Monsanto: Visionary
Or Architect
Of Bioserfdom?
A Global Socio-EconomicExamination of
Genetically Modified Organisms
By Andrew Hund <>
From Frank Altomonte <>
The proliferation of technology in the past 20 years has been a dizzying display of human ingenuity. The pace in which technology is altering society seems almost astonishing. Nowhere is this more evident than in biotechnology. Biotech companies have advanced genetics to the point they are able to alter, transform, and manipulate the DNA codes of any plant or animal. With this new technology, biotech companies are attempting to establish a 'consumer market' through the use, creation, and legitimation of laws and science (hegemony).
According to Swedberg (1994) a consumer market consist of "typically few sellers (organization) and many buyers (individuals); who are unorganized; some public regulation but otherwise free competition" (p. 274). Hegemony, according to the Red Feather Dictionary of Sociology (1995), is:
The use of law, religion, art, science, cinema or literature to celebrate and legitimate one way of doing things to the discredit of alternative ways. It is often used in preference to direct force. Marx put it succinctly, 'In every epoch, the ruling ideas have been the ideas of the ruling class' (Letter - H).
Altering laws and creating new scientific techniques that change the DNA codes of plants and animals to consolidate a global consumer market has produced a bitter controversy in Europe, Canada, India, America, as well as various developing nations. This controversy became a mainstream global issue in January 1999, and with most controversies in society there is opposing factions, who have polarized the issue. The main opposition to genetic engineering has been directed at Monsanto, a chemical, pharmaceutical, agriculture, and consumer product company based out of St. Louis, Missouri. However, in the middle of the debate are the world's food supply, consumers, and billions of dollars. This essay investigates the economic, social, political, and environmental reasons for the supporting and opposing groups as well as the technical aspects of genetic engineering and genetically modified organisms.
Hybridization and Genetically Modified Organisms
"Consumers are confused and concerned about genetically modified organisms, particularly as they apply to foods, because of the 'lack of clear, neutral information on the issue," according to Dr. Patrick Wall of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (The Irish Times, 1999: 1). This lack of neutral information has created an economic disaster for the agricultural industry and Monsanto who has invested exhaustively in biotechnology. The difference between, genetic engineering and genetically modified organisms are the basis for the confusion. Most people already know about the genetic engineering of wheat, corn, cotton, soybeans, rice, and potatoes, which has been taking place since the agricultural revolution. However, people mistakenly perceive genetic engineering as hybridization.
Hybridization is what the farmer does when s/he selects the two best plants and cross-pollinates them in order to create a better plant. With hybridization, the second generation is variable and the genes of both plants are still present in the offspring (hybrid). Therefore, a farmer who wanted to re-use the genetic material of the hybrid or its parents in his/her breeding program would have these plants for further enhancement(s). Currently, 51.3 million acres out of a total of 69.5 million globally is planted with hybrid "crops, including 45% of all cotton crops, 32% of soybeans, 25% of corn, and 3.5% of potatoes" (Cummins and Lilliston, 1999: 4; and Crouch, 1998: 3).
Genetic modified organisms (GMO), on the other hand, is when the DNA structure of the plant is altered precisely for the intensification of a particular species. In other words, the parents of the seeds are geneticists, who pre-install DNA codes that can only be triggered by a chemical.
The process by which genetic information is transferred from one cell to another is accomplished in two parts. First, an enzyme is used to cut an opening in the bacterial plasmid of a host cell, which can either be from an insect, plant, or animal cell. Next, a specific gene or sequence of genes (DNA Strand) from a donor cell is bound in the host plasmid. The donor segment is chemically adhesive, so the two parts (re) combine and form a new plasmid that contains the new gene. The final product of this "cut and paste" technology is a non-seed producing genetically modified organism that has beneficial traits such as an enhanced ability to resists insects, diseases, and weeds (Monsanto Company: Making Genetic Engineering Possible, 1999: 3-4).
GMO's became a commercial reality in agriculture in 1998 when over 18 million acres of United States cropland were planted with Roundup Ready (i.e., Monsanto product) soybeans, which were first introduced in 1996 (Horstmeier 1998: 16). Clive James (1998) of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), claimed transgenic crops are being used globally on: more than 20.5 million hectares in the USA; 4.3 million hectares in Argentina; 2.8 million hectares in Canada; 0.1 million hectares in Australia; and less than 0.1 million hectares in Mexico, Spain, France, and South Africa (p. 1).
Farmers, as a result of this new technology, who now store (brown-bag) hybrid seeds would have to buy new GMO seeds every year. According to the United Nations (1996) "Over 1.4 billion people depend upon saved seed for their food security" (p. 2). In addition, eighty-percent (80%) of the crops grown in developing countries use save seeds (Montague, Biotech 1999: 2). The Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) (1998) stressed that "patented technology could be used on over 400 million hectares (a billion acres) of crops worldwide and could yield licensing fees of up to $1.5 billion per annum on the terminator [Monsanto GMO] technology" (p. 6).
Aside from saved and GMO seeds, are illegal seeds. Seeds that are not saved by farmers or registered with the National Seed Listing (NSL) are considered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to be illegal and thus not legal for private or commercial use. There are a couple of reasons for seeds becoming illegal such as a farmer does not sponsor the seed(s) or the seeds produces an illegal substance such as opium, marijuana, etc. Yet, sponsorship of a seed is expensive over time; thus most farmers are unable to maintain the seed on the NSL. Hambling (1999) claimed "the prohibitive price involved in maintaining seeds on the list" . . .has resulted in varieties such as two types of cauliflower becoming extinct (p. 2). These types of cauliflower varieties were naturally resistant to ringspots, a plant disease that destroys crops. Hambling (1999) also claimed the "commercial varieties that are developed for the listing are selected for their suitability for industrial processing" and thus "ignoring growers and farmers who are developing and sustaining localized, organic agriculture" (p. 2). Critics argue the standardizing of GMO seeds will result in the potential lose of local organic crops and ultimately plant diversity.
Monsanto Market Consolidation
Through the acquisition of companies, Monsanto is the leader in this field of GMO technology and is attempting or has re-coded the plant DNA of wheat, rice, potatoes, soybeans, cotton, and corn and has made efforts to control the global water supplies and forestry products. The particular DNA codes, Monsanto is developing via purchases, has the plant terminate after it produces an edible product and thus no second-generation seeds are produced from the science. In essence, the technology patent system (TPS) of Monsanto turns seeds into machines so they can be patented.
"Today, the top 10 seed companies control 30% of the global seed trade" (RAFI, 1998: 13). These ten companies have been consolidating their power and control by forming partnerships and agreements with each other. For example, Monsanto, since 1996, has spent $8.4 billion in establishing agreements and taking-over other companies that have DNA code(s) databases, patent(s), cross-pollinating procedures, and/or access to food seed markets. The following is a brief description of the major acquisitions and agreements conducted by Monsanto in the last three years. This aggressive purchasing demonstrates Monsanto's desire to consolidate the world's market and establish their TPS as the only legitimate process for food production.
In February 1996, Monsanto and Dekalb Genetics formed a 10-year research and development agreement. This partnership allows for the cross-licensing agreement of corn and soybean seeds. Monsanto acquired Agracetus, a cotton and other plant biotechnology company, with a cash payment of $150 million in April 1996 (Robertson, 1998: 325).
Monsanto purchased the Soybean Company Asgrow Agronomics for $240 million in February 1997. A few days later, Monsanto acquired Holden Foundation Seeds and its germplasm (hereditary) technology for $1.2 billion. A month later, in March, Monsanto acquired the remaining 46.4 percent of Calgene for $218 million. Calgene had previously made an agreement with the world's largest producer of canola, Canada's Saskatchewan Wheat Pool (SWP). This company produces bioengineered canola oil using SWP's germplasm (Brower, 1997: 213).
In October 1997, Monsanto and Millennium Pharmaceuticals formed a five-year, $218 million partnership. Under this agreement, which is being professed as "one of the largest deals in the fields of genomics," the two giants will collaborate on genomics-based plant and agriculture products (Marshall, 1997: 1334). Specifically, Millennium will transfer its exclusive technologies in genomics, gene sequencing, and bioinformatics to Monsanto who will be developing plant and agricultural products for pharmaceutical and nutrition purposes as well as introducing new herbicides and pesticides through the process of 'direct breeding.' The notion of direct breeding is when pharmaceutical, nutritional, and/or herbicides and pesticides are added to the DNA of the plant. In other words, vitamins and medicine can be added to a plant to benefit developing countries who lack the facilities, equipment, or trained personal to achieve humane health standards (Nadis, 1997: 5).
Cargill Incorporated, a 79,000-employee international food marketer, processor, distributor firm based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota was bought, in June 1998, for $1.4 billion. This acquisition gave Monsanto dominance of "seed, research, and production facilities in 24 countries" and access to the sales and distribution operations of 51 countries in five regions (Johnson, 1999:1). However, this takeover does not include access to US, Canada, or UK markets, instead it is concentrated on Asia, Africa, Latin America and other parts of Europe.
For $1.9 billion, Monsanto acquired Delta and Pine Land Company the world's leading producer of cotton seeds in April 1999. In addition, Delta and Pine Land Company is the owner of US patent 5723765, which controls plant gene expression. Granted this patent covers a broad range of potential applications for plant gene expressions, yet, the most cherished feature of the patent is its ability to have plants not produce second generation seeds. In other words, US patent 5723765 is the GMO self-terminating license, which makes it impossible for farmers to save and replant seeds. The takeover of Delta and Pine Land, also, gives Monsanto control of 85 percent of the US cottonseed and over one-third of the US soybean market (Oliver, Melvin J., Jerry E. Quisenberry, Norma Lee G. Trolinder, and Don L. Keim, 1998: 1; & Fox, 1997: 1233).
Also, in April Monsanto formed a $60 million five year joint agreement with the forestry companies Fletcher Challenge Forests, International Paper, and the Westvaco Corporation. Under this agreement Monsanto, with its GMO technology, will produce and market production timber seedlings. Specifically, the genetically enhanced timber seedlings are anticipated to produce "higher growth rates to allow more wood to be grown on less land and improved fiber quality to increase efficiency in paper" (Monsanto Monitor, 1999). These four companies anticipate in subcontracting with the New Zealand genetic engineering company Genesis Research and Development Corporation Limited, who is the owner of a large database on forestry genomics (Bowditch Group, 1999: 5).
In May, Monsanto acquired a controlling stake, with the option to buy, in Water Health International (WHI), incorporated. WHI is the owner of US patent #: 5780860, which is a convenient and economical water sanitizer titled "UV Waterworks." This device uses ultraviolet (UV) light to instantaneously destroy germs (bacteria and viruses). The end result is safe water, which may be utilized on crops and/or for human consumption. In addition, Monsanto and WHI anticipate a joint enterprise with Tata/Eureka Forbes, who controls 70 percent of the UV water technologies, which allows Monsanto "market access to fabricate, distribute, and service water systems" worldwide (Shiva, 1999: 2; Water Health International, 1999: 1).
Also, in May a micro-credit project named the "Innovative Partnerships for Agricultural Changes in Technology" (INPACT) was initiated. This micro-credit undertaking attempts to introduce a new cultivation processes for Northeast Thai rice farmers via a corporate financing scheme. The companies involved with INPACT are The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Monsanto, the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) and the Thai Department of Agriculture (Monsanto Monitor, 1999). In short, this micro-credit undertaking provides funds to farmers for the growing of corporate crops for corporate manufactures.
Collectively, these $8.4 billion expenditures have drastically reduced Monsanto's capital, stock value, and have left them "vulnerable to an 'unfriendly' take-over by Dupont, Dow, or another mega- corporation" . . . because this large debt is beyond theirs and "most analysts comfort level" (Cummins and Lilliston 1999: 2). Consequently, this aggressive spending of $8.4 billion has created financial difficulties for Monsanto as well as made various groups, organizations, and other corporations suspicious of Monsanto's motives.
Monsanto, however, asserts it is a family company that is "committed to finding solutions to the growing global needs for food and health by sharing common forms of science and technology among agriculture, nutrition and health" (Monsanto Company: About Monsanto, 1999: 1). Monsanto maintains genetically modified seeds will improve crop quality, production, and make agriculture possible in previously barren land. The ability to feed the growing population, which is estimated to increase by 40% or top 8 billion by 2020, is the main reason for Monsanto's consolidation of GMO technology. Thus, from Monsanto's perspective it is seeking to save-the-planet from an impending global food, forestry, and water crisis (Monsanto Company: Biotechnology -- Promise for a Brighter Future, 1999: 1).
Hegemony in Action "In the planting of genetically changed crops around the world, the U.S. government has done just about everything it can to help except drive the tractor" Bill Lambrecht, St. Louis Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau
Monsanto and the other seed companies are currently building the US government a tractor to drive with the help of politicians via intellectual property rights, regulatory loopholes, and the World Trade Organization (WTO). The multinational seed companies pursuit to secure the world's food needs is based on federal, state, and international laws. In a recent issue of the Farm Journal (1997), Monsanto ran a full page advertisement announcing:
It takes millions of dollars and years of research to develop the biotech crops that deliver superior value to growers. And future investment in biotech research depends on companies' ability to share in the added value created by these crops. Consider what happens if growers save and replant patented seeds. First, there is less incentive for all companies to invest in future technology, such as the development of seeds with traits that produce higher-yielding, higher-value and drought-tolerant crops.... In short, these few growers who save and replant patented seed jeopardize the future availability of innovative biotechnology for all growers. And that's not fair to anyone (B-25).
Thus, Monsanto is appealing to farmers to respect the company's property rights because of the cost involved in creating TPS [GMO] seeds. Further, Monsanto is aggressive about protecting their rights by way of US and International patent laws. According to the Financial Times (1999) Monsanto and the other seeds companies are attempting "to prevent farmers from obtaining its patented seeds illegally"(p. 3). Monsanto has taken several farmers to court over this issue and has accused over 600 others in Canada and the US of infringing on their intellectual property rights, but many of the farmers claim the wind blew the GMO technology into their fields (Financial Times, 1999: 3).
Other federal laws that support genetic engineering are the Steven-Wydler and Bayh-Dole Acts of 1980. Both these federal laws allow new technology created at federal research agencies to be transferred to private industry. Specifically, intellectual property developed at federal research centers can be transferred to the private sector, such as private individuals, Monsanto, Dekalb, Dow, Dupont, or some other seed company. These state and federal laws legitimized support for the creation of TPS technology and makes the US government one of the seed companies biggest indirect supporters (RAFI, 1998: 4). However, intellectual property rights are not the only issues being advanced by US law to legitimize GMO technology. Biotechnology has numerous political figures assisting in the details of transforming and revising US laws and international treaties to fit their agenda.
Four legislators, in April 1999, were honored with the "Outstanding Legislators of the Year" award by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) (a Washington DC based for-profit association representing 850 healthcare, industrial, and biotechnology companies). Respectfully, the U.S. Senators were Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Connie Mack (R- Fla.) and the U.S. Representatives were Calvin Dooley (D-Calif.), and Jim Greenwood (R- Pa.). BIO's Vice President for government relations, Chuck Ludlam, claimed:
These legislators exhibited leadership and courage on a broad range of issues: defeat of hastily drafted anti-cloning legislation that would have impeded basic biomedical research; passage of the FDA Modernization Act to streamline development of new therapies and cures; and support for agricultural biotech products to improve foods and farming.. . We are honored to work with these champions to make sure the U.S. biotech industry remains the global leader in developing innovative products for health care, agriculture, manufacturing and environmental management (Craig, 1999: 1).
As a result of these and various other political figures leadership efforts, both domestic and international, numerous GMO products have been approved. For example, in the US the USDA, FDA, and EPA have approved thirty-four GMO products; Japan twenty; Canada thirty; the European Union nine; Mexico three; Argentina two; and one in Australia and South Africa. These approved products and patents fall under the regulation of the respective countries and the WTO, which is an international body dealing with laws that govern trade between nations. Monsanto also has numerous GMO patents pending in 87 countries (Monsanto Monitor, 1999: 2; Monsanto Company: Biotechnology and Imported Foods, 1999: 2).
A major indirect supporter, as mentioned above, of GMO technology is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Monsanto identifies the USDA as an advocate of GMO technology because it advocates economically driven sustainable agricultural practices, which is one of the goals of GMO technology. The USDA claimed sustainable agriculture practices should be based upon several premises, all of which are embedded in the assumption of increasing the economic circumstances of regional areas. First, is to improve the environmental quality of the community through satisfying human consumption needs. Next, is increasing the output capability of natural occurring resources by synchronizing the local biological cycles which maximizes the areas nonrenewable resource usage. Lastly, the goal is to strengthen the economic quality of life of the farmer and their community (Monsanto Company: Meeting the Challenge of Sustainable Agriculture, 1999: 6).
The USDA's investigative arm, that determines consumer safety of sustainable agricultural or biotech crops, is the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Specifically, the APHIS is responsible for regulating crop research. In order to have a biotech crop examined by the APHIS, companies, universities, and/or associations must file a "Determination of Non-Regulated Status" (DNRS) form. According to APHIS guidelines, the DNRS form must be completed before any plants can be grown or sold commercially (International Food Information Council: Food Biotechnology, 1999: 4).
This regulatory process was made more efficient with the introduction of two alternative procedures in 1993. These alternatives are the "Notification and Petition Process," which means a researcher, group, or institution can circumvent the DNRS form providing they have a consistent history of favorable scientific reviews. In 1997, several amendments were added to the DNRS, that outlined the "eligibility criteria and performance standards" (IFIC: Food Biotechnology, 1999: 4). This is problematic because certain research crops can fall through the cracks of the regulatory process and thus go unregulated. According to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) and Wirthlin Group (1999) the APHIS regulatory process operates as follows:
Farmers need not obtain a permit from APHIS to move and field test corn, soybeans, cotton, tobacco, potatoes or tomatoes. They simply need to notify APHIS. The Petition Process permits anyone to request APHIS to issue written documentation that regulated plants become unregulated (IFIC: Food Biotechnology, 1999: 4).
In other words, plants can be moved from a supposed regulated to an unregulated status without being tested and by simply filing of a form. So, it would appear the investigative arm of the USDA (e.g., APHIS) has established procedural regulations for investigating new crops but few are actually being regulated on the condition the researchers have conformed to the predetermined criteria and eligibility standards.
Aside from struggling to investigate biotech crops, the USDA claimed "small farmers may benefit greatly if the invention stimulates the extension of biotechnology to 'minor crops' such as tomatoes," oranges, pecans, peanuts, etc. (RAFI, 1998: 12). These crops are perceived to be minor because they only use a small portion of the world's cropland. In short, these crops have high value, are harvested with minimal labor, and only need a limited amount of science (DNA modification). Thus, raising the economic motivations for producing, improving, and developing these minor crops could result in a high rate of return for semi-perphirery farmers and theoretically reduce world poverty (RAFI, 1998: 12).
Market forces, according to the USDA, would limit the spread of seed markets to levels that are cost effective for the small producer. Moreover, the USDA suggested that if the cost of improved seeds does not result in greater value to the farmer, there would be no market for the GMO varieties. In essence, the law of supply and demand will hinder the potential price gouging of seed corporations (RAFI, 1998: 11).
Another supporter of genetically modified organisms is the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In May 1992, the FDA published a Federal Register, which was a policy statement on the procedures of how to regulate new plants. Yet, this documents main focus was on "the characteristics of a food [nutritional and compositional content], not the method used to produce the food" (Monsanto Company: Ensuring the Safety of Products, 1999: 3). In other words, the FDA is interested in the "product -- not process" and thus is only responsible for making sure food products are safe to ingest and to investigate "new" plants. In the investigation of plants, research institutions, farmers, and seed companies only have to demonstrate they can replicate the products "potency and purity" in order to satisfy FDA regulators (Monsanto Company: Ensuring the Safety of Products 1999: 7). It should be noted that genetically modified organisms are not new plant varieties but genetically altered pre-existing plants that can be replicated with better scientific precision than hybridization and thus would appear to be not technically under FDA regulation.
As a result, of the regulation by the USDA, APHIS, and FDA many government organizations, mainstream magazines, associations, and officials perceive genetically modified organisms as safe and pose no environmental effects to the public. Monsanto (1999) emphasized "the United States boasts a long history of enjoying the world's safest food supply - thanks in part to U.S. government regulations" (Ensuring the Safety of Products p. 7). The USDA announced "there appears to be no environmental risks" with GMO crops and products (RAFI, 1998: 11).
Consumer Reports, a leading US consumer magazine, declared that: "There is no evidence that genetically engineered [biotech] foods on the market are not safe to eat" (IFIC: Consumers 1999: 1). In light of the Consumer Reports findings, The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST), The Georgetown Center for Food and Nutrition Policy, and The International Food Information Council (IFIC) agreed with their declaration. In addition, Florance Wambugu, a scientist working for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Kenya, stressed: "biotechnology has tremendous value . . .not only can we 'feed the world,' but by making technological improvements available to people in Third World countries, we can help improve all aspects of their lives" (Monsanto Company: Meeting the Challenge of Sustainable Agriculture, 1999: 6).
The Opposing Perspective
"Monsanto is the same company that gave us Agent Orange, DDT, and Bovine Growth Hormone, all of which have had catastrophic effects on people and the environment . . . [and] Now they expect the public to believe that their Roundup Ready soya is safe to eat and environmentally friendly to grow. That's total nonsense - it is both dangerous and unnecessary." -- Zoe Elford of the Genetic Engineering Network.
The commercialization of GMO seeds, according to critics, is potentially hazardous and creates unneeded economic and environmental risks for the public. Specifically, opponents believe TPS/GMO supporters are strictly profit-driven corporations, who use and abuse federal, state, and international laws to exploit consumers, small farmers, and destroy native plants and ecosystems.
A leading opponent to the commercialization of seeds is the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI). The RAFI (1999) alleged that Monsanto has already initiated 'pay by the generation' system through legal means via grower agreements in America and Canada (p. 2). Grower agreements are legal contracts in which the farmers must grow certain seeds in order to sell crops to food processors, which are similar to the micro-credit schemes the Thai- rice farmers are being pressured into.
The RAFI (1998) also claimed "there is no doubt that the seed industry is attempting to create biological monopolies to self pollinated crops such as rice, wheat, soybeans, and cotton" (p.10). David Mooney (1999), a RAFI spokesperson, stressed:
It will be vastly more profitable for multinationals to sell seeds programmed to commit suicide at harvest so that farmers must pay the company to obtain the chemicals to have them re-activated for the next planting and endash; either through a seed conditioning process or through the purchase of a specialized chemicals that bring saved seed back to life, Lazaus style (p. 2)
In essence, this process shifts the cost of developing seeds to the farmer, which means the seed companies will only have to sell seeds and not produce, transport, or stockpile them. As these seed oligopolies increase their control of the world market, there will be diminished interest in future plant breeding and research. Furthermore, farmers will not have any power over what to grow or plant and will be "in a position of utter dependency" on the multinational seed companies (RAFI, 1999: 2). Collectively, this has the potential to lead to bioserfdom, which is when farmers are enmeshed in a web of grower agreements, forced chemical purchases, intellectual property rights, and disabled germplasm (RAFI, 1999: 1).
Rhonda Perry, a Missouri farmer, spoke of the corporate GMO technology consolidation by saying, "It's killing us. If something doesn't happen, were going to be out of here. . . [GMO technology] is about corporate greed and control of the market. And it's time we stopped it" (Nemo, 1999: 2). University of Missouri, sociologist William Heffernan (1999) claimed family farms are in trouble because of the "fast consolidation of seed companies with food processing companies" (Palmer, 1999:1). An Ecuadorian Biologist, Elizabeth Bravo, working with the Accion Ecologica group claimed that "Farmers are [being] forced to purchase genetically modified seeds from a single firm, on pain of losing the commercial competition race" (Cummins and Lilliston 1999a: 2).
The rural sociologist, the Missouri farmer, and Ecuadorian Biologist are not the only ones concerned. For example, almost 200 cotton farmers in Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina are suing Monsanto for damages after crop failures of Monsanto's Bt and Round-Up Ready cottonseeds (i.e., GMO seeds). In a separate lawsuit 25 cotton farmers in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Louisiana are suing "Monsanto for fraud and misrepresentation . . .also in regard to Bt cotton crop failures." (Cummins and Lilliston, 1999: 2). Yet, the lawsuits against the biotech industry are not limited to the US.
In a landmark case, Mangla Rai, deputy director-general of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research directed a successful legal challenge against a cotton patent granted to Agracetus (acquired by Monsanto for $240 million in February, 1997). This lawsuit made public numerous loopholes in US patent laws, which are actively being capitalized on by multinationals. According to Rai "there is no doubt that their [the US] patent laws are full of shortcomings which the transnationals have a penchant for exploiting" (Patro 1999: 2).
Social and Environmental Hazards
Further evidence against using GMO technology is the potential it will "escape" into the environment. Releasing GMOs into the wild, effects the surrounding ecosystems by cross-pollinating [GMO/TPS] hybrids with native plants, soils, and insects. Many investigators believe this will result in the corruption of native second-generation offspring, turn the soil infertile, and destroy insect larvae (Rissler and Mellon, 1996; Crouch, 1998: 6). Evidence is starting to be complied, which promotes this hypothesis.
In a study of GMO rice, researchers at the John Innes Institute found there is a "recombination hotspot in the CaMV 35S promoter" . . . [and] "these recombination events were also found to occur independently" (Kohli, A., S. Griffiths, N. Palacios, R.M. Twyman, P. Vain, D.A. Laurie and P. Christou 1999: 599). In other words, the cut and paste approach is faulty. Expanding on the John Innes Institute's findings was Dr. Peter Wills who stressed:
Genes encode protein control of all biological processes. By transferring genes across species barriers, which have existed for aeons between species like humans and sheep we risk breaching natural thresholds against unexpected biological processes (Wolfson, 1999: 2).
Wan-Ho (1999) also claimed:
Genetic engineering bypasses conventional breeding by using artificially constructed parasitic genetic elements, including viruses, as vectors to carry and smuggle genes into cells. Once inside cells, these vectors slot themselves into the host genome. The insertion of foreign genes into the host genome has long been known to have many harmful and fatal effects including cancer of the organism (p. 3).
In other words, the offspring are potentially variable because the recombination of the promoter region in rice can occur in random sectors of the DNA sequence.
In another study DeVries and Wackernagel (1998) were able to successfully transfer a Kanamycin resistant gene to a soil bacterium (Acinetobacter), even though the typical DNA structure of a plant exceeds six million combinations. Specifically, these researchers were able demonstrate that approximately 2500 duplications of Kanamycin resistant genes (about the same as a plant cell) was an adequate number to create one new bacterium (DeVries and Wackernagel 1998: 613). Wan-Ho and Ryan (1999) claimed this research suggests "a single plant with say, 2.5 trillion cells, would be sufficient to transform one billion bacteria" (p. 2). Dr. Joseph Cummins cautioned:
Probably the greatest threat from genetically altered crops is the insertion of modified virus and insect virus genes into crops. It has been shown in the laboratory that genetic recombination will create highly virulent new viruses from such constructions . . . It is a pararetrovirus meaning that it multiplies by making DNA from RNA messages. It is very similar to the Hepatitis B virus and related to HIV. Modified viruses could cause famine by destroying crops or cause human and animal diseases of tremendous power (Wan-Ho and Ryan, 1999: 3).
In other words, due to the effects of this insertion technology, the new bacterium created could launch many new diseases and the future vector locations will remain random with each successive generation being entirely variable.
In May 1999, Nature magazine ran an article by a group Cornell University researchers claiming their preliminary data suggests that in a controlled laboratory experiment selected Bt (Monsanto product) corn pollen destroyed monarch larvae. Specifically, Cornell researchers, lead by Dr. Losey, found forty percent of the test monarch larvae were destroyed after four days because of the poisonous effects of the GM bt corn (Losey, Rayner, and Carter, 1999: 214).
The Friends of the Earth (1999) organized a study of pollen distribution, which was carried out by the National Pollen Research Unit, a bee specialist, and a GM analysis and conducted under the Federal Environment Agency of Austria. Specifically, the researchers were examining how far pollen travels with the help of bees and the air because the British government's regulations only require a 50-meter buffer zone between GM and non-GM crops. The study found the six bee hives in the study, which ranged from 500 meters to 4.5 kilometers from the GM crop, were found to have oilseed rape pollen from the GM crops. In other words, the bees carried the GM crop pollen 4.5 kilometers. The airborne pollen was detected up to 475 meters away from the GM crop (Friends of the Earth, 1999: 1). Both of which exceed British government's regulation.
In addition, to the many scientists, research, and environmental groups studies are numerous distinguished scientists in the fields of genetics, biology and medicine have spoke out against the dangers of GMO technology. In July, 1999, 85 eminent scientists signed a statement denouncing biotechnology and requesting all such products be removed from the TRIP agreements on the grounds, scientists do not have control over the gene recombination process, and the technology is unethical because "they destroy livelihoods, contravene basic human rights, create unnecessary suffering in animals or are otherwise contrary to public order and morality" (Wan-Ho, 1999: 1). The 85 scientists also asserted the patents involve acts of plagiarism in that indigenous traditional medical practices are being patented illegally (Wan-Ho, 1999: 1).
In August 1998, another potential hazard of GMO technology was discovered by Dr. Arpad Pusztai, from the Rowett Institute in Scotland, who found that rats fed with GE "potatoes showed serious health damage" (Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition, 1999). University of Leeds Professor of Food Safety, MD, and microbiologist Richard Lacey, whom accurately predicted the European BSE (mad cow disease) crisis, claimed "The fact is, it is virtually impossible to even conceive of a testing procedure to assess the health effects of genetically engineered foods when introduced into the food chain, nor is there any valid nutritional or public interest reason for their introduction" (Wan-Ho, 1999:2). The father of molecular biology and eminent biochemist, Dr Erwin Chargoff, once referred to genetic engineering as "a molecular Auschwitz." Chargoff also noted "you cannot recall a new form of life...It will survive you and your children and your children's children. An irreversible attack on the biosphere is something so unheard of, so unthinkable to previous generations, that I could only wish that a mind had not been guilty of it" (Wan-Ho, 1999: 3). Other unknown concerns, yet to be addressed in scientific tests, are what will be the effects of GMO technology on birds, mammals, and other insects that eat and/or pollinate the seed products or the fungi that breakdown the soil and/or help plants grow.
Collectively, the small farmer's situation, the lawsuits, and the real and potential environmental hazards of GMO technology has been published widely and have resulted in a backlash against genetically modified foods and Monsanto throughout the world. The global resistance to Monsanto and genetically modified organisms has provoked intellectual property rights disputes, consumer boycotts, and a growing urgency for GMO labeling.
Global Intellectual Property Rights Disputes
"Forcing biotechnology on both farmers and consumers in order to secure their monopoly control of this sector of world food production, this is not a recipe for sustainability in food supplies, it is a recipe for disaster" Ali Bastin, of Corporate Watch (One World News Service, 1997: 1).
India, Europe, and many developing countries started the initial resistance to GMO technology and the foods produced by them. In December, 1998, in Bangalore, India, Dr. Valdana Shiva claimed "a worldwide campaign will be launched against" [Monsanto] "Because of the way Monsanto has abused various countries" (The Hindu, 1999: 8 A). According to Shiva (1998) the campaign was founded on the notion that Monsanto's introduction into India was "illegal" and a "failure of the regulatory process" and that this type of technology should not be accepted "blindly and ignorantly" (p.8 A). The illegality and failed regulatory process Dr. Shiva spoke of was that The Review Committee of Genetic Manipulation circumvented the Genetic Engineering Approval committee, which was under the direction of the Indian Ministry of Environment who has the legitimate authority to approve scientific crop trials.
India's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), after a fierce legal battle, was successful in revoking a US patent on the grounds it was not an original invention, in September, 1999. With this victory, the CSIR preserved the indigenous turmeric healing (used to treat wounds and stomach infections) method, which had been patented, in December 1993, by the University of Mississippi Medical Center. This turmeric patent is not the only intellectual property rights infringement the West has taken from indigenous people, but is perhaps one of potentially hundreds globally. According to Dr. Shiva 1999, in India, "patents on Neem, Amla, Jar Amla, Anar, Salai, Dudhi, Gulmendhi, Bagbherenda, Karela, Erand, Rangoon-ki-bel, Vilayetishisham and Chamkura need to be revoked" on the grounds they too were derived from traditional methods (Patro, 1999: 1).
Rather than fight lengthy and expensive court battles, the Indian and African activists are advocating the WTO uphold their rules for registering patents, which disqualifies patents that are not original creations. In the November, 1999 WTO summit, Africa will "lodged a challenge to the patenting of life forms citing that it could have a devastating impact on agriculture, the mainstay of the majority of its economies" (Osava and Mutume, 1999:2). It is expected these actions will make the WTO responsible for protecting and preserving traditional medical practices and an estimated 35,000 of plants that have a known traditional medical benefit. Dr. Shiva (1999) also claimed that ''If we [the developing countries] get a ruling in our favor, the problem of bio-piracy will be solved. If the WTO does not respond, it will show the WTO's bias towards the powerful countries'' (Patro, 1999: 1).
As a result of this intellectual rights struggle, India and Africa officials have requested a full review of the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIP) Agreement, which is a general agreement between major Nations on tariffs and trade policies and procedures. This TRIP agreement, according to Monsanto senior employee, James Enyart, came about after the biotech "industry identified a major problem for the international trade" . . . [and thus] "crafted a solution, reduced it to a concrete proposal, and sold it to our own and other governments" (Monbiot, 1999: 1). The Indian and African officials claim they are better informed of what the agreement entails and want to correct some of the unfair measures of the agreement. Another revision needed, according to Indian activists, is the 1970 Indian Patent Act. Specifically, the GMO critics believe the 1970 Indian Patent Act should "recognize 'prior art' or existing knowledge" to protect traditional agriculture and horticulture methods (Patro, 1999: 1).
Collectively, these intellectual property rights disputes over what can and what cannot be patented is only one method being utilized by the detractors of GMO technology. Others are using various forms of direct action to stop bioserfdom as well as the proliferation of Frankenfoods. The tools of democracy being used by the many global activists are consumer boycotts (real or potential), destruction GMO research crops, and requests for labels on GMO products via petitions, lawsuits, and/or mass public appeals.
Boycotts and Direct Action
"Don't F*ck with Our Food" -- Banners hung off the UK Monsanto Headquarters building, in April 1997, after an activist raid by the cape-crusaders 'Super Heroes Against Genetics' (SHAG).
Actions against GMO technology started in Europe in the early part of 1997. A handful of European Greenpeace activists helped launch the global resistance through various public demonstrations at corporate buildings, supermarkets, eating establishments, and raised awareness of the issue at festivals, gatherings, and on the Internet. Eckert (1997) pointed out that Greenpeace activists in 30 European cities, throughout the summer of 1997, picketed numerous grocery stores and educated thousands of customers about the uncertainties of GMO products (p. 1). Aside from educational campaigns, actions have also included destruction of research crops, releasing of animals in restaurants, dumping of fruits and seeds in various places, and the destruction of seed plants.
The destruction of research crops has taken place all over the world. One of the first incidents was in Ireland. The Gaelic Earth Liberation Front (GLEF), in October 1997, claimed responsibility for destroying a "one-acre crop of genetically modified sugar beet, being grown under license by the US chemical company Monsanto on a state research farm in County Carlow, about 50 miles from Dublin" (Garvey, 1997: 1). This destruction was a reaction to the Irish High Court decision to grant Monsanto the right to establish three crop trials. However, due to mass citizen protest Monsanto only establish one trial crop at the Carlow farm, which the GLEF members destroyed (Garvey, 1997: 1).
In August 1999, Irish activists called the Genetic Concern destroyed another Monsanto experimental sugar beet crop to raise public awareness about GMO's. This action followed another activist group called the 'Little Fairies' who a week early sprayed a petrol-based chemical on a Wexford crop destroying 60% of the GM crops. Monsanto claimed there have been four attacks, including the GLEF action, since 1997 and the damaged caused total more than $160,800 US.
Across the channel in Britain, a farmer, Fred Barker was the first to plant a GMO research crop. However, Barker quickly destroyed the crop with weed-killer and claimed the reason for this was the "trustees of his family farm in Wiltshire forced him to end the trial" because they were concerned their farm would lose its organic status (Wolfson, 1999: 12). In May 1999 the UK group, Ambridge against Genetix destroyed five rape oil seed research crops, throughout the UK. Activists, calling themselves 'Reclaim the Seeds' destroyed the UK Berkeley Oxford Test Track in September 1999. In this action, the Reclaim the Seeds participants created a crop circle and placed a "sign [in the middle] mocking Berkeley's own $10,000 reward for previous attacks against their research corn" conducted several weeks earlier (Tufenkian, 1999: 1). Tufenkian (1999) noted there have been 40 such crop destructions in the last year (1998) in Britain by groups such as the Seeds of Resistance, Lincolnshire Loppers, and the Cropatistas too name only a few (p. 2).
Not all the actions have resulted in property destruction. In February 1999, UK Greenpeace activists drove a truck to Prime Ministers Blairs' residences and dumped four tons of US GMO soybeans on his doorstep. The banner on the side of the dump truck said 'Tony, Don't Swallow Bill's Seed' (Cummins and Lilliston. 1999: 1). In June 1999 200 people had a GMO-free picnic, which educated the public about the dangers of the technology. The picnic took place across the street from a GM crop field. Other types of actions have centered on theatrics such as being the informal jesters at a group of delegates at the World Seed Conference, in September 1999. One activists who attended the meeting walked around to the delegates tables with a spray bottle, that had a Roundup label on it, asking them if they "Would you like some Roundup with your meal" (Hambling, 1999: 1).
There are numerous reasons for the British's refusal to accept the GMO technology. One of the main reasons according to Hoge (1999) is that "there is no government agency [in Britain] with the regulatory rigor of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to build consumer confidence, and government approval can arouse suspicious as much as it can provide reassurance" (p.1). Moreover, a new MORI poll says 79 percent of the British public say that crop testing of the Fiddaman has agreed to should be stopped" (Hoge, 1999: 1).
In France the actions are similar to Britain but with more of an agitation emphasis. There have been direct actions at numerous McDonald's and a French seed laboratory. In January 1998, the 120 member French farmers Union, Confederation Paysanne, stormed the Novartis seed developing and storage plant and destroyed 30 tons of GMO maize seeds. Novartis estimated the damages at $1 million in US dollars (Genetic Engineering News Group, 1998 p. 5).
Concerned French citizens dumped rotting fruit and vegetables in various McDonald's establishments to protest the US officials decision to place a levy on French products as a result of their refusal to accept GMO foods (Cohen, 1999: 3). A month later several dozen French farmers "released live chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks in McDonald's restaurants" throughout southern France (Sightings, 1999: 1). The French rationale for protesting McDonalds was summed up by Patrice Vidieu (1999) who stressed "What we reject is the idea that the power of the marketplace becomes the dominant force in all societies, and that multinationals like McDonald's or Monsanto come to impose the food we eat and the seeds we plant" (Cohen, 1999: 3).
After a McDonald's incident Jose Bove was arrested, which caused a massive reaction among many groups. Cohen (1999) claimed Mr. Bove emerged "as a sort of Subcomandante Marcos of the French countryside, the leader of a self styled, anti-imperialistic revolt over food" (p. 1). Bove's arrest was significant because it unified numerous liberal and leftists groups who normally are not unified. For example, labor unions, socialists, ecologists, environmentalists, communists, and numerous farmers in France joined together against GMO technology and demanded immediate release of Bove (Cohen, 1999: 1).
This unification established Bove as an informal spokesperson for the growing European anti-imperialism sentiment. Bove (1999) stressed his struggle is still the same and he will continue to "battle against globalization and for the right of peoples to feed themselves as they choose" (Cohen, 1999: 1). According to Bove GMO technology is
Purely the product of technology where the means becomes the end. Political choices are swept aside by the power of money . . . [and] Democratic debate simply doesn't exist . . .[because] the panel of the WTO, the true policeman of the world trade, decides what's 'good' for both countries and their people, without consultation or a right of appeal . . .[and] The conspiracy of silence organized by the companies and the sovereign states is the sole logic which prevails (Cohen 1999: 2-4).
In essence, Bove is pointing out the after effects of hegemony and how it is played outteria derived resistance in humans (Cummins and Lilliston, 1999a).
As a result of the professional groups uncertainty, the growing consumer concerns, and numerous direct actions, European McDonalds, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken have refused to buy any products containing GMO products. In addition, seven European grocery stores (i.e., Tesco, Safeway, Sainsbury's, Asda & Somerfield, Iceland, Marks & Spencer, the Co-op and Waitrese grocery) have prohibited GMO or genetically engineered products in their stores. These boycotts have turned GMO supporters such as Unilever, Nestle (a Swiss Firm), and the Canadian Corporation Cadbury-Schweppes, into non-supporters (Lean, 1999:3; Montague: Biotech 1999: 1-2).
The massive citizen outcry, the grocery stores refusal to stock GMO products and the eating establishments refusal to sell GMO products has helped force the European Union into banning the importation of seven GMO products. The European Union, in June 1999, enacted "the legal equivalent of a three-year moratorium on any new approvals of GE foods or crops" (Cummins and Lilliston 1999a: 10). This three-year moratorium was devised so the European Union could establish more rigorous protection regulations for the public. British socialist David Bowe claimed "a revised EU law on approving genetically modified crops or foods must include provisions on legal liability" (Reuters [France], 1999: 2).
However, this moratorium did not go unnoticed by the US. Senator John Ashcroft (R-Missouri) frequently labeled the "Senator from Monsanto," told the Washington Post "it is characteristic of the European Union to hide behind studies such as this in order to maintain its protectionist trade policies" (Cummins and Lilliston, 1999a: 2). US citizens have also, not let the issue of GMO technology go unnoticed.
Like in Europe, there have been various forms of activism in the US, which started during the summer of 1999. Actions have taken place in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maine, Vermont, and California. Most of the actions have taken place at university research centers while only a couple have, occurred at private farms such as Lodi, California. Activist groups such as Reclaim the Seeds, Seeds of Resistance, and the Cropatistas have claimed research crop damage to "fields in Maine, Vermont, and California" (Sacramento Bee, 1999: 1). In Bangor Maine, the group 'Seeds of Resistance' was responsible for cutting down 1,000 GMO corn stalks, with machete's, at a local research plant (Burros, 1999: 1). Collectively, there has been close to a dozen action on US soil.
US companies, food manufactures, and processors are fearful of a repeat of what happened in Europe over the refusal of GMO foods and crops. Many U.S. and Canadian companies are now following the lead of their European counterparts and refusing GMO products. Archer Daniel's Midland (ADM) and A. E. Stanley, the 1st and 3rd largest US corn processors, which announced to the public they will refuse to accept genetically modified corn and would pay 8 to 10 extra for non-GMO corn and requested that farmers segregate the two types of crops. ADM stressed it "remains supportive of the science and safety of both biotech development and traditional plant breeding methods to improve crops". . is out to increase profits and thus "driven by the consumer's desire to have choices"(Hsu, 1999: A3). Not surprisingly, ADM has joined forces with Dupont (a major competitor with Monsanto) and will pay farmers who planted Dupont's non-GMO soybeans an extra 18 cents per bushel.
Consequently, this sort of pricing difference has farmers perturbed, because on small farms a one or two cents per bushel is the difference between making it and going under. According to Hsu (1999) "farmers feel as though they have been taken for a ride by these big agricultural companies since they have had to pay more money for the new herbicide and pest-resistant seeds" (p. A3). Tom Glavin of the USDA asserted these are disturbing times for because farmers "are going to be going back to conventional crops out of uncertainty" (Hewitt, 1999: 1).
The American Corn Growers Association recommended its members not use GM seeds the following year (2000). The Association's CEO Gary Goldberg stressed "agriculture has been sold a bill of goods about how great genetically modified seeds would be". . . "We're sure as hell not going to grow a product the customer doesn't want" (Jacobs, 1999: 3). In October, 1999, Casco, Incorporated, Ontario's largest corn purchaser, went public and urged farmers not to buy GM varieties next spring due to the uncertainty of the market. Casco spokesperson John Peakes notified farmers "it might be best to consider planting GM-free corn to maximize (farmers') marketing options" (Tam, 1999: 3). Following this announcement, the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), in October 1999, requested a moratorium on new genetically engineered crop (Story. 1999: 5). Story (1999) also stressed "the whole plot is coming unraveled for those who are trying to push GE foods down our throats (p. 5). In other words, farmers are being played as pawns in the corporate imperialistic chess game.
US food manufacturers such as Gerber and Heinz have initiated a GMO boycott. In July, 1999 they announced they would not allow GMO corn or soybeans in their food (Lagnado, 1999: A1). Shortly, after this Iams pet Food Company followed suit by claiming it would not buy any of the seven varieties of GMO corn the European Union had refused in their foods. This announcement was more negative news for US seed companies because they had hoped to sell the overseas rejected corn to these markets (Lagnado, 1999: A1).
Canada, Korea, and New Zealand have also had direct action against GMO technology. According to Kines (1999) Canadian citizens "chopped, broke, or stomped 400 trees and seedlings on test plots at the University of BC" (p. 1). The citizens' demonstration resulted in an estimated $250,000 damage and subverted five years of biodiversity research. The research was being conducted by the British Columbia subsidiary, Silvagen, Incorporated. The tree seedlings were mostly Douglas firs and potted hemlocks, which were no more than a meter in height (Kines, 1999: 1).
In Korea, students and environmental activists organized demonstration to educate the public on the Korean agricultural biotechnology, the National Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology (NIAST), irresponsible use of GMO technology. Many Korean citizens are concerned the government allows GMO crop research but does not have a mechanism to "monitor and regulate the experiments" (Antti-Rautiainen, 1999: 1-2). In March 1999 several dozen New Zealand citizens, calling themselves Wild Greens, vaulted a fence and smashed an experimental GM potato crop at the Crop and Food Research Center in Lincoln. The experimental GM potato crop "involved mixing the genes of potatoes with genetic material from toads and silkworms to make potatoes rot resistant" and was valued at over $200,000 (Poo, 1999:1).
These direct actions and boycotts have brought global attention to the uncertainty of GMO technology. In essence, the small groups of European, Indian, Canadian, and US activists helped launch and cultivate the global resistance to GMO technology. Ultimately, these actions raised public awareness and helped uncovering the need for GMO technology to be abolished or at least have labels that identify them.
Labels? "Labeling is absolutely a critical acid test issue for the U.S. biotech food industry"-- Charles Benbrook, a biotech consultant and former director of the National Research Council's board on agriculture (Weiss, 1999: A17).
Collectively, boycotts, reduced prices, and the global outcry against GMO technology has promoted the need for alternative measures. One of these measures is a label on the GMO products. In January 1999, Time magazine conducted a poll of US citizens and found 81 percent of the respondents wanted labels on all GMO products (Burros, 1999: 2). However, the type of label and what should be labeled is in question and this has resulted in much societal friction. The biotech industry wants either no labels or simple labels that suggests the product 'may contain GMO or irradiated ingredients.'
Some activists, in contrast, are advocating for strict uniform labels on all GMO products for medical purposes. For example, award winning molecular biologist and cancer researcher Dr John Fagan, rejected a $3 million US government research grant. This was done to publicly denounce the current misuses of biotechnology and advocate for labels on all GM foods because "without labeling it will be very difficult for scientists to trace the source of new illness caused by genetically engineered food" (Wolfson, 1999: 1).
Religious groups, such as Jewish, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Buddhists want the labels to identify any product with remote traces of products that violates their religious beliefs. For example, religious vegetarians such as the Seventh-Day Adventists and Buddhists want to "avoid fruits and vegetables with insect, animal or humans genes in them" (Epstein, 1996: 4). The Buddhists and Adventists doctrinal beliefs oppose genetic alterations on the grounds they are unholy and unhealthy, are founded in the writings of Ellen G. White, the Holy Bible, Sutras, Dhama pada, and Tao. Similarly, Jewish groups want labels on any food with non-kosher ingredients.
Other reason why labels are needed according to Vorman (1999) is that "unlike foodborne disease, where the government has rules in place to handle any outbreak, there is no real regulatory review process in place right now to keep up with all the biotechnology changes that are happening'' (p. 2). Orfelia Rodriquez, a Cuban biosafety expert, stressed "Governments must inform the population on the risks of using transgenics, and must make labeling of such products mandatory, in order for consumers to know what they are consuming" (Cummins and Lilliston 1999a: 7). In essence, consumers have become uncertain about the effects of GMO products and are distrustful of the corporate reassurances.
An example of this distrust and uncertainty is being seen in a 30 country anti-trust lawsuit against the seed companies. Activists from over 30 Latin and developing countries have filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the largest life science companies primarily Monsanto, Novartis, AstraZeneca, Aventist, and Dupont. The law firms representing Jeffery Rafkin, director of the Foundation on Economic Trends, and the 30 Nations are working on 'a no-win-no-fee basis' and are seeking to challenge the legal basis of such monopolistic practices on the state, federal, and/or international level.
The litigants are confident they can "free agriculture from the control of a few" who by inventing the TPS design have turned plants, animals, and insects into machines (Osava and Mutume, 1999: 1). According to Antonio Donizeti Beraldo, a farmers rights advocate from the National Confederation of Agriculture, winning this legal battle creates the "mechanisms to prevention [corporate] monopolies" (Osava and Mutume, 1999: 3).
In another lawsuit, a coalition of public interest groups, environmentalists, scientists, and religious leaders filed a lawsuit against the FDA seeking to require labels on all GM foods. The basis of the lawsuit stems from the coalition uncovering FDA records suggesting several experts were suspicious of the safety of GM products. According to the Druker and Roth (1999):
Internal [FDA] reports and memoranda disclose: (1) agency scientists repeatedly cautioned that foods produced through recombinant DNA technology entail different risks than do their conventionally produced counterparts and (2) that this input was consistently disregarded by the bureaucrats who crafted the agency's current policy, which treats bioengineered foods the same as natural ones (p. 1-2).
More specifically, the litigants suggest there is evidence FDA policies (e.g., US Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act) were not followed correctly, and scientific tests were done improperly. This resulted in the scientists not knowing for certain the safety of GM products being allowed on the consumer market (Druker and Roth, 1999: 2).
The Alliance for Bio-Integrity (1999) indicated "the FDA admits it is operating under a directive 'to foster' the U.S. biotech industry; and this directive advocates that bioengineered foods are essentially the same as others" (p. 1). Moreover, the FDA's bending of policy to accommodate the Biotech industry caused strong reactions from its research scientists. Some of the FDA's experts believed the GMO technology should have been rigorously tested for unexpected toxins and allergens. According to FDA Microbiologists, Dr. Louis Priybl, "there is a profound difference between the types of unexpected effects from traditional breeding and genetic engineering which is just glanced over in this document" . . .and gene splicing "may be more hazardous" (Druker and Roth, 1999: 2).
Japan, South Korea, China, and several other Asian countries are considering whether to legislate laws for the labeling of GMO foods. Asia's food market is worth one trillion to the United States and other Nations (Brynes, 1999:1). However, Japanese food manufacturers, in August, 1999, were attempting to probe for and purchase non-GM foods in order divert labels on GMO products. The Director of Japanese Tofu Association, Hironori Kijima, claimed "we want to avoid the GM label as it could hurt the image of our products. We plan to switch to non-GM soybeans" (Takada, 1999:1). Fiji Oil group, who uses an average 90,000 tonnes of soybeans, also claimed it will stop the use of GMO soybeans and search for non-GM wholesalers (Reuters, 1999: 1).
This switch to non-GMO foods may force Japan to turn to Australia, France, Brazil and/or other various developing nations for certified GE-free crops and thus exasterbate the US and Canadian farmers, exporters, and manufactures economic difficulties. Being that the US is Japan's largest grain, canola, and soybean supplier it seems logical Japanese manufactures would want to avoid the GM labels and seek GE free foods from the US and elsewhere until the global resistance diminishes (Cummins and Lilliston 1999a: 6).
In October, the Agricultural Ministry of Japan claimed it would "impose new rules requiring the food industry - retailers, farmers, and food product makers - to ensure the verity of food labels attesting that their foodstuffs are not genetically modified" (Japan Economic Newswire, 1999: 4). Moreover, the Japanese officials have made provisions so investigators are able to conduct on the spot inspections of farms, factories, distributors, and merchants for GMO products and falsified certificates. Once violators has been discovered they will be publicly identified for shame (Japan Economic Newswire, 1999: 4). However, it should be noted this is still not a labeling requirement, but a strict guidelines for avoiding one.
In October 1999, a Philippine consumer group requested the government impose a label on GM products. Francis de la Cruz, of the Citizens Alliance for Consumer Protection group claimed "if we cannot prevent the entry of GMOs...let us be given information to exercise our choice" (Reuters Manila, 1999: 4). On the same day Australian and New Zealand officials decided to "require detailed labeling of products containing genetically modified foods" (Associated Press, 1999: 4).
Organized Grassroots efforts of Americans, outside legal action, has been lethargic compared to that of Indians, Africans, and Europeans. However, in June 1999, a petition containing a 500,000 US citizens signatures was presented to the US Congress, which demanded labels be put on food containing genetically-modified soybeans, corn, rice, wheat, and other crops. This was an indicator, at the time, of the growing discontent the US citizens were experiencing about GMO technology (Vorman, 1999: 2).
As mentioned above, the US biotech industry is fearful of labels for several reasons. First, manufactures will experience increased labor costs because production will have to be adjusted to produce a different labeling for each country or geographic region. Next, exporters will experience difficulty opening new markets with GMO food labels on the package (Byrnes, 1999:1). Carl Feldbaum, president of BIO claimed a label "would be seen as a stigma, like a skull and crossbones" (Weiss, 1999: A17). Finally, many biotech companies feel the reactions to GMO technology will be abandoned by the detractors in a couple of years. According to Craik "in about five years time the heat will have gone out of this debate, then countries like Japan will just gradually start to take it (GM food)" (Byrnes, 1999:1).
However, with the billions of dollars at stake the seed companies and the supporting governments are embarking on a "massive lobbying and PR campaign, which includes strategies to immediately attempt to discredit any opposition to their products, however reasonable" (Epstein, 1996: 4). Joining in the cause promoting GMO technology is the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA). The GMA represent 132 firms, such as global giants Heinz (who in July 1999 banned GMO foods from its baby food products), Kraft, and Procter & Gamble announced, in June 1999, a $1 million dollar ad campaign to educate the public about the positive attributes of GMO technology. This is being done to stop a potential consumer boycott in the US similar to that, which occurred in Europe, India and elsewhere (Rabin, 1999:1). Several other farm groups such as the National Corn Growers Association, the American Soybean Association, and the American Farm Bureau Federation have embraced GMO technology (Palmer, 1999:1).
On the international level, the WTO has declared the EU ban on GMO crops and products as unjustified, because there is no scientific evidence that they are unhealthy or hazardous for the public (Hambling 1999: 2). The US government has taken the position labeling will only be used as a last resort to appease the G-15 and Asian Nations until the predicament calms. In the interim, the seed companies and the US government are expected to network people in the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD and other institutions such as the WTO to "to rewrite global trade agreements [TRIP, GATT] and investment policies so that nation states will no longer have the ability to respond to citizen demands for rigid controls over genetic engineering" (Cummins and Lilliston, 1999a: 10). For example, the US and Canadian officials, in June 1999, filed a formal complaint with the WTO over the elevated number of mandatory labeling on GMO foods, which the US and Canadian officials are labeling as trade barriers (International Trade Reporter 1999: 1006).
In addition, there has been much debate as to whether the US will create a label for the upcoming WTO summit in November. Epstein (1996) stressed "given the current political climate, despite valid scientific, ethical, and religious concerns, it is unlikely that the federal labeling regulations will be introduced in the near future" (p. 4). Charles Benbrook, a Biotech consultant, indicated that a top-level USDA official informed him the US government was developing a labeling proposal for the WTO summit. USDA spokesperson Andy Solomon refuted Benbrook's remarks claiming "there has been no such decision, and US policy has not changed" (Hsu, 1999: 5). Peter Scher, special U.S. ambassador for agricultural trade stressed "that is absolutely not the case". . . [and] "We have no plans to bring a labeling proposal" (Palmer, 1999: 1). Scher also claimed the US will focus on "the regulatory system for the approval of these technologies are based on science and are transparent in order to assure consumers about the safety of these products" and not a label for them (Palmer, 1999:1).
The Global Socio-Economic Consequences
These label concerns, legal challenges, consumer boycotts, and the refusal to accept GMO seeds and products has resulted in a financial disaster for exporters, manufactures, and farmers (mainly Canadian and US) as well as Monsanto. Canadian canola (rapeseed) growers lost $300 - $400 million in sales to Europe because "government authorities followed the US model of co-mingling GE and non-GE grains" (Cummins and Lilliston, 1999: 2). In addition, over 50% of Canada's 13.4 million acres of canola are genetically engineered and thus cannot be sold to European markets.
According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch (1999) in 1998 "American companies lost an estimated $200 million in corn exports to European Union Countries" (p. 1). In 1999, US soybean exports have dropped 38% and the price is at a 27 year low. Aside from corn and soybean exports there is a "14% decline overall in [US] exports since last year" (Cummins and Lilliston, 1999: 4). Both these issues have alarmed the US government and farmers, which resulted in the US Congress approving a $574-million farm bailout. However, farmers claim the $574-million was inadequate and are now asking the US government for $6 billion-$8 billion in financial assistance. The Deutsche Bank 1999 noted GMO technology "with their better yields, will only further depress prices this year" and amplify the farmers situation (Ramey, Wimmer, and Rooker 1999: 5).
Aside from the GMO products ruinous effects on Canadian and US farmers and exporters, this global situation has resulted in a financial difficulties for Monsanto who was compelled them to cut 1,700 employees from a global workforce of 28,000 (Cummins and Lilliston, 1999: 2). Monsanto's CEO Robert Shapiro (1999) summed up the controversy by claiming:
We don't seek controversy, but obviously it has been thrust on us. It is a direct consequence of a role we have chosen. And it is a role which we can blame only ourselves for . . .we realize that with any new and powerful technology with unknown, and to some degree unknowable - by definition - effects, than there necessarily will be an appropriate level of least, and maybe even more than that, of public debate and public interest (p. 1 ).
As a result of the controversy, Monsanto announced, in May 1999, that it would sell off $1.5 to $2.0 billion of its assets to recover from the failed take-over of cash-rich American Home Products Company, last summer, and pay off its more than $8.4 billion debt (Reuters, 1999: 1). Specifically, Monsanto will sell stock, its lawn and garden division for an estimated $300 million, a chemical department estimated at $125 million, the Wellbridge health and fitness firm for an estimated $15 million, the Stoneville Pedigree [Cotton] Seed Company and Alginates for an estimated $400 million. These liquidation's of departments, stock, and other assets is estimated to raise more than $4.2 billion for Monsanto (St. Louis Dispatch, May 4 1999). However, none of these liquidations will affect the acquired GMO companies. Therefore, it would appear Monsanto is streamlining the GMO division and discarding the non-GMO divisions.
Even with the liquidation of company assets, countries refusal to make agriculture agreements, disputes over international treaties, millions, if not billions, lost in agricultural sales, and the global push for labeling requirements the US government and the seed companies are working on a strategies to press genetically modified organisms forward. The US government is beginning to initiate a trade dual with the European Union and other countries who have refused the GMO products via tariffs, complaints to the WTO, and the refusal of certain European products.
According to Cummins and Lilliston (1999) the economic elite, such as Monsanto, the US government, trade officials, and other biotech companies are turning "to evermore extreme measures to force the citizenry to 'shut up and eat their Frankenfoods' and attempting to manipulate farmers to plant" the GMO seeds (p. 5). This type of strong-arm tactics may initiate a trade war and the "collateral damage could seriously undermine GATT and the World Trade Organization" (Cummins, et al. 1999a: 2).
According to Montague (1999) the reasons for America's enthusiastic determination is that "from the viewpoint of U.S. foreign policy, genetically modified seeds offer a key advantage over traditional seeds" (p. 4). Namely, Nations will be forced to buy seeds from multinational corporations or be excluded from the global political and economic model. Wall Street Analysts are also optimistic about the technology. For example, Paine-Webbers' financial analysts Andrew Cash claimed "We like biotech genetically engineering long-term because it is a very useful tool and eventually science will win out" (Jacobs, 1999: 4).
One of the first, US officials to discuss the future goals of GMO technology was Stuart Eizenstat. In June, 1999, Mr. Eizenstat, then nominee for an executive position for the US Treasury Department, testified before the US Senate that:
Almost 100 % of our agricultural exports in the next five years will be genetically-modified or combined with bulk commodities that are genetically modified...The Europeans have an absolute fear, unfounded by any scientific basis, of accepting these products... The EU's fear of bioengineered foods... is the single greatest trade threat that we face (Cummins, et al. 1999: 1).
In other words, the Europeans opposition is only perceived as a minor obstacle in the over all scheme of things and in time the GMO technology will be put in place and be a big winner on Wall Street and the stock holders.
Corporations, organized governments, and assorted capitalists are failing to listen objectively to the public's anxiety to GMO technology. As a result, societal tension has increased. The citizens' anxiety, however, centers on the transition of society to corporate rule, where the concentration of economic power rests in the hands of a select economic elite, and this is the cause and the main reason for the global reaction to the technology. In short, citizens are realizing they no longer control their local areas or life choices, but are disposable economic units or serfs of the corporate empire.
Nonetheless, biotechnology researchers have advanced genetics to where they are able to alter, transform, and manipulate the DNA codes of all plants or animals. Yet, the scientists who created this technology are not to blame for this global fiasco because they were advancing science. Their science, however, has resulted in extensive damage to society, with thousands of jobs lost and billions of dollars spent to control the world's food market, modify and reverse laws, policies, and treaties. The US governments and the seed companies steamroller approach, has resulted in the dishonor of the US government, various international political figures, Monsanto and the other seed giants as well as the WTO.
Nelson (1994) makes a good summation of the introducion of new technology by claiming:
Potentially superior new alternative requires some development - learning - before its latent superiority becomes manifest. It can take time before that development occurs and, with bad luck, it is even possible that it never occurs. But by and large the potentially better technology will win out (p.126).
In essence, Monsanto used laws, spent $8.4 billion, and created a new science in order to legitimate its consolidation of the global food production, but did not develop the market. The US government has assumed the role of creating the global consumer market by the way of hegemonic actions. As of today, Monsanto, corporations, the US government, and the WTO has failed but if Nelson's (1994) notion holds true Monsanto's visionary technology [GMO] will win out in the future.
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