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Reporter's Court Award Struck Down On Appeal

The Associated Press
Feb. 16, 2003

LAKELAND - A state appeals court overturned a $425,000 jury award to a former Tampa television news reporter who claimed she was fired for refusing to include misleading information in a story.

In a unanimous decision Friday, the 2nd District Court of Appeal said Jane Akre failed to show the Tampa station, Fox affiliate WTVT, had violated any state laws.

"It's vindication for WTVT, and we're very pleased," station general manager Bob Linger said. "It's the case we've been making for two years. She never had a legal claim."

Akre still can appeal the decision. She could not be reached for comment because she does not have a listed phone number.

Akre and then-husband Steve Wilson claimed WTVT executives and a Fox network attorney encouraged inclusion of false statements in a story about bovine growth hormone, or BGH, a substance manufactured by the Monsanto Corp.

cow at a fence

The couple produced a four-part series that said Florida supermarket chains did little to avoid selling milk from cows treated with the hormone, despite assuring customers otherwise.

Akre and Wilson claimed they were wrongfully fired for refusing to use misleading information in the story and because they had threatened to report the station to the Federal Communications Commission.

The station said they were fired because of insubordination.

In August 2000, a jury awarded Akre $425,000, saying the station retaliated against her for threatening to blow the whistle on a false or distorted news report.

The appeals court said Akre's threat to report the station's actions to the FCC didn't deserve protection under the state whistle-blower's statute.


Food Fight

by Penni Crabtree
The San Diego Union-Tribune
February 4, 2003

Squabbling in the research community over genetically engineered foods overshadows scientific discourse

Veteran Salk Institute scientist David Schubert is the first to admit that he likes a healthy scientific debate.

But the minor firestorm he set off recently with a commentary that raised scientific concerns about genetically engineered plants, published in the well-known science journal Nature Biotechnology, had a different feel.

In the article, Schubert called for tougher testing of so-called GE plant products for long-term health risks, citing observations made in animal cells that might apply to plants and the lack of understanding of "the consequences of recombinant technology."

On any other subject, the comments by the cell biologist might have passed unremarked. But in December, 18 scientists, many of them prominent in plant research at the University of California San Diego, the Scripps Research Institute and the Salk Institute, signed a harshly worded letter to the editor rebutting Schubert's essay. "Good scientists go astray when they leave their area of expertise to offer opinion when they have not studied the literature, when they selectively ignore information, or when they let their politics and beliefs interfere with the objectivity of their science," the letter concluded.

Schubert said he was surprised by what he considered an organized, personal and often unscientific "attack."

"Scientists have academic arguments all the time, and the journals are full of them," Schubert said. "People can disagree with your data -- hopefully the data is right and they disagree with your interpretation -- but even when the data is wrong it's not just this frontal attack.

"They are trying to make this a political issue instead of a science issue -- and that's a big difference."

If Schubert was surprised by the vehemence of his critics, others were not. The heated scientific exchange is not an isolated tempest in a petri dish, but one in a string of incidents that have embroiled the academic community in the controversy over GE foods.

That controversy has long pitted the agribiotechnology and crop chemical industry against activists who oppose genetically engineered foods, but in the past few years it has also divided many in the scientific community.

In the process, squabbling sometimes overshadows scientific discourse, and accusations of scientists promoting vested interests or political agendas haunt the debate.

Doug Gurian-Sherman, science director for the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, noted that many of Schubert's critics, like others in earlier incidents involving GE foods, have financial ties to companies in the $1 billion market for GE foods -- creating at least the perception of a conflict of interest.

For instance, Roger Beachy, director of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and the lead signatory on the Nature Biotechnology letter to the editor, is best known for developing the world's first genetically altered food crop, a disease-resistant tomato, in collaboration with St. Louis-based Monsanto.

The Danforth center has strong industry backing. It was formed in 1998 through a partnership between various universities and Monsanto. The Monsanto Fund, the philanthropic arm of Monsanto, contributed $70 million to the center in its first four years, and continues, along with other agribiotech companies, to provide center scientists research funding for various projects.

Beachy, who helped identify other potential signatories for the letter, dismissed the notion that industry support makes scientists less objective. He said the letter was a response by responsible, objective scientists to the misinformation and "scare tactics" that have swayed the GE food debate.

"There have been so many comments made by people who know nothing of what they speak, and we are asking that they be as careful about the things they aren't expert in as those they are expert in," said Beachy. "I don't tell a cancer cell biologist that their interpretation is incorrect, because I'm not a cancer specialist.

"Whatever is said in the science community needs to be talked about by those who know the science."

Gurian-Sherman said the organized response was "unusual," and smacked of overkill.

"There have been several incidents over the last few years that, regardless what you think of the science, a strong case could be made that the vehemence of the attack goes beyond the bounds of science," said Gurian-Sherman, whose group supports GE food but has also called for a more stringent regulatory review process before new products are approved.

Last year, the academic community became embroiled in a debate over whether indigenous Mexican maize had inadvertently crossed with genetically engineered corn, despite a moratorium on commercial planting of GE crops.

In November 2001, University of California Berkeley scientists David Quist and Ignacio Chapela made the claim in a paper published in Nature, the parent magazine of Nature Biotechnology. Supporters of GE foods argued that the scientists' conclusions were based on faulty testing techniques.

Ironically, many of Quist and Chapela's critics acknowledge that the ultimate point of the paper -- that Mexican maize has been contaminated -- is probably correct, but the pair's flawed experiments didn't support the supposition.

Later, a scientific review panel found fault with the science and, in an unprecedented move, Nature published an editorial note saying publication of the Quist and Chapela paper was unjustified.

In a year-end reflection on the key science stories to emerge in 2002, Nature noted in its December issue that the bitter debate over the Quist/Chapela study shed "more heat than light," and was marred by the appearance of vested interests.

Many of the most vocal academic scientists supporting GE crops often also are the ones who receive financial backing from the agribiotech industry -- including research funding, fees for consulting and the potential for a big payoff when an agribiotech company licenses products or technologies they have developed.

Some of Quist and Chapela's opponents were fellow Berkeley scientists who'd clashed with them over a controversial deal between the university and GE crop company Syngenta. The deal, which Quist and Chapela opposed, gave the Swiss-based Syngenta privileged access to the findings of the university's plant scientists.

It also emerged that some of the Internet postings attacking Quist and Chapela had been made from computers at a public-relations firm retained by GE crop giant Monsanto.

"Clearly, this was not solely a technical debate," Nature concluded in its year-end review.

Though Schubert's commentary did not create the same heat, it stirred emotions. At the heart of his argument was the simple observation made in his research on mammalian cells: Once a gene is put into a cell, it can produce different proteins in different cell types, triggering changes that can cascade through various cell pathways, many of which can't be predicted.

Those proteins could interact with other substances in a cell, creating new molecules that are potentially toxic, he argued.

When dealing with whole organisms, plants or animals, the process becomes even more complicated. And double ditto when a gene that in nature is alien to an organism is introduced -- as when a bacteria gene is spliced into a corn plant.

Given the unknowns, Schubert argued that GE plants should be tested for long-term safety before being brought to market.

Schubert's critics countered that companies extensively test GE plants, and that the plants are screened for unintended or unexpected variations, ensuring that the foreign protein produced by the GE plant host is the one intended.

They also said that the same potential for gene mutations occurs naturally in foods created through traditional crossbreeding methods -- though only biotech foods are subjected to scrutiny.

Many agree scrutiny has become an increasingly relative term in the GE food debate.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, in a report issued last month, concluded the Food and Drug Administration is "ill-equipped to assure the safety of future foods that will be engineered in increasingly complex ways."

Currently, biotech companies are encouraged but not required to submit safety testing data to the FDA for review, according to the report. While acknowledging that the current crop of GE foods on the market appear to be safe, the report said a more stringent approval process for GE plants and animals needs to replace the voluntary notification process now in force.

With so much controversy, and so much at stake, the GE food debate isn't likely to cool -- or improve in civility -- anytime soon, industry observers agree.

"There are interesting scientific points raised by both sides," said Andrew Marshall, editor of Nature Biotechnology. "The problem with agribiotech is the sides are polarized, so it is difficult to have a cordial exchange of views.

"It is a very contentious area at the moment and it is clearly very high on the political agenda in may parts of the world -- and a lot is rolling on these issues."

Penni Crabtree: (619) 293-1237;


Farmers in $110 Mln StarLink Deal, Say Lawyers

CHICAGO, Feb 6 (Reuters) - A group of farmers reached a $110 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit against StarLink Logistics Inc. and Advanta Corp. over unapproved genetically modified StarLink corn that slipped into the food chain in September 2000, lawyers for the farmers said Thursday.

Melvyn Weiss of the law firm Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach LLP said the plaintiffs were farmers who did not grow the StarLink variety.

The farmers claimed they had suffered financially from a drop in corn prices due to StarLink's detection in food products and the subsequent decline in exports. The Starlink corn is not approved for human consumption for fear it could trigger allergic reactions.

The law firm said Judge James Moram of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on Wednesday gave preliminarily approval to the settlement, which is subject to further court review before becoming final.


Opportunities on the Web: Shifting the Risks of Biopharming

Edmonds, Washington
Wednesday, February 12.

Taking a "Dirty Industry" South?

The Edmonds Institute, a public interest, non-profit known for its work on biosafety, today warned about use of the Internet to find farmers in out-of-the-way places willing to grow pharm crops. "With bioengineered piglets going unapproved to market, with experimental crops contaminating 150 acres of corn and half a million bushels of soybeans, with an engineered corn unapproved for human consumption turning up all over the world, at a time when the environmental and human health problems posed by the so-called pharm crops* desperately need the clear scientific light of day, people are brokering contract pharming deals on the web, " cautions Beth Burrows, Edmonds Institute President and Director.

Burrows is referring to "biopharming", the genetic engineering of organisms, such as crop plants, to produce substances they don't ordinarily produce, such as pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals. Because of the danger of contamination of our food and feed supplies, "pharming" was the subject of a recent call for comment by the US Food and Drug Administration.

"The web middlemen tells companies to 'contact us if you see anyone (on our website list of growers) who might be in the right place to safely contract grow your crop for you'," notes Burrows, "and then they tempt farmers with the thought that, "(w)e would expect in order to get exactly the right location and conditions, Pharmaceutical Companies to lease land at up to 20 times 'commercial' rates for normal food crops."

Burrows adds, "The web brokers are offering what seems to be a perfect deal. Perfect, until you begin to wonder whether they're not shifting the risk and liability burden from pharmaceutical and manufacturing companies to those much less able to address and bear the potential health, environmental, and legal burdens of pharm crops."

Burrows points to, a website that came to her notice via Indusfarming, an electronic digest that originates in India and focuses on the problems of agrarian peoples in the South Asia and Indus basin region. Late January, an article in Indusfarming heralded "Molecular farming. Contract growing opportunity".

The article announced a "global project, based in Europe," that aimed to "enable the future SAFE production of Biopharmaceuticals, Biodegradeable plastics, New Fibers and New Polymers in transgenic, NON-FOOD USE, genetically engineered molecular crops ." The article acknowledged that "there will be cross-contamination and Environmental risks" but foresaw a "huge future industry" for contract farmers able to grow "molecular crops" in greenhouses or in "'isolated', 'non-native', 'away from related food crop'" places. The article announced a "free to join Global Database of future potential growers, with the idea of introducing Biopharmaceutical companies with crops to grow to contract growers and farmers in safe locations."

Mentioning that they already "have a few Indian growers", the article called attention to the project's website and enjoined the reader to "explore the potential for you."

Burrows points out that, "This is an inducement to exactly the kind of 'pharming' that FDA and all the rest of us are concerned about,* and doing it in out of the way places doesn't guarantee the safety of anything. "

Devinder Sharma, award-winning journalist and food system analyst based in New Delhi, saw the same article Burrows did, and commented:

"This is shocking indeed...This is part of the global design to translocate the dirty industry to the Third World. First, it was the translocation of toxic and hazardous waste recycling to developing countries (mainly South Asia and Africa). . .Then came the translocation of the flower industry, one of the dirtiest farming India, Kenya and Colombia...Now, it is the turn of bio-pharma crops. Even in the United States, there is tremendous problems with bio-pharma crops. So what do you do? Translocate this dirty industry to countries of South Asia."

According to the website - - its "worldwide molecular farming database" was started in February, 2002. Since then, "potential growers" for "pharm" crops have been found in Canada, Ireland, Australia, Argentina, a dozen states of the USA, Scotland, England, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Korea, Greece, Turkey, Panama, Romania, Nigeria, and South Africa. The website owners also "have leads to a farmer's group in the Baltic Sea Islands" and" a contact for 147,000 acres in Guinea (in West Africa)."

Not surprised by the website, Sharma notes, "I am sure we will have a number of 'farmers' waiting on line to encash this opportunity."

Burrows admits that the website "offers an attractive package" but, she notes, "If you read it carefully, you see many, many safety problems. At best, they are talking about hoped-for solutions. They talk 'protection' but it's mostly talk about protection from gene flow in the field. That is not the only problem, not even the only environmental problem, posed by pharm crops."

In its recent draft Guidance for Industry regarding Drugs, Biologicas and Medical Devices Derived from Bioengineered Plants for Use in Humans and Animals, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised industry to "consider the potential environmental impact of all aspects of the manufacturing process, including but not limited to transport of seeds and plants, growing, harvesting, processing, purifying, packaging, storage, and disposal."

Looking at the molecularfarming website, Burrows worries that, "Aside from the risks that may be engendered by handling these crops, what about the risks from transporting these crops or accidents while processing these crops? Whose is the liability for the child in an out of the way place that picks and eats one of these strange new crops? And who is going to be sure that the farmer in out-of-the-way places are told all they need to know about pharm crops and their problems and how to handle them. Who is going to help those out-of-the-way farmers obey whatever relevant laws may exist in their own counties? I find it noteworthy that one of the key questions the website asks farmers is, 'Has your property public liability insurance?'" does offers its readers translations into Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese but it admits that the translations are "not exact". Burrows wants to know, "Exactly what things aren't exactly well-explained, and what about the farmers who speak Hindi, or Parsi, or Arabic or Swahili? Who will explain to them the implications of the deal they are being offered? The unknowing farmers who find this website may not be so much bridging the digital divide as walking a digital plank."

Devinder Sharma warns further, "It is time the civil society wakes up to these ecological dangers. We cannot allow the West to clean up its house and even its backyard and turn us into a rubbish bin."

Contact: The Edmonds Institute, 20319-92nd Avenue West, Edmonds, Washington 98020, USA, phone: 1-425-775-5383,email:, website:

The Edmonds Institute is a public interest, non-profit concerned with issues related to environment and technology. Known for its work on biosafety and biodiversity, it was incorporated in 1995 and is a 501(c)(3) organization under the rules of the Internal Revenue Service.

Other persons to contact on issues raised in this press release:

Dr. Devinder Sharma, agricultural expert and journalist - (in India) 91 (11) 5250494, email:

Dr. Norman Ellstrand, University of California Riverside - professor of genetics and expert in gene flow - 909-787-4194

Dr. Michael Hansen, Consumers Union Policy Institute research and policy analyst - 914-378-2452

* E.g.,February 6, 2003, following submission of formal comments to USFDA, a representative of the US Grocery Manufacturers of America warned, "To minimize the possible risks, a clear system of regulatory enforcement and liability needs to be in place for the development, testing and eventual commercialization of PMPs [plant made pharmaceuticals] - just as we require strict regulations for conventional drugs made in brick and mortar facilities. Until then, no permits for new field trials or for commercialization should be issued by USDA because there is no room for trial and error."


Public vs. Private Seed Ownership

(Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- DES MOINES (DTN) -- The revolution in ownership of germ plasm, the feature of cells that determines the characteristics of offspring, is moving rapidly toward concentration in a few hands, said ISU agriculture economist Neil Harl at a recent one-day seminar in Ames, Iowa.

Harl and other agriculture experts discussed the growing trend of concentration, where only a handful of mega firms control both input and output in the ag sector. Harl identified the concentration of the seed supply as one of the major problems facing independent farmers today. He cited several examples of how large companies have merged to gain complete control of seed genetics, including the high-profile merger between DuPont and Pioneer Hi-Bred International, the Monsanto acquisition of DeKalb and the formation of Syngenta by Novartis and Astra Zeneca. These mergers show how the ownership and control of genetic material in crops are falling into the hands of a few economically powerful players, Harl said.

"Increased concentration is also leading to control by a few firms over the major processes by which genetic manipulation occurs, thus enabling those controlling the technologies to block use by other firms," he said.

The new trend is partly due to the changing role of land grant universities, partly to the ability to manipulate germ plasm through genetic engineering and partly to the consequences of the ability to obtain a monopoly-like position over unique life forms and over the process of genetic manipulation, he said.

For decades, land grant universities developed the basic genetic lines of crops and made those lines available to the seed industry, Harl said. However, limitations on university funding and the near-revolution in genetic engineering caused private companies to begin pouring more money into basic research.


Is Our Food Safe?

By Karen Charman
Published: Feb 13 2003

Genetically Engineered Crops Are Here -- Whether We Like It Or Not

Americans are continually told we have the safest food supply in the world. But recent revelations about genetically engineered food crops -- specifically ones that grow pharmaceutical drugs or industrial chemicals in their plant tissue -- raise serious questions about the safety and future of our food. The practice in question is called biopharming. It is being touted as the agricultural biotech industry's next bonanza, the savior that will bring chronically broke commodity grain farmers not only desperately needed profits, but riches. And in today's harsh rural landscape of bankruptcies and broken dreams, promises of generating $2 million an acre -- the figure commonly bandied about in the farm belt -- are enticing indeed.

This particular dream, however, is more likely to turn into a nightmare -- for both farmers and the eating public. Biopharming may even be the proverbial straw that breaks the back of American farming. Why? Because crop plants and farm fields are not closed units. As biological entities that exist in an open environment, plants evolved to spread their traits and mix with, or "contaminate," other crops. It's in their nature.

So, if the government allows biotech companies to test and grow experimental drug- and chemical-producing food crops in the open environment, we better get used to the idea of eating those pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals in our food. As Dirk Maier, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering points out in a Purdue University fact sheet: "Whenever new genetic material is introduced into the agricultural crop mix, trace contamination of non-target crops is unavoidable. This fact is common knowledge in the seed industry."

What foods are we actually talking about? At this point, mainly corn, the biopharmers' crop of choice. But biopharm companies are also tinkering with soybeans, canola, rice, barley, tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, wheat and sugarcane.

Widespread consumer rejection of genetically engineered food in foreign markets has already cost American grain farmers dearly. European officials have said Europe would prohibit American grain exports if transgenic crops producing pharmaceutical or industrial compounds are planted because of health concerns about pharma-tainted food crops.

Too Late?

U.S. Department of Agriculture records show that more than 300 experimental pharma plots have been grown in the open environment in 36 states since 1991, most in the farm belt in the last three years.

In November 2002, the Texas-based biotech company, ProdiGene, was busted in Nebraska for contaminating 500,000 bushels of soybeans with pharmaceutical corn the company had grown in the same field the previous year. The tainted soybeans were confiscated at a grain elevator in Aurora, Neb. -- but not before they were mixed in with 500,000 bushels that had been destined for the food supply.

Two months before, ProdiGene was ordered to burn 155 acres of a neighbor's corn crop in Iowa that USDA inspectors said may have had been contaminated by the company's experimental test plots.

At the moment, federal regulations don't permit pharma crops to contaminate food crops. However, the biotech industry and some of its promoters would like to change that, because, as Prof. Maier's comment above reveals, it won't be possible to keep them out of our food.

Grain handlers and processors -- those who collect, clean and store commodity grain -- learned this lesson in 2000 when StarLink, an unapproved biotech corn, ended up in more than 300 food products. StarLink contamination prompted massive food recalls and a quagmire of lawsuits. Now this segment of the grain industry is demanding that federal regulators set threshholds that allow measurable quantities of pharma crop contamination.

Grain industry representatives aren't the only ones pushing to allow these substances into our food. So are some biotech researchers at leading agricultural universities. According to The Washington Post, even the consumer group, Center for Science in the Public Interest, is arguing that trace amounts of pharma crops should be permitted if the substances undergo early safety tests.

Food manufacturers have been enthusiastic supporters of biotech food. But they are understandably mortified at the prospect of expensive recalls and the potential to damage consumer confidence in their products. They have come out strongly against using food crops for biopharming.

But after speaking with John Cady, president of the National Food Processors Association, my hunch is that if the government set tolerance levels and deemed those levels safe, the food manufacturing sector's concern would diminish. "As long as the rules are the way they are, there has to be zero tolerance," Cady said.

Downplaying Health Risks

Federal agencies are now grappling with the question of how to cope with pharma crops -- largely outside the public's gaze. Instead of raising the alarm, some media reports are downplaying the risks. Both The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times recently reported that in most cases, the bioengineered industrial or pharmaceutical proteins would not be harmful, because as Los Angeles Times reporter Stephanie Simon put it, they would "dissolve harmlessly in the gut."

Michael Hansen, a scientist with Consumer's Union, says that blanket assumption can't be made. Many of these compounds may break down in the gut, but to know for sure, each one would have to be tested for digestibility in a form it is likely to be ingested. "We don't know if those tests are being required, because this is all confidential," Hansen said. "Right now we're talking in a data vaccuum."

As with all biotech food crops, safety testing of bioengineered crops that produce industrial compounds is currently voluntary. If the crop produces a drug, it must undergo safety tests.

But the testing procedures typically used are inadequate. They don't examine either the whole food or even the biopharmaceutical actually produced in the plant. Instead, standard practice is to use a surrogate version of the inserted protein that is produced in bacteria. This method may be cheaper and easier for companies. But plants and bacteria process genes very differently, so testing a bioengineered protein in bacteria can't detect whether the protein creates toxic or allergenic substances in the plant.

We are not designed to ingest industrial compounds. Pharmaceuticals -- which often have unpleasant and sometimes dangerous side effects -- are generally prescribed in specific doses for specific illnesses. They don't belong in our food. But if these substances are grown in food crops, they will undoubtedly end up in our kitchens and on our plates -- whether we want them there or not.

Karen Charman is an investigative journalist specializing in agriculture, health and the environment.

Also by Karen Charman: Spinning Science into Gold


Britain Considering DNA Bar Code For GM Products

February 14, 2003

LONDON - Genetically modified foods and organisms could soon contain DNA bar codes to make it easier for regulators to spot contaminated crops or foods.

The National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), a charitable company in Cambridge, England, has applied for a patent on the technology.

"The British government is considering forcing biotech companies to use DNA bar-coding to identify genetically modified organisms (GMOs)," New Scientist magazine said this week.

The technique involves adding a special, harmless sequence of DNA to all GM organisms so a simple test will spot it. A series of additional sequences of DNA with encrypted information about the company or what was done to the product could also be added to provide more data.

"We have been talking about techniques for encoding unique identifiers in the context of GMOs for some time," Howard Dalton, chief scientific adviser for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), told the magazine.

"Any development which would help in the process of detecting and identifying GMOs would be welcome," he added.

A spokesman for NIAB said DEFRA views the technology as one of a number of useful approaches to a problem that will have to be dealt with in the next few years.


Carrying The Torch For The Corporate Cadre

by Robert Schubert
CropChoice editor
February 19, 2003

(Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2003 -- CropChoice commentary) -- Robert Zoellick is at it again. Our trusted trade representative says China is simply not honoring its commitments to the World Trade Organization.

Zoellick seems surprised that China won't dismantle its domestic policies that protect family farmers. It's a similar story in India, Brazil and the European Union. In his view, such policies distort free trade.

It's different here in the good old US of A. President after president and Congress after Congress, both Democrat and Republican, have whittled away U.S. farm programs in the name of free trade, efficiency, or whatever term sounds good. In reality it's all about sticking the boot on the necks of family farmers to guarantee maximum profit for a transnational corporate cadre. That means charging farmers the maximum for seeds and fertilizers, paying them as little as possible for the crops they grow with those inputs, and then selling the final food product to the consumer for the maximum price.

No surprise many farmers are broke or nearly broke. It's basically damage control in farm country. That means hush money: the welfare-style income support that's keeping farmers quiet while they're put out to pasture, permanently.

The message to the American farmer is "lower your price, produce for less, get big or get out." They've complied for decades. They're farming more and more land and producing more and more homogenous commodity crops that the transnational companies can neatly process, package and ship anywhere and everywhere. In this the latest stage of global, industrial agriculture, farmers are planting genetically modified crops that allow them to work even more land with less effort so that they can go to town to get a job because Monsanto charged them an arm and a leg for the seed, and Cargill pays them less for the crop than it costs to produce. A rather nice arrangement for the corporations.

Although U.S. farmers have been going broke lowering their production costs, Chinese farmers can produce for less. But not cheap enough. That's why Zoellick wants China to scrap any and all programs that protect its farmers. Then the raw materials would cost even less for the traders and processors who export to and import from all countries the world over. Remember, buy low -- even if you have to steal it -- and sell high.

It didn't used to be this way.

Prior to the 1985 farm bill, price supports for farmers were based on the market. They established a price floor to give farmers some bargaining power. These "loan rates" worked much like the minimum wage. The government mandated that the companies buying the farmers' grain or livestock pay them a price at least equal to the cost of producing it. However, the farmers often received more. In those days before rampant corporate concentration, more buyers in the marketplace meant the producer prices were bid upward. The farmers actually made money. Quite a concept.

But things grew progressively worse. They reached the really bad stage in 1996 when Congress hatched Freedom to Farm. It axed the market based price support loan rates and replaced them with taxpayer-subsidized income supports. Now, Cargill and Crew don't have the government telling them they must pay farmers a minimum price, or "wage," for the crops. What's more, the constantly merging traders and processors connive and collude to manipulate the prices downward. As a result, farmers often receive far less than their cost of production. The taxpayer is left to make up the difference between what the farmers were paid and a level, or loan rate, determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This can't continue, and our leaders know it. On one side are the taxpayers, most of whom have no idea what's really happening with agriculture, who question why they're subsidizing farmers. On the other side are countries like Brazil and China rightly insisting that they will not discontinue their domestic farm programs until we do.

At the anointed time it will happen. All that farmers will hear from the distant halls of Congress and the USDA is a faint "sorry." The farm programs will be gone. There'll be no more hush money. Farmers will leave the land in droves. Those who remain will farm, under contract, tens of thousands of acres of patented corn, soybeans, wheat and other commodity crops.

Meanwhile, with their global path largely cleared, Cargill, ConAgra, Monsanto, ADM, and a few others will be grinding down farmers in India, Brazil, China and everywhere. They're always looking to pay farmers a lower price for raw materials. It's a race to the bottom.

There's a word for it: Serfdom.

And to those who think they can just run to Wild Oats or Whole Foods and buy some organic food, think again. The big national and transnational corporations have been and are buying small organic food companies.

What are some of the answers?

First, bring back comprehensive, family farmer friendly policies, including and especially market-based price supports at the federal level. Along with that, local, state and national governments must encourage local and regional organic food production, processing, distribution and sales.

Second, tear down the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement, and dispense with this Free Trade of the Americas talk. Replace them with nothing or with FAIR trade agreements.

Finally, revoke the personhood rights of corporations. Return them to their pre-1886 days when they had only privileges, no rights. For more on that, go to:

Editor's note: The next time you hear about the World Bank chipping in the bucks to build or improve infrastructure (e.g., a port or a wider river for barge traffic) in some faraway place, think about who benefits. Transnational agribusinesses that export to and import from the same countries around the world should come to mind.

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