Frankenfoods & Biodevastation
Frankenfoods And Biodevastation:
Genetically-Engineered Crops Sow Seeds Of Discontent
By Janet Allen <
c. 2000 All Rights Reserved
"When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless and reason becomes powerless"
Herophiles, 300 B.C.
Physician to Alexander the Great
FACT: 2 out of every 3 teaspoons of food now sold in
our supermarkets contain genetically engineered
organisms (GEO's) or ingredients
FACT: The United States government requires no safety
testing or labeling of genetically altered foods
FACT: The Food and Drug Administration's own staff
scientists have reported that these foods are
likely to contain high concentrations of plant
This article is a continuation on the subject of two previous columns published in the California Sun: In the February/March 1998 issue, we investigated the development and manipulation of canola as a food crop, learned how it was incorporated into the human diet on a grand commercial scale, and researched claims about some negative health effects not generally publicized. In the June 1998 issue, we explored additional scientific and medical research along these lines, as well as watching how biotechnology and genetic modification had succeeded in extending their greedy tentacles into almost every imaginable crevice of the world's food supply. We will now delve deeper into the matter of genetically engineered organisms (GEO's) and the irreverent push by corporations to force them down the throats of an unwilling public.
"The FDA is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole by trying to force an ultimate conclusion that there is no difference between foods modified by genetic engineering and foods modified by traditional breeding practices."
Dr. Linda Kalb, FDA compliance officer
When we left off, the battle over the labeling and safety testing of biotech foods had reached a new level of intensity in the United States when a coalition of 31 highly visible environmental, farming, and scientific organizations filed a formal legal petition to the Environmental Protection Agency on September 16, 1997. Groups including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy charged the federal agency with gross negligence over its approval of genetically engineered crops, calling for their removal from the market, as well as fundamental changes in the U.S.'s presently lax regulatory laws governing these agricultural products. In a resounding shot over the bow of the biotech establishment and the Clinton administration, attorneys from the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA) filed a comprehensive lawsuit on behalf of consumers, scientists, environmentalists, chefs, and religious groups to force the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require mandatory labeling and adequate safety testing of all genetically engineered foods and crops. The lawsuit was announced at a well-attended press conference in Washington, D.C. on May 27, 1998.
According to Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of ICTA and co-counsel on the case, "The FDA has placed interests of a handful of biotechnology companies ahead of their responsibility to protect public healthThe agency has made consumers unknowing guinea pigs for potentially harmful, unregulated substances. According to ICTA attorney Joseph Mendelsohn, current FDA and USDA labeling policies not only ignore public surveys concluding that upwards of 93% of American consumers want mandatory labeling of GEO's (per Novartis national poll, February 1997), but also blatantly contradict federal laws. For example, the "Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act mandates the labeling of "materially altered foods such as those exposed to nuclear radiation, a law devastated by endless loopholes and blatant disregard. Regardless, the law's existence (along with consistent grassroots campaigning) has all but spoiled the commercialization of food irradiation in this country.
"Our government, that is supposed to be a protector of our well-being and of our food supply, is at least criminally negligent and perhaps a co-conspirator on this assault on our food supply, making us all unwitting, unknowing guinea pigs in this global nutritional experiment, which is bound to have and is already having severe health and environmental consequences." John Hagelin, Nuclear Physicist & Presidential Candidate
As Monsanto and the Clinton Administration understand full well, mandatory labeling is the "Achilles Heel of agricultural biotechnology. It would almost certainly radically reduce the profitability of gene foods, or even drive controversial products such rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone), Roundup Ready Soybeans, and Bt (Bacillus Thuringiensis bacteria)-spliced corn and potatoes (all Monsanto products) from the marketplace. As the head of Asgrow seed company (a Monsanto subsidiary) candidly admitted to the press several years ago: "Labeling is a key issue. If you put a label on genetically engineered food, you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it.
On another important note, ICTA's lawsuit calls attention to the fact that current "no labeling policies constitute a violation of many Americans, spiritual and religious beliefs, posing a significant threat to religious freedom and ethical choice. As Mendelsohn stated in the April 1998 issue of GeneWatch (published by the Council for Responsible Genetics), labeling is being demanded by "practitioners of a wide variety of religious denominations that may have a constitutional right to avoid consuming genetically engineered organisms based on theological belief or adherence to specific dietary covenants. Segments of the population including Jews, Muslims, Seventh-Day Adventists, and vegetarians need to avoid foods which contain substances derived from animals, whose genes are currently being inserted into the DNA of numerous vegetable and grain crops. (Genetic material from pigs has been inserted into spinach, human genes into pigs, chicken genes into potatoes, fish genes into tomatoes, firefly genes into tobacco, and bacteria and virus genes into numerous crops.) A considerable cross-section of consumers view the production of genetically engineered foods to be incompatible with proper stewardship of the integrity of God's creation. Regardless, since 1993, the U.S. government has allowed at least 37 biotech foods onto the market. Altogether, more than 678 gene-altered crops have been field-tested by dozens of companies. In a New York Times article on July 20th, 1998, Marion Burrows sums it up: "American shoppers would be surprised to know that much of the food that they buy has genetically engineered ingredients. For example, soybean derivatives (ie. lecithin, soya oils, hydrolyzed proteins, soy isolates, etc.) may be contained in as many as 85% of all processed food items. For further information on the lawsuit, access the ICTA homepage at:
"If you reach out and grab a hold of some part of nature and give it a little tug, you discover that that part is connected to everything else in the Universe." John Muir, Environmentalist, Naturist
A growing number of doctors, micro-biologists, genetic experts, and even legislators are jumping on the international bandwagon, greatly concerned about the potentially devastating effects of tampering with, rearranging, and attempting to fool Mother Nature. A variety of field and medical research has already demonstrated some of their apprehensions to be true.
In addition to exclusively human-centered concerns such as adverse health reactions, there could be a severe ecological legacy of this out-of-control technology: the rampant, uncontrollable biological pollution of the environment, irreversible reduction of the diversity of the world's most significant food crops, and an upsetting of the balance of numerous irreplaceable ecosystems. Once lost, always lost.
Case after case of undeniable evidence is rolling in all over the globe. In March 1999, experts at an international meeting of entomologists (insect scientists) in Basel, Switzerland warned that genetically engineered Bt crops are exuding 10-20 times the amount of toxins contained in the conventional (safe) Bt sprays commonly used by organic farmers. As a result, beneficial insects (such as ladybugs and lacewings), soil microorganisms, and insect-eating bird populations are being harmed. The scientists' call for a moratorium would involve stopping the biotech wrecking ball in mid-swing, as 28% of all GE crops under cultivation in 1998 contained this Bt bacteria (19.3 million acres), including 45% of U.S. cotton, 25% of the corn, and 3.5% of the potatoes.
An entire article could be written just on the potential dangers of transgenic foods to physiological well-being, but Dr. Lee Hitchcox, chiropractor and author of "Long Life Now, has summed up the situation quite succinctly in his well-researched, thoroughly footnoted book. "The first gene-altered food for sale in the U.S. (Calgene's Flavr Savr Tomato) contains a marker gene that confers resistance to the antibiotic kanamycin. The FDA admits that antibiotic-resistant genes can reduce the benefit of prescribed antibiotics. Mixing genes could increase pesticide use if resistance is transferred to nearby weeds. Virus genes can recombine with other viruses to create more virulent strains. EMS (eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome), the disease responsible for 38 deaths and 1,500 injuries from the use of tryptophan, was caused by genetically-altered bacteria. A second biotech accident has also occurred: researchers inadvertently transferred brazil nut genes containing an allergen into soybeans.
Another major GE food safety controversy erupted in the UK on March 12, 1999 when researchers at the York Nutritional Laboratory announced that soy food allergies among the British public unexpectedly rose 50% in 1998, coinciding with a large increase in imported foods from the U.S. containing genetically engineered soybeans. At that time, Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans constituted 32% of this country's entire crop. For years, scientists have warned that never-before-consumed foreign proteins gene-spliced into common foods could set off an epidemic of allergies. Eight percent of American children, and 2% of adults, already suffer from mild to severe food sensitivities, with symptoms ranging from mild unpleasantness to sudden death. British biotech expert Mae-Won Ho of the Open University, stated in a legal affidavit (August 1998) that Monsanto's RRS soybeans "contain genes from a virus, a soil bacterium and from a petunia (plant), none of which have been in our food beforeThe soil bacterium, Agrobacterium sp. (CP4EPSPS)is unlike any other protein that humans have eaten, and there is no reliable method for predicting its allergenic potential. Allergic reactions typically occur only some time after the subject is sensitized by initial exposure to the allergen."
"Wisdom is the ability to make retrospective judgements prospectively." Jonas Salk
Health, ecology, and consumer advocate organizations such as the ORGANIC CONSUMERS ASSOCIATION, the BIODEMOCRACY CAMPAIGN (formerly the CAMPAIGN FOR FOOD SAFETY), and FOOD AND WATER know big business too well to buy all the hype or trust the glib tongue and pat-on-the-back approach of their slick public relations and propaganda machines which claim there is nothing to worry about. A stunning array of European and other international groups are impressively linking arms on this issue, uniting in disapproval and fear of the implications, and displaying a hearty cynicism toward corporate claims that genetic manipulation is not only safe, but a panacea for world hunger.
The British government's own wildlife advisors English Nature, that country's biggest landowner The National Trust, their giant supermarket chain Sainsbury's, and a number of major UK fast-food restaurants (McDonald's, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken) have all stepped up to the plate. Also jumping on the anti-GE bandwagon are Germany's Deutsche Bank (the world's largest financial institution) and huge Unilever food conglomerate, the Church of Scotland, the Consumers Union of Japan, hundreds of whole foods manufacturers and retailers (such as Archer-Daniels-Midland, the grain/soybean giant, Danish Carlsberg Beer), and a tidal wave of guilds, associations, institutes, ecology and consumer groups are surfing the wave of opposition. In addition, European Union nations with partial or comprehensive bans on growing or importing GEO crops include France, England, Spain, Denmark, Austria (now declared a bio-tech free zone), Greece, Luxembourg, Hungary and Norway. As of May 1999, the Union suspended approval completely for all such crops, while in February the European Parliament demanded labeling of all genetically altered foods, with a ban on the use of antibiotic-resistant marker genes. The governments of Japan (as of April 2001), India, Australia and New Zealand have set national regulations for mandatory labeling, while those of South Korea, Malaysia, and Chile are beginning to develop these standards or are drafting national biosafety legislation.
In July 1998, North America's "First Grassroots Gathering on Biodevastation, held in Milwaukee, Chicago, and St. Louis, attracted 250 U.S. activists, as well as campaigners from Japan, Europe, India, Canada, and Mexico. They attended spirited meetings and workshops designed to begin building a mass movement against GEO's and the globalization and industrialization of agriculture. The week of strategy sessions was highlighted by a keynote address in St. Louis by Dr. Vandana Shiva of India, as well as a "round-up of 150 protestors in front of Monsanto's St. Louis world headquarters. The gatherings were sponsored by a broad coalition of public interest groups including the Green Party USA, Greenpeace, the Organic Consumers Association, the Campaign for Food Safety (CFS), Sustain, the Edmonds Institute, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, among others.
The leadership stressed the importance of building truly mass-based consumer, farmer, and environmental campaigns worldwide to derail the Biotech Express and to promote sustainable and organic agriculture. It became all too evident that America--land of the free, home of the brave"was displaying more "land of the lazy, home of the apathetic qualities and lagging sorely behind the rest of the planet in terms of getting organized. According to Brian Tokar, one of the St. Louis coordinators, "We need a powerful political movement in the U.S. to counter the lies and propaganda of the biotechnology industry. Similarly, Ronnie Cummins addressed the opening plenary at that city's gathering with the challenge, "To fully inform and arouse the American public, to force the mass media to cover the genetically engineered foods controversy, it will be necessary to build a mass grassroots movement comparable to what we,ve built before"Civil Rights, the anti-war movement, the anti-nuclear movement." Participants in all three cities endorsed the call for a coordinated global citizen effort, including the annual Global Days of Action, which is held in over 100 cities and towns and two dozen nations, involving events such as "Frankenfood dumps, picket lines, and press conferences.
Follow-up "Biodevestation" conferences have since been held in India (March 1999) and Seattle (May 1999), which coincided with an annual convention of America's trade associations of GE corporations. Both attracted leading scientists and activists from over a dozen nations.
The genetic modification of agricultural commodities is almost exclusively a money-making venture, although claims are to the opposite. Regardless of blatant public opposition, farmers, food processors, and multinational pharmaceutical/chemical companies are plowing their biotech steamroller right through the kitchens of those keeping them in business. Bruce Dalgarno, President of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, in a press release dated April 18, 1997, noted that both "the CCGA and grower group boards have passed motions supporting the development of novel trait canola, including herbicide-resistant varieties," and they are actively providing guidance to government and corporate scientists.
Brian Tokar, a Harvard biophysicist, author, and Food and Water's Biotechnology Consultant, points to one sure indicator that behind the corporate, well-intentioned, Cheshire cat humanitarian facade crouches a beast of purely economic incentive: "For years, the $50 billion biotechnology industry has claimed that their new genetic technologies are going to feed the world, relieve population pressures, cure all the deadliest diseases, etc. The reality, unfortunately, is very different ...The single most popular area of research has been for chemical companies to try to engineer crops that are resistant to their own brand of herbicide." True enough when it comes to canola. Monsanto and Hoechst/AgrEvo are both experimenting with varieties that would be able to withstand high doses of two deadly weed killers: Glufosinate and Glyphosate. Bacteria genes would be inserted into Hoechst's variety to achieve this result. Along the same lines, Calgene's "Laurical" canola (approved for sale by the USDA and FDA in 1995 for use in soap and food products) has been shot up with bacteria and virus genes as well, in addition to California bay, turnip, and rape.
Greenpeace's Benedikt Haerlin is convinced that an all-out ban of GEO's is our one saving grace. "Regulators around the world are well aware of the problems but have not dared to draw the necessary conclusions. Instead, they have agreed to the thoroughly inadequate voluntary resistance management, presented by the chemical industry. A severe shortage of legislation demanding government regulatory and enforcement agencies, strict fines, and codes of ethics has all too often left the fox guarding the hen house in numerous enterprises, inviting widespread neglect and abuse of potentially harmful technologies. The corporate "Hall of Shame within the food irradiation industry is lengthy enough to fill a roll of toilet paper, and there's little chance of wiping that slate clean when it comes to the biotech bulletin board. Already, the evidence of dangerous carelessness has started to roll in, with canola topping the bill. On April 18, 1997, the St. Louis POST-DISPATCH carried the story (only 84 words long, under a confusing headline, and buried deep in a news wrap-up column on the business page) of Monsanto's discreet recall of "small quantities of a genetically engineered canola seed containing an unapproved gene that had gotten into the product by mistake. However, Canadian government officials claimed the amount was not small, as 60,000 bag units of two different varieties (sufficient to seed some 60,000 to 750,000 acres of land) had to be retrieved. Some had already been planted when Monsanto discovered the error, which apparently had gone undetected for a substantial period of time.
The recalled "Roundup Ready canola was genetically manipulated to withstand increased spraying with Monsanto's billion-dollar herbicide, glyphosate, marketed under the trade name Roundup. This agricultural wonder product is responsible for a large proportion of the chemical giant's annual profits, being utilized by farmers and backyard gardeners alike to kill weeds. (Statistics show this poison is also a leading cause of illness among landscape and agricultural workers.) Ordinarily, it is so lethal to the plants that it must be used more sparingly, but Monsanto, with its eye on boosting sales, found a way to alter the DNA of various seed crops to create an unnatural tolerance of the herbicide. Now, canola, soybeans, and cotton can withstand a good dousing with many times the usual dose. That heavy residue is then passed on to those consuming the plants or their derivatives (such as soya lecithin, textured/hydrolyzed vegetable protein, or cottonseed and canola oils).
Inserting the wrong gene configuration into a commercial product is precisely the kind of catastrophe that opponents have been predicting for a decade. Despite proponent's insistence that such mistakes could never happen due to rigorous quality-assurance programs and tight government regulations, this incident proves a more threatening scenario: That the system is a failure and our safety is at risk. If this could happen in Canada, where stricter controls are in place, it could definitely occur in the United States at some future date. Limagrain Canada Seeds, Inc. of Saskatchewan, who was selling the canola seeds under license, appeared to blame Monsanto squarely for the mistake. (Pass the buck, please) Company spokesperson Gary Bauman explained that only Monsanto, who possesses the expertise to detect genetic differences, could have discovered the apparent contamination. In addition, tracing the exact origin of the error would have been difficult that late in the game, because the seeds available for testing after the fact were progeny (offspring) of the originals. "We may never know how it happened. Small comfort from the scientific experts we are asked to trustwith our food, with our health, with our lives, with our future.
Critics and watchdogs of the speeding-out-of-control biotech and genetic engineering industries have long felt that they are disasters waiting to happen. Aldous Huxley forecast problems in his 1932 book BRAVE NEW WORLD, while Erwin Chargoff (eminent biochemist and Father of molecular biology) categorized such technologies as a "Molecular Auschwitz. In his book HERACLITEAN FIRE, he notes the "awesome irreversibility of genetic experimentation and warns that this technology poses a greater threat than the advent of nuclear science. He writes, "I have the feeling that science has transgressed a barrier that should have remained inviolate. You cannot recall a new form of life.
He warned that "tyranny of the majority" would put great pressure on
people to act like everyone else. As a result, democracy would tend to
smother individuality and personal freedom.
"If you want to touch an American company's heart, you must touch its
pocketbook." Alexis de Tocqueville,
19th century French historian
1. Call the 15 companies listed below"the Frankenfoods Fifteen"
-and tell them you will not purchase their foods or beverages unless
they can provide you with written assurance that their products do not
contain genetically engineered ingredients.
Safeway: 800-723-3929
Frito-Lay: 800-352-4477
Kellogg's: 800-962-1413
Nestle: 800-452-1971
Heinz Foods: 888-472-8437
Healthy Choice: 800-323-9980
Kraft: 800-543-5335
Hershey's: 800-468-1714
Coca-Cola: 800-438-2653
Nabisco: 800-862-2638
Quaker Oats: 800-367-6287
Starbucks: 800-782-7282
McDonald's: 630-623-3000
General Mills: 800-328-1144
Procter and Gamble: 800-595-1407
2. The California Right To Know/ Genetically Engineered Food Labeling Initiative has been written to acknowledge the funda-mental right of people to be informed whether the foods they purchase and consume have been genetically engineered. As discussed previously, there are a variety of personal ethical and medical considerations that make this information necessary. Apparently the public thinks so, too; surveys show that 81 - 93% of the American public already supports labeling of GEO's. However, it has become obvious that safety testing and labeling won't happen unless we demand it.
The intent of the intitiative's proponents is to place this issue at the forefront of public debate in the U.S. It does not make a case for or against genetic engineering; it asserts, in deliberately simple language, that the public has a right to know which foods and crops have been genetically manipulated and requires that they be labeled as such. It states that "historical breeding techniques such as hybridization through mass selection, controlled crossing, line breeding, and back crossing" are not considered to be genetic engineering by this proposed law.
This is an all-volunteer effort. No money taken, no PACs. This initiative will pass or fail on its own merits, and on the strength of our efforts. Over 413,000 valid signatures need to be collected by the February 20, 2000 deadline, which means gathering at least 600,000 to ensure there are enough. If you work for or belong to any organization, please get them involved.
If you wish to participate, make copies of this initiative and proceed to gather signatures. It is CRITICAL the petitions be filled out properly, so please visit the group's website and follow the "Instructions for Petition Circulators." You may also contact the organization at: P.O. Box 520, Glen Ellen, CA 95442 (707) 939-8316 E-mail:
For more information, please contact:
BIODEMOCRACY CAMPAIGN: (310) 399-9355; (218) 226-4164
To subscribe to their free electronic newsletter,
BioDemocracy News, send an email to:
Type the simple message: "subscribe pure-food-action"
To subscribe to their free electronic newsletter,
Organic View, email:
Type the message "subscribe" in the body of the text.
TEN SPEED PRESS (Dr. Lee Hitchcox): (800) 841-BOOK


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