cranes booked to
empty American cargo ships carrying genetically-modified soya and gluten.
Before the protestors could reach the Mersey, 30 officers stopped them on
the M56 and impounded their boats.
As they sat in a Cheshire service station, one activist wondered if the
police and security services had diverted scarce surveillance resources
from drug dealers and murderers to come to the aid of pariah
multi-nationals. His scaremongering was quickly dismissed as nonsense. The
forces of law and order have no time to act as the private army of foreign
corporations. Their near collapse has forced the Home Secretary to tear up
the presumption of innocence and trial by jury - democratic rights his
notoriously lax predecessors tolerated for centuries - because the poor
dear cannot cope with evil-doers the like of which have never been
A Merseyside Police spokesman then said unidentified 'sources' had been
spying on environmentalists. 'High levels of movement' were noted on
Wednesday and a 'joint operation' was launched. Liverpool criminals enjoyed
a risk-free day as police helicopters and manpower descended on the docks
and mobile units were sent to the motorways to intercept and stop a
peaceful protest before it could begin.
In Canada, environmentalists are wondering what has happened to an
investigation into allegations from vets working for the Canadian health
department - Health Canada. The Canadian authorities, along with the
European Union, have banned rBGH (also known as BST), a hormone that forces
cows to produce more milk, because of the suffering it brought to the
animals and a suspicion that it may cause human cancers. Dr Margaret Haydon
told the CanadianSenate that she and her superior in the Human Safety
Division, one Dr Drennan, had met representatives of Monsanto, the
hormone's manufacturers. 'An offer of one to two million dollars was made,'
she said in October last year.
The Senate then heard an interview Dr Drennan had given to local
journalists. 'Was money offered?' they asked.
'Did you consider that to be a bribe?'
'I would say so.'
Dr Drennan 'laughed off' the offer and asked the Canadian government to
investigate. The inquiry has not reported its findings … many believe there
was no inquiry. Ray Mowling, Monsanto's Canadian rep, admitted funding the
impoverished ministry's research, but denied attempting to bribe civil
Only paranoiacs could doubt him. In any case, it is the influence-peddling
which is perfectly legal that is most telling: the subsidising of
regulators and academics by business; and the recruitment of Jack
Cunningham's special adviser, one of New Labour's spin doctors and former
members of Clinton's administration as lobbyists for Monsanto.
The revolving door is now spinning in Brussels. David Earnshaw, the adviser
to Ken Collins, chair of the European Parliament's Environment Committee,
has resigned to take a post with the genetically modified food industry. A
weak European Commission must soon decide whether to allow GM crops to be
grown in the EU. It is terrified of legal action by the Americans who have
established a global order based on what can be described as free trade
When the government of New Zealand issued proposals to label and test GM
foods, which wouldn't have raised an eyebrow 10 years ago, the United
States threatened sanctions.
All last week pundits and politicians complained about mob hysteria and
opined that GM foods offered great benefits. But crops modified to tolerate
herbicides are designed to be soaked with poisons; plants restructured to
repel insects destroy the food chain; and seeds fitted with 'terminator
genes' turn farmers into a captive market for the bio-tech industry by
sterilising seeds so they cannot be collected after a harvest and replanted.
Deciding to ban all of the above does not require the use of sophisticated
scientific knowledge; it is a political judgment. Yet any government which
tries to regulate GM foods runs the risk of being punished by the World
Trade Organisation for restricting free trade. Not that our own Government
is bold enough to stand up to the Americans or anyone else.
Yesterday Tony Blair, shaken by the spectacle of the many stickingtheir
noses into the business of the few, denounced his critics as 'hypocrites',
and Friends of the Earth and other pressure groups as 'tyrants'. 'There is
no scientific evidence' to justify a ban,' he said, and anyone who
contradicted him was - what else? - 'scaremongering'.
[End part 1]
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