The Death of Frankenfoods

Lilia Patterson lilia at
Sat Aug 17 15:33:08 BST 2002

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Subject:- BioDemocracy News #40: The Death of Frankenfoods

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BioDemocracy News #40: The Death of Frankenfoods (August 2002)

By: Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association

The Death of Frankenfoods: Nailing the Coffin Shut

Quotes of the Month:

"Beggars can't be choosers."  An unnamed State Department official,
commenting on Zimbabwe and other nations' resistance to accepting
shipments of US food aid containing genetically engineered
ingredients. Washington Post 8/2/02

"Mandatory labeling will only frighten consumers. Labeling implies
that biotechnology products are unsafe."  Tommy Thompson, US Secretary
of Health and Human Services. Associated Press 6/10/02
Frankenstein is Dead

Contrary to the claims of a literal army of public relations flacks,
indentured politicians, and scientists, the first wave of genetically
engineered (GE) foods and crops have apparently suffered a fatal
hemorrhage. Future historians will likely record Tuesday, July 30,
2002 as the beginning of the end, the day of irreversible decline for
Monsanto and the Gene Giants. On that day, facing mounting global
opposition from farmers, consumers, and even major US food
transnationals such as General Mills, Monsanto was forced to announce
that they were backing off "indefinitely" from plans to commercialize
herbicide-resistant Roundup Ready wheat, the most important new
billion-dollar crop in the biotech pipeline. Previously, Monsanto had
promised Wall Street that the first GE wheat would hit the market in
2003. Earlier this year, facing heavy opposition, they pushed the date
back to 2005.

Now Monsanto's highly-touted GE wheat joins the growing list of
obituaries of Frankenfoods and crops: the Flavr Savr tomato (RIP
1996); the Endless Summer tomato (RIP 1996); Bt potatoes (RIP 2001);
GE flax (RIP 2001); herbicide-resistant sugar beets (RIP 2000); and
StarLink corn (RIP 2000). Other controversial crops such as GE rice
have been put on indefinite hold. Monsanto's controversial recombinant
Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) has been banned in every major
industrialized nation except for the US, Mexico, and Brazil.
Recombinant pig growth hormone (rPGH) has been approved in only one
industrialized nation, Australia. Other biotech crops, including
squash and zucchini, are grown by so few farmers that it's difficult
to determine if they are even commercially available.

For the first time, major US food corporations, like their EU and
Asian counterparts, are telling the biotech industry to back off. As
Austin Sullivan, senior vice-president of General Mills told the
Chicago Tribune June 28, "Candidly we have told the biotech industry
that we are in a perilous situation." When asked why General Mills and
other large food makers don't just stop using genetically engineered
ingredients altogether, since consumers don't want them, Sullivan
admitted, "That's a question we ask ourselves from time to time."
Shortly before Monsanto's latest capitulation, a large EU grain miller
bluntly told wheat industry leaders that his company would "stop
buying US or Canadian wheat at once" if GE wheat was allowed on the
market. Other leading EU, Japanese, and US buyers have echoed the same
sentiment. Farmers in the US and Canada have also made it clear that
bringing GE wheat to market would lead to a billion dollar meltdown in
North American wheat exports. Desperately trying to downplay its
defeat and prevent its stock from falling even further, Monsanto
characterized their surrender on wheat as a "delay" until sometime
beyond 2005, when consumers and industry are ready to accept
gene-altered wheat, and strict grain industry segregation procedures
are in place. But as Monsanto, and even Wall Street, now recognize,
consumers are never going to accept GE wheat. Frankenwheat, for all
practical purposes is dead. RIP. The Bush administration, for PR
reasons, may still try to approve it for commercialization, but it
will never be sold on the market.

Compounding this crushing blow to Monsanto and the biotech industry,
whose earnings and stock value since the first of the year have
plummeted, a US Federal District court in Maine approved a settlement
July 29 that prohibits a major factory fish farm, Heritage Salmon,
from bringing its GE salmon onto the market. The Maine ruling,
resulting from a lawsuit filed by the US Public Interest Research
Group (USPIRG) and the National Environmental Law Center, sets an
important legal precedent that threatens to block any future
commercialization of GE fish--until now the second most important
biotech blockbuster being readied for market. The Maine court
settlement will likely impact future legislative deliberations as
well, such as the recent debate in the California legislature on a
moratorium for GE fish.

Cutting off Frankenstein's Life Support

Of course BioDemocracy News and groups like Greenpeace have been
charting Frankenfood's slow but steady global decline for several
years. Leading up to agbiotech's late-July disasters were a series of
other significant blows:

. On July 3, the European Parliament moved to tighten labeling
requirements for genetically engineered foods, lowering the threshold
triggering mandatory labeling from one percent to one-half of one
percent and declaring zero tolerance for shipments of conventional
food containing GE ingredients not approved for sale in Europe. US
bureaucrats in Brussels complained that the labeling requirements
"will seriously impair trade in agricultural biotech products," while
the pro-biotech US Farm Bureau characterized the move as "a slap in
the face." Few analysts believe that the US will actually follow
through on its often-repeated threat to use the World Trade
Organization (WTO) to challenge the EU's labeling laws, since this
move would set off a trade war that could destroy the WTO.

. According to the recent Greenpeace report "Risky Prospects," more
than 35 countries have laws in place or planned which require the
mandatory labeling of food containing GE ingredients, or else laws
which restrict the import of some gene-foods. These countries comprise
more than half the world's population. Although the Bush
administration adamantly opposes labeling, recognizing that this will
be the death of agbiotech, major polls conducted last year by Rutgers
University and ABC News both found that 90% of American consumers
support GE labels. Even in Texas, Bush's home turf, a 2001 poll
carried out by Texas A&M University found that 90% of Texans want
mandatory labeling, and that 60% "strongly supported" labels.

. Monsanto announced, June 12, that its second largest customer for GE
soybean seeds, Argentina, was bankrupt, and that its soybean farmers
would no longer be able to receive seeds on credit. With this
announcement, Monsanto was also forced to admit to investors that its
global profits would decline by as much as 20% this year. Over the
past three years, Argentina has become the world's second largest
producer of GE crops (their only crop being Roundup Ready  soybeans),
accounting for more than 16% of all global GE acreage-largely due to
Monsanto selling GE soybeans on credit, as well as offering the beans
at bargain basement prices. Argentina's economic meltdown means that
global acreage of GE crops will level off and start to decrease this
year, contrary to claims made earlier by Monsanto and the USDA.

. For the first time in US history, voters at the state level will get
a chance to vote on mandatory labeling for GE foods. On July 23,
Oregon's Secretary of State announced that a ballot initiative
organized by anti-biotech activists, Oregon Concerned Citizens for
Safe Foods, has successfully gathered almost
100,000 signatures from the state's 3.3 million residents-more than
enough to place it on the ballot November 5. Although powerful biotech
and agribusiness lobbies such as the Farm Bureau, the Grocery
Manufacturers of America, and the Biotechnology Industry Organization
have vowed to defeat the initiative, the basic fact is that 90% or
more of US consumers have consistently supported mandatory labeling of
GE foods. According to Jean Wilkenson of the Oregon Farm Bureau, an
agribusiness front group, industry views the measure as "an attempt to
stop all biotechnology by running up costs." If Oregon voters pass the
initiative, anti-GE campaigners have vowed to place similar measures
on the ballot in a dozen states, including Colorado, Washington, and

. On June 8, the Organic Consumers Association, Greenpeace, and the
Genetic Engineering Action Network carried out coordinated protests in
over 100 cities against US supermarkets, pressuring major grocery
chains such as Shaw's, Safeway, Food Emporium, Food Lion, Publix, and
Albertson's to remove all GE ingredients from their brand name
products. Coalition spokespeople pointed out that three major natural
food supermarkets, Whole Foods, Wild Oats, and Trader Joe's, with
combined sales of over five billion dollars, have already responded to
consumer pressure and gone GE-free for their house brands, while even
larger chains such as Shaw's and Safeway are coming under grassroots
pressure to do the same. An even larger GE-Free Markets national
mobilization is planned for several hundred US cities the week of
October 30.

. Last spring activists from the OCA and the Genetically Engineered
Food Alert  leafleted and protested outside supermarkets in 200 US
cities, part of a national campaign against Kraft and other food
giants. On Earth Day, GEFA activists staged a protest outside Kraft's
annual shareholders meeting in East Hanover, NJ. Similar protests in
200 cities are planned for Oct. 5-12.

Good Science Displacing Mad Science

For the past decade, biotech's mad scientists have been telling
consumers not to worry about Frankenstein foods. They tell us GE crops
such as Bt corn are non-allergenic and safe for human health and the
environment. They say bovine growth hormone (rBGH) injected into dairy
cows doesn't increase your risk of getting cancer. Gene-altered
mutants are the same ("substantially equivalent"), they say, as
traditional foods. Gene-splicing is an exact procedure, sort of like
laser surgery. Gene transfer or genetic pollution is nothing to worry
about. Antibiotic resistant marker genes, embedded in nearly all
Frankenfoods, pose no health risks. They say GE companies like
Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, Dupont, Bayer, and BASF are not just bottom
line companies, obsessed by quarterly profit reports, stock options,
and stock prices. The real bottom line of the Gene Giants is to help
feed the world, eliminate the use of toxic chemicals in agriculture,
and make us all healthier and happier.

For five years BioDemocracy News and the website of the Organic
Consumers Association have had another story
to tell. The biotech industry and governments have done almost no
safety testing of GE foods. No serious animal feeding studies (with
the exception of Dr. Arpad Pusztai's experiments in Scotland in
1996-98, which found that GE potatoes devestated lab rats) have been
carried out. No volunteer human feeding studies have been conducted
(except for the rather alarming British study described below).
Obvious risks like human allergenicity to foreign proteins spliced
into GE foods, and transfer of antibiotic resistant genes into the
human gut have been, for the most part, ignored. Millions of acres of
GE crops are spreading genetic pollution, creating superweeds and
pests, disrupting the balance between pests and natural predators, and
killing butterflies and beneficial soil microorganisms. The more we
learn about Frankenfoods and crops, the scarier they appear.

As recent developments show, good science is starting to undermine the
credibility of mad science. Even mainstream, pro-biotech institutions
like the National Academy of Sciences in the US, or publications such
as New Scientist and Nature Biotechnology, are starting to speak out
against the dangers of rushing headlong into risky territory like
biopharming--gene-splicing drugs, vaccines, and industrial chemicals
into common food plants such as corn, which in turn spread pollen
throughout the environment. In an unprecedented move, even the Bush
Administration's own Food and Drug administration is finding the need
to tone down its rhetoric-no doubt preparing to insulate itself from
the massive liability lawsuits which loom on the horizon after
biopharms pollute the human food chain or after every variety of Bt
corn turns out to be allergenic, not just the StarLink variety. Among
the most significant scientific revelations over the past three months
are the following:

. Frankengenes are getting into the human gut. On July 17, the British
Food Safety Standards Agency released a scientific study indicating
that herbicide resistance genes from Roundup Ready soybeans have been
found in the bacteria of the small intestines of three out of seven
people in an experimental feeding test who consumed a soy burger and a
soy milkshake containing Monsanto's GE soybeans, the most commonly
used GE food ingredient in the world. The biotech industry has long
maintained that gene-altered material is destroyed during digestion
and that engineered DNA will not combine with bacteria found in the
human gut. The British study, conducted by researchers at Newcastle
University, has set off alarm bells throughout the medical
establishment. If the antibiotic resistant marker (ARM) genes found in
most gene-foods (such as kanamycin in herbicide resistant soybeans and
ampicillin in Bt corn) are getting into the human gut and combining
with preexisting bacteria, which this study suggests, then doctors and
their patients may find that serious infections no longer respond to
antibiotics. The findings are especially worrisome for infants and
children, as well as those with compromised immune systems, whose
digestive systems are weaker and more permeable than mature, healthy
adults. In 1999, the prestigious British Medical Association called
for a global moratorium on GE foods and crops, citing, among other
risks, the threat of antibiotic resistance marker genes combining with
bacteria in the human gut. Even the World Health Organization and the
rabidly pro-biotech American Medical Association have called for a
phase-out of ARMs in GE foods.

. Biopharming is out of control. Friends of the Earth and the
Genetically Engineered Food Alert (GEFA) coalition released an
explosive report on July 16, which revealed that secret biopharm crop
experiments are being carried out at over 300 undisclosed locations
across the US. On these farms, powerful pharmaceutical drugs,
vaccines, viruses (some related to the AIDS virus), and industrial
chemicals, gene-spliced into common food plants, are being grown in
the open environment. In at least 200 test plots, powerful drugs and
chemicals have been genetically engineered into corn, a plant
notorious for spreading its pollen (and its altered genes) far and
wide. As Larry Bohlen of Friends of the Earth warned: "Just one
mistake by a biotech company and we'll be eating other people's
prescription drugs in our corn flakes. The USDA must prohibit the
planting of food crops engineered with drugs and chemicals." Even
pro-biotech scientists in the journal Nature Biotechnology recently
warned that "current gene containment strategies cannot work in the
field," and that potent biopharm chemicals could end up in the food
supply. ProdiGene, the industry leader in biopharming, has predicted
that millions of acres of US corn will be laced with drugs and
industrial chemical by the year 2010. But of course one incident like
the StarLink corn contamination crisis will likely spell the end of

. All varieties of Bt corn are likely allergenic, not just the
StarLink corn variety. As Friends of the Earth and the other members
of the Organic Consumers Association's GEFA coalition have pointed
out, StarLink is similar in composition and characteristics to other
Bt varieties grown on millions of acres in the US. As indicated in
recent issues of BioDemocracy News, there is mounting evidence that Bt
corn may be harming the immune and digestive systems of animals and

. As Dr. Michael Hansen of the Consumers Union told a gathering of
farmers and academics in Mexico August 2, "There is increasing
evidence-from both epidemiological studies and lab studies-that the
various Bt endotoxins-including those from maize, cotton, and
potatoes-may have adverse effects on the immune system and/or may be
human allergens." Michael Hansen, "Bt Crops: Inadequate Testing,"
Lecture delivered at Universidad Autonoma, Chapingo, Mexico 8/2/02.

. Pesticide residues on GE corn and soybeans may be carcinogenic. A
chemical component of Monsanto's Roundup Ready herbicide, sprayed on
millions of acres of herbicide resistant soybeans and corn, has been
linked to increased risks for cancer. Recently the World Health
Organization issued a warning that a potent nerve toxin and
carcinogen, also linked to birth defects in animals and humans, was
turning up in a variety of vegetables. At first the WHO suggested that
the presence of the chemical, acrylamide, probably arose from cooking
the vegetables at high heat. Now according to a Canadian scientific
expert, Dr. Joe Cummins, another, perhaps even more basic explanation
is that the acrylamide in foods is actually a residue of a surfactant,
or chemical additive, routinely used to enhance the effectiveness and
reduce spray drift of a number of herbicides including Monsanto's
Roundup herbicide, the most widely-used pesticide in the world.
According to Cummins, frying foods containing acrylamide residues
would then likely increase their concentration even more. This is yet
more bad news for Monsanto, who derived 70% of their profits last year
from sales of Roundup herbicide. It's also bad news for the animal
feed and meat industry, since non-organically raised animals are now
ingesting record amounts of Roundup (and acrylamide) residues in the
soybean hulls and other soy and corn-based feeds they are consuming.

. Gene-splicing foods is imprecise and unpredictable. In a recent
paper circulating on the internet, Professor David Schubert of the
Salk Institute in San Diego, California, points out that the current
crude and imprecise nature of gene-splicing foreign DNA into common
foods is inherently troubling and potentially dangerous because (1)
introducing the same gene into two different cell types or body parts
in an organism can cause very different proteins to be produced, with
radically different activity; (2) introducing new genes into cells
significantly disrupts inter-cellular activity and processes; and (3)
introduction of foreign genes can produce new biomolecules which can
be toxic or carcinogenic. Recent advances in gene chip technology are
enabling scientists such as Schubert to quantitatively measure
cellular disruption caused by gene-splicing. In one experiment, the
introduction of a foreign gene caused a disruption of a full 5% of all
genes in single-cell bacteria. In layperson's terms this means that
15,000 of the 300,000 genes in a plant could be disrupted by a single
routine act of gene-splicing. This means that plant genes could be
turned off, amplified, or turned up more, either producing more or
fewer proteins (some of which are beneficial to humans, some of which
are toxic) and chemical activity.

Frankenstein Rising: Nailing the Coffin Shut

Frankenstein appears to be mortally wounded, but of course this beast
has the ability to rise from his coffin unless we nail the lid shut.
Farmers and consumers, joined by a number of brave scientists, have
now, for the first time in modern history, stopped a new and dangerous
technology dead in its tracks. Public acceptance and farmer use of
agricultural biotechnology has peaked and is now moving down in a slow
but inevitable decline. No new blockbuster Frankenfoods or crops are
likely to gain approval for commercialization on the global market.
Those already approved (such as Bt corn) will come under increasing
pressure as scientific evidence mounts that they are dangerous for
human health and the environment, and as labeling becomes mandatory in
most nations. This is ground for celebration and reason for hope. The
battle against genetically engineered foods and crops over the past
decade has shown that the global Civil Society can stand up to
transnational corporations and indentured science and government and
literally change the dynamics of the marketplace, alter public
perceptions, and eventually transform public policies. Congratulations
to all of you. This is our common victory.

We've turned the tide of the battle, but there are still major tasks
that lie ahead. Specifically we need (1) mandatory safety testing and
labeling of all GE foods and crops in all nations, especially the
United States, Canada, and Argentina, where 96% of all GE crops are
produced; (2) marketplace pressure campaigns for removal of all GE
soy, corn, canola, and cottonseed from animal feeds; (3) pressure on
major clothing companies to stop using gene-altered cotton in their
garments; (4) pressure on major supermarket chains and food makers,
especially in North America, to remove all GE ingredients from their
brand name products; and finally (5) continuing public education and
pressure to prevent new Frankenfoods and crops (animals, fish, pharm
drugs, lawn grass, trees) and human genetic engineering from being

In North America we have a special obligation, and now an opportunity,
to do what our counterparts in Europe, Japan, and other nations have
already done: to put so much pressure on major supermarket chains like
Shaw's, Safeway, and Loblaw's (Canada), and food and beverage giants
like Starbucks and Kraft, that they voluntarily ban the use of GE
ingredients in their products.

Although it has taken Greenpeace, the Organic Consumers Association,
and allied US activists several years to gather the resources and
volunteers to take on the major supermarket chains and put the heat on
food giants such as Kraft/Philip Morris in hundreds of cities at the
same time, activists are confident that marketplace pressure from this
point on will snowball until a critical mass is achieved. As Simon
Harris of the OCA put it at a recent activist gathering in Minnesota,
"The dominos are starting to fall. First, Trader Joe's supermarkets, a
major regional chain removed GE ingredients from their store line
brands. Now we see even a much larger company, General Mills, telling
the Gene Giants they don't want GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
in their products. Over the fall we will be gathering momentum in
hundreds of cities. Shaw's supermarkets in New England will be the
next to fall, but gradually even the largest companies like Safeway
and Kraft, are going to face the kind of pressure that has broken
their support for GMOs in Europe." Meanwhile activists in Europe and
the rest of the world have begun positioning themselves to go after
the jugular vein of Frankencrops--corn, soy, canola, and cottonseeds
in animal feed--which is where 80% or more of the world's GE crops are
now funneled. Analysts estimate that 30% of all animal feed in the EU,
the world's largest agricultural market, is already GE-free.

Join the OCA for Nationwide Protests and Leafleting Events this Fall

The Organic Consumers Association needs the help of volunteers in the
US, Canada, and Mexico to drive Frankenfoods off the market. If you
are willing to help us leaflet a Starbucks caf in your community
(Starbucks Global Week of Action September 21-28, 2002); pressure
Kraft outside supermarkets (Oct. 5-12); or leaflet and protest outside
Shaw's, Safeway, and other major supermarket chains (October
26-November 2) please send an email to campaign at

Organic Communities Exchange: Join an OCA Eco-Tour to Chiapas

In addition the OCA is sponsoring a second delegation or eco-tour to
Chiapas, Mexico Oct. 29-November 5, entitled Organic Communities
Exchange. The delegation, limited to 15 people, will meet with organic
farmers, women's organic garden projects, Fair Trade coffee coops,
biodiversity activists, and autonomous indigenous communities. Besides
getting a close look at the politics of food and biodiversity in the
highlands of Mexico, tour group members will have the unique
opportunity to learn about and celebrate one of the most important
cultural events in Mexico: The Day of the Dead (Nov. 1). The OCA
guarantees this will be an enjoyable, inspirational, and unforgettable
travel experience. Costs for the seven-day trip will be $800 (airfare
not included). To reserve your spot, since space is limited, send a
$400 deposit check to the Organic Consumers Association, 6101 Cliff
Estate Road, Little Marais, MN 55614. Or else call 218-226-4164 or
email mexicotrip at

Frankenstein is dead. But the coffin lid still rattles. Say tuned to
BioDemocracy News and for the latest news and

Biodemocracy mailing list
Biodemocracy at


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