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Genetically Engineered Food Is Labeled, But Not For Americans

For Immediate Release
October 10, 2002

"GE" label on U.S.-made Heinz product explodes the myth of food label practicality and costs

Food produced for one of the country's largest food companies, H.J. Heinz, is already being labelled if it contains genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. But the labelled product is not sold in the U.S., even though it is produced here. Heinz sells the product in Australia, where GE labelling is required - at about the same price Americans pay. Greenpeace revealed the label today to demonstrate that identifying and labelling GE ingredients for food produced in the US is possible at no increased cost to consumers.

"Everyone in Oregon should get a chance to see this label," said Greenpeace spokesperson Lindsay Keenan. "When a major company like Heinz can label all the GE ingredients, ship the product all the way to Australia, and still make a profit selling it, then you have to wonder why labelling opponents say this is not possible for Oregon."

A concerned member of the public sent Greenpeace the label of a Heinz product sold in Australia, on which four ingredients are listed as "genetically modified". The product, Michelina`s brand Macaroni and Beef, is made in the U.S. for Heinz by Duluth, Minnesota-based Luigino's, Inc. It is labelled "Product of USA".

Heinz told Greenpeace that they only sell the product in Australia and that they have decided to drop this product line because the manufacturer has been unable to guarantee its ingredients are not genetically engineered.

Heinz US policy on GE (or Genetically Modified) ingredients issued in January 2001 states, "Heinz seeks to avoid the use of GMOs in its products.. This policy has led Heinz to remove all GM ingredients from its US baby food varieties.. We also source our own non-GM tomatoes for our Ketchup. GM ingredients may only be considered for use where there are not adequate non-GMO options available.. If it is necessary to utilise GMOs or ingredients derived from GMOs, systems must be in place to track the source and use of these ingredients."

In the U.S., the largest association of food producers, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), claims that GE labelling is not practical. Yet some of their own members, such as Heinz, are already labelling GE ingredients, at no extra cost to consumers.

"This label makes a liar of anyone who says GE labelling can't be done in the US," said Keenan. "Greenpeace calls upon the GMA to come clean and admit that GE labelling is feasible and is already happening, at no extra cost to consumers. The people of Oregon have the right to know that food companies are already labelling their GE products, without making consumers pay more for safe food."

Related links:
FDA Letter written to Oregon Gov. Kitzhaber on labeling (Measure 27)

Steve Druker's letter to the Governor exposing the FDA's inaccuracies.


A Myth Transformed Into Political Orthodoxy

by Robert Schubert
CropChoice editor

(Friday, Sept. 20, 2002 -- CropChoice commentary) -- "Perhaps the greatest achievement of the biotechnology industry has been in creating a myth and then transforming it into a political orthodoxy. It has managed to persuade some of the world's most powerful governments that the 'white heat of biotechnology' can bring benefits of higher yields, lower chemical use, food security and, critically, profitability for farmers."

That's how Patrick Holden, director of the highly regarded Soil Association in the UK, brilliantly prefaced "Seeds of Doubt: North American farmers' experiences of GM crops," the report that the Association released earlier this week.

The report systematically exposes the hollowness of those promised benefits of agricultural biotechnology. (As I mentioned earlier in the week, one should bear in mind that determining the exact amount that U.S. subsidies are shielding the full effect of markets lost to rejection of genetically engineered foods is difficult.)

As expected, the biotechnology purveyors and their cheerleaders, armed with hundreds of millions of dollars for advertising and PR, already have launched the criticism.

Monsanto spokesman Brian Arnst told the Australian Broadcasting Company: "There's a lot of reasons farmers are using these crops. They're more flexible, they believe they're better for the environment. At the end of the day farmers are better off. That sort of information...would seem to be opposite to what they're claiming in this soil report."

But let's take just one example of the false promises -- sowing more herbicide resistant crops will mean less use of herbicides.

Miguel Altieri, a University of California at Berkeley professor and expert in agroecology, put some of this in context during a presentation to attendees of the Eco-Farm conference in Monterey, Calif. earlier this year.

"When you look at the actors who brought us the first agro-chemical revolution: Syngenta, Aventis, Bayer, BASF, Monsanto, you see the pesticide sale business... These people are the same actors now bringing us the biotechnology revolution...Why concentrate on developing herbicide-resistant crops? Because they are the biggest consumers of herbicides. They are the drug addicts, so you produce something that will continue the addiction. So, that's why the chemical-turned-biotechnology companies chose soybeans and corn. If I'm Monsanto and I sell Roundup, obviously I'm going to put this technology into the product that consumes the most of that herbicide."

I took a similar tack in an Aug. 23 commentary about Roundup-resistant weeds:

"Monsanto executives in July chalked up a portion of the company's financial lackluster Roundup sales in the spring.

Michael Doane, a Monsanto executive, said in a speech last year that the company's cornerstone is not biotechnology. It's the sale of Roundup. The idea is for farmers to use lots of glyphosate (active ingredient in the herbicide) over lots of acreage.

Farmers are doing just that. But there are consequences.

University of Tennessee scientists have documented marestail weed resistance to Roundup on hundreds of thousands of soybean and cotton acres in the state. As farmers have planted more and more Roundup Ready varieties since 1996, they've been spraying more of the weed killer, not less. This has contributed to weeds developing resistance to Roundup. Reports by the Canadian Wheat Board and Dr. Charles Benbrook document this.

Even Syngenta admits to the problem as it hawks an herbicide --Gramoxone® MAX -- that it says will complement Roundup... 'Weed resistance to glyphosate is more than theory. It's a real on-farm problem... we demonstrate marestail resistance to glyphosate herbicides and show how Gramoxone® MAX can not only control this weed but also provide the foundation for an overall resistance management strategy.'"

What does that all mean? More herbicides with biotechnology, NOT fewer, and MORE weed resistance.


Seeds of Doubt

Soil Association UK
Executive Summary
Briefing Paper

The Seeds of Doubt report was written by Gundula Meziani and Hugh Warwick. It was launched in 13 different countries on the 17th September 2002.

The UK government and farming community will soon make a fundamental long-term decision: whether to allow genetically modified (GM) crops to be commercially grown in the UK. The picture the biotechnology industry has painted of GM crops in North America is one of unqualified success, after six years of commercial growing. The objective of this report was to assess whether this image is accurate and if not what problems have occurred. We present interviews with North American farmers about their experiences of GM soya, maize and oilseed rape, and review of some of the independent research.

The evidence we have gathered demonstrates that GM food crops are far from a success story. In complete contrast to the impression given by the biotechnology industry, it is clear that they have not realised most of the claimed benefits and have been a practical and economic disaster. Widespread GM contamination has severely disrupted GM-free production including organic farming, destroyed trade and undermined the competitiveness of North American agriculture overall. GM crops have also increased the reliance of farmers on herbicides and led to many legal problems.

Six years after the first commercial growing of GM crops, the use of genetic engineering in global agriculture is still limited. Only four countries including the US and Canada grow 99 per cent of the GM crops grown worldwide, and just four crops account for 99 per cent of the global area planted to GM crops. In the UK, we have a choice over whether to remain GM-free.

Our findings show that GM crops would obstruct the government from meeting its policy objective that farming should become more competitive and meet consumer requirements. It would also prevent it from honouring its public commitment to ensure that the expansion of organic farming is not undermined by the introduction of GM crops. The Soil Association believes this report will contribute towards a more balanced and realistic debate on the likely impacts of GM crops on farming in the UK and assist an informed decision on the commercialisation of GM crops.

Farming Impacts

The direct impacts of GM crops on farmers in North America are examined in chapters 3 - 6, 8 and 9. Many of the claimed benefits have not been seen in practice and several unforeseen problems have emerged:

a. The profitability of growing GM herbicide tolerant soya and insect resistant Bt maize is less than non-GM crops, due to the extra cost of GM seed and because lower market prices are paid for GM crops

b. The claims of increased yields have not been realised overall except for a small increase in Bt maize yields. Moreover the main GM variety (Roundup Ready soya) yields 6 -11 per cent less than non-GM varieties

c. GM herbicide tolerant crops have made farmers more reliant on herbicides and new weed problems have emerged. Farmers are applying herbicides several times; contrary to the claim that only one application would be needed. Rogue GM oilseed rape plants ('volunteers ') have become a widespread problem in Canada

d. Farmers have suffered a severe reduction in choice about how they farm as a result of the introduction of GM crops. Some are finding themselves locked intogrowing GM crops.


In chapter 7 we look at GM contamination, which has been the single greatest problem. Widespread GM contamination has occurred rapidly and caused major disruption at all levels of the agricultural industry, for seed resources, crop production, food processing and bulk commodity trading. It has undermined the viability of the whole North American farming industry:

a. Contamination has caused the loss of nearly the whole organic oilseed rape sector in the province of Saskatchewan, at a potential cost of millions of dollars. Organic farmers are struggling practically and economically; many have been unable to sell their produce as organic due to contamination

b. All non-GM farmers are finding it very hard or impossible to grow GM-free crops. Seeds have become almost completely contaminated with GMOs, good non-GMvarieties have become hard to buy, and there is a high risk of crop contamination

c. Because of the lack of segregation, the whole food processing and distribution system has become vulnerable to costly and disruptive contamination incidents. In September 2000, just one per cent of unapproved GM maize contaminated almost half the national maize supply and cost the company, Aventis, up to $1 billion.

Economic Impacts

The economic impact of GM crops is the focus of chapter 10. GM crops have been an economic disaster. As well as the lower farm profitability, GM crops have been a market failure internationally. Because of the lack of segregation, they have caused the collapse of entire exports to Europe and a loss of trade with Asia:

a. Within a few years of the introduction of GM crops, almost the entire $300 millionannual US maize exports to the EU and the $300 million annual Canadian rape exports to the EU had disappeared, and the US share of the world soya market had decreased

b. US farm subsidies were meant to have fallen over the last few years. Instead they rose dramatically, paralleling the growth in the rea of GM crops. The lost export trade as a result of GM crops is thought to have caused a fall in farm prices and hence a need for increased government subsidies, estimated at an extra $3 - $5 billion annually

c. In total GM crops may have cost the US economy at least $12 billion net from1999 to 2001.

Legal Issues

GM contamination has led to a proliferation of lawsuits and the emergence of complex legal issues (chapter 11 ):

a.One of the most unpleasant outcomes of the introduction of GM crops has been the accusations of farmers infringing company patent rights. A non-GM farmer whose crop was contaminated by GMOs was sued by Monsanto for $400,000

b. While biotechnology companies are suing farmers, farmers themselves are turning to the courts for compensation from the companies for lost income and markets as a result of contamination. In Canada, a class action has been launched on behalf of the whole organic sector in Saskatchewan for the loss of the organic rape market.

Farmers' Response

The severe market problems have led many North American farmers to seriously question the further development of GM crops (chapters 10 and 11 ):

a. Many US farm organisations have been urging farmers to plant non-GM crops this year

b. The US and Canadian National Farmers Unions, American Corn Growers Association, Canadian Wheat Board, organic farming groups and more than 200 other groups are lobbying for a banor moratorium on the introduction of the next major proposed GM food crop, GM wheat

c. With the support of several farming organisations, federal legislation was tabled in Congress in May 2002 ,to introduce GM labelling and liability rules in the US.


Press Release

Contact:  Dr Tewolde Berhane Gebre Egzhiabher: and
Live Aid Anniversary
July 13, 2002

Dr Tewolde Gebre Egziabher, heading the Environmental Protection Agency of Ethiopia, will shortly be announcing the results of a study showing that Ethiopia is producing a surplus of food for the seventh year in succession.

Journalists and other visitors are welcome to witness for themselves:

  • All this food is produced by small farmers using traditional farming practices. (The only commercial farming is in cotton).

  • There is no "improved seed" produced by commercial breeders - all seed is enhanced, selected and exchanged by small farmers.

  • There is a minimal use of chemical fertilisers and no use of genetically engineered crops.

  • The country has built up good stocks of food from the small farmers, to ensure it can supply its people with food if there is a drought or shortage of food.

  • Visits can be organised to the site where the notorious photos of starving people were taken in 1985, which have remained as the image of Africa in a helpless, endless cycle of starvation. Large areas of this dry region have been recuperated through regenerating the ecosystems (water harvesting, water source protection, prevention of erosion, control of grazing etc.

  • Other sites demonstrate the work of the award winning Ethiopian Gene Bank (Biodiversity Institute) which enhances productivity by increasing the diversity and density of farmer varieties growing together - again a simple ecological principle.

The Ethiopian example is particularly significant post the Food Summit (Rome, June 2002), and pre the Earth Summit (Johannesburg, August 2002) where:

  • At the Food Summit the US government announced that it was investing $100 million in promoting biotechnology in developing countries, having bullied the governments at the Food and Agriculture Organisation to say that biotech would help reduce hunger.

  • NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa's Development), and the pro-globalisation institutions (World Bank, World Trade Organisation, IMF etc.) all promote industrial agriculture, which means the use of hybrid and genetically engineered seed, chemicals, pesticides, monocultures, export oriented agriculture etc, as the way to increase productivity and feed the growing populations. Biotech agriculture will be strongly promoted at the Earth Summit (as it was at the Food Summit).

  • Also at the Earth Summit there will be up to 300 small farmers from different African countries insisting that they will continue to feed Africa's growing population; and that they will continue to defend their livelihood systems and food sovereignty.

  • The drought and starvation that will be surrounding South Africa at the time of the Earth Summit will intensify the polarisation between the biotech claims that genetic engineering is the answer and the growing resistance of small farmers, consumers, civil society groups and increasingly governments and other institutions, to the dangers of the biotech industry's drive to control seed production and supply and hence the food chain - its hidden agenda.

Ethiopia shows that diverse, ecologically and culturally adapted food production systems, generated and controlled by millions of small farmer households, provide food security and protect the people and the country from foreign and commercial control of food. Self-reliance in food at the household and country level, is the foundation on which democracies can be built.

Related link:   The Great Containment - GM Fall-out from Mexico to Zambia


World Food Summit's Program for Global Hunger: Let Them Eat GMOs

Posted to the IUF website 27-Jun-2002

Critical assessment of the June World Food Summit in Rome has tended to focus on the almost provocative absence of meaningful political representation by wealthy countries. Only two Western heads of state took part, and one of them - Italy's Berlusconi - closed down the summit early to watch the football World Cup. The summit's failure was thus a failure of political will.

Much of this criticism, however misses the point. The majority of governments of wealthy food-exporting nations have long since turned over direct responsibility for food policy to their leading agrobusiness corporations. Heads of state attended to their business, industry lobbyists to theirs. "We're here to sell biotechnology", a US delegate told the UK's Guardian, "and that's what we've done."

So while the summit failed to offer even the proverbial crumbs to the hungry, global agro-business walked away with the prize: formal UN endorsement of the grotesque proposition that GM foods constitute an effective means for combating global hunger. Failure of will or business as usual? To put this development in context, it is useful to return to the original summit's Action Plan.

The 1996 World Food Summit established the goal of halving world hunger by 2015 through, among other measures, the implementation of "food, agricultural trade and overall trade policies...conducive to fostering food security for all through a fair and market-oriented world trade system." In practice, this means the "food, agricultural trade and overall trade policies" enforced by the WTO and regional trading blocs like NAFTA, i.e. the very policies which are predicated upon and are deepening global food insecurity.

The facts speak for themselves. FAO research shows that the opening-up of developing country markets under the WTO regime has resulted in a dramatic surge of food imports, growing landlessness and rural unemployment, and declining output per capita among rural producers. The global corporations which increasingly dominate world trade in food are trading in hunger. And the subsidized dumping of food in developing country markets - the single greatest factor in the destruction of local agriculture - was sidelined as a "non-trade issue" at the WTO's Doha summit, which endorsed a new round of talks for deepening corporatel domination of global food markets.

At the Rome summit, US Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman rejected criticism of the US government's 18 billion dollar increase in agricultural subsidies by suggesting that the solution to hunger lay with... biotechnology and GMOs. Bad seeds, rather than corporate-dominated trade regimes, are to blame if 800 million people go hungry every day.

Here again, the facts tell a different story. None of the commercial GM crop varieties under cultivation has shown increased yields or reduced pesticide or water consumption. But the 30-fold expansion of GM acreage in the last five years coincides with a process of unprecedented corporate concentration and the emergence of so-called "life-science" corporations combining seed patenting and chemical inputs. Agricultural biotechnology is dominated by just five companies; Monsanto's GM seeds account for over 90 percent of commercial GM crops. Genetic engineering for herbicide resistance accounts for 77 percent of the global GM area. The herbicide is made by Monsanto, which also owns the gene patent.

GMOs have nothing to do with feeding the hungry and everything to do with feeding corporate coffers. Commercialization of GMOs, enforced where necessary by WTO sanctions, and the rising GM contamination of natural plant species, are not only a threat to rural lives and livelihoods. They are a serious menace to the biodiversity on which depends real - as opposed to corporate - advances in agricultural progress, and they must be stopped.

Can the FAO and food summitry contribute to reducing global hunger? Yes, given appropriate changes in the international context in which food is produced and traded. That in turn depends on a sustained union mobilization to wrest control over food and agricultural policy from the corporations which currently dominate national and global policies and institutions. The recent Swedish Global Food Conference constitutes an important step in this direction. But much more needs to be done.

Editorial from the website of the IUF
[International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations]

How to contact the IUF:
Post: Rampe du Pont-Rouge, 8, CH-1213, Petit-Lancy (Switzerland)
Phone: + 41 22 793 22 33
Fax: + 41 22 793 22 38


Seeds of Secrecy:

by Kristi Coale
Mother Jones
May/June 2002

The Mexican government has tried to silence scientists who
discovered genetically modified corn where it doesn't belong

An empty office building in a rough section of Mexico City was not the place where Ignacio Chapela expected to be on a rainy evening early last September. The microbial ecologist from the University of California at Berkeley had traveled to the capital to meet with Mexican scientists who were working to verify some disturbing findings that had turned up in his research. DNA from genetically modified corn, Chapela discovered, is contaminating local varieties developed over centuries in the remote mountains of Oaxaca. The implications are far-reaching: If GM corn can find its way into such an isolated region, scientists warn, then it can go anywhere.

The discovery was especially startling because Mexico has banned the planting of GM corn for nearly four years while it considers how best to safeguard the natural varieties grown in Oaxaca. But instead of sounding the alarm over Chapela's findings, a government official named Fernando Ortiz Monasterio summoned him to the deserted building. There, to Chapela's surprise, Ortiz suggested he withhold his research. Mexico's biosafety commission, Ortiz explained, was preparing new rules that would end the government moratorium on planting GM corn. "Everything is going fine, except we have this one hurdle," Chapela recalls Ortiz telling him, "and that one hurdle is you."

The warning rattled Chapela. "For him to say this to me in an empty building was intimidating," he says. He ignored the pressure, however, and published his findings in the November 29 issue of the journal Nature.

The Mexican government, for its part, has continued its efforts to squelch the news. When scientists from Mexico's biodiversity commission and the National Institute of Ecology found the spread of GM corn to be even more extensive than Chapela reported, top-level officials pressured them to keep quiet. Three government scientists who helped verify Chapela's findings told Mother Jones that they have been told not to discuss their research. "The biosafety commission and other parts of the government have said this is something we shouldn't be talking about," says Jorge Soberon, director of Mexico's biodiversity commission.

The Mexican government did not respond to requests for interviews, but documents show that officials are more concerned about preventing publicity than addressing the findings. In a letter to Chapela last November, Mexico's then-undersecretary for agriculture, Víctor Manuel Villalobos, said the government was working to undo "the damage to agriculture and the economy caused by the publication" in Nature.

A major issue in the debate over genetically modified foods is whether consumers and farmers can choose unaltered seeds and food products. But if GM corn has spread to Oaxaca, the region where corn originated, choice may be on its way to irrelevancy. Agrochemical companies acknowledged last summer that they can't guarantee the conventional seed they sell is free of genetic modification, and organic crops labeled "GM Free" are testing positive for altered DNA.

The Oaxaca discovery has sparked a new drive for labeling and segregating crops and food products in Mexico. Opponents of lifting the ban on GM corn in Mexico are also pushing the government to further examine the extent of the contamination. "We have been telling the government that this is technology we can't control," says Soberon.


Whitehall Admits GM Foe Was 'Martyred'

Rob Evans
The Guardian
Saturday June 22, 2002

The campaign to discredit an "ageing and frail" scientist who raised doubts about the safety of genetically modified foods turned him into a martyr, according to Whitehall papers.

In frank memorandums, Whitehall officials admit that the government mishandled the row about the findings of Arpad Pusztai and that the furore damaged the public's confidence in GM technology.

Dr Pusztai, 72, became entangled in a long running controversy after he publicised the results of his experiments at the Rowett research institute in Aberdeen, which indicated that genetically modified potatoes had harmed rats.

The memos were obtained by the Guardian and the BBC during an investigation into the development of GM foods for a programme, Bitter Harvest, to be shown tomorrow.

In July 1999, a few months into the controversy, an official in the then ministry of agriculture, food and fisheries wrote that the "handling of the Pusztai issue is one which concerns me and I am not sure that we have learned the lessons."

Dr Pusztai was told to retire from his research institute after he described on a television programme how rats had become stunted, and their immune systems had been depressed, when they were fed genetically altered potatoes.

Ministers sought to undermine his results, and scientists from opposing camps fought over the validity of the work. A group from the Royal Society, Britain's most distinguished scientific body, investigated his experiments and claimed that the tests were "flawed in many aspects of design, execution and analysis".

The Maff official noted: "The sight of this heavy handed scientific community bringing its full academic prejudice to bear on this frail, ageing scientist lost much of the case on sympathy and fairness grounds."

The official added that, "with the benefit of a significant amount of hindsight", the government should have taken a different approach. Ministers should have said that they were interested in his results, but noted that they had been found without enough resources.

Ministers should have told Dr Pusztai: "[Your results] do not have any immediate relevance for food safety but we want to repeat what you have done on a larger scale to see whether there really is anything to be concerned about.

"This might have avoided making a martyr of Dr Pusztai and no doubt would have given the anti-GM lobby some reason for joy."

In another memo, a Maff official wrote that the row among the experts "further eroded public confidence in the opinions of scientists".

Another official said Dr Pusztai's findings were "fuelled by a sustained campaign against GM foods generally. This in turn helped to create an atmosphere of alarm and suspicion amongst UK customers resulting in widespread avoidance of the use of GM ingredients in foods by the major supermarkets and manufacturers."

But one official argued that the damage was inflicted not by the dispute, but by the research itself. "The now discredited research and announcements based on the work by Pusztai caused immense damage to GM technology. Had the findings been well founded, there may have been some cause for some concern and perhaps a setback to GM technology, but the damage was done on the basis of poor experimentation and uninterpretable results."

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