BioDemocracy News #23--After Seattle: Has Global Opposition Killed AgBiotech?

BioDemocracy News #23 December, 1999 (formerly CFS News)
News and Analysis on Genetic Engineering, Factory Farming, & Organics
by: Ronnie Cummins
BioDemocracy Campaign <www.purefood.org>

Affiliated with Organic Consumers Association <www.organicconsumers.org>
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After Seattle: Has Global Opposition Killed AgBiotech? (Part 2)

Quotes of the Month:

As the international uprising against genetically engineered foods
continues to grow, the worst fear of US government and business officials
is that the commotion abroad will awaken Americans, who unknowingly already
consume biotech foods being rejected in Europe... The US food and
biotechnology industries are now in full "crisis management"
mode, their PR experts and lobbyists working furiously to prevent the same
kind of defeat suffered on foreign shores."
John Stauber, "Food Fight Comes to America," The Nation, 12/27/99

"The United States would never knowingly permit a single pound of any
American food product to leave this country if I had a shred of evidence
that it was unsafe... I say to people around the world, we eat this
[genetically engineered] food, too, and we eat more of it than you do."
President Bill Clinton, speaking in Seattle, Washington at the World Trade
Organization Meeting, December 1, 1999

"Two days ago Cargill issued a statement about studying the segregation of
genetically engineered crops from conventional crops, if consumers were
prepared to pay a higher price for that. But European consumers expect food
giants like Cargill to respect their rejection of GMOs in the food chain,
including animal feed. We demand that Cargill immediately stop
force-feeding us with unwanted and unneeded GMOs."
Arnaud Apoteker, Greenpeace, speaking December 2, as activists blocked a
shipment of Cargill's US soybeans in the port of Brest, France.

"Beyond the wildest hopes of the street warriors, five days in Seattle have
brought us one victory after another. The protesters, initially shunned and
denounced by the respectable 'inside strategists,' scorned by the press,
gassed and bloodied by the cops and national
guard: shut down the opening ceremony; prevented Clinton from addressing
the WTO delegates at Wednesday night gala; turned the corporate press from
prim denunciations of 'mindless anarchy' to bitter criticisms of police
brutality; forced the WTO to cancel its closing ceremonies and to adjourn
in disorder and confusion, without an agenda for the next round."
"Victory in Seattle" by Alexander Cockburn & Jeffrey St. Clair,
Counterpunch magazine, December 3, 1999.
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Ever since the opening volleys on Nov. 30 at the Battle of Seattle, when
yours truly got pepper-gassed--along with my fellow blockaders--near the
locked-down entrance of the Sheraton Hotel, I've had a persistent cough,
but also a near-constant smile plastered across my face. Despite millions
of dollars in public relations expenditures, despite arm-twisting by the
Clinton administration and the Fortune 500, despite frantic last minute
deal-making by the Gene Giants, the earth-rapers, and the international
financial elite, we the "people" won a major victory in Seattle. Attempting
to use the hammer of the World Trade Organization to force genetically
engineered foods and industrial agriculture products down peoples' throats
failed. Trying to ram through corporate-friendly international trade
regulations to prevent countries from passing popular laws that embody the
precautionary principle, sustainability, national sovereignty, and promote
biodiversity and human rights, the New World Order of the corporations
lost--while farmers, consumers, workers, and international Civil Society
won. For the moment at least, the Biotech Century has been put on hold.
While the millennium of BioDemocracy is certainly not yet at hand, the
BioTechnocrats and their handmaidens in government around the world are in
complete disarray.

***In Seattle, a desperate, last-minute attempt by European Commission
bureaucrats to go along with the US government and the biotech lobby and
begin implementation of a WTO "working group" on genetically engineered
foods backfired and had to be canceled. After announcing at a press
briefing on Dec. 1 that the European Union would consider the opening of a
"fact-finding" WTO working group on biotech, Commission officials came
under severe criticism from the EU's environmental ministers, especially
France, Denmark, and Great Britain, and were forced to announce on Dec. 3
that the EU no longer supported the initiation of a biotech working group.
This means that negotiations for an internationally-binding Biosafety
Protocol treaty, scheduled to be concluded in Montreal next month, to
regulate safety-testing and labeling of GE food and crops, will now
potentially be able to go forward without the threat of legal sanctions
from the USA and trade bureaucrats in the WTO. The Clinton administration
and the Gene Giants are deathly afraid that the Biosafety Protocol
negotiations--an outgrowth of the Biodiversity Convention of the Rio
Environmental Summit of 1992--will require strict safety-testing, labeling,
and liability requirements for genetically engineered foods and crops.

***In Seattle, arch-conservative Congressman Charles Stenholm, a Democrat
from Texas, a powerful figure on the Agriculture Committee in the House of
Representatives, obviously shaken by the anti-GE, anti-WTO protests in the
streets outside his hotel and the delegates' meetings, warned of the dire
consequences for US agribusiness if the biotechnology industry loses the
battle for the hearts and minds of the American people. Stenholm, quoted by
Bill Lambrecht in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Monsanto's hometown
newspaper, pleaded with biotech industry representatives to campaign in
churches and to "empty your pockets" to fight biotechnology's critics. "We
have to take to the streets ourselves. Otherwise, we lose," Stenholm said.

***At least some of the PR gunslingers in the biotech industry appear to be
taking Congressman Stenholm's advice literally. In Washington, D.C. Nov.
30, Monsanto's infamous PR firm, Burson-Marsteller, paid a Baptist Church
from a poor neighborhood several thousand dollars to bus a group of 100
African-American "demonstrators" to disrupt a street protest organized by
the Organic Consumers Association, Friends of the Earth, US Public Interest
Research Group, Center for Food Safety, and other groups in Washington,
D.C. While 150 anti-biotech protesters chanted outside the meeting
room--the second in a series of three FDA Hearings on genetically
engineered foods--Burson-Marsteller's paid troops silently carried their
signs.

According to a nationally syndicated story by Melody Peterson in the Dec. 8
New York Times, "The church members marched around a group of
anti-biotechnology activists who were dressed as Monarch butterflies and as
a 30-foot-long ear of corn.While the anti-biotechnology activists held up
posters denouncing 'mutant corn,' the church members waved signs saying
'Biotech saves children's lives' and 'Biotech equals jobs.' Some of the
anti-biotechnology activists said church members told them that they had
been paid $25 to demonstrate." The Times also reported that
Burson-Marsteller hired last month a Chicago labor and environmental
consulting group, SCG, headed by Jerry Morrison--a firm previously involved
in progressive environmental and electoral campaigns--to generate support
for the biotechnology industry at the FDA hearings in Chicago on Nov. 18.

***At noon on December 13 in Oakland, California (1301 Clay Street) in the
largest anti-biotech demonstration in the US thus far, at least 1000
demonstrators are expected to take to the streets to demand that the FDA
pull all genetically engineered foods and crops off the market. The
protest, organized by the Organic Consumers Association, Greenpeace,
Pesticide Action Network, USPIRG, Center for Ethics and Toxics, Bay RAGE,
and a dozen other groups, will take place outside the hearing room where
the FDA is holding its third and last meeting on GE foods. Among other
actions, protesters plan to march to a Safeway supermarket and either dump
or return to the store manager Kellogg's Corn Flakes and other GE-tainted
food products being sold by America's leading Food Giants--the
"Frankenfoods 15." For more information on the new "Frankenfoods 15"
boycott in the USA see <http://www.purefood.org>

In an effort to reduce participation at the Oakland anti-biotech protest,
FDA authorities last week moved the location of the hearings at the last
minute (a tactic they also utilized in previous hearings in Chicago and
Washington, D.C.). Government officials also initially refused to grant a
permit to the anti-biotech coalition for our protest, while admitting that
they readily granted a permit to pro-biotech demonstrators, the so-called
"Coalition of Concerned Scientists," who are traveling from biotech
research centers in Davis and Berkeley, California to support the FDA's "no
safety-testing, no labeling" positions. According to a memo being
circulated by the "Coalition of Concerned Scientists," they are not paying
scientists to attend the pro-biotech Oakland rally--no doubt having learned
a lesson from the Monsanto "paid protester" fiasco in Washington. Of course
these "Concerned Scientists,"--unlike economically deprived poor people in
Washington, D.C.--don't really need to be paid, since all of them are
already on the amply-endowed research payrolls of the Gene Giants or their
university-affiliated departments.

***Canadian anti-biotech campaigners--Greenpeace, the Council of Canadians,
and the Sierra Club--registered a major victory in late-November when New
Brunswick-based McCain Foods, the largest potato and frozen french fry
processor in the world, announced they would no longer accept Monsanto's
gene-altered Bt potatoes for their brand-name products. McCain's chairman,
Harrison McCain, was cited by the Ottawa Citizen newspaper Nov. 29 as
saying the decision was made after "months of pressure" from consumers who
fear genetically engineered crops could damage the environment and human
health... "We've got too many people worried about eating the product and
we're in the business of giving our customers what they want, not what we
think they should have." Farmers growing Bt potatoes and the biotech
industry criticized McCain's for caving in to consumer pressure, but
admitted that there is nothing they can do. The McCain decision comes in
the wake of a recent highly-publicized petition by 200 scientists from
Health Canada, the government health department, to Allan Rock, the Health
Minister, saying they lacked sufficient staff and resources to examine
potential health risks of genetically engineered foods.

***In yet another blow to the North American biotechnology industry,
Reuters news service reported on Oct. 29 that the chief of the Canadian
Wheat Board, Greg Arason, said that the giant Canadian grain exporting
agency "must mobilize to identify and segregate genetically modified wheat
and barley from natural grain," in order to reassure consumers and to
safeguard Canada's multi-billion dollar wheat export market. Although GE
wheat has not yet been commercialized, Monsanto and other companies hope to
begin to market gene-altered wheat within a few years. Meanwhile the Canada
press have noted continuing indecision on the part of rapeseed (canola oil)
farmers as to whether to plant genetically engineered rapeseed in the next
growing season. Over one-half of Canada's canola crop were genetically
engineered this year. Canada has lost almost a billion dollars in canola
sales to Europe since the genetic engineering controversy erupted in 1997.
If Japan (which is likely) and China cut back on canola purchases, Canada's
rapeseed farmers will be facing economic disaster.

***Farmers Weekly, a newspaper in the UK, reported on Dec. 3 that US-based
Burger King now claims to be GE-free. Although Burger King has yet not
formally announced a ban on genetically modified foods in North America,
they told Farmers Weekly that no genetically engineered ingredients are
used in their products, including French fries. McDonalds may follow suit
in banning GMOs, according to Fraser's Potato Newsletter in Canada, a food
industry journal. Another of North America's biggest processors, Lamb
Weston, is believed to be using up all its GM supplies before the year end,
the newsletter adds. However, according to Marnie Glickman, Washington,
D.C-based Political Director for the Organic Consumers Association,
"Consumers should not trust PR statements put out by companies such as
Burger King and McDonald's, nor put a lot of credence in unsubstantiated
rumors circulated by industry insiders. Coca-Cola representatives, for
example, have recently told campaigners from our organization that they are
GE-free, but have stubbornly refused to put this in writing. Companies like
Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and Burger King will stay on our list of
Frankenfoods companies to boycott until they announce publicly, and offer
scientific proof, that they have completely banned genetically engineered
ingredients from their products."

***Reuters news service in Paris reported on Dec. 1 that Minneapolis-based
grain commodities giant Cargill is "studying whether to adopt a system
that would segregate genetically modified (GM) soybeans from non-GM
organisms for the purpose of supplying European consumers." Apparently
Archer Daniels Midland and other grain traders' booming sales of GE-free
soybeans and corn are starting to cut in to Cargill's profit margins. Both
Cargill, ADM, and the rest of the corporations that make up the
international grain cartel now see the writing on the wall. US soybean
exports to Europe have declined from $2.1 billion in 1996 to $1.1 billion
in 1999, and will likely decline to zero over the next 12 months as
Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and other biotech campaigners drive GE
soy and corn-derived animal feeds off the market. As the same thing happens
in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and the rest of Asia--not to mention the US and
Canada--GE grains, for all practical purposes, will be dead. Meanwhile
exports of GE-free soybeans from Brazil to Europe are booming, with sales
rising from 3.1 million tons to 5.4 million tons over the past year.

***Novartis and AstraZeneca, two of the largest life science corporations
in the world, obviously preparing for a major downturn in anticipated
profits in the agbiotech industry, announced in early December that they
were both separating off their pesticide and agbiotech divisions from their
more profitable pharmaceutical divisions, and then merging their two
troubled ag and biotech divisions into a new separate company. Novartis
recently laid off 1100 workers--8% of its entire workforce--from its
agricultural division.

***The Wall Street Journal reported on Dec. 10 that Monsanto's stockholders
were demanding a similar move by the St. Louis-based biotech giant.
According to a story by Scott Kilman and Thomas Burton, Monsanto will
shortly announce that are going to break up the company to free its highly
profitable pharmaceutical business, Searle, from its debt-ridden and
controversial agbiotech division. According to the Journal, investors are
worried that a three-year-long sales boom in genetically engineered seeds
is about to come to an end, which will make it difficult for Monsanto to
recoup its $8 billion investment in genetic engineering.

***On the science front, the Gene Giants were hammered once again by a
significant study described in the Dec. 2 issue of Nature, the British
scientific journal
<http://www.nature.com/server-java/Propub/nature/402480A0.pdf> which
indicates that Bt toxins from genetically engineered crops are leaching
into the soil through the plants' root systems, damaging or killing
beneficial soil microorganisms, and disrupting the soil food web. The
report also documents that Bt toxins bind with soil particles for up to 243
days and remain toxic to soil insects for long periods of time. This study
comes in the aftermath of other research indicating a hazardous buildup of
Bt toxins in the soil after Bt crops are plowed under. The Nature study
fuels the fire of a growing movement to ban all genetically engineered Bt
crops because of their documented damage to the environment and their
threat to organic agriculture. Last February the Center for Food Safety,
Greenpeace, and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture
Movements filed a lawsuit in US Federal Court to force all Bt crops off the
market. See: <http://www.icta.org>

***In one of the most alarming peer-reviewed scientific articles yet
published, scientists Mae-Wan Ho, Angela Ryan, and Joe Cummins, researchers
at The Open University in England and University of Western Ontario, Canada
highlight human health risks associated with the most commonly used viral
promoter in genetically engineered foods and crops. The article,
"Cauliflower Mosaic Viral Promoter - A recipe for Disaster?" appears in
Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease (no 4, 1999). See<
http://www.scup.no/mehd/ho> The Cauliflower Mosaic Viral Promoter (CaMv)
is used in almost all genetically engineered crops to activate the foreign
genes which are inserted, and is apparently the agent that caused a severe
viral infection in rats fed genetically engineered potatoes in Dr. Arpad
Pusztai's highly publicized experiments in the UK.

According to a Nov. 17 press release on the article: "The use of the
Cauliflower Mosaic Viral promoter (CaMV) has the potential to reactivate
dormant viruses or create new viruses in all species to which it is
transferred. This transgenic instability increases the possibility of
promotion of an inappropriate over-expression of genes to the transferred
species. The development of cancer may be one consequence of such
inappropriate over-expression of genes." The scientists behind the research
strongly recommend that all transgenic crops and animal feeds containing
CaMV 35S be banned.
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After Seattle: Is AgBiotech Dead?

As we pointed out in the last issue of this newsletter, our growing global
forces have not yet managed to drive a stake through the heart of the
Frankenfoods monster. In fact over the past six weeks we've seen an
unprecedented counter-attack by biotech and agribusiness interests. See the
current issue of PR Watch at <http://prwatch.org/> The entire phalanx of
life science corporations have stopped quarreling with Monsanto and one
another and have closed ranks to fight off their common enemy--us. North
American and international newspapers are filled with "third party
testimonials" by scientists and government officials telling us how great
agbiotech is and how those of us in the opposition are fear-mongering
Luddittes. PR firms and biotech labs plant stories in the press every day
about how the next wave of biotech "functional foods" will improve public
health, fight off disease, and eliminate nutritional deficiencies in the
Third World. Other gene engineers promise to solve the global crisis of
deforestation with herbicide-resistant, fast-growing trees; replenish
depleted fish stocks with GE Frankenfish; or save lives with thousands of
organ transplants from genetically engineered pigs to humans.

The Gene Giants will undoubtedly continue "emptying their pockets" to buy
off politicians, university research scientists, influential public
figures, and regulatory agencies. PR-engineered front groups will
proliferate. Journalists and media organizations will continue being
pressured and manipulated. The forces of Farmageddon know they're losing
the battle in Europe, Japan, India, Brazil, and a number of other nations,
and understand that if we succeed in building a mass movement in North
America, and in countries like Argentina, they're finished. And it's not
just the Gene Giants who now feel threatened. As the Battle of Seattle
showed, the entire World Trade Organization is now being undermined by a
growing international alliance of Civil Society--consumers, farmers,
workers, environmentalists, and young people. As Vandana Shiva points out,
the most important lesson of Seattle is that there is now a global New
Democracy Movement being built, from the grassroots up. Food safety and
genetic engineering are clearly proving to be one of the strategic pressure
points or weak spots of global corporate power. The "other side" knows this
full well so we should plan for a ferocious and protracted battle as we go
into the new millennium. Say tuned to our web site
<http://www.purefood.org> and BioDemocracy News for further developments.
__________________________________________________________________

An End of the Millennium Request for Financial Contributions:

As you've noticed we've changed our name to BioDemocracy News to better
reflect our politics and the nature of the battle we're fighting. We're
digging in our heels--along with our allies all over the world--for the
protracted campaign that lies ahead. We now have over 20,000 electronic
subscribers in North America and around the world to this newsletter and
300,000 hits every month on our web site. We're in the thick of the action
in the United States trying to build a mass movement for democracy, organic
agriculture, and a sustainable future. We've never asked our readers for
money before, but we'd like to do so now. We need your help in order to
reach out to many more people in the coming year. Please consider sending
us a generous contribution. You can mail us a check to our office in
Minnesota or go to our web site <http://www.purefood.org> and make a
donation with a credit card. Checks made out to the Organic Consumers
Association--our 501 (c) (3) non-profit parent organization--are
tax-deductible. Any and all contributions will be appreciated.

Happy Holidays! La Lucha Continua (The Struggle Continues)
Ronnie Cummins