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"The Bad Seed"


Hi All,

Here's the latest issue of the excellent newsletter,
"Rachel's Environmental & Health Weekly". This issue
is about (what else?) genetically modified organisms
and Monsanto. In case you haven't come across
"Rachel's" before, it is named after Rachel Carson,
the environmentalist who first allerted us to the
dangers of pesticides in her book "Silent Spring".
I've included subscription info for the
newsletter--it's free-- because I think it is well
worth receiving. Don't worry--not every issue is about
genetic engineering. It's just that it does seem to be
the topic of greatest concern to an increasingly
growing number of people around the world.

See you in Philadelphia,
Laura




======================Electronic
Edition========================
                                                      
        .
           RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY #666  
        .
.                    ---September 2, 1999---          
         .
                          HEADLINES:                  
        .
.                         THE BAD SEED                
         .
.                          ==========                 
         .
.               Environmental Research Foundation     
         .
.              P.O. Box 5036, Annapolis, MD  21403    
         .
.          Fax (410) 263-8944; E-mail: erf@rachel.org 
         .
.                          ==========                 
         .
.    All back issues are available by E-mail: send
E-mail to    .
   info@rachel.org with the single word HELP in the
message.   .
.  Back issues are also available from
http://www.rachel.org.   .
.      To start your own free subscription, send
E-mail to      .
              listserv@rachel.org with the words      
        .
.       SUBSCRIBE RACHEL-WEEKLY YOUR NAME in the
message.       .
.    The Rachel newsletter is now also available in
Spanish;    .
.     to learn how to subscribe, send the word AYUDA
in an      .
              E-mail message to info@rachel.org.      
        .
=================================================================


THE BAD SEED

Monsanto Corporation of St. Louis has been maneuvering
for more
than a decade to dominate the world's supply of seed
for staple
crops (corn, soybeans, potatoes) -- a business plan
that
Monsanto's critics say is nothing short of diabolical.
Monsanto
says it is just devilishly good business.

Monsanto has spent upwards of $8 billion in recent
years buying
numerous U.S. seed companies. As a result, two firms,
Monsanto
and Pioneer (recently purchased by DuPont), now
dominate the
U.S. seed business. Monsanto specializes in
genetically modified
seeds -- seeds having particular properties that
Monsanto has
patented.

The U.S. government is very enthusiastic about these
new
technologies. From the viewpoint of U.S. foreign
policy,
genetically modified seeds offer a key advantage over
traditional seeds: because genetically modified seeds
are
patented, it is illegal for a farmer to retain seed
from this
year's crop to plant next year. To use these patented
seeds,
farmers must buy new seed from Monsanto every year.
Thus a
farmer who adopts genetically modified seeds and fails
to retain
a stock of traditional seeds could become dependent
upon a
transnational corporation. Nations whose farmers grew
dependent
upon corporations for seed might forfeit considerable
political
independence. The Clinton/Gore administration has been
aggressively helping Monsanto promote ag-biotech,
bypassing
U.S. health and safety regulations to promote new,
untested
gene-altered products.

A key component of the U.S./Monsanto plan to dominate
world
agriculture with genetically modified seeds is the
absence of
labeling of genetically engineered foods. All U.S.
foods carry
labels listing the ingredients: salt, sugar, water,
vitamins,
etc. But three separate executive agencies -- U.S.
Food and Drug
Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and
U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency -- have ruled that
genetically-modified foods deserve an exception: they
can be
sold without being labeled "genetically modified."
This strategy
has successfully prevented consumers from exercising
informed
choice in the marketplace, reducing the likelihood of
a consumer
revolt, at least in the U.S., at least for now.

Earlier this year, opposition to genetically modified
foods
exploded in England and quickly spread to the European
continent. (See REHW #649.) Burgeoning consumer
opposition has
now swept into Asia and back to North America. The NEW
YORK
TIMES reported last week that, "the Clinton
Administration's
efforts have grown increasingly urgent, in an attempt
to contain
the aversion to these crops that is leaping from
continent to
continent."[1]

** Recently Japan -- the largest Asian importer of
U.S. food --
passed a law requiring the labeling of genetically
modified
foods.[1] A subsidiary of Honda Motor Company
immediately
announced that it will build a plant in Ohio and hire
farmers to
supply it with traditional, unaltered soy beans. Soy
is the
basis of tofu, a staple food in Japan.

Subsequently, the largest and third-largest Japanese
beer
makers, Kirin Brewery and Sapporo Breweries, Ltd.,
announced that they will stop using genetically
modified
corn by 2001.  Other Japanese brewers are expected to
follow suit.

** The Reuters North America wire service reported
Sept. 1 that
South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand have all now
passed laws
requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods.
Reuters
says the U.S. government has publicly protested
against such
labeling laws and has privately lobbied hard against
them,
unsuccessfully.

** Grupo Maseca, Mexico's leading producer of corn
flour --
recently announced it will no longer purchase any
genetically
modified corn. Corn flour is made into tortillas, a
Mexican
staple. Mexico buys $500 million of U.S. corn each
year, so the
Grupo Maseca announcement sent a chill through
midwestern corn
farmers who planted Monsanto's genetically modified
seeds.[1]
About 1/3 of this year's U.S. corn crop is being grown
from
genetically modified seeds.

** Gerber and Heinz -- the two leading manufacturers
of baby
foods in the U.S. -- announced in July that they would
not allow
genetically modified corn or soybeans in any of their
baby
foods.[2]   After the baby food announcements, Iams,
the
high-end pet food producer, announced that it would
not purchase
any of the seven varieties of genetically modified
corn that
have not been approved by the European Union. This
announcement
cut off an alternative use that U.S. farmer's had
hoped to make
of corn rejected by overseas buyers.

** As the demand for traditional, unmodified corn and
soy has
grown, a two-price system for crops has developed in
the U.S. --
a higher price for traditional, unmodified crops, and
a lower
price for genetically modified crops. For example,
Archer
Daniels Midland is paying some farmers 18 cents less
per bushel
for genetically modified soybeans, compared to the
traditional
product.[1]

** The American Corn Growers Association, which
represents
mainly family farmers, has told its members that they
should
consider planting only traditional, unmodified seed
next spring
because it may not be possible to export genetically
modified
corn.[1]

** Deutsche Bank, Europe's largest bank, has issued
two reports
within the past six months advising its large
institutional
investors to abandon ag-biotech companies like
Monsanto and
Novartis.[3] In July, 1998, Monsanto stock was selling
for $56
per share; today it is about $41, a 27% decline
despite the
phenomenal success of Monsanto's new arthritis
medicine,
Celebrex.

In its most recent report, Deutsche Bank said,
"...[I]t appears
the food companies, retailers, grain processors, and
governments
are sending a signal to the seed producers that 'we
are not
ready for GMOs [genetically modified organisms].'"

Deutsche Bank's Washington, D.C., analysts, Frank
Mitsch and
Jennifer Mitchell, announced nine months ago that
ag-biotech
"was going the way of the nuclear industry in this
country."
"But we count ourselves surprised at how rapidly this
forecast
appears to be playing out," they told the London
GUARDIAN in
late August.[3]

In Europe, the ag-biotech controversy is playing out
upon a
stage created by an earlier -- and ongoing --
scientific dispute
over sex hormones in beef.[4] About 90% of U.S. beef
cattle are
treated with sex hormones -- three naturally-occurring
(estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone) and three
synthetic
hormones that mimic the natural ones (zeranol,
melengesterol
acetate, and trenbolone acetate). Hormone treatment
makes cattle
grow faster and produces more tender, flavorful cuts
of beef.

Since 1995 the European Union has prohibited the
treatment of
any farm animals with sex hormones intended to promote
growth,
on grounds that sex hormones are known to cause
several human
cancers. As a byproduct of that prohibition, the EU
refuses to
allow the import of hormone-treated beef from the U.S.
and
Canada.

The U.S. asserts that hormone-treated beef is entirely
safe and
that the European ban violates the global free trade
regime that
the U.S. has worked religiously for 20 years to
create. The U.S.
argues that sex hormones only promote human cancers in
hormone-sensitive tissues, such as the female breast
and uterus.
Therefore, the U.S. argues, the mechanism of
carcinogenic action
must be activation of hormone "receptors" and
therefore there is
a "threshold" -- a level of hormones below which no
cancers will
occur. Based on risk assessments, the U.S. government
claims to
know where that threshold level lies. Furthermore, the
U.S.
claims it has established a regulatory process that
prevents any
farmer from exceeding the threshold level in his or
her cows.

In a 136-page report issued in late April, an EU
scientific
committee argues that hormones may cause some human
cancers by
an entirely different mechanism -- by interfering
directly with
DNA.[5] If that were true, there would be no threshold
for
safety and the only safe dose of sex hormones in beef
would be
zero. "If you assume no threshold, you should
continually be
taking steps to get down to lower levels, because no
level is
safe," says James Bridges, a toxicologist at the
University of
Surrey in Guilford, England.[4]

Secondly, the EU spot-checked 258 meat samples from
the Hormone
Free Cattle program run jointly by the U.S. beef
industry and
the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This program is
intended to
raise beef cattle without the use of hormones, thus
producing
beef eligible for import into Europe. The spot check
found that
12% of the "hormone free" cattle had in fact been
treated with
sex hormones. EU officials cite this as evidence that
growth
hormones are poorly regulated in the U.S. beef
industry and
that Europeans might be exposed to higher-than-allowed
concentrations if the ban on North American imports
were lifted.
"These revelations are embarrassing for U.S.
officials," reports
SCIENCE magazine.[4] Nevertheless, the U.S. continues
to assert
that its hormone-treated beef is 100% safe.

Thus we have a classic scientific controversy
characterized by
considerable scientific uncertainty. This particular
scientific
dispute has profound implications for the future of
all
regulation under a global free trade regime --
including
regulation of toxic chemicals -- because the European
Union is
basing its opposition to hormone-treated beef on the
precautionary principle. The U.S. insists that this
precautionary
approach is an illegal restraint of free trade.

The EU's position is clearly precautionary: "Where
scientific
evidence is not black and white, policy should err on
the side
of caution so that there is zero risk to the
consumer," the EU
says.[6] The Danish pediatric researcher, Niels
Skakkebaek, says
the burden of proof lies with those putting hormones
in beef:
"The possible health effects from the hormones have
hardly been
studied -- the burden of proof should lie with the
American beef
industry," Skakkebaek told CHEMICAL WEEK, a U.S.
chemical
industry publication that is following the beef
controversy
closely.[6]

It appears that European activists have seized upon
hormones in
beef, and upon Monsanto's seed domination plan, as a
vehicle for
opposing a "global free trade" regime in which nations
lose their
power to regulate markets to protect public health or
the
environment.  The NEW YORK TIMES reports that a
Peasant
Confederation of European farmers derives much of its
intellectual inspiration and direction from a new
organization,
called Attac, formed last year in France to fight the
spread of
global free trade regimes.[7] The Confederation has
destroyed
several McDonald's restaurants and dumped rotten
vegetables in
others. Patrice Vidieu, the secretary-general of the
Peasant
Confederation, told the TIMES, "What we reject is the
idea that
the power of the marketplace becomes the dominant
force in all
societies, and that multinationals like McDonald's or
Monsanto
come to impose the food we eat and the seeds we
plant."

What began as consumer opposition to
genetically-modified seed
appears to be turning into an open revolt against the
25-year-old U.S.-led effort to impose free-trade
regimes
world-wide, enthroning transnational corporations in
the
process.  If approached strategically by ALLIANCES of
U.S.
activists and their overseas counterparts (and it MUST
NOT be
viewed as merely a labeling dispute) genetic
engineering could
become the most important fight in more than a
century.

                                               
--Peter Montague
                 (National Writers Union, UAW Local
1981/AFL-CIO)

==========
[1] "Melody Petersen, "New Trade Threat for U.S.
Farmers," NEW
YORK TIMES August 29, 1999, pgs. A1, A18.

[2] Lucette Lagnado, "Strained Peace: Gerber Baby
Food, Grilled
by Greenpeace, Plans Swift Overhaul -- Gene-Modified
Corn and
Soy Will Go, Although Firm Feels Sure They Are Safe --
Heinz
Takes Action, Too," WALL STREET JOURNAL July 30, 1999,
pg. A1.

[3] Paul Brown and John Vidal, "GM Investors Told to
Sell Their
Shares," THE GUARDIAN [London] August 25, 1999, pg.
unknown.

[4] Michael Balter, "Scientific Cross-Claims Fly in
Continuing
Beef War," SCIENCE Vol. 284 (May 28, 1999), pgs.
1453-1455.

[5] "Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Veterinary
Measures
Relating to Public Health; Assessment of Potential
Risks to
Human Health from Hormone Residues in Bovine Meat and
Meat
Products." European Commission, April 30, 1999. 139
pgs. The
report is available in PDF format from:
http://europa.eu.int/comm/dg24/health/sc/scv/out21_en.html
 .

[6] "Europe's Beef Ban Tests Precautionary Principle,"
CHEMICAL
WEEK August 11, 1999, pg. unknown.

[7] Roger Cohen, "Fearful Over the Future, Europe
Seizes on
Food," NEW YORK TIMES August 29, 1999, pg. unknown.

Descriptor terms: genetic engineering; farming;
agriculture;
monsanto; pioneer; france; peasant confederation; beef
industry;
hormones;

################################################################
                             NOTICE
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purposes.
Environmental Research Foundation provides this
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even though it costs the organization considerable
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                                        --Peter
Montague, Editor
################################################################








===
Laura Berman
FoodShare Toronto
Toronto Community Garden Network
phone: (416) 392-1668
fax: (416) 392-6650
email: community_gardens@yahoo.com
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