A very good item for those of you who will be countering the GMO
industry's $50 million flackwagon in upcoming months and years. Also
a rallying call to Land Grant universities, and their colleges of ag
and Extension in particular, to fulfill their federally designation
mission--service to citizens, not to corporations or the plutocracy.
Genetic Engineering in Minnesota - Public Impacts and Issues of Concern
Biotechnology and Genomics Extension Conference, April 4, 2000
Presented by James A. Riddle, Organic Inspector and Policy Specialist
Thanks for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Jim Riddle. I am an
organic grower from Winona, MN. I have been an organic inspector for 14
years, and was founding president of the Independent Organic Inspectors
Association. I have trained hundreds of organic inspectors worldwide. I am
co-author of several organic texts, including the Organic Trade Association's
American Organic Standards. I have been a member of the U.S. delegation to
the Codex Commission on Food Labeling for 4 years. I serve on the Minnesota
Department of Agriculture's Organic Advisory Task Force, and on the Governor's
Citizen Nominating Committee for Agricultural Boards. I have a degree in
Biology from Grinnell College.
I am here today to discuss some of the impacts of genetically engineered
crops on Minnesota farmers and consumers, and to enumerate some of the
environmental, economic, and societal concerns associated with some of the
GE crops that have been released.
Science is now showing us that GE crops have unanticipated ecological
· Research at Cornell and Iowa State Universities has confirmed that Bt corn
pollen kills Monarch butterflies and other lepidoptera. This impact on
non-target species was not predicted prior to the release of Bt corn.
· Research in Europe shows that GE crops damage beneficial insects,
including lacewings and ladybugs. Beneficial insects that prey on aphids
which have consumed Bt toxins have lower survival and reproduction rates
than those which feed on healthy aphids. This impact was not researched or
anticipated prior to release.
· Toxins from genetically engineered Bt crops accumulate in the soil,
killing organisms and altering soil ecology, according to research at New
York University. (Abstract from Nature mag. is on back page of handout.) The
GE Bt toxin was found to exude from the roots of living Bt corn plants.
After 234 days, the toxin had not degraded. The research abstract concludes
"there may be a risk that non-target insects and organisms in higher trophic
levels could be affected by the toxin." This is a huge, and previously
· Genetically engineered Bt toxin is significantly different from the
topically applied Bt sprays which have been used by organic growers for 50
years. Topical Bt must be digested by an insect and react with enzymes and
digestive acids in order to be toxic. Left on plants, it degrades under UV
light in a matter of days. GE Bt is an active toxin found in every cell of
the altered plant. It is not dependent on digestive enzymes and acids to
become actively toxic, and it does not degrade in UV light.
· As confirmed by the EPA's recently published restrictions on Bt corn, it
is inevitable that insecticidal GE crops will result in pesticide resistant
pests, because the GE toxins are present in every cell of every plant at all
times. Any biologist or entomologist knows that this is a recipe for
resistance. As insects develop resistance, organic growers will likely lose
access to a previously effective, selective, least-toxic, and natural
· Concerning Roundup Ready crops, research in Canada shows that herbicide
resistant canola cross-pollinates with wild and domestic relatives, creating
"superweeds" which are resistant to herbicides.
· And despite what the biotech industry would like us to believe, farmers
are spending more on pesticides than ever before.
GE crops are bad for the U.S. economy:
· US corn exports to Europe dropped by 96% in 1999 because we cannot provide
· US soybean sales to Europe dropped from $2.1 billion in 1996 to $1.1
billion in 1999.
· Genetic engineering is part of a failed farm policy which is driving
farmers off the land. The USDA predicts corn prices below $2/bu through at
least 2001 and soybean prices below $5/bu through 2004.
· Major buyers in Europe, Japan, Canada, and Mexico don't want GMO crops.
· Domestic buyers, including Frito-Lay, Gerber, Heinz, Seagrams, Whole
Foods, Wild Oats, North America's largest potato processor, and the entire
sugar industry want non-GE crops.
GE crops are having a negative impact on family farmers:
· GE seeds cost more, yet may yield less. 40 research plots in 1999 showed
that Roundup Ready soybeans yielded 4% less than non-GE varieties.
· The November 1, 1999, issue of Chemical and Engineering News reported that
DuPont and Monsanto together own 73% of the seed corn companies in the U.S.
Novartis, Dow, and Cargill own most of the rest. In the face of this
concentration, farmers have few planting choices, and most of the best
genetics are bundled with GE traits.
· For corn farmers, the share of a farmer's gross income spent on seed and
chemicals has risen from 9.5% in 1975 to 16.9% in 1997. For soybean farmers,
the share spent on seed and chemicals has risen from 10.8% to 16.3%.
· Over 30 patents have already been issued for Terminator and Traitor
technology, which is designed to make farmers chemically dependent and
prevent them from saving their own seeds. This is the most transparently
greedy and ecologically dangerous technology of all.
· Farmers who plant GE crops must sign licensing agreements allowing biotech
companies unlimited access to their farms. The farmers don't buy the seed -
they only lease the right to grow it.
· Farmers who save their own seeds are subject to investigation, harassment,
and litigation by biotech companies. This is well documented.
· Farmers whose crops have been subjected to genetic drift have even been
investigated and accused of saving GE seeds without having signed licensing
· Farmers are being exposed to unprecedented economic and environmental
risks, with no protection from biotech companies. Farmers who plant GE crops
may be liable for contamination of neighboring non-GE and organic crops due
to genetic drift.
· Genetic pollution is another unanticipated consequence of GE technology,
especially for wind and insect pollinated crops such as corn, canola,
potatoes, and squash. Genetic drift is a huge issue for organic growers,
since genetic engineering is prohibited by all organic standards in the
world, and consumers expect organic foods to be free of GE ingredients.
· The development of GE-free labels is not the answer. Segregation and
certification of non-GE crops is difficult and expensive. It places the
burden on farmers and consumers who want to avoid genetic engineering,
rather than on the corporations who profit from the technology. On the other
hand, a moratorium presents a huge economic opportunity for Minnesota
farmers and processors.
Genetically engineered foods are being rejected by consumers:
· The British and Portuguese Medical Associations are calling for a global
moratorium on the planting of GE crops.
· Research in Great Britain has shown that rats developed tumors when fed GE
· Research also shows that incidences of soy food allergies have increased
corresponding with the sale of Roundup Ready soybeans.
· GE crops contain antibiotic resistance marker genes, bacteria genes, and
virus genes. None of these have ever before been part of the ecosystem or
the human diet.
· Germany has banned all planting, growing, and selling of GE corn produced
by Novartis, based on research published in Freiburg, Germany, that showed
the GE corn can cancel out the effect of antibiotic treatments for illnesses
because the corn has been modified to resist certain antibiotics.
· GE crops have been rushed to market without proper testing, and with no
labeling. The regulatory process has been shrouded in secrecy and conflict
of interest. Under orders from Vice President Dan Quayle, the Food and Drug
Administration ruled in 1992 that GE crops are "substantially equivalent" to
regular crops and foods, and do not have to be safety tested or labeled,
even though they contain unique, altered genes, and can be patented.
· The FDA's own researchers found that genetic engineering could have
unpredictable consequences, and urged caution, yet their objections were
overruled. To this day, there is still no sound science which proves GE
crops are safe for the environment or human health.
· A January 1999 Time magazine poll revealed that 81% of respondents want
genetically engineered foods to be labeled. A January 2000 MSNBC poll showed
· The Mexican Senate just unanimously passed mandatory labeling legislation.
· The European Union, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan already require
genetically engineered foods to be labeled, a right recently confirmed by
the United Nations BioSafety Protocol agreement.
Genetic engineering raises a host of unanswered questions:
· What are the long term impacts of increased Bt toxins on soil ecology?
· How can genetically engineered toxins be removed from the environment once
they have been introduced?
· What are the impacts of one spliced gene on a target organism's genone?
What are the impacts on the ecosystem into which the transgenic organism is
· What are the impacts on livestock which consume GE proteins?
· Why do cows, when given the choice between GE corn fodder and non-GE
fodder, consistently choose the non-GE feed?
· Why do farmers complain about burning lungs after breathing Bt corn dust?
· Could there be a relationship between GE crops and frog mutations?
· Organic farming, which takes care of the earth, is the fastest growing
sector of agriculture, with tremendous domestic and international consumer
demand. How much money does the U of M spend on organic agriculture research
in comparison to the budget for GE research? Is the budget for the Minnesota
Institute for Sustainable Agriculture being cut, or increased?
· How much information do Extension Educators provide on organic production
practices? I assume there will be more all the time.
· Is there a "revolving door" between the biotech industry and the
· Are U of M researchers encouraged to conduct "public interest" research,
or are they funded to conduct "corporate interest" research?
· Is research suppressed if the findings contradict the claims and agendas
of biotech companies?
· Are any U of M researchers profiting from Terminator and Traitor
· What is the University's liability exposure in supporting and promoting
· Just because something can be done, does that mean it should be done? We
can kill bugs with DDT, but that doesn't mean it's smart.
· Shouldn't sound science be used to establish a product's safety before it
is released into the environment and placed in the food chain?
The University of Minnesota, and U of M Extension Educators, are at a
critical juncture. Will the University fulfill its mission by conducting
research and disseminating information to build an agriculture system which
protects the environment, keeps farmers on the land, and meets consumer
expectations? Or will the University system be manipulated for corporate
profit and personal greed, with research agendas used to rationalize the
further concentration of our food and agriculture system?
Home office: 415-504-6474 (504-MISH)
Home office fax: Same as above, phone first for enabling
This is my corn. You people are guests in my corn.
--Ray Kinsella (in /Field of Dreams/)
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