Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : June 8, 2005
* GMO Africa Blog
* Montreal Biosafety Conference Ends Without Agreement
* Improved Methods in Agriculture Sprout from Intuition, Technology
* Genetically Modified Maize - UK Parliament Discussion
* GM Must Get A Go
* GM Rice Forges Ahead in China Amid Concerns Over Illegal Planting
* Profile: Richard Jefferson
* Re: Farm Scale Evaluations
* "Escaped" Canola in Japan - Greenpeace Spin on a Non-Story
* It's All In Your Head
* Who is Monsanto & What's Happened to the Environmental Movement?
* .... Enter the Activists
* .... Defining Monsanto
GMO Africa Blog
- James Njoroge, June 6, 2005 http://www.gmoafrica.org/blog.htm
Zimbabwe - Two years ago, drought and famine ravaged Zimbabwe. Many
Zimbabweans cheated death by a whisker as their leaders haggled over
whether to accept food aid, especially maize (corn) from the World
Food Programme (WFP).
The borne of contention was whether to allow WFP deliver genetically
modified food to hungry Zimbabweans. In the words of the then
Minister for Agriculture and Rural Resettlement, Joseph Mande,
Zimbabweans would not accept any food from WFP as it was
"contaminated" with genetically modified organisms. "You cannot use
the Zimbabwe population as guinea pigs," Mande was quoted as saying.
President Mugabe, himself, declared that his country would not be
receptive of any genetically modified food. This year again, Zimbabwe
is facing another worst food crisis. After another long spell of
drought, Zimbabweans face, perhaps, the worst food shortage.
After months of self-denial, the Mugabe government is finally
pleading with WFP for food. It is, however, interesting that no one
is talking about genetically modified food. What more can one say?
Evidently, the Mugabe government must have learnt that the debate
about GMOs, especially by Africans is a luxury. It is important to
point out that all this chest-thumping rhetoric about genetically
modified food has one thing in common.
The rhetoric is devoid of hard scientific evidence to support the
case against GMOs. President Mugabe and Minister Mande's allegations
about GMOs would only be described as wild and misplaced. At the
height of hunger in 2002, Mugabe allowed WFP to bring in genetically
modified maize as long as it was milled. For a president who cares
about the 'health' of his people, this somersaulting was unexpected.
But it confirms the fact that the hubris about the dangers posed by
genetically modified food is, again, only informed by ignorance and
If when milled genetically modified maize would be safe to
Zimbabweans, why criminalize the unmilled one? Critics of GMOs need
to realize that they cannot eat their cake and have it. Those who
allude at the US's hypocrisy in introducing GMOs in Africa are, to
say the least, misinformed. Genetically modified food has been
certified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as safe to eat
and plant. FDA is a highly respected regulatory agency that would not
compromise the health of consumers of genetically modified food. This
is why if you go to Wal-mart, Kmart or any other supermarkets in the
US, you will not encounter corn labeled 'genetically modified.'
What Africa needs is a technology that will guarantee its farming
community sustained food production. Genetic engineering offers this
James Njoroge earned a bachelors degree from Egerton University,
Kenya. He is currently pursuing a masters in communication and media
studies at Wichita State University, Kansas. He believes that public
understanding of science and technology is the cornerstone of
Montreal Biosafety Protocol Conference Ends Without Agreement on GMO
Shipping Documentation Rules
MONTREAL (UNEP) -- The 118 countries and the European Union, who are
members to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, have ended their
second meeting without agreement on the shipping documentation
requirements for bulk shipments of living modified organisms (LMOs),
(also known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs)), intended for
food, feed and for processing.
According to the Protocol, (Article 18.2 (a)) delegates were required
to take a decision on the detailed requirements for such
documentation within two years of the entry into force of the
Protocol. This timeframe expires on 11 September 2005.
Because no decision was adopted, discussions on this will continue at
the third meeting of the Parties, scheduled to take place in
Curitiba, Brazil from 13 to 17 March 2006.
In the absence of a decision, Parties will in the meantime use the
provisions outlined in Article 18.2 (a) of the Protocol, which
requires member governments to take measures to ensure that
documentation accompanying GMOs intended for direct use as food, or
feed or for processing, clearly identifies that the shipment "may
contain living modified organisms (LMOs) that are intended for use as
food, or feed, or for processing and states that they are not
intended for intentional introduction into the environment."
Parties will also apply the decision they adopted at their first
meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2004. In that decision, it was
agreed that the documentation will also provide details of a contact
point for further information.
This contact point could be the exporter, the importer, or any
appropriate authority designated by a government. "The disappointment
at not achieving consensus on some issues should not be allowed to
overshadow the many positive achievements of this meeting", said
Hamdallah Zedan, Executive Secretary to the Convention on Biological
Diversity and its Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. "Indeed, the other
decisions taken at this meeting will go a long way toward improving
the operational effectiveness of the Protocol, especially in such
areas as capacity-building, information-sharing and risk assessment
and management", he said.
Parties took decisions on a number of such operational issues: They
adopted the multi-year programme of work for the biosafety
clearing-house; agreed on measures to address the capacity-building
needs and priorities of developing countries; established an expert
group to review and provide guidance on approaches to risk assessment
and risk management; and approved the rules that will guide the
workings of the committee that was established to promote compliance
and to address cases of non-compliance.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was adopted in January 2000 in
Montreal, Canada. It was negotiated under the Convention on
Biological Diversity in order to promote the safe transfer, handling
and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern
biotechnology that may have adverse effects on the conservation and
sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account
risks to human health, and specifically focusing on transboundary
The Protocol (Article 18.2) provides that Parties to its shall take a
decision on the detailed documentation requirements for shipments of
LMOs that are intended for direct use as food or feed, or for
processing, no later than two years after the date of entry into
force of the Protocol. The Protocol entered into force on 11
September 2003 and so far 118 countries, as well as the European
Community have ratified it.
The first meeting of the Parties to the Protocol, which was held in
Malaysian city of Kuala Lumpur in February 2004, adopted detailed
information requirements for GMOs (such as genetically engineered
seeds and fish) that are destined for direct placement into the
The Biosafety Clearing-House is an information exchange mechanism
established in Article 20 of the Protocol to assist Parties to
implement its provisions and to facilitate sharing of information on,
and experience with, living modified organisms (LMOs).
Improved Methods in Agriculture Sprout from Intuition, Technology
- Steve Rissing, Columbus Dispatch (Ohio), June 7, 2005
About this time each year, the priest at my childhood church would
ask whether the corn would be "knee-high by the Fourth of July."
Now, more than ever, the answer is positive. That's partly because of
the green revolution of the 1970s, but more because of ongoing faith
in the subsequent gene revolution.
Most modern crops have changed a lot since I was a child and even
more since they were first cultivated by people. Those changes have
entailed genetic manipulation, knowingly or not. Whoever decided not
to eat their seed corn from the previous year's most-productive
plants became the first biotechnologist and likely went on to tell
about it. As a result, those planters and their crops were more
likely than others to survive and reproduce.
Though biotechnological methods have since changed, the basic concept
of improving the genetic composition of crop plants has not, and
neither have the agricultural and economic rewards for those
developing the technology. Early biotechnologists unwittingly acted
as agents of selection, eating all individuals of a potential crop,
save those for planting and subsequent harvesting the next year.
Animal breeders likely had a leg up on their proto-botanical
colleagues because they had a more intuitive understanding of the
underlying biology of breeding based upon personal experience, even
if the exact genetics were unknown. Nonetheless, Gregor Mendel
discovered the laws of modern genetics while working with plants in
an effort to improve agricultural varieties.
Until recently, however, all efforts to improve agricultural species
were frustrated by reliance upon sexual reproduction as the sole
method to move genes within a target population. Usually, only genes
within a specific species could be combined, and in each generation
of breeding thousands of unwanted genes would ride along with the one
of interest into resulting offspring.
The gene revolution has changed all of this within the past two
decades. Now, single targeted genes can be identified and moved more
rapidly among individuals and even species without the tedious fuss
and muss of sex. The result is a billion-dollar agricultural industry
including corn more likely than ever to be knee-high before fireworks
Steve Rissing is a biology professor at Ohio State University.
Genetically Modified Maize
- The United Kingdom Parliament, June 6, 2005 : Column
Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs whether the Government had had sight of the EU study
into the effects of rats being fed Monsanto's MON 863 maize when it
voted in favour of the application to import MON 863 at meetings of
the Regulatory Committee on 29 November 2004 and 19 May 2005; and
whether she has made a subsequent assessment of MON 863 in the light
of this study. 
Mr. Morley: I confirm that before voting on the dates mentioned the
Government had seen both the rat feeding study submitted by Monsanto
to support its applications under EU regulations and the critique of
the study submitted by the German authorities
The votes taken on 29 November 2004 and 19 May 2005 relate to two
separate applications on GM maize MON 863. The first related to the
import of maize grain for use as any other maize (including feed but
excluding cultivation) and the second to food products. Both dossiers
will now go to the Council of Ministers for decisions as no qualified
majority was reached at the respective committees.
The vote on 29 November related to the application by Monsanto via
the German authorities under Directive 2001/18/EC for the import and
use of GM maize grain, including feed but excluding food and
cultivation. Monsanto's dossier included data from a rat feeding
study. The German authorities submitted the dossier to other member
states with a favourable opinion. In the UK the application was
considered by the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment
and the Advisory Committee on Animal Feed and based on their advice
the UK gave a favourable opinion on this application.
The vote on 19 May was on an application made to the German
authorities in August 2002 under the novel food regulations (EC)
258/97. This application is for food use of ingredients derived from
GM maize MON 863. This dossier also included the results of the rat
feeding study. The initial opinion from the German authorities was
referred to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which
concluded that MON 863 maize will not have an adverse effect on human
health. This conclusion has been endorsed by the UKe expert
committee, the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes.
In September 2004 the German authorities submitted a critique of the
rat feeding study by Professor Pusztai. This highlighted a number of
features of the study that appeared to indicate adverse effects of
the GM maize. EFSA examined this document and issued a statement in
September 2004 that confirmed its earlier conclusions. At the same
time, the rat feeding study was independently re-examined by the GM
sub-group of the UK's Advisory Committee on Animal Feedingstuffs,
which confirmed that this was a normael and well-conducted study that
did not indicate any adverse effects.
GM Must Get A Go
- Chris Kelly (Woomelang), Weekly Times (Australia) - Letters, June 8, 2005
I refer to the article "Brumby plea for R&D" (WT, May 25). Victorian
State Development Minister John Brumby told 350 researchers, industry
and government representatives at the Co-operative Research Centre
Association annual conference in Melbourne that "Australia must
intensify its research and development programs to remain globally
Victoria is doing some brilliant research work but, sadly, product
development has stalled in some sectors because of Premier Steve
Bracks and Mr Brumby. Their pandering to green political minorities
has left world-class research and development in plant industries
abandoned and ostracised.
While the Commonwealth Office of the Gene Technology Regulator gave
the green light for GM canola -- safe for both humans and the
environment -- Mr Bracks said we needed to be sure markets would not
Fair enough, but after three reports (Acil Tasman, Australian Bureau
of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Professor Peter Lloyd),
all concluding markets would be unaffected, Mr Bracks quashed all
paths by slapping a four-year moratorium on commercialisation of GM
canola. Meanwhile, Victorian farmers are pummelled by declining terms
of trade, falling productivity relative to our competitors, and some
of the harshest droughts on record.
Yet new technologies promising lower production costs, higher yields,
monumental leaps in environmental gains, enhanced nutritional content
and an industry dynamic that could economically power the entire
state, are shunned by Mr Bracks to appease a little green niche,
politically influential but scientifically uninformed.
Major competitors and customers are devouring these new technologies.
Some commentators claim biotechnology is the most rapidly adopted
technology in agricultural history, due to the social and economic
benefits the crops offer farmers.
The policy on GM crops in Victoria is indefensible. Give farmers a
fair go and allow the benefits of this new technology to flow to the
GM Rice Forges Ahead in China Amid Concerns Over Illegal Planting
- Xun Zi Nature Biotechnology 23, 637; June 2005. www.nature.com/nbt
. Reproduced in Agbioview with the permission of the editor.
'A biosafety time bomb may be looming as unapproved varieties of
pest-resistant transgenic rice have edged beyond the remit of field
Recently published results of field trials of genetically modified
(GM) rice in China bring the country one step closer to approval of
commercial varieties. However, observers warn that without proper
regulatory oversight and agricultural management, GM rice cultivation
poses a potential environmental time bomb. Compounding those fears,
illegal planting of unapproved varieties of GM rice has been
reported, despite government attempts to introduce a media blackout.
In its April 29 issue, Science (J.Huang et al., 308, 688?690, 2005)
published a study indicating two of the four varieties of
pest-resistant rice currently undergoing field trials in China have
9% higher crop yields and allow reduced pesticide use than
conventional crops. The two crops under study include stem
borer?resistant genetically modified rice GM Xianyou 63 and leaf
roller?resistant rice GM II-Youming 86 that contain a Bacillus
thuringiensis (Bt) toxin gene and the cowpea trypsin inhibitor (CpTI)
The paper's lead author, Jikun Huang, director of the Center for
Chinese Agricultural Policy at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)
in Beijing, hopes that the publication will contribute to the
approval of the crop for commercial release. That would make China
the first country to approve GM rice (Nat. Biotechnol. 22, 642,
2004). The government has been holding back approvals of new
transgenic food crops since 2000, to avoid responsibility, some
believe, for any resulting health or environmental problems (Nature
435, 3, 2005).
Fears that resistant insects could emerge, should illegal planting
fail to use adequate refuge strategies to reduce selective pressure
for resistance or buffer zones to reduce gene outcrossing from GM
rice to wild rice varieties, have been further fueled by Greenpeace
China in Hong Kong. The group reported on April 13 that GM rice seed
has been sold and grown illegally in central China's Hubei province,
where some of the field trials took place. Pang Cheung Sze,
Greenpeace campaigner says, "At least 950 to 1,200 tons of GM rice
entered the food chain after last year's harvest." The level of
illegal planting may be exaggerated by activists, it seems likely
that bootleg GM rice is already in farmers' fields.
Although scientists working under the remit of the Ministry of
Agriculture unanimously refused to comment, other scientists
affiliated with the State Environmental Protection Administration
(SEPA) and the CAS have confirmed the news. Dayuan Xue, a scientist
at Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences under the SEPA who
heads a program of GM rice environmental impact assessment comments,
"I heard some field trials of GM rice in Hubei have been illegally
expanded to greatly surpass the official cap of 100 mu [6.7 hectares]
for field trials of one variety."
China's Ministry of Agriculture dismissed these claims and promised
to investigate the issue but the results of the enquiry are not
available. Meanwhile, the local agricultural authorities in Hubei
have allegedly punished people responsible for the leak. In May, the
potential for negative media coverage was such that the Chinese
government banned all media coverage of the GM rice leak until
Even if a GM rice is legally commercialized, Chinese scientists like
Huang admit that China's poor control of agricultural management
practices opens the possibility for gene flow from transgenic
varieties. Thus far, in the trials, scientists have planted their
crops within a buffer zone of 100 meters. It is not yet clear what
types of buffer zone or refuge will be implemented if the government
decides to go ahead and approve a GM rice variety.
Regulations merely stipulate the need to use safety measures whereas
buffer zones are mandatory only for crops deemed to have a high
safety risk profile. GM cotton, for instance, has been planted since
its approval in 1997 without the use of refuges, according to Yongjun
Zhang, a research fellow of the Institute of Plant Protection at the
Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing. He believes that
the lack of observable resistance is due to the frequent rotation of
crops by Chinese cotton growers.
Unlike the cotton growers, however, China's rice farmers commonly
grow rice as a monoculture, indicating that insect resistance
management may pose a bigger problem for GM rice. And China's rural
economic structure further complicates the scenario, according to
Xue. Unlike in the US where big farms dominate, China's arable land
is distributed among its 700 million farmers who, on average, have
less than 0.1 hectare per capita of arable land in rice-growing areas
located mainly in southern provinces. "Farmers may be reluctant to
contribute parts of their precious land to refuges if they see the
economic benefits of GM rice," says Xue.
Besides resistance, Xue is also concerned about the outcrossing of
genes from GM varieties to the three wild races identified so far in
China. This could potentially compromise the integrity and natural
(perhaps highly valuable) traits of indigenous rice varieties,
replaying concerns expressed by environmentalists about Bt corn and
wild corn and teosinte in Mexico (Nat. Biotechnol. 23, 6, 2005) and
Bt rice and basmati rice in India.
Yet for some crop scientists, the environmental hazards of GM rice
have been overplayed. Feng Wang, director of Fujian Agricultural
Genetic Engineering Laboratory in Fuzhou, says, "In practice, Chinese
farmers always plant a diversity of rice seeds instead of one or two
varieties," adding "This would help form a 'natural refuge' for GM
rice if it is commercialized."
He adds that his unpublished studies of GM rice developed by CAS
scientists containing both Bt and CpTI genes show that in natural
environments, the pollination distance of rice is negligible beyond
10 meters (rather than the previously recognized distance of 100
meters.) "If the result can be widely proved, there will be no need
to set up a wide refuge belt for GM rice so that the difficulty and
costs of doing so will be largely reduced," says Wang. Yet, pollen
movement studies are notoriously difficult to execute and the results
tend to be highly dependent on the prevailing natural conditions.
Since China does not have a dedicated biosafety law, the Ministry of
Agriculture has overall enforcement responsibility when it comes to
safety issues-with breaches punished at relatively low fines reaching
up to $10,000. Huang urges that more resources should be devoted to
agricultural management by the government if the GM rice is to be
commercialized, as the cost of management will be "minimal compared
with the benefits of GM rice."
Profile: Richard Jefferson
- Stephan Herrera, Nature Biotechnology 23, 643; June 2005.
www.nature.com/nbt . Reproduced in Agbioview with the permission of
For the past 15 years, the 'open source' movement has been a somewhat
obscure but growing area of biology. Geneticist Richard Jefferson is
one of many in this global grass roots movement to create a framework
for scientists to develop biotechnologies, unimpeded by patents,
licenses and lawyers-all of it for the greater good of the public.
Jefferson, 49, has held court on the topic of innovation in the
public interest from rural Nigeria to the World Economic Forum in
Davos, Switzerland. Although he is now based in Australia, he is
American, born in that quintessential surfer town, Santa Cruz,
During his postgraduate studies at the University of Colorado,
Boulder, Jefferson developed the -glucuronidase (GUS) reporter gene
system that has been a mainstay of plant biotech research. In 1985,
with a fellowship from the US National Institutes of Health, he moved
to the Plant Breeding Institute in Cambridge, UK. It was here on June
1, 1987, that he would initiate and manage the world's first field
release of transgenic potatoes containing the neomycin
phosphotransferase II and GUS marker genes. Four year later, he moved
to Wageningen in the Netherlands to establish a not-for-profit
research organization for distributing plant biotech research tools
(the Center for Application of Molecular Biology to International
Agriculture, or CAMBIA).
Today, Jefferson, CAMBIA and his open source initiative BIOS
(Biological Innovation for Open Society) are based in Canberra,
Australia. Their remit encompasses not only plant biotech but methods
for all kinds of biological innovation. Just as in open source
software development, BIOS researchers are part of a virtual project
development group that shares data and collaborates as if they are
all on the same team. Innovators may still have ownership of their
own patents, but they can't hinder anybody from creating something
from the same core information to develop similar products.
Last February's publication in Nature (433, 629-633, 2005) of several
alternative systems to the industry standard gene transfer vector,
Agrobacterium tumefaciens, marked the first validation of Jefferson's
'open-source' approach. Protocols using A. tumefaciens are the
subject of myriad patents owned mostly by industry giants like St.
Louis, Missouri-based Monsanto. As a result, Jefferson writes in his
paper: "The complexity of the patent landscape has created both real
and perceived obstacles to the effective use of [A. tumefaciens] for
agricultural improvements by many public and private organizations
"I think we sent a very clear message [with that paper] to companies
that use the patent system to dominate and then destroy an industry,"
Jefferson says. "It was a shot across the bow." He says he is not out
to steal patents from the rich and give them away to the poor. "We're
not going after existing patents," he adds, "unless they are
improper, unavailable or otherwise used in a coercive way." Instead,
"we're looking for ways to develop and secure parallel
technologies--in patents if necessary--that can meet new priorities
Jefferson has been compared to Linus Torvalds, who played a leading
role in developing the freely available Linux computer operating
system against long odds. Among his many influential backers are
Carol Kovacs, head of IBM's Life Science division in Somers, New
York, and Gary Toenniessen, director of Food Security at the
Rockefeller Foundation in New York. Like Torvalds, Jefferson is a
visionary and a populist. But this is where the comparisons end.
Torvalds is famously reclusive whereas Jefferson is effusive.
"The only real pitfall I see is if open source advocates fall into
the same sort of idolatry that's characteristic of those who advocate
open source software such as Linux," says Greg Conko, a senior fellow
and the director of food safety policy at the Competitive Enterprise
Institute, a Washington, DC-based think tank. "Too many Linux
supporters have an 'us' against 'them' attitude. There can be a place
for both open source and proprietary research in plant biology, just
as there is in software."
Although CAMBIA now offers free access to the Rhizobium strains
described in the Nature paper in the form of its 'TransBacter'
system, it is unlikely to be taken up rapidly. As Richard Jorgenson,
professor of plant sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson,
explains: "Getting around Agrobacterium is important, but there are a
lot of other aspects key to plant science innovation that are as
important or more so, like selective markers, promoters and gene
silencingtechnologies. I'd say that selective markers may be the
biggest challenge because a number of them-major herbicides, for
example-are all patented."
IBM's Carol Kovacs says that in the end, open source biology's
biggest challenge is not choosing the 'right' platforms to pursue,
but simply finding innovations that are amenable to the open source
model-and finding scientists and companies willing to offer
unfettered access to their inventions. "In the pharma and biotech
fields, if you don't provide intellectual property it is a severe
disincentive to the private sector to innovate," she says, "and
that's a bit different than in IT, where most larger competitors are
broadly cross licensed already. This doesn't happen in the [the drug
industry]. It's a mistake to [apply] what worked in IT to...pharma
Jefferson concedes that this is unlikely to change anytime soon.
"It's easy to talk about producing and giving away discoveries for
the good of society, especially when it's somebody else's discovery,"
he says. "But you see where all this hoarding has gotten
biotech--progressone inch at a time while the IT sector moves forward
in giant leaps and bounds."
Re: Farm Scale Evaluations
- Bob MacGregor
I wonder if the results would have been different if the study had
used Clearfield canola as the "conventional" crop? After all,
several herbicide-tolerant crops are available which have been
derived via means other than genetic engineering techniques; are
these licensed for use in the UK despite the presumed adverse impacts
on ag-land biodiversity of HT crops?
> A VIEW ON THE GM FARM SCALE EVALUATIONS
"Escaped" Canola in Japan
- Bob MacGregor"
I have seen the alarmist messages/press releases from Greenpeace
about GM canola plants growing in Japan where, presumably, some
imported canola has been spilled. What I haven't seen is information
about whether conventional canola is also found growing wild in
Japan. Since introduction of exotic species is second only to habitat
destruction as a cause of biodiversity loss, it seems to me that the
potential naturalization of canola, GM or otherwise, in Japan, where
it is not native, would be a much bigger story than just finding some
germinated, spilled seed at the port.
To me, this seems like more Greenpeace spin on a non-story. Compared
to real, verifiable threats to biodiversity, GM crops aren't even on
the map, yet millions are being spent setting up an international
bureaucracy to "protect" nature from the supposed adverse effects of
LMOs while forests continue to be razed for more grazing or crop land
and non-native species (both crops and ornamentals) continue to be
introduced and coddled around the world-- this is not quite sane!
It's All In Your Head
- Globe and Mail (Canada), June 6, 2005; Via Agnet
Robert Wager, Malaspina University College, Nanaimo, B.C., writes
that the claims that organic food is safer do not stand up to
scrutiny (Pesticides In Perspective -- editorial, May 31). A good
example co mes from the Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdom.
Last year, it tested six organic corn-meal imports. All failed
because they contained a known carcinogen at levels between seven and
30 times the allowable limit. In fact, food safety agencies around
the world do not allow organic producers to adve
claims, as there is no evidence to support them.
Another myth widely believed is that organic food is grown without
pesticides, chemicals or antibiotics. A visit to the U.S. Department
of Agri culture's national organic program list of allowed substances
shows something quite different. People may feel that organic food
tastes better, but the facts are that it uses pesticides (naturally
derived), chemicals and even antibiotics on some products.
Who is Monsanto & What's Happened to the Environmental Movement?
- IFCNR, May 27, 2005
PART 1 - Who is Monsanto? Full article
The name "Monsanto" means many different things to many different
people. It's an estate in Italy that produces a world class Chianti.
It's a small, scenic Portuguese village. It was the maiden name of
John Francis Queeny's wife, Olga, that he bestowed on his startup
manufacturing company in 1901.
The fact that farmers world wide planted the billionth acre in
genetically modified crops just this May is offered by the industry
as proof positive that agricultural biotechnology is now mainstream.
That hundreds of millions of humans have consumed commercially grown
GM foods since 1996 without a single health problem speaks highly of
the safety measures taken by today's food scientists and seemingly
underscores the credibility of the industry. Still, the controversy
Part 2 - Who is Monsanto? Enter the Activists
Full article at http://biotech.ifcnr.com/article.cfm?NewsID=501
Monsanto, a global trader whose trade is agriculture, is the perfect
archenemy of the Earth's ecology and inhabitants. It is a corporate
giant and, under its earlier "chemical incarnation" a convicted
polluter. Thanks to the private nature of scientists laboring over
beakers and electrodes, the image of the evil genius seeking to play
God so heavily preached by Hollywood, cartoonists, and novelists is
one easily grafted onto Monsanto. Hence the reference to genetically
enhanced foods as "Frankenfoods," a label hungrily seized by popular
journalists eager for sensational taglines to attract reader
The list of Monsanto products, once lionized for their contributions
to society, are now demonized. Virtually every item coming from the
company's facilities, historically or at present, from its artificial
sweeteners saccharin and NutraSweet to its plastic soda bottles, to
its wide array of chemical products including its pesticides are
surrounded by allegations of being carcinogens and environmental
pollutants and portrayed as if they were intentionally designed as
Monsanto now enjoys the dubious distinction of being the center of
the international hate (there is no more accurate word to describe
it) campaign being waged by environmental groups that view virtually
all genetically modified agricultural products as threats to the
Given the universally acknowledged negative factors facing our planet
as well as all who dwell there - a rapidly increasing human
population, the pressing need for more protein and the subsequent
terrible toll that quest has taken from our oceans and wild lands -
the intensity of the hostility focused on Monsanto and other life
science research organizations is not only puzzling to some, it can
be used to define the reason why Monsanto has been singled out as the
symbolic sacrificial lamb.
Certainly Monsanto is a profit-driven corporation. The very nature of
"sustainable" business is to make a profit. Certainly too, the tenor
of protest issuing forth from environmental and animal rights groups
alike is decidedly anti-corporate, anti-capitalist and
anti-international trade. The many environmental and animal rights
groups at the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle
openly displayed their disdain for international trade and Monsanto
is, indeed, a corporate leader in international trade.
Part 3 - Defining Monsanto
Full article at http://biotech.ifcnr.com/article.cfm?NewsID=502
The question at the center of the controversy swirling about Monsanto
and its role as a leader of agricultural biotechnology is why is
there no middle ground between the environmental and animal rights
advocacy groups and those nudging genetic selection to bolster the
world's food supply?
The next logical question is, given the host of corporate, government
and academic institutions involved in applying modern genetics to
agriculture, why is Monsanto singled out for global hectoring by the
advocacy community? Part of the answer to that question lies in yet
another. Exactly what "sin" did Monsanto commit to merit such
Visiting any number of anti-GMO websites provides a very unsubtle
portrait of Monsanto as seen by biotech critics, particularly those
aligned with the organic food industry, a link where more than a few
"environmental/anti-GMO" groups have vested economic interests in an
organic foods market expansion.
The Organic Consumers Association headlines its website "Millions
Against Monsanto." Any number of sites dedicated to pillorying
Monsanto cross the boundary between activism and bad taste. One
United Kingdom website, "Monsanto.unveiled.info" is headlined
"Monsanto's Crimes" and purports to reveal the company's alleged
crimes "against humanity and the environment." Another example of
jejune rudeness calls itself "Monsantosucks.com." Each rails against
agricultural biotechnology and urges faithful followers to take
action against genetically engineered foods in general and Monsanto
Such action ranges from campaigns to force the labeling of all
products containing or made with even a hint of genetically modified
organisms (GMOs). Technically everything and everyone is genetically
modified by virtue of our descent from myriad forbearers, selective
breeding and grafting. Putting aside that fact of life, the present
controversy rages over insertion of genes from one organism into
another. The most common example is the taking of a gene that
produces insect-specific toxic proteins from a bacterium, Bacillus
thuringiensis or Bt, found in soil throughout the globe and inserting
that gene into an agriculturally important plant such as corn,
cotton, soy, rice, canola, wheat, potatoes etc. giving the plant pest
Critics call such genetic tinkering "playing God" and raise fears
that new life forms will emerge and threaten not only the health of
humans but also the existence of current plants and animals, both
domestic and wild. Never mind that some 20 years of human and animal
safety data has been closely scrutinized prior to government approval
of each and every Bt crop for commercial use. Never mind, too, that
Bt proteins, no matter how deadly they prove to agricultural pests,
are not toxic to people, domestic animals, fish, or wildlife and that
they exhibit no danger to the environment. The key to the anti-GMO
campaigning is the ability to raise fear of the unknown in consumers.
One of the many rallying cries sounded by anti-GMO groups was (and to
a large extend remains) that there is insufficient research proving
genetically modified products are safe to the environment and its
No one will or should argue with the contention that safety is
paramount in any consumer product, most particularly the world's food
supply. On that point environmental and animal rights groups are
absolutely correct. However, the test of the credibility and worth of
any organization comes in comparing words and actions. An assessment
of the phalanx of non-profit crusaders before entities such as
Monsanto suggest most are lacking even a modicum of consistency
between words of criticism and their actions alleged to correct
perceived problems. That is precisely where the anti-GMO faction (and
it is substantial) within the environmental movement loses its
credibility and, in fact, veers sharply away from the role as Earth's
Groups like Friends of the Earth, Environmental Defense, Greenpeace
and others repeatedly call for "more scientific research" on the
effects of genetic modification. Yet, many within these same groups
race about Europe, Asia, and the Americas seeking out and uprooting
test fields destroying the very research data they claim are needed.
During the height of the anti-GMO force's influence at the end of the
20th and entrance of the 21st Centuries, Craig Winters, founder of
The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods, called anti-GMO
activists "Health Freedom Fighters" equating GM crops with both
dictators and terrorists and placing activists in the role of
humanity's saviors. The "dictator" persona stems from the complaint
that firms like Monsanto are enslaving farmers because they expect
the farmers who use their seeds to pay a fee every growing season.
They are "terrorists" because the charge against them is that
genetically enhanced crops are threatening the health of humans and
Typical of the Orwellian illogic of the anti-GMO campaign is what
happened to Monsanto cotton test fields in India during the last days
of November 1998. Dubbed "Cremate Monsanto," the direct action
efforts of the Karnataka State Farmers Association (KRRS) uprooted
cotton plants at Monsanto's first test site, heaped them into a pile
and set them ablaze.
The height of such fear mongering and crop destruction proved
extremely effective in the latter years of the 20th Century and
beginning of the 21st. The professor who led the crop vandals was a
self-described Gandhian who denounced the "ignorance, incompetence,
and irresponsibility" of Monsanto and the Indian government for
gambling with the future of Indian Agriculture.
The irony, of course, is the insinuation that Mahatma Gandhi would
abide by such actions that hearken back to the days of
anti-intellectual book burnings. Gandhi did not strip off the
garments of the British culture because he feared modern technology.
He clad himself in Indian peasant garb and sat spinning cotton fibers
precisely to protest the British hindrance of his nation to partake
of progress' fruits.
India, before the advent of cotton strains whose genes were
deliberately tweaked to withstand the often harsh growing conditions
of India's farmlands, planted more cotton and harvested less per
hectare than other agricultural nations. Gandhi would have been the
first to salute modern geneticists whose new strains of cotton are
bringing economic good times and increased harvest yields to his
Coverage by the environmental media rejoiced last month with
headlines that India rejected Monsanto's Bt cotton permit renewal
bid. Those headlines were misleading. The strains of Bt cotton in
question were two that proved unsuitable for a specific geographical
area in a single Indian state. Indian cotton farmers there switched
to other Bt varieties. Approval was issued to virtually all renewal
petitions for Monsanto's and other Life Science cottonseed purveyors.
The misleading press reports over the Indian cottonseed denials is
yet another "marker" of the errant path the environmental movement is
following. The story of Monsanto's GM potatoes adds one more
dimension of insight into the twisted rationale for the firms public
crucifixion. It's a tale that begins with a type of potato known as
the Russet Burbank that is not only the king of American grown
potatoes, it is also a potato particularly vulnerable to predation by
the two most damaging potato pests in the United States and the
world: the Colorado potato beetle and potato leafroll virus.
Examining the campaign against Monsanto for that company's list of
biotech "sins" against the environment reads almost like the
environmentalist movement's wish list of desirable objectives for a
Monsanto's Bt crops reduce crop dependence on toxic chemical
pesticides. The threat of toxic run-off to rivers and tributaries as
well as drinking water supplies is diminished. Insect resistant crops
prove less vulnerable than traditional or organic crops to toxic
fungus contamination and therefore a safer food for humans. In view
of an increasing human population, harvest yields are multiplied
without the need to expand farmland by decreasing wild habitat.
Energy needed to produce chemical pesticides as well as apply it is
minimal. The ability of GMO crops to improve both the nutritional and
economic lot of traditionally impoverished Third World farm
communities translates directly into less destructive pressures on
the environment because, to quote an Ecuadorian shrimp farmer,
"Poverty is the worst form of pollution."
The benefits to humankind and the environment afforded by
agricultural biotechnology are fact and readily verifiable. So
where's Monsanto's sin?
Despite the shrill noise of the environmental protests, more nations
are opting to allow their farmers to follow the Monsanto lead. They
are opening their borders to the benefits of agricultural
biotechnology and many nations around the globe are seriously
pursuing development of genetically modified crops ideal for their
farmlands. South Africa's pioneering efforts on that continent at
farming biotech enhanced corn/maize is now being followed by Kenya.
Brazil openly acknowledges their farmers' preference for biotech
crops after years of clandestine plantings.
One begins to suspect that there are a myriad of ulterior motives far
removed from "saving the Earth" behind the environmental vitriol
aimed against modern genetics.
Setting aside the questionable charges that genetic crop modification
poses threats to the environment, the bulk of offenses lodged against
Monsanto fall into a distinct anti-business category. Today's leading
environmental groups tend to share a common aversion to corporations,
global trade and the core tenet of capitalism, namely that business
is sustained by the ability to generate a profit. For organizations
whose every second breath seems to resonate with pleas for tax-free
donations, their public aversion to the private sector's desire to
generate taxable revenues seems both hypocritical and self-defeating.
Until the recent push by animal groups to "save the harp seals" in
Canada, the usual fundraiser-driven campaigns associated with
flagship species of wildlife - whales, elephants, tigers, wolves -
gave way to campaigns aimed at commercial fisheries, aquaculture,
farm food animals, "factory farming," and GMOs.
A glance at the motivation behind the change of emphasis can be seen
in the efforts of "environmental attorney" Robert Kennedy Jr. to
convince the nation's elite liability lawyers that successfully suing
the nation's pork producers for polluting water, land and air would
equal the billion dollar awards made in the suits against the tobacco
Cash, whether from litigation or control over the world's food
supply, is a powerful incentive. The environmental movement's efforts
to demand third-party certification that an industry is eco-friendly
with the environmental groups the third party certifiers guarantees
not only a new revenue stream but also insures that they, not the
government nor industry will exercise effective control of the world
food supply. As mentioned one environmental group hold sway over tuna
imported into the U.S. Others, the Marine Stewardship Council and the
Forest Stewardship Council, are pushing for universal acceptance of
their eco-labels for the seafood and timber industries respectively.
Given those efforts by the Greens, charges that Monsanto is
attempting to control global agriculture because the company expects
to be paid for the use of its seeds appears more than hypocritical.
So why is Monsanto singled out as the symbol and the center of the
controversy surrounding modern agriculture's evolution thanks to
The most logical answer appears to be the fact that Monsanto is a
for-profit, global trading, free market, capitalist, corporation.
The lack of a middle ground between the anti-GM environmental
movement and the biotech community is because those who condemn
capitalism refuse to admit any merits to a system, a way of life and
belief so diametrically opposite of their own.
In the minds of the environmental and animal rights groups here and
abroad, Monsanto represents America.
Monsanto and America share the same goals, the same altruism, the
same desire to help and to earn fair compensation for goods provided,
and, unfortunately, they share too the same harsh resentment by those
who envy the success of Monsanto as a business and America as a world