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Nature: A Conclusion

By Nina Moliver

First they milled the flour, threw away the germ and the bran, and added a few vitamin extracts.
And I didn't speak up, because I eat whole grains.

Then they removed babies from the breast and fed them artificial formulas with cow's milk.
And I didn't speak up, because I breastfed my baby.

Then they laced the beef with hormones and antibiotics.
And I didn't speak up, because I don't eat beef

Then they fed the chickens artificial pellets and kept them from sunlight.
And I didn't speak up, because I don't eat chicken or eggs.

Then they marketed dairy produced by recombinant hormones and laced with dioxin and pesticides, and all the rats got cancer.
And I didn't speak up, because I don't eat dairy.

They they marketed fish contaminated with mercury, dioxin, and PCBs.
And I didn't speak up, because I don't eat fish.

Then they grew the vegetables with commercial fertilizer and sprayed them with pesticides.
And I didn't speak up, because I eat only organic vegetables.

Then they spliced the genes of the vegetables with toxic viruses, and the pollen from the vegetables blew into the organic gardens and contaminated the organic vegetables.
And I spoke up, because there was nothing left for me to eat.

spraying chemicals


"Agriscience Bus" Takes Teachers For a Ride

by Jane Garrison
Conscious Choice
November 2003

Big business interests are pushed in a program to teach educators about "agriculture"...their agriculture.

When the topic of genetically modified foods came up in the teachers' lounge one day, my friend Tom (not his real name) chimed in, "It's like when nectarines were made from peaches and plums." He said he had learned this on the "Agriscience Bus."

Having a working knowledge of genetically modified foods and knowing the fallacy of that analogy, I asked other previous Agriscience Bus participants about it. They all had the same impression, saying things like, "The course really opened my eyes to biotechnology" and "Some important biotech research is making big differences in improving the world's food supply." I asked whether any fellow course participants had brought up concerns over genetically modified organisms (GMOs). "Well, no," they answered, "it's hard to know what to ask when a geneticist is talking."

I took this as a sign that it was my time to take the Agriscience Bus tour.

Getting to the Kids via the Teachers

I first heard of "Teachers on an Agriscience Bus" about 12 years ago. Teachers in area school districts spend three days of their summer traveling to farms and other agriculture-related businesses west of Chicago.

The Agriscience Bus is an appealing three-day summer course offering guided tours of various agribusiness venues in a travel bus, comfortable overnight accommodations, generous meals, and the chance to hang out with colleagues. It's fully sponsored by local ag organizations and free to the teachers (with college and professional credit available for a tuition fee).

At our first meeting we were showered with stacks of class materials from every area ag-related organization I could imagine -- from the Illinois Pork Producers Association to the DuPage County Farm Bureau. We received beautiful posters for our classrooms, lesson plan ideas, and free samples.

Opening Message of the "Biotechnology Basics Activity Book"
(shown on our cover)

Hi Kids,

This is an activity book for young people like you about biotechnology -- a really neat topic. Why is it such a neat topic? Because biotechnology is helping to improve the health of the Earth and the people who call it home. In this book, you will take a closer look at biotechnology. You will see that biotechnology is being used to figure out how to: 1) grow more food; 2) help the environment; and 3) grow more nutritious food that improves our health. As you work through the puzzles in this book, you will learn more about biotechnology and all of the wonderful ways it can help people live better lives in a healthier world.

Have Fun!

sponsored by the Council For Biotechnology Information, an industry trade group

Included among these materials were copies of the AgMag and the Biotechnology Activity Book -- provided by Monsanto and the Council for Biotechnology Information and geared to children. Nothing aggravates me more than the assumption that teachers of children are willing and blind messengers of anything put in front of them. Having said that, these materials include statements such as, "My teacher says biotechnology is helping scientists make edible medicine!" and "Seeds with special qualities could allow farmers to grow plants that are more nutritious, more resistant to pests, and more productive."

I also learned at the meeting that 641 area teachers have participated in the Agriscience Bus since the course tour started in 1991. Creation of this teacher "education" was based on a perceived need for agricultural literacy among young school students -- and it was decided the best way to reach the students was through teachers.

Several highly-regarded and dedicated area farmers had been involved in the development of this bus tour program. So, I asked myself, could this really be a "corporate conspiracy"? Good people had put it together. Nonetheless, literally, tens of thousands of kids were getting its message as a result of this teacher education program.

No Room for Dissent

Nearly all of the tour stops focused on "advanced technological aspects" of the agriculture industry -- which meant biotechnology and factory farms.

Still, it didn't come as a surprise to me that 80 percent of the grain fed to most hogs is genetically modified or that the mass production of meat means that a sow typically produces five artificially inseminated litters of 8-11 pigs before her productivity declines.

Neither was I surprised that the farmers I met are thoughtful and intelligent people of high character who possess a sense of responsibility for the population as well as for the environment. I already knew these things.

The surprise came on the bus. Our instructor was a friendly guy who directs our county's farm bureau. His blend of agriculture and political science experience made him perfect for his job. Our tight schedule didn't allow much time for group discussions so he suggested that we talk together on the bus. Yet when I indicated that I would like to discuss the controversy over genetically modified crops, the friendliness switched to off. He snapped, "Not on this bus. Not while we're paying for it. That's not on the syllabus."

So much for post-graduate course work that engages in lively debate! It was clear that the only way we teachers were going to hear the arguments against GMOs was if they were discussed "off the bus." Fat chance. Monsanto was our next stop.

Our tour of Monsanto's research facility began with a "wagon ride" out to the test soybean fields. Our guide, a charming Brazilian scientist sang the praises of "Roundup Ready" soybeans and Bt (GMO) corn. "Farmers can now spend their summers in Florida instead of in their fields pulling weeds," he happily exclaimed.

When I asked how non-GMO farmers keep their fields from being contaminated by GMO pollen, his explanation stressed the technology's approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency (how could the government be wrong?!). He admitted that 1-2 percent of pollen could conceivably make its way to neighboring plants -- but that planting 15 days after the GMO crops are planted helps alleviate the chances of contamination.

A more formal presentation followed, presented by a plaid shirt-clad geneticist who attempted to approach the GMO controversy head-on, relating its nickname of "Frankenfood" with a chuckle and pointing out that the European refusal to legalize GMOs was purely political and economic manipulation intended to drive down U.S. GMO prices. One teacher asked about the monarch butterfly research and he discredited it as "poorly planned and irrelevant...that test did not take into account the timing of monarchs' milkweed diet with the GMO plants' pollen dispersal." Another teacher brought up the StarLink/Taco Bell issue, and his explanation emphasized the "very small" probability that GMO corn could cause a problem.

"So what's the big controversy?" queried one teacher.

"People don't like the idea that there are food products that have DNA from another organism," he replied. "There is no concern that human bodies cannot break down the Bt [GMOS]." (See sidebar story for another view.)

The polite side of me was saying, "Stay in your seat, Jane." But the "know thyself" side made me stand up. I was aware of the lack of research pointing to human safety and, in a bold move, I piped up to make this point citing Monsanto's "Right to Know" safety sign, prominently displayed on the wall of the pole barn in which we were seated.

Our speaker acknowledged that long-term effects on health and the environment are not known and that Monsanto directs millions of dollars toward lobbying the Food and Drug Administration to prevent the labeling of GMO foods. I told him that it's unconscionable that the public is serving as guinea pigs in this giant human experiment, and we have no idea how GMOs will effect us, our children, our grandchildren, and ecosystems.

There was no response from our speaker; there was no response from the audience.

Later, a teacher quietly suggested that I shop at Whole Foods Market. Another teacher said she was interested in more information about GMOs and a friend teasingly called me "gutsy." My bus partner, a young social sciences teacher of like mind, quietly thanked me. On the other hand, our bus guide remarked that I didn't have to "put down" our host; that "we do the best we can with what we have." And later, in a course evaluation a participant wrote, "Some teachers are clueless as to proper behavior."

However, in that same evaluation, someone suggested a trip to an organic farm and another pointed out the importance of discussing the ethics of biotechnology, neither of which had been addressed during the tour.

The last stop of that day was an award-winning feedlot farm, on which hundreds of cattle are fed until ready for market. This business -- run by a respected, close-knit local family -- is state-of-the-art with everything from Global Positioning Satellite on its tractors to ultrasound testing for predicting optimum cattle size for quality cuts of meat.

The impact of consumer demand was glaringly clear on this factory farm -- Holstein cattle, known as dairy cattle, are now raised and butchered for beef because Wal-Mart customers are scrambling for the unique shape of their rib eyes. The farm grows a field of non-GMO soybeans to sell to the European market. "This is a capitalist country and we're in the business of making food for people," explained one of the farmers. "If consumers demand something -- and we can provide it safely and legally while making a profit -- we'll produce it."

The Media Package

The tour served to show that the power of the biotech industry and industry giants such as Monsanto is far-reaching -- and that local Chicago media play a big part in that. For instance, one of our tour stops was at WGN-AM, known for its local color and syndicated farm reports and owned by the Chicago Tribune Company. On our last day, we met the two gentlemen with memorable voices who present WGN's daily farm reports, broadcast nationwide. A teacher asked, "What are some of the most controversial issues facing agriculture today?"

"Some amazing and wonderful things are being done with biotechnology," one of the reporters replied. "Most of the protests are emotion-based; you don't hear much concern in the U.S. In fact, the most recent protest had only about 600 people. That's compared to how many million U.S. citizens who have no problem with it?"

Is there a chance that Monsanto is a WGN client?

One of the stated objectives of the three-day tour is "to provide relevant teaching and curriculum materials that be integrated into various subject matter disciplines."

It could be a tough row to hoe if a teacher comes away not wanting to integrate the ideas espoused during the Agriscience Bus tour. Why? Participating teachers must make this commitment: "ALL staff will be required to develop curriculum materials using information obtained from the trip program."

Jane Garrison, mother of two, teaches fourth grade in a west Chicago suburb.

The Reluctant Activist: Teacher Jane Garrison

A couple of weeks before the completion of this cover story, Jane Garrison wrote me, "I'm getting cold feet about this project! I'm committed to the article being printed but I'm nervous about its reception among colleagues in my own school district."

To make her more comfortable we agreed to exclude references to her suburban Chicago school district or people and organizations she works closely with. "I don't want to demean or jeopardize the integrity of it [the Agriscience Bus course] or some of the very good people behind it," Garrison remarks. "I don't mind being considered 'outspoken' or 'activist,' I just don't want to be considered sneaky, untrustworthy, or a jerk!"

Hardly. In working with Jane Garrison to tell her story, I found her to be a woman of integrity, sincerity, and "heart" -- the kind of person you'd want teaching your kids. Put yourself in her shoes, and imagine standing up against an industry-backed campaign -- deeply imbedded in the culture, I might add -- that's bent on convincing you of something you know carries untruths.

Garrison is not a professional writer but as she told me, "the [Agriscience Bus] experience motivated me to write...I've emphasized what I see as the problem areas, particularly with regard to manipulating what teachers are exposed to about biotech."

-- Rebecca Ephraim


Beware Monsanto's Soybeans - Assessment Flawed

Pacific Ecologist
Friday, 14 November 2003

Monsanto’s safety assessment application to the Japanese health ministry for Roundup Ready soybeans was "inadequate and incomplete", according to assistant professor Masaharu Kawata, of Nagoya University, Japan.

Monsanto maintains there is no difference between GM soybeans and conventional strains. But according to the Japanese study, Monsanto’s safety tests misrepresent data and included testing proteins not derived from the GM plant; insufficient feeding experiments; and intentional neglect of "inappropriate" data. Since the components of the GE soybean that people are eating are still unknown, governments who have approved the GE soybean should review their safety assessments.

Tested soybeans not exposed to herbicide

Commercial crops of Roundup Ready soybeans are usually sprayed with the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate). However, both the genetically modified soybean strain and the parent strain that Monsanto used for feed tests were NOT sprayed with Roundup herbicide during cultivation. Monsanto produced a minimal amount of soybeans grown with applications of Roundup, but only enough to test for glyphosate residues. This testing checked for residual glyphosate, a toxin that kills plants by inhibiting a plant enzyme , in the harvested forage, hay and seed. But testing was not done on the effects on other metabolic pathways which must also be taken into account when such artificial genes are inserted.

Several tons of soybeans used in the safety assessments were not produced with Roundup. No explanation is given for this in the documents. For consumers, the test results obtained by using a sample grown differently from the GE- marketed soybean are meaningless.

GE soybean amino acid sequence unknown

The protein Monsanto analysed was from E.coli, not from RoundUp ready soybeans! Testing assumed the protein expressed in the bio-engineered soybean has the same amino acid sequence as the soil bacterium E coliform from wh ich the genetically engineered gene was extracted. This can only be verified when the soybeanproduced protein is isolated and the amino acid sequence is determined. Exchanging genes between bacteria and a higher organism can sometimes result in partial change of amino acid and/or post-translational modification after expression. It was presumed Monsanto had determined the amino acid sequence of the GE soybean but it had not.

Monsanto sequenced only 15 amino acids from the protein that was expressed in E. coliform. The rest of the sequence was an assumption about the sequence of the bacterial DNA. They determined only 3.3% of the expected t otal of 455 amino acids and the protein is not from soybeans. The test described in the documents is the only method to verify antigenic equivalence of proteins. But antigenic similarity itself does not prove that the am ino acid sequences are the same. The real sequence of the GE protein in the soybean that we are eating is still unknown.

Animal tests used wrong protein

Acute toxicity tests on rats were also carried out using the protein produced by E. coliform. Monsanto says in the application that extracting large amounts of the GE protein from soybean is difficult. This is an unaccept able excuse because there is a possibility that the inserted gene works differently in soybean than in the original bacterium. Moreover, according to the application document, 0.238mg of GE protein is detected in one gram of genetically modified soybean, which is enough to extract without difficulty.

This kind of problem could be resolved if all the amino acid sequence in GM soybeans had been sequenced and confirmed equal as the bacterium. The experiment appears to have been conducted on the presumption that the other GE soybean proteins are the same as the non-GM soybean as long as they are not toxic. If so, this is too easy an assumption and a one-sided approach. The core of this problem is whether or not the soybean gene is affecte d by insertion of a foreign gene. The series of experiments described are fundamentally invalid.

Minimal feeding tests

Animal feeding tests are important for safety assessment. Monsanto conducted these experiments on rats, cows, chickens, catfish and quail. However, the scale of the experiments was very inadequate. For example, in rat exp eriments, raw and toasted soybeans both genetically modified and non-modified were fed to only 10 rats in each group and the feeding period was only 28 days. Toxicity across generations or chronic toxicity will not be mea sured by such limited experiments.

Even with these far from satisfactory experiments, the data for body and organ weight of liver, kidney and testicles show obvious differences in the male rats between groups fed wild strain soybean and those fed bio-engin eered soybean.

Raw soybean-fed groups showed no difference. But male groups fed toasted GE soybean, weighed 6.7% less than the group fed the ordinary soybean and 13% less than the group fed the commercial feed-mix at the end of the tes t period of 28 days. Though this difference is described as statistically significant in the data sheet, the conclusion ignores these results and states that "no statistical significance is observed."

The experiments were far from satisfactory both in the samples and the statistical method used. The Nagoya University group transcribed all raw data and redid the statistical analysis. The result again showed the apparent growth obstacle for the body and kidney weight in the male rats group fed toasted GE soybean. There was no such difference in the female rats group, possibly due to the amount of the feed intake. Where males took 25-30g /day, female rats took only 18-20g (approx. 70% of male)/day. It is highly possible that female rats would also show significant growth difference if the experiment was conducted on a much larger scale, with a longer feed ing period.

Misinterpretation, false conclusions, ignored data

The Japanese researchers found clearly intentional misinterpretation in the Monsanto assessment. This was caused through ignoring the differences shown in the documents between the ordinary soybean and the GE hybrid. Obvi ous differences appeared after toasting at actual feed processing condition (108 degrees celsius, 30min). While the concentration of total protein and potassium was not changed, the concentration of trypsin-inhibitor, ure ase, and lectin were significantly higher in the toasted GM soybean, compared to that of the normal soybean. These physiologically active substances remained active even after heat treatment in the genetically modified so ybean. However, those in the herbicide-sensitive normal bean were easily denatured and inactivated.

Monsanto took this result to mean "the modified soybeans are not toasted sufficiently in the experiment" and returned and asked for re-treatment of the sample to Texas A & M laboratory who processed the beans. Monsanto or dered the temperature of re-toast at 220 degrees Celsius for 25min, which is considerably higher than normal processing of 100 degrees Celsius, 10 minutes. However re-toasting further widened the difference in the activit y between the two strains. Another genetically modified soybean inserted with a bacterial gene, also showed high heat-resistant properties.

Scientists would usually conclude by these results that there is substantial difference between the two. But Monsanto dared to challenge this common practice and concluded the second toasting was still not enough. In the end, they toasted two more times and got the result they wanted, i.e. all proteins were denatured and inactivated. With this result, they concluded that genetically modified and non-modified soybeans have equivalent prope rties.

No protein can withstand repeated heat treatment and stay active. This is common knowledge of protein chemistry. Monsanto based their argument on their presumption that "they can't be different" and their need that "they shouldn't be different." Their translation of the experiment is based on "the conclusion is safe" attitude but it is not at all scientific.

Monsanto asks governments to lower safety standards

Adopting the Roundup tolerant soybean would increase the herbicide concentration in the soybean plants and seeds, because the herbicide is directly sprayed on the plant before harvest. Monsanto studied in detail the resu lts of changing factors like spraying times, concentration of the active ingredient glyphosate, duration of harvest after spraying and growing locations.

The data shows clearly that the concentration of glyphosate and AMPA (a degraded substance of glyphosate) in forage and hay was increased greatly by post-emergence application of the herbicide compared to that of conventi onal pre-emergence application, although the residual concentration in the plant differed from place to place. The largest value of the combined glyphosate and AMPA was 40.187 ppm in forage which is higher than the US saf ety standard of 15 ppm in forage and hay in 1994 when FDA and USDA accepted the application documents.

In the final conclusion, Monsanto says: "the maximum combined glyphosate and AMPA residue level of approximately 40 ppm in soybean forage resulting from these new uses, exceeds the currently established tolerance of 15 pp m. Therefore, an increase in the combined glyphosate and AMPA tolerance for residues in soybean forage will be requested."

The US tolerance standard of combined glyphosate and AMPA in soybean forage was increased to 100 ppm after they approved the GM soybean. The Japanese government also revised the safety standard of combined glyphosate and AMPA in soybean seed from 6ppm to 20ppm in April 2000 at the request of the US government. By legalising the increase, Japan could import soybeans from the US without violating the law.


Monsanto patch-worked the results of experiments with analyses that are full of holes, and manipulated the results. They even requested the revision and lowering of safety standards. The Nagoya University team discovered facts showing inadequate and incomplete safety assessment in the application document by Monsanto. The process of genetic recombination and the results of other animal experiments remained uninspected by the team.

In May 2000, Monsanto informed countries importing US soybeans that Roundup resistant soybeans had two extra gene fragments in the genome. They were there when the US FDA gave the initial approval to the GE soybeans in 19 92. All the GE soybeans supplied worldwide contain these gene fragments. Monsanto asserts that these fragmented genes do not create unknown proteins.

But for such basic facts to come to light eight years after the approval is a clear indication of how incomplete is the state of knowledge about the genetic recombination of crops.. It also demonstrates how dangerous it is for governments to rely on a commercial company’s information for data and safety assessments. We question the wisdom of experts at the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare who concluded that the genetically engine ered Roundup Ready soybean was safe, based on such an inadequate and incomplete application.

Postscript: In a note to the editor early August 2003, Professor Kawata said the research on the Monsanto soybean application was sent to Japan’s Agriculture and Fisheries Ministry two years ago. However there has been no response from the authority about the flaws discovered in the application, and Professor Kawata still awaits a response from Monsanto-Japan.

Masaharu Kawata is Assistant Professor at the School of Science, Nagoya University, Japan This article was written in May 2001 and has been slightly adapted for publication in Pacific Ecologist. More English articles written by Masaharu Kawata, can be read on GMO Information Service Japan (GISJ):


GM Crops: A Continent Divided

by Ehsan Masood
Nature 426: 224 - 226
November 20, 2003

African activists, backed by wealthy supporters in the United States and Europe, are locked in combat over the merits of transgenic crops. Ehsan Masood tracks the people, the politics and the cash behind the campaigns.

When Jocelyn Webster was asked by a South African reporter for her opinion on "genetically modified orgasms", she was exasperated but not surprised. For Webster, who heads the pro-biotech campaigning group AfricaBio, this question was just one more symptom of the endemic misunderstanding about transgenic technologies in Africa.

Africa is emerging as one of the front lines in the battle for acceptance of genetically modified (GM) foods. Webster believes that transgenic agriculture is vital in the fight against world hunger, and AfricaBio, along with agribiotech companies and other pro-biotech campaigners, is now fighting tooth and nail, often by somewhat controversial methods, to spread the word about GM crops. But the anti-GM lobby is equally powerful and vociferous, and vast amounts of money are flowing in to Africa in support of both sides of the argument, as the various parties try to influence policy-makers and the public.

For AfricaBio, a coalition of scientists and companies based in South Africa, the idea is to improve GM's image - perhaps with good reason. Today, some 200 million people in sub-Saharan Africa don't know where their next meal will come from, and the problem will not be going away. Despite international aid to feed the hungry, Africa will still have 183 million undernourished citizens by 2030, according to a report published by the UN Millennium Hunger Task Force this year. AfricaBio is one group among many that believes transgenic crops, modified so that they will grow in salty soils or conditions of drought, offer a solution to starvation.

But the group's methods would be considered in some countries to be blatant media manipulation. Webster talks about training journalists how to report GM stories, telling them that the term 'genetically improved' is more accurate than 'genetically modified'. In early 2003 she hosted a press briefing where the journalists were fed GM fritters without knowing it. The idea, Webster says matter-of-factly, was to demonstrate that GM food tastes just the same as conventional fare, and does no harm. She claims that the journalists were amused and there were no angry headlines in the next day's papers.

Although Webster stresses the role of GM crops in improving nutrition in Africa, there are wider issues at stake for companies such as the US- based agribiotech giant Monsanto, which is one of the funding sources of AfricaBio. If GM crops can be sold as the way to feed the starving, there could be a subtle shift in the political landscape worldwide, making GM food more acceptable to consumers in Europe and elsewhere.

On the other side of the fence, opponents of GM crops are just as determined to keep them out of Africa. Over the past few years, international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in development, such as Oxfam, Christian Aid and Action Aid, have joined their environmentalist cousins from Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth in lobbying against GM in both Europe and Africa. Their extensive network of international media contacts has helped them to generate publicity for their views in a relatively short time.

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