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Ryan Griffis on Sun, 9 Feb 2003 19:53:14 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> FWD: BioDemocracy News

Thanks to BioDemocracy News #42 (Feb. 2003) Global
Grassroots: Gaining Ground
by: Ronnie Cummins
Organic Consumers Association

Globalization and Biotech Under Fire

On the eve of an increasingly unpopular war, US-sponsored globalization,
genetic engineering, and subsidies to industrial agriculture, are under
fire as never before-from Iowa to India, from London to Latin America.  On
New Year's Day, the ninth anniversary of NAFTA, the North American Free
Trade Agreement, a stone's throw from the Mexico office of the Organic
Consumers Association in Chiapas, 20,000 indigenous protestors are marching
through the streets. Wearing masks and bandanas, armed with machetes, and
holding aloft hand-made signs, Zapatista farmers and rural villagers are
rising up in resistance. In an evening rally, illuminated by the flames
from hundreds of torches, Zapatista leaders denounce NAFTA and rural
poverty; as well as biopiracy, the theft and patenting of native resources
and knowledge by biotech scientists, and transgenic pollution, the
contamination of Mexico's traditional corn varieties by genetically
engineered (GE) corn being dumped on the country by US-based grain giants,
Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill.

A thousand miles to the north, Mexican farmers organize a parallel protest,
blocking the US/Mexico border in Ciudad Juarez. Since the advent of NAFTA
in 1994, the country has been flooded by cheap, US taxpayer-subsidized
grains and foods, including six million tons a year of genetically
engineered corn and high-fructose corn sweetener for soft drinks. Unable to
compete with more than $20 billion in annual subsidies to US agribusiness,
most of which goes to large farms, two million Mexican corn growers,
cane-cutters, and indigenous subsistence farmers have been driven off the
land, forced to migrate to the already overcrowded cities, or to make a
long and dangerous journey to the US to find work. Once self-sufficient in
food production, Mexico now spends 78% of its oil exports to purchase food
imports from the US.

Not since the revolution of 1910 has the US's neighbor to the south
experienced such a wave of unrest. In the past two months, hundreds of
thousands of Mexican farmers organized marches, blocked highways, and
seized government installations. In one dramatic protest, a group of
ranchers blocked the streets outside the Congress in Mexico City with their
farm tractors, and then rode up the steps of the building on horseback.
Desperate to defuse the mounting crisis, Mexican President Vicente Fox has
promised to renegotiate the NAFTA agreement, much to the chagrin of the
White House. Similarly hammered by NAFTA and subsidies to large corporate
farms, the National Family Farm Coalition in the US and the National
Farmers Union in Canada have extended their solidarity, calling for
economic justice for farmers, North and South, a rollback of international
trade agreements, and an end to the dumping of GE corn and other crops on
the Mexican and world market. On Jan.  31 over 100,000 irate farmers
marched through the streets of Mexico City and rallied in front of the
National Palace.

Further south, in Brazil and Ecuador, new Presidents have been swept into
office, riding a wave of anti-globalization and a demand for peace and
economic justice. In Brazil left-wing President Lula da Silva has made
"Zero Hunger" and food security his number one priority, at the same time
pledging to maintain Brazil's moratorium on genetically engineered
soybeans. Brazil's exports of GE-free soybeans have doubled to $7.6 billion
over the last four years, while US soybean exports (75% of which are GE)
have declined by 30%. In a national survey in July 2001, 67% of Brazilians
said that transgenic crops should continue to be banned.

Symbolizing the growing power of the global grassroots, on Jan. 23-28 over
100,000 farmer, labor, consumer, and environmental, activists from around
the world gathered in Porto Alegre, Brazil for the World Social
Forum-denouncing war, corporate globalization, and food insecurity, under
the overall theme, "Another World is Possible." Among the notable street
demonstrations in Porto Alegre was a Jan. 27 protest at Monsanto's
headquarters, where Greenpeace activists scaled the building and hung a
banner denouncing Monsanto's Frankencrops.

The economic crisis in Latin America has grown worse.  Besides reducing
consumer-buying power by 30% in 2002, Argentina's economic strangulation by
the International Monetary Fund has reduced the ability of Argentina's
farmers to buy GE Roundup Ready soybeans-a significant factor in Monsanto's
recent economic downturn. One of the few glimmers of hope in the Argentina
rural economy is the increasing demand overseas for non-GM corn and
grass-fed beef. Meanwhile in Venezuela, increasing poverty, empty
supermarket shelves (50% of the nation's food is imported), and a
business-led sabotage of the oil industry, have brought the country to the
verge of civil war. In Colombia the collapse of world coffee prices and a
generalized agricultural crisis have increased poverty and hunger, driving
many desperate farmers to grow drug crops, in turn fueling an ever more
violent civil war.  Seemingly drunk with power, emboldened by what it
believes is the popularity of its "war on drugs and terrorism," the Bush
administration has moved aggressively into Colombia. US military troops are
now directly involved in counter-insurgency operations, guarding oil
pipelines and working hand in hand with the Colombian army and right-wing
death squads. Among the tactics being employed by the US are the
indiscriminate aerial spraying of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide over vast
areas of the Colombian countryside, poisoning rural communities and
destroying food crops, as well as coca and poppy fields. US biowar
proponents are advocating the aerial spraying of an even more dangerous
herbicide, genetically engineered fusarium bacteria.


Biotech Bullying Backfires

Across the globe, as reported in BioDemocracy News, and updated daily on
OCA's website www.organicconsumersw.org, an enormous "food fight" has
intensified. While developing nations sound the alarm over hunger, food
dependency and declining biodiversity, and resent the recent dumping of
GE-tainted corn on impoverished nations, in the industrialized world,
consumer concerns over food safety, nutrition, and environmental
sustainability have reached an all-time high. Both North and South there is
an increasing distrust of "industrial food" and GMOs (genetically modified
organisms), and a growing appetite for organic products. While industrial
food revenues are flat, growing 1-2% a year, organic sales are booming,
with yearly growth rates of 20-25%. By the year 2020, at current rates of
growth, most food sold at the grocery store retail level in the US, Canada,
and the EU will be organic.  Farmers in 110 nations will produce more than
$25 billion worth of organic foods and fiber in 2003.

Worldwide sales of transgenic crops have basically stalled at $4.25 billion
a year, with only four countries, for all practical purposes, producing
GMOs on a commercial scale (US-corn, soybeans, cotton, and canola;
Canada-corn, soybeans, canola; Argentina-soybeans only; and China-cotton
only). As Greenpeace organizer Jeanne Merrill told the Associated Press
(1/16/03) "The reality is that the biotechnology revolution has not
happened. The majority of these crops are going into animal feed. Farmers
are rejecting biotech food crops."

In 2002 there was essentially no increase worldwide in the commercial
plantings of the four major GE crops, soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton-
with the sole exception of GE cotton in China and India. And even the
expansion of Bt-spliced or herbicide-resistant cotton is likely to be
short-lived, with reports from the fields of pest resistance and declining
yields. In order to speed up the demise of Bt cotton, fight sweatshops, and
increase the market demand for organic cotton and sustainable fibers, the
OCA is launching a major new campaign called Clothes for a Change. Among
other tactics, this campaign will pressure leading brand name companies
such as Gap, Levi's, Ralph Lauren, Nike, and Wal-Mart to go
"sweatshop-free," to stop using GE cotton in their garments, and to blend
in organic and sustainable fibers instead. For more information see

The Bush administration's bullying tactics on GMOs have backfired badly.
US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick's belligerent threats to file a WTO
challenge against the EU for its moratorium on GE crops have simply
hardened European attitudes toward Frankenfoods and increased global market
demand for organic and non-GMO crops. Similarly Washington's denunciations
of African leaders for "starving their people" by refusing shipments of US
food aid contaminated by genetic engineering, have angered Africans who
believe that America is trying to shove unwanted GMOs down their throats.
Charges by US trade officials that Europe had manipulated gullible Africans
into believing that GMOs were unsafe prompted a blunt response from EU
Development Director Poul Nielson on Jan. 20 that the US "was lying."
Compounding White House and biotech industry woes, the GMO-tainted food aid
controversy has spread to Asia as well, with India recently refusing part
of a $100 million shipment of GE-tainted corn and soy from the US. At the
same time Japanese importers once again rejected a shipment of US corn,
contaminated with the banned StarLink variety. USDA officials said they
were "surprised" by the news, since they believed all remaining StarLink
corn was destroyed last year.  On 1/18 the Brazilian government impounded a
US GM corn shipment, demanding that it be returned or incinerated.
Meanwhile protesters pulled up GM crops and took to the streets in the
Philippines after the government bowed to US pressure and approved Bt corn.
In Australia, shipments of US GM corn were confronted by protests in
Melbourne, Brisbane, and Newcastle.

On the eve of launching an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, anti-US
sentiments are rising. Mounting anger toward the US overseas, combined with
Bush administration bullying on trade and GMOs, may well deliver a fatal
blow to the Gene Giants, already on life-support after several years of

The View from Porto Alegre: Another World Is Possible

Before reviewing several recent major developments on the biotech front,
let's step back for a moment and look at the "Big Picture" of agriculture,
food security, war, and peace, as articulated at the recent World Social
Forum in Brazil. Several of us from the Organic Consumers Association were
fortunate enough to be delegates at this annual gathering, which is
attempting to network and unite activists worldwide, creating a global
grassroots alternative to the elite-based WTO and the World Economic Forum.
Among the major concerns of global Civil Society, as expressed in Porto
Alegre are the following:

. Genetic engineering and industrial agriculture pose a mortal threat to
public health, the environment, and the economic survival of the world's
2.4 billion farmers and rural villagers, 1.4 billion of whom are "seed

   . Even as genetically engineered crops and foods are finally driven off the
   market, chemical and energy-intensive industrialized agriculture and
   globalized food production and distribution, as practiced by corporate
   agribusiness, still pose a mortal threat to public health and the
   environment and the survival of rural communities worldwide.

   . Organic and sustainable agricultural practices (coupled with sustainable
   practices in energy, transportation, water, housing, health, education, and
   industrial production) are the only road to health, sustainability, peace,
   and justice. Nutritious and safe food-preferably organic food--and a clean
   environment are among people's basic human rights. Organic production
   systems must embody the principles of Fair Trade and social justice.

   . A thousand billionaires and multi-billionaires, along with a thousand
   large transnational corporations, are poisoning the planet and our bodies
   and undermining democracy. This global elite's stranglehold over our
   politics, commerce, media, and culture-including our choices over food,
   fiber, and health care-must be broken and replaced by democratic
   sustainable development.

   . We'll never stop having wars, we'll never stop the proliferation of
   nuclear bombs and biowarfare weapons, we'll never stop having dictators
   like Saddam Hussein, and dangerous demagogues like George Bush as leaders,
   until we decide that it's a priority to feed, house, and clothe the world's
   830 million starving people; provide employment and living wage jobs for
   all, especially the 2.8 billion people currently struggling to survive on
   less than $2 a day; and make it a global priority to allow the world's 2.4
   billion farmers and rural villagers to remain on the land, producing the
   world's food and fiber, safely, sustainably and equitably.

Biopharm Blunders-Another Nail in the Coffin for Agbiotech

"We're very sorry for the mishap." Anthony Laos, CEO of the biopharm
corporation, ProdiGene.

Among the most hazardous and unpredictable new products in the biotech
pipeline are the so-called "pharm" crops. These are crops, most often corn
or tobacco that are gene-spliced to produce powerful pharmaceutical drugs
and industrial chemicals. Drug and chemical companies are excited about
biopharming, since using plants or animals as "bioreactors" can reduce
their manufacturing costs. The downside is that these mutant bioreactors
will undoubtedly pollute the environment and contaminate the food chain.

Over the past few years more than 300 fields of biopharm crops have been
planted in the US--in secret locations, in the open environment.
Approximately 200 of these experiments have been conducted with corn,
notorious for spreading its wind-blown pollen to surrounding fields.
Although no pharm crops have been approved for commercial production,
regulations and enforcement of test plots are notoriously lax. Biopharm
companies are not even required to give the USDA the exact gene sequences
of the experimental crops, making it impossible to verify whether or not
particular pharm crops have contaminated the food chain.  As Larry Bohlen
of Friends of the Earth put it, ""If the USDA continues to allow biopharm
food crops to be planted, someone is going to get prescription drugs or
industrial chemicals in their corn flakes." Recent events suggest that this
contamination is already taking place.

In Nov. 2002 the USDA was forced to admit that at least two experimental
biopharm corn crops in Nebraska and Iowa, grown by ProdiGene, a biopharm
company based in Texas, had already polluted the environment. Not only had
a least one, and possibly both, of the mutant corn crops pollinated,
thereby spreading their mutant genes into the air, but several hundred
"volunteer" ProdiGene corn plants had sprung up the following year,
contaminating over 500,000 bushels of soybeans in Nebraska, and 150 acres
of corn in Iowa. ProdiGene at first tried to deny there was a problem, but
then issued an apology. The USDA imposed $3 million in penalties on
ProdiGene, but brushed off demands by OCA's public interest coalition,
Genetically Engineered Food Alert www.gefoodalert.org for a complete
moratorium on biopharm experiments.

According to USDA records, and an FDA memo posted on the OCA website,
ProdiGene holds permits, among others, to grow corn which has been
genetically engineered to express a pig vaccine, as well as corn
gene-spliced to produce a controversial AIDS drug called HIV glycoprotein
gp120, a blood-clotting  agent (aprotinin). ProdiGene, under pressure,
admitted that some of the plants cited in their violation were designed to
express a pig vaccine, but a November FDA memo strongly suggests that it
was the AIDS drug or some other human drug-not the pig virus-that was being
grown by ProdiGene in Nebraska.  See:

ProdiGene's biopharm blunder, the most serious biotech
scandal since the StarLink controversy in 2000, when a likely allergenic
variety of feed corn contaminated the US food chain, generated major
controversy in the press, both in the US and worldwide. For the first time
since the advent of GE foods and crops in 1994, major US grocery store
chains, represented by the Grocery Manufacturers of America, and food
corporations, represented by the National Food Processors Association,
clashed with the USDA and the biotech industry, demanding that biopharm
companies stop experimenting with food and animal feed crops such as corn.
Even the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), the trade association
for medical and agbiotech companies, briefly called in October for a
moratorium on biopharm experiments in the Midwestern corn belt, no doubt
having been tipped off that the ProdiGene scandal was about to erupt.
However BIO reversed itself shortly thereafter, caving in to pressure from
biotech and agribusiness lobbyists.

More Frankenpharm horror stories loom on the horizon.  Pressed as to
whether or not other biopharm violations have occurred, USDA bureaucrats
have been evasive, admitting there have been other "infractions," but
claiming nothing else has occurred on the scale of ProdiGene. Although US
Senator Richard Durbin from Illinois has formally requested a full
accounting of biopharm violations, the USDA has dragged its heels.
Meanwhile biopharm's mad scientists are preparing to move their operations
overseas, to the developing world, where they hope to be able to pay
farmers a pittance, operate in total secrecy, and pollute the environment
and food chain with impunity. On their website www.molecularfarming.com the
biopharm industry have put out a call to farmers worldwide, especially in
the Third World, to make good money and serve a noble cause by getting in
on the ground floor of what they call a "future $50 billion a year,
industry. " But as Monsanto can attest, outsourcing genetic pollution and
treating people as human guinea pigs does not always work out as planned.

Monsanto Meltdown

Despite heavy advertising and PR greenwash, despite a
cozy relationship with the White House, Monsanto's image, profits, and
credibility have plunged. Its aggressive bullying on Frankenfoods, its
patents on the Terminator gene, its attempt to buy out seed companies and
monopolize seed stocks, and its persecution of hundreds of North American
farmers for the "crime" of seed-saving, has made Monsanto one of the most
hated corporations on Earth.

Monsanto will likely soon be broken up, with its parts sold off to the
highest bidder. The New York Times reported 1/14/03, that "With its stock
price low, Monsanto is considered a takeover target. by investment banks.
and could be bought and sold off in pieces." On December 19, Monsanto
shocked the biotech industry by forcing the resignation of its CEO, Hendrik
Verfaillie, a 26-year veteran with the company. The sudden move came as
Monsanto reported losses of $1.75 billion for the first three quarters of
2002, despite cutbacks, including layoffs for 700 employees. Monsanto's
stock has fallen nearly 50% since January 2001.

But Monsanto is not the only Gene Giant downsizing.  Last year, biotech
giant Syngenta closed down its plant genome lab in San Diego, terminated
its controversial research partnership with the University of California in
Berkeley, pulled out of its planned collaboration with the Indira Gandhi
rice research institute in India, and canceled its contract with the John
Innes Center in the UK

Major transnational corporations in the food and life sciences sector are
unlikely to shed any tears over Monsanto's demise.  It's no secret on Wall
Street that Monsanto, in its present form, has become a major liability for
transnational food corporations and the biotech/pharmaceutical giants, who
are much more concerned with the potential for hundreds of billions of
dollars in sales from biotech drugs, nutraceutical foods, and
nanotechnology, than the declining fortunes of agbiotech crops, whose total
sales in 2002 were $4.25 billion.

One of the major reasons for Monsanto's decline, besides the growing
worldwide opposition to its GE crops, is the growing resistance of weeds to
Monsanto's flagship product, Roundup herbicide.  Roundup, up until now the
top-selling weed killer in the world, comprising 50% of Monsanto's sales
and 70% of their profits, has recently begun to lose its effectiveness
against major crop weeds such as mare's-tail, waterhemp, and ryegrass, GE
Roundup-resistant soybeans presently account for more than 75% of all the
soybeans planted in the United States and Argentina, as well as the
majority of rapeseed or canola in Canada. According to a recent report by
Syngenta, herbicide-resistant superweeds will soon reduce the economic
value of farmland on which Roundup Ready soybeans are grown by 17%.
Forty-six percent of farmers surveyed in Syngenta's study said that weed
resistance to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide
Roundup, is now their top concern.

According to industry experts, Monsanto has no alternative in the pipeline
once glyphosate starts to fail. Syngenta, which also sells herbicides
containing glyphosate, has criticized Monsanto for allowing its customers
to overuse the relatively cheap herbicide, as well as for not warning
farmers to avoid mono-cropping, growing the same Roundup Ready crops, year
after year, on the same plots of land.

Leading scientific critics such as Dr. Michael Hansen and Dr. Charles
Benbrook have warned for years that weeds would inevitably develop
resistance to GMOs. The reason for this is that GE herbicide-resistant
plant varieties are designed to be able to survive heavy doses of the
companies' proprietary broad-spectrum weed killers, which in turn creates
pressure for resistant strains of these weeds to survive and eventually
predominate. Similar warnings have been leveled at the use of Bt-spliced
crops, which are engineered to express high doses of a soil bacteria called
Bt. Now that Bt crops such as cotton and corn have been commercialized on
millions of acres, major insect pests such as bollworms, bud worms,
beetles, and corn borers are also expected to become resistant to Bt over
the next 5-10 years.

The shaky bottom line for agbiotech is that almost 100% of all Frankencrops
today, so-called "first generation" GE crops, are either
herbicide-resistant or Bt-spliced. Once these genetically engineered traits
lose their effectiveness, which is now happening, the first generation of
biotech crops will be dead, period.  Here's a toast to the speedy breakup
and demise of Monsanto and the other Gene Giants. RIP. In future issues of
BioDemocracy News we'll look at the so-called second, third, and fourth
generation of Frankenfoods and crops, including the absolutely frightening
advent of nanotechnology, or "atomtechnology," which makes Frankenfoods and
crops look relatively benign in comparison.  See <www.etcgroup.org>

Poisoning Pigs and Humans

In July 2002 a number of hog farms in Iowa reported that pigs were
suffering extraordinary rates of reproductive failure-outward signs of
pregnancy but no births.
www.organicconsumers.org/ge/pigfertility012703.cfm What the farms had in
common was feeding their pigs Bt corn (or corn which was both Bt-spliced
and Roundup resistant), which turned out to have a high level of fusarium
mold. When one of the farmers switched back to non-GE corn, the
reproductive problems disappeared. A memo by USDA researcher Dr. Mark
Rasmussen dated 8/5/02 stated, "A possible cause of the problem may be the
presence of an unanticipated biologically active, chemical compound in the
corn." Previous research at Baylor University in Texas found similar
problems in rats exposed to "chipped corncob bedding" made from Bt corn. As
indicated in previous issues of BioDemocracy News, it is likely that human
guinea pigs (i.e.  the general public), as well as pigs are now suffering
from allergic reactions as well as damage to their immune systems and guts
from ingesting Bt corn. A number of scientists believe that the Iowa
incident may be the result of a sort of toxic synergy between Bt corn and
Roundup Ready soybeans. More on this in an upcoming issue.

The Next Step

The Organic Consumers Association has made a commitment to double the size
of our 500,000 member network over the next 12 months, and to get more
"political" by helping grassroots activists pass laws and legally binding
initiatives at the local, county, and state levels. This is in addition to
carrying on our marketplace pressure campaigns against Starbucks and
supermarket chains and stepping up our public education efforts. If you are
willing to help us with network building in your local area, or work with
us to pass laws against sweatshops, Frankenfoods, irradiated food, and
slave labor coffee and chocolate, send an email to
simon {AT} organicconsumers.org In your email, please include your telephone
number and street address so we can have the appropriate OCA regional field
organizer get back in touch with you.  Stay tuned to BioDemocracy News and
www.organicconsumers.org for the latest news and Action Alerts.

And last, but not least, if you want to get involved in the anti-war
movement and put pressure on Congress, you should consider joining the most
exciting and powerful new internet network in the world www.moveon.org 

End of BioDemocracy News #42

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