Date: Thu, 15 Jul 1999 12:08:49
To: [log in to unmask]
From: Bill Koehnlein <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: GM GE Monsanto and natural food
Date: Fri, 11 Jun 1999 To: [log in to unmask]
From: [log in to unmask]
The politics of hunger
The latest argument by the GM (genetic manipulation) lobby, that there
is a "moral
imperative" to promote GM crops in order to combat world hunger,
would be laughable were it not obscene (GM food 'needed to combat
hunger', June 6). All of the research on hunger unambiguously shows
that people do not go hungry because of a lack of the total amount of
food in the world -- they starve because of the enormous inequalities
of power and wealth. This means that we in the rich West buy up the
food produced on land in developing countries, rather than that land
being used to feed people in those countries.
We should remember the last wave of technological wonders that were
supposed to solve the problem of world hunger. Green revolution crop
strains introduced in the 1960s and 1970s were promoted with exactly
the same rhetoric as GM crops are today. But while they did increase
the amount of food produced, they also increased hunger in many of
the countries where they were introduced. This was because they
benefited the farmers who were already rich, and made smaller farmers
go out of business. The latter's subsequent loss of income directly
increased their poverty. The application of GM crops will in all
likelihood have the same consequences. The only beneficiaries will be
the biotechnology companies with their fat profits made from such
The solution to world hunger is political, not technical. It lies in
redistribution of wealth and power, not in technological fixes that
misdiagnose the problem.
Matthew Paterson, Department of International Relations, Keele
It is commendable that the Guardian continues to alert its readers
to the potential problems associated with the wide scale plantings of
GM crops (Pollen from GM corn may kill butterflies, May 30). The
monarch butterfly may not only be endangered by the bacterial gene
Bt, now incorporated into several corn varieties, but also by the
disappearance of a prime feed source, milk weed, which is being
systematically eliminated by the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) used
on Roundup-resistant soya bean varieties developed by Monsanto.
Hugh Daubeny, Vancouver, Canada
The Guardian Weekly Volume 160 Issue 24 for W/E June 13, 1999, Page 2
Date: Fri, 11 Jun 1999 06:46:17 +0100
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Majordomo file: list 'guardian-weekly' file 'gw-
Getting it wrong about food -opinionGeorge Monbiot
MONSANTO'S advertising agency warned the company not to argue that
genetic engineering would feed the world. But the temptation proved
too great. "Worrying about starving future generations", its adverts
claimed last year, "won't feed them. Food biotechnology will." It's
hard to see how even a corporation with Monsanto's self-belief could
have imagined that this claim would stand up.
For the corporation had already made its position quite clear. "What
you are seeing", one of its executives explained in 1997, as his
company bought up scores of seed merchants and biotech firms, "is a
consolidation of the entire food chain."
Monsanto's argument was swiftly and comprehensively dismissed.
Development agencies pointed out that people starve not because there
is an absolute shortage of food (the world currently produces a
surplus) but because food and the means to produce it are
concentrated in the hands of the rich and powerful. Corporations
seeking to consolidate the food chain threatened to make this
situation far worse. Monsanto, sadder and perhaps a little wiser,
slunk away. But it has just acquired a new and unlikely champion.
The Nuffield Council for Bioethics is a highly respected, independent
body, whose recommendations often influence government policy. Last
month its panel on the ethics of genetic engineering published its
long-awaited report. Research into GM crops, the panel acknowledged,
has tended to favour producers in Europe and the United States.
Patenting of the new technologies, it pointed out, presents
"potentially serious difficulties for developing countries". But, the
report maintained, if the research effort could only be directed a
little more evenly, GM crops would "produce more food, or more
employment or income for those who need it most urgently". It
concluded: "The moral imperative for making GM crops readily and
economically available to developing countries who want them is
This is perhaps the most asinine report on biotechnology yet written.
The stain it leaves on the Nuffield Council's excellent reputation
will last for years.
The panel made three fundamental mistakes. The first was to assume
that the technology is neutral and could, given the right conditions,
be evenly deployed and distributed. In truth, genetic engineering is
inseparable from its ownership. No genetically engineered crop
reaches the market without a patent. Most of these forbid the farmer
from saving seed for future plantings: control of the food chain
remains with the corporation at every stage of production.
The second was its crude, even childish, supposition that any
technology that produces more will feed the starving. The world is
littered with the wreckage of such assumptions. Ethiopia's modern
agro-industrialists were exporting animal feed to Europe throughout
its devastating famine. Latin America's Green Revolution, Christian
Aid points out, raised food production by 8 per cent a head, but
malnutrition increased in the same period by 19 per cent. The
Kalahandi region in India suffers repeated famines, but produces
surpluses every year. Starvation occurs because of the distorted
ownership of the food chain.
The panel's third mistake was its inexplicable premise that
biotechnology will somehow boost jobs. Monsanto's leading biotech
products -- herbicide-resistant crops -- are sold with the promise
that they reduce the need for labour: farmers give their money not to
local labourers but to one of the biggest corporations on earth.
So why did such a distinguished panel make such evident mistakes? You
don't have to look very far for an answer. While people of every kind
sat on the committee, all its biotechnology experts were drawn from
the same ideological pool. It is not hard to see how restaurateur
Prue Leith, for example, well meaning as she doubtless was, would
have felt obliged to defer to the superior wisdom of the former
chairman of the advisory committee for novel foods and processes, or
the Unilever research professor of biological sciences.
So how do we feed the world? When I suggest that the answer lies in a
combination of land reform and organic or semi-organic farming, you
may think I've gone soft in the head. But Jules Pretty of Essex
university has documented a quiet revolution across the developing
world, in which peasant farmers have doubled or tripled their yields
by modern organic techniques. They require lots of labour, no debt,
and no help from predatory corporations. Only by such means can the
world's poor maintain control over their food supply, and protect
themselves from the technologies that the Nuffield panel celebrates.
The Guardian Weekly Volume 160 Issue 24 for week ending June 13,
1999, Page 27
Subject: Aust/NZ -RIGHT AS RAIN. Label Costs
Date: Sun, 6 Jun 1999 By Cheryl Maddocks
-RIGHT AS RAIN "You are what you eat"
is taking on some rather bizarre connotations.
Not so long ago, the expression would have referred to eating too
much fat or sugar, but these days it's more likely to refer to
chemicals and pesticides. A trip to the supermarket can pose some
interesting questions. Do you want weedkiller with your soya beans?
Could you contract a sexually transmitted disease if you eat that
maize? And don't forget to take your umbrella to the store, because
if you get caught in a shower on the way home the rain could contain
pesticides. If you think this sounds far-fetched read on.
Many scientists assert that there is no way of knowing the long-term
health effects of eating genetically modified foods. At the same
time, Australian government regulations prevent us from knowing what
is in the food we put into our mouths. The dangers of genetic
modification are highlighted by the example of some US- and European
grown maize and cotton, which contain the antibiotic-resistant gene
AAD. A Dutch study reported in Melbourne's Herald Sun last month
suggests that strands of genetic code could have time to transfer
from food to bacteria in the large intestine. This
transference might pass on key characteristics and increase our
resistance to antibiotics.
Until now, the only genetically modified foods available in Australia
have been imported soya beans and cottonseed oil, which are usually
in commercial vegetable oil. But according to Bob Phelps of the
Australian Genethics Network, that is about to change. Modified
crops such as sugar beet, corn, potato and canola - which may be in
pasta sauces, bread and confectionery will soon be on the market,
without any labelling to indicate whether or not they have been
On May 7, the Genethics Network issued a legal challenge to the
introduction of 20 genetically engineered foods by the Australia New
Zealand Food Authority without testing or labelling. "The Federal
Government illegally bent the rules last month to give
chemical companies a regulation free holiday for the next year," says
Phelps. "The authority, health ministers and the food industry have
betrayed the public. Novel gene tech food will be in most processed
food, unlabelled, unless the rules are withdrawn. US farmers will be
the only people to benefit, while Australian food buyers bear
substantial risks. European, Asian and Canadian regulators have
rejected many of the mutant foods our government is fast-tracking."
Genetic manipulation benefits commercial production - for example,
tomatoes stay firmer for longer and crops are more resistant to
disease. it could be argued, however, that Australian farmers would
be economically disadvantaged if they do grow GM crops, as many
countries are now demanding GM-free food. There were, for example,
record overseas sales of Australian canola this year because the
canola was not genetically modified. Australia has the opportunity
to be at the forefront of GM-free farming.
Many overseas companies have discovered a marketing advantage in
declaring their products free of genetic modification. English
supermarkets Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury's have banned all
GM food from their stores. Nestle and Unilever are about to remove GM
crops from their food - but not in Australia.
Other companies in Australia are attempting to become
genetic manipulation-free. Sanitarium recently stated that its So
Good soya drink would be free from GM soya beans, and claims it will
eventually remove all GM food from its range. IGA (Independent
Grocers of Australia) plans to release a house brand free of GM
substances and Coles supports the labelling of genetically modified
food in its stores.
The public is increasingly aware of chemicals in the environment and
wants to avoid contact with them. Residents of Dubbo recently
objected to the use of residual sprays in nearby cotton fields.
If genetically modified seed is used, cotton can be resistant to
the glyphosate in the herbicide Roundup, so that farmer does not have
to be selective when they spray for weeds. Glyphosate was recently
linked to one of the most rapidly increasing cancers in the world,
According to a Swedish study, reported recently in New Scientis
sufferers of this disease were "two or three times more likely to
have had contact with glyphosate, the most commonly used herbicide in
Sweden". The study also found significant links between the
incidence of the disease and exposure to other weedkillers and
Evidence such as this makes it difficult to understand the
National Registration Authority's recent approval of an increase in
allowable glyphosate residues in soya beans from 5 mg/kg to 20
mg/kg. Sprays aren't the only hazardous things to fall from the sky.
Even if they are doing all the right things, Europeans attempting to
grow vegetables organically may be in for a surprise. A recent Swiss
study reported in the same issue of New Scientist, reveals that much
of the rain in Europe "contains such high levels of dissolved
pesticides that it would be illegal to supply it as drinking water".
It seems that chemicals are evaporating from the fields and becoming
part of the clouds. While it was once thought that insecticides only
infiltrated ground water directly from fields, the study found that
"the highest concentrations of pesticides turned up in the first rain
after a long dry spell, particularly when local fields had recently
been sprayed". Does this mean that the only vegetables capable of
being classified organic in Europe must now be under cover? We may
all face an absurd situation if pesticide use continues at current
Genetic food labels 'too costly' Date: 19/06/99 By MARK RAGG
Australian health ministers are likely to be advised that
mandatory labelling of genetically modified food is unnecessary. The
managing director of the Australia New Zealand Food Authority, Mr
Ian Lindenmayer, said yesterday he could see many difficulties with
mandatory labelling, including costs to manufacturers which would be
passed on to consumers.
Any price rises would impair poorer people's ability to buy
nutritious food, Mr Lindenmayer said. However, he admitted the food
authority had not made any effort to determine the cost of such
labelling. Nor had it asked manufacturers to provide estimates of the
cost. Mr Lindenmayer also said labels such as those saying "this
product may contain genetically modified ingredients", which would be
used in some foods if mandatory labelling were introduced, would not
provide the kind of information people wanted.
However, he said the authority did not have much information on
what consumers wanted, nor had it commissioned any consumer
research. "At this stage, we've not found a solution to the problem
of 'may contain' labelling," he said, while affirming the authority
had not made a definite decision.
However, the senior policy officer with the Australian
Consumers' Association, Mr Matt O'Neill, said: "Manufacturers change
their labels regularly for marketing purposes, and any insistence on
labelling would have a lead-in period, possibly of six months or so.
"So it would be feasible for companies to use this to reanalyse
their positions and [for] marketing. We see it as an opportunity, not
a cost. And that argument about 'may contain' ... In the last few
months we've seen quite a few companies move to either keep or
eliminate genetically modified soy from their products. "Some are
labelling their products as not containing genetically
modified produce. It would really stimulate companies to know their
stuff, and that's what consumers want.
"In time, market forces would drive the 'may contain' label out.
People would know what was in their food." The food authority will
give a range of options on labelling, with one policy recommended, to
a meeting of Australian and New Zealand health ministers in early