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GM Foods: Towards An Apocalypse

By Devinder Sharma
May 17, 2003

The noose is slowly tightening. An all out offensive has been launched, using the three most important instruments of economic power - World Trade Organisation (WTO), the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - along with the badly bruised but democratically elected governments. And this time, the target is not oil but to force the world to accept genetically modified foods and crops.

In reality, the battle for controlling the global food chain has begun.

The American administration fired the first missile by formally launching in May a complaint with the WTO against the European Union for its five-year ban on approving new biotech crops, setting the stage for an international showdown over an increasingly controversial issue. Interestingly, the US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick says the European policy is illegal, harming the American economy, stunting the growth of the biotech industry and contributing to increased starvation in the developing world.

Coinciding with the frontal attack through the dispute panel, is a seemingly harmless exercise to close ranks around flawed economic policies. Senior officials of the WTO-IMF-World Bank met at Geneva in May to deliberate on how to bring greater 'coherence' in their policies through 'liberalization of trade and financial flows, deregulation, privatization and budget austerity'. As if, loan conditions of the IMF/World Bank that have forced developing countries to lower their trade barriers, cut subsidies for their domestic food producers, and eliminate safety nets for rural agriculture were not enough, the WTO Agreement on Agriculture could be used very effectively to allow America -- and 12 other food exporting countries -- to dump unwanted genetically altered foods thereby destroying food self-sufficiency in developing countries and expanding markets for the large grain exporting companies.

Trade and financial manipulations alone are not enough. With the United Nations no longer relevant, any such global offensive needs political allies. Therefore, three ministers from each of the 180 invited countries - and holding the portfolios of Trade, Agriculture and Health -- will assemble at downtown Sacramento in California from June 23-25. The invitation, which comes from the US Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, is essentially for educating (in reality, intimidating) these democratically elected representatives on the virtues of GM foods, and why they must back the US transnational corporations fight against global hunger. If not, then why they must remain quiet like they did when the US was searching for 'weapons of mass destruction' in Iraq.

The three-pronged attack will force the European Union, to begin with, to either alter its policy toward GM crops and foods, which some consumer groups call as 'Franken foods', or face economic sanctions across a range of sectors. For the US, the European markets for genetically modified crops and seed are potentially worth several billion dollars a year. For the rest of the world, Ann Veneman will explain the 'consequences' - both economic and political - of not accepting the fruits of 'cutting-edge' technology, as genetic engineering is fondly called. The first GM Ministerial, therefore, is not open to the public.

GM Foods: Towards An Apocalypse (continued)

The overt and covert machinations to push unhealthy and risky GM foods had actually begun a decade ago. The US has so far opposed the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which has been signed by over 100 countries and was intended to ensure through agreed international rules and regulations that countries have the necessary information to make informed choices about GM foods and crops. Earlier, the US had made every possible attempt to see that the Cartagena Protocol does not come through. And when it did, the US gave a damn and prefers to stay away.

Whether it is Cartagena Protocol or the Kyoto Protocol, the US continues to defy the international order. Even the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was ratified by the US at a stage when it realized that it had nothing to lose in the event of adequate protection granted by the trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPs). US continues to hold the world's largest collection of plant germplasm, some 600,000 plant accessions, which actually belongs to the developing world. These plant collections, forcibly held in custody, are the raw material for the multi-billion dollar American biotechnology industry. In addition, the biotechnology industry has earned an estimated US $ 5.4 billion from biopiracy alone.

With the biotech patents coming into force, and the definition of micro-organism extended to include genes and cell lines, the US has ensured that once the trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPs) Agreement is internationally harmonized in 2005, it will be the beginning of the end for public sector research in agriculture in the developing countries. In the words of a former chairman of the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR), Dr Ismail Serageldin: "Whenever the product and process patents in food and agriculture come into effect, it will be a scientific apartheid against Third World."

Agricultural research, which has been instrumental in ushering in food self-sufficiency in many of the Third World countries in the post-green revolution era, is being gradually dismantled. The CGIAR itself is under tremendous pressure from the agri-business corporations, which sees it as the main obstacle in the process of control and manipulation. With research priorities shifting from national requirements to servicing the biotechnology industry, like in India, it will be a matter of time before developing countries begin to return to the frightening days of 'ship-to-mouth' existence.

Food aid to starving populations is about meeting the urgent humanitarian needs of those who are in dire need. Ideally, it should not be to push the commercial interests of the biotechnology corporations (while staying away from the international consensus such as the Cartagena Protocol), or planting GM crops for export, or indeed finding outlets for domestic surplus. First finding an outlet for its mounting food surplus through the mid-day meal scheme for African children (force fed through the World Food Programme), the US then literally arm-twisted four African countries to accept GM food at the height of the food scarcity that prevailed in central and southern Africa in 2002. It even tried forcing the International Federation of Red Cross to lift the GM food as part of an international emergency so as to feed the hungry in Africa.

It didn't work. Zambia led the resistance against GM foods, saying that it would prefer its poor to die than to feed them with unhealthy food.

The US has finally found a way out to circumvent and to force the African countries into submission. The US Senate has passed a bill, entitled "the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003," (HR 1298)", which in a diplomatic way (calling it as 'sense of Congress') links financial aid for combating HIV AIDS with GM food acceptance. Section 104A states that "individuals infected with HIV have higher nutritional requirements than individuals who are not infected with HIV, particularly with respect to the need for protein. Also, there is evidence to suggest that the full benefit of therapy to treat HIV/AIDS may not be achieved in individuals who are malnourished, particularly in pregnant and lactating women."

The next sentence reads: "It is therefore the sense of Congress that United States food assistance should be accepted by countries with large populations of individuals infected or living with HIV/AIDS, particularly African countries, in order to help feed such individuals." The underlying objective is very clear: the US can use the verdict to stop humanitarian aid for HIV/AIDS unless the recipient countries first buy GM food. Killing two birds with one stone, you have probably forgotten that saying.

This is not an isolated effort. The Rockefeller Foundation, in collaboration with the US-based Madison Institute, had earlier launched a project, called the 'Madison Initiative'. Under the guise of humanitarian aid and support, the 'Madison Initiative' was aimed at pushing GM crops to tide over the increasing food insecurity arising from the growing vulnerability of HIV/AIDS affected economies. The basic premise being that HIV/AIDS has taken a heavy toll of able-bodied rural males in most parts of Africa. As a result, there is not enough manpower left in the rural areas to undertake agricultural operations like spraying of pesticides. Therefore, these countries must accept GM crops like Bt corn, which they say require less chemical sprays!

This wonderful (sic) initiative was to be executed by CGIAR as an active partner. Such was the desperation that agricultural scientists had actually gone and met former President Moi of Kenya, who had agreed to officially support the 'Madison Initiative', subsequently to be extended to other Africa countries, including South Africa, and then to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand and to other parts of Southeast Asia.

Way back, in 1986, the US had similarly enacted a legislation, called Bumper 's Amendment, that prohibited "agricultural development activities, consultation, publication, conference, or training in connection with the growth and production in a foreign country of an agricultural commodity for export which would compete with a similar commodity grown or produced in the United States." As a result the American support for research and development for crops, which competed with those grown in the United States were stopped. No wonder, the FAO, the CGIAR and numerous other developing country agricultural programmes continue to remain starved for financial support. With national research programmes closing down for paucity of funds, the field is now open for the biotech industry to take over.

Never in the past history, has any government stepped in to force the world and that too literally down the throat into accepting what it produces. Never before has the world been forced to accept technologies (howsoever risky these might be) and that includes nuclear power, in the name of poor, hungry and sustainable development. Never before has any country tried to force feed a hungry Continent by creating a false scenario of an impending famine, which never happened. Never before has science and technology been sacrificed in such a shameful manner for the sake of commercial growth and profits.

The tragedy is that 'good' science has been given a quiet burial. On the other hand, the party for the biotechnology industry has just begun.

The reality of hunger and malnutrition is too harsh to be even properly understood. Hunger cannot be removed by producing transgenic crops with genes for beta-carotene. Hunger cannot be addressed by providing mobile phones to the rural communities. Nor can it be eradicated by providing the poor and hungry with an ``informed choice'' of novel foods. Somehow, the international community misses the ground realities, misses the woods from the trees in an effort bolster the commercial interests of the biotechnology industries. In its over-enthusiasm to promote an expensive technology at the cost of the poor, what has been overlooked is that biotechnology has the potential to further the great divide between the haves and have-nots.

While the political leadership is postponing the monumental task to halve the number of the world's hungry, the scientific community too has found an easy escape route. At almost all the genetic engineering laboratories, whether in the North or in the South, the focus of research is on transgenic crops that adds to profits, edible vaccines and bio-fortification to address the problems of malnutrition or ``hidden hunger'' by incorporating genes for Vitamin A, iron, and other micro-nutrients. But what has been forgotten in the first instance is that unless hunger is removed, 'hidden hunger' cannot be eradicated. In other words, if the global scientific and development community were to aim at eradicating hunger at the first place, there would be little "hidden hunger".

Much of the existing hunger in the world is because of lop-sided trade and economic policies that keep the farmers in rich countries plump with massive subsidies, the resulting impact of which creates more hunger, malnutrition and destitution in the majority world. Much of the world's hunger and the crisis on the farm front is because of the massive subsidies that continue to be paid in the richest trading block - the OECD. Let us not forget, that subsidies are paid not only to keep the miniscule population of farmers on either side of the Atlantic happy, but also to keep the elected governments in saddle. The US Farm Security and Rural Investment Act (FSRIA) for instance was signed at the beginning of May 2002, bringing in an additional US $ 180 billion to its farmers in the next ten years. This was a small price (and that too from the State exchequer) to be paid for sparsely populated but agriculturally frontline mid-west region. George Bush badly needed a Republican majority in the US Senate. Senatorial elections took place in 2002 and the promise of a Farm Act delivered it.

As a result of the subsidy hike in America, millions of small and marginal farmers in the developing world would be driven out of agriculture to move to the urban slums in search of a menial living. Highly subsidized agriculture in America, and for that matter in the OECD, is the root cause for growing hunger, destitution and poverty in the majority world. GM foods, produced by the biotechnology corporations, will further exacerbate the food crisis - eliminating in the process not hunger but the hungry.

(Devinder Sharma is a New Delhi-based food and trade policy analyst.
His writings and analysis can be viewed at )


USDA Sold Potentially Toxic Corn to Food and Feed Handler

For Immediate Release
Friends of the Earth
May 16, 2003

May Have Violated Cargill Policy and Monsanto Grower Agreement

DES MOINES, IOWA - An environmental group and an animal welfare organization today jointly released evidence that, for a second time, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sold corn that one of its own researchers said might be toxic. The groups raised concern that the suspect corn may end up being used as animal feed or even in grocery products, posing a risk to health. The corn, a genetically engineered variety not approved for sale as food in the European Union, was apparently delivered to a Cargill processing facility in Blair, Neb.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) obtained copies of receipts for sale of more than 18,000 bushels of corn marketed by the Commodities Credit Corporation on behalf of the USDA's Farm Services Agency (FSA). It was sold Feb. 3 to Feb. 6 to Koster Grain Company, a handler of corn for food and feed in Carroll, Iowa. The USDA's own researchers suspect the corn caused severe reproductive problems in pigs in Iowa. It is also a variety genetically engineered by Monsanto (MON) to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup.

According to a May 15 report on, "one of the haulers, who wished to remain anonymous, said he took the corn to the Cargill plant in Blair, Neb." Cargill has an explicit policy to reject Roundup Ready corn at its Blair, Neb. facility since the European Union and other export markets won't accept this type of genetically engineered corn. The policy is posted on Cargill's Web site and in its e-mail newsletter to growers.

To avoid these problems, Monsanto requires growers to deliver its Roundup Ready corn to designated handlers. As of May 15, Koster Grain was not on the American Seed Trade Association's list of handlers that accept Roundup Ready corn (see - no www.).

"It appears that the USDA violated an Iowa farmer's grower agreement with Monsanto and they may have sold Cargill truckloads of corn that nobody would want to get caught using as food," said Lori Sokolowski a member of the Iowa Farmers Union.

The corn originated on the farm operated by Jerry Rosman, an Iowa farmer whose hogs suffered unexplained reproductive failure in 2000 and 2001. A lead researcher at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service in Ames, Iowa, wrote in August that, "one possible cause of this problem may be the presence of an unanticipated, biologically active, chemical compound within the corn." Researchers at Iowa State later released a statement saying that genetically engineered Bt corn was not the cause of swine reproductive failures experienced by numerous local farmers. The researchers did not conclude whether some other aspect of the corn was causing the problems.

"This is worse than USDA oversights involving biopharmaceutical corn contamination of soybeans last year. In this case, the USDA is the party responsible for putting a crop with a potentially harmful substance into food and feed channels," said Larry Bohlen, director of Health and Environment Programs at Friends of the Earth.

In a letter to the USDA last fall, FoE urgently appealed to USDA Secretary Veneman to obtain all of the corn to save it for science, as well as keep it off the market until researchers find the source of reproductive problems. The USDA wrote a response, Oct. 29, saying that USDA "scientists are testing the corn to determine if it contains a novel toxin that might impact swine production."

Then in a fax from FSA to Friends of the Earth Feb. 5, an FSA official claims that the USDA tested for one compound known to cause reproductive problems in lab animals and could not find it, but "did not test the samples for any other compounds." Farmer and environmental advocates have asked the USDA why the corn was sold before the mystery was solved and when they expect the investigation to be completed.

"At a time when independent hog farmers are struggling with record-low prices, they cannot afford to be impacted by a problem that has been largely ignored by the USDA. We hope that the USDA will take action before more farmers like Jerry Rosman are forced out of business," said Chris Bedford, Farm Animal and Sustainable Agriculture Campaign coordinator.

By a twist of legal fate, the USDA's FSA took possession of 19,000 bushels of corn from the 2001 Rolling R Farm harvest in Harlan, Iowa. It was used as collateral on a loan to the operation once managed by farmer Jerry Rosman. USDA officials in Washington, D.C., had directed the FSA to not sell the corn for food or feed. The FSA attempted in late 2002 to sell the corn for ethanol production to Tall Corn Ethanol, a local processor, which rejected it. A byproduct of ethanol is gluten, used in animal feed and human food, raising concern that any problem with the corn might enter the food chain. The FSA sale in February follows one it made in January of 950 bushels to G & R Grain and Feed Company of Portsmouth, Iowa.

The reproductive problem experienced by Rosman's sows is called pseudopregnancy and is characterized by false pregnancy, in which the animal exhibits the signs of pregnancy for a full term but carries no fetus. The Rolling R Farm is not the only operation to suffer the problem. According to IFU, which has been running radio announcements and print ads with HSUS in Farm News and Iowa Farmer Today (NE & NW editions) to assess the extent of the problem, more than 20 farmers have been impacted. The organizations continue to take calls from concerned farmers, and they plan to put these farmers in touch with researchers interested in solving the pregnancy problems.

Larry Bohlen, Director, Community Health and Environment Program,
(202) 783-7400 Ext. 251
Chris Bedford, HSUS,
240-432-7520 cell, 515-283-0777
Jerry Rosman,


Long-term Effects Issue Won't Go Away: FDA's Maryanski

Food Chemical News
May 26, 2003, Volume 45, Number 15
Stephen Clapp

The possibility that bioengineered foods might have adverse long-term health effects is an idea that keeps coming up, Jim Maryanski, biotechnology coordinator for FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, told a National Academies of Science committee last week.

We need to take another look at the science, Maryanski told the NAS Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health, which held its second meeting May 22. The committee, which was formed by the NAS Food and Nutrition Board, is jointly sponsored by FDA, USDA and EPA (see FCN, Jan. 13, Page 23).

We haven't considered a monitoring program per se, Maryanski continued. There is no endpoint we could look for. We think these foods are safe. There is no way to monitor unless there's a health issue we could identify and trace.

Maryanski appeared before the panel along with Bob Lake, CFSAN director of regulations and policy, and officials representing FDA s Center for Veterinary Medicine, USDA and EPA. They were asked to help clarify the committee s statement of task.

In its task statement, the committee was told to focus on:

" . . . Mechanisms by which unintended changes in the biochemical composition of food from common domesticated crops occur as a result of various conventional and genetic engineering plant breeding and propagation methods, and the extent to which these mechanisms are likely to lead to significant compositional changes in foods that would not be readily apparent without new or enhanced detection methods, and "

" . . . Methods to detect such changes in food, as warranted, and to determine their potential human health effects."

Ask questions first

Lake told the panel that FDA's primary desire is to resolve any public health issues before a product gets into the marketplace. Are there additional things we need to know? We need to ask questions during the up-front evaluation.

In principle, we're open to the idea of monitoring if there s a particular question that would warrant post-marketing surveillance, as we did with aspartame. But it s very difficult to do unless you ve got a particular endpoint you re looking for.

Lake and Maryanski said CFSAN s voluntary pre-market consultation process for bioengineered foods had worked quite well since it was instituted in 1992, but they acknowledged public concerns that led to the agency's proposing a mandatory consultation process two years ago. That proposal has yet to receive final approval (see FCN, March 17, Page 8).

Lake said FDA has not yet reached a decision on the 2001 mandatory biotech notification proposal because it continues to be a significant legal issue. Does FDA have the legal authority to require the companies to come in [for a safety consultation]? The food additive authority is there for things that don't fit the GRAS [generally recognized as safe] model.

Lake speculated that FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan would be asked to testify about mandatory biotech notification during budget hearings coinciding with the NAS committee meeting.

NAS committee members questioned language suggesting that they could look at long-terms effects of bioengineered plants and animals but not fish or microorganisms. Lake replied that the panel's task encompassed what people eat. If people eat it, it s within your purview.

However, Maryanski drew the line at animal feed, and a CVM official explained that the scope was meant to include cloned animals but not transgenic animals. CVM is currently preparing two risk assessments on cloned animals for public comment, one on animal safety and the other on human health effects. Final revisions to the drafts are not yet complete, she said.

We are interested in the safety of food, Maryanski explained. We asked the committee to look at the unintended effects of all foods, including those from conventional breeding. Is there anything unique about recombinant DNA that we should be aware of? We haven't found anything yet, but we decided to ask one more time.

Asked about the committee's charge to look at methods to detect changes in food that might affect human health, Lake responded, We want the right questions to ask of industry up front [during pre-market consultation]. What can we ask that we're not already asking? Methods of detection are less of a priority.

Committee member Sanford Miller, a former director of what is now CFSAN, asked the FDA officials to provide the panel with a list of questions already asked of industry during consultations. He was told that was possible.

Michael Schechtman, representing USDA, said the panel should ask, "Are these techniques more or less likely than conventional breeding to result in unintended effects? We want need-to-know data, not nice-to-know data."


GM Crops 'May Push Poorest Farmers Into Debt'

by Paul Waugh
Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Genetically modified crops will not tackle world hunger and could threaten the livelihoods of Third World farmers, a new study has said.

The report is published today by the charity ActionAid, before the start of the Government's long-awaited debate on GM next week.

US President George Bush claimed last week the EU had blocked efforts to use GM crops to fight famine because of "unfounded, unscientific fears".

But the research found that the new technology threatened to push poor farmers deeper into debt. Using evidence from Asia, Africa and Latin America, the report concludes that rather than alleviating world hunger, GM is likely to lead to more hungry people, not fewer. Matthew Lockwood, ActionAid's head of policy, said: "GM does not provide a magic bullet solution to world hunger."

Among the findings are that GM seeds are more suited to the needs of large-scale commercial, rather than poor farmers, and that expansion is driven by corporate profit of four multinationals - Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer CropScience and DuPont.

Farmers are not allowed to save GM seed from one harvest to the next. "Terminator technology", which produces sterile seeds, is also being developed. There is also "no consistent evidence" that GM crops yield more and require fewer chemicals.

In Pakistan, ActionAid has investigated how poor farmers have been enticed to buy GM cotton seeds. The results have been disappointing, with many farmers losing their crops.

The US biotech industry spends $250m a year promoting GM. "What is causing world hunger is poverty and inequality. Money would be far better spent tackling these problems than poured into GM technology," said Adriano Campolina Soares from ActionAid Brazil.


Monsanto GMO Wheat Far From Winning Market Okay

By Carey Gillam
Reuters 05.28.03
May 28, 2003

KANSAS CITY, Mo, May 28 (Reuters) - A genetically modified wheat strain under development by Monsanto Co. remains a significant threat to the worldwide grain industry, and appears to be gaining little acceptance in the market, U.S. industry players said this week.

On Tuesday Canada dealt a blow to Monsanto's progress toward commercializing the product, when the Canadian Wheat Board asked the company to withdraw its application for regulatory approval to prevent "significant and predictable economic harm."

In the United States, biotech wheat could cripple wheat sales. Foreign buyers have said they would be reluctant to buy from the United States if so-called GMO wheat is grown here. Environmental and consumer groups have recently increased their level of opposition to GMO foods, raising consumer awareness.

"The marketing issues have not been sufficiently addressed. Prior to commercialization of biotech wheat they need to be defined and acted upon," North American Export Grain Association president Gary Martin told Reuters.

Recently, U.S.-based food companies have begun spreading the same message, telling farm groups they will not allow the wheat to enter their grain elevators, flour mills or bakeries.

Betsy Faga, president of the North American Millers' Association, a trade group, said that "Greenpeace and other activists out there on this issue...could change consumer attitudes on a dime."

To soothe market fears, St. Louis-based Monsanto has pledged it will not release biotech wheat until it identifies willing buyers.

Still, some say they do not fully trust the company and have yet to see any aggressive moves by Monsanto to develop customer approval.

"Knowing what determines acceptance is the biggest problem," said the Millers' Association's Faga. "This is one of the most difficult issues to get our hands around."

Monsanto's herbicide-resistant wheat, grown in test plots in North Dakota, Montana and elsewhere, has been modified to tolerate glyphosate-based Roundup Ready weed killer, also made by Monsanto. It is designed to improve efficiencies for farmers, yielding a more profitable crop.

But farmers have not clamored for the technology. U.S. Wheat Associates, which markets U.S. wheat overseas, has repeatedly warned U.S. farmers that sales will be lost if the wheat is released into the commercial market.

Parts of Asia, Europe and elsewhere have already said they would abandon U.S. wheat if the GMO product comes to market. Wheat is the No. 1 exported grain in the world.

"I think at this point Monsanto is saying they want to have the scientific review take place, which they hope will convince consumers and customers there aren't any health problems," U.S. Wheat vice president Nelson Denlinger said.

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