SOC/BIO: Green Reporting on "Anti-Frankenfoods" Campaigning

Date: Sat Feb 12 2000 - 10:49:57 MST

> BioDemocracy News #24 February 2000 (formerly CFS News)
> News and Analysis on Genetic Engineering, Factory Farming, & Organics
> by: Ronnie Cummins
> BioDemocracy Campaign <>
> A Project of the Organic Consumers Association
> __________________________________________________________________
> Frankenfoods Fight in North America: Consumers Organize & Industry Strikes
> Quotes of the Month:
> "Gene Grabowski [US Grocery Manufacturers Association] described December
> [1999] as a month of conflict with genetic engineering's opponents. 'They
> hit us with everything they had, and they couldn't put us down,' said
> Grabowski... 'Now, we strike back.' " Quoted by Bill Lambrecht in the St.
> Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 9, 2000.
> "With the controversy over genetically modified foods spreading across the
> globe and taking a toll on the stocks of companies with
> agricultural-biotechnology businesses, it's hard to see those companies as
> a good investment, even in the long term." The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 7,
> 2000.
> __________________________________________________________________
> Corporate Target of the Month:
> Frito-Lay (corn chips). In the US call their toll free line 1-800-352-4477.
> Tell them you'll boycott their products unless they can guarantee you in
> writing that their corn chips do not contain genetically engineered
> ingredients.
> __________________________________________________________________
> Blows Against the Empire: From Oakland to Montreal
> Less than two weeks after "The Battle of Seattle," on December 13, 1999
> the Organic Consumers Association managed to organize, with the support of
> a new national coalition called GEAN (Genetic Engineering Action Network),
> a noon street protest of over a thousand people outside Food and Drug
> Administration hearings on genetically engineered foods in Oakland,
> California. The New York Times (Dec. 14) correctly identified the protest
> as "the largest rally ever in the United States against the use of genetic
> engineering in food." In the week leading up to the protest the OCA
> telephone bank called 10,000 contacts in the San Francisco Bay area, while
> GEAN volunteers handed out 20,000 leaflets to consumers in front of
> supermarkets and natural food grocery stores. Both over the telephone and
> in the streets, the reaction of Californians to our "Say No to
> Frankenfoods" message was overwhelmingly positive. There is no longer any
> doubt that the global controversy over genetically engineered foods and
> crops has spread to the USA.
> Five weeks later on Jan. 22 in sub-zero temperatures, a thousand spirited
> demonstrators marched through the streets of Montreal, denouncing the
> governments of the so-called "Miami Group" (the US, Canada, Australia,
> Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay) for trying to subvert a Biosafety Treaty
> that would regulate the multi-billion dollar international trade in
> genetically engineered foods and organisms. Chanting "Life before
> profits!" and "We will not be guinea pigs," an internationalist contingent,
> mobilized by Greenpeace and the Council of Canadians, called for a global
> moratorium on gene-foods and crops. At a news conference the day before, a
> protester threw a pie in the face of Joyce Groote, the genetic engineering
> industry's top lobbyist in Canada.
> But street protests in Oakland and Montreal are just the most visible signs
> of increasing resistance in North America. Since the last issue of
> BioDemocracy News, the Gene Giants and the Miami Group have suffered a
> number of setbacks, including the following:
> * On Dec. 14 headline news stories reported that Jeremy Rifkin's Foundation
> on Economic Trends, joined by the National Family Farm Coalition, had filed
> a federal lawsuit against the Monsanto corporation, alleging that Monsanto
> had engaged in monopolistic business practices and had commercialized
> genetically altered crops without first ensuring they were safe for
> consumers and the environment.
> * In late-December Credit Suisse First Boston, one of the world's largest
> and most influential financial advisors, categorized the agbiotech industry
> as suffering from "negative momentum," pointing out that major food
> corporations are running scared and that "if anyone is in control it
> appears to be environment and consumer groups."
> * In a long-anticipated move, Monsanto's major stockholders forced the
> company in December into a planned merger with pharmaceutical giant
> Pharmacia & Upjohn and to spin off its controversial, debt-ridden agbiotech
> division into a separate company. As the Wall Street Journal stated Dec.
> 21 the planned merger "is likely not only to push biotech to the back
> burner, but also to cost Monsanto its independence..." The
> Monsanto-Pharmacia merger comes on the heels of a similar move by European
> life science giants Novartis and AstraZeneca last year, who combined their
> agbiotech divisions together in order to sell them off, "effectively
> washing their hands of crop biotechnology," according to the Journal. For
> more information see: <>
> * Reuters news service reported on Jan. 13 in a straw poll that US farmers
> plan to "cut back sharply" on planting genetically engineered soybeans,
> corn, and cotton this year, in response to the growing global backlash
> against GE foods. Farmers told Reuters to expect reductions of 15% in
> RoundUp Ready soybeans, 22 % for RoundUp Ready corn, 24 % for Bt corn, and
> 26 % for Bt cotton.
> * Media coverage of the gene-foods controversy continued to increase
> substantially in both the United States and Canada (as well as other
> nations) in the last quarter of 1999. Estimates last fall, based on
> computer-based searches of news articles, indicated up to a six-fold
> increase in news stories on genetically engineered foods in North America
> in 1999 as compared to 1998.
> * On Dec. 30 Bloomberg News reported that Whole Foods and Wild Oats,
> the two largest natural food supermarket chains in the US, plan to ban
> genetically engineered ingredients from their hundreds of private-label
> products. The two companies have combined sales of almost two billion
> dollars annually. Whole Foods owns 103 stores in 22 states and Washington,
> D.C., and has more than 600 products carrying its own brand name. Wild Oats
> operates 110 stores in 22 states and British Columbia, with 700 products
> under its own brand. The move puts pressure on other major US food chains
> and manufacturers to offer GE-free or certified organic products. Organic
> food--the only US food currently guaranteed to be GE-free--is the
> fastest-growing and most profitable segment of American agriculture, with
> projected sales this year of $6.6 billion, representing 1.5% of all grocery
> retail sales in the US. In a 1997 poll by Novartis, 54% of American
> consumers said they would like to see organic become the predominant form
> of agricultural production in the US.
> * In late-January leading US corn chip manufacturer Frito-Lay, a subsidiary
> of PepsiCo Inc., announced that they were sending out new contracts to
> their corn suppliers, asking them not to use genetically engineered corn.
> The news unnerved the pro-biotech Farm Bureau, who accused Frito-Lay--like
> Gerber and Heinz baby foods last July-- of "caving in" to US anti-biotech
> activists. Frito-Lay's move also disturbed their competitors, one of whom
> was quoted in the Washington Post on February 6: "If you're one of Frito's
> competitors you're saying, 'what are they up to?... Are they getting ready
> to jump out from behind a bush and bash us with a label,' boasting that
> they are free of genetically engineered ingredients?" Frito-Lay is one of
> the primary targets of a new "Frankenfoods 15" boycott campaign being
> organized by the Organic Consumers Association and Friends of the Earth.
> For a copy of our Frankenfoods 15 leaflet in printable format see:
> <>
> According to Simon Harris, California field organizer for the OCA,
> Frito-Lay's recent moves are "a sign that they're getting nervous." But
> Harris also warns that "Frito-Lay has gone only half way. They've admitted
> that their corn contracts are only applicable to 95% of their suppliers,
> that they can't guarantee that their cooking oils are GE-free, and have
> stated that they have no plans for labeling their products. Until Frito-Lay
> goes all the way and announces that they will start enforcing 'no-GE
> contracts' with all their suppliers and labeling their products as free of
> genetically engineered ingredients, they will remain at the top of our
> Frankenfoods 15 boycott list."
> * Farmers Weekly (a UK newspaper) reported on Feb. 4 that a US expert on
> potatoes, Oscar Gutbrod from Oregon State University, speaking at the Agra
> Europe Potato 2000 conference in Rome, stated that USA fast-food giants
> McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's were refusing to accept genetically
> engineered potatoes for their french fries. Informed sources have told
> BioDemocracy News that McDonald's has binding contracts with at least some,
> and perhaps all, of their US potato suppliers prohibiting the use of
> Monsanto's Bt-spliced potatoes. However, McDonald's, another of our
> Frankenfoods 15 boycott targets, has refused to send the OCA their policy
> on GE potatoes in writing. And as Gutbrod noted in his speech in Rome,
> even if America's fast-food giants have quietly banned Frankenfries from
> their kitchens, the grease that they're fried in is routinely derived from
> GE corn, cottonseed, and soya.
> * A federal judge ruled on January 19 that the US Environmental Protection
> Agency must "respond" within 60 days to the charges in a lawsuit on
> Bt-spliced crops filed by attorneys for the Center for Food Safety (CFS).
> In February 1999, CFS, Greenpeace, and a coalition of over 70 plaintiffs,
> including the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements,
> sued the EPA, charging the agency with the wanton destruction of the
> world's most important biological pesticide--Bt. Non-GE Bt sprays have been
> used sparingly by organic farmers for years, but are now under threat from
> "superpests" engendered by genetically engineered crops. The lawsuit calls
> for all Bt crops to be pulled off the market. Bt corn, cotton, and potatoes
> make up approximately 25% of the global acreage of GE crops. See:
> <>
> * The US, Canada, and Argentina--who produce almost 99% of the world's GE
> crops-- failed in their efforts to prevent any regulation whatsoever of
> international trade in genetically engineered foods, crops, medicines, and
> organisms at the Biosafety Treaty meeting in Montreal in January. However
> the Biosafety Protocol that emerged from Montreal is at best a partial
> victory. Bulk commodities shipments, seeds, and animal feeds will have to
> be labeled as containing GMOs (genetically modified organisms), but not for
> at least two years, and even then vague labels will say "this product may
> contain" rather than giving specific information. GE and non-GE crops will
> not be required to be segregated in growing areas and in shipping and
> packaging, and individual food products (cooking oils, meat)--as opposed to
> bulk grain or seed shipments--will not have to be labeled at all. In
> addition the Protocol will have to be balanced and made congruent--in legal
> terms--with WTO trade regulations. Countries will be allowed to impose
> import restrictions on GMOs, but only on the basis of so-called "sound
> science."
> * North American liquor giant Seagram announced on January 21 that they
> will not be accepting any genetically engineered corn or other grains next
> year.
> * US Under Secretary of Commerce David Aron stated at an international
> trade conference in the Netherlands on Jan. 21 that US exporters are
> willing to meet the EU's one percent threshold on labeling food products
> containing genetically engineered ingredients, although he told Reuters
> "labeling will actually undermine confidence in products, in government,
> and in the regulatory process."
> * Direct action. The clandestine Earth Liberation Front sabotaged an
> agbiotech lab at Michigan State University on Dec. 31, causing $400,000 in
> damages. On Jan. 21 "Anti Genetix" activists uprooted genetically
> engineered strawberries in a test plot near Watsonville, California. The
> Watsonville "decontamination" incident is the 21st known action taken
> against genetically engineered crops and multinational biotechnology
> corporations in the last year in North America. It occurred just a week
> after a raid on a Federal Biotech facility in Albany, California in which
> transgenic wheat was destroyed.
> Counterpunch: The Biotech Industry Strikes Back
> As we mentioned in the last issue of BioDemocracy News, the agbiotech
> industry has launched an unprecedented multi-million dollar PR campaign to
> counteract the growing power of the anti-GE movement across the globe. As
> Edward Shonsey, CEO of Novartis told the New York Times last year,
> anti-genetic engineering campaigners have "crossed the boundaries of
> reasonableness, and now it's up to us to protect and defend biotechnology."
> To protect and defend Frankenfoods, Novartis has launched a new website
> <> where, among other things, you can send off
> for a bumper sticker and auto license plate holder inscribed with the
> slogan "We Back Biotech."
> As Canadian activist Brewster Kneen points out in his excellent newsletter,
> The Ram's Horn <> the biotech industry has "turned
> hysterical over the loss of control over the media" and has launched an
> all-out effort to discredit its critics and brainwash the public. As the
> Ram's Horn (Jan. 2000) puts it: "The flood of well-programmed
> letters-to-the-editor, op-ed pieces, and planted articles spewing the party
> line on the wonders of biotech and decrying what they describe as the
> malicious intentions of those who resist it, is obviously not spontaneous."
> In addition to its PR and media campaign, the agbiotech lobby has recently
> gone on the offensive:
> * Reuters reported Jan. 28 that agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland
> Co. had reversed its four-month-old company position on requiring farmers
> to segregate genetically engineered corn and soybeans. ADM Chairman G.
> Allen Andreas told the Chicago Tribune that "the pendulum is beginning to
> turn back" on the controversy surrounding GE crops.
> * The US Chamber of Commerce, which represents 3 million businesses,
> announced in early January that they were becoming a member of the
> pro-biotech trade association, the Alliance for Better Foods. Bill Kovacs,
> the Chamber's vice-president for environmental and regulatory affairs, told
> the Omaha [Nebraska] World-Herald Jan. 5 "We are trying to raise the
> awareness of the business community that if you permit an assault on this
> technology, you are really opening the door for an assault on all
> technology."
> * Thirty-five powerful industry groups, including the National Association
> of Manufacturers, the Farm Bureau, the National Food Processors
> Association, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the Grocery Manufacturers
> Association, told a US Congressional subcommittee Jan. 28 not to require
> labeling or safety-testing of genetically engineered foods. Mandatory
> labels would "send the misleading message that the government is not
> confident of the safety of the U.S. food supply," the groups stated.
> Specifically the 35 groups told Congress not to support a mandatory
> labeling bill introduced last year by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio
> Democrat. Kucinich's bill currently has several dozen Congressional
> co-sponsors.
> * Cargill, the nation's largest grain buyer, reaffirmed in December that
> it would accept genetically engineered crops at all of it grain elevators
> across North America.
> Cargill's announcement "settled down the market," according to Sano Shimoda
> BioScience Securities, a brokerage and investment banking firm in the San
> Francisco Bay area. "Farmers are [now] feeling a lot more comfortable
> planting genetically enhanced seed varieties," Shimodo told the Minneapolis
> Star-Tribune Jan.17. According to the Tribune "some analysts who advise
> farm-commodity traders in Chicago are softening predictions they made last
> fall that farmers would back away from the new varieties. This GMO acreage
> may not be down as much as we had thought when the hype and concern was
> intensifying last fall," said Rich Feltes, an analyst for Refco Inc. of
> Chicago.
> * Monsanto announced Jan. 17 major plans for expanding GE cotton
> cultivation in China. According to a Monsanto press release there are
> already two million farmers in China growing Bt cotton, while 2000
> scientists in 137 labs across the country are working on new biotech crops.
> * The Farm Bureau published poll results on Jan. 11--reprinted in
> newspapers all across the United States--which supposedly found that
> "Nearly three-fourths of American consumers would support genetically
> modified crops if the technology means farmers can reduce pesticide use."
> Of course as BioDemocracy News has previously pointed out, even official
> USDA statistics for 1997-98 show that farmers planting GE crops have not
> reduced their use of pesticides, and in fact in many cases are using more.
> See <>The Farm Bureau poll follows in the wake
> of a number of other rather dubious polls purporting to prove that American
> consumers support agbiotech. For an expose of the American biotech
> industry's favorite pollster Thomas Hoban, see
> <>
> * On Jan. 12, at a public meeting in Spokane, Washington, Dr. Michael
> Phillips, a spokesperson for the Biotechnology Industry Organization,
> announced that legislation will be introduced in Congress to make it a
> federal crime to trespass on or damage experimental agricultural test plots
> of genetically engineered crops.
> * U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman reaffirmed on Jan. 10 that the
> federal government is not likely to require U.S. food companies and grocery
> stores to put labels on genetically engineered foods. At a press conference
> in Washington, Glickman stated "I, at this stage, do not see any of what I
> call mandatory or
> regulatory activities taking place from the government which will order
> anybody to do anything with respect to these issues, whether it's labeling
> or anything else."
> * On Feb. 4, ABC national TV aired a program attacking the safety of
> organic food, alleging that animal manure-based compost fertilizers used on
> organic farms are contributing factors to America's ongoing E-coli food
> poisoning epidemic, and that claims that organic foods are safer and more
> nutritious than conventional foods are fraudulent. The "20-20" news program
> was directed by the infamous anti-environmental TV journalist, John
> Stossel, aided and abetted by agbiotech's favorite "scientific expert,"
> Dennis Avery. For an expose of Dennis Avery see the back issue of this
> newsletter on our website (CFS News #16) or else the current issue of PR
> Watch <>
> What's Next on the FDA Frankenfoods Agenda?
> After reviewing recent industry documents as well as talking with our
> sources in Washington, BioDemocracy News expects the Clinton
> Administration--possibly within the next 60 days--to unveil a new
> three-pronged program of proposed federal regulations on gene-foods. These
> regulations will be carefully packaged so as to confuse the public, blunt
> growing anti-biotech activism, and create the false impression that
> Washington and the biotech industry are willing to respect consumer choice
> and safety concerns over genetically engineered foods. Our predictions are
> that Clinton and Gore, backed by the giants of the food industry, will soon:
> * Call for "voluntary" industry labeling of genetically engineered foods.
> In other words food manufacturers and supermarkets will be allowed to tell
> you--if they want to--that "this product may have been improved through
> modern biotechnology" or something like that. In addition some companies,
> following the pattern of Frito-Lay, will issue vague statements that their
> products, or most of their products, are GE-free, even if they aren't.
> * Current voluntary "consultations" between US regulatory agencies and
> genetic engineering companies preparing to commercialize GE foods and crops
> will be made "mandatory." Of course mandatory consultations are no better
> than voluntary consultations unless they require strict, precautionary
> safety-testing, including stringent compositional analysis, toxicological
> testing, and environmental impact analyses.
> * Some or all of the company data in these soon-to-be-mandatory
> consultations will be placed into the "public domain" for public scrutiny.
> Again unless strict pre-market safety-testing is required, including
> long-term feeding studies for animals and humans, public disclosure of
> company data will be meaningless.
> In any case, the Frankenfoods controversy will continue, both in North
> America and across the world. Stay tuned to our website <>
> and BioDemocracy News for the latest developments.

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