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[cg] readings on genetic engineering

For Sunday and all,
Here's one of the best over -views on what is happening out there in the
geneticaly engineered  destruction of our food crops.

Please read on and educate yourselves. This is from the best environmental
site I know of , Rachel's Environmental Weekly, named after Rachel Carson,
author of Silent Spring, the book that first sounded the warning bell on DDT
and other hazards to our environment. See my past entirs to our list serve
for other web addresses for further readings

Laura Berman
FoodShare Toronto

A new book by Marc Lappe and Britt Bailey, AGAINST THE GRAIN, makes it clear
that genetic engineering is revolutionizing U.S. agriculture almost
In 1997, 15% of the U.S. soybean crop was grown from genetically engineered
seed. By next year, if Monsanto Corporation's timetable unfolds on schedule,
100% of the U.S. soybean crop (60 million acres) will be genetically
engineered.[1,pg.5] The same revolution is occurring, at the same pace, in
cotton. Corn, potatoes, tomatoes and other food crops are lagging slightly
behind but, compared to traditional rates of change in farming, they are
being deployed into the global ecosystem at blinding speed.
The mass media have largely maintained silence about the genetic engineering
revolution in agriculture, and government regulators have imposed no
labeling requirements, so the public has little or no knowledge that
genetically altered foods are already being sold in grocery stores
everywhere, and that soon few traditional forms of food may remain on the
Genetic engineering is the process whereby genes of one species are
implanted in another species, to give new traits to the recipient.
Traditionally the movement of genes has only been possible between
closely-related species. Under the natural order established by the Creator,
there was no way dog genes could get into cats. Now, however, genetic
engineering allows scientists to play God, removing genes from a trout or a
mosquito and implanting them in a tomato, for better or for worse.
Three federal agencies regulate genetically-engineered crops and foods --
the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The heads of all three agencies are on record with speeches that make them
sound remarkably like cheerleaders for genetic engineering, rather than
impartial judges of a novel and powerful new technology, and all three
agencies have set policies that:
** No public records need be kept of which farms are using
genetically-engineered seeds;
** Companies that buy from farmers and sell to food manufacturers and
grocery chains do not need to keep genetically-engineered crops separate
from traditional crops, so purchasers have no way to avoid purchasing
genetically engineered foods;
** No one needs to label any crops, or any food products, with information
about their genetically engineered origins, so consumers have no way to
exercise informed choice in the grocery store. In the U.S., every food
carries a label listing its important ingredients, with the remarkable
exception of genetically engineered foods.
These policies have two main effects:
(1) they have kept the public in the dark about the rapid spread of
genetically engineered foods onto the family dinner table, and
(2) they will prevent epidemiologists from being able to trace health
effects, should any appear, because no one will know who has been exposed to
novel gene products and who has not.
Today Pillsbury food products are made from genetically-engineered crops.
Other foods that are now genetically engineered include Crisco; Kraft salad
dressings; Nestle's chocolate; Green Giant harvest burgers; Parkay
margarine; Isomil and ProSobee infant formulas; and Wesson vegetable oils.
Fritos, Doritos, Tostitos and Ruffles Chips -- and french fried potatoes
sold by McDonald's -- are genetically engineered.[1,pg.92]
By next year, if Monsanto's plans develop on schedule -- and there is no
reason to think they won't -- 100% of the U.S. soybean crop will be
genetically engineered. Eighty percent of all the vegetable oils in American
foods are derived from soy beans, so most foods that contain vegetable oils
will contain genetically engineered components by next year or the year
It is safe to say that never before in the history of the world has such a
rapid and large-scale revolution occurred in a nation's food supply. And not
just the U.S. is targeted for change. The genetic engineering companies (all
of whom used to be chemical companies) -- Dow, DuPont, Novartis, and
preeminently, Monsanto -- are aggressively promoting their genetically
engineered seeds in Europe, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, India, China and
elsewhere. Huge opposition has developed to Monsanto's technology everywhere
it has been introduced outside the United States. Only in the U.S. has the
"agbiotech" revolution been greeted with a dazed silence.
Monsanto -- the clear leader in genetically engineered crops -- argues that
genetic engineering is necessary (nay, ESSENTIAL) if the world's food supply
is to keep up with human population growth. Without genetic engineering,
billions will starve, Monsanto says. However, neither Monsanto nor any of
the other genetic engineering companies appears to be developing genetically
engineered crops that might solve global food shortages. Quite the opposite.
If genetically engineered crops were aimed at feeding the hungry, then
Monsanto and the others would be developing seeds with certain predictable
characteristics: (a) ability to grow on substandard or marginal soils; (b)
plants able to produce more high-quality protein, with increased per-acre
yield, without increasing the need for expensive machinery, chemicals,
fertilizers, or water; (c) they would aim to favor small farms over larger
farms; (d) the seeds would be cheap and freely available without restrictive
licensing; and (e) they would be for crops that feed people, not meat
None of the genetically engineered crops now available, or in development
(to the extent that these have been announced) has any of these desirable
characteristics. Quite the opposite. The new genetically engineered seeds
require high-quality soils, enormous investment in machinery, and increased
use of chemicals. There is evidence that their per-acre yields are about 10%
lower than traditional varieties (at least in the case of
soybeans),[1,pg.84] and they produce crops largely intended as feed for meat
animals, not to provide protein for people. The genetic engineering
revolution has nothing to do with feeding the world's hungry.
The plain fact is that fully two-thirds of the genetically engineered crops
now available, or in development, are designed specifically to increase the
sale of pesticides produced by the companies that are selling the
genetically engineered seeds.[1,pg.55] For example, Monsanto is selling a
line of "Roundup Ready" products that has been genetically engineered to
withstand heavy doses of Monsanto's all-time top money-making herbicide,
Roundup (glyphosate). A Roundup Ready crop of soybeans can withstand a
torrent of Roundup that kills any weeds competing with the crop. The farmer
gains a $20 per acre cost-saving (compared to older techniques that relied
on lesser quantities of more expensive chemicals), but the ecosystem
receives much more Roundup than formerly. To make Roundup Ready technology
legal, EPA had to accommodate Monsanto by tripling the allowable residues of
Roundup that can remain on the crop.[1,pg.75] Monsanto's patent on Roundup
runs out in the year 2000, but any farmer who adopts Roundup Ready seeds
must agree to buy only Monsanto's brand of Roundup herbicide. Thus
Monsanto's patent monopoly on Roundup is effectively extended into the
foreseeable future -- a shrewd business maneuver if there ever was one.
However, this should not be confused with feeding the world's hungry. It is
selling more of Monsanto's chemicals and filling the corporate coffers,
which is what it was intended to do. "Feeding the hungry" is a sales
gimmick, not a reality.
Monsanto's other major line of genetically engineered crops contains the
gene from a natural pesticide called Bt. Bt is a naturally-occurring soil
organism that kills many kinds of caterpillars that like to eat the leaves
of crops. Bt is the pesticide of choice in low-chemical-use farming, IPM
[integrated pest management] and organic farming. Farmers who try to
minimize their use of synthetic chemical pesticides rely on an occasional
dusting with Bt to prevent a crop from being overrun with leaf-eating
caterpillars. To them, Bt is a God-send, a miracle of nature.
Monsanto has taken the Bt gene and engineered it into cotton, corn and
potatoes. Every cell of every plant contains the Bt gene and thus produces
the Bt toxin. It is like dusting the crop heavily with Bt, day after day
after day. The result is entirely predictable, and not in dispute. When
insect pests eat any part of these crops, the only insects that will survive
are those that are (a) resistant to the Bt toxin, or (b) change their diet
to prefer other plants to eat, thus disrupting the local ecosystem and
perhaps harming a neighboring farmer's crops.
According to Dow Chemical scientists who are marketing their own line of
Bt-containing crops, within 10 years Bt will have lost its usefulness
because so many insects will have developed resistance to its
toxin.[1,pg.70] Thus Monsanto and Dow are profiting bountifully in the short
term, while destroying the usefulness of the one natural pesticide that
undergirds the low-pesticide approach of IPM and organic farming. It is
another brilliant -- if utterly ruthless and antisocial -- Monsanto business
Ultimately, for sustainability and long-term maximum yield, agricultural
ecosystems must become diversified once again. This is the key idea
underlying organic farming. Monoculture cropping -- growing acre upon acre
of the same crop -- is the antithesis of sustainability because monocultures
are fragile and unstable, subject to insect swarms, drought, and blight.
Monocultures can only be sustained by intensive, expensive inputs of water,
energy, chemicals, and machinery. Slowly over the past two decades, the
movement toward IPM and organic farming has begun to take hold in this
country -- despite opposition from the federal government, from the chemical
companies, from the banks that make farm loans, and from the corporations
that sell insurance. Now comes the genetic engineering revolution, which is
dragging U.S. agriculture back down the old path toward vast monocultures,
heavy reliance on machinery, energy, water, and chemicals, all of which
favors the huge farm over the small family operation. It is precisely the
wrong direction to be taking agricultural technology in the late 20th
century, if the goals are long-term maximum yield, food security, and
It is a wrong direction for another reason as well.
When 100% of the soybeans in the U.S. are grown from Roundup Ready seed --
next year -- then 100% of America's soybean farmers will be dependent upon a
single supplier for all their seed and the chemicals needed to allow those
seeds to thrive. In sum, Monsanto will have achieved a monopoly on a
fundamental food crop. It is clear that Monsanto's goal is a similar
monopoly on every major food crop here and abroad. If something doesn't
change soon, it is safe to predict that a small number of "life science"
corporations (as they like to call themselves) -- the majority of them
American and the remainder European -- will have a monopoly on the seed
needed to raise all of the world's major food crops. Then the hungry, like
the well-fed, will have to pay the owners of this new technology for
permission to eat.
[To be continued.]
--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)
CORPORATE TAKEOVER OF YOUR FOOD [ISBN 1567511503] (Monroe, Maine: Common
Courage Press, 1998). Available from Common Courage Press, P.O. Box 207,
Monroe, ME 04951. Tel. (207) 525-3068.
Descriptor terms: agriculture; biotechnology; genetic engineering;
regulation; usda; fda; epa; corporations; food safety; food security;
pesticides; bt; glyphosate; roundup; monsanto; dow; dupont;

Rachel's Environment & Health Weekly is a publication of the Environmental
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