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3 June 1999 Edition

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Lifting the curtain on power as Monsanto corners God

Roundup ready crops, Suicide genes, terminator seeds, hormone-flavoured milk and meat - the bio-tech revolution is upon us.

`Render under Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's.'

You might not be very keen on doing either, but when it comes to agriculture, or just plain eating, you might have no choice. Monsanto, which in the past contributed Agent Orange, dioxins and PCBs to humanity, has now made some further modifications of `God's works', which, if let, will give the company a patent on the crops upon which the world depends for its food.

The `debate' about GM food is the struggle to determine whether Monsanto will be let corner the food market.

Tying seeds and farmers to proprietary chemicals


Monsanto has produced a `super' weedkiller called Roundup. Roundup (glyphosate herbicide) is so effective it kills every weed and saves hours of labour putting out herbicides. Monsanto then modified the seed, like soya, so it was strong enough to resist `Roundup'. Now farmers can spew `Roundup' all around with impunity, the soya survives.

And if you want `Roundup-ready soya' you have to enter into a contract with Monsanto promising, on pain of huge penalties, never to save or replant it, and to use Monsanto's Roundup.

A Kentucky farmer, D. Chaney, one of 1,000 so far prosecuted for breaking contract, settled for a mere $35,000 damages to Monsanto. Herbicides are big business. U.S. farmers spend $4.3 billion annually controlling weeds. Roundup is a nice little earner.

`Roundup', which is already on the shelves in Ireland, causes nausea, skin and eye inflammation, bronchial constriction and nervous system disorders. (One in three of children here now have asthma. Nobody can work out why. - The Lancet)
     
The `debate' about GM food is the struggle to determine whether Monsanto will be let corner the food market.

Suicide genes


Not content with this `sledge-hammer' herbicide, which farmers can get hooked on, Monsanto has recently produced seeds which include a suicide gene. It means that instead of plants reproducing themselves, they are programmed, by interfering with their DNA, not to have seed which germinates. That keeps farmers going back to Monsanto every year for their new seed. They are called `Terminator' seeds. It is reported they'll be on stream in five years. At present, 80% of crops grown in the Third World are grown from farm-saved seeds. With the new seed, the farmers will have to come back every year for more.

With suicide genes, and Roundup contracts, Monsanto has a patent ad futurum. God didn't even have that. Monsanto boasts that U.S. soya production in the year 2000 will be 100% genetically modified. That is 60 million acres, in the US alone.

Cotton is a special case again. Monsanto bought up Calgene, which had modified cotton genes to withstand a good dose of a herbicide, BXN(Bromoxynil) which happens to be recognised by the U.S. EPA as a cause of cancer and birth defects, including water on the brain (hydrocephaly) and spine and skull defects. Rabbits developed all these `defects' when they were fed BXN.

Now humans mignt not directly eat cotton plants, but they do eat meat, and BXN is fat soluble and accumulates in the meat of animals which eat cotton plant as silage in the states.
Local authorities across the state have final authority over planning decisions, but have not used their powers to stop GM, still less to ensure the preservation of Ireland's trading image as `green safe food', which might yet ensure the continuation of Irish agricultural production and trade in a world where Ireland cannot compete with world prices of the U.S. and Oceania.
 

Testing times


Independent testing of Monsanto's new products is both rare and hazardous. Most often, test results have emerged from Monsanto's own 150 labs at base camp, St, Louis, Missouri, and have been readily accepted by the U.S. EPA and the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration, as proving crops to be quite safe. A potato is still after all a potato, and we've eaten them for years. That's what Monsanto said anyway.

Recently Dr. Pusztai, at the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen, researched Monsanto's genetically modified potato by feeding it to rats. He found that the spud weakened the rats' immune system and damaged vital body organs, heart, liver, brain and stomach.

Dr. Pusztai, who is 68, went on Granada TV with the Institute's permission, to talk about his results. He was promptly suspended and then sacked from his job. The Rowlett Research Institute recently received a donation of £140,000 from Monsanto.

A group of 20 scientists, in an unprecedented move, supported his findings called for his reinstatement. They also called for funding for extensive research into Dr. Pusztai's results, which investigated the effects of Lectin in the GM potato. Lectin has also been introduced into a range of modified foods, including maize.

Roundup Ready Soya is everywhere


You perhaps don't think that people eat much soya. You'd be wrong. Soya is in 60% of all processed food sold in Britain, from bread, beer, biscuits, baby food, and so on. 80% of U.S. vegetable oils come from soy beans. You're talking genetically engineered crop products in crisps, salad dressings, chocolate, burgers, margarine, biscuits, infant formulas, oils, chips, and, wait for it, MacDonalds french fries (which spends a phenomenal $2 billion a year on its advertising.) In all, 30,000 items in U.S. grocery stores contain genetically modified ingredients.

And that is where GM labelling comes in. Without labelling GM products, nobody knows what they are consuming, and the damage to health, perhaps 5 or 10 years down the road, can never be established. The U.S. Government FDA does not consider labelling is necessary, thanks to strong bipartisan lobbying by Monsanto. After all, why would you need to label a potato, asks Monsanto. It's a potato.
     
The battle over EU bans on rBGH beef, or GM foods is one between immensely powerful corporations looking to control the food market and the staple crops which feed the world. It's not so much Frankenstein seeds, but Frankenstein on the board of directors.

On/off germination genes


But hot on the heels of `terminator' genes, are `verminator' genes, which link the plant's ability to germinate, or grow at all, to the application of proprietary chemicals. If you switch off germination at end of season, the farmer has to come back for more seed. That means Monsanto has to keep producing seed. But with verminator genes, the farmer only has to buy a chemical to switch germination on again. That is cheaper for Monsanto. And you have to buy it. RAFI (Rural Advancement Foundation International) calls them junkie seeds - like Lazarus they rise again, under the blessed chemical from Monsanto. Novartis (the Swiss owned conglomerate of Sandoz asnd Ciba-Geigy) has even gone so far as to genetically engineer switching off the plants' natural resistance to infections. (The SAR system) Only a proprietary Novartis-produced chemical can then switch them on again.

Persuading the Persuaders


How did Monsanto get away with it? Last year Monsanto made a gross profit of $5 billion on gross revenue of $8.6 billion. Not only have they contributed to the election campaigns of Clinton and Blair, they have also been walking in and out of the `open door' at the White House with judicious selection of Congressmen and government advisers to take into their pay - a place on the board earns them $100,000 per annum.

An article in Chicago's `In These Times' gives a wide list of Monsanto lobbyists who are drawn from the ranks of Congressmen, Government and past and present presidential aides. Monsanto's public relations chief, Virginia Weldon, is a member of Clinton's Committee of Scientific Advisors and Gore's Sustainable Development Roundtable; Mickey Kantor, a former Secretary of Commerce, and adviser to Clinton, has joined William Ruckleshaus, a former director of the U.S. EPA, on the Monsanto Board. The same article refers to top Clinton aides, including Madeleine Albright, Dan Glickman, Secretary of Agriculture, and William Daley, Secretary of Commerce, lobbying EU counterparts on Monsanto's behalf, and mentions Bertie Ahern and Lionel Jospin as objects of their attentions. Monsanto's CEO Shapiro has been named by Clinton as a ``special trade representative.''

Could it be that their attention to Bertie Ahern caused his swift, if not unique U-turn, (remember PfP) when Ahern forgot his last election undertaking of total opposition to genetically modified foodstuffs and trials thereof - which have since been conducted on Teagasc (state Research and Development company for Agriculture) land at Oakpark, Carlow.

The crop was destroyed by opponents of GM. ``What else was open to them?'' says Dublin European election candidate Seán Crowe, who has voiced concerns over GM foods encroaching into Ireland.

The EPA first granted Monsanto a licence to grow Roundup ready sugar beet, on Teagasc land in County Carlow. Genetic Concern tried every avenue to contest the licence. In the end, Clare Watson took a case by way of judicial review, and lost. Monsanto insisted to the judge that she should bear costs, estimated to run to £400,000.

It is a practice well known to corporations in the States - it's called slapps, where a sharp and high cost reminder is delivered to protestors to shut them up. Genetic Concern has not shut up.

This year, although the Dublin Minister for the Environment, Noel Dempsey, talked of his interest in a GM crop moratorium, Monsanto is going ahead this year with `trials' all over the place, in Cork, in Tipperary, in Meath, Wexford, Kildare and Carlow and Dempsey has set up an `exploratory debate' which started last week.

Meanwhile the CEO of the Food and Safety Authority of Ireland, Patrick Wall, gave as its considered opinion 2 weeks that GM food ``was quite safe'', and Dr. Fenton Howell, of no less a body than the Irish Medical Organisation, said he thought that this opinion was ``welcome and sensible''.

Minister Dempsey thinks that a general moratorium on GM food would be illegal under the EU regulations. He might have considered other EU countries, like Greece, which placed a moratorium on all GM crop tests; Austria and Luxembourg, which have GM food bans; France and Denmark, which have restrictions. In Britain, where Blair is `gung ho' for GM, the British Medical Association, representing 15,000 doctors, called for a moratorium on all GM crop planting, and the Local Government Association in Britain has supported a 5-year freeze on `Frankenstein Foods', which gives children in school and people in care the right to a GM-free diet.

Sinn Féin Councillor Cionnaith O Súilleabháin, from Clonakilty, in Cork, initiated just such a lead to Irish councils in a resolution he put to Clonakilty UDC last February, calling for an end to planting GM crops and the labelling of GM food and support for other EU states which are resisting the bureaucrats in Brussels.

The craven attitude taken by Ahern's government, a stance mirrored within the establishment parties, means that local authorities have not taken up Cionnaith's challenge. Local authorities across the state have final authority over planning decisions, but have not used their powers to stop GM, still less to ensure the preservation of Ireland's trading image as `green safe food', which might yet ensure the continuation of Irish agricultural production and trade in a world where Ireland cannot compete with world prices of the U.S. and Oceania.

Hormone stuffed beef


Two weeks ago a showdown was billed between EU Commissioner Franz Fischler and U.S. Agriculture Secretary, Dan Glickman, over whether the EU would allow imports of hormone-treated meat, rBGH, which the World Trade Organisation has declared cannot be banned. Hormone-treated beef has been banned for ten years in the EU.

Cattle are treated with growth promoting hormones which include doses of testosterone, progesterone and worst, oestradiol 17 beta. (The latter 2 hormones compose the contraceptive pill, the former is a male sex hormone). The hormones accumulate in milk and the meat. Just this month, the EU veterinary committee announced that it had uncovered new evidence that oestradiol 17 beta has both tumour-initiating and tumour-promoting effects. Oestradiol, as far back as the 1950s, was known to have been a cause of vaginal cancers in women and cancers in their offspring. In Italy, babies fed on hormone treated cattle products developed breasts. A picture of a baby's head on a female body on the front of Der Spiegel damned the product in Europe, yet its use has been cleared by such organisations as the U.S. FDA, the World Health Organisation and the UN FAO. Monsanto hopes to get the ban lifted at the WHO conference in Rome this summer.

Trade War over GM and BGH


The U.S., which has been selling 30,000 tonnes of supposedly `hormone-free' beef to the EU annually, was caught out two weeks ago, when growth promoters were discovered in supposedly hormone-free beef. Attitudes have hardened and the EU, according to EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler, has no intention of revoking the ban. The World Trade Organisation has adjudicated the EU ban to be illegal.

So the U.S. has retaliated by threatening a trade war and has drawn up a hit list of mainly agricultural products worth $900 million, upon which the U.S. threatened 100% tariffs unless the beef ban was withdrawn by 13 May. It wasn't. The U.S. hit list affects only some £10 million of Irish exports to the US, mostly pigmeat.

The battle over EU bans on rBGH beef, or GM foods is one between immensely powerful corporations looking to control the food market and the staple crops which feed the world. It's not so much Frankenstein seeds, but Frankenstein on the board of directors. The ban on beef using hormone growth promoters, as the dispute over genetically modified crops, is one important way for the EU to protect its farmers the hand of Monsanto cornering God and the food market, but also the US taking over our food markets.

In April this year, seven of the largest grocery chains in Europe

went GM free: Tesco, Safeway, Sainsbury's, Iceland, Marks and Spencer, the Co-op and Waitrose are all looking for products which are 100% free of GM organisms. Then Unilever, which had been an aggressive supporter of GM, threw in the towel, then Nestlé, and the next day, Cadbury Schweppes all joined the GM-free European consortium. Dunnes Stores is still assessing its position.

At the end of the day, it's not a scientific analysis which will determine the outcome, but a power play for control of markets - for who is going to be let to corner the food market. It just so happens that it is also our survival, and that of the animals and their furry friends, the caterpillers, that are at stake too.
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