"The Bad Seed"
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,
RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY #666
. ---September 2, 1999---
. THE BAD SEED
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THE BAD SEED
Monsanto Corporation of St. Louis has been maneuvering
than a decade to dominate the world's supply of seed
crops (corn, soybeans, potatoes) -- a business plan
Monsanto's critics say is nothing short of diabolical.
says it is just devilishly good business.
Monsanto has spent upwards of $8 billion in recent
numerous U.S. seed companies. As a result, two firms,
and Pioneer (recently purchased by DuPont), now
U.S. seed business. Monsanto specializes in
seeds -- seeds having particular properties that
The U.S. government is very enthusiastic about these
technologies. From the viewpoint of U.S. foreign
genetically modified seeds offer a key advantage over
traditional seeds: because genetically modified seeds
patented, it is illegal for a farmer to retain seed
year's crop to plant next year. To use these patented
farmers must buy new seed from Monsanto every year.
farmer who adopts genetically modified seeds and fails
a stock of traditional seeds could become dependent
transnational corporation. Nations whose farmers grew
upon corporations for seed might forfeit considerable
independence. The Clinton/Gore administration has been
aggressively helping Monsanto promote ag-biotech,
U.S. health and safety regulations to promote new,
A key component of the U.S./Monsanto plan to dominate
agriculture with genetically modified seeds is the
labeling of genetically engineered foods. All U.S.
labels listing the ingredients: salt, sugar, water,
etc. But three separate executive agencies -- U.S.
Food and Drug
Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and
Environmental Protection Agency -- have ruled that
genetically-modified foods deserve an exception: they
sold without being labeled "genetically modified."
has successfully prevented consumers from exercising
choice in the marketplace, reducing the likelihood of
revolt, at least in the U.S., at least for now.
Earlier this year, opposition to genetically modified
exploded in England and quickly spread to the European
continent. (See REHW #649.) Burgeoning consumer
now swept into Asia and back to North America. The NEW
TIMES reported last week that, "the Clinton
efforts have grown increasingly urgent, in an attempt
the aversion to these crops that is leaping from
** Recently Japan -- the largest Asian importer of
U.S. food --
passed a law requiring the labeling of genetically
foods. A subsidiary of Honda Motor Company
announced that it will build a plant in Ohio and hire
supply it with traditional, unaltered soy beans. Soy
basis of tofu, a staple food in Japan.
Subsequently, the largest and third-largest Japanese
makers, Kirin Brewery and Sapporo Breweries, Ltd.,
announced that they will stop using genetically
corn by 2001. Other Japanese brewers are expected to
** The Reuters North America wire service reported
Sept. 1 that
South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand have all now
requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods.
says the U.S. government has publicly protested
labeling laws and has privately lobbied hard against
** Grupo Maseca, Mexico's leading producer of corn
recently announced it will no longer purchase any
modified corn. Corn flour is made into tortillas, a
staple. Mexico buys $500 million of U.S. corn each
year, so the
Grupo Maseca announcement sent a chill through
farmers who planted Monsanto's genetically modified
About 1/3 of this year's U.S. corn crop is being grown
genetically modified seeds.
** Gerber and Heinz -- the two leading manufacturers
foods in the U.S. -- announced in July that they would
genetically modified corn or soybeans in any of their
foods. After the baby food announcements, Iams,
high-end pet food producer, announced that it would
any of the seven varieties of genetically modified
have not been approved by the European Union. This
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
grown, a two-price system for crops has developed in
the U.S. --
a higher price for traditional, unmodified crops, and
price for genetically modified crops. For example,
Daniels Midland is paying some farmers 18 cents less
for genetically modified soybeans, compared to the
** The American Corn Growers Association, which
mainly family farmers, has told its members that they
consider planting only traditional, unmodified seed
because it may not be possible to export genetically
** Deutsche Bank, Europe's largest bank, has issued
within the past six months advising its large
investors to abandon ag-biotech companies like
Novartis. In July, 1998, Monsanto stock was selling
per share; today it is about $41, a 27% decline
phenomenal success of Monsanto's new arthritis
In its most recent report, Deutsche Bank said,
the food companies, retailers, grain processors, and
are sending a signal to the seed producers that 'we
ready for GMOs [genetically modified organisms].'"
Deutsche Bank's Washington, D.C., analysts, Frank
Jennifer Mitchell, announced nine months ago that
"was going the way of the nuclear industry in this
"But we count ourselves surprised at how rapidly this
appears to be playing out," they told the London
In Europe, the ag-biotech controversy is playing out
stage created by an earlier -- and ongoing --
over sex hormones in beef. About 90% of U.S. beef
treated with sex hormones -- three naturally-occurring
(estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone) and three
hormones that mimic the natural ones (zeranol,
acetate, and trenbolone acetate). Hormone treatment
grow faster and produces more tender, flavorful cuts
Since 1995 the European Union has prohibited the
any farm animals with sex hormones intended to promote
on grounds that sex hormones are known to cause
cancers. As a byproduct of that prohibition, the EU
allow the import of hormone-treated beef from the U.S.
The U.S. asserts that hormone-treated beef is entirely
that the European ban violates the global free trade
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
Therefore, the U.S. argues, the mechanism of
must be activation of hormone "receptors" and
therefore there is
a "threshold" -- a level of hormones below which no
occur. Based on risk assessments, the U.S. government
know where that threshold level lies. Furthermore, the
claims it has established a regulatory process that
farmer from exceeding the threshold level in his or
In a 136-page report issued in late April, an EU
committee argues that hormones may cause some human
an entirely different mechanism -- by interfering
DNA. If that were true, there would be no threshold
safety and the only safe dose of sex hormones in beef
zero. "If you assume no threshold, you should
taking steps to get down to lower levels, because no
safe," says James Bridges, a toxicologist at the
Surrey in Guilford, England.
Secondly, the EU spot-checked 258 meat samples from
Free Cattle program run jointly by the U.S. beef
the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This program is
raise beef cattle without the use of hormones, thus
beef eligible for import into Europe. The spot check
12% of the "hormone free" cattle had in fact been
sex hormones. EU officials cite this as evidence that
hormones are poorly regulated in the U.S. beef
that Europeans might be exposed to higher-than-allowed
concentrations if the ban on North American imports
"These revelations are embarrassing for U.S.
SCIENCE magazine. Nevertheless, the U.S. continues
that its hormone-treated beef is 100% safe.
Thus we have a classic scientific controversy
considerable scientific uncertainty. This particular
dispute has profound implications for the future of
regulation under a global free trade regime --
regulation of toxic chemicals -- because the European
basing its opposition to hormone-treated beef on the
precautionary principle. The U.S. insists that this
approach is an illegal restraint of free trade.
The EU's position is clearly precautionary: "Where
evidence is not black and white, policy should err on
of caution so that there is zero risk to the
consumer," the EU
says. The Danish pediatric researcher, Niels
the burden of proof lies with those putting hormones
"The possible health effects from the hormones have
studied -- the burden of proof should lie with the
industry," Skakkebaek told CHEMICAL WEEK, a U.S.
industry publication that is following the beef
It appears that European activists have seized upon
beef, and upon Monsanto's seed domination plan, as a
opposing a "global free trade" regime in which nations
power to regulate markets to protect public health or
environment. The NEW YORK TIMES reports that a
Confederation of European farmers derives much of its
intellectual inspiration and direction from a new
called Attac, formed last year in France to fight the
global free trade regimes. The Confederation has
several McDonald's restaurants and dumped rotten
others. Patrice Vidieu, the secretary-general of the
Confederation, told the TIMES, "What we reject is the
the power of the marketplace becomes the dominant
force in all
societies, and that multinationals like McDonald's or
come to impose the food we eat and the seeds we
What began as consumer opposition to
appears to be turning into an open revolt against the
25-year-old U.S.-led effort to impose free-trade
world-wide, enthroning transnational corporations in
process. If approached strategically by ALLIANCES of
activists and their overseas counterparts (and it MUST
viewed as merely a labeling dispute) genetic
become the most important fight in more than a
(National Writers Union, UAW Local
 "Melody Petersen, "New Trade Threat for U.S.
YORK TIMES August 29, 1999, pgs. A1, A18.
 Lucette Lagnado, "Strained Peace: Gerber Baby
by Greenpeace, Plans Swift Overhaul -- Gene-Modified
Soy Will Go, Although Firm Feels Sure They Are Safe --
Takes Action, Too," WALL STREET JOURNAL July 30, 1999,
 Paul Brown and John Vidal, "GM Investors Told to
Shares," THE GUARDIAN [London] August 25, 1999, pg.
 Michael Balter, "Scientific Cross-Claims Fly in
Beef War," SCIENCE Vol. 284 (May 28, 1999), pgs.
 "Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Veterinary
Relating to Public Health; Assessment of Potential
Human Health from Hormone Residues in Bovine Meat and
Products." European Commission, April 30, 1999. 139
report is available in PDF format from:
 "Europe's Beef Ban Tests Precautionary Principle,"
WEEK August 11, 1999, pg. unknown.
 Roger Cohen, "Fearful Over the Future, Europe
Food," NEW YORK TIMES August 29, 1999, pg. unknown.
Descriptor terms: genetic engineering; farming;
monsanto; pioneer; france; peasant confederation; beef
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