Today in AgBioView: June 2, 2003
* Feed the World: Bush Challenges European Ban on GM Foods
* Bush's Evangelising About Food Chills European Hearts
* Black Group Urges Bush to Press European Leaders to Fight Against Hunger
* Let Them Eat Sausages
* World Food: Rhetoric Clouding GM Debate
* All About Biotechnology
* African Food on Table at Summit
* Venice Gets Its Tomatoes Fresh, and in a Stew
* Italian Foreign Minister Tells Powell, by Mid-July EU Will Have
* EU's Fischler to Unveil Key GMO Recommendations
* Leave Our Food Alone
* Monsanto Struggles Even as It Dominates
* US Congress Hearing: Plant Biotech R&D in Africa
* Genetically Modified/Biotech Crops - Hayek Series
* Poland: National Congress on Biotechnology
Feed the World: Bush Challenges European Ban on Genetically-Modified Foods
- Amy Ridenour, The National Center for Public Policy Research, June 2,
Background: Citing Third World Humanitarian concerns, the Bush
Administration has asked the World Trade Organization to break the
European Union's five-year de facto moratorium on the importation of new
genetically-modified food products, or GMOs.
In a speech at the coast Guard Academy May 22, President Bush said, "Our
partners in Europe have blocked all new bio-crops because of unfounded,
unscientific fears. This has caused many African nations from investing in
biotechnology for fear that their products will be shut out of European
markets. European governments should join, not hinder, the great cause of
ending hunger in Africa."
Over a dozen nations, including South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Canada,
Australia, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, New Zealand, Peru, Uruguay,
Mexico and Egypt have expressed support of the U.S. request to the WTO.
The matter is significant to Third World nations that, on the one hand,
are dependent upon Europe as a market for their crops, but on the other,
have pressing food needs -- and at times famines -- that could be eased or
alleviated by the importation or use of GMOs.
Some poor nations fear that if they use or import GMOs, even briefly,
their agricultural exports could become ineligible for export into the EU.
Despite a humanitarian crisis affecting perhaps 3 million people, Zambia
last year banned agricultural aid from the U.S., saying it would rather
its people go hungry than have the nation lose its export markets in
Europe. Namibia recently decided not to import genetically-modified corn
from South Africa, fearing it could accidentally become mixed with other
corn and endanger Namibia's exports to Europe.
Uganda has refused to grow a disease-resistant genetically modified banana
out of fears it would lose its European market. Yet a disease spreading
throughout the nation's banana plantations -- vital to Uganda's economy --
already has been a factor in cutting banana yields per acre to less than
half their productivity 30 years ago. Some predict major banana varieties
in Uganda will soon be all but extinct.
Despite extreme food shortages caused by the Mugabe government's
confiscation of farmland owned by whites, Zimbabwe turned down 10,000 tons
of American grain in June 2002 out of fears its crops would subsequently
show traces of GMOs.
And, as National Review's Rich Lowry noted in a May 22 column, "Thailand
has poured millions of dollars into research on biotech rice, but doesn't
dare approve it, because that would end its small exports of rice to
Europe. Egypt has had to shy away from genetically modified corn and sweet
potatoes. China too has delayed approval of genetically modified crops."
Ten Second Response: The European Union has had a de facto moratorium on
importing genetically-modified food since October 1998 although its top
scientists say the ban is unjustified. This has caused some poor nations
to ban importation of GMOs, even as part of needed humanitarian aid
packages, for fear the GMOs could comingle with other crops and render
their exports ineligible for exportation to Europe. Well-fed Europeans
thus essentially are forcing hungry Third Worlders to choose between food
Thirty Second Response: Genetically-modified crops deemed safe by Europe's
top scientists are nonetheless banned for importation by the European
Union. Thus effectively forces Third World nations to choose between the
benefits of GMOs and their access to European markets. As Hassan Adamu,
the Nigerian Minister for Agricultural and Rural Development, wrote in a
Washington Post commentary published September 11, 2000: "Millions of
Africans - far too many of them children - are suffering from malnutrition
and hunger. Agricultural biotechnology offers a way to stop the
suffering... To deny desperate, hungry people the means to control their
futures by presuming to know what is best for them is not only
paternalistic but morally wrong."
Discussion: The Hudson Institute's Alex Avery told Marc Morano of
CNSNews.com that the European ban on GMOs is "technological apartheid.
Europe is abundantly fed; it is a surplus producer and has the luxury of
forgoing technologies that are highly promising and productive. Africa
doesn't have that luxury. They have horrible infrastructure, they
desperately need productivity enhancing technologies, including the basics
like fertilizer and pesticides."
Avery also told CNSNews.com that money is a major factor in Europe's
opposition to GMOs: "More than half of the EU's collective budget is
gobbled up by farm subsidy costs so Europe has done all that it can to
avoid productivity-enhancing technologies for cost savings." U.S. farmers
lose about $300 million per year because of the EU ban.
Genetically-modified foods offer the following benefits:
* Reducing starvation: Biotechnology can increase agricultural
productivity in the developing world. The 1997 World Bank and Consultative
Group on International Agricultural Research estimated that biotechnology
could increase food production in the developing world by 25 percent.
* Reducing the harm of drought: Modifications can be made in plants to
make them drought-resistant. Droughts are a common cause of crop failures
leading to famine.
* Health: Bioengineering can reduce the amount of saturated fats in foods,
and increase nutrients. According to U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) and
other sources, 500,000 children in developing nations go blind because of
Vitamin A deficiency. 250 million children currently suffer from Vitamin A
deficiency worldwide. This can cause learning disabilities and -- for
girls -- childbearing problems in adulthood. Biotechnology can fortify
rice, wheat and corn with extra Vitamin A to end this suffering.
Biotechnology can also reduce allergens in foods. Presently, food
allergies are the cause of 2,500 emergency room visits and 135 deaths
annually in the U.S. One to three percent of older children and adults
suffer from food allergies, as do five to eight percent of infants and
* Environment: Biotechnology has already led to an 80 percent reduction in
insecticide use in U.S. cotton crops and U.S. Department of Agriculture
statistics show a 30-40 percent reduction in herbicide use. Biotechnology
can reduce the amount of water needed to grow foods and reduce soil
erosion caused by agriculture.
* National economy: Dr. C.S. Prakash, professor in Plant Molecular
Genetics and Director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at
Tuskegee University noted on April 22, 2003: "National Center for Food and
Agricultural Policy found that biotechnology-derived plants-soybeans,
corn, cotton, papaya, squash and canola-increased U.S. food production by
four billion pounds, saved $1.2 billion in production costs, and decreased
pesticide use by about 46 million pounds in 2001."
* Family economy: Bioengineered baked goods, fruits and vegetables can
have a longer shelf life, reducing waste and spoilage.
Marc Morano, "Bush Urged to Battle 'Technological Apartheid' in Dispute
Over Biotech Food," CNSNews.com, May 28, 2003,
"Bush: Africa Hostage to GM Fears," BBC News, May 22, 2003 at
"Greenpeace Founder Supports Biotechnology," Press Release of AgBioWorld
Foundation, March 6, 2001 at http://www.envirotruth.org/moore.cfm
"Scientists In Support Of Agricultural Biotechnology," international
petition signed by 3,200 scientists in support of the use of agricultural
"Africa Cries Out for Genetically-Modified Foods: African-American
Leadership Network Joined by African Leaders in Call for Providing Africa
With the Tools to Feed Its People," Project 21 Press Release, October 20,
2000, at http://www.project21.org/P21PRBiotech1000.html
John Meredith, "Bio-Foods Can Improve Nutrition in America, Cut Starvation
and Disease in Africa," National Policy Analysis #298, June 2000, at
Michael Centrone, "Biotechnology: Putting an End to World Hunger,"
National Policy Analysis #289, June 2000, at
"Scientists Urge European Union to End Biotech Food Ban, Competitive
Enterprise Institute Press Release, May 12, 2003, at
"Banana Risks Extinction," Kampala New Vision, January 22, 2003 at
Rich Lowry, "France to World: Eat Cake," King Features Syndicate, May 22,
"Africa's Dilemma in Genetically Modified food War," Kampala Monitor, May
29, 2003 at http://allafrica.com/stories/200305290499.html
"U.S. Requests WTO Consultations with EU on Biotech Moratorium," Bridges
International Trade Digest, May 14, 2003, at
Bush's Evangelising About Food Chills European Hearts
- Jeremy Rifkin,The Guardian June 2, 2003
'The fight over GM crops exposes the weaknesses of globalisation'
In case you thought that the Bush administration's rift with its European
allies ended with the Iraqi military campaign, think again. The White
House has now set its sights on something far more personal - the question
of what kind of food Europeans should put on their table. President Bush
has charged that the EU's ban on genetically modified food is discouraging
developing countries from growing GM crops for export and resulting in
increased hunger and poverty in the world's poorest nations. His remarks,
made just days before the G8 meeting in Evian, have further chilled
Last month, the US government launched a formal legal challenge at the
World Trade Organisation to force the EU to lift its "de facto moratorium"
on the sale of GM seeds and food in Europe. The EU has countered that
there is no moratorium in place and points out that in the past year it
has approved two applications for imports of GM seeds. Regardless, the new
thrust by President Bush is likely to force another confrontation between
the two superpowers - one whose long-term impact could be even more
serious than the breach over Iraq.
For most Europeans, GM food is anathema. Although Europeans are worried
about the potentially harmful environmental and health consequences, they
are equally concerned about the cultural consequences. While Americans
long ago accepted a corporate-driven fast food culture, in Europe food and
culture are deeply entwined. Every region boasts its own culinary
traditions and touts its local produce.
In a world of globalising forces, increasingly controlled by corporate
behemoths and bureaucratic regulatory regimes, the last vestige of
cultural identity most Europeans feel they have some control over is their
choice of food. That is why every public opinion poll conducted in Europe,
including polls in the new candidate EU countries, show overwhelming
public disapproval of GM food.
Global food companies doing business in Europe, such as McDonald's, Burger
King and Coca-Cola, have responded to the public's aversion by promising
to keep their products free of genetically modified traits. By forcing the
issue, the Bush administration is stirring up a hornet's nest of public
anger and resentment.
The White House has made a bad situation worse by suggesting that European
opposition to GM food is tantamount to imposing a death sentence on
millions of starving people in the third world. Denying poor farmers in
developing countries a European market for GM food, says the White House,
gives them no choice but to grow non-GM food and lose the commercial
advantages that go hand-in-hand with GM food crops. President Bush's
remarks on the many benefits of GM food appear more like a public
relations release than a reasoned political argument.
Hunger in the third world is a complex phenomenon not likely to be
reversed by the introduction of GM crops. First, 80% of undernourished
children in the developing world live in countries with food surpluses.
The hunger problem has more to do with the way arable land is utilised.
Today, 21% of the food grown in the developing world is destined for
animal consumption. In many developing countries, more than a third of the
grain is now being grown for livestock. The animals, in turn, will be
eaten by the world's wealthiest consumers in the northern industrial
countries. The result is that the world's richest consumers eat a diet
high in animal protein, while the poorest people on earth are left with
little land to grow food grain for their own families. And, even the land
that is available is often owned by global agribusiness interests, further
aggravating the plight of the rural poor. The introduction of GM food
crops does nothing to change this fundamental reality.
Second, President Bush talks about the cost savings of planting GM food
crops. What he conveniently ignores is that GM seeds are more expensive
than conventional seeds and, because they are patented, farmers cannot
save the new seeds for planting during the next growing season because
those seeds belong to the biotech companies. By exercising intellectual
property control over the genetic traits of the world's major food crops,
companies such as Monsanto stand to make huge profits while the world's
poorest farmers become increasingly marginalised.
Third, the White House alludes to the new generation of crops with genes
whose proteins will produce vaccines, drugs and even industrial chemicals.
The Bush administration cites the example of "golden rice", a new
genetically engineered rice strain that contains an inserted gene that
produces beta-carotene. Noting that half a million poor children around
the world suffer from vitamin A deficiency and become blind, the US trade
representative Robert Zoellick argues that to deny them this valuable food
source would be immoral. The biotech industry has been singing the praises
of the "miracle" rice for years, despite articles in scientific journals
that say it simply doesn't work. To convert beta-carotene into vitamin A
the body requires sufficient body protein and fat. Undernourished children
lack the body protein necessary for the conversion.
What is equally galling to Europeans is President Bush's moralising style.
When the president said that "European governments should join - not
hinder - the great cause of ending hunger in Africa", many European
leaders were incensed. EU countries spend a larger percentage of their
gross national income on foreign aid than the US. The US currently ranks
22nd in the percentage of its gross national income devoted to foreign aid
- the lowest of any industrial nation.
Bush's misguided plan to force Europeans to accept GM food is likely to
backfire. Indeed, it may well turn out to be the straw that breaks the
camel's back for European-US relations. The battle over GM food is uniting
the European public and giving people a new sense of their common European
identity, while distancing them even further from their old ally across
The struggle over GM food may also further diminish the already weakened
status of the WTO. Even if the organisation eventually sides with the US
and forces the EU to introduce GM food, the victory is likely to be
pyrrhic because any WTO order to accept GM food is going to have no effect
on European farmers, consumers and the food industry.
US strong-arming cannot make Europeans eat GM food. A European GM food
boycott will only expose the underlying weakness of globalisation and the
existing trade protocols that accompany it. In the unfolding struggle
between global commercial power and local cultural resistance, the GM food
fight might turn out to be the test case that forces us to rethink the
very basis of the globalisation process.
Jeremy Rifkin is author of The Biotech Century and president of the
Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington DC.
Black Group Urges Bush to Press European Leaders to Join Fight Against
Hunger in Africa;
Calls for End to Ban on Genetically Modified Foods
- U.S. Newswire May 30, 2003
WASHINGTON -- Fighting famine in Africa is an issue that members of the
African-American leadership network Project 21 demand be addressed at the
upcoming Group of Eight economic summit. Project 21 members implore
President George W. Bush to press European leaders attending the meeting
to end their opposition to genetically modified foods so that famine might
be averted in many African countries.
Genetic modification can be used to produce foods that will grow in
adverse climates, repel insects, stay fresher for longer periods of time
and provide greater nutritional benefits. Additionally, foods can be grown
to administer vaccinations that thwart deadly diseases. Fears of trade
sanctions from European powers opposed to genetically modified foods has
forced the governments of African countries like Zambia and Zimbabwe to
reject U.S. food aid that contains biofood items.
In an interview with the Cybercast News Service, Alex Avery of the Hudson
Institute Center for Global Food Issues noted the cultural differences
fueling European opposition to genetically modified foods. Avery said:
"Europe is abundantly fed. It is a surplus producer and has the luxury of
forgoing technologies that are highly promising and productive. Africa
doesn9t have that luxury. They have horrible infrastructure. They
desperately need productivity-enhancing technologies, including the basics
like fertilizer and pesticides."
"The debate over the use of biofoods in Africa is unfortunately not just
about food. If that were the case, millions more Africans would be going
to bed with full stomachs and be properly immunized since we have the
technology to do both right now," said Project 21 member John Meredith.
"What is really at issue here is the same European mentality that has
successfully suppressed Africans and people of African decent for hundred
President Bush has already criticized Europeans' "unfounded, unscientific
fears" about genetically modified foods, and has urged European
governments to "join -- not hinder -- the great cause of ending hunger in
Africa." The Bush Administration has also filed suit with the World Trade
Organization to overturn European bans on biofoods.
Project 21 members urge President Bush to bring up the issue of
genetically modified foods and fighting famine in Africa face-to- face
with European leaders at the Group of Eight summit with the same vigor her
has already shown in the United States.
Project 21 has been a leading voice of the African-American community
since 1992. For more information, contact Chris Burger at (202) 371-1400
x107 or Project21(At)nationalcenter.org, or visit Project 21's web site at
http://www.nationalcenter.org/ P21Index.html. A commentary by Project 21
member John Meredith on the issue of genetically modified foods is
available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA298.html.
Let Them Eat Sausages
- Prof Anthony Trewavas FRS& Prof Chris Lamb; The Guardian May 31, 2003
The diatribe by Peter Melchett of the Soil Association against John Krebs
of the food standards agency (Letters, May 28) is laced with errors and an
ideological obsession with numbers of dietary chemicals. To your stomach,
food is just a complex mess of chemicals containing an estimated one
million different ones at every meal. The natural food chemicals so
beloved by organic acolytes, and accounting for virtually everything you
eat, contain endocrine disrupters, carcinogens by the thousand and
abortifacients at doses ten thousand to a million-fold higher than any
As for vitamins, trace elements and essential amino acids, apart from
there being no credible data, the present concern is over-consumption -
just as damaging as deficiency. Organic produce is, however, generally
lower in protein. In 2002 Professor Christine Williams, a foremost human
nutritionist, concluded that "there appears to be a widespread perception
amongst consumers that such organic methods result in foods of higher
nutritional quality. Evidence that can support or refute such a view is
not available in the scientific literature".
As for pesticide traces, Melchett should raise his knowledge a little from
the ideological and antediluvian. A revolution in toxicology has taken
place. Most chemicals toxic at high dose (such as pesticides) have an
opposite effect at low dose, potentiating our vital defence mechanisms and
instigating cancer rates lower than in their absence. It's called
The House of Lords in 1999 disposed of the claim that organic cows were
free from BSE. As for poultry adulterated with pork and beef DNA has he
never heard of sausages?
-- Prof Anthony Trewavas FRS; University of Edinburgh
* Contrary to ActionAid's report (GM crops of no benefit to poor, says
Action Aid, May 28), GM technology is delivering results in the developing
world. In 2001, 75% of all farmers who grew GM crops were small,
resource-poor farmers from the developing world. Insect-resistant GM
cotton has delivered substantial economic and environmental benefits from
the reduced need for pesticides.
Smallholders in China have seen increased income and in India and South
Africa cotton has provided significant yield increases. Cereal
productivity in Africa is only 1 tonne per hectare. Pest and drought
resistant GM cereals would help increase yields in Africa to 2 to 3 tonnes
per hectare, to give food security and generate cash income.
-- Prof Chris Lamb, John Innes Centre, Norwich.
World Food: Rhetoric Clouding GM Debate
- Economist Intelligence Unit - Executive Briefing May 30, 2003
As the US and EU continue to trade blows over genetically modified (GM)
foods, their arguments move further and further away from the issues
governing the debate.
The US resumed the transatlantic dispute over GM crops on May 13th by
going straight for the jugular. A speech by the president, George Bush,
outlining the case for GM foods blamed the EU's resistance to such crops
for hampering efforts to end starvation in Africa. Robert Zoellick, the US
Trade representative, went further, referring to EU officials as
"Luddites" spreading "anti-scientific views".
The re-emergence of the GM debate, postponed in January while the US
sought support for military action in Iraq, has come at a time when
subsequent opposition to the war has further strained US-EU ties. After
five years, and with little to show for their efforts at overturning the
EU ban on GM foods, the US has joined by Canada, Argentina and Egypt in
referring the case to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), with the backing
of at least nine other countries.
Is the EU changing its stance? -- The aggressive and emotive tack taken by
the US is surprising if not wholly unexpected. The EU was already in the
process of introducing measures that would have eased GM restrictions by
the autumn. Taking the case before the WTO could delay such a move by up
to 18 months, a fact that EU representatives were swift to point out.
The EU has also been quick to poke holes in the US case. EU officials have
cited, for example, the US refusal to back the Cartagena Protocol on
Biosafety, designed to ensure that countries should "have the necessary
information to make informed choices about GMOs". EU sources have also
pointed to the controversial "Starlink" case in the US, in which GM corn
that had not been approved for human consumption found its way into the
Unfortunately for both sides, the reasoning behind the GM ban and the
eagerness to overturn it are more complex than the moral and scientific
sound bites being exchanged. Washington's attempt, for example, to block
the movement of EU subsidised foods to Africa shows that the debate does
not really centre on poverty. At the same time, there is strong evidence
that, in principal, most EU countries would approve of overturning the
ban. The European Commission has already made inroads into investigating
the co-existence of GM and non GM crops, and has stated frequently that it
sees no harmful side-effects from importing or growing modified foods.
Public resistance remains strong. This has done little to convince a
European public still reeling from the high profile food scares of the
last decade. While little fuss was made in the US over the introduction of
GM foods, resistance from European consumers has been strong. The decision
to restrict GM foods in 1998 was largely due to the refusal by major
European retailers, responding to the public outcry, to stock GM products
rather than to EU policymaking.
While Brussels seems prepared to re-adopt GM foods, consumers are still
adamantly opposed. Even as EU authorities were processing applications for
importing and growing GM crops, a poll suggested that only 14% of UK
consumers, the first to object in 1998, were willing to accept GM foods.
Indeed, consumer awareness is where the real divide in policy becomes
apparent. The EU is willing to introduce GM foods on the condition that
labelling rules allow consumers to differentiate between GM and non-GM
products. The US objects, arguing that consumers, if allowed to choose
between the two, would simply avoid GM foods. It contends that there is no
inherent difference between GM and non-GM foods, so distinguishing between
the two is unfair. (In the US domestic market, consumers are not told
whether food products have been genetically modified or not.)
The economic issues. This divide highlights the economic motives on both
sides of the Atlantic. The US calls the ban a "non-tariff barrier" to
trade, claiming that an estimated US$300m a year is being lost in corn and
soybean exports. Meanwhile some European lobbyists and politicians believe
that GM imports would price conventional seed out of the market, forcing
European farmers to adopt GM measures or face insolvency. The Canadian
Wheat Board has recently raised doubts about its own commitment to GM
foods, with directors asking Monsanto to withdraw an application for a
safety assessment of one of its products. Adrian Measner, president of the
board, said "customers in over 80% of our markets have expressed
reservations about genetically modified wheat".
The price of GM foods in the market, and hence the cost of production for
farmers, is also a contentious issue. Extensive research into the cost
effectiveness of using GM seed has been inconclusive. While it is true
that GM production saves on labour costs and herbicides and pesticides
through their resistance to certain chemicals or insects, there is no
notable increase in crop yield. Savings for farmers are also offset by the
increased cost of GM seeds and restrictive contracts from biotech
companies, which can forbid seed-saving, a common agricultural practice.
In harvests where GM protection has provided an advantage over non-GM
crops (an infestation of "corn borers" for example, from which GM corn is
resistant), farmers still gain little because higher-than-expected yields
will drive down grain prices. But even if GM production is a factor in
lowering corn prices from the Americas, there is no doubt that the real
advantage over the EU is based more on economies of scale, with larger
land holdings benefiting from cheaper labour and fewer agricultural
Biotech companies are watching closely . In fact, the parties with the
most at stake in the GM debate are the biotech companies dedicated to
patenting and providing GM seed. Many see this as the main factor
underpinning the US stance, with firms such as Monsanto and Dow Chemical
watching from the sidelines. However, of the seven key players in the
agri-biotech sector, four are based in Europe. Economically, then, the EU
also has much to gain from overturning the consumer-led ban.
Key players in 1998 and the relative importance of agri-business in sales*
Name of company Based in: % of total sales
AgrEvo Germany 100%
Monsanto United States 47%
Novartis Switzerland 26%
Rhoune-Poulenc France 19%
Astra-Zeneca United Kingdom 18%
DuPont United States 13%
Dow Chemical United States 9%
Source: European Commission; * Includes agricultural applications of
chemical and bio-technology products
Notes: AgrEvo and Rhoune-Poulenc have now merged, Dow Agrosciences is the
relevant subsidiary of Dow chemical
The international implications of the EU's GM ban are also a fundamental
factor in the referral to the WTO. While proponents have made starvation
in Africa central to their arguments, GM is only a side issue for
developing countries. Although the US-based Center for Global Food Issues
has accused Europe of "technological apartheid" for influencing Africa not
to accept GM foods, the United Nations Food Programme claims that there is
"more than enough food production in the world for those who can afford to
pay for it". Additionally African concerns centre more on the viability of
exports rather than answering domestic shortages, which makes the issue
one of money rather than food.
The aggressiveness of the US-led alliance is rooted more in the
potentially lucrative returns in other markets. Even if the EU remains
closed to GM crops, there are signs that the WTO case is sending a clear
signal to other markets, particularly China where GM is currently focused
on tobacco production. A similar stand-off over an EU ban on hormone
treated beef in the late 1990's discouraged other WTO members from
adopting such measures, even though the EU remained unmoved.
With the US, Argentina and Canada accounting for 93% of world-wide GM crop
production between them, the stakes are high, both for farmers and for
biotechnology companies. Although the WTO case will play an important role
in the outcome of the dispute, the reaction of consumers will be the
deciding factor in the acceptance of GM foods.
All About Biotechnology
- Manila Bulletin, June 2, 2003
The now raging controversy over the Bt corn has popped up the issue on the
safety of plants developed through biotechnology.
Biotechnology is defined by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization as
"any technological application that uses biological systems, living
organism or derivative thereof, to make or modify products or processes
for specific use." This high-technology procedure has given rise to
another name, "genetic engineering." And products put together under this
system are either called genetically-modified or biotechnology-derived
The US Society of Toxicology says the former (GMF) is misleading because
even conventional methods of microbial, crop, and animal improvement also
involve genetic modifications. In the local front, back to the
controversial Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn. It has already been
planted in Northern Luzon, the Bicol Region, and Northern Mindanao. Some
hectares are ready for harvest.
This precipitated controversy last week. NGOs, consumer groups,
environmentalists, and even the Church have rallied against the corn's
production through biotechnology for reasons of health and the hazards it
poses on the environment.
Benigno D. Peczon, president of Biotechnology Coalition of the
Philippines, has sent us a letter accompanied by pertinent documents about
the safety and advantages of the new technique. He said that studies
conducted by WHO and FAO conclude that "the safe and responsible use of
modern biotechnology can be an effective tool to modernize agriculture,
improve health service, and protect our environment."
"We believe that with proper government regulation, transparent and
objective public discussion, expanded technical capabilities of our
scientists, and support for biotechnology R&D in the Philippines, the safe
and responsible use of modern biotechnology can improve life for
Filipinos," says Dr. Peczon. FAO believes genetic engineering can
potentially increase production in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries.
Monsanto Philippines, a chemical firm and a biotechnology exponent, states
that its Bt corn can yield six tons per hectare, as against five tons of
other hybrid corn. Its variety is even resistant to perennial corn-boring
Local opponents of biotechnology insist that the process endangers the
health of humans and animals. Besides the peril on the environment. The
US Society of Toxicology says that it is the food product itself that
should be the focus of attention in assessing safety, rather than the
process through which it is made.
Filipino oppositors stand firm that products made or developed through
biotechnology should be labeled as such for consumers to make an informed
choice when buying. FAO notes that there are potential risks in
biotechnology, though. First, the effects on human and animal health; and
second, the environmental consequences.
The UN agency urges proponents to "reduce the risks of transferring toxins
from one life form to another, of creating new toxins or of transferring
allergenic compounds from one species to another, which could result in
unexpected allergic reactions."
The scientific community around the world is united in support of
agricultural biotechnology. There are now 22 food, environmental, and
scientific organizations endorsing it. Scientists - 3,500 of them -
signed in their support, including 20 Nobel Laureates.
Come to think of it. The rice on our dining table is a modified hybrid,
same with some fruits. Even a number of chicken breeds that is served as a
tasty fried chicken has been genetically modified too.
African Food on Table at Summit
- Christian Science Monitor, June 2, 2003
The sound of a hymn echoes across the sun-burned valley here. "Sikwe
thembile baba, usigcne kwaba la," the women harmonize as they move rapidly
through the field, pulling corn ears from dry, golden stalks. "We believe
in God. He has brought us this far."
It is harvest time, and the songs on Mfundeni Joseph Nkosi's farm are ones
of thanks. Mr. Nkosi's crop - the first he's grown with genetically
modified (GM) seeds - will be twice the normal size.
For Nkosi, the decision to plant GM seeds was a pragmatic one, based on
yields and costs. He has little idea of the international battle being
waged over the food's safety. Nor does he know that thousands of miles to
the north, leaders of the industrialized world met Sunday to discuss,
among other things, trade barriers, GM foods, and their relationship to
hunger in Africa, where 40 million people are estimated to be short of
Policies discussed by the world's wealthiest nations at the Group of Eight
(G-8) summit in Evian, France, could determine what and to whom African
farmers can sell their goods, and whether African agricultural products
will ever have a fair shake in the global marketplace.
'Africa is the battleground' The summit's host, French President Jacques
Chirac, wants poverty in Africa to be high on the agenda. And in addition
to the $ 15 billion package to fight disease he signed last week,
President Bush called on Europe Saturday to drop its ban on genetically
modified foods and to cut tariffs and reduce subsidies to European
President Bush says European trade barriers and political pressure are
preventing poor countries from embracing technology that could help
improve food security. Europe says America just wants new markets for its
GM food. Since the US is the largest single donor to worldwide food
emergencies, and at least some of the donated food is GM, the issue will
continue to haunt efforts to combat international starvation, as it did
last year when Zambia refused US-donated food because of GM concerns.
"Africa is the battleground," says Alex Wijeratna, campaigner for Action
Aid UK, a British charity, and editor of a new report on GM and food
security released on Wednesday. "It's the excuse that [the US] is using
why everyone else should accept GM."
Questions about GM's applicability to Africa are far from answered. The
majority of the world's 143 million acres of GM crops were grown by
commercial farmers in a handful of countries, not by the small farmers who
comprise the majority of Africa's farming sector.
And, as opponents of the technology like Mr. Wijeratna point out, the
drought-resistant crops GM proponents say will revolutionize African
agriculture have yet to be developed. Although some projects to develop
African-specific GM seeds are under way - Kenya for example has been
working to develop a pest-resistant sweet potato - technology of this sort
has yet to make it to the market.
In South Africa, the only African nation that has commercially licensed
genetically modified crops, a few small farmers have begun experimenting
with GM seeds. Here in Mlondozi, a poor rural area near South Africa's
border with Swaziland, more than 1,000 farmers planted GM corn after
trying small samples of the seed last year. Their success or failure could
influence the way Africa bends on GM issue.
Although the specific science of genetic modification eludes Mr. Nkosi, a
distinguished looking man with a white curly beard and cowboy hat who
speaks Swazi and a smattering of English, he says Monsanto's CRN 4549Bt,
or "the seed that resists stockborer," as he calls it, grows more corn for
less work than his old seeds. Usually he has to spray his fields several
times to control the pest, whose larvae eat the inside of the stalk,
leaving it brittle and stealing nutrition from the ear. This year, he
says, his ears were plump and full without any pesticide.
GM opponents dispute that the technology leads to higher yields or less
pesticide use. They also worry that farmers like Nkosi will become
dependent on purchased seeds and the companies like Monsanto who produce
them. However, this dependence already exists to some degree, since many
farmers rely on hybrid seeds that must be purchased year after year.
If Nikosi has one complaint about his new seeds, it is their expense. A
22-pound bag of GM seeds costs about 25 percent more than non-GM seeds -
about $ 6 - although he said at least some of that cost is recovered by a
reduction in pesticide use.
Still, Nkosi says he is happy about his new seeds. "I would love, God
willing, to plant all my 10 hectares [25 acres] with these seeds next
year," he says.
The wrong focus. Anti-GM groups worry that the focus on new miracle seeds
fails to take into account the real reasons for the continent's food
insecurity: poor soil, poverty, lack of good transportation networks, and
unsustainable agricultural practices including having to purchase seeds.
Instead, they say the solution to African hunger lies in organic and other
natural farming processes. Not only will this help small farmers produce
more, they say, it also could be a source of new export markets. Countries
like Zambia and Kenya have recently had success in growing winter
vegetables for European markets, which could be harmed by the introduction
of GM crops.
"It's a fact that there is hunger in Africa," says Thabo Madihlaba,
executive director of the South African Environmental Justice Networking
Forum which last week protested outside a biotechnology conference in
Johannesburg. "But we think emphasis should be placed on natural systems."
GM seed producers like Monsanto make no claim that their products are a
panacea for Africa's food security problems. Instead, they say it is part
of a larger solution that can help reduce pesticide use and increase
yields, ultimately making small farmers more profitable. And they argue
that since fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides are often difficult and
expensive for small farmers to acquire, the more that can be packed into
the seed itself, the better for the farmer.
"These farmers are not stupid," says Shadrack Mabuza, who runs Monsanto's
smallholder project in Southern Africa. "They want to move away from
subsistence farming and will choose the seed with the biggest yield."
Venice Gets Its Tomatoes Fresh, and in a Stew
- The Washington Post, June 2, 2003
This time of year at the big open-air market near the Rialto Bridge, two
kinds of seasonal produce are generally for sale: stacks of eggplants,
cabbages and artichokes bought from mainland suppliers; and bins of the
same produce, except labeled in big letters: nostrane. It means homegrown.
Mostly, the homegrown eggplants, cabbages or artichokes are scrawnier. But
shoppers buy out the runts first, because they are produced on the islands
of Venice's lagoon at homesteads that would be called truck farms, if
there were trucks instead of boats to take them to market. And Venetians
swear by their superiority.
"We seek these foods out. They're becoming rarer and so more and more
precious. They are simply tastier," says Maurizio Martin, proprietor of
the upscale Da Fiore restaurant and a devotee of local vegetables and,
this being Venice, seafood.
Such an attitude is not limited to purveyors of exquisite food like Martin
(try his risotto with homegrown hops and asparagus), but is held by
Italians and other Europeans rich and poor. This perhaps explains why
President Bush, when he is out promoting American genetically modified
food -- you know, pumpkins the size of Nebraska, or corn that can
withstand enough pesticide to kill a herd of elephants -- doesn't appeal
to the issue of taste. You never hear him say something like, "You should
try these genetically modified soybeans. They're delicious."
The other day, for instance, he played the Starving Africa card when
trying to persuade European governments to lift their ban on the import of
genetically modified foods. Bush told graduates at the U.S. Coast Guard
Academy that European opposition to "bio-crops because of unfounded,
unscientific fears" inhibited African investment in technology that could
presumably raise yields and feed the masses. "European governments should
join -- not hinder -- the great cause of ending hunger in Africa," he
European Union Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy cried foul: no
guilt-tripping allowed. "To accuse, for example, the EU of starving the
Third World . . . that is clearly going much too far," he told reporters.
The Europeans officially oppose genetically modified foods, which they
rather frighteningly call "genetically modified organisms," because they
think maybe they are unhealthy -- although they have produced no solid
evidence to that effect. In Italy, it's not clear that the health argument
holds full sway, although it's true that Italians have boasted of
allegedly healthy attributes of their cuisine. (Pasta must be cooked al
dente, for instance, because the slightly chewy noodles absorb excess
In fact, Italians are far from fundamentalist on the issue of tampering
with nature. Not long ago, some scientists in the north boasted of
creating a genetically modified eggplant that produced a bigger fruit and
could grow well either in a greenhouse or outdoors. No one raised a
protest. A recent U.S.-Italian survey found that a majority of Italian
shoppers in the city of Modena would consider buying genetically modified
food if it were shown to reduce the need for pesticides.
Conversely, there was more reluctance if the modifications made a plant
more resistant to pesticide doses and thus increased the use of poisons.
(In either case, the Italians were less enthusiastic than the Americans
surveyed in the same poll.)
I travel around Italy on occasion to write about food, and I have
concluded that the real issue here is tampering with something practically
sacred. It's a cliche, but there's no getting around it: Food is a
religion in Italy. Just turn on Sunday morning television. For every
Catholic Mass, there are five food programs. Usually they involve a trip
to some obscure town where a chef shows off the local specialty and
everyone argues whether it's proper to make pesto with or without garlic
and how much.
Italians aren't so much against "Frankenstein food," as newspapers call
the genetically modified products, as they are opposed to a general
homogenization it represents. Sameness is a sin at Italy's tables, as in
much of Europe, and the fear is that highly productive American farms,
boosted by new super strains, will nudge out cultivation of local
Italians are intensely loyal to local ingredients and cooking methods,
much the same way their towns and villages are devoted to their patron
saints. In Naples, pizza makers are trying to get an EU patent on Vera
Pizza Napoletana, "true Neapolitan pizza," made with dough fermented
overnight on marble counters, cooked over a wood fire and with a sauce of
fresh tomato and buffalo mozzarella. Finding good Sicilian bucatini (a
thick pasta) with walnut sauce in Florence would be like trying to find
truffles at an Orioles game. Love of one's own cuisine sometimes goes hand
in hand with a certain disdain for the tastes of others. In Venice, Martin
told me his dream was to open a branch of Da Fiore in New York. I asked
him why not Rome or Milan? "They wouldn't appreciate it," he answered.
The zest for variety is bolstered by tradition. Food festivals, called
sagre, are held at harvest time celebrating all kinds of delicacies, from
cherries and melons to boar, mushrooms and, of course, tomatoes.
The revival of products thought to be extinct makes big news. An
organization called Slow Food, part of a pan-European movement that
promotes traditional cuisine, dispatches teams of researchers dedicated to
finding, preserving and reviving old crops and farm animals. Slow Food
militants nurtured the comeback of a nearly extinct black-and-white
species of pig, native to Tuscany, that fell from favor with the
post-World War II arrival of giant American porkers. Slow Food sleuths who
discovered a long-lost pink Tuscan garbanzo verified their find by
comparing the bean to Renaissance paintings stored in warehouses of
Florence's Uffizi Museum.
Not surprisingly, the defense of variety has made fast-food outlets a
target for gourmet critics. Recently, McDonald's, which has restaurants
all over the country, struck back at one critic. The chain sued Edoardo
Raspelli, a food columnist who also hosts a Sunday food show called
"Melaverde," for more than $ 21 million -- the price of a year's
advertising, according to newspapers. McDonald's lawyers said that last
December, Raspelli defamed the company's burgers in a newspaper article by
calling them "repellent." He described the french fries as "obscene" and
said McDonald's is "the symbol of oppression of palate culture."
"We have proof that this is all false," McDonald's lawyer Alessandro
Facchino told Italian newspapers. "The group follows very high-quality
Raspelli defended himself on free-speech grounds. "My job is gastronomic
critic. I said what I thought, without exaggeration," he declared. He did
give credit to McDonald's for low price, speedy and "happy" service and
"knowing how to conquer the family." (Let it be said that Raspelli is also
tough on Slow Food. Makers of an exotic cheese in Sardinia recently
attacked him in print for saying their pear-shaped product "was not worth
saving." The Sardinians, however, didn't sue. They invited him for a
This is a purely personal observation, but modified foods might also be a
hindrance to Italian conversation, which frequently centers on cooking.
The easiest way to get through a social engagement in Italy is to bring up
porcini mushrooms. If variety disappears, what will there be to talk
about? This is especially important because, for Italians, food talk is
often a way to get otherwise sensitive issues off your chest under the
guise of discussing what you're eating.
(Mothers are famed for making sly, slightly negative comments about the
food turned out by their daughters-in-law. "Delicious ragu, dear. But I
had a wonderful linguine in cartoccio with seafood last week" actually
means, "Why don't you try something more daring and make my son happy.
Look at him -- he's withering away.")
Anyway, for President Bush to make his pitch at the Coast Guard Academy
was certainly a safe bet. The graduates' area of duty is, after all, along
the U.S. shore and they may never run into nostrane culture and by
extension may not soon perceive firsthand the Europeans' love of their own
foods. Let him try it on the Navy after a ship makes a call at Venice.
Genetic Modification: Frattini to Powell, by Mid-July EU Regulation
- Agenzia Giornalistica Italia, Italy On Line; Special service by AGI on
behalf of the Italian Prime Minister's office.
Rome, Italy - By mid-July the EU will approve the regulations as regards
genetically modified organisms. This promise was made this morning by the
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Franco Frattini, to the US secretary of
State, Colin Powell, during a meeting that they had in Villa Pamphili this
morning, only a few weeks before the beginning of the semester of Italian
EU Presidency. On the "very delicate question of biotechnologies" reminded
Frattini, there is the "prospect of an EU regulation that we hope will be
approved by mid-July".
The US recently turned to the WTO against the ban that still exists at the
European level against introducing Genetically Modified Substances. The
norm being discussed in the Strasbourg Parliament foresees the possibility
of commercialising gentically modified organisms also in Europe, as long
as so-called traceability can be guaranteed, that is to say a label that
indicates specifically the history of the product. This is a question that
"Europe has interest in resolving" emphasised the Minister for Foreign
Affairs "and through these regulations I hope we will be able to approve
it rapidly and without any further modfications".
EU's Fischler to Unveil Key GMO Recommendations
The task is to ensure "freedom for production", whether farmers want to
use GMO seeds or biological, EU agriculture commissioner FRANZ FISCHLER
- Are big biotechnology companies like Monsanto to pay or is it up to
famers if the use of genetic modified seeds contaminates biological crops?
This key question was not settled during a meeting of EU farm ministers on
Monday, 26 May, in Brussels to discuss coexistence between GMO and
traditional production. The responsible European commissioner, Franz
Fischler, announced that recommendations on co-existence would be
presented by the Commission in July.
The task is to ensure "freedom for production", whether farmers want to
use GMO seeds or biological, he explained to the press following the
ministers' discussion. "There are a series of possibilities open for us to
reduce risks considerably," Mr Fischler declared and mentioned the use of
buffer zones and rotation of crops.
No poison. The Commissioner stated, however, that the whole issue was
purely economical and had nothing to do with risk or risk management.
"The term contamination is used as if GMO was a poison," he declared. "We
are dealing with authorised GMOs with no risk to health," the Commissioner
added. Nine-page strategy paper presented in March In a nine-page strategy
paper presented earlier this year by Mr Fischler, the biological farmers
will have the burden of proving that their products are not contaminated
with genetically modified organisms (GMO).
The paper was criticised by environmental groups for putting the burden of
costs and measures on those who wish to stay GMO free. A number of EU
countries have kept a ban on new GM products since 1999, which has
recently brought the European Union on collision course with the US.
Earlier this month, the United States filed a lawsuit with the World Trade
Organisation (WTO) complaining about the European moratorium on
bio-engineered crops. Since October 1991 the commercial release of only 18
GMOs have been authorised in the EU.
Leave Our Food Alone
- Independent (UK), June 1, 2003
The Government's public consultation on GM crops begins on Tuesday. Open
debate is welcome, but serious doubts remain about the consultation
process just as they do over the Government's record - and continued
secrecy - on this issue. As the Green Party points out, the talks will
ignore areas most affected, including those where at least 90 per cent of
UK farm crops are grown.
This newspaper has long urged caution on GM crops, highlighting the
dangers of cross-pollination, contamination, and the creation of
"superweeds" from genes escaping from experimental farms. We do so again,
just as we again endorse the European Union, whose legislation led to a
reassessment of the UK position, forcing the Ministry of Agriculture to
reveal precise locations of modified crops.
The EU rules contrast starkly with the approach of the United States.
President George Bush has lodged a case at the World Trade Organisation
challenging the EU. Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, has
criticised developing countries for not accepting GM food as aid, although
the safety of GM food is still in doubt.
That the British Government appears to follow the US on GM food is deeply
troubling. Britain has funded huge programmes of GM research across the
developing world. Some projects are downright dangerous, such as
genetically modifying fish that could rapidly spread their altered genes.
Britain must wait until after an open public debate before taking any
decision to commercialise GM technology at home. The Government must heed
the public's desire for food that is nutritious, tasty, and above all
safe. It should reject the Americans' arrogance and embrace the European
approach of caution.
Monsanto Struggles Even as It Dominates
- David Barboza, New York Times, May 31, 2003,
Monsanto should be thriving.
The company has helped develop most of the world's biotech crops; it
produces the best-selling agricultural chemical of all time; and after a
series of huge acquisitions, it can now call itself the world's No. 2
agricultural seed company, behind the Pioneer Hi-Bred unit of DuPont. Yet
profits are in a slump, its shares have tumbled nearly 50 percent in two
years, and the company continues to take a beating over the introduction
of genetically altered crops.
In all the turmoil, the Monsanto Company even lost its second chief
executive in three years, Hendrik A. Verfaillie, who stepped down in
December. Only this week did it name a successor - Hugh Grant, a longtime
company executive who most recently has been chief operating officer.
Despite all the company's advantages, analysts say, its progress has been
impeded by heavy spending, management shake-ups and the unexpected costs
of trying to win the world over to those altered crops.
"Europe is really the stumbling block for global acceptance, and that's a
problem," said Leslie Ravitz, an analyst at Morgan Stanley. And Andrew
Cash, an analyst at UBS Warburg, noted that "part of the problem was their
infrastructure is for a global market." He added, "If the world market had
accepted biotech two years ago, or even now, they'd be much more
Monsanto executives, for their part, say they are right on course. While
Mr. Grant, on his promotion, acknowledged that "we're at an important
crossroads," he stressed his longstanding belief that altered crops "have
The company has successfully moved away from a dependence on chemicals,
and biotech profits are growing, top executives say. Indeed, this year,
for the first time, Monsanto predicts that over half of its agricultural
profits will come from something other than chemicals.
Biotech genes, one of Monsanto's newest businesses, are expected to
produce about $600 million in gross profits this year, analysts say.
Chemicals - a mainstay since the company's founding in 1901 - are in sharp
"Fifteen years ago, we were digging holes in the ground, extracting oil,"
Mr. Grant said in a recent interview at company headquarters in St. Louis,
before his elevation to chief executive. "We were making nylon. We were a
fibers company. Then we were a fine-chemicals company. Now we're a seeds
and biotechnology company."
This is what Monsanto wanted to become, not an aging chemical concern but
a new-age biotech company that would use the tools of genetic engineering
to help transform the world of food and agriculture.
But Monsanto spent dearly to get here, investing billions in the last
decade to acquire huge seed companies and to develop genetically altered
crops. The new Monsanto essentially has two main products: genetically
altered seeds and Roundup, the herbicide that works in tandem with some of
the company's most popular biotech crops. Roundup now commands a
remarkable 90 percent of the world's herbicide market. And because
Monsanto was a pioneer in genetically manipulating plants, it controls
over 90 percent of the market for biotech "traits," the genes that
transform ordinary seeds into new types of crops.
Still, profits have been lackluster for two years, analysts say, partly
because of weakness in Latin America, where inventory and management
problems have taken a toll. Investors say Monsanto has also been weighed
down by its heavy cost structure. Return on equity is weak, analysts say,
because of the roughly $10 billion the company spent in the last decade to
acquire seed companies and market about a dozen varieties of genetically
"They don't even make their cost of capital, so that means every quarter
they're actually destroying value," Mr. Cash, the analyst, said. "They
introduced biotech traits in '95, and now there are 140 million acres.
That's astounding. So it must be costs; it can't be sales." Weak profits
have sent Monsanto shares down, to $20.05 at the close of business
yesterday from a peak of $38 in June 2001.
Still, most analysts agree that Monsanto has no real peer in biotech
crops. "There's nobody else in the input traits that's comp etitive," Mr.
Ravitz of Morgan Stanley said. "They are way ahead there." Monsanto's
biggest rivals - DuPont, Syngenta and Bayer - are working to develop their
own biotech crops, but only a handful of products have reached the market.
Some of the best prospects are two to seven years away, the companies say.
"Part of it was our late entry into the biotech arena," said Richard L.
McConnell, the president of Pioneer Hi-Bred, DuPont's seed unit. DuPont
and Syngenta, however, are about to release products that go head-to-head
with some of Monsanto's best-selling biotech traits. And some analysts
predict that those two companies will capture a significant share of the
market - and perhaps pressure Monsanto to lower its prices. In the
meantime, the competitors are content to profit from Monsanto's biotech
traits, which are licensed to most of the world's major seed companies.
Sales of soybeans are growing because of Monsanto's biotech traits, said
John Sorenson, the president of Syngenta Seeds North America, referring to
the growth of Monsanto's popular Roundup Ready soybeans, which are
genetically altered to withstand being sprayed by Roundup. "It's been a
very profitable segment for us."
When biotech crops were first planted commercially in the United States,
in 1996, Monsanto was not the first to market them, but it was the most
aggressive. That year, about 2 million acres of biotech crops were planted
nationwide; today over 100 million acres are. Roundup has been one of the
biggest beneficiaries of this boom. Although it was already a blockbuster
product, sales soared to over $2.4 billion in 2001, making it the
best-selling agricultural chemical ever.
More than 80 percent of the soybeans in the United States and Argentina,
the world's biggest exporters, are now genetically altered. And much of
the land they are grown on is sprayed with Roundup. To compete, other
seed companies plan to introduce a series of "output" traits, or genes
that could improve the quality or taste of crops like corn, soybeans,
canola and tomatoes.
Competitors say output traits will be even more profitable, and experts
say that contest will inaugurate the real biotech race. "It's like a game
of Monopoly," said Tray Thomas, the president of the Context Network, an
agribusiness consulting group in West Des Moines, Iowa. "Monsanto has
hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place. But a lot of the game is yet to be
Monsanto says it plans to maintain its lead by devoting nearly 80 percent
of its more than $500 million in annual research and development spending
to biotech traits. Its rivals, by their own estimates, devote closer to 20
But therein lies a problem, analysts say: Monsanto's research spending has
held down profitability. "They're generating gross profits, but they
invest it back into the business," Mr. Ravitz said.
Monsanto also faces problems abroad, where genetically altered crops are
sometimes scorned. Europe is showing no signs of easing its restrictions,
and is in fact considering tightening some of them, which would make it
more difficult to export biotech crops there. "Europe has been a major
problem," Mr. Thomas said. "A lot of farmers are worried that they'll
plant things they won't be able to sell in Europe."
Problems like that have inflated the cost of commercializing biotech
crops, not just in Europe, but in other nations that follow Europe's lead.
In the United States, the biotech industry abandoned altered potatoes and
delayed the marketing of altered wheat because of consumer health
concerns. Monsanto says the crops have been properly tested and pose no
threat to humans or the environment.
Monsanto has also drawn government scrutiny. According to a regulatory
filing in March, the Justice Department was investigating whether the
company engaged in anticompetitive conduct in the herbicide market. And
lawyers are pressing forward with a class-action lawsuit that accuses
Monsanto of conspiring with competitors to control the world's biotech
Monsanto said yesterday that it was cooperating with the Justice
Department investigation. The company said it acted properly and denied
that it engaged in any conspiracy to control the seed market.
Monsanto executives say they gained dominance with pioneering research and
by getting some of the first products to market. "The bets we made really
started in the 1980's," said Mr. Grant, the chief executive. "We really
stopped on chemical R&D, and we focused on biotechnology." Having proved
that biotech traits can be profitable, Monsanto said it was moving into
another phase: stacking genetically altered traits in seeds, one on top of
The company is also preparing to introduc