I would like to make some further comments on OCA's actions against
Starbucks (See below), in particular to claims of abuse against workers in
Guatemala, and on avoiding genetically engineered coffee and soybeans
forever. Coffee is a timely topic, as coffee prices are at a historical
low, to the detriment of the livelihood of farmers and farm workers in the
coffee-growing regions of the world (Incidentally, with world coffee
prices at an all-time low, why is it that the price for a cup of Starbucks
coffee has not dropped???)
Anyway, as I have mentioned before in this group, I teach a course in
tropical agriculture, and take our US students on field trips to Guatemala
and Costa Rica. One of our stops includes a visit to the source of
Starbucks coffee in Guatemala. (Incidentally, one of the exercises for
this stop was to give students the Lonely Planet's Guide description of
worker mistreatment on that farm, and reconcile it with what they actually
saw with their own eyes.)
Currently, the legal minimum wage in Guatemala is $US 5.50 per day, +
social security, vacation, and Bono 14" which gives workers an extra
month of wages each year. Collectively, these add 42% to the cost of wages
over the course of a year. The amount workers earn is always one of the
main questions our students ask at any stop we make. Wages have been
remarkably stable over time and across crops, regardless of the way wages
are computed whether it is tons of sugar cane, pounds of tea, bunches of
oil palm, boxes of coffee, or bundles of roses, rates are equivalent to
$5-7/day. Contrary to what OCA is claiming, we have never run across
workers making the equivalent of $1.25 a day. Frequently, we encounter
more than one family member working, so estimates of family income need to
be adjusted accordingly. Finally, some land owners allow the workers to
grow maize for their own use. Bottom line96 I do not buy the assertions
that Organic Consumers Association is making in this regard.
Secondly, I want to tell about a farm we visited during our last trip in
Costa Rica. A group of desperately poor farmers is struggling to survive
at the very edge of the Monteverde cloud forest. They live on land donated
to them by the Quakers, and derive their income by growing coffee, which
they sell to a local coop. They get $0.10 a pound (compared to the $1.26 a
pound Starbucks pays for Fair Trade Coffee), and the coop in turn
processes it and sells it for about $0.60 a lb, near the current world
price. Due tothe high humidity levels found next to the cloud forest, the
coffee gets attacked by all sorts of fungal diseases. The farmers cannot
afford any synthetic fungicides. Instead, they control diseases by
lowering the ambient humidity, which they achieve by cutting down the
shade trees thus destroying one of the world's biodiversity hot spots,
along with habitat for migratory song birds. On site, one cannot help but
notice that coffee plants engineered for fungus resistance would allow the
farmers to grow their coffee and provide for their families, while not
having to invest in fungicides or cut the trees down.
The current slump in coffee prices spares no one. There is another coffee
farm we have visited, this one in the buffer zone around Guatemala's
Sierra de las Minas cloud forest preserve. This particular farm is totally
organic. They raise cattle in confinement, and collect both cattle and
human urine, which they ferment and use as an organic insecticide for the
coffee. Cattle manure and night soil are composted and used as fertilizer.
The whole operation is incredibly labor-intensive, and requires high
prices to remain economically viable. Again, coffee engineered to be
insect and disease resistant would cut down on labor requirements.
It is a great tragedy that two technologies which have to potential to be
complementary genetic engineering and organic farming have become so
antagonistic towards each other. Ultimately, there should be one and only
one goal, namely, sustainability. There is no universal way to achieve
sustainable production, as every single crop and region requires its own
solution. In some cases, sustainability might entail organic; in others,
it won't. The same can be said for genetic engineering. Anyone who uses
purely ideological grounds to forsake a technology that can help achieve
sustainability does nothing but contribute to the deterioration of natural
resources, not to mention the human misery that accompanies it.
PS- Benefits associated with GMO's need not be limited to the tropics. OCA
wants to get Starbucks to stop using non-dairy creamer made from GM
soybeans. There are now enough data available to suggest that not using
herbicide-tolerant soybeans is environmentally irresponsible. If Starbucks
bans engineered soybean, then Starbucks and OCA together will be
responsible for the fostering the current farming practices, which are
prone to soil erosion and fossil fuel consumption.
First, data presented by Carpenter (2001) suggest herbicide use is
declining with the adoption of herbicide tolerant. Then, in another paper
(Barnes, 2000), the author notes that, "By planting soybeans tolerant to
glyphosate, farmers are able to implement low_ or no_till farming, a
practice that minimises soil erosion and run_off. It was estimated that ca
37 million tons of topsoil will have been preserved by 2020."
"Reduced working of the soil saves 33 litres of fuel per hectare,
translating into a reduction of 400 000 tons of carbon entering the
atmosphere as carbon dioxide over the period to 2020."
"Leaving crop residues undisturbed also provides shelter for wildlife that
is not available when normal ploughing practices are undertaken. Farmers
already point towards increased bird and small animal sightings when they
leave the soil undisturbed."
Barnes,R.L. 2000. Why the American Soybean Association supports transgenic
20 soybeans. Pest Manag. Sci. 56:580_583.
Carpenter, J. E. 2001. Case Studies in Benefits and Risks of
Agricultural20 Biotechnology: Roundup Ready Soybeans and Bt Field Corn.
National Center20 for Food and Agricultural Policy, Washington, DC.
>>Action Alert from the Organic Consumers Association Starbucks Under
>>The Frankenbuck$ Campaign By: Ronnie Cummins
chocolates, baked goods, and bottled coffee beverages. In their public
statements up until now they have totally ignored our demands on removing
GE ingredients from these products. To meet our concerns they must agree
to source non_GE or organic ingredients (including soy, soy lecithin, corn
sweeteners, and cooking oils) for their chocolates, baked goods, and
bottled beverages. Once they can guarantee that they are using only non_GE
or organic ingredients, then these products should be labeled as
"GE_free," in a manner similar to the labels found on Ben & Jerry's ice
cream and other non_GE natural food products.
they give lots of money to charities and that they are socially
responsible. Again they are avoiding the real issue. We are asking them to
put in writing that they will raise the wages and improve the working
conditions of the impoverished coffee workers who toil on the plantations
of their suppliers. A study referred to by the US Guatemala Labor
Education Project (USGLEP) in Guatemala in 1997 found that entire families
of coffee workers on the plantations supplying Starbucks and other
companies were typically making a grand total of $1.25 per day, while a
Guatemalan family needs at least $10 a day to survive.
>(5) Starbucks has said they aren't using genetically engineered coffee
beans at the present time. We simply want them to put in writing that they
will never use them.
Tracing Tort Liability for Allergy in the 21st Century
by Thomas P. Redick, Esq. ( From: ThomasRedick@netscape.net)
The tort liability landscape in the age of genetic engineering is changing
in many ways, if I may expand upon the commments of Kershen, Miller and
Rissler. ("DR. RISSLER: There is the possibility that genetic engineering
introduces new proteins in the food that people could be allergic to. If
you became ill, would you say, 'Oh my gosh, it's because of genetically
engineered food?' No. How would you know? You don't know whether you're
eating it or not.")
The rDNA process moves us all forward in knowing where allergens came
from, and how to design them out of the food supply. What we don't know
can hurt us; but the answer is more knowledge and more genetic engineering
(however yucky it may seem to some). The vengeful furies of future product
liability and environmental "best available control technology" regulation
will have no patience with sellers of food who quail in fear at new
technology. Both product liability and environmental regulation are
inherently "technology-forcing" legal institutions --- they do not allow
us to suspend progress while we worry needlessly about unknown risks.
To address Ms. Rissler's trenchant point about knowledge of allergens, it
bears mention that under the current system of food distribution in the
US, a plaintiff seeking to demonstrate allergenicity is much more likely
to be able to trace it to a specific biotech food product than other
foods, because biotech foods are so well-characterized (while other foods
may not be well-understood). It is easier trace products to large
multinationals with large market shares -- that is what occurred in the
l-tryptophan litigation, where one manufacturer using GM technology also
had over 70% market share. It made causation easier for juries to accept,
even without any solid epidemiological evidence (much less a connection to
Also, the allergenic proteins give rise to antibodies that are detectable
with current techniques. In short, with biotech's tools, we capture
biotech's harms. We then can use biotech tools to create new foods that do
not have the offending proteins, including all those uncharacterized
organic or traditionally bred foods. This design then reflects poorly on
those who do not implement it, or provide warnings of their failure to
design a hypoallergenic product. Biotech diagnostic tools will catch their
undetected allergens, and biotech design tools will set the standard of
care higher than they dared to go, leaving them liable.
It is as if someone flipped a light switch, and the roaches of
allergenicity have to find a crack to hide in. The fastest path out of
allergenicity risk, other than avoidance, is through recombinant DNA
methods. This is a specific illustration of Professor Kershen's point
regarding "design defect" product liability. As a practicing product
liability defense and prevention attorney, I expect one day to advise food
clients to consider the risk of a non-GMO product lines in light of any
available hypoallergenic varieties. I currently advise them to avoid
mycotoxins, which may mean favoring B.t. corn at times. The potential
future design, standing alone, can be introduced as evidence even if no
food company ever has the courage to market hypoallergenic genetically
With environmental harms, the same scenario repeats. We will know biotech
harms by their DNA signature (e.g. "outcrossing" of DNA to a rare wild
relative, rendering it extinct by hybridization - an unlikey event given
the risk management that follows agbiotech crops), while the vast majority
of similar events by organic or traditionally bred crops go untracked and
presumably uncompensated. Their uncompensated status may change, if the
law evolves to hold people responsible for rendering precious agricultural
biodiversity extinct; in that event, the GMO risk management standards
will define the negligence of other crops. The current "GMO only"
liability proposals making the rounds in Europe would exempt the unknown,
unmanaged majority, while punishing the trackable, managed minority. At
least they are consistently wrongheaded for both regulation and
It is doubly ironic when we consider how the ability to patent that
"signature DNA" is a powerful tool for conservation. Unfortunately, while
we have a UN Convention on Biological Diversity establishing the value of
genetic resources, we also have a biosafety protocol that threatens to
hold off the market a tool for imparting value to those genetic resources.
With this long-term perspective in mind, it is bizarre to see regulatory
agencies and ostensible consumer advocates taking "zero tolerance" or
"traceability" approaches to new GM varieties, while letting known
allergens like peanuts flood the food supply, and taking no serious steps
to manage the "outcrossing" risks of the anonymous majority of crops
planted near wild relatives. It is as if man, having walked upright and
used fire for a few generations, burned his fingers making GM "Starlink"
popcorn, and decided to go back to the trees and feed on fruit and
termites for the rest of his days. The next generation will shake their
head in dismay; in the case of food allergy and "genetic drift", they may
also bring some interesting lawsuits. They will blame, but probably not be
able to sue, the regulators and activist who thought they were protecting
the consumer's best interests.
PBS Harvest of Fear
If you missed the last night (April 24, 2001) show on PBS: Harvest of Fear
or want to read the interviews and issues discussed in detail, you can do
so at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/harvest/
It has some interesting sections such as viewpoints, discussion (arguments
and counter points), some nice animated section on 'Engineer a Crop' and a
video on 'What about this Fish'.
I welcome comments from readers on their impression of this show - CSP
Nova, Frontline‚ Examine GE Crops
Chicago Tribune Steve Johnson; April 24, 2001
"Nova" and "Frontline" team up Tuesday to examine one of the hottest
topics in popular science, the genetic modification of our foodstuffs.
It's a patient, even plodding, two hours, as it traces the history and
scientific and political implications of introducing into one organism a
gene from another. The Europeans were the first to blink in the face of
such technology, but concerns have gradually spread to these shores to the
point where cereals and such now list themselves as free of genetically
Still, while groups like Greenpeace deride it as "Frankenfood", the label
isn't widely used and the issues aren't widely understood.
This broadcast (8 p.m., WTTW-Ch. 11) will serve as a primer for people who
haven't kept up on the debate.
And even those who have followed it in the print media can learn more
about, say, genetically modified food's potential to help farmers in Third
World countries fighting poor soil and blight and the seemingly callous
insistence of the Greenpeaces that no such food is acceptable.
The broadcast earns points for calm and balance amid a debate that is
often hysterical. It is not, alas, able to settle the all- important
questions about the safety and wisdom of transgenic farming.
'Harvest' Sinks Teeth Into Biotech Rhubarb
New York Daily News By Eric Mink April 24, 2001
Most Americans surely are confident that they've never eaten genetically
modified foods; you know, those weird and maybe even dangerous products
whose genetic material, the building blocks of life itself, has been
manipulated by scientists on the payrolls of the giant
chemical/agricultural corporations. Except that we've all been eating such
foods in this country for about five years. Because more than half of
America's massive soybean crop (and cotton, by the way) and about a third
of the corn crop now consist of genetically modified grains, and because
these products are combined with non-modified crops and used in countless
foods, the chances of someone having avoided a genetically modified food
since roughly 1996 are virtually nil. That's just one of the facts likely
to startle viewers who watch "Harvest of Fear," a joint "Frontline"/"Nova"
report airing tonight on PBS. The two-hour program represents the latest
effort by veteran writer-producerdirector Jon Palfreman. Although he has
churned out documentaries on a wide variety of topics, Palfreman has come
to specialize in bitterly controversial issues involving conflicting
attitudes, opinions and interpretations of science and/or medicine.
Among his earlier reports ˜ some impressive, some flawed ˜ have been
examinations of breast implants, electromagnetic fields and nuclear power.
As he did in those programs, tonight's broadcast attempts to distinguish
fact from myth, legitimate concern from irrational fear, and truth from
propaganda in the ongoing debate about biotechnology. It's a dizzyingly
complex subject, obviously, but Palfreman presents it crisply and clearly
with a savvy combination of coherent storytelling and organization and
engaging stylistic devices. As the title "Harvest of Fear" suggests, the
producer-director has reached some conclusions. Chief among them:
The potential benefits cited by proponents of biotechnology ˜ reduced
dependance on pesticides and herbicides, improved crop yields despite poor
soil in developing countries, simplified distribution of anti-disease
vaccines ˜ have not received as much favorable attention as the potential
problems cited by opponents ˜ mainly, unforeseeable adverse medical and
environmental effects. This program corrects some of that imbalance. Even
so, Palfreman allots a substantial amount of time to the arguments of
credible opponents of bio-technology, some of which remain potent and
troubling even after they have been subjected to close scrutiny. Others
seem to wither or weaken after Palfreman examines the science, or lack
thereof, behind them. Some of the hard-line European perspectives, it's
fair to say, do not hold up well. Overall, the broadcast is clearly tough,
apparently fair and undeniably important.
From: "Prof. A. Perera"
Subject: Rice to rice gene transfer
Dear Agbioview fellow scientists, Many thanks for enabling me to get some
excellent responses on the subject of transfer of rice genes to rice
through rcombinant DNA technology, from eminent scientists around the
world and from famous institutes. Nevertheless, I'm still a bit concerned
about some grey areas that need to be cleared, as we have reached a very
crucial period of scientific development in our country, where important
decisions will have to be made soon with regard to GMOs, GMFs and
1. I believe that most of the regulations/definitions about GMOs/GMFs, and
Recombinant DNA Technology (RDT) were formulated long before anyone
thought of intra-species (rice to rice) gene transfer using RDT.
Therefore, the main concerns were in relation to foreign genes - those
that are not naturally found in the genome of an organism. Therefore, I
think products of intra-species gene transfers should not be included in
the same category as previously defined classical transgenics - perhaps
they could form a separate category with a different name such as
Intragenic or some such. Also, intragenics (used for the moment) do not
pose the same risks as transgenics, and moreover, they will have many
advantages. (i) Risk of invasiveness - does not arise. (ii) Risk of
allergenicity - does not arise (new protein is a natural rice protein).
(iii) Risk to non-target organisms - not relevant. (iv) Horizontal gene
transfer - not relevant. (v) Positional effect - does not arise as only
plants superior for the relevant characters are selected - others are
rejected or not selected as in any other classical breeding programme.
(vi) Antibiotic resistant genes - this may be the only problem - but
alternate techniques will soon be available.
Advantages (i) Many thousands of traditional rice varieties in Sri Lanka
have some wonderful genes related to superior grain quality, pest &
disease resistance, tolerance to extreme environments, medicinal, value
etc. But plant breeders are reluctant to use them in classical breeding
because of linkage drag. With RDT, this can be avoided and only the gene
of interest can be transferred. This may even take less time than
classical backcrossing. (ii) Genes can be transferred across Indicas,
Japonicas, Javanicas, Wild rices etc. producing a myriad of new varieties
- this will enrich the genetic base/variation. Varieties with different
combinations of genes can be produced to suit appropriate climates,
markets etc. (iii) Thousands of rices included in the global rice
biodiversity can be made use of for the benefit of humankind than storing
them forever in magnificent gene banks. (iv) Global and regional
collaborative improvement programmes can be organized by using the vast
germplasm available in many countries. (v) Of course this will apply to
any crop species. Transfer of genes using this technique will incur
laboratory costs but will save on other resources such as land, labour and
time, that will be used in classical breeding for the same purpose.
In view of this, if 'intragenics' are also categorized as classical
transgenics, the above would only be a dream ! This could well be a final
plea to the international scientific community to take appropriate steps
to make this dream come true for the benefit of millions.
Athula Perera Sri Lanka
From: Andrew Apel
Subject: China Ban?
The April 18 edition of the South China Morning Post reported that
government of mainland China has banned the cultivation of GM rice, wheat,
maize, tomato, cotton and soybeans for fear other countries would refuse
to buy them. The report was said to be based on statements made by Chen
Zhangliang, the vice-president of Peking University, during a speech at
the World Economic Forum.
China has consistently voiced policies favorable to genetic engineering,
which makes it difficult to credit this report. Does anyone out there know
(From CSP: I suggest you write directly to Zhangliang Chen
as he has been spearheading China's efforts in plant
World demand too great to ignore GM Crops
Vic Robertson; The Scotsman 24th April 2001
WORLD agriculture can’t afford to ignore any system which will help it
meet the demands of an increasing world populations, say scientists.
Genetically modified crops able to deal with low water supply will be
needed increasingly in arid areas, while other countries may demand
extensive or organic agriculture for ethical and environmental reasons.
A three-day meeting of 200 scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norwich
- a research station at the leading edge of GM research - tried to reach
consensus on how global farming could meet the likely food and other
demands of 2020.
The guru of the "green revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s, Professor MS
Swaminathan, said projections for foodgrains demand and supply in 20
years’ time ranged between hope and despair, but with a whole range of
technologies now available there were hopes for a revolution. "Most
developing countries have no option except to produce more from less
arable land and irrigation water resources," he said. "This is why there
is a need for an evergreen revolution based on achieving continuous
improvements in productivity without associated social or ecological
Injecting a note of concern for the biodiversity of the countryside,
particularly in developed countries, Professor Alan Gray, the director of
the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Dorset, said the challenge for the
developing world was to find ways of reducing the environmental impact of
He was optimistic that, given the political will, science would provide
the global agricultural systems needed to feed an extra two billion mouths
in 2020, as well as retaining an acceptable level of countryside
biodiversity. "Tweaking the edges of conventional agriculture can have
amazing effects," he said.
However, the third keynote speaker, Dr Barbara Mazur, of Dupont
Agriculture products in the US, remained unshakeable in her view that
biotechnology offered the best hope of meeting future demands. Her reply
to questions on public acceptability of bio-engineered foodstuffs remained
the standard company response of being "committed to safety".
At first sight this might have caused a knee-jerk reaction among consumer
representatives, but Robin Simpson, the director of special projects with
the National Consumer Council, conceded that, while he had not been the
subject of Damascene conversion, he had been impressed by the seriousness
of the wider implications of the conference. "It is very difficult to be
dogmatic about the situation worldwide. For example, there was a lot of
discussion about the need to develop strains of crops that were low in
their use of water and water is clearly something which will be a major
issue fairly soon." But he pointed out that agronomic progress had the
potential to create havoc with "demented policies" that lead to chronic
From: "Redenbaugh, Keith"
Subject: Sacramento Bee newspaper article "Green Machine"
The April 23, 2001 Sacramento Bee has a lengthy article about how
environmental groups benefit from fund-raising. In many cases, very little
of the money people contribute actually goes to the environmental issue of
concern. The American Institute of Philanthropy (a watchdog organization)
ranked some of the worse organizations in terms of the percent of their
total budget spent raising money:
42% Sierra Club
41% National Parks Conservation Association
50% Defenders of Wildlife
74% National Park Trust
The full report can be found at
The July/August 2000 issue has some relevant articles that you can
* Editorial Overview: New technologies are changing the face of
agriculture * Q & A: Developing nations, food and resources *Research
Updates: UC plant genomics frontier *Science Briefs: Organics profit from
premiums, Controversy over ag-biotech *Transgenes are revolutionizing crop
production * Perspective...How natural is modern agriculture? *Genetic
engi neering to improve quality, productivity and value of crops
*Genetic engineering and cloning may improve milk, livestock production
Farmers to plant more genetically modified beans
Associated Press April 23, 2001
URBANA, Ill. (AP) - Despite the controversy about bioengineered foods,
Illinois soybean farmers have told the government they will plant more
than half of their acreage with genetically modified seed this year while
slightly cutting back on biotech corn.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is reporting that Illinois farmers plan
to plant 59 percent of their soybean acres with modified crops, up from 44
percent last year. The state's corn farmers will grow biotech varieties on
14 percent of their acres, compared with 17 percent last season, the USDA
said. "We eat the products we produce," said Phil Corzine, who farms near
Decatur. "We believe they're safe."
Biotech soybeans contain a petunia gene that enables the plants to
withstand a potent herbicide. Nationwide, 63 percent of soybeans planted
will be genetically modified - up from 54 percent last year.
Genetically modified corn contains either a bacteria gene that makes crops
poisonous to caterpillar pests, a different gene that enables the plant to
withstand herbicides or both genes. Biotech corn is less popular in
Illinois than other states in part because the pests it fights are less
European consumers have largely rejected biotech foods and anti-biotech
groups in the United States have become more active in recent years.
The industry also suffered a public relations fiasco last year when
StarLink, a variety of genetically engineered corn not approved for human
consumption, wound up in corn taco shells and other foods.
However, experts said other varieties of genetically modified corn and
soybeans have won government approval for human consumption in the United
States, Europe and Japan. And the opposition to modified soybeans has
waned, they said.
"There is a market for the stuff and it has technological advantages,"
said Gerald C. Nelson, a University of Illinois researcher who recently
edited a book on the science and politics surrounding genetically modified
One timely example of that advantage is the cost of tending the modified
soybeans. Nelson said the biotech beans require farmers to make fewer
trips through the field, which can save growers' money at a time when fuel
prices are high.