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Key Readings on Monsanto
Ecologist Sep 98
Monsanto: A Chequered History Brian Tokay Ecologist Sep 98
Headquartered just outside St. Louis, Missouri, the Monsanto Chemical Company was founded in 1901 by HJohn Francis Queeny. Queeny, a self-educated chemist, brought technology to manufacture saccharin, the first artificial sweetener, from Germany to the United States. In the 1920s, Monsanto became a leading manufacturer of sulphuric acid and other basic industrial chemicals, and is one of only four companies to be listed among the top ten US chemical companies in every decade since the 1940s.' By the 1940s, plastics and synthetic fabrics had become a centrepiece of Monsanto's business. In 1947, a French freighter carrying ammonium nitrate fertilizer blew up at a dock 270 feet from Monsanto's plastics plant outside Galveston, Texas. More than 500 people died in what came to be seen as one of the chemical industry's first major disasters .2 The plant was manufacturing styrene and polystyrene plastics, which are still important constituents of food packaging and vanous consumer products. In the 1980s the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed polystyrene as fifth in its ranking of the chemicals whose production generates the most total hazardous waste.'
In 1929, the Swann Chemical Company, soon to be purchased by Monsanto, developed polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which were widely praised for their nonflammability and extreme chemical stability. The most widespread uses were in the electrical equipment industry, which adopted PCBs as a nonflammable coolant for a new generation of transformers. By the 1960s, Monsanto's growing family of PCBs were also widely used as lubricants, hydraulic fluids, cutting oils, waterproof coatings and liquid sealants. Evidence of the toxic effects of PCBs appeared as early as the 1930s, and Swedish scientists studying the biological effects of DDT began finding significant concentrations of PCBs in the blood, hair and fatty tissue of wildlife in the 1960s.' Research in the 1960s and seventies revealed PCBs and other aromatic organochlorines to be potent carcinogens, and also traced them to a wide array of reproductive, developmental and immune system disorders [see J. Cummins in this issue].' Their high chemical affinity for fat tissue, is responsible for their dramatic rates of concentration and bioaccumulation, and their wide dispersal throughout the North's aquatic food web: Arctic cod, for example, carry PCB concentrations 48 million times that of their surrounding waters, and predatory mammals such as polar bears can harbour tissue concentrations of PCBs more than fifty times greater than that. Though the manufacture of PCBs was banned in the United States in 1976, its toxic and endocrine-disruptive effects persist worldwide .6
The world's centre of PCB manufacturing was Monsanto's plant on the outskirts of East St. Louis, Illinois. East St. Louis is a chronically economically depressed suburb, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, bordered by two large metal-processing plants in addition to the Monsanto facility. "East St. Louis", reports education writer Jonathan Kozol, "has some of the sickest children in America." Kozol reports that the city has the highest rate of fetal death and immature births in the state, the third highest rate of infant death, and one of the highest childhood asthma rates in the United States.'
Dioxin: A Legacy of Contamination
The people of East St. Louis continue to face the horrors of high-level chemical exposure, poverty, a deteriorating urban infrastructure, and the collapse of even the most basic city services, but the nearby town of Times Beach, Missouri was found to be so thoroughly contaminated with dioxin that the US govemment ordered it evacuated in 1982. Apparently the town, as well as several private landowners, hired a contractor to spray its dirt roads with waste oil to keep dust down. The same contractor had been hired by local chemical companies to pump out their dioxin-contaminated sludge tanks. When 50 horses, other domestic animals, and hundreds of wild birds died in an indoor arena that had been sprayed with the oil, an investigation ensued that eventually traced the deaths to dioxin from the chemical sludge tanks.' Two young girls who played in the arena became ill, one of whom was hospitalized for four weeks with severe kidney damage, and many more children bom to mothers exposed to the dioxin-contaminated oil demonstrated evidence of immune system abnormalities and significant brain dysfunction.9 While Monsanto has consistently denied any connection to the Times Beach incident, the St. Louis-based Times Beach Action Group (TBAG) uncovered laboratory reports documenting the presence of large concentrations of PCBs manufactured by Monsanto in contaminated soil samples from the town."' "From our point of view, Monsanto is at the heart of the problem here in Missouri," explains TBAG's Steve Taylor. Taylor acknowledges that many questions about Times Beach and other contaminated sites in the region remain unanswered, but cites evidence that close investigations of the sludge sprayed in Times Beach were limited to those sources traceable to companies other than Monsanto. The cover-up at Times Beach reached the highest levels in the Reagan Administration in Washington. The nation's environmental agencies during the Reagan years became notorious for officials' repeated backroom deals with industry officials, in which favoured companies were promised lax enforcement and greatly reduced fines. Reagan's appointed administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Anne Gorsuch Burford, was forced to resign after two years in office and her special assistant, Rita Lavelle, was jailed for six months for perjury and obstruction of justice. In one famous incident, the Reagan White House ordered Burford to withhold documents on Times Beach and other contaminated sites in the states of Missour and Arkansas, citing "executive privilege", and Lavelle was subsequently cited for shredding important documents." An investigative reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper identified Monsanto as one of the chemical companies whose executives frequently hosted luncheon and dinner meetings with Lavelle1 2The evacuation sought by residents of Times Beach was delayed until 1982, eleven years after the contamination was first discovered, and eight years after the cause was identified as dioxin. Monsanto's association with dioxin can be traced back to its manufacture of the herbicide 2,4,5-T, beginning in the late 1940s. "Almost immediately, its workers started getting sick with skin rashes, inexplicable pains in the limbs, joints and other parts of the body, weakness, irritability, nervousness and loss of libido," explains Peter Sills, author of a forthcoming book on dioxin. "Internal memos show that the company knew these men were actually as sick as they claimed, but it kept all that evidence hidden' "I' An explosion at Monsanto's Nitro, West Virginia herbicide plant in 1949 drew further attention to these complaints. The contaminant responsible for these conditions was not identified as dioxin until 1957, but the US Army Chemical Corps apparently became interested in this substance as a possible chemical warfare agent. A request filed by the St. Louis Joumalism Review under the US Freedom of Information Act revealed nearly 600 pages of reports and correspondence between Monsanto and the Army Chemical Corps on the subject of this herbicide byproduct, going as far back as 1952."
Agent Orange: The Poisoning of Vietnam
The herbicide "Agent Orange", which was used by US military forces to defoliate the rainforest ecosystems of Vietnam during the 1960s (see H. Warwick in this issue) was a mixture of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D that was available from several sources, but Monsanto's Agent Orange had concentrations of dioxin many times higher than that produced by Dow Chemical, the defoliant's other leading manufacturer. This made Monsanto the key defendant in the lawsuit brought by Vietnam War veterans in the United States, who faced an array of debilitating symptoms attributable to Agent Orange exposure. When a $180 million settlement was reached in 1984 between seven chemical companies and the lawyers for the veterans, the judge ordered Monsanto to pay 45.5 per cent of the total." In the 1980s, Monsanto undertook a series of studies designed to minimize its liability, not only in the Agent Orange suit, but in continuing instances of employee contamination at its West Virginia manufacturing plant. A three and a half year court case brought by railroad workers exposed to dioxin following a train derailment revealed a pattem of manipulated data and misleading experimental design in these studies. An official of the US EPA concluded that the studies were manipulated to support Monsanto's claim that dioxin@s effects were limited to the skin disease chloracne."Greenpeace researchers Jed Greer and Kenny Bruno describe the outcome: "According to testimony from the trial, Monsanto niisclassited exposed and non-exposed workers, arbitrarily deleted several key cancer cases, failed to verify classification of chloracne subjects by common industrial dermatitis criteria, did not provide assurance of untampered records delivered and used by consultants, and made false statements about dioxin contamination in Monsanto products."Il The court case, in which the jury granted a $16 million punitive damage award against Monsanto, revealed that many of Monsanto's products, from household herbicides to the Santophen germicide once used in Lysol brand disinfectant, were knowingly contaminated with dioxin. "The evidence of Monsanto executives at the trial portrayed a corporate culture where sales and profits were given a higher priority than the safety of products and its workers," reported the Toronto Globe and Mail after the close of the trial.'g "They just didn't care about the health and safety of their workers," explains author Peter Sills. "Instead of trying to make things safer, they relied on intimidation and threatened layoffs to keep their employees working." A subsequent review by Dr. Cate Jenkins of the EPXs Regulatory Development Branch documented an even more systematic record of fraudulent science. "Monsanto has in fact submitted false information to EPA which directly resulted in weakened regulations under RCRA [Resources Conservation and Recovery Act] and FIFRA [Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act] . . ." reported Dr. Jenkins in a 1990 memorandum urging the agency to undertake a criminal investigation of the company. Jenkins cited internal Monsanto documents revealing that the company "doctored" samples of herbicides that were submitted to the US Department of Agriculture, hid behind "process chemistry" arguments to deflect attempts to regulate 2,4-D and various chlorophenols, hid evidence regarding the contamination of Lysol, and excluded several hundred of its sickest former employees from its comparative health studies: Monsanto covered up the dioxin contamination of a wide range of its products. Monsanto either failed to report contamination, substituted false information purporting to show no contamination or submitted samples to the govemment for analysis which had been specially prepared so that dioxin contamination did not exist.11
Roundup: The World's Biggest-Selling Herbicide
Today, glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup account for at least one sixth of Monsanto's total annual sales and half of the company's operating income '21 perhaps significantly more since the company spun off its industrial chemicals and synthetic fabrics divisions as a separate company, called Solutia, in September 1997. Monsanto aggressively promotes Roundup as a safe, general purpose herbicide for use on everything from lawns and orchards, to large coniferous forest holdings, where aerial spraying of the herbicide is used to suppress the growth of deciduous seedlings and shrubs and encourage the growth of profitable fir and spruce trees . 21 The Oregon-based Northwest Coalition for Altematives to Pesticides (NCAP) reviewed over forty scientific studies on the effects of glyphosate, and of the polyoxyethylene amines used as a surfactant in Roundup, and concluded that the herbicide is far less benign than Monsanto's advertising suggests [For more on Roundup, see J. Mendelson in this issue]: In 1997, Monsanto responded to five years of complaints by the New York State Attorney General that its advertisements for Roundup were misleading: the company altered its ads to delete claims that the herbicide is "biodegradable" and "environmentally friendly", and paid $50,000 toward the state's legal expenses in the case .22 In March 1998, Monsanto agreed to pay a fine of $225,000 for mislabelling containers of Roundup on 75 separate occasions. The penalty was the largest settlement ever paid for violation of the Worker Protection Standards of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). According to the Wall Street Joumall Monsanto distributed containers of the herbicide with labels restricting entry into treated areas for only four hours instead of the required 12 hours .21
This is only the latest in a series of major fines and rulings against Monsanto in the United States, including a $108 @llion liability finding in the case of the leukaemia death of a Texas employee in 1986, a $648,000 settlement for allegedly failing to report required health data to the EPA in 1990, a $1 million fine by the state Attomey General of Massachusetts in 1991 in the case of a 200,000 gallon acid wastewater spill, a $39 million settlement in Houston, Texas in 1992 involving the deposition of hazardous chemicals into unlined pits, and numerous others." In 1995, Monsanto ranked fifth among US corporations in the EPA!s Toxic Release Inventory, having discharged 37 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air, land, water and underground .15
Monsanto's pharmaceutical products also have a troubling track record. The flagship product of Monsanto's GD Searle pharmaceuticals subsidiary is the artificial sweetener aspartame, sold under the brand names Nutrasweet and Equal. In 1981, four years before Monsanto purchased Searle, an FDA Board of Inquiry consisting of three independent scientists confirmed reports that had been circulating for eight years that "aspartame might induce brain tumours."Il The FDA revoked Searle's licence to sell aspartame, only to have its decision reversed under a new commissioner appointed by President Ronald Reagan. A 1996 study in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology has renewed this concem, linking aspartame to a sharp increase in brain cancers shortly after the substance was introduced. Dr. Erik Millstone of the University of Sussex Science Policy Research Unit cites a series of reports from the 1980s linking aspartame to a wide array of adverse reactions in sensitive consumers, including headaches, blurred vision, numbness, hearing loss, muscle spasms and induced epileptic-type seizures, among numerous others.
Genetic Engineering is Out of Control
The production of genetically engineered crops in the US appears to be out of control'. So, at least, is the view of Monsanto, the biggest producer of genetically modified soya seed. They stated the other day in an interview with Geoff Tansey, 'Last year we had one million acres of soya worldwide, this year eight to ten million. The acreage is only limited by the seed availability.' Presumably our undeniably patchy understanding of genetics is also going,to grow exponentially, since that would be the only justification for increasing production by such a rate.
In 1989, Searle again ran foul of the FDA," which accused the company of misleading advertising in the case of its anti-ulcer drug, Cytotec. The FDA said that the ads were designed to market the drug to a much broader and younger poj)ulation than the agency had advised. Searle/Monsanto was required to take out an ad in a number of medical joumals, which was headed "Published To Correct a Previous Advertisement Which The Food And Drug Administration Considered Misleading."I
Biotechnology's Brave New World
Monsanto's aggressive promotion of its biotechnology products, from recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), to Roundup Ready soybeans and other crops, to its insect-resistant varieties of cotton, is seen by many observers as a continuation of its many decades of ethically questionable practices. Originally, Monsanto was one of four chemical companies seeking to bring a synthetic Bovine Growth Hormone, produced in E. coli bacteria genetically engineered to manufacture the bovine protein, to market. Another was American Cyanamid, now owned by American Home Products, which is in the process of merging with Monsanto. As Jennifer Ferrara describes in this issue, Monsanto's 14-year effort to gain approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to bring recombinant BGH to market was fraught with controversy, including allegations of a concerted effort to suppress information about the hormone's ill effects. One FDA veterinarian, Richard Burroughs, was fired after he accused both the company and the agency of suppressing and manipulating data to hide the effects of rBGH injections on the health of dairy cows.11 In 1990, when FDA approval of RBGH appeared imminent, a veterinary pathologist at the University of Vennont's agricultural research facility released previously suppressed data to two state legislators documenting significantly increased rates of udder infection in cows that had been injected with the thenexperimental Monsanto hormone, as well as an unusual incidence of severely deforming birth defects in offspring of rBGH-treated cows." An independent review of the University data by a regional farm advocacy group documented additional cow health problems associated with RBGH, including high incidences of foot and leg injuries, metabolic and reproductive difficulties and uterine infections. The US Congress's General Accounting Office (GAO) attempted an inquiry into the case, but was unable to obtain the necessary records from Monsanto and the University to carry out its investigation, particularly with respect to suspected teratogenic and embryotoxic effects. The GAO auditors concluded that cows injected with RBGH had mastitis (udder infection) rates one third higher than untreated cows, and recommended further research on the risk of elevated antibiotic levels in milk produced using RBGH." Monsanto's RBGH was approved by the FDA for commercial sale beginning in 1994. The following year, Mark Kastel of the Wisconsin Fanners Union released a study of Wisconsin farmers' experiences with the drug. His findings exceeded the 21 potential health problems that Monsanto was required to list on the waming label for its Posilac brand of RBGH. Kastel found widespread reports of spontaneous deaths among rBGH-treated cows, high incidences of udder infections, severe metabolic difficulties and calving problems, and in some cases an inability to successfully wean treated cows off the drug. Many experienced dairy fanners who experimented with RBGH suddenly needed to replace large portions of their herd.11 Instead of addressing the causes of farmers' complaints about RBGH, Monsanto went on the offensive, threatening to sue small dairy companies that advertised their products as free of the artificial hormone, and participating in a lawsuit by several dairy industry trade associations against the first and only mandatory labelling law for RBGH in the United States.1' Still, evidence for the damaging effects of RBGH on the health of both cows and people continued to mount."
Roundup-Ready Soybeans (RRS)
Efforts to prevent labeling of genetically engineered soybean and maize exports from the United States suggest a continuation of the practices that were designed to squelch complaints against Monsanto's dairy hormone. While Monsanto argues that its "Roundup Ready" soybeans will ultimately reduce herbicide use, the widespread acceptance of herbicide-tolerant crop varieties appears far more likely to increase fanners' dependence on herbicides [see J. Mendelson in this issue]. Weeds that emerge after the original herbicide has dispersed or broken down are often treated with further applications of herbicides.11 "It will promote the overuse of the herbicide," Missouri soybean farmer Bill Christison told Kenny Bruno of Greenpeace Intemational. "If there is a selling point for RRS, it's the fact that you can till an area with a lot of weeds and use surplus chemicals to combat your problem, which is not what anyone should be doing."Il Christison refutes Monsanto's claim that herbicide-resistant seeds are necessary to reduce soil erosion from excess tillage, and reports that Midwestem farmers have developed numerous methods of their own for reducing overall use of herbicides. Monsanto, on the other hand, has stepped up its production of Roundup in recent years. With Monsanto's US patent for Roundup scheduled to expire in the year 2000, and competition from generic glyphosate products already emerging worldwide, the packaging of Roundup herbicide with "Roundup Ready" seeds has become the centrepiece of Monsanto's strategy for continued growth in herbicide sales.38 The possible health and environmental consequences of Rounduptolerant crops have not been fully investigated, including allergenic effects, potential invasiveness or weediness, and the possibility of herbicide resistance being transferred via pollen to other soybeans or related plants .39 While any problems with herbicide-resistant soybeans may still be dismissed as long-range and somewhat speculative, the experience of US cotton growers with Monsanto's genetically engineered seeds appears to tella very different story. Monsanto has released two varieties of genetically engineered cotton, beginning in 1996. One is a Roundup-resistant variety and the other, named "Bollgard", secretes a bacterial toxin intended to control damage from three leading cotton pests. The toxin, derived from Bacillus thuringiensis, has been used by organic growers in the form of a natural bacterial spray since the early 1970s. But while B.t. bacteria are relatively short-lived, and secrete their toxin in a form that only becomes activated in the alkaline digestive systems of particular worms and caterpillars, genetically engineered B.t. crops secrete an active form of the toxin throughout the plant's life cycle." Much of the genetically engineered maize currently on the market, for example, is a B.t. secreting variety, designed to repel the com rootworm and other common pests. The first widely anticipated problem with these pesticidesecreting crops is that the presence of the toxin throughout the plant's life cycle is likely to encourage the development of resistant strains of common crop pests. The US EPA has determined that widespread resistance to B.t. may render natural applications of B.t. bacteria ineffective in just three to five years and requires growers to plant refuges of up to 40 per cent non-B.t. cotton in an attempt to forestall this effect. Second, the active toxin secreted by these plants may harm beneficial insects, moths and butterflies, in addition to those species that growers wish to eliminate." But the damaging effects of B.t.-secreting "Bollgard" cotton have proved to be much more immediate, enough so that Monsanto and its partners have pulled five million pounds of genetically engineered cotton seed off the market and agreed to a multimillion dollar settlement with farmers in the southern United States. Three farmers who refused to settle with Monsanto were awarded nearly $2 million by the Mississippi Seed Arbitration Councit.11 Not only were plants attacked by the cotton bollworm, which Monsanto claimed they would be resistant to, but germination was spotty, yields were low, and plants were misshapen, according to several published accounts.11 Some farmers reported crop losses of up to 50 per cent. Farmers who planted Monsanto's Roundup-resistant cotton also reported severe crop failures, including deformed and misshapen bolls that suddenly fell off the plant three quarters of the way through the growing season.' Despite these problems, Monsanto is advancing the use of genetic engineering in agriculture by taking control of many of the largest, most established seed companies in the United States. Monsanto now owns Holdens Foundation Seeds, supplier of germplasm used on 25-35 per cent of US maize acreage, and Asgrow Agronornics, which it describes as "the leading soybean breeder, developer and distributor in the United States"." This past spring, Monsanto completed its acquisition of De Kalb Genetics, the second largest seed company in the United States and the ninth largest in the world, as well as Delta and Pine Land, the largest US cotton seed company." With its Delta and Pine acquisition, Monsanto now controls 85 per cent of the US cotton seed market." The company has been aggressively pursuing corporate acquisitions and product sales in other countries as well. In 1997, Monsanto bought Sementes Agroceres S.A., described as "the leading seed com company in Brazil", with a 30 per cent market share.11 Earlier this year, the Brazilian Federal Police investigated an alleged illegal importation of at least 200 bags of transgenic soybeans, some of which were traced to an Argentine subsidiary of Monsanto.19 According to Brazilian law, foreign transgenic products can only be introduced after a period of quarantine and testing to prevent possible damage to native flora. In Canada, Monsanto had to recall 60,000 bags of genetically engineered rape ("canola") seed in 1997.10 Apparently the shipment of Roundup-resistant seed contained an inserted gene different from the one that had been approved for consumption by people and livestock.
Shapiro, The Image-Maker
Given this long and troubling history, it is easy to understand why informed citizens throughout Europe and the US are reluctant to trust Monsanto with the future of our food and our health. But Monsanto is doing everything it can to appear unperturbed by this opposition. Through efforts such as their massive advertising campaign in Britain, their sponsorship of a new high-tech Biodiversity exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and many others, they are trying to appear greener, more righteous and more forward-looking than even their opponents. In the US they are bolstering their image, and likely influencing policy, with the support of people at the highest levels of the Clinton administration. In May 1997, Mickey Kantor, an architect of Bill Clinton's 1992 election campaign and United States Trade Representative during Clinton's first term, was elected to a seat on Monsanto's Board of Directors. Marcia Hale, formerly a personal assistant to the President, has served as Monsanto's public affairs officer in Britain.11 Vice President Al Gore, who is well-known in the US for his writings and speeches on the environment, has been a vocal supporter of biotechnology at least since his days in the US Senate .12 Gore's Chief Domestic Policy Advisor, David W. Beier, was formerly the Senior Director of Government Affairs at Genentech, Inc.53 Under CEO Robert Shapiro, Monsanto has pulled out all the stops to transform its image from a purveyor of dangerous chemicals to an enlightened, forward-looking institution crusading to feed the world. Shapiro, who went to work for GD Searle in 1979 and became the president of its Nutrasweet Group in 1982, sits on the President's Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations and served a term as a member of the White House Domestic Policy Review.11 He describes himself as a visonary and a Renaissance Man, with a mission to use the company's resources to change the world: "The only reason for working at a large company is that you have the capability of doing things on a large scale that really are important," he told an interviewer for Business Ethics, a flagship joumal for the 11 socially responsible business" movement in the United States.11 Shapiro harbours few illusions about Monsanto's reputation in the United States, recounting with sympathy the dilemma of many a Monsanto employee whose neighbours' children might wince when they find out where the employee works. He is anxious to demonstrate that he is in step with the widespread desire for systemic change, and is determined to redirect this desire toward his company's ends, as he demonstrated in a recent interview with the Harvard Business Review: "It's not a question of good guys and bad guys. There is no point in saying, 'If only those bad guys would go out of business, then the world would be fine.'The whole system has to change; there's a huge opportunity for reinvention."Il Of course, Shapiro's reinvented system is one where huge corporations not only continue to exist, but exercise an everincreasing control over our lives. But Monsanto has reformed, we are told. They have successfully cast off their industrial chemical divisions and are now committed to replacin chemicals with "information", in the guise of genetically engineered seeds and other products of biotechnology. Thi8 is an ironic stance for a company whose most profitable product is a herbicide. It is an unlikely role for a company that seeks to intimidate critics with lawsuits and suppress criticism in the media [see Peter Montague in this issue]. Monsanto's latest Annual Report, however, clearly demonstrates that it has leamed all the right buzzwords. Roundup is not a herbicide, it is a tool to minimize tillage and decrease soil erosion. Genetically engineered crops are not just about profits for Monsanto, they're about solving the inexorable problem of population growth. Biotechnology is not reducing everything alive to the realm of commodities items to be bought and sold, marketed and patented but is in fact a harbinger of "deconunoditization": the replacement of single mass-produced products with a vast array of specialized, made-to-order products." This is Newspeak of the highest order. Finally, we are to believe that Monsanto's aggressive promotion of biotechnology is not a matter of mere corporate arrogance, but rather the realization of a simple fact of nature. Readers of the Monsanto Annual Report are presented with an analogy between today's rapid growth in the number of identified DNA base pairs and the exponential trend of miniatufization in the electronics industry, a trend first identified in the 1960s. Monsanto has dubbed the apparent exponential growth of what it terms "biological knowledge" to be nothing less than "Monsanto's Law". Like any other putative law of nature, one has little choice but to see its predictions realized and, here, the prediction is nothing less than the continued exponential growth of Monsanto's global reach. But the growth of any technology is not merely a "law of nature". Technologies are not social forces unto themselves, nor merely neutral "tools" that can be used to satisfy any social end we desire. Rather they are products of particular social institutions and economic interests. Once a particular course of technological development is set in motion, it can have much wider consequences than its creators could have predicted: the more powerful the technology, the more profound the consequences. For example, the so-called Green Revolution in agriculture in the 1960s and seventies temporarily increased crop yields, and also made farmers throughout the world increasingly dependent on costly chemical inputs. This spurred widespread displacements of people from the land, and in many countries has undermined the soil, groundwater and social land base that sustained people for millennia.11 These large-scale dislocations have fuelled population growth, urbanization and social disempowennent, which have in turn led to another cycle of impoverishment and hunger. The "second Green Revolution" promised by Monsanto and other biotechnology companies threatens even greater disruptions in traditional land tenure and social relations. In rejecting Monsanto and its biotechnology, we are not necessarily rejecting technology per se, but seeking to replace a life-denying technology of manipulation, control and profit with a genuinely ecological technology, designed to respect the pattems of nature, improve personal and community health, sustain landbased communities and operate at a genuinely human scale. If we believe in democracy, it is imperative that we have the fight to choose which technologies are best for our communities, rather than having unaccountable institutions like Monsanto decide for us. Rather than technologies designed for the continued enrichment of a few, we can ground our technology in the hope of a greater harmony between our human communities and the natural world. Our health, our food and the future of life on Earth truly lie in the balance. Let us now examine the true nature of Monsanto's flagship products, and their effects on our health and the world's environment.
PCBs Can the World's Sea Mammals Survive Them?
by Joseph E. Cummins Ecologist Sep 98
In 1929, Swann Corporation, which later became part of Monsanto, began imanufacturing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBS) for commercial use. PCBs are oily liquids that conduct heat but not electricity. As such, they could be used as an insulating fluid in electrical appliances and were widely applied in everything from hydraulic equipment to degreasing agents for nuclear submarines. In effect, Monsanto has either produced or granted production licences for all but a very small fraction of the world's PCBs, and is responsible for the release of a massive 1.2 million tonnes of the deadly chemicals worldwide. Although the company was aware of adverse health affects in workers exposed to PCBs as early as the late 1930s, ""l" Monsanto continued to mass produce them for decades until a highly-publicized PCB health scare 30 years later alerted policy-makers to the hazardous nature of the chemicals. The news has since only worsened. In 1968, 1,300 residents of Kyush, Japan, fell ill after eating PCB-contaminated rice. Many of the affected women later gave birth to children with severe defects. In 1969, the New Scientist published a report revealing the capacity of PCBs to "bioaccumulate along the food chain."I The chemicals, which take many years to biodegrade, pass easily through the lipid portions of cell membranes and are readily absorbed into mammalian fat tissue. Animals at the top of the food chain, like whales, polar bears, dolphins and humans, can store PCBs at highly concentrated levels. The result has been a terrifying array of adverse reactions. And in 1995, it was revealed' that women who had eaten fish from the contaminated waters of the Great Lakes, Canada, gave birth to children with an unusually high susceptibility to bacterial infection. PCBs were also shown to damage nerves in the brains of developing mammalian foetuses, leading to behavioural and Teaming defects. Cancers, particularly malignant melanomas' have also been clearly linked to PCB-poisoning. In Ontario, State com pensation is provided for the toxins' malignant effects. In addition, PCB-pol lution has been seen to result in immune defence deficiencies, hypertension and strokes. Initially, it was assumed that PCB accumulation was greatest nearest the sources of pollution. However, in 1988, the journal Environmental Pollution pub lished an article revealing the extent of contamination borne in particular by marine mammals.' Dolphins, whales and porpoises all contained levels of PCBs that far exceeded that of their terrestrial counterparts. Mediterranean blue-white dolphins, for example, were found to carry 833 parts per million in their blub ber nearly 17 times the level requiring goods to be labelled and handled as toxic waste. Marine mammals were also found to have a genetically predetermined sensitivity to PCB-induced reproductive impairment;'-" a sensitivity that only one in ten humans of European origin share.11 The chemicals, which mimic mammalian hormones, thus pose a real threat of extinction to these animals.
Accumulation at the Poles Revelations that PCBs have actually been condensing at the Earth's poles, where there is no industrial activity to speak of, provoked both govemmental activity and real concem from polar populations. The North Pole, because of the intensity of industrial activity in the Northem hemisphere, has been the most badly affected. In 1998, for example, ringed seals from Arctic Norway were found to contain five times more PCBs than seals from the Canadian Arctic.11 For the last three years, the Norwegian Polar Institute has been finding polar bears with both male and female sexual organs.11 This year, four hermaphroditic cubs have been seen the highest tally so far and researchers fear that up to four per cent of the bears may be affected. The Norwegian Special Adviser on polar affairs has pointed out the findings' implications for other life forms, including humans: "The polar bear, like us, is at the top of the food chain. We are very concemed," he said." Native Arctic populations have little choice but to eat the food their environment provides. But the accompanying toxic overdose is causing inevitable disease. For instance, in Greenland, the children, partly at least as a result, are being administered two to three times as many prescriptive drugs as those in Sweden, Norway and the US. There are also many documented cases in that country of an increase in reproductive disorders.",11, 17. 1 g. 19.20 Despite the obvious cause for alarm, Canada's Northwest Territory officials recently issued a n-tisleading public report, stating that blood taken from a group of newbom babies contained less PCBs than the Canadian national average. A closer examination of the data, however, showed that PCB levels in Northem Territory babies were actually significantly higher than the national average" an illu@nating insight into the growing tendency of Canadian bureaucrats to manipulate scientific studies to satisfy their immediate needs and desires. Although PCBs have been banned in many countries, research suggests that 20 per cent of the 1.2 million tonnes produced now pollute the world's oceans.11 The United Nations Environment Program committee is to begin negotiations between 120 nations on a global, legally-binding ban of 12 persistent organic pollutants, including PCBS. Such a global agreement is desperately needed but long overdue. Furthermore, who is going to pay for the safe destruction and replacement of the world's remaining PCB stock, particularly an estimated 180,000 tonnes in the Third World? Perhaps Monsanto, as the Earth's prime PCB-producer and profiteer, should begin to balance its accounts with the Arctic ecosystems. It would certainly make its new self-image, as a defender of the environment, a little less incredible.
BIOGRAPHY Joseph E. Cummins is Professor Emeritus of Genetics, University of Westem Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada. EMail <[email protected]>
Agent Orange The Poisoning of Vietnam Hugh Warwick Ecologist Sep 98
Monsanto was one of the principal companies involved in supplying the 19 million gallons of herbicide used 1\4on Vietnam between 1962 and 197 1. Under the military project code-named Operation Ranch Hand, the US Air Force sprayed some 6 million acres of South Vietnam's forest, while some was used specifically to kill crops. Non-crop use was designed to cut wide swathes through the jungle, denying ground cover to the opposition army, especially along main transport routes, making ambush more difficult. The most widely deployed defoliant was Agent Orange, of which at least I I million gallons was used. Agent Orange is a 50:50 mix of two phenoxy herbicides: 2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxy acetic acid) and 2,4,5-T (2,4,5-trichlorophenoxy acetic acid). These components were common agricultural chemicals, widely used in the United States. Its name comes from the coloured coding on the drums used by the military (there was a whole range of different chemicals used as defoliants including Agent's White, Blue and Pink). Unfortunately in the rush to meet the military's demand for Agent Orange, a contaminant became concentrated in the manufacture process. TCDD (2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin) is an unavoidable, and unwanted, by-product of the manufacture of 2,4,5-T. However, in domestic preparations, it is present in much lower concentrations, 0.05 ppm (parts per million) as opposed to peaks of 50 ppm in stock shipped to Vietnam. Therefore dioxin contamination of Agent Orange was up to 1,000 times higher than in domestic herbicides. TCDD is believed to be the most toxic of the dioxins, a family of chemicals that has been described as, "the most toxic substances known to humans". 1,2 So the legacy of the use of Agent Orange is more profound than just the damage to the ecosystem. And it is one that has had consequences far beyond the forests of South-East Asia.
Indeed, it has followed the American personnel home. Despite much conjecture from chemical companies, an independent scientific review has concluded that there is a significant link between exposure to Agent Orange and serious illness including various cancers, serious skin disorders (chloracne) and liver disorders.' But while these cases have received great attention, it should be remembered that rarely did Americans serve in Vietnam for more than a year. For those whose homes were repeatedly dosed with poison, there was no escape. And some estimates now put the figure of children bom in Vietnam with dioxin related deformities since the 1960s as up to 500,000. Perhaps the most gruesome legacy of the contaminated herbicide, though, is to be found in a locked room in Tu Du Obstetrical and Gynaecological Hospital in Saigon. Here the walls are lined with shelves filled with jars of formalin, containing aborted and full-term foetuses. They are just a sample of the horror that emerged from Vietnam and the hospital has for a long time now been unable to afford the bottles and formalin to preserve more specimens. They feature double and triple conjoined bodies, faces covered in cancerous growths and other terrible defomiities .4 So it would seem that when the veterans of the war in Vietnam started to succumb to a wide range of illness, the companies responsible for the contamination would offer compensation. However, companies such as Monsanto and Dow Chemicals were involved in a lengthy campaign of belittling scientific evidence proving the toxicity of dioxins. A class action suit was brought against seven companies involved (Monsanto, Dow Chemicals, Uniroyal, Hercules, Diamond Shamrock, Thompson Chemical and TH Agriculture). This was settled out of court in May 1984 for victims and families exposed to herbicides for $180 million, but the companies continued to deny Agent Orange was responsible for the health complaints. I The foundation for the chemical industry's defence comes from the fact that there are differences in the way that species react and that there are obvious obstacles preventing experimentation on humans. Of the few studies on exposure of dioxins to humans, some failed to show any increased risk of cancer. Principal amongst these were two Monsanto-sponsored studies of Monsanto workers accidentally exposed to dioxin.' That is why the veterans had to settle for little more than 'nuisance value' compensation. By the time further evidence emerged of the carcinogenicity of dioxins, it was too late for the veterans as the courts had closed their doors on further settlements.' However, Dr Cate Jenkins, a chemist with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), wrote in 1990 that there was evidence that the Monsanto studies had been undertaken fraudulently. She called for a scientific investigation but was ignored and the EPA embarked upon a criminal investigation of Monsanto. The chemical giant lobbied hard: the investigation lasted over two years, and ended up being 'spun' onto the whistleblower, Dr Jenkins. While the criminal investigation was quietly dropped, the campaign of harassment against Dr Jenkins was only stopped by the Secretary of Labor. It seems that despite the best efforts of Monsanto, the reality of the risks associated with dioxin are emerging. Thus recent EPA reports state that there is convincing human evidence of dioxin's carcinogenicity. The World Health Organization has recently slashed its recommended safe limit for dioxin intake by 60-90 per cent. This will mean that many consumers will already have intakes well in excess of the new limits. A panel of experts noted that "Subtle effects might already be occurring in the general population at current background levels ... every effort should be made to reduce exposure to the lower end of this range."I The question is whether Monsanto deliberately manipulated its studies to reduce its liability to Vietnam veterans?9 A great many lives were ruined by the senseless conflict in Vietnam. That a multinational company, now trying to sell itself as the saviour of a starving world, should have profited out of this enduring misery is a sad indictment of the state we are in. That Monsanto still continues to shirk its responsibility to the veterans of the conflict, both American and Vietnamese is disgraceful.
Bovine Growth Hormones Paul Kingsworth Ecologist Sep 98
Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH also known as Bovine Somatotropin, or BST) is a genetic-ally engineered copy of a naturally-occurring hormone produced by cows. The purpose of RBGH is to enable cows to produce more milk than they naturally would. It works by altering gene expression of glucose transporters in the cow's mammary gland, skeletal muscle and omental fat. The gene facilitates the repartitioning of glucose to the mammary gland, which in tum produces more milk. Cows injected with a daily dose of Monsanto's RBGH marketed under the brand name Posilac are generally expected to increase their milk yield by between 10 and 20 per cent. However, the problems and side-effects associated with RBGH are legion. Such are its actual and potential dangers that it is banned in Canada, the European Union and a number of other countries, despite the best efforts of Monsanto to prise open those markets. However, RBGH has been in use in other countries most notably the USA for some years. And it is from there that the bad news has been emerging.
Who Benefits? The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared rBGH officially "safe" in 1993, and Monsanto began selling Posilac to dairy fanners in February of the next year.' In the USA there are two obvious benefits of its widespread use: an estimated annual income for Monsanto of between $300 and $500 million, and an estimated 12 per cent increase in the nation's supply of milk.' Yet since the 1950s, America's dairies have consistently produced more milk than the nation can consume, the surplus being bought up every year by the Federal Government to prevent the price from plummeting. In the period 1980-8S, the US govemment spent an average of $2.1 billion every year buying surplus milk.' No-one in the US needs the extra milk that Posilac can provide.
What's more, the animals treated with the hormone are subjected to tremendous stress as a result. Normally, for about 12 weeks after a cow calves, she produces niilk at the expense of her health. The cow loses weight, is infertile and is more susceptible to diseases. Eventually, niilk output diminishes and the cow's body begins to recover. By injecting RBGH, a farmer can postpone that recovery for another eight to 12 weeks, substantially increasing the cow's milk output, but also rendering her more susceptible to disease.4 For a comprehensive list of the potential ill-effects of rBGH on cows, one need look no further than the warning label which the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) requires Monsanto to include in every shipment of Posilac. The label outlines 21 health problems associated with the use of Posilac, including cystic ovaries, uterine disorders, decrease in gestation length and birth weight of calves, increased twinning rates and retained placenta.' Potentially the most serious problem, however, is the increased risk of mastitis, or inflammation of the udder. A cow with mastitis produces milk with pus in it. Dairies will not accept milk which has an abnormally high somatic cell count (i.e., a high proportion of pus), and mastitis can thus be a serious source of lost revenue to the dairy farmer. Many farmers seek to treat the problem with antibiotics, but antibiotic residues in milk are suspected of causing health problems in humans who drink it, as well as contributing to the developlw ment of antibiotic resistance amongst bacteria.' Concemed by the potential effects of RBGH, the US National Farmers Union (NFU) set up an RBGH telephone hotline in 1994, for farmers to report any problems associated with Posilac. Hundreds of farmers called the hotline. John Shumway, a New York State dairy fanner, told the hotline that he had had to replace 50 cows as a result of adverse reactions to Posilac. His estimated losses from the use of RBGH came to about $ 1 00,000.' Melvin Van Heel, a Minnesota farmer, experienced mastitis, abortions and open sores in his rBGH-treated cows. "I got more milk, but I didn't think it was worth it," he said. Michigan farmer Steve Schulte reported that his vet's bill fell dramatically after he stopped using RBGH. Florida Farmer Al Cole lost eight cows and had to cull an additional 15. Three others later gave birth to deformed calves.' The NFU has a record of many more such complaints. Such is the dissatisfaction, that farmers all over the States are giving up using the hormone. In 1995, the NFU reported that "in some areas of the country, farmers are reporting that 60 to 90 per cent or more of the farms that have tried BGH have discontinued its use."9 It should thus be quite clear that it is only Monsanto that benefits from the sale of this perfectly useless product.
The Human Health Risks Even leaving aside the health problems caused by antibiotic residues in milk a side-effect of an increase in mastitis the effects of RBGH on human health could be devastating. Most worrying are scientific studies linking RBGH to cancer. When a cow is injected with RBGH, its presence in the blood stimulates production of another hormone, called Insulin-Like Growth Factor I (IGF-1), a naturally-occur-ring hormone-protein in both cows and humans. The use of RBGH increases the levels of IGF-I in the cow's milk. Because IGF-I is active in humans causing cells to divide some scientists believe that ingesting high levels of it in RBGHtreated milk could lead to uncontrolled cell division and growth in humans in other words, cancer.11 Monsanto have naturally been keen to deny that IGF-I levels in RBGH treated milk could be high enough to pose a threat. Writing in The Lancet in 1994, the company's researchers claimed that "there is no evidence that hormonal content of milk from RBST treated cows is in any way different from cows not so treated."Il Yet in a later issue of the same joumal, a British researcher pointed out that Monsanto had adn-litted, in 1993, that "the IGF-I level [in milk] went up substantially [about five times as much.]" when RBGH was used.11 A number of studies have since warned of the effects of excess IGF-1. Two British researchers reported in 1994 that IGF-I induced cell division in human cells.11 The next year, a separate study discovered that IGF-I promoted the growth of cancer tumours in laboratory animals, by preventing natural cell death.11 In 1996, Professor Samuel Epstein, from the University of Illinois, Chicago, conducted a detailed study of the potential effects of increased levels of IGF-I on humans. Epstein's
resulting, peer-reviewed, paper found that IGF I from RBGH treated cows may lead to breast and colon cancer in human niilk-drinkers. Epstein's fiery conclusion was that "with the complicity of the FDA, the entire nation is currently being subjected to an experiment involving large-scale adulteration of an age-old dietary staple by a poorly characterized and unlabelled biotechnology product ... it poses major potential health risks for the entire US population."Il Two studies published earlier this year seem to back Professor Epstein's findings. A study of American women published in The Lancet in May found a seven-fold increased risk of breast cancer among pre-menopausal women with high levels of IGFI in their blood." A separate study published in Science in January found a four-fold increase in risk of prostate cancer among men with high levels of IGF-I in their blood." [See boxes I and 2]
Hormone Economics Quite apart from the health risks associated with RBGH, its increased use across the world would contribute to the decline of the small farm and the monopolization of agriculture by multinational corporations. Basic economics tells us that an increase in the supply of a product leads to a fall in its price. The US govemment has only avoided an overall crash in niilk prices in recent decades by buying up surplus @lk. If widespread use of RBGH in any country leads to a significant increase in @lk supply, and if the govemment is unable or unwilling to buy up any surplus, the resulting dramaticfall in prices will drive small farmers to the wall and ensure, as many other aspects of the 'Green revolution' have done, that big, intensive, high-technology farms are the ones that survive in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Gagging the Critics Monsanto's response to those who dare to criticize RBGH has been the usual intimidation, lawsuits, manipulation of facts and expensive propaganda. In this they have been aided and abetted, in the US, by the FDA, which has been referred to by critics as 'Monsanto's Washington Office' [see Ferrara in this issue].
The first response by the Monsanto/FDA axis to concems about RBGH in milk (US surveys have consistently shown that more than 70 per cent of respondents do not want to drink it) was to tum to the law. In 1994, the FDA warned retailers not to label milk that was free of RBGH thus effectively removing from consumers the right to choose what they drank. The FDA:s main justification for this was that, in their words, there was "virtually" no difference between rBGH-treated milk and ordinary milk. Labelling would thus unfairly discriminate against companies like Monsanto.11
The FDA official responsible for developing this labelling policy was one Michael R. Taylor. Before moving to the FDA, he was a partner in the law firm that represented Monsanto as it applied for FDA approval for Posilac. He has since moved back to work for Monsanto." As a result of this policy, the FDA threatened retailers with legal action if they dared to label their milk 'BGH-free'. Monsanto itself filed two lawsuits against milk processors who labelled their milk, and posted warnings to others not to do so.10 The American ice-cream makers Ben and Jerry, who have always refused to use BGH-treated milk, recently filed a lawsuit against the state of Illinois, which ruled that they cannot label their products 'BGH-free'." Monsanto and its allies have even used the US Constitution to prevent consumers knowing what is in the milk they drink. In April 1994, the State of Vermont passed a law requiring that products containing RBGH be clearly labelled. A coalition of dairy industries and Monsanto immediately filed a suit asserting that the new law was "Unconstitutional", on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment, which asserts a constitutional right not to be forced to disclose information. Monsanto won.11 Faced with growing consumer outrage at these tactics, Monsanto has now reluctantly abandoned its lawsuits against retailers, and labelling milk 'BGH-free' is now permitted in the US. But the FDA still refuses to require producers to so label their milk, and even now, many people have no idea what is really in their milk. In other areas of society, Monsanto has also been accused of underhand methods as it tries to cover up the truth about rBGH.
Prostate and Breast Cancer
As reported in a January 23 1998 article in Science,: men with high blood-levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), are over four times more likely to develop full-blown prostate cancer than are men with lower level's, The resort emphasized that high IGF-1 bloodlevels are the strongest known risk factor for prostate cancer, even exceeding that for a family history of the disease, and that reducing IGF-1 levels is likely to prevent this cancer. lt was further noted that IGF-1 markedly stimulates the division and p and cancerous prostate cells and that it blocks the programmed self-destruction of cancer, cells, thus enhancing the growth and invasiveness of latent prostate cancer. These findings are highly relevant to any efforts to prevent prostate cancer, whose rates have escalated by 180 per cent and which is now the commonest canter in non-smoking men, with an estimated 185,000 new cases and 39,000 deaths in 1990.
Most critically, RBGH milk is superchared with high levels of .9 abnormally potent IGF-1, up to ten times the levels in natural milk and over ten times more potent. IGF-1 resists pasteurization and digestion by stomach enzymes and is well absorbed across the intestinal wall. Still unpublished Monsanto tests, disclosed by the FDA in summary form in 1990 Showed 'that statistically significant growth stimulating effects were induced in organs of adult rats by feeding IGF-1 at the lowest dose levels
Apart from prostate cancer, multiple lines of evidence have also incriminated the role of IGF-1 as risk factors in childhood cancers. As reported in a May 9 article in The Lancet, women with a relatively small increase in blood-levels of the naturally occurring growth hormohe, insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1), are up to seven times more Iikely to develop pre-menopausal breast cancer than women with lower leveIs. Based on those results the report concludes that the risks of elevated IGF-1 blood-levels are among the leading known 'risk factors for breast cancer, and, are, exceeded only by a strong family history of the disesse or unusual mammographic abnormalities.
The now-notorious 'Fox TV Episode' [see Montague in this issue], where the corporation was accused of forcing a documentary about RBGH off the air, is but one obvious example. In their book Toxic Sludge Is Good For You, John C. Stauber and Sheldon Rampton recount one episode in 1990 where the corporation's PR firm sent a 'mole' to a meeting of anti-rBGH campaigners. The 'mole', posing as a concemed housewife, was in fact an employee of Monsanto's PR firm Burson-Marsteller, sent to discover in advance what the opposition's tactics would be." Down at the grassroots, American farmers have reported many instances of Monsanto officials playing down, disguising or trying to cover up the adverse effects of RBGH, including telling farmers that their mastitis problems were unique, or that health problems that arose after using Posilac were the fault of the farmer, rather than the drug Monsanto's conduct in this, as in so many other matters relating to RBGH, has been less than honest. Is it surprising then, that their current claims to welcome an 'open debate' about biotechnology are so often taken with several lorryloads, rather than the proverbial 'pinch' of salt?
Paul Kingsnorth is a writer and environmental campaigner. A former journalist atMe Independent, he has written for The Guardian, Independent on Sunday, Resurgence, BBC Wildlife and a number of other publications.
Roundup: The World's Biggest-Selling Herbicide Joseph Mendelson
This past spring Monsanto launched a £1 million advertising campaign in the United Kingdom to tout the benTefits of genetically engineered foods. Currently Monsanto and its subsidiaries hold the patents on half of the 36 genetically engineered whole foods being marketed in the United States. A centrepiece of the advertising campaign is the multinational's claim that genetically engineered foods will significantly reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides.' As the company proclaims, "We believe food should be grown with less pesticides and herbicides." Unmentioned in its advertising blitz is that Monsanto is a major producer of agricultural chemicals, and is using genetic engineering to dramatically increase, not decrease, the use of herbicides on crops. Monsanto has built much of its corporate empire upon the back of one chemical glyphosate. Introduced almost 25 years ago, glyphosate, marketed mainly as the herbicide Roundup, is Monsanto's key agri-chemical product. Glyphosate product sales are worth $1,200 million a year.' In the United States, glyphosate's estimated annual use ranges from between 19 and 26 million pounds.' In 1994, it was used on almost 800,000 acres in the UK. 4 Registered in the United States since 1974, glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide used to kill crop weeds. It is used on a wide variety of annual, biennial and perennial grasses, sedges, broad-leafed weeds, woody shrubs and commercial crops and is the eighth most commonly used herbicide in US agriculture and the second most commonly used herbicide in non-agricultural situations.' This Monsanto flagship product continues to generate a remarkable annual growth of about 20 per cent year after year. Its continued growth has led one industry analyst to state, "Roundup rules the world."I There is, however, a natural bonier to continued significant increases in the use of Roundup. Obviously the use of too much of the herbicide on any crop will not only destroy unwanted weeds but also the crop itself. Monsanto's solution to this dilemma has been to create crops resistant to the herbicide. Farmers using the new resistant crops can now use far greater amounts of Roundup without fear of destroying the plants. It's a double financial win for Monsanto in that they can now sell the herbicide-resistant plants and ever more amounts of Roundup. While the increased sales of Roundup are a major boost for Monsanto, increased use of the chemical poses numerous health and ecological risks. Despite advertising claims that Roundup is safe for humans, pets and wildlife, and is benign to the environment, it is known to cause a variety of often serious health problems (see Box). An extensive scientific review by. the USbased National Coalition for Altematives to Pesticides (NCAP) found a variety of human health and environmental problems associated with the herbicide.' In particular, oral and skin testing on glyphosate placed the herbicide in Toxic Category III (Caution), and other testing suggested that glyphosate can cause toxic reactions on mammals (which include convulsions and even cessation of breathing).'
Severe toxicity problems associated with Roundup, however, are not thought to stem primarily from the active ingredient glyphosate, but rather from unlabelled "inert" ingredients designed to make Roundup easier to use and more efficient. Roundup consists of 99.04 per cent "inert" ingredients, many of which have been identified, including polyethoxylated tallowaniine surfactant (known as POEA), related organic acids of glyphosate, isopropylamine, and water. Researchers have found that the acute lethal dose of POEA is less than one-third that of glyphosate alone.9 Studies by Japanese researchers on poisoning victims discovered that this "inert" ingredient caused acute toxicity in patients. Symptoms of acute POEA poisoning included gastrointestinal pain, vomiting, excess fluid in the lungs, pneumonia, clouding of consciousness and destruction of red blood cells." Another Roundup "inert", iso propylamine, is extremely destructive to mucous membrane tissue and the upper respiratory tract.11 Ultimately, the Japanese researchers calculated that ingestion of slightly more than 200 ml (three quarters of a cup) of Roundup would be fatal." Subsequent laboratory studies have also shown that glyphosate-containing products cause genetic damage and reproductive effects in a wide variety of organisms.11 NCAP's analysis also revealed that Roundup can cause a number of negative environmental impacts. For instance, while it is claimed that Roundup is inactivated rapidly in soil, it is more accurate to say it is usually absorbed into soil compo nents. Thus, glyphosate remains active in soils, and residues of glyphosate have been found in lettuce, carrots and barley planted one year after glyphosate treatment.' The chemical has detrimental environmental effects. Glyphosate-containing products have been found to kill beneficial insects such as parasitoid wasps, lacewings and ladybugs." Roundup has also been shown to affect earthworms and beneficial fungi, to inhibit nitrogen fixation, and to increase the susceptibility of crop plants to disease." Despite Roundup's myriad risks, Monsanto's ads for the product continue to represent the herbicide as environmentally benign or even beneficial. Some govemment officials have 15 begun to address this gross misrepresentation. In 1991, for example, the New York State Attomey General challenged Monsanto's use of language in its Roundup advertisements, in particular the terms "biodegradable" and "environmental friendly". The state recently got Monsanto to agree to stop using the language and to pay $50,000 towards pursuit of the legal effort.
Monsanto's Herbicide-Resistant Crops
Minor legal setbacks have not stopped Monsanto's campaign to market its herbicide-resistant plants. Monsanto has already produced and marketed Roundup-Ready soybeans, canola and com, and has plans to introduce Roundup-Ready sugar beets, wheat and potatoes. These crops pose new and significant eco logical and human health concems beyond those reported by NCAP. The products also allow the multinational to exert ftir ther control over the world's farmers. As noted, the Roundup-Ready crops will allow fanners to use Roundup on a much wider and less discriminatory manner. Whereas fields were once sprayed with Roundup in pre-plant weed emergence situations, crop producers will now be able to apply Roundup to the genetically engineered crops throughout the growing season. Not only does this create obvious water, air and food contamination problems, it also presents herbicide-resistance problems. Over the last several years herbicide-resistance in weeds has become more common. As noted by one researcher, "With Roundup-Ready crops, there is the possibility in the future that the farmer is going to be planting Roundup-Ready soybeans one year and Roundup-Ready come the next. Spraying nothing but Roundup in a field for numerous years is a resistance prone pattem."Il Weed resistance to Roundup is yet a further financial boon for Monsanto. It means that farmers will need to continue increasing their purchase and use of the chemical as prior doses become ineffective. Yet another devastating impact of these herbicide-tolerant crops could be the genetic flow of the "Roundup-Ready" trait into weedy relative plants. The planned 2002 introduction of Roundup-Ready wheat has run into resistance from many farmers who feel that the wheat will cross with grassy weeds like goat grass and render them herbicide-tolerant. Fartners are also concemed that they will not be able to control volunteer wheat that grows from herbicide-resistant seed.1' it is also unclear how the widespread introduction of these crops will impact beneficial species. For example, French researchers have discovered that some varieties of transgenic canola can harm bees, a farm's most effective pollinator, by destroying their natural ability to recognize flower smells." Finally, the introduction of these products has allowed Monsanto to exert more direct control over farmers. When a fanner buys a bag of Roundup-Ready seed he pays a special "technology fee" and signs a contract he will not use any of the harvested crop as seed for the next year. The licensing fees for Roundup-Ready cotton varieties popular in Texas were $5 an acre, $8 per acre for varieties prevalent in the Cotton belt, and $40 per acre for "stacked" varieties (Roundup-Ready-resistant and containing transgenic Bacillus thuringiensis)."
Even Monsanto's aggressive public relations campaign has not been enough to hide the numerous failures surrounding genetically engineered crops. The most glaring example was Monsanto's first year of Roundup-Ready cotton which ran into disastrous performance problems. In July of 1997 farmers in the Mississippi Delta began to report that Roundup-Ready cotton was not growing properly and that the bolls on the cotton were dropping prematurely or were malfonned.11 By October 1997 at least 19 farmers in Coahoma County, Mississippi had filed complaints with the state Department of Agriculture .12 "The bottom line is that virtually everybody who planted this stuff has had a problem," said Steve Cox, an attomey representing some of the affected farmers. "The problems that we are seeing range from hawk-billed bolls to total fruit Joss." 21 Complaints were also heard from farmers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas .21 Monsanto has tried to rationalize the crop's failure by blaming the year's cold, wet spring and dry, hot summer as well as potential farmer error in applying Roundup.21 As one farmer declared, "They blamed us and they blamed God for the weather. But they don't blame themselves. Monsanto has 10,000 employees, but not one of them ever called me to discuss my plight."21 Some US govemment experts claim that Monsanto hurried the new seed varieties to market without the customary three-year testing period. One research manager for the US Department of Agriculture attempting to test the product sought one pound of seed (enough for a tenth of an acre) but was told by the companies they could not spare it.21 The failure of Monsanto's genetically engineered cotton embroiled the company in legal difficulties. Initially, Monsanto privately settled a dispute with a group of 55 fanners for $5 million 21 But on June 12, 1998, the Mississippi Seed Arbitration Council of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, ruled that Monsanto's Roundup-Ready cotton "failed to produce or perform as represented by the labels attached to the seeds."29 Instead they recommended a payment to farmers (not involved in the first settlement) of more than $1.9 million by Monsanto and its two subsidiaries, Delta and Pine Land Co. and Paymaster Technology Co.10 The decision was non-binding and Monsanto has refused to pay the damages.1' The company plans to file a motion asking the Council to reconsider.11 Similar claims were filed by farmers in Arkansas with the Arkansas Seed Arbitration Council." Subsequent to the first year failure, Monsanto had to announce in February that it was withdrawing five varieties of Roundup-Ready cotton from the market because of substandard seed quality.' However, the company is continuing to market its genetically altered cotton. In 1998 Monsanto licensees sold 800,000 acres worth of Roundup-Ready cotton.11
Monsanto's herbicide-resistant crops have met stiff opposition from NGOS. In the autumn of 1996 US grain producers began exporting Roundup-Ready soybeans to Europe and other nations. The imports into Europe were approved by the European Commission even though labelling provisions covering genetically engineered foods were not finalized at the EU level. This set off protests and blockades by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and a number of other NGOs in European ports and galvanized a consumer demand for the mandatory labelling of genetically engineered soy. To date the controversy continues with current EU labelling being required only in instances where the genetically engineered soy is detected in a product.16 Despite such contentious battles, in the United States Roundup-Ready soybeans were available from 85 seed companies in the spring of 1998.11 Worldwide it is expected that 30 n-dllion acres were planted with Roundup-Ready soybeans.11 Market reports state that soybeans are being grown on 25 million acres, nearly triple last year's 9 million acres and totalling one-third of the historical soybean base of about 70 million acres."
Roundup-Resistant Beet NGOs have also been fighting the introduction of herbicideresistant beets in Britain. In December 1997, Bfitain's National Institute of Agricultural Botany announced Roundup-Ready beets could be introduced as early as 2001. The next regulatory hurdle is the Ministry of Agriculture's approval for marketing. As the market approval hangs in the balance, current experiments in Ireland on Roundup-Ready beets have been steadfastly opposed by the organization Genetic Concem. The activists have challenged the hish EPA permits, issued on May 1, 1997, allowing Monsanto to conduct field trials of the beets in Co. Carlow.11 The legal challenge has highlighted the Irish govemment's failure to observe correct procedure when granting the field test pemiission and a failure to satisfy an "effectively zero" risk of adverse effect on human health and environment from the deliberate release. The lawsuit focusses on the application of a 1990 European Council Directive on deliberate release of GMOS, the Irish Environmental Protection Agency Act of 1993 , and the 1994 Genetically Modified Regulation. Currently, a decision is pending before the hish High Court.
Herbicide-resistant crops have run foul of govemment regulations in Canada. Monsanto introduced Roundup-Ready Canola into one-fifth of the country's total crop in 1997 .41 Sown in New Zealand for Canadian seed company Zenica, the seed is expected to be planted on 2 million acres, up from the 600,000 acres last year .4' However, in the spring of 1997, two varieties of Roundup-Ready canola seeds had to be recalled by Monsanto Canada (its licensee was the seed company Limagrain) after quality assurance tests revealed the seed contained genetic material that had not received full govemment clearance." The recall amounted to 60,000 bags of seed sold in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Two Alberta farmers who had plant6d the crop ploughed it under and received undisclosed compensation from Monsanto Canada. 44 The incident should have served as a reminder to the Canadian govemment that precaution, as a minimum, should prevail in the regulation of genetically engineered crops. Yet, despite Monsanto's potentially devastating error, the Westem Canada Canola/Rapeseed Recommending Committee approved the registration of ten new canola varieties this past February. Five of these are Roundup-Ready varieties, including two varieties grown in Argentina.11
1998 marks the first year of Roundup-Ready corn with the expectation of 750,000 US acres being planted.11 Most of the seed was produced in South America, primarily in Argentina and Chile." As with so many Roundup Ready crops, the cbm introduction has initiated controversy within the EU and the industry itself. In October 1997 Pioneer Hy-Brid the United States' largest producer of seed com said it would not add Roundup-Ready technology because Monsanto's proposed restrictions and charges outweigh the benefits for farmers." That same month, French chemical giant Rhone-Poulenc filed a lawsuit against DeKalb Genetics and Monsanto conceming the rights to Roundup-Ready com genes.11 According to Rhone Poulenc, when it sold its Roundup-tolerant com genes to DeKalb in 1994 to incorporate into com strains it did not allow DeKalb to transfer or sell the genes to any other company. Rhone Poulenc alleged that such an illegal transfer did take place during licensing agreements between DeKalb and Monsanto, and that Roundup-Ready com violates two patents.' The alleged misuse of its patent technology was uncovered during an examination of two Monsanto petitions to the USDA seeking to register the com. The situation was further muddied on May 11, 1998 when Monsanto announced an agreement to acquire DeKalb, a top hybrid seed com company in the United States. The acquisition is under anti-trust scrutiny from the US Department of Justice." If those legal battles were not enough, farmers using Roundup-Ready com are faced with an export dilemma. Roundup-Ready com has not been fully approved for importation in the EU." This consumer-driven resistance has caused US Vice President Gore and USDA officials to stump for Monsanto, warning that about $250 million in exports could be imperilled if genetically engineered maize is not approved by the EU." France has moved to avoid the threat of a possible trade battle at the WTO by announcing it would clear the way for the com's importation into Europe.
Even though faced with the outright failure of crops, virulent public opposition, health and environmental impacts and numerous unanswered scientific questions Monsanto is charging ahead with its profitable new crops. It will take the combined will of activists, the public and intemational policy makers to halt the spread of this dangerous new technology.
Joseph Mendelson, III, is the legal director for the Intemational
Center for Technology Assessment (CTA) (Washington, DC). He is
serving as a lead attomey in a legal challenge to the US Food
and Drug Administration's failure to require the labelling of
genetically engineered foods.
Terminator Technology The Threat to World Food Security
Rickarda Steinbrecher and Pat Roy Mooney Ecologist Sep 98
"The centuries old practice of farmer-saved seed is really a gross disadvantage to third World farmers" Dr. Harry B. Colins Delta and Pine Land Co.
In 1860, fully five years before Abbd Gregor Mendel published his obscure tome on the genetics of peas, launching iso-called "modem" plant breeding, a certain Major Hallett, F.L.S., of Brighton was warning farmers and fellow seedsmen that any abuse of his "pedigree" trademark for cereals would be "severely dealt with".1 But his seeds were not patentable and there was little he could do to keep farmers from buying his wheat varieties, sowing them, selecting the best seed for the next season, and breeding their own varieties uniquely adapted to local soils, slopes, and weather. It was only in 1908 that George Shull came up with what Major Hallett really wanted a biological weapon to keep farmers from saving and developing their own seeds. Called "hybridization", a wonderfully euphemistic term that led farmers to think that crossing two distant plant relatives could create a "hybrid vigour" that so improved yield as to make the resulting seed sterility meaning it could not be replanted financially worthwhile.' Today, almost every ear of com grown from Califomia to Kazakhstan is a hybrid controlled by any one of a handful of very large seed companies. Exactly 90 years after Shull's revelation, one of the biggest and most powerful of those companies, Monsanto, is fighting for control of the most important seed monopoly technology since the hybrid. But unlike 1860, this piece of life control can be patented. On March 3rd, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and a little-known cotton-seed enterprise called Delta and Pine Land Company, acquired US patent 5,723,765 or the Technology Protection System (TPS). Within days, the rest of the world knew TPS as Terminator Technology. Its declared goal is to promulgate plants that will produce self-terminating off-spring suicide seeds. Terminator Technology epitomizes what the genetic engineering of food crops is all about and gives an insight into the driving forces behind the corporate campaign to control and own life. The Terminator rides to the rescue of long-suffering multinationals who have been unable to hold fanners back from their 12,000 year tradition of saving and breeding seeds. Farmers buy the seed once and do their own work thereafter. Patents and Pinkerton detectives have been employed to stop farmers from doing so. The Terminator though provides a built-in biological "patent", enforced by engineered genes. Small farming communities of the Third World especially, rely upon their own plant breeding since neither corporate nor public breeders show much interest or aptitude in breeding for their often difficult environments. Old-fashioned hybrids and the Terminator Technology with its terminated seeds force fanners back to the market every season. Terminator also scuttles community conservation of agricultural biodiversity. There's nothing to conserve. It is the "neutron bomb" of agriculture.
Following the rediscovery of Mendel's Laws in 1900, moneyminded plant breeders pursued strategies that would force fanners back to the marketplace every season to spend their hard-earned money on seeds. Although the concept of hybrids evolved with George Shull in 1908, the first hybrid maize was not commercialized until 1924 by Henry A. Wallace. Two years later, Wallace fanned Pioneer Hi-Bred the world's largest seed company and still largely controlled by the founding family. Wallace went onto become US Secretary of Agriculture and, finally (in 1941), Vice-President of the United States. Wallace's championship of hybrids made it an immutable, if unscientific, Act of Faith to argue that "hybrid vigour" made maize the "bin-busting" bonanza it is today. More recently, however, respected scientific and economic critics like Jean-Pierre Berlan of France's INRA and Richard C. Lewontin of Harvard, as well as Jack R Kloppenburg Jr. of the University of Wisconsin, have challenged this assumption insisting that conventional maize-breeding programmes would always out-perform hybrids given the same research investment. According to these critics, the only advantage to hybrids lies in their profitability for companies.
How hybrids work Hybrid seeds are the first generation (Fl) progeny of two distinct and distant parental lines of the same species. The seed will incorporate and express the desired genetic traits of each parent for just one generation. Seeds taken from an Fl hybrid may either be sterile or, more commonly, fail to "breed true", not express the desirable genetic qualities found in Fl. Farmers in industrialized agricultural systems rarely attempt to replant a hybrid because of the exacting requirements of machine-harvesting and food-processing for crop uniformity. Resource-poor farmers in countries such as Brazil, on the other hand, will often take F2 (second generation) hybrid seeds as a source of breeding material to be blended with their traditional varieties. In this way, skilled local breeders, mostly women, be they in Brazil, Burundi or Bangladesh, isolate useful genetic characteristics and adapt them to their immediate market. The most commonly hybridized crops are maize, cotton, sunflowers and sorghum. Until recently, small grain cereals such as rice, wheat, barley, oats, and rye and leguminous crops such as soybeans, have defied such commercial hybridization. Now this is changing. Public breeding initiatives led by govemments such as China and institutions such as the Rockefeller Foundation and Comell University have developed commercial rice hybrids. The seed multinationals are hot on their heels. Most recently, giants like Monsanto and Novartis have been waxing poetic over the prospect of Fl hybrid wheat. With more land sown to wheat than any other crop on the planet, a new hybrid monopoly for this crop would be a windfall for seed companies.'
Terminator Technology: The Terminator as Biological Warfare on Farmers and Food Security
The Terminator does more than ensure that farmers can't successfully replant their harvested seed. It is the "platform" upon which companies can load their proprietary genetic traits patented genes for herbicide-tolerance or insect-resistance and get the farmers hooked on their seeds and caught in the chemical treadmill. The Terminator is a guarantee that even Brazil's innovative farmers will have to buy access to these traits every year. The target market for the Terminator is explicitly the South's farmers. Beginning with company news releases announcing the patent, Delta and Pine has trumpeted that its Technology Protection System will make it economically safe for seed companies to sell their high-tech varieties in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The company has even estimated that 405 million hectares will be sown with Tem-tinator seeds within a few years. This is a land mass almost equal to South Asia. Although Terminator Technology has only been tested in cotton and tobacco, its designers are convinced that it can be applied to any species. Delta and Pine has specifically suggested that rice and wheat farmers in countries like India, China and Pakistan are a priority market. According to the company, Terminator Technology's value could run as high as $4.00 per hectare for upmarket garden crops. The patent could be worth a billion dollars .4 "The centuries old practice of farmer-saved seed is really a gross disadvantage to Third World fanners who inadvertently become locked into obsolete varieties because of their taking the "easy road" and not planting newer, more productive varieties." Dr. Harry B. Collins, Delta and Pine Land Co, VicePresidentfor Technology Transfer (June 12, 1998)'
How the Terminator Technology works
The Terminator Technology is the main application of a broadly framed patent for the "control of plant gene expression". The Terminator is basically a genetically engineered suicide mechanism that can be triggered off by a specific outside stimulus. As a result the seeds of the next generation will selfdestruct by self-poisoning. The preferred trigger is the antibiotic tetracycline applied to seeds. The main version of the Terminator consists of a set of three novel genes inserted into one plant [see Box 1]; another version divides two or three genes on to two plants, which are later to be cross-pollinated. The end-result is always a dead seed in the following generation. Temiinator Technology is the Trojan Horse for the spread of genetically-engineered crops in the South. In the absence of "effective" patent regimes, companies can still market their wares and enforce constant retums for their investments. In the absence of adequate biosafety legislation, countries might be persuaded to accept the Terminator on the assumption that the technology is safe and that transgenic traits can not survive to a second generation, even by cross-pollination. This assumption is ill-founded. As with all genetic engineering, its direct effect and its side-effects are unpredictable and carry all the risks inherent in this technology. The gene-cocktail of the Terminator increases the risks that new toxins and allergens will show up in our food and animal fodder. Most alarming though is the possibility that the Terminator genes themselves could infect the agricultural gene pool of the neighbour's crops and of wild and weedy relatives, placing a time-bomb. Temporary "gene silencing" of the poison gene or failed activation of the Terminator countdown enables such infection [see Box 2]. Between 15 and 20 per cent of the world's food supply is grown by poor farmers who save their seed. These farmers feed at least 1.4 billion people. The Terminator "protects" companies by risking the lives of these people. Since Ten-ninator Technology has absolutely zero agronomic benefit, there is no reason to jeopardize the food security of the poor by gambling with genetic engineering in the field. Whether the Terminator works immediately or later, in either instance it is biological warfare on farmers and food security. The Temiinator also portends a hidden dark side. As a Trojan Horse for other transgenic traits, the technology might also be used to switch any trait off or on. At least in theory, the technology points to the possibility that crop diseases could be triggered by seed exports that would not have to "kick in" immediately or not until activated by specific chemicals or conditions. This form of biological warfare on people's food and economies is becoming a hot topic in military and secufity circles.'
Terminator meets the "Monster"
Scarcely two months after USDA and Delta & Pine Land announced the receipt of the Terminator patent, Monsanto bought the company. The announcement of the $1.76 billion purchase came on May II th even as parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity were meeting in Bratislava. The Terminator had already elbowed its way into conference debates when press stories reached delegations. Ovemight the US delegation, who had not uttered a word when even the USDA was under attack for its Terminator involvement, came out fighting for Monsanto. With fon-ner Clinton White House staffers on Monsanto's lobby payroll and Mickey Cantor, the US Trade Representative for much of the Uruguay Round, on Monsanto's board, the American govemment's zeal was less than surpfising.[See Ferrara in this issue] Seed technology has moved a long way since 1860 and the proprietary passions of Major Hallett. Short months before the Major trade-marked his pedigreed seed, the keynote speaker to the Wisconsin agricultural fair warned the farmers and scientists to beware of new technologies that distance farmers from their crops. Although his immediate concem was the steam engine's use in agriculture he wasn't against it, just worried about whose interests it was serving the speaker opined that the task of agricultural technology is to provide a decent living for fanners and to feed people. Clinton's administration might do well to heed Abraham Lincoln's advice before allowing the Terminator to enslave the world's fumers today.'
Terminating the Terminator
People's organizations and govemments can halt the Terminator. Legal means are available through Intemational Law and existing intergovernmental convention to outlaw the technology. Here are a few possibilities.
1. The USDA/Delta patent is pending around the world. The patent can and should be rejected on the grounds that it is in conflict with public morality. The Terminator is a threat to food security and destructive of agricultural biodiversity. On these grounds, governments are fully entitled under the terms of even the quarrelsome TRIPS chapter of the WTO (World Trade Organization) agreement to refuse the patent. In doing so, govemments are also (according to the WTO) agreeing not to allow the technology to be exploited by others within their territory.
2. Pressure (within and without the United States) should be put on the USDA to refuse to surrender the patent to the company. In fact, the USDA (which surprised itself with the March 3rd patent announcement) should also petition the US Patent and Trademark Office to revisit the cums and detenyiine whether or not it is indeed in conflict with public morality.
3. The 100+ member states to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological and Toxic Weapons, and on Their Destruction (1972) should call for the abolition of Ten-ninator Technology as a form of economic biological warfare that not only makes war on farming communities but could be manipulated to threaten national food security and destroy the national agricultural economy.
4. At its October 1998 meeting the Consultative Group on Intemational Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the world's largest intemational public plant breeding network) should announce its opposition to the Tem-tinator and its refusal to use it itself.
5. At its May 1999 meeting, the Convention on Biological Diversity's Subsidiary Body on Science and Technology should pass a resolution declaring the Terminator a threat to agricultural biodiversity and calling for its removal. Such an initiative would strengthen national efforts to ban the patent and the technology under the terms of the World Trade Agreement.
Box 1. In a Terminator plant, three genes are inserted each with an associated regulatory switch, called a 'promoter'. One of these genes, when switched on, produces a protein called Recombinase, which acts like molecular scissors. The Recombinase removes a 'spacer' between the toxin-producing gene [Fig.1a] and its promoter. While it is there, the spacer acts as a safety catch to prevent the toxin gene from being activated. A third gene is engineered to produce a Repressor which keeps the Recombinase gene turned off until the plant with the Terminator Technology is exposed to a specific outside stimulus, such as a particular chemical, temperature shock, or osmotic shock. When the chosen stimulus is applied to the seed before sale, the functioning of the Repressor gets interrupted. And as it is no longer repressed, the, recombinase,gene is switched on. The Recombinase that is now produced, removes the spacer 'safety catch:'. Because the promoter in front of the toxin gene is chosen to only become active in the late stages of seed maturation, only then will it initiate the production of the poison that kills the seed. The preferred genes used in the Terminator Technology are:
For toxin gene................. R.I.P. gene (ribosomal Inhibitor protein)
promoter.......................... LEA promoter:(Iate embryonic abundance)
spacer............................... a stretch of DNA framed with specific recognition sites (LOX)
For Recombinase gene CRE/LOX system from bacteriophage (viruses that attack bacteria)
promoter.......................... a promoter that can be repressed
For Repressor gene......... Tetracycline repressor system (Tn1O tet)
Box 2. 'Gene silencing" was discovered in the early nineties when, in a field of 10,000 petunias genetically-engendered to carry a uniform red gene, many of the plants were found blooming white and pink.' Plants are capable of deactivating genes and their promoters if recognized as intruders or as duplicates of their own DNA.' Furthermore, genes that have been deactivated can become active again generations later. The LEA promoter, which is Used to regulate Terminator's,toxin gene, is very common among plants and shows significant similarities across many species; once added, the plant might choose to switch it off. if this were to happen whilst, plants were being multiplied for the commercial market, no one could tell. Seeds of such plants willr eventually be treated with tetrakcycline; the blocking sequence (Fig.la) Will be cut out but no toxin is produced at the end' of the life cycle. The pollen carrying the silent but functional toxin gone could spread into neighbouring cropfields and forests. Another likely scenario is that some plants will not react to the tetracycline treatment. Consider the vast quantities of antibiotics necessary to soak millions of seeds. Who is going to check that all seeds have taken up the chemical, with a generation having to pass before results can be seen? Again pollen will spread with all its novel genes. If down'the line the Repressor passes onto one plant, but the to n a the Recombinase pass to,another, all the seeds produced by the second plant would commit suicide. Even if all three genes stay together, there might'be a future chemical input that acts like tetracycline.
Box 3. Tetracycline is a broad spectrum antibiotic. lt is used in medicine to kill bacteria, but it can also affect humans if wrongly used. The soil is full of vital micro-organisms, including bacteria, on which :the health of plants depend. The teracycline soaked seeds cvould disrupt soil bacterial ecologies.
Dr. Ricarda A. Steinbrecher is a geneticist and biologist. She is coordinating the Test Tube Harvest Campaign of the Women's Environmental Network, is Science Director of the Genetics Forum, UK and is biotechnology advisor to many non-governmental organisations. Pat Roy Mooney has worked for more than 30 years with civil society organisations on intemational trade and development issues related to agriculture and biodiversity and is the author of several books on the subject. He lives in Winnipeg, Canada, where he is Executive Director of RAFI.
The Inevitable Return to Sane Agriculture Mae-Wan Ho
A very important initiative, which has perhaps not received the attention it deserves, is seed-saving.' SevAeral years ago, more than 750,000 small farmers in India held a mass rally against the WTO and patents on seeds. Since then, a large number of Indian farmers working with activists have gone back to cultivating unirrigated indigenous varieties by traditional methods in Madhya Pradesh.'Vandana Shiva in New Delhi has played a major role in the women farmers' Navdanya (Seeds of Freedom) movement, saving and recovering valuable indigenous pulses and grains that had been displaced and marginalized by the Green Revolution. In Brazil, hundreds of rural communities in the north-east have also been organizing communal seed banks to recover traditional indigenous varieties and to promote sustainable agricultural development with little or no govemment support. Corporate control threatens agricultural biodiversity as well as farmers' rights to save and sell seeds, or to sow the seeds they choose. This especially affects small organic farmers who have planted indigenous varieties for hundreds, if not thousands of years, each of which has special characteristics adapted to the local conditions and to the specific purposes served. Seed-savers movements have been growing all over the world, spreading to Europe and the US, and are more important than ever with the recent merger of the seed cartel Cargill with Monsanto, which has considerably tightened the corporate stranglehold. The corporation is now in a very good position to decide that only genetically engineered seeds will be supplied in the future. In addition, farming communities in many areas of the Third World have been actively regenerating and revitalizing degraded agricultural land with many forms of sustainable, organic agriculture, and recovering agricultural biodiversity the key to food security.' Since the early 1990s, a number of non-government organizations have joined forces to form the Latin American Cosortium on Agroecology and Development to promote agroecological techniques which are sensitive to the complexities of local fanning methods. Yields have tripled or quadrupled within a year. Large-scale implementation of biodynamic farming and sustainable agriculture is succeeding in the Philippines. Successive studies have highlighted the productivity and sustainability of traditional peasant farming in the Third World as well as in the North. In twenty Third World countries, more than 2 million families are farming sustainably on 4-5 million hectares, with tripled or doubled yields, fully matching if not surpassing intensive agrochemical agriculture. And this has happened only within the past five to ten years. Contracting in to corpo rate food-production schemes now will set them back once again down the road to escalating debt and poverty, not to mention often irreversible devastation of agricultural land and the environment. The recent experience of Cuba is instructive.' US economic blockade since the 1960s caused a shortage of agrochemicals, making it necessary for Cuba to go organic on a grand scale. They maintained one-third of the I I million hectares of agricultural land on agrochemicals, tumed another third fully organic, and kept the rest 'transitional' as half agrochemical and half organic. The yields per hectare of the fully organic are equal to the fully agrochemical, while the yields of transitional fields are only half as much. This is the clearest evidence that organic agriculture can work on a large scale.
Mae-Wan Ho, Reader in Biology at the Open University, is author of Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare? The Brave New World of Bad Science and Big Business, Gateway Books, Bath, 1998; available from: <[email protected]>, <amazon.com>
Notes and references
I . See Ho, M-W. (1998). Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare? The Brave New World or Bad Science and Big Business, 2nd ed., chapter 9, Gateway Books, Bath, UK.
2. Neelithanam, R., Neelithanam, J. and Samiti, S. S. (I 998). "Retum of the Native Seeds". The Ecologist Vol.28 No. 1, pp. 29-33.
3. Ho, M-W. (i 996). Promises and Perils of Genetically Modified Foods, Greenpeace lntemational Report; Ho, M-W. (1998). Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare? The Brave New World of Bad Science and Big Business, Chapter 9, Gateway Books, Bath.
4. Pretty, 1995, 1998 op. cit.15.
5. Vazquez Vega, I.H. (1998). "Situacion de la agrictiltura biologica en Cuba", manuscript and personal communication, Vida Sana Award Ceremony, June 9. Barcelona.
Why Biotechnology and High-Tech
Agriculture Cannot Feed the World
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? 10 billion by 2030" proclaims the headline on Monsanto, s "home page. The company warns of the "growing pressures on the Earth's natural resources to feed more people." The agribusiness giant then cautions that low-technology agriculture "will not produce sufficient crop yield increases and improvements to feed the world's burgeoning population."'
However, there is no need to despair, because, according to Monsanto, "Today's high-yield agriculture is a stunning success . . ." Further, the company asserts that "biotechnology innovations will triple crop yields without requiring any additional farmland, saving valuable rainforests and animal habitats." Even better, the biotechnology revolution will mean "less chemical use in farming." I The conclusion is obvious and one that will be trumpeted in an upcoming Monsanto ad campaign "Biotechnology can feed the world ... let the harvest begin."I Monsanto's current commercial propaganda is steeped in numerous dangerous modem agricultural myths about hunger, food production and agriculture. Unfortunately, these myths have been, and are being, repeated so often that they are taken as true. They provide convenient cover for Monsanto and the other agribusiness and biotechnology transnationals which are themselves a major culprit in increasing world hunger. Unmasking these myths needs to be an ongoing task for those advocating sustainable agriculture. So, let us begin by examining the four primary and interrelated myths used by Monsanto in its current ads and public information campaign.
World hunger is caused primarily by a shortage of food with which to feed a growing population.
There is no myth about hunger. It is estimated that 786 million people go hungry each day. And hunger is increasing. From 1970 to 1990, with the exception of China, the number of hungry people in the world increased by more than I I per cent.' The myth is not about hunger but rather its primary cause. Monsanto would have us believe that as the world population increases, food production just cannot keep up. The result is that hundreds of millions are hungry. Yet numerous studies and statistics refute this claim. In fact, even as world hunger has increased since 1970, so has the food production per capita. In South America the number of those hungry went up by 19 per cent. Yet per capita food supplies rose almost 8 per cent. In south Asia hunger and food per capita both increased by 9 per cent.' These statistics and numerous others indicate that popula tion growth has not been, at least so far, the primary cau the increase in hunger since 1970. Total food theoretically available for each person has actually increased significantly. What then is the primary cause of world hunger? The basic cause is food dependence. The industrial system has, over centuries, in virtually every area of the globe, "enclosed" peasants off the land so that the land can be used for export crops. The profits gained from these exports is the essential "primitive accumulation of capital" required for industrial development in any society. The result of enclosure has been, and continues to be, that untold millions of peasants lose their land, community, traditions and most directly their food independence. Removed from their land, they then flock to the newly industrialized cities where they quickly become a class of urban poor competing for low-paying jobs in the urban industrial setting. Those that stay on the land generally attempt to survive by low-paying farm work on the large newly industrialised farms. Currently, more than half a billion rural people in the Third World are landless, or do not have sufficient land to grow their own food.'
After enclosure, both the urban and rural poor are completely food-dependent. Their access to food is solely by purchase and should they lose that purchasing power they starve. Increasing agricultural output has little effect on the hungry because it fails to address the key issues of access to land and purchasing power which are at the root of hunger. As summarized in an upcoming Food First Report, "If you don't have land on which to grow food or the money to buy it, you go hungry no matter how dramatically technology pushes up food production."'
Larger, technology-intensive farms are more efficient for food production.
The myth that bigger, technology-oriented farms are better is a corollary of the myth that food output is the solution to hunger. To address world hunger, we need more output, therefore we need larger farms and more advanced technology. The most immediate effect of this drive towards larger, more technology-intensive farms is that it accelerates the tragic enclosure trend. In the United States since World War 11 the size of the average farm has more than doubled. At the same time, the number of farms has dropped by two-thirds and the number of farmers by twice that percentage.' The pattem is familiar, the destruction of rural communities, the exodus to the cities of thousands of uprooted and impoverished farmers and others in the rural communities. The result: increases in unemployment, crime, food-dependency and hunger. As largescale farms and technologies continue to proliferate in the Third World, even more dire consequences are predicted. It is not only the size of farms which obliterates farm communities and food-independence, but also the technology applied. New technological advances replace workers in agriculture, and represent economic disaster for all but the largest farms. As one researcher investigating biotechnology notes: "The majority of farmers do not benefit from technological change: 'the fanner beneficiaries are largely limited to the early adopters usually larger operators.' They are able to expend quickly the capital to invest in the new technology. They profit even as the price per unit drops. At the same time, the price drop hampers the efforts of late adopters to remain in the changing market."I Monsanto and others have acknowledged the price that technology and size exact from the farm community but insist it is the price that has to be paid for greater efficiency in food production. But as writer and activist Marty Strange has detailed, large farms are not more efficient. Her research convincingly demonstrates that even by conventional assessments of efficiency medium-sized farms are the most efficient." Moreover, the calculations which support even the more moderate "economy of size" view that bigger is better are fatally flawed. Conventional efficiency analysis completely ignores the social and environmental cost of large-scale industrial fanning. The costs of water and air pollution, topsoil loss, biodiversity loss are not considered. Numerous studies have shown that large farms have far greater environmental impacts than smaller farms, including up to 40 per cent more erosion whose consequences are at present being masked by increasing application of artificial fertilizers, but which must increasingly affect farm output. The efficiency analysis also ignores the human health costs of consuming foods contan-tinated with pesticides, hormones and other poisons. The dislocation, over the decades, of millions of fanners and thousands of farm communities also does not appear in the efficiency calculation. All these costs are viewed as extemal to farm production and termed "extemalities". With these costs excluded the public is never informed of the "real" price of the food produced on large industrialized farms. What's more, the efficiency analysis does not take into consideration the unique character of small farms. In that it is measuring only outputs, the economy of size view ignores significant advantages that small farms have in reducing input. For example, diversification increases efficiency because it allows the more complete use of inputs, such as a variety of crops grown in different seasons. As Strange summarizes, "In agricultural economics, a bias against diversification persists, reflecting the conviction that doing one thing well on a large scale is more important than doing many things well on a small scale. It is a function of our fixation with maximums, and our indifference to optimums."" In 1989, the United States National Research Council was asked to assess the true efficiency of large industrial farms versus altematives. Their conclusion went exactly contrary to the "bigger is better" myth: "Well managed altemative farming systems nearly always use less synthetic chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and antibiotics per unit of production than conventional farms. Reduced use of these inputs lowers production costs and lessens agriculture's potential for adverse environmental and health effects without decreasing and in some cases increasing per acre crop yields and the productivity of livestock management systems.""
"Low-tech" alternatives to high-yield industrial crop production require more land to produce the same output, thus threatening wetlands, forests and other unique ecosystems.
Monsanto and other agribusiness conglomerates are seeing the birth of a powerful new competitor for consumers in the United States and Europe, organic food production. No longer a "niche" market, the organic food market soared to $4 billion in the United States in the mid-1990s and is increasing 20 per cent each year. Over 2 million American families now buy organic, with more than 14 million searching out "natural" foods. Of even greater concem to Monsanto is the growing resistance to its corporate tactics and message in India and other Third World nations. Public outcry has forced the corporation to back down on numerous enterprises. The bigger is better myth is beginning to lose its power.
Monsanto's response has been to launch media attacks on "low-tech" agricultural altematives. The company does so under the guise of being environmentally conscious. Given the corporation's record on environmental issues, this stance is not credible, yet Monsanto persists. Their primary claim (which they are attempting to transform into a new myth) is that in order to "feed the world" low-tech agriculture (with its purportedly low yields) will need to massively expand the amount of land being used to grow food, which will destroy important wildlife habitat and other vital ecosystems. As described above, however, numerous studies continue to indicate that altematives to industrial, high-tech agriculture are, when properly calculated, at least as efficient in producing output as their industrial, chemical-based counterparts." Additionally, the Monsanto argument fails to account for the declining yields now associated with the technological and chemical-intensive "Green Revolution" foisted on the Third World. In the Philippines, India and Nepal research is indicating significant loss in yields after they peaked in the 1980s." Soil degradation and a proliferation of pests, typical of largescale monoculture farming are suspected as the culprits in the decline.11 Researchers at the Henry Wallace Institute also note that, just as industrial agriculture destroys the productivity of farmland, it also compromises other food sources. Chemical contamination and eutrophication (primarily from runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus from cropland) threaten the productivity of the marine and aquatic systems responsible for much of the world's food supplies. Sixty per cent of the world's population receive more than 40 per cent of the yearly protein from fish and seafood. 16 Chemical contamination has also devastated wildlife and the very biodiversity that Monsanto now claims to want to protect.
Biotechnology will feed the world, with less chemical use less pollution and fewer resources
Monsanto's recent ad campaigns have been almost entirely devoted to purveying the myth that biotechnology can feed future generations and can replace chemical agriculture. Though Monsanto built its financial success selling the world's leading herbicide Roundup and other agricultural poisons, it now purports to reject the chemical industrial model. "More Biotechnology Plants Mean Less Industrial Ones," proclaims the headline of one ad. "The world grows its food at great cost to the environment," it continues. The ad then bemoans the environmental impacts of "insecticides, fertilizers and herbicides". It concludes, "At Monsanto, we believe plant biotechnology can limit industrial and chemical impact on the earth. For instance, we have developed crops that are insectresistant, in some cases eliminating the need to apply insecticides altogether."" In reality of course, much of Monsanto's work in biotechnology will directly or indirectly lead to the use of more chemicals in agriculture. Most of the genetically engineered foods on which Monsanto has over a dozen patents are crops genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup.1' Now farmers can buy and use ever more Roundup with the resulting contamination of air, water and food. Monsanto as noted in their ad has also engineered a version of the natural pesticide Bt into a variety of food plants hoping to make them pest-resistant. This technology has not yet proven successful, and will almost certainly have the effect of creating widespread resistance in pest populations to Bt. This would be a near-death blow to many organic fanners for whom Bt is an essential pest control tool. If Bt is lost because of increased pest-resistance, the only altemative for many farmers will be to increase the use of pesticides. However, Monsanto has been guilty of an even more important sleight of hand in the selling of the biotech myth. Monsanto knows that most of the world's population is familiar with and concerned about chemical pollution from agriculture and industry. This is bad enough, but biological pollution is more fundamental and very much more malignant, as is evident when exotic plants, animals or other organisms are released into the environment. In the United States this type of biological pollution, including the invasion of the US by the Gypsy Moth, the Kudzu vine and the organisms responsible for Chestnut Blight and Dutch Elm Disease, has wreaked environmental havoc. Now Monsanto and others are releasing thousands of new genetically engineered microbes, plants and animals into the environment. Each of these genetically altered organisms is a potential "exotic" which could harm the environment. The long-term impact of thousands upon thousands of genetically modified organisms could well eclipse the damage that has already resulted from the wholesale release of petrochemical products. In the case of chemical pollution, the offending chemical does not reproduce itself, and though it might spread, its concentrations will become increasingly dilute. Thus the damage caused by chemical pollution is most often localized and dissipates with time. With biological pollution, and hence the release of biotechnological organisms, the disturbance to the ecosystem increases and intensifies as the organisms multiply, disseminate and mutate. The problem will not remain localized, but will expand in a potentially irreversible manner. For example, if pest-resistance spreads from crops to weeds, the disease-resistant weeds will multiply and be virtually impossible to isolate and control (even with the massive and indiscriminate use of herbicides). Each release of a genetically modified organism is a form of ecological roulette which Monsanto and others are playing. The ecosystem can only be the loser. Biological pollution may well be the most urgent pollution problem of the 21st century. Beyond the problems of biological pollution, biotechnology completes the enclosure process in agriculture. Monsanto and other transnationals are now patenting the genes, plants and animals essential for agricultural production. Monsanto has developed the ability to sterilize seeds genetically so they cannot be saved. These companies are enclosing the genetic commons of all agricultural life making all farmers and consumers even more dependent on corporate entities for their very survival.
How Monsanto Listens to Other Opinions Peter Montague
In the autumn of 1996, award-winning reporters Steve Wilson and Jane Akre were hired by WTVT in Tampa to proiduce a series on Monsanto's controversial milk hormone, rBGH, in Florida milk. After more than a year's work on the rBGH series, and three days before the series was scheduled to go on air starting February 24, 1997, Fox TV executives received the first of two letters from lawyers representing Monsanto saying that Monsanto would suffer "enormous damage" if the series ran. Although WTVT had been advertising the series aggressively, they cancelled it at the last moment. Monsanto's second letter warned of "dire consequences" for Fox if the series went on air as it stood. (How Monsanto knew what the series contained remains a mystery.) According to documents filed in Florida's Circuit Court (13th Circuit), Fox lawyers then tried to water down the series, offering to pay the two reporters if they would leave the station and keep mum about what Fox had done to their work. The reporters refused Fox's offer, and on April 2, 1998, filed their own lawsuit against WTVT. Steve Wilson has 26 years' experience as a working journalist and has won four Emmy awards for his investigative reporting. His wife, Jane Akre, has been a reporter and news anchor for 20 years, and has won a prestigious Associated Press award for investigative reporting. The Wilson/Akre lawsuit charges that WTVT violated its licence from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by demanding that the reporters include known falsehoods in their RBGH series. The reporters also charge that WTVT violated Florida's "whistle blower" law. Many of the legal documents in the lawsuit including Monsanto's threatening letters have been posted on the world wide web at http://www.foxbghsuit.com for all to see. No one will be surprised to leam that powerful corporations can intimidate TV stations into rewriting the news, but this case offers an unusually detailed glimpse of specific intimidation tactics and their effects inside a news organization. It is not pretty. It has been well-documented by Monsanto and by others that rBGH-treated cows undergo several changes: their lives are shortened, they are more likely to develop mastitis, an infection of the udder (which then requires use of antibiotics, which end up in the milk along with increased pus), and they produce rrfflk containing elevated levels of another hormone called IGF1. It is IGFI that is associated with increased likelihood of human cancers.' The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved rBGH for use in cows in 1993, but the approval process was controversial because former Monsanto employees went to work for the FDA to oversee the approval process, and then retumed to work for Monsanto. Monsanto is notorious for marketing dangerous products while falsely claiming safety. The entire planet is now contaminated with hormone-disrupting, cancer-causing PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), thanks to Monsanto's poor judgement and refusal to be guided by early scientific evidence indicating harm [see J. Cummins in this issue]. The 2,4,5-T in Agent Orange the herbicide that has brought so much grief to tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans is another example of Monsanto's poor judgement and failure to heed scientific evidence to prevent harm [see H. Warwick in this issue]. Critics wam that RBGH is just one more example of Monsanto's monumentally poor judgment. When Wilson and Akre asked Monsanto officials to respond to these allegations of past poor judgement, Monsanto had no comment. If the Wilson/Akre RBGH series was never shown by Fox TV, the script is nevertheless available to those interested on the website www.foxbghsuit.com.. What follows are some of the more enlightening points it raises:
RBGH was never properly tested before the FDA allowed it on the market. A standard cancer test of a new human drug requires two years of testing with several hundred rats. But rBGH was tested for only 90 days on 30 rats. This short-term rat study was submitted to the FDA but was never published. The FDA has refused to allow anyone outside the FDA to review the raw data from this study, saying it would "irreparably harm" Monsanto.3 Therefore the linchpin study of cancer and RBGH has never been subjected to open scientific peer review. Some Florida dairy herds grew sick shortly after starting rBGH treatment. One farmer, Charles Knight who lost 75 per cent of his herd says on camera that Monsanto and Monsanto-funded researchers at University of Florida withheld from him the information that other dairy herds were suffering similar problems. He says Monsanto and the university researchers told him only that he must be doing something wrong. The law required Monsanto to notify the FDA if they received complaints by dairy farmers such as Charles Knight. But four months after Knight complained to Monsanto, the FDA had heard nothing from Monsanto. Monsanto's explanation? Despite a series of visits to Knight's farm, and many phone conversations, Monsanto officials say it took them four months to figure out that Knight was complaining about rBGH.
Monsanto claims on camera that every truckload of milk is tested for excessive antibiotics but Florida dairy officials and scientists on camera say this is simply not true. Monsanto says on camera that Canada's ban on RBGH has nothing to do with human health concems but Canadian govemment officials speaking on camera say just the opposite. Canadian govemment officials, speaking on camera, say they believe Monsanto tried to bribe them with offers of $1 to $2 million to gain approval for RBGH in Canada. Monsanto officials say the Canadians misunderstood their offer of "research"
Monsanto officials claim on camera that "the milk has not changed" because of RBGH treatment of cows. As noted earlier, there is abundant evidence some of it from Monsanto's own studies that this is definitely not true. On camera, a Monsanto official claims that Monsanto has not opposed dairy co-ops labelling their milk as "RBGHfree". But this is definitely not true. Monsanto brought two lawsuits against dairies that labelled their milk "rBGH-free". Faced with the Monsanto legal juggemaut, the dairies folded and Monsanto then sent letters around to other dairy organizations announcing the outcome of the two lawsuits in all likelihood, for purposes of intimidation. (Conveniently, the FDA regulations that discourage labelling of milk as "rBGH-free" were written by Michael Taylor, an attomey who worked for Monsanto both before and after his tenure as an FDA official.) At the website www.foxbghsuit.com, you will find the version of the Wilson/Akre RBGH series as it was re-written by Fox's attomeys. It has been laundered and perfumed. Most importantly, nearly all the references to cancer have been removed from the script. Instead of cancer we now have "human health effects" whatever those may be. The Wilson/Akre story is one of talented, hard-working joumalists trying to tell an important public health story, exposing lies and corruption by Monsanto, by the FDA, and now by Fox, too. If nothing else, perhaps the courage of Steve Wilson and Jane Akre will awaken many more of us to the potential dangers of Monsanto's latest experiment on America's children.
Mutiny against Monsanto New Sci 31 Oct 98 4
MONSANTO, the American biotech giant, is facing an unprecedented wave of criticism from within the industry. Many of Monsanto's rivals say the company is largely to blame for a consumer backlash that could cripple the prospects for genetically engineered food in Europe. Polls show that consumer acceptance of engineered food has collapsed in Europe since 1997, when it emerged that Monsanto's herbicide-resistant Roundup Ready soya beans had been shipped to Europe mixed with ordinary soya. Consumers interpreted the move as a ploy to force transgenic soya down European throats. Monsanto officials have always maintained that the decision not to segregate was made by farmers and distributors, but they admit to misjudging the mood in Europe. Monsanto was convinced that smooth acceptance of transgenic soya in the US would be mirrored in Europe. The entire industry is now having to deal with the consequences of that miscalculation. Though wary of breaking a tradition of solidarity against opponents of genetic engineering, other companies are distancing themselves from Monsanto. "We have a PR mountain to climb," says Willy de Greef, head of regulatory and government affairs at Novartis Seeds in Basel, Switzerland. "You have a problem if the market leader has firmly set ideas about how to do things, which others might not agree with," he adds. "An expensive failure can be made into an asset if you've learnt from it, but Monsanto still has some learning to do." Zeneca, the British-based biotechnology giant, also feels aggrieved, not least because it won applause from consumer groups in 1996 by labelling its tomato purse as containing genetically modified tomatoes. "It's a matter of respect for your customer," says Nigel Poole, head of regulatory affairs at Zeneca Plant Science in Bracknell, Berkshire. Another senior figure in the industry, who asked to remain anonymous, is more blunt, accusing Monsanto of "arrogant stupidity". He adds: "The issue with Roundup Ready soya beans is the elimination of choice. It's not about genetic engineering, it's an issue of 'no one's going to tell me what to eat'." Other companies are less willing to single out Monsanto for criticism, but those contacted by New Scientist agree that the failure to segregate Roundup Ready soya was a setback. And the problems didn't end there, say some industry sources: a high-profile advertising campaign from Monsanto, designed to reassure European consumers, has if anything hardened negative public L attitudes to agricultural biotechnology. "We're as fed up as some others with the YankeeDoodle language that comes to our consumers," says de Greef of Novartis. Even some US companies, insulated from the worst effects of the European storm, are concerned. Du Pont of Wilmington, Delaware, is worried about the impact of Monsanto's stance on future launches of its products in Europe. "It may be more difficult now," says a spokesman. When it comes to their own-brand products, many of Britain's major retailers are telling their soya suppliers to order as much material as possible from sources outside the US-mainly in Argentina and Brazilthat are guaranteed unmodified. But Brazil last month approved commercial plantings of Roundup Ready soya beans, and Monsanto aims to capture 20 per cent of the Brazilian market within three years. Monsanto argues that the company is being singled out because it is the market leader. "We certainly didn't intend to drop other companies in it," says Monsanto spokesman Dan Verakis. "If people think we started the controversy, we are certainly trying to clarify it." Andy Coghlan
Canada Rejects rRGH
On January 14, after an 8-year scientific review, Canada rejected Monsanto corporation's request for approval of its genetically altered milk hormone, rBGH, a drug that makes dairy cows produce
10% more milk than normal. This was a serious setback for Monsanto because rBGH was the company's first genetically-engineered product and Monsanto had hoped international acceptance of rBGH would smoothe the way for its other genetically-engineered farm crops like cotton, tomatoes, potatoes, rice, corn, and soybeans.
The approval process for rBGH in Canada became an embarrasing political fiasco when Canadian health officials claimed Monsanto had tried to bribe them, which the company denied, and government scientists testified that they were being pressured by higher-ups to approve rBGH against their better scientific judgment. (See REHW #621.)
Ultimately, Canada gave a thumbs down to rBGH because, as the product label acknowledges, it can cause udder infections, painful, debilitating foot disorders, and reduced life span in treated cows.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of rBGH in U.S. dairy cows in November, 1993, without taking a position on the issue of cruelty to animals. Monsanto will not reveal how widely the drug has been adopted by U.S. dairy farmers.
Monsanto says it will appeal the rBGH decision within the Canadian government. But more importantly, Monsanto will ask the World Health Organization's Codex Alimentarius to declare rBGH safe when Codex meets in Rome this coming summer. If Codex issues the statement that Monsanto wants, under the World Trade Organization's rules, Canada will lose its right to ban the use of rBGH within its borders, and Monsanto will be one step closer to its goal. At bottom, this is what "free trade" is about -- freeing transnational corporations from control by nation states.
Codex Alimentarius is widely perceived to be dominated not by public-spirited health specialists but by scientists aligned with the interests of transnational corporations.
Toxic Shock BY MATT PHILP NZ Listener 6 Mar 99 31
As an expert in the assessment of risk, US scientist Suzanne Wuerthele might have calculated on some fallout from her appearance on National Radio's Kim Hill show last November, when she expressed strong misgivings about the safety of genetically modified foods. She certainly wasn't expecting to be threatened with the sack. The toxicologist returned from her New Zealand holiday to deepest winter in her office at Environmental Protection Agency in Denver, Coloi She was told that she was being investigated for violi EPA ethics, after a complaint via the State Depart from josiah Beeman, US ambassador to New Zeala and, apparently, a big Kim Hill fan. Beeman accused her of representing herself as the voice of the EPA which regulates genetically engineered plant pesticides and micro-organisms used to produce chemicals ahd also of entering New Zealand without his permission. "What I was told by my supervisor," says Wuerthele, "was that they [the State Department] had asked that I be fired." Such, seemingly, are the hazards of pouring cold water. In the Kim Hill interview, Wuerthele questioned how much we really know about the long-term consequences of genetically engineered food. She suggested a need for better science to help the public weigh the risks of GE against its benefits. But the transcript shows that she made it plain that she was speaking as a private citizen. As for Beeman's second complaint although an ambassador's okay might be a requirement for visiting some countries, says Wuerthele, "New Zealand isn't one of them". The EPA investigators who have read the radio transcript accept that Wuerthele made it clear that she wasn't speaking for the agency. "But they had other questions for me: like, did I get paid for the interview?" (She didn't.) Their report is due any day now. Does she expect to lose her job? "I'm laughing here, because it seems so absurd," she says, "but these are very serious accusations. I've taken my personal things home from my office, everything I felt I wouldn't want to lose. So I'm prepared for the possibility I'm just confused as to what the rationale might be."
Ever the scientist, Wuerthele doesn't want to speculate on why Beeman took such umbrage. But there's history here. Former associate health minister Neil Kirton claimed last year that the ambassador had visited him twice after he called for compulsory labelling of GE food. In an interview with the New Zealand Her ald, Kirton said that Beeman had warned him that his stance would damage US/NZ trade relations: "I was struck dumb by the aggression shovrn by him ... the bullying tactics he used." Beeman wouldn't com ment on the case to the Listener, or respond to a claim from Wuerthele's super visor that he was advised to tune into the Hill interview by a New Zealand-based representative of GE manufacturers Monsanto. Wuerthele's experience is not uncommon among scientists who question GE. She raises the example of a group of senior Canadian government scientists who were threatened with exile to the outlands of the Ministry of Health when they baulked at approving a new hormone designed to make cows produce more milk. If she is sacked, she says, "that would send a message" to other sceptics in the EPA to keep their opinions to themselves. It's a worry. There are so many unknowns with genetic engineering, says Wuerthele. "It's important that scientists explain to the public the implications ... We're like the scientists who looked at DDT in the 40s, the analogy is perfect. They couldn't have known that DDT would be considered an envirodmental hormone disruptor 50 years later ... This technology is so new, it appears very powerful and promising ... but we have to look at the risks." How well qualified is she to raise such questions? "I've had quite a bit of experience as a risk assessor. I'm not a geneticist, I'm a toxicologist, but I think my background lends some credibility to what I'm saying. But, inside my agency I'm just one of many, many scientists thousands and I work in a regional office ... It would be more forceful if what I said came from someone at head office." Something may be building here: in February a group of leading British scientists backed calls for a moratorium on genetically modified food. Of course, some scientists prefer to maintain neutrality in such matters. Says Wuerthele: "They think it taints their objectivity when they do scientific experiments to have any view on the social role of the technology ... But scientists are also citizens and we have responsibilities. Science is not necessarily neutral, the kinds of technologies created by science aren't neutral, and we need to talk about those as a society. I don't think scientists should be cut out of the discussions."
Keep it clean NS 21 Nov 98 59
Biotech companies should pay for independent research, argues Pantelis Elia Zoiopoulos
THE philosophers of Ancient Greece were fond of the word spoudi. Pronounced "spoothi", with the "i" of 11 pity", it has two meanings. C)ne is "haste", the other "thorough study". Today the word is still sometimes used in formal written Greek. And when it comes to the troubled issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), it's the relative proportion of haste to thorough study that causes the trouble. Many people feel that there has generally been too much haste-particularly in risk assessment. It is hard to be convinced that the safety of new products can be predicted by chemical, in-vitro and in-vivo studies on rats. Huge sums of money have been spent-worldwide, in 1996, something like $8 billion in research on GMOs. The main players have been the giant agrochemical companies, and they see it as wholly reasonable that they should get a return on their investments. Some companies have had a long wait to gain approval for their products and find a way through a labyrinth of bureaucracy in various countries. Work on feeds and the nutrition of farm animals could provide a good way of testing the safety of a wide range of genetically modified crops and other products. It takes a mere eight weeks to fatten up broilers, and about six months for pigs to reach bacon weight. Since the reproductive cycle of farm animals is short, it would make sense to study more cycles in search of any cumulative adverse affects in the course of these animals'reproductive lives. This would, however, be subject to the availability of GMO feeds which now make up only a small part of the raw materials used for animal feed. Such work should be financed by companies but carried out independently at universities, state institutes or other authorised research organisations. The safety of the GMO feeds could then be judged by the effects on the animals' health and the quality of their products. The important thing is that the results would be obtained independently of the GMO industry. The public, who in the end are the consumers of these products, need to be reassured that all relevant test results are independent. Perhaps biotechnology companies should allocate more of the money they spend persuading farmers of the efficacy of their GMO products to educating the public about the production of GMOs and their safety. The public would become familiar with an issue which many scientists see as a great achievement of contemporary agricultural science. Many of us in the farming business welcome that achievement, but we reserve the right to be sceptical. We don't reject it, but we do recognise that it is controversial and that the public has a right to more information on it. Generalisations about the safety of new products, from the producers' point of view, can seem superficial. The subject needs to be dissected, and concealed and unexpected answers brought to the surface. "The perfect look," wrote Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of Zorba the Greek, "is to be able to see simultaneously, at a glance, the exquisite mask and the ugly face undemeath." When it comes to GMOS, many of us take the line that Caesar's Wife should not only be honest but also be seen to be honest. The production and evaluation of GMOs is a multidisciplinary one involving many specialisations-so to seize the GMO bull by the horns we need the cooperation of lots of specialists. Some may insist that everything technologically feasible will eventually be done. To them 1 say: "Let it be done. But what we are in need of here are not sanctimonious and faithful disciples but rather Doubting Thomases!" 7
Pantelis Ella Zoiopoulos is at the Institute of Technology of Agricultural Products, National Agricultural Research Foundation, Lykovrissi, Athens, Greece
Protestors outside the Lincolnshire court where the Monsanto company was fined (NZ Listener).
Monsanto Fined from NZ Herald 22 Feb 99
Monsanto has just been fined $52,000 after it breached control measures at a trial site of canola in Lincolnshire. The so-called pollen barrier, a strip of land designed to prevent pollination of neighbouring plants was only 2m wide rather than the required 6m.
In Canada a farmer has reported that plants in a field of non-modified canola survived spraying of glyphosate (roundup). It is possible resistance to the herbicide was transmitted by pollen from his neighbouring filed of modified canola.
In the US a group of leading environmental organizations last week filed a lawsuit to prevent the continued use of bio-engineered crops that produce the naturally-occurring insect-repellant Bt toxin, approved in eight plants in the US since 1995. The groups fear cross-pollination wil hasten the spread of resistance to Bt-containing plants and to Bt sprays used by organic farmers.
In India the state of Andhra Pradesh has banned trials of Monsanto's modified cotton., after 500 farmers committed suicide last year over the high price of seed and pesticides and 7 groups led uprootings. In Karnataka states Operation Cremation Monsanto has been destroying farmers modified crops unilaterally.
Monsanto's modified soya accounts for 50-60% of the US crop. In western Canada MOnsanto is prosecuting a farmer who maintains he did not plant any modified canola but his crop was contaminated by wind-blown seeds or pollen.