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"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."

Dr. Mae Wan-Ho, geneticist
author of
Genetic Engineering: Dream or Nightmare?
The Brave New World of Bad Science and Big Business

The Scream by Munch

"Probably the greatest threat from genetically altered crops is the insertion of modified virus genes into crops. It has been shown in the laboratory that genetic recombination will create highly virulent new viruses from such constructions. Certainly the widely used [modified] cauliflower mosaic virus [promoter] is a potentially dangerous gene. It is a pararetrovirus meaning that it multiples 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."

"If you look at the simple principle of genetic modification it spells ecological disaster. There are no ways of quantifying the risks......The solution is simply to ban the use of genetic modification in food."

Dr. Joseph Cummins, Professor Emeritus of Genetics
University of Western Ontario


GM & Corporate Serfdom Official

ISIS Report
October 4, 2001

We are witnessing the most outrageous acts of corporate theft and domination in history. At its heart is the manipulation of life-forms and the use of this technology to gain control over the food chain. Nick Papadimitriou charts the recent antics of Monsanto.

Giant agbiotech companies such as Monsanto are aggressively imposing a new form of serfdom on North American farming practices. By patenting both naturally occurring gene sequences and genetically modified forms of life, Monsanto can use aggressive lawsuits to ward off any potential rival. At the same time, insidious forms of surveillance and barely concealed threats are whittling away any options farmers have for getting seeds from other suppliers.

In April, Monsanto secured a "torpedo" patent designed to sink all rivals on antibiotic resistant marker genes used in practically all GMO crops. This immediately resulted in court battles and a requirement for everyone who has made use of the technology to pay Monsanto royalty fees. Monsanto has now launched another torpedo. A patent is pending on the complete genome of Agrobacterium tumefaciens. The bacterium is used in a vector system to insert new genetic material into crop plants and is a staple of the agricultural biotechnology sector. The patent has been pending for 18 years, as challenges were made by rival companies claiming to have invented the same. But the original technology was actually developed by non-industry academics on government funds.

Monsanto stipulated in its "New Monsanto Pledge", announced last November, that it was committed to sharing knowledge and technology in order to benefit people and the environment. Working with a research team from the University of Richmond, the company purports to have placed the genome of Agrobacterium tumerfaciens onto a 'public' database. However a perusal of the terms and conditions reveals that access is strictly limited to non-profit groups willing to enter into a licensing contract with Monsanto.

A similar arrangement holds with the Monsanto genome database for rice. The database registration agreement, available for download at Monsanto's devoted site, places severe restrictions on would-be researchers. Any patent resulting from information in the database has to be filed with Monsanto, and this applies anywhere in the world. Monsanto reserves the right to claim royalties for such work. Even more disturbingly, information on the database that is duplicated in any public source, and gained from that source, is also subject to those conditions. Unrestricted publication of research gained from using Monsanto's database is limited to 250 kilobases.

That is only half the story so far. Monsanto has become renowned for throwing its weight about in the farming community. Several hundred lawsuits are pending following the successful prosecution of Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser for alleged illegal possession of Monsanto's Round Up Ready canola. Schmeiser has now launched an appeal citing seventeen instances of the judge having erred or judged contrary to law. Amongst these are the determination that a farmer who inadvertently grows Roundup Canola has no right to grow or sell any such seeds or plants regardless of how they came to be there. Another crucial ground for appeal is that Justice McKay placed the onus on Schmeiser to prove how the seeds came to be in his field whether by contamination or otherwise. Monsanto subsequently set up a "snitch" line, advertised on radio stations in western Canada, to encourage reports on other alleged 'malpractices'. Following protests, this has been dropped.

Now Monsanto is suing another Saskatchewan farmer for allegedly growing Round Up canola without a license. Kelly Ryczek is accused of obtaining Round Up seeds from a source other than Monsanto. Ryczek allegedly planted some of these seeds and sold others on. Monsanto is insisting Ryczek surrenders the seeds, and is demanding a penalty for breach of their patent rights.

The Schmeiser case, because it took place in Canada, has prompted concerns that it will serve as a legal precedent in other commonwealth nations. Professor Brad Sherman of the Centre for Intellectual Property in Agriculture, Australia National University, has pointed out that Schmeiser was prosecuted for infringement of exclusive rights awarded to Monsanto. Monsanto won the case based solely on the fact its GM canola was found growing on Schmeiser's land, regardless of the fact Schmeiser was a victim of contamination.

Sherman thinks farmers are being pressured into buying Monsanto seeds, because, if not, they run the risk of being prosecuted like Schmeiser. Sherman concludes that the patent holder "has no incentive to take responsibility for controlling its technology". On the contrary the farmers are being made responsible for controlling the patented genes.

It gets worse. The selling point behind Roundup Ready is that it is a glyphosphate-resistant strain. Spray on the herbicide and you're left with nothing but Monsanto crops. However, after two years application, glyphosphate-resistant volunteer corn plants begin to flourish. This has led to the most bizarre Monsanto patent yet awarded. US patent # 6,239,072 covers the practice of mixing glyphosphate with other herbicides, and any premixture thereof. This patent has been awarded despite the fact that mixing herbicides is what any sensible, thinking farmer would naturally do, and has been doing, in the event of resistant plants emerging. The patent also serves as a "de facto" admission of the GM "superweed" problem and that Roundup technology lacks efficacy and predictability.

It doesn't end there. The scope of Monsanto's 'invention' extends to using the mixtures on any straggler volunteer crops that may develop glyphosphate resistance by accident or design, at any time in the future. Using such broad patents, Monsanto assures that nothing escapes its clutches. By forcing farmers to use faulty technology and then patenting further methods to rectify those faults Monsanto is placing the farming community in a quicksand of ongoing legal obligations.

Fortunately, Monsanto doesn't always get its way. Monsanto was subject to a US department of Justice Antitrust Division enquiry back in 1998 regarding their acquisition of DeKalb Genetics Corporation. Similarly, when Monsanto attempted to acquire Delta & Pine Land Co in 1999 to gain control of that company's terminator seed technology, the Antitrust Division indicated that it was prepared to sue to prevent the transaction. In a recent speech made before the Organization for Competitive Markets in Nashville, Douglas Ross, Special Counsel for Agriculture at the Antitrust division outlined the basis on which prosecution for antitrust regulations can be brought. Amongst others, he cited conspiracies to deny market access or otherwise suppress competition, the use of predatory and/or exclusionary conduct to hold on to a monopoly in the market and mergers that are likely to lessen competition in the market. Monsanto is guilty on all three counts.

References may be found at


Engineered-Food Claims Are Hard to Swallow

by Philip L. Bereano
Seattle Times
November 19, 2002

"What is being presented as an act of charity is in fact nothing more than an act of marketing."

Zimbabwean farmer at the Johannesburg Earth Summit, referring to U.S. dumping of genetically engineered food aid in Africa

A number of recent editorials and opinion pieces in the media regarding famine in southern Africa claim that genetically engineered (GE) food is necessary to "feed the world."

These may actually be attempts to bolster the sagging fortunes of the biotech industry rather than efforts to end hunger. Arguing that spoiled yuppies of the European Union and U.S. are blocking attempts to end famine in Africa by attacking genetically engineered foods, these articles generally distort the existing knowledge relevant to GE issues.

The principal claim they make is that there is no evidence that genetically engineered food poses a health risk. "No evidence of risk" is not the same as "evidence of no risk." Since neither the U.S. government nor industry appears to be funding any research into the health effects of GE food, the situation is really "don't look/don't find."

Thus, no one knows whether continued eating of genetically engineered food is safe. Perhaps chronic exposure to GE food might be associated with the 70 million incidents each year of "food poisoning" reported by the government, or with the apparent rises in autism or attention deficit disorder in kids. Or, perhaps not.

Whatever industry research there may actually be on GE food, it is not reported in the open, peer-reviewed literature where it would be subjected to the rigors of scientific scrutiny. It is secreted away as "confidential business information." Nonetheless, the U.S. government calls this approach to not regulating GE food "sound science." Claims that the United Nations has certified that such food is safe to eat are based on such irregular studies, not independent testing.

Indeed, the U.N. is in the process of establishing a biosafety protocol to regulate the international movement of transgenic organisms, including food. It should be operational by next spring, and will explicitly recognize the legitimacy of the actions taken by the southern African countries in rejecting the importation of GE foods. In the meantime, many countries currently have put up barriers to GE food, which is severely impacting U.S. agricultural exports.

The protocol has, as a key component, the "precautionary principle," a doctrine of risk regulation stating the old adages "look before you leap" and "better safe than sorry." Similar to dozens of U.S. regulatory statutes, the principle says that when there is scientific uncertainty about a potentially important risk, a government is justified in prohibiting action until more scientific research is done to better establish the exact risk parameters. And then, when there is information, a society may make an informed choice as to what level of risk it chooses to run.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made a political decision in 1992, without any scientific inquiry and over the objections of some of its senior scientists, that genetically engineered foods were "substantially equivalent" to conventional varieties.

In other words, if they share a few characteristics in common, they are probably the same in other characteristics. So ... Since GE tomatoes are round, red and hang from their vines they must be as healthy as conventional tomatoes.

The biotech industry, however, has no shame in going across the street to another federal agency, the Patent Office, and arguing that GE foods are substantially different from conventional ones, and so should be awarded patents.

Hunger is a political/economic phenomenon, not essentially a technical one. That is why countries like the U.S. have so many hungry residents despite our huge food surpluses, and why Ethiopia (the former poster child of malnutrition) has been able to be food-self-sufficient for the past seven years, using traditional technologies within an overall system of careful conservation practices and planning.

All the technical "revolutions" we have proclaimed - hybrids, pesticides and other agrichemicals, the Green Revolution, etc. - have not ended world hunger, and it sounds like a shell game to proclaim that just one more (technical) fix is going to do the trick.

In fact, there are signs that the biotech industry may be in dire straits. A study by the British Soil Association (an organics group) titled "Seeds of Doubt" recently estimated that North America lost over $12 billion in the period 1994 to 2000. It notes:

  • The profitability of growing GE herbicide-tolerant soya and insect-resistant maize is less than non-genetically modified crops;

  • The claims of increased yields have not been realized overall except for a small increase in some maize yields;

  • GE herbicide-tolerant crops have made farmers more reliant on herbicides and new weed problems have emerged;

  • All farmers are suffering a severe reduction in choice about how they farm as a result of the introduction of genetically modified crops by some;

  • Non-GE seeds have become almost completely contaminated by genetically engineered components.

The industry, its government allies and their spokespeople don't seem particularly concerned with their need to dump unwanted food upon unwilling, but starving, people. Indeed, there is evidence that they welcome this chaos as leading to a situation in which opposition to GE foods will be rendered futile. As Emmy Simmons, assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said to me after the cameras stopped rolling on a vigorous debate we had on South Africa TV, "In four years, enough GE crops will have been planted in South Africa that the pollen will have contaminated the entire continent."

Let organic farmers, the producers of heirloom varieties, and even those who plant conventional but unique hybrids be damned. Under the specious claims of "free choice" for farmers, the industry will deny consumers all choice about whether to eat engineered genomes.

The repeated insistence that the countries of Africa are being manipulated by white northern activists reflects a colonialist mentality that cannot imagine Third World nations being able to decide what is actually in their best interests. At a meeting of the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization in June 1998, all the delegates from the continent (except South Africa) published a statement that "strongly object(ed) that the image of the poor and hungry from our countries is being used by giant multinational corporations to push a technology that is neither safe, environmentally friendly, nor economically beneficial to us."

More Americans should be asking why propaganda is keeping us from being educated about subjects that Africans seem to know so well.

Philip L. Bereano is a University of Washington professor in the field of technology and public policy. He has participated in the negotiations of the biosafety protocol and attended the Earth Summits in Rio and Johannesburg on behalf of national and Washington state citizens' organizations.


The Covert Biotech War

by George Monbiot
The Guardian/UK
November 19, 2002

The battle to put a corporate GM padlock on our foodchain is being fought on the net

The president of Zambia is wrong. Genetically modified food is not, as far as we know, "poison". While adequate safety tests have still to be conducted, there is as yet no compelling evidence that it is any worse for human health than conventional food. Given the choice with which the people of Zambia are now faced - starvation and eating GM - I would eat GM.

The real problem with engineered crops, as this column has been pointing out for several years, is that they permit the big biotech companies to place a padlock on the food chain. By patenting the genes and all the technologies associated with them, the corporations are maneuvering themselves into a position from which they can exercise complete control over what we eat. This has devastating implications for food security in poorer countries.

This is the reason why these crops have been resisted so keenly by campaigners. The biotech companies have been experimenting with new means of overcoming their resistance.

Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi, all of which are suffering from the current famine, have been told by the US international development agency, USAID, that there is no option but to make use of GM crops from the United States. This is simply untrue. Between now and March, the region will need up to 2m tonnes of emergency food aid in the form of grain. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization says that there are 1.16m tonnes of exportable maize in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa. Europe, Brazil, India and China have surpluses and stockpiles running into many tens of millions of tonnes. Even in the US, more than 50% of the harvest has been kept GM-free. All the starving people in southern Africa, Ethiopia and the world's other hungry regions could be fed without the use of a single genetically modified grain.

But the US is unique among major donors in that it gives its aid in kind, rather than in cash. The others pay the world food program, which then buys supplies as locally as possible. This is cheaper and better for local economies. USAID, by contrast, insists on sending, where possible, only its own grain. As its website boasts, "the principal beneficiary of America's foreign assistance programs has always been the United States. Close to 80% of the USAID contracts and grants go directly to American firms. Foreign assistance programs have helped create major markets for agricultural goods, created new markets for American industrial exports and meant hundreds of thousands of jobs for Americans".

America's food aid program provides a massive hidden subsidy to its farmers. But, as a recent report by Greenpeace shows, they are not the only beneficiaries. One of USAID's stated objectives is to "integrate GM into local food systems". Earlier this year, it launched a $100m program for bringing biotechnology to developing countries. USAID's "training" and "awareness raising" programs will, its website reveals, provide companies such as "Syngenta, Pioneer Hi-Bred and Monsanto" with opportunities for "technology transfer" into the poor world. Monsanto, in turn, provides financial support for USAID. The famine will permit USAID to accelerate this strategy. It knows that some of the grain it exports to southern Africa will be planted by farmers for next year's harvest. Once contamination is widespread, the governments of those nations will no longer be able to sustain a ban on the technology.

All that stands in the way of these plans is the resistance of local people and the protests of environment groups. For the past few years, Monsanto has been working on that.

Six months ago, this column revealed that a fake citizen called Mary Murphy had been bombarding internet listservers with messages denouncing the scientists and environmentalists who were critical of GM crops. The computer from which some of these messages were sent belongs to a public relations company called Bivings, which works for Monsanto. The boss of Bivings wrote to the Guardian, fiercely denying that his company had been running covert campaigns. His head of online PR, however, admitted to the BBC's Newsnight that one of the messages came from someone "working for Bivings" or "clients using our services". But Bivings denies any knowledge of the use of its computer for such a campaign.

This admission prompted the researcher Jonathan Matthews, who first uncovered the story, to take another look at some of the emails which had attracted his attention. He had become particularly interested in a series of vituperative messages sent to the most prominent biotech listservers on the net, by someone called Andura Smetacek. Smetacek first began writing in 2000. She or he repeatedly accused the critics of GM of terrorism. When one of her letters, asserting that Greenpeace was deliberately spreading unfounded fears about GM foods in order to further its own financial interests, was reprinted in the Glasgow Herald, Greenpeace successfully sued the paper for libel.

Smetacek claimed, in different messages, first to live in London, then in New York. Jonathan Matthews checked every available public record and found that no person of that name appeared to exist in either city. But last month his techie friends discovered something interesting. Three of these messages, including the first one Smetacek sent, arrived with the internet protocol address This is the address assigned to the server It belongs to the Monsanto corporation.

In 1999, after the company nearly collapsed as a result of its disastrous attempt to thrust GM food into the European market, Monsanto's communications director, Philip Angell, explained to the Wall Street Journal: "Maybe we weren't aggressive enough... When you fight a forest fire, sometimes you have to light another fire." The company identified the internet as the medium which had helped protest to "mushroom".

At the end of last year, Jay Byrne, formerly the company's director of internet outreach, explained to a number of other firms the tactics he had used at Monsanto. He showed how, before he got to work, the top GM sites listed by an internet search engine were all critical of the technology. Following his intervention, the top sites were all supportive ones (four of them established by Monsanto's PR firm Bivings). He told them to "think of the internet as a weapon on the table. Either you pick it up or your competitor does, but somebody is going to get killed".

While he was working for Monsanto, Byrne told the internet newsletter Wow that he "spends his time and effort participating" in web discussions about biotech. He singled out the site AgBioWorld, where he "ensures his company gets proper play". AgBioWorld is the site on which Smetacek launched her campaign.

The biotech companies know that they will never conquer new markets while activists are able to expose the way their operations damage food security and consumer choice. While working with USAID to open new territory, they also appear to have been fighting covert campaigns against their critics. Their products may not be poisonous, but can we say the same of their techniques?


The Fake Parade

By Jonathan Matthews
Environment | 12.3.2002

"Carrying his placard the man in front of me was clearly one of the poorest of the poor. His shoes were not only threadbare, they were tattered, merely rags barely being held together."

So begins a graphic description of a demonstration that took place at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg.. The protesters were "mainly poor, virtually all black, and mostly women... street traders and farmers" with an unpalatable message. As an article in a South African periodical put it, "Surely this must have been the environmentalists' worst nightmare. Real poor people marching in the streets and demanding development while opposing the eco-agenda of the Green Left."

And seldom can the views of the poor, in this case a few hundred demonstrators, have been paid so much attention. Articles highlighting the Johannesburg march popped up the world over, in Africa, North America, India, Australia and Israel. In Britain even The Times ran a commentary, under the heading, "I do not need white NGOs to speak for me".

With the summit's passing, the Johannesburg march, far from fading from view, has taken on a still deeper significance. In the November issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology, Val Giddings, the President of the Biotech Industry Organization (BIO), argues that the event marked "something new, something very big" that will make us "look back on Johannesburg as something of a watershed event - a turning point." What made the march so pivotal, he said, was that for the very first time, "real, live, developing-world farmers" were "speaking for themselves" and challenging the "empty arguments of the self-appointed individuals who have professed to speak on their behalf."

To help give them a voice, Giddings singles out the statement of one of the marchers, Chengal Reddy, leader of the Indian Farmers Federation. "Traditional organic farming...," Reddy says, "led to mass starvation in India for centuries... Indian farmers need access to new technologies and especially to biotechnologies."

Giddings also notes that the farmers expressed their contempt for the "empty arguments" of many of the Earth Summiteers by honoring them with a "Bullshit Award" made from two varnished piles of cow dung. The award was given, in particular, to the Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva, for her role in "advancing policies that perpetuate poverty and hunger"

A powerful rebuke, no doubt. But if anyone deserves the cow dung, it is the President of BIO, for almost every element of the spectacle he describes has been carefully contrived and orchestrated. Take, for instance, Chengal Reddy, the "farmer" that Giddings quotes. Reddy is not a poor farmer, nor even the representative of poor farmers. Indeed, there is precious little to suggest he is even well-disposed towards the poor. The "Indian Farmers Federation" that he leads is a lobby of big commercial farmers in Andhra Pradesh. On occasion Reddy has admitted to knowing very little about farming, having never farmed in his life. He is, in reality, a politician and businessman whose family are a prominent right-wing political force in Andhra Pradesh - his father having coined the saying, "There is only one thing Dalits (members of the untouchable caste) are good for, and that is being kicked".

If it seems open to doubt that Reddy was in Johannesburg to help the poor speak for themselves, the identity of the march's organizers is also not a source of confidence. Although the Times' headline said "I do not need white NGOs to speak for me", the media contact on the organizers' press release was "Kendra Okonski", the daughter of a US lumber industrialist who has worked for various right wing anti-regulatory NGOs - all funded and directed, needless to say, by "whites". These include the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based "think tank" whose multi-million dollar budget comes from major US corporations, among them BIO member Dow Chemicals. Okonski also runs the website, where her specialty is helping right wing lobbyists take to the streets in mimicry of popular protesters.

Given this, it hardly needs saying that Giddings' "Bullshit Award" was far from, as he suggests, the imaginative riposte of impoverished farmers to India's most celebrated environmentalist. It was, in fact, the creation of another right-wing pressure group - the Liberty Institute - based in New Delhi and well known for its fervent support of deregulation, GM crops and Big Tobacco.

The Liberty Institute is part of the same network that organized the rally: the deceptively-named "Sustainable Development Network." In London, the SDN shares offices, along with many of its key personnel - including Okonski - with the International Policy Network, a group whose Washington address just happens to be that of the CEI. The SDN is run by Julian Morris, its ubiquitous director, who also claims the title of Environment and Technology Programme Director for the Institute of Economic Affairs, a think tank that has advocated, amongst other interesting ideas, that African countries be sold off to multinational corporations in the interests of "good government".

The involvement of the likes of Morris, Okonski and Reddy doesn't mean, of course, that no "real poor people," were involved in the Johannesburg march. There were indeed poor people there. James MacKinnon, who reported on the summit for the North American magazine Adbusters, witnessed the march first hand and told of seeing many impoverished street traders, who seemed genuinely aggrieved with the authorities for denying them their usual trading places in the streets around the summit. The flier distributed by the march organizers to recruit these people played on this grievance, and presented the march as a chance to demand, "Freedom to trade". The flier made no mention of "biotechnology" or "development", nor any other issue on the "eco-agenda of the Green Left".

For all that, there were some real farmers present as well. Mackinnon says he spotted some wearing anti-environmentalist t-shirts, with slogans like "Stop Global Whining." This aroused his curiousity, since small-scale African farmers are not normally to be found among those jeering the "bogus science" of climate change. Yet here they were, with slogans on placards and T-shirts: "Save the Planet from Sustainable Development", "Say No To Eco-Imperialism", "Greens: Stop Hurting the Poor" and "Biotechnology for Africa". On approaching the protesters, however, Mackinnon discovered that all of the props had been made available to the marchers by the organizers. When he tried to converse with some of the farmers about their pro-GM T-shirts, "They smiled shyly; none of them could speak or read English."

Another irresistible question is how impoverished farmers - according to Giddings, there were farmers on the march from five different countries - afforded the journey to Johannesburg from lands as far away as the Philippines and India. Here, too, there is reason for suspicion. In late 1999 the New York Times reported that a street protest against genetic engineering outside an FDA public hearing in Washington DC was disrupted by a group of African-Americans carrying placards such as "Biotech saves children's lives" and "Biotech equals jobs." The Times learned that Monsanto's PR company, Burston-Marsteller, had paid a Baptist Church from a poor neighborhood to bus in these "demonstrators" as part of a wider campaign "to get groups of church members, union workers and the elderly to speak in favor of genetically engineered foods."

The industry's fingerprints are all over Johannesburg as well. Chengal Reddy, the "farmer" that the President of BIO singled out as an example of farmers from the poorer world "speaking for themselves", has for at least a decade featured prominently in Monsanto's promotional work in India. Other groups represented on the march, including AfricaBio, have also been closely aligned with Monsanto's lobbying for its products. Reddy is known to have been brought to Johannesburg by AfricaBio.

And here lies the real key to the President of BIO's account of the march, and specifically to the attack on Vandana Shiva. Monsanto and BIO want to project an image of GM crop acceptance with a Southern face. That's why Monsanto's Internet homepage used to be adorned with the faces of smiling Asian children. So when an Indian critic of the biotech industry gets featured, as Shiva was recently, on the cover of Time magazine as an environmental hero, the brand is under attack, and has to be protected.

The counterattack takes place via a contrarian lens, one that projects the attackers' vices onto their target. Thus the problem becomes not Monsanto using questionable tactics to push its products onto a wary South, but malevolent agents of the rich world obstructing Monsanto's acceptance in a welcoming Third World. For this reason the press release for the "Bullshit Award" accuses Shiva, amongst other things, of being "a mouthpiece of western eco-imperialism". The media contact for this symbolic rejection of neocolonialism? The American, Kendra Okonski. The mouthpiece denouncing an Indian environmentalist as an agent of the West is a...Western mouthpiece.

The careful framing of the messages and the actors in the rally in Johannesburg provides but one particularly gaudy spectacle in a continuing fake parade. In particular, the Internet provides a perfect medium for such showcases, where the gap between the virtual and the real is easily erased.

Take the South-facing website, which promotes itself as "the web's most complete source of news and information about global food security concerns and sustainable agricultural practices". claims to be "an independent, non-profit coalition of people throughout the world". Despite its global reach, however,'s only named staff member is its "African Director", Dr. Michael Mbwille, a Tanzanian doctor who's forever penning articles defending Monsanto and attacking the likes of Greenpeace.

The news and information at is largely pro-GM articles, often vituperative in content and boasting headlines like "The Villainous Vandana Shiva" or "Altered Crops Called Boon for Poor". When one penetrates beyond the news pages, the content is very limited. A single message graces the messageboard posted by an;the domain name of The Bivings Group, an internet PR company that numbers Monsanto among its clients. There's also an event posting from an Andura Smetacek, recently identified in an article in The Guardian as an e-mail front used by Monsanto to run a campaign of character assassination against its scientific and environmental critics.

The site is registered to a Graydon Forrer, currently the managing director of Life Sciences Strategies, a company that specializes in "communications programmes" for the bio-science industries. A piece of information that is not usually disclosed in Graydon Forrer's self-presentation is that he was previously Monsanto's director of executive communications. Indeed, he seems to have been working for the company in 1999 - the same year the site of this "independent, non-profit coalition of people throughout the world" was first registered. Foodsecurity's "African Director", Dr. Mbwille, is not, incidentally, in Africa at the moment. He is enjoying a sabbatical observing medical practice in St. Louis, Missouri - the home town, as it happens, of the Monsanto Corporation. forms but one of a whole series of websites with undisclosed links to biotech industry lobbyists or PR companies, as our previous research has demonstrated. But despite the virtual circus oscillating about him, if the President of BIO were really interested in hearing poor "live, developing-world farmers... speaking for themselves", he need look no further than Chengal Reddy's home state of Andhra Pradesh. Here small-scale farmers and landless laborers were consulted as part of a meticulously conducted "citizens' jury" on World Bank-backed proposals to industrialize local agriculture and introduce GM crops. Having heard all sides of the argument, including as it happens the views of Chengal Reddy, the jury unanimously rejected these proposals, which are likely to force more than 100,000 people off the land. Similar citizens' juries on GM crops in Brazil and in the Indian state of Karnataka have come to similar conclusions - something that the President of BIO is almost certainly aware of.

But rainchecks on the real views of the poor count for little in a world where "something new, something very big" and "a turning point" in the global march towards our corporate future, turns out to be Monsanto's soapbox behind a black man's face.

Since 1998 Jonathan Matthews has been researching and writing on the industrial alignment of the bio-sciences, and the public relations activities of the biotech industry and its supporters. He co-founded the campaigning news and research service Norfolk Genetic Information Network, also known as GM Watch.

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