Background of the Issue
current trends continue, within a few years most of the foods
we eat could be genetically engineered. Transnational
corporations are spending vast sums of money to convince us
this food technology is safe, nutritious, and completely
tested. Many independent scientists, however, warn us that
current understanding of genetics is extremely limited. They
believe that this technology is flawed and carries inherent
News #38 Feb/March 2002
Market Pressure: Busting BGH and
By Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association
this 'Biotech Century' of out-of-control technology, public
relations spin, and indentured science and government, global
marketplace pressure campaigns have become a powerful tool for
consumers to demand safe and sustainably-produced food, to
call for Fair Trade and economic justice, and to drive
genetically engineered foods and crops off the market."
--Interview with John Stauber, author of Trust Us
We're Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles
with Your Future and publisher of PR Watch www.prwatch.org
"Monsanto should not have to
vouchsafe the safety of biotech food.
Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible.
safety is the FDA's job.''
Monsanto's Director of
Corporate Communications, New York Times 10/25/98
BIOTECH BOASTING: ARE FRANKENFOODS
CONQUERING THE WORLD?
In January, a biotech industry front group, International
the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA),
great fanfare, that global acreage of genetically engineered
crops had increased 19% in 2001. According to ISAAA, 5.5
farmers last year planted 130 million acres (52.6 million
GE crops, a 30-fold increase since 1996. For the year
2000, ISAAA had
reported a somewhat smaller 11% growth in GE acreage.
for Frankenfoods, including Monsanto and the American Farm
hailed ISAAA's most recent projections as "proof"
that the Biotech
Century was going forward, despite widespread opposition in
Asia, and increased rumblings of discontent among North
consumers and farmers.
Although most of the corporate media dutifully regurgitated
press release on the "progress" of agbiotech, a
closer more critical
look at the evidence reveals a somewhat different story.
all, ISAAA estimates on crop acreage are based on interviews
"true believers," farmers who are growing GE crops.
gets its funds from corporations such as Monsanto, Aventis,
Pioneer (Dupont). In addition, previous assertions made
by the group'
s spokesman, Clive James have subsequently been proven false.
example, James claimed that 1998 plantings of GE soybeans
a 12% yield increase, when in fact yields fell 6-12%.
Finally, even assuming ISAAA's estimates are correct,
News believes they are inflated); biotech industry trends
tell a different story. For example: global GE crop
acreage grew over
thirty-fold in 1996; 675% in 1997; 255% in 1998; and 143% in
comparison, puny 11%-18% growth rates in 2000 and 2001
sharp leveling off in demand for GE seeds worldwide, rather
increase--obviously a reaction to the growing global
against Frankenfoods. ISAAA boasts that 5.5 million
the world are now growing GE crops (another questionable
forgets to mention that there are 2.4 billion farmers and
villagers who are not growing GE crops.
Despite industry rhetoric, very few countries are willing to
public opposition and allow the commercial cultivation of GE
corn, cotton, or canola, the only four crops currently being
any significant scale. While farmers in 130 nations are
producing certified organic crops, a grand total of three
(the US-with 68% of the world's GE crops, Canada-6%, and
Argentina-22%) are still producing 96% of the world's
Several highly touted GE crops, the Flavr Savr tomato and
Bt potato, have already been taken off the market.
Moreover the US,
Canada, and Argentina are finding that that their major
customers such as Europe, Japan, and South Korea no longer
want to buy
GE crops, even for animal feed. In Europe, the largest
market in the world, grassroots market pressure has forced all
major supermarket chains and food companies to remove GE
from their consumer products. Meanwhile, on the
regulatory front, no
new GE crops have been approved for commercialization in the
Syngenta (formerly Novartis), the largest biotech company in
world, has removed all GE ingredients from its consumer food
Because of increasing marketplace pressure, 25% of all animal
the EU is already GE-free. In a recent poll 80% of
said they would avoid purchasing meat or dairy products from
fed GE feed. Even China, which was supposed to be the
for agbiotech, has been reluctant to embrace Frankencrops
Bt cotton), sensing that the real future for their
exports to Asia and the EU will be non-GE and organic crops.
Agbiotech industry propaganda about feeding the world through
increased productivity is no longer credible. As Amory
Lovins, founders of the Rocky Mountain Institute, point out:
"Genetically engineered crops were created not because
productive but because they're patentable. Their
economic value is
oriented not toward helping subsistence farmers to feed
toward feeding more livestock for the already overfed
63% of the world's GE crops are soybeans, used primarily for
feed. Corn, again mainly for animal feed, makes up 19%
of all GE
crops, while rapeseed, used for animal feed and cooking oil,
5%. Even cotton, which constitutes 13% of all GE crops,
for cattle, in the form of cottonseed and cotton gin trash.
A look at ISAAA's figures for 2001 and 2000 reveal that most
growth in global GE acreage in 2001 resulted from increased
cultivation of Monsanto's flagship GE product,
Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans, by farmers in Argentina (where
is selling RR seeds at bargain basement prices, trying to
and the US (where farmers have to grow more and more soybeans
to obtain government subsidies and to make up for record low
soybeans on the world market). One might ask why US
buying so many RR soybeans, since they cost more (US soy
complained about Monsanto selling RR beans at a much lower
Argentina) and since RR varieties actually produce a 6-12%
as documented by Dr. Charles Benbrook and others.
The answer to the riddle of why US farmers and their
Argentina are planting so many RR soybeans does not bode well
future of GE crops. In Argentina, Monsanto's seeds are
seeds available. If Monsanto sold RR seeds worldwide at
prices they would lose much of their profitability as a
Latin America, Monsanto and their allies (Cargill and Archer
Midland) are desperate to develop a major market for RR
since Argentina's next door neighbor, Brazil, now the largest
of soybeans in the world, has a ban on GE soybeans and has
the major US overseas soybean markets in the EU, Japan, and
where anti-GE sentiments are strong.
Government Subsidies--Why US Farmers Plant GE Crops
American farmers are planting millions of acres of RR soybeans
other GE crops, not because there is a market demand for them,
because they are receiving taxpayer subsidies from the US
Although gene-altered RR seeds and Roundup herbicide are
herbicide-resistant soybeans are more convenient and less
time-consuming to grow than traditional varieties-enabling
plant, weed, and harvest more and more acres in a limited
time. Instead of having to till weeds with their
tractors and spray
several different toxic pesticides, farmers need only spray
potent broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup, which kills
green-except for the GE soybean plants. Especially for
time-strapped farmers earning most of their money from
employment (US family farmers get about 90% of their net
jobs off the farm), this "efficiency" makes RR
Far more important is the fact that in the US, the more acres
plants in soybeans (or other subsidized crops like corn or
the more money the farmer gets from the government farm
program, which last year paid out $28 billion. Of this
$28 billion in
farm subsidies, at least $7-10 billion went to farmers growing
crops. Thus even though Cargill or ADM routinely rob
paying them less for a bushel of RR soybeans or Bt corn than
to grow them, farmers can count on recouping their losses with
subsidy payment from the USDA.
The fundamental flaw, from an economic standpoint, of US
ignoring global opposition to Frankenfoods and planting more
GE soybeans so as to collect more and more subsidy payments
government, is that there is already a huge global surplus of
soybeans, not to mention corn and cotton. This massive
quite profitable for the crop commodities giants like Cargill
cotton buyers, and the big factory farm cattle feedlots and
who can count on getting cheap grain and fiber from farmers
to sell at any price, but it's nothing less than a recipe for
for rural America. Billion dollar subsidies are the
driving force for
GE soybeans and corn, but they are also the major destructive
flooding the market and lowering the price for soybeans paid
farmers. This ever-declining price results in farmers
more soybeans or corn. The end result of this process
will likely be
the elimination of most small and medium sized farms in the US
depend upon subsidies (with the notable exception of organic
which are selling products which consumers want).
currently receive no US government subsidies whatsoever.
A major nightmare for the US grain and cotton farmers
growing GE crops) who are surviving on taxpayer subsidies is
government support may soon be declining. Bush
officials, hell-bent on subsidizing the military-industrial
the tune of $380 billion a year and cutting taxes for large
corporations and the wealthy, have recently warned
lobbyists that crop subsidies may decline over the next few
This could be bad news indeed for non-organic farmers, but
news for Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont, Bayer, and the other Gene
Without $7-10 billion a year in government crop subsidies paid
US farmers growing GE crops, we're likely to see a significant
decline, rather than an increase, in GE acreage next year.
BGH: MONSANTO AND THE DAIRY INDUSTRY'S DIRTY LITTLE SECRET
Seven years ago, Feb. 4, 1994, despite nationwide protests by
groups, Monsanto and the FDA forced onto the US market the
first GE animal drug, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH,
sometimes known as rBST). BGH is a powerful GE drug
Monsanto which, injected into dairy cows, forces them to
15%-25% more milk, in the process seriously damaging their
reproductive capacity. Despite warnings from scientists,
such as Dr.
Michael Hansen from the Consumers Union and Dr. Samuel Epstein
the Cancer Prevention Coalition, that milk from rBGH injected
contains substantially higher amounts of a potent cancer tumor
promoter called IGF-1, and despite evidence that rBGH milk
higher levels of pus, bacteria, and antibiotics, the FDA gave
hormone its seal of approval, with no real pre-market safety
required. Moreover, the FDA ruled, in a decision marred
conflict of interest (several key FDA decision makers,
Michael Taylor, previously worked for Monsanto), that rBGH-derived
products did not have to be labeled, despite polls showing
that 90% of
American consumers wanted labeling--mainly so they could avoid
rBGH-tainted products. Family farm advocates joined
demanding a ban on rBGH, predicting that the controversial
drive milk prices down, aggravate an already serious problem
overproduction, give factory-style dairies added production
(since these were the dairies expected to use the drug), and
the image of milk and dairy products.
All of the major criticisms leveled against rBGH have turned
out to be
true. Since 1994,
every industrialized country in the world, except for the US,
banned the drug. Even the Codex Alimentarius, the food
of the World Trade Organization, has refused to back up
claim that the drug is safe. In 1998, Canadian
revealed that Monsanto's own data on feeding rBGH to rats,
concealed by the company and the FDA, indicated possible
dangers to humans. Since rBGH was approved, approximately 40,000
small and medium-sized US dairy farmers, 1/3 of the total in
country, have gone out of business, concentrating milk
the hands of industrial-sized dairies, most of whom are
their cows with this cruel and dangerous drug.
In a 1998 survey by Family Farm Defenders, it was found that
rates for cows on factory dairy farms in Wisconsin, those
their herds with rBGH, were running at 40% per year. In
after two and a half years of rBGH injections most of these
and supercharged cows were dead. Typically, dairy
cows live for
15-20 years. Alarmed and revolted by rBGH, consumers
have turned in
droves to organic milk and dairy products or to brands labeled
rBGH-free. Nonetheless, use of the drug has continued to
the US (and in nations like Brazil and Mexico) especially in
dairy herds, so that currently 15% of America's 10 million
dairy cows are being injected with rBGH. Compounding the
rBGH contamination, most of the nation's 1500 dairy companies
allowing the co-mingling of rBGH and non-rBGH milk, thereby
contaminating 80-90% of the nation's milk and dairy supply
all of the major infant formula brands). For a list of
rBGH-free dairies in the US consult the Organic Consumers
The major reason that rBGH is still on the market is that it
labeled. Supermarket dairy managers, following
by the rBGH and biotech lobby, routinely lie to consumers,
them either that rBGH is not in their products, or that
there's no way
to tell, and reassuring them that the FDA has certified that
safe. Of course, every survey conducted since 1994 shows
consumers were given a choice, they would boycott rBGH-tainted
products. When Vermont passed a mandatory labeling law
rBGH-derived dairy products in 1994, the rBGH lobby (led by
Kraft/Phillip Morris and the International Dairy Foods
sued Vermont in federal court, forcing the state to rescind
When many US natural food stores, consumer coops, and dairies
advertising their products as rBGH-free, Monsanto's attorneys
thousands of letters to these businesses, threatening to sue
Eventually Monsanto did sue two dairies, one in Iowa and
Texas, but was forced to settle out of court.
Responding to the global controversy surrounding the drug,
put BGH for sale in 1998, but there were no takers.
firms working with the biotech industry have categorized
handling of the rBGH controversy as a "public relations
this public relations disaster has come back to haunt the
fastest-growing brand name in the global food and beverage
STARBUCKS: FEELING THE HEAT ON BGH, FRANKENFOODS, &
Since March 2000, volunteers from the Organic Consumers
have handed out over 250,000 "Consumer Warning"
leaflets to Starbucks
customers across the US and in at least five other nations
Starbucks operates (Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and
These leaflets call for Starbucks to remove rBGH and other GE
ingredients from their coffee beverages, bottled Frappuccino
ice cream, baked goods, and chocolates. The leaflets
also call for
Starbucks to start brewing Fair Trade and organic coffee as
"coffee of the day" at least one day a week, and to
longstanding pledge to certify (via Fair Trade monitor or
certifiers) that they are paying a living wage to coffee
plantation workers who supply them with over 100 million
coffee every year. Starbucks recently gave in to another
the OCA and allied groups, stating publicly that they will
GE coffee beans, now being field-tested in Hawaii and other
Starbucks is clearly rattled by the OCA market pressure
especially the criticism that 3/4 of the 32 million gallons of
buys every year in the US are coming from dairies that allow
be injected with rBGH. Once Starbucks' 15 million
that most of the latte or cappuccino drinks they're paying top
for (3/4 of the volume of these drinks are milk) contain an
of pus, antibiotics, and growth hormones and that Fair Trade
organic coffee constitute less than one percent of company
may decide to take their business elsewhere. Starbucks,
gourmet coffee company in the world, now owns 4,000 cafes
globe, including 20% of all the coffee shops in the US.
its rBGH-tainted Frappuccino drinks are distributed to
stores all over the US (and in Canada) by Pepsi, while Kraft/Phillip
Morris distributes Starbucks' ice cream and coffee beans to
supermarkets. Total annual sales for the company are
Besides swearing off GE coffee beans, Starbucks has responded
OCA's large and growing Frankenbucks pressure campaign by:
- Emphasizing that 1/4 of
their milk is now rBGH-free, and even using terms like "rBGH-tainted" in referring to their rBGH-derived
- Offering organic milk and
soymilk as an "option" in all of their US
cafes (but charging an outrageous 40 cents a cup for this
- Offering organic yogurt in
1000 of their US locations.
- Test-marketing organic baked
goods in Seattle and Portland.
- Promising to explore the
possibility of removing all "GMOs"
(genetically modified organisms) from their product line.
- Agreeing to sell Fair Trade
and organic coffee beans (in bulk form)
in all their cafes worldwide.
- Agreeing to brew Fair Trade
coffee as their "coffee of the day" at
least one day a month in all US cafes.
- Agreeing to buy at least one
million pounds of certified Fair Trade
coffee in 2001.
The OCA is happy to report that
grassroots pressure by our volunteer
network, as well as pressure applied by our allies such as
Exchange and several organizational members of the Genetically
Engineered Food Alert (Friends of the Earth, Pesticide Action
Center for Food Safety), have already forced Starbucks to move
least halfway in terms of meeting our demands. Now all
we've got to
do is to keep up the pressure on Starbucks until they meet all
demands. After Starbucks surrenders (just as the upscale
chain, Trader Joe's, surrendered on November 14 of last year,
all GMOs from their brand name products), then we can turn our
pressure campaigns on the other, even larger, food and
companies: the national and regional supermarket chains,
giants like Kraft, the coffee giants, and even the fast food
chains-just as our counterparts in Europe, Japan, South Korea,
Brazil and other nations have already done.
A victory in the OCA's Frankenbucks campaign will send an
message, not only to all of the 20,000 coffee shops across
America (many of whom are already starting to do the right
banishing rBGH and other GMOs from their menus and serving up
and Fair Trade products), but to the entire food, restaurant,
beverage industry: consumers are sick and tired of having rBGH
other untested and unlabeled Frankenfoods shoved down their
There's only one future for American agriculture: meeting the
ever-growing market demand for healthy organic food, produced
humane and sustainable manner by small and medium-sized
On February 23-March 2, the OCA is organizing protests and
events in front of Starbucks cafes in over 600 locations
These Global Days of Protest against Starbucks will coincide
annual stockholders meeting of the company, to be held in
Tuesday February 26. While hundreds of protestors gather
Starbucks stockholders meeting in Seattle, inside a group of
investors will likely be calling for a vote on a resolution
the company to label or remove rBGH and other GE ingredients
of Starbucks products.
MARKET PRESSURE: BUSTING BIOTECH
The worst nightmare of Monsanto and the biotech industry is
to materialize: a mass-based consumer and environmental
pressure campaign in the heartland of Frankenfoods-North
number of major US food companies are already responding to
pressure and starting to sweep Frankenfoods off their products
and their grocery shelves: Gerber (baby food), Heinz (baby
Frito-Lay (at least for their corn), Whole Foods, Wild Oats,
Joe's, and even McDonald's (at least for their French fries).
consumers must make sure that Starbucks is the next company to
Greenpeace, the Organic Consumers Association, the Genetically
Engineered Food Alert www.gefoodalert.org
and local activists all over
the US are now joining forces to drive GE foods and crops off
market. Our central strategy, following the example of
European campaigns, will be to raise the level of public
apply sustained pressure on strategic supermarkets and leading
corporations to remove GE ingredients from their product lines
replace these products with GMO-free and organic items.
At the same
time we're doing this in the US, our counterparts in Canada
(Greenpeace, Council of Canadians, Sierra Club, and National
Union) will continue targeting Loblaws (a nationwide
chain) and other companies. Meanwhile, our allies south
of the US
border are building up a farmer/consumer/environmental
stop the US and Canada from dumping GE corn and other products
Mexico and Latin America.
Frankencorn Fight: Cautionary Tales
By Ronnie Cummins,
diversity is essential to the future of our agricultural
systems. Jack Harlan, the famous botanist, has noted that
genetic diversity 'stands between us and catastrophic
starvation on a scale we cannot imagine."
--Press Release by Greenpeace Mexico 9/1/01
"We have to get away from the
romantic anachronism that developing countries should strive
for self-sufficiency in food."
-- John Block, former US Secretary of Agriculture, 1986
"For people who want to buy
corn, there really isn't much choice but to come to us."
-- Bob Kohlmeyer, Cargill Corporation, Des Moines
"We have a saying in our
company. Our competitors are our friends. Our customers are
-- James Randall, Archer Daniels Midland Corporation, quoted
in Fortune magazine 4/26/99
"Farmers don't like to hear that
we're essentially a ward of the government, that we're on a
-- Alan Libbra, Illinois farmer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Regardless of what the
biotechnology industry wants us to believe, agricultural
genetic engineering is an imprecise science. it relies on
methods that include the haphazard insertion of genetic
elements into a plant's genome. This in turn may result in the
disruption of complex gene interactions and may lead to
potentially catastrophic results."
-- Dr. Michael Hansen & Ellen Hickey, Global
Pesticide Campaigner, April 2000
On September 4, 2001 Mexican officials admitted that an
alarming number of genetically engineered (GE) corn plants
have been detected growing alongside traditional corn
varieties over a widespread area in the state of Oaxaca. For
millennia corn has been sacred to the Maya
and other native people of Mexico. Over centuries small
farmers have carefully bred and preserved thousands of
different traditional varieties of corn, called landraces,
which are specific to each geographical region, soil type, and
micro-climate of the country. Corn, or maize as it is called
traditionally, remains today the most important crop for a
quarter of the nation's 10 million indigenous and
small farmers. Corn tortillas play a major role in the diet of
Mexico' s 100 million people. Critics have warned that
GE corn should never be imported into Mexico, the most
important world center of biodiversity for corn, since the
gene pool of the nation's 20,000 corn varieties and plant
relatives, including the progenitor species of corn, called
teosinte, could be irreversibly damaged by "genetic
pollution" from the genetically engineered
(herbicide-resistant or Bt-spliced) maize being aggressively
marketed by Monsanto, Syngenta (formerly called Novartis), and
other agbiotech transnationals.
Under pressure to protect the nation's corn biodiversity,
Mexican authorities have proclaimed a moratorium on domestic
cultivation of GE corn. Meanwhile, they have ignored the
massive dumping of millions of tons of cheap (US
taxpayer-subsidized) GE corn by corporations such
Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Cargill. Agronomists and
environmentalists fear that Mexican farmers have now, perhaps
unknowingly, spread this imported Frankencorn into most of the
corn-growing regions of the country, by planting GE corn from
the US which was supposed to be sold for human food
consumption only. Since impoverished Mexican farmers are
looking for the cheapest corn seed possible to plant, they are
increasingly choosing to buy the imported GE-tainted corn from
the US, since it is considerably cheaper than
non-subsidized Mexican varieties.
CORN DUMPING: COLLATERAL DAMAGE
Compounding Mexico's genetic pollution problem is the fact
that major overseas buyers of corn (Europe, Japan, Korea) are
stubbornly refusing to buy gene-altered corn. Consequently
North American exporters are finding it necessary to dump
increasing amounts of GE-tainted maize on captive markets such
as Mexico, China, Egypt, Colombia, Malaysia, and Brazil.
Nineteen percent of the US corn, 14 million acres, is now
genetically engineered, although GE acreage is down 30% from
two years ago, mainly due to global resistance against
Corn dumping in Mexico has accelerated since the advent of the
1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Under the
relentless pressure of globalization, Mexico has been
transformed from being a major producer of corn (producing 98%
of its needs for example in 1994) to a major importer, ranking
third in the world (after Japan and Korea) in terms of imports
from the US and Canada. The reason for this is simple. Corn
costs essentially $3.40 a bushel for family-sized farmers in
the US and Canada to produce, and even more for a small farmer
in Mexico. Yet Cargill and ADM, due to their monopoly control
of the market, pay US farmers less than $2.00 a bushel, with
the US taxpayer picking up the remainder of the tab. This
enormous subsidy in turn gets reimbursed to farmers, although
large corporate farms get the lion's share of the US's annual
$20-30 billion in farm price support payments. Even with
enormous taxpayer subsidies, most years US farmers have
trouble even recuperating their costs of corn
production-leading to demands by family farmers for a breakup
of Cargill and ADM's grain monopoly. Only organic corn
farmers, operating outside ADM and Cargill's cartel, are
receiving a fair price for their harvest. And of course North
American organic corn growers are
increasingly alarmed over the fact that "genetic
pollution" or gene flow from GE corn fields are starting
to contaminate their valuable crops.
Longstanding Mexican government regulation of corn supply and
prices, support for small corn growers, and price subsidies
for corn tortillas for Mexican consumers have been eliminated,
all at the behest of Cargill, ADM, and ADM's powerful Mexican
partner, Gruma/Maseca. The end result of this globalization
process is that small and medium-sized farmers, both North and
South of the border, can't make a living, while ADM and
Cargill (and their preferred customers such as McDonald's,
Wal-Mart, Tyson, Smithfield) make a killing. Meanwhile,
consumers, who have been promised that Free Trade would result
lower prices, are paying more for food every year. Corn
tortillas, the main staple of the Mexican diet, have risen in
price 300% since NAFTA came into effect.
SOUTHERN CORN BLIGHT: A CAUTIONARY TALE
As botanists and plant breeders warn, contaminating Mexico's
irreplaceable corn landraces and germplasm pool could be
"catastrophic" for farmers and consumers. For
example in 1970, millions of acres of the US corn crop were
devastated by a Southern corn leaf blight which destroyed 15%
of the total US harvest (50% of all corn in some areas),
leading to over $1 billion in losses, not to mention
marketplace shortages. By going to the "germplasm"
bank of thousands of traditional varieties cultivated in
Mexico, and withdrawing several varieties which were resistant
to the Southern corn blight, plant breeders were able to use
conventional cross-breeding and come up with a single
blight-resistant hybrid variety which was planted in
1971-thereby saving billions of dollars in losses and
maintaining global food security.
Underlining the central importance of corn biodiversity and
preserving traditional varieties or landraces, researchers
have also found in recent years that a perennial variety of
corn's original parent, teosinte, found in Mexico, contains
genes that can protect plants from seven of the nine principle
viruses that infect corn crops in the US.
Of course if herbicide-resistant and Bt corn had already been
polluting Mexico's centers of corn biodiversity before 1970,
no one knows if the traditional variety resistant to Southern
corn blight would still have been around to save the day.
Likewise no one can predict the impact of Frankencorn
pollution on virus-resistant teosinte varieties and other corn
plant relatives. But one thing is certain, if globalization
continues to drive several million Mexican
farmers from the land, and forces traditional growers to shift
to growing non-corn export crops, most of the nation's
heirloom corn varieties or landraces will be lost forever,
since centralized seed banks (which typically store rather
than cultivate their thousands of different varieties) cannot
properly preserve landraces which are no
longer being cultivated in their native areas. Analysts
estimate that almost a million small farmers-primary breeders
and stewards of thousands of corn and other crop
landraces--already have been driven from their cornfields and
communal lands (ejidos) since Mexico
essentially turned over control of its agricultural sector to
Cargill, ADM, and other North American food giants.
Even US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists have
previously warned that genetically engineered crops should not
be grown where wild relatives exist (prohibiting for example
GE cotton from being grown in parts of southern Florida, where
wild relatives of
cotton exist), much less in biological centers of diversity
such as the maize-growing areas of Mexico. Of course this
concern over genetic pollution didn't prevent the EPA in
October 2001 from giving the green light to allow Bt corn to
continue to be grown for seven more years in
the US, ignoring environmental and public health concerns
voiced by scientists and consumer groups--knowing full well
that millions of tons of GE-tainted corn continue to be
exported by US corporations to centers of corn biodiversity
such as Mexico, Central America, South
America, and the Caribbean.
Genetic engineering of agricultural crops and corn dumping not
only pose a serious threat to Mexico (and Central America's)
corn biodiversity, but also pose a threat to continental peace
and stability as well. Since NAFTA went into effect, local and
regional markets for indigenous and small farmers in the
region have been undermined and destroyed. Farmers are finding
it increasingly difficult to sell their corn, beans, coffee,
or other crops. Rural poverty and hunger have increased,
forcing millions of campesinos to migrate to the US.
Mounting desperation has also spawned widespread, at times
violent, agrarian conflicts in Mexican states such as Chiapas,
Oaxaca, and Guerrero and threatens to reignite armed struggle
across Central America.
FRANKENCORN: ADDITIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS
The threat to thousands of traditional varieties of corn in
Mexico is just one of the environmental hazards of genetically
engineered corn. Other environmental dangers include:
thuringiensis)-spliced corn and crops pose a mortal
threat to organic and sustainable (low-chemical input)
agriculture, since they may soon destroy the effectiveness
of organic farmers' most important biopesticide. In its
non-GE, natural Bt spray form, Bacillus thuringiensis
is the most important pest control agent in organic
agriculture, with yearly sales in the US alone of $60
million. This non-GE spray form of Bt is applied
externally and evaporates within 2-7 days. Scientists
predict that the super-potent, long lasting toxin found in
Bt gene-spliced corn and other plants are likely to give
rise to Superpests such as corn ear-worms which will be
immune to the natural organic Bt sprays.
crops such as corn damage the soil food web, killing
beneficial soil microorganisms and reducing soil
fertility. Bt corn leaches its powerful genetically
engineered poison into the soil (a
toxin which differs considerably from the naturally
occurring Bt soil bacteria) and remains toxic up to eight
months, even after being plowed under the soil.
crops kill off natural predators and disrupt the balance
among insects, leading to pest infestations.
crops kill beneficial insects such as lacewings and
crops, due to increased insect mortality, reduce the food
supply for birds and other insect predators such as bats.
pollen (ingested along with other Bt-contaminated corn
tissue) kills monarch butterflies and related species,
such as the
endangered Karner Blue butterfly.
GE corn, sprayed with Monsanto's Roundup Ready weed
killer, kills all the foliage in and around cornfields,
depriving butterflies and related insects of important
food sources such as milkweed. Roundup or
glyphosate residues also remain in the soil and water,
killing soil microorganisms and marine life.
HUMAN HEALTH HAZARDS
Bt corn is designed to punch holes in the intestines of
certain insects and kill them. But what does it do to the gut,
immune system, and other vital organs of humans and animals? A
good question, especially since the biotech industry, EPA, and
other government officials have never bothered to look at this
public health issue, despite growing concerns expressed by a
broad cross-section of scientists and public interest consumer
groups. Everyone by now has heard about the StarLink corn
fiasco 18 months ago, when an illegal and likely allergenic
variety of Bt corn contaminated 10% of the US corn crop and
forced a billion dollar recall of 300 brand name products,
including Kraft Taco Bell shells. But what about the other
varieties of Bt corn, the stuff you're likely eating every
time you bite into a corn product which is not labeled
The Gene Giants claim that Bt corn is chemically
"substantially equivalent" to conventional corn, and
that eating it, therefore, will have exactly the same
physiological impact as consuming regular corn. Well-respected
experts such as Dr. Michael Hansen from the Consumers Union
point out that this is not true. The Bt endotoxin and proteins
expressed in every cell of genetically engineered corn are
different from what humans and animals have ever eaten before.
The haphazard insertion of a "genetic cassette"
(including promoters, vectors, and antibiotic resistance
marker genes) into the corn host genome is essentially random
since scientists don't know if or when the foreign gene will
be spliced into the plant's DNA, which of hundreds or even
thousands of proteins will be expressed or generated, or even
how many copies of the gene will be produced. Bt, the
naturally occurring soil bacteria, is not the same as Syngenta
or Monsanto's patented and gene-altered Bt forcefully injected
into GE corn. Although there's a lot we don't know yet about
the potential hazards of eating GE corn, in terms of toxins,
allergies, and impacts on the human gut and digestive system,
there are enough danger signs already to give us pause for
thought. Mounting evidence includes the following:
of Americans over the past year have reported allergic
reactions to the FDA after eating corn products likely
containing StarLink corn or other Bt varieties.
have pointed out that all Bt corn varieties produce
proteins closely related to the suspected allergen in
and other animals have been observed on a number of farms
in the Midwestern US refusing to eat genetically
engineered corn, while simultaneously munching
conventional corn, along with the entire cornstalk, right
down to the ground.
a well-funded and carefully-designed experiment carried
out by Dr. Arpad Pusztai in the UK in 1995-99, rats fed
lectin-spliced potatoes (Bt is a member of the lectin
family) suffered significant
damage to their gut, immune system, and other vital
organs. Pusztai later warned--after he was abruptly fired
and his lab was shut down--that all gene-spliced lectins,
including Bt crops, should be carefully investigated for
possible adverse human health impacts.
antibiotic resistant marker (ARM) genes, similar to those
contained in Bt corn, have been found in the guts of bees
which had consumed the pollen from GE plants.
Sophisticated studies in the Netherlands and Britain have
indicated that ARM genes can likely combine with bacteria
already present in the human throat, mouth, and gut. These
"armed genes" can then give rise to new
virulent, antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria,
exacerbating the already serious problem of antibiotic
resistant pathogens such as salmonella, now routinely
found in non-organic meat and other animal products. The
British Medical Association and the World Health
Organization have recommended that the use of
antibiotic-resistant genes in GE corn and other food crops
AND MICE: ANOTHER CAUTIONARY TALE
Concerned that industry and government have failed to carry
out proper scientific studies on the safety of GE corn and
other Frankenfoods, a young Dutch science student, Hinze
Hogendoorn, recently decided to take matters into his own
hands. Dr. Mae Wan-Ho, a British geneticist and world renowned
critic of biotechnology, reported the results of this simple,
yet remarkable animal-feeding experiment on her website www.i-sis.org
in December 2001. Here are excerpts from Dr. Ho's report:
"A Dutch farmer left two piles of maize in a barn
infested with mice, one pile GM (genetically modified), the
other non-GM. The GM pile was untouched, while the non-GM pile
was completely eaten up. Incredible! Young undergraduate Hinze
Hogendoorn, from University College, Utrecht devised his own
laboratory tests and confirmed the finding, and more. An
activist group (Jongeren Milieu Aktief) presented the report
Hinze has written to the Dutch parliament on December 11, 2001
and is featuring it on their new website (www.talk2000.nl).
Hinze couldn't find a single scientific report on animals
being tested for preference of GM versus non GM food on the
web when he began. On extending his search to effects of GM
foods on animals, he came across reports from companies
developing GM foods, all declaring there were no adverse
impacts. But he also came across independent researchers who
have reported harmful effects, including Dr. Arpad Pusztai,
who found GM potatoes damaged the kidney, thymus, spleen and
gut of young rats.
[Hinze] was stumped at first, because he would have needed to
go through a lot of bureaucracy to experiment on animals.
However, he managed to rescue 30 female six-week old mice bred
to feed snakes from a herpetology centre. [Hinze gave] them a
staple food along with the two foods [GM and non-GE corn and
soya] that were to be compared, so they could really show
their preference without being starved.
Large cages were used so the mice had plenty of room to move
around. At the beginning, all the mice were weighed before
they were put into the cage[s].The mice had not eaten for some
time, but amazingly, they [immediately] showed very definite
food preferences [preferring the non GM corn and soya]. For
the next [nine] week[s], Hinze continued to give the mice GM
and non GM maize or soya chunks. the mice consumed 61% non GM
and 39% GM food when given free choice.
For the next experiment, Hinze tested for the [health] effects
of GM food. Over the next 10 days, he kept track of the amount
of food that the two groups consumed each day, and weighed the
mice, halfway through and at the end of the experiments.
The group fed GM ate more, probably because they were slightly
heavier on average to begin with, but they gained less weight.
By the end, they actually lost weight. In contrast, the group
fed non GM ate less and gained more weight, continuing to gain
weight until the end of the experiment. The results were
That was not the only difference observed. There were marked
behavioral differences. The mice fed GM food "seemed less
active while in their cages."
The most striking difference was when the mice were weighed at
the end of the experiment. The mice fed GM food were
"more distressed" than the other mice. "Many
were running round and round the basket, scrabbling
desperately in the sawdust, and even frantically jumping up
the sides, something I'd never seen before." They were
clearly more nervous than the mice from the other cage.
"For me this was the most disconcerting evidence that GM
food is not quite normal."
Another "interesting result" is that one of the mice
in the GM cage was found dead at the end of the experiment.
Hinze concluded, "At the end of everything, I must admit
that the experiment has done nothing to soothe my qualms
concerning genetically enhanced food."
FRANKENCORN OR PESTICIDES: CHOOSE YOUR POISON
The hazards of genetically engineered corn, and other GE
foods, are frightening. But even if global resistance were
able to drive GE corn off the market tomorrow, we would still
be left with a highly toxic, chemical-intensive,
industrial-style system of corn production which is depleting
soil fertility, poisoning municipal water supplies, and
quickly turning indigenous people and family farmers into an
endangered species. Even without Frankencrops, we would still
be facing an out-of-control globalization process, which is
millions of farmers off the land and forcing desperate
peasants to chop down remaining forests--in the process
driving hundreds of thousands of landraces and traditional
varieties of plants, microorganisms, (and animals) into
Syngenta's conventional (non-GE) corn and pesticides are just
as scary as their Frankencorn. Syngenta profits by selling
corn farmers either gene-altered Bt corn or its conventional
(fertilizer and pesticide-intensive) hybrids, along with its
super toxic weed killer, Atrazine, a known carcinogen.
Unfortunately Atrazine not only kills weeds, but also ends up
as a dangerous residue in the meat and dairy products of
animals that have eaten Atrazine-sprayed corn. Atrazine, along
with its companion pesticides, have also polluted wells and
drinking water in 97% of the communities in the US Corn Belt.
What's more dangerous, eating Bt corn, consuming pesticide
residues in your Big Mac or non-organic dairy products, or
drinking the tap water that comes out of your faucet?
Similarly, Monsanto is in the business of selling toxic
pesticides and herbicides, whether it is to farmers growing GE
crops, farmers growing non-GE hybrid crops, Roundup-spraying
drug warriors in Colombia or California, or suburbanites
trying to get that perfectly green lawn. After 100 years of
poisoning the public with substances like PCBs and Agent
Orange, Monsanto tells us that their latest toxic chemicals
such as Roundup, or their latest seed varieties, such as
Roundup Ready corn are perfectly safe. Should we believe them?
Or what about Cargill? They're happy to sell their chemical
nitrate fertilizers (which also end up in most Americans'
drinking water) to farmers, whether they are planting GE
Frankencrops or just conventional industrial hybrids. Or ADM,
who are happy to sell you either GE corn or non-GE corn, as
long as they can drive the prices down which they pay to
farmers, and drive the prices up to their "enemy,"
The solution of course to all this is to buy and eat organic
food, and to buy from local and regional farmers and
companies, rather than the transnational corporations whenever
possible. Mexicans can protect their health and preserve their
biodiversity by boycotting gringo GE-tainted corn and buying
organic corn produced by Mexican farmers cultivating
traditional varieties. US consumers similarly can protect
their health, their drinking water, and their children by
buying organic and local. Fortunately this is what more and
more people are doing everyday, not only in the USA but across
the world. Farmers in 130 nations are now producing certified
organic food for a booming market of organic consumers, making
organic the fasting growing component of world agriculture.
Thirty million Americans are now buying organic food and the
numbers are rising every month. Since September 11, sales of
organic and natural food have increased 8%.
RAISE HELL NOT FRANKENCORN
Beyond voting with our consumer dollars and our knives and
forks for a sustainable and organic future, organic consumers
also need to organize ourselves into a potent political force.
As the labor populist Mother Jones told rural Americans 100
years ago: "It's time to raise less corn and raise more
hell." Instead of letting the politicians raise our
taxes in order to subsidize the profits of the Gene Giants and
corporate agribusiness, we should be raising hell in
Washington and in our state capitals to raise corporate taxes
to subsidize healthy food and a healthy environment. Instead
of subsidizing GE corn, pesticide-intensive corn, and
industrial-sized farms, our billions of dollars in farm
subsidies should be promoting organic agriculture, saving
family farms, and promoting Fair Trade, not Free Trade, among
... we are calling on grain exporters and the US government to
protect corn biodiversity and to honor the global treaty on
Biodiversity (the Biosasfety Protocol signed in Cartagena,
Colombia, Feb. 2000) by ending the dumping of taxpayer
subsidized GE corn in Mexico and other nations.
|General Reference Sites
| Organic Consumers Association
This site has thousands of articles posted (and a convenient Search
Engine to find them) which deal with GE food, Mad Cow, food irradiation, industrial agriculture, food safety, organic food, and globalization. You'll also find the latest information and Action Alerts on current OCA campaigns. An excellent site.
|The World News Network
GM Food – Genetic Modified Food
Background, references, and news
|Environmental News Network
|Norfolk Genetic Information Network (NGIN)
|Biotechnology Industry Organization
News, issues & policies, reports and other organizational information
|The Alliance for Better Foods
An alliance of food industry players who support the use of bio-engineered foods and oppose the labeling of GM products.
|Rural Advancement Foundation International
Based in Canada, this NGO is concerned with the loss of diversity and the impact of intellectual property tenets on agriculture. This site features news, annual reports, and publications
|Agricultural Biotechnology and the Poor
From the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), this site features full-text versions of papers delivered at a conference devoted to the deployment of GM technology as a solution for food security problems in the developing world.
|Genetically Modified Crops: The Ethical & Social Issues
The Council on Bio-ethics is a division of the Nuffield Foundation, a British charity organization. Features news, reports, and conclusions & recommendations.
From Feed Magazine, this introduction to GM foods is part of an April 2000 "DNA Issue" covering the biotechnology industry.
|Food for Our Future
Produced by the Food & Drink Federation, this U.K.-based site explains GM crops and foods, underscoring both benefits and concerns. Also features a glossary of GM food terms.
|U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Biotechnology
Features a FAQ section, research reports, laws & regulations, and links to relevant organizations
|Biotechnology in Agriculture
From the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, this site contains a brief overview of GM crops as well as news, analysis, and links.
|International Center for Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology
This group is devoted to promoting the safe deployment of biotechnology, particularly in the developing world. Site contains organizational information, session transcripts, research reports and links to relevant organizations.
|Organization for Economic Development: Biotechnology & Food Safety
The OECD recently organized a major international conference on the food safety aspects of biotechnology and genetically modified organisms.
|Genetically Engineered Food: Are You Part of the Experiment?
From the Friends of the Earth Real Food Campaign, this U.K. site contains news, campaign & organizational information, and GM food briefings.
|Keep Nature Natural
Created by Center for Food Safety, Citizens for Health, and Sustain, this site contains information about federally mandated labeling and safety standards for genetically modified foods.
|Genetically Modified Foods
Northern Light – Special Edition
|Biotechnology in Food Safety: Protecting Consumers
|GM Food Quiz
From Environmental News Network, test your knowledge of genetically modified foods.
|Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?
From Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, this research report was released April 2000.